"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 23





Chapter 23: The Judgments involving King David



Chapter 23 Contents

23.1 Introduction

23.2 David Sets the Standard

23.3 David's First Failure and its Judgments

23.4 An Aside: Resolving Past Issues

23.5 A Second Judgment in Respect of David

23.6 Summary-Conclusions



23.1 Introduction


As we move on from 1 Samuel into 2 Samuel it might seem strange to the new believer that the man, David, who is described in respect of God as “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14 / Acts 13:22), should become the subject of judgments, but the truth is that just like the rest of us, he was a man with flaws, a man who didn't always get it right and so what we now have to do is consider those times when this shepherd boy who became king over all Israel didn't get it right and incurred the displeasure and discipline of God.


It is right that we do this, if for no other reason than to investigate these limited number of God's judgments in respect of David, but before we do we should paint the bigger picture of how David became a standard against which the Lord measured subsequent kings.



23.2 David Sets the Standard


Later Testimony


These verses below refer to Abijah the second king of the southern two tribes after the kingdom was divided following Solomon's reign. We have started with it because it so comprehensively refers to David.


1 Kings 15:3-5 He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been . Nevertheless, for David's sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD's commands all the days of his life--except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.


  • Note first of Abijah his, “heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.” (v.3)
  • David, the record says was “fully devoted to the Lord.” Moreover, “David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” and then it adds, “and had not failed to keep any of the LORD's commands all the days of his life.”
  • But then comes a rider: “except in the case of Uriah the Hittite .
  • That was the one time that David had failed to keep all the Lord's commands But that was the only thing! There was a time when pride had settled in David's heart and he numbered his men (2 Sam 24 / 1 Chron 21) and he paid for both failures, but otherwise what a testimony!
  • But David's testimony had long lasting impact for he had clearly moved the Lord's heart as we shall see again and again.
  • Here Abijah had got it wrong but we find, “Nevertheless, for David's sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong.”
  • In other words, because of David, the Lord now allowed the royal line to continue from this man to his son. That is amazing. Note how it started with David's son, Solomon:


David, a measuring stick


1 Kings 3:3 “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”

  • Note that David had been both an example to his son and a measuring rod against which the Lord would measure Solomon.
  • Solomon nearly lived up to his father's testimony, but not quite.
  • Then the Lord made that the condition for blessing him:


1 Kings 3:14,15 “And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did , I will give you a long life."

  • David was the standard set- it IS possible to live like this!
  • Then, later, the Lord speaks to Solomon explaining how things would work

1 Kings 9:4,5 “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did , and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, `You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.'”


  • There was the promise to David reiterated. All it needed – because it was conditional - was for Solomon to walk as his father had done.
  • But then follows a severe warning, the other side of the coin, if you like. See 1 Kings 9:4-9
  • References to David (and his name is mentioned over a thousand times in Scripture) continued right into the prophetic books.
  • For instance in Jeremiah, who prophesied in the last years before Jerusalem 's destruction, speaking prophetically of the coming of Jesus, Jeremiah declared:


Jer 33:15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line ; he will do what is just and right in the land,”

This was then followed by a reference to God's promise to David:


Jer 33:16,17 “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.' For this is what the LORD says: David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel .”


David's Impact


But then comes a most remarkable prophecy:

Jer 33:18-22 “The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "This is what the LORD says: ` If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant--and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me--can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.”


  •   i.e. If I stop making night and day then, and then only, will my promise to David be annulled.
  •   As it is David's descendants will be many. Of course we now know of Jesus as the “son of David” (e.g. Mt 1:20, 9:27, 15:22 etc) and “David's descendants” are all the believers that make up to Church.
  •   What an impact David had on the Lord, a man after the Lord's own heart (Acts 13:22, 1 Sam 13;14)
  •   How incredible that a human being can so move the Lord!
  •   What David's failure(s) teach us is that you can have a heart given over to God and yet still be sandbagged by temptation and sin.
  •   The consequences of that sin would be very great. All we can suggest is that the greater the responsibility, the greater the discipline when failure comes (Remember Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of one failure to properly represent the Lord).


