Relevant Passages: Psalms 32, 51, 130; 2 Samuel 11, 12
King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a loyal soldier away at battle. When she tells David she is pregnant, he attempts to induce Uriah to spend time with his wife to cover over the affair. Failing at this, David plots Uriah’s death by means of a message send to the Jewish general. It looks like David succeeded at adultery and murder without penalty. But God sends the prophet Nathan to expose the king’s sin. Consider the risk of standing before an armed king who possessed the power of life and death, and revealing his high crime. Nathan entraps David by telling him about a pet lamb forcibly taken by a rich man from a poor man. In ancient times the king also served as the nation’s highest judge. By condemning the rich man to death David pronounces sentence on himself. The skill of Nathan’s subterfuge is matched by the sudden rush of repentance on the part of the king. After the king confesses, the prophet announces both judgment (the baby will die and a spiral of violence and public incest will haunt his family) and comfort (God will accept and bless the next child born). The lesson will be clear for all Israel to see the king whom God chooses does not stand outside the moral code.
It is clear that God works in less than ideal quarters. God did not chose to challenge at one time all that was wrong or imperfect. The fabric of the social world of Bathsheba, Nathan and David has already been woven with the threads of violence and inequity. In spite of the ideals of Genesis 1-2, polygamy was an accepted practice among kings and was, in part, accounted for as a means of building political alliances. Kingship had been chosen by the people in spite of God’s clear preference otherwise. See 1 Samuel 8:1-22, where God declares that the people have rejected him, not wishing him to reign over them any longer, but nonetheless acquiesces to the demand for a king). A child born out of murder and adultery would be marked as both illegitimate and as the possible target for revenge by the kin of the murdered Uriah. The death of the king’s own son forestalls any future acts of revenge against the king and his family.
David’s repentance was evident and sincere. Psalm 51 appears to be an expression of this repentance that was offered to God in the sight of the nation, as evident both by the superscription and contents. Psalms 32 and 130 are related in content. David knows that his sin is against God (51:4), that God is fair in his assessment (32:2; 51:4) and that only God can forgive and restore him (51:2, 7-9). Only God can change him inside. David promises to speak of God’s goodness and teach others the right way if God forgives him (51:13-15). Perhaps the most striking lines in the psalm are David’s recognition that God does not reject a broken heart sorry for its sin (51:17).
- Jesus made the comment, “No one can serve two masters”. Yet college students appear to do it all the time, with several different teachers giving them orders?
- The nation of Israel was in danger of being assimilated into the culture and religion of the surrounding Philistines. Is it possible for a culturally assimilated church to retain its prophetic identity? Is it possible for a church to avoid cultural assimilation?
- The Bible has been described as a cultural counter-balance to modern culture. Does it actually function this way?
- The bull and the sacred groves were cultural icons of Ahab’s time. What are the cultural icons of our time?
2. A biblical view of repentance
Christianity is distinguished from other religious systems by its core teaching that nothing we do can save us or earn us merit. We are accepted by God while we are still unacceptable. Paul put the matter bluntly, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The cross becomes the benchmark of God’s extravagant and offensive grace. No other religion has the central divine figure enduring the shame of being stripped naked and dying on a cross to enable us as sinners to become the honored sons and daughters of God.
According to Jesus, repentance is the only appropriate human response to God’s grace. Jesus’ basic message, according to Matthew 4:17 with “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Earlier, John the Baptist called for every Jew in his hearing to repent and be baptized. In the most profound sense, repentance is a turning to God and away from self.
Repentance starts with a recognition of the wrongness of one’s course. Repentance includes a desire to do what is right and a sorrow for having done the wrong . And repentance includes an acknowledgment of confession to God of our participation in that which is painful to his heart. Recall 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and fair to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But repentance includes more than being sorry for doing what is wrong or shaming God. Repentance is not so much a matter of emotion as of movement. The biblical motion of repentance involves a turning – both a turning away from and a turning towards. A turning toward what is good and a turning from the evil in which we have participated. In the most profound sense, repentance is a turning to God and away from self.
For Reflection and Discussion:
- Can a person who has not committed a sin like murder or adultery or some other heinous crime have a keen sense of God’s grace?
- Is David excusing himself by saying that he was born in sin (51:5)? How can we be held accountable for sinning if we are born with a bent towards sin?
- Does David repent because he experiences God’s punishment (32:3-5), or because he has done something morally wrong? How can we know if our repentance is genuine?
- If repentance marks the beginning of the Christian life, what about the maturing Christian? Ellen White observes, “At every advance step in Christian experience our repentance will deepen” (Christ’s Object Lessons 160). Can you explain in practical terms what this means and how it works?
- According to the brief summary of Matthew 4:17, Jesus basically preached a call to repent in light of the soon coming kingdom of heaven. The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7 provides a fuller summary of what is involved in a life of repentance. Read 5:3-10 to see how this works.
- God told David he had given him a harem of wives, along with the kingship of Israel and Judah, and he would have given David even more, including wives, if he had only asked (2 Sam. 12:8). Why would God give David many wives if the norm was one wife? Does this story condone polygamy since David’s profound repentance does not extend to sending Bathsheba back to her home?
- What was Bathsheba’s role in this crime of adultery and murder? Why does Bathsheba’s newborn child suffer the consequences of the king’s sin?