23.3 David's First Failure and its Judgments


David's failure – i.e. his sin

Observe the stages of what happened in Chapter 11 :

  •   At this particular time, Spring, David sent his army out to deal with enemies but remained in Jerusalem (2 Sam 11:1) (Mistake – he should have been out leading his men)
  •   One evening he is walking on the roof of the palace and was able to see into a nearby building where a beautiful woman was bathing. (v.2) (These things happen – turn away)
  •   He finds out her name is Bathsheba, she is the wife of Uriah (v.3) i.e. she is married. (Mistake – he enquired after her. Indicates desire – a danger area)
  •   He sends for her and slept with her (v.4) and she becomes pregnant. (Mistake – adultery)
  •   Uriah is away at battle and despite David's attempts to get Uriah to come home to sleep with his wife and so cover up the fact she has become pregnant by another, he refuses (v.6-11). (Mistake – scheming to cover sin.)
  •   He instructs his army commander to put Uriah in a vulnerable position where he will be killed. He is. (Mistake – plotting murder)
  •   With Uriah out the way he takes Bathsheba and marries her (Mistake – his is already married and although polygamy was not expressly forbidden it usually had negative consequences)
  •   The Lord is displeased with what David has done (2 Sam 11:27) and sends Nathan the prophet to confront David in Chapter 12 (2 Sam 12:1)
  •   He makes David fully realise his sin (v.1-9)


David's Repentance


  • It is vital that we note the reality of David's repentance.
  • The reference is surprisingly short and simple: Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." (2 Sam 12:13)
  • The heading over Psa 51 is, “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” 
  • Note it's content and depth of anguish:


Psa 51:1-9 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

  • … and so it goes on.
  • We won't go through it verse by verse but it stands out among al the other psalms The psalm of penitence.
  • However we must suggest that it is only the depth of David's repentance that opens the way for the Lord to continue to bless his family.


The Judgment of David – Part 1


  •   After this Nathan spells out what the Lord will do
  •   First of all he declares that violence will always be a part of David's family life (12:10a)
  •   Second, the Lord will bring family division right out in public for David (v.11,12)
  •   David acknowledges his sin and so the Lord forgives him but says the illegitimate son will die (v.13,14)
  •   This happens (v.15-23)
  •   Subsequently Bathsheba gives birth to Solomon – who the Lord loves!
  •   The first part of the judgment has been fulfilled – David has been disciplined and the child taken (?to heaven) and yet the Lord's grace is still there to bring good out of what had previously been a bad situation.
  •   Beware! We are often harder than the Lord on sin and fail to see that after repentance and discipline, the Lord's grace wants to redeem the situation and still bring good out of it.
  •   We will consider this more in the next chapter.


The Judgment of David – Part 2


  •   The judgment had declared family division by way of disciplining David.
  •   Part of it, we will see, is brought about by David's own inability to discipline and order his family.
  •   Chapter 13 presents the story of Amnon and Tamar in which David simply does not do what a wise father would do:
    •   He gullibly accepts Amnon's request and makes the way open for Amnon to end up raping Tamar. (v.6,7)
    •   Although angry about it David took no other action.
    •   When Absalom killed Amnon, David's heart was half with Absalom but took no action to deal with the situation (v.37-39)
  •   Chapter 14 sees the restoration of Absalom to Jerusalem and his pressure on those around him to restore him properly (14:1-33)
  •   Ultimately David should have been paying more attention to what Absalom was doing and should have prevented the rebellion.
  •   Chapter 15 sees Absalom building himself up in the eyes of the people (15:1-6) and then bringing about a rebellion against David (15:7-12) so that David and his household and followers had to flee from Jerusalem (15:13-37)
  •   The ensuing chapters reveal how this all unfolds – including an exact fulfilment of of Nathan's prophecy against David – see 16:22, until in Chapter 18 Absalom is killed to David's grief. (see 18:14,33)
  •   Chapter 19 sees David restored but there is an uneasy feeling in the nation.
  •   Chapter 20 sees the start of the other aspect of the prophecy about violence in David's house, in that a troublemaker named Sheba sought to stir up ferment and rebellion against David (20:1-)
  •   Also Amasa, who had been Absalom's commander but had subsequently made David's commander in place of Joab, is murdered by Joab (20:8-10) and goes on to ensure Sheba is dealt with and then returns as David's army commander. We are not told what David felt.
  •   Later in Chapter 21 we see there is ongoing fighting again with conflict with the Philistines. David is still paying for his deed in respect of Uriah and Bathsheba.



23.4 An Aside: Resolving Past ‘Issues'


I call this an aside because it is not strictly a judgments as such – but it is; it is a judicial decision by the Lord. There was something from the past that needed resolving and so the Lord stepped in an brought about a famine which then caught David's attention (2 Sam 21:1)


A Blood-guilt issue


When David enquired of the Lord he was told that there was a guilt issue hanging over Israel because of something Saul did during his reign.


Back, during the talking of the Land, the Gibeonites had come and become part of Israel (we saw that in Chapter 20.6) in Joshua 9. However apparently, and it is not recorded elsewhere, Saul in his nationalistic human-wisdom zeal had at some time tried to get rid of the Gibeonites from the Land by wiping them out. The prior oath to protect the Gibeonites was thus binding on successive generations but Saul had apparently ignored that oath. There was guilt that had never been resolved.


David speaks to the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21:20-) and asks how he may right this wrong which the Lord has drawn to his attention. The Gibeonites had been ‘decimated' (see v.5) and had had their land taken by Saul. In a measured response, the Gibeonite survivors suggest that seven of Saul's survivors be executed which is what happened.


Apart from this, mistreating an alien living as part of Israel was strictly against the Law of Moses (see Ex 22:21; Lev 19:34; 24:22; Deut 1:16-17; 24:17; 27:19).


Also within the Law was found the following:


Num 35:33 “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.”

  •   This would not have applied to warfare over the Land but would certainly apply to inhabitants of Israel , of which the Gibeonites were now part.
  •   Life for life was the punishment for murder, and Saul had certainly murdered a large number of the Gibeonites.
  •   Their suggestion of only seven a) recognized the Law but b) was a very restrained response in the circumstances, a token response we might say.


Honouring the dead


There is an addendum to this story which is touching and which obviously touches David:

  •   Rizpah had been the wife of Saul and her two sons were part of the seven taken for execution. (v.8)
  •   The execution had involved the sons being killed and their bodies presumably pegged out on the hillside for all to see that justice had been done and the blood-guilt paid for. (v.9)
  •   Rizpah basically camps out on the hillside and prevents any birds attacking the dead bodies (v.10); she honours her sons and the others who were executed. She clearly accepts the Law and there is nothing negative in her actions. She carries on doing this until the rains come – it was likely that the famine had been caused by lack of rain but as the matter had been properly dealt with, the rain came.
  •   When David hears about her behaviour he is so moved that he decides to honour Saul and Jonathan's memory by going to where their bodies had been hastily buried after the battle (see end of 1 Sam) and brought their bones – together with the bones of those who had been executed – and had them put in the family tomb. (v.12-14)
  •   In this way he shows that what has been done has been a necessary evil and he respects these men as well as Saul and Jonathan and gives them a formal burial. In no way does this detract from the legal aspects of these executions, and the Lord indicates that He is pleased with the way David has handled it.


A Conclusion


We may consider this harsh on the seven who were executed, and from our perspective it is, but the end result

  •   Acknowledges guilt
  •   Acknowledges the need for justice and punishment
  •   Respects life and the taking of life in an honourable way
  •   Respects the Law and the requirements for right behaviour in the Land, and
  •   Puts all those things before personal preference.



23.5 A Second Judgment in Respect of David


An Unknown Sin


The circumstances of what we are about to consider require more than a casual glance to understands what is going on and what happens as an outcome. We start with two different accounts of the start of it:


2 Sam 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel , and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah ."

1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel .


  •   The difference may be resolved by thinking of what we find in Job 1 & 2 where the Lord uses Satan to act on the earth.
  •   1 Chron reveals it as a Satanic attack but 2 Samuel reveals there is a cause behind his attack – the Lord's anger.
  •   Now we know that the Lord is only angry with sin and so somehow Israel have fallen into Sin which warrants the Lord moving against them.
  •   David is the king of Israel and thus responsible for all that goes on in Israel . It is an important principle to be considered when looking at other kings of both Judah and Israel when they are divided.
  •   Sometimes a bad king presents a bad example for the nation to follow – and they do, while at other times the king is good but the nation is drifting from the Lord. In the latter case the Lord still holds the king accountable.
  •   It is for this reason that the Lord draws David into the judgment. David is going to have to learn through what takes place.
  •   The idea is put into David's mind that it would be a good idea to number Israel to find out just how big Israel is. Even often-unrighteous Joab recognises that this is not a good thing, taking the glory of Israel that belongs to the Lord and attributing it to the king.
  •   Nevertheless David overrules him and the census is taken and as soon as it is done, David is heart smitten and declares he has sinned against the Lord.


The cause of this event is a mystery. What was it that caused God to be angry with Israel ? We can only conclude that the spiritual state of the nation had declined and maybe Israel had resorted to idol worship again. The magnitude of the deaths that follow (70,000), if the interpretation is right, suggests a serious falling away and therefore a serious judgment.


God's dealings with David


You may remember earlier in the chapter:


1 Kings 15:5 David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD's commands all the days of his life--except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

  •   i.e. this particular episode did not constitute breaking the Lord's commands.
  •   Yes, there was a temporary lapse into pride but David had not broken any of the commands in the Law of Moses – Israel clearly had, but David had not.
  •   Nevertheless the Lord did hold David accountable for the nation and thus led him into a place of failure where he would feel guilty and willing to enter into the circumstances of dealing with the nation.
  •   The word of God had come through Gad the prophet:


2 Sam 24:13 So Gad went to David and said to him, "Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me."

  •   The Lord knew that David's heart would be rent by having to make this decision, yet he was there king and would have to take that responsibility
  •   Thus we read:


2 Sam 24:14 David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men."

  •   What a response – deep distress! He doesn't dispute the need of the judgment but the responsibility of what to inflict on his people is almost too much.


Two Responders


As the plague comes and people start dying, the two main players in this drama respond

i) The Lord

2 Sam 24:16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

  •   The Lord is grieved – the judgment was just but the Judge anguishes for the affliction that comes as the judgment.
  •   Note where the judgments gets to when the Lord calls halt.


2 Sam 24:17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, "I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family."

ii) David


  •   As David sees the people fall to the plague, he knows he has been the specific cause of their deaths
  •   He cries on their behalf that he alone is guilty and he alone should take punishment
  •   In reality he faces his own failure but in so doing forgets or is unaware that there is sin in Israel that has caused the Lord to move against them in judgment.


2 Sam 24:18,19 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.

  •   The Law provided for ways for sins to be dealt with through the sacrificial system
  •   Which explains the instructions that come
  •   David goes to Araunah and asks to buy the threshing floor and insists on paying for it: “ I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (v.24)
  •   Thus he makes the sacrifice and we find:


2 Sam 24:25 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.




Why should things have happened in this order, we may ask. We suggest the following


  •   Israel were called to be a holy nation.
  •   When they fell into sin the Law clearly showed the way back: repentance followed by a sacrifice.
  •   The sacrifice was simply a way laid down in the Law of Moses, of a) tangibly showing repentance and b) showing an obedient, submissive heart, and c) providing a means for the conscience of the repenting sinner(s) to be appeased (it has been dealt with by God's decree).
  •   We only later know that it was a way that would point to the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, taking all the sins of mankind, our punishment. Although in time-space history their sins and offerings were before Jesus' death, heaven looking from outside of time, saw the offering as an out-of-time indicator that the person offering the sacrifice was relying upon the Lord's means of dealing with their sins. That was all they could do. It was enough. God had done the rest through Jesus.
  •   Israel had obviously sinned – and with the coming of the judgment, repented.
  •   The Lord had seen this and, grieved over what had had to happen, calls a halt as the plague reaches this particular threshing floor.
  •   Yet, to ensure that Israel do not just think He has shrugged His shoulders at their sin, David is required, as their king, to make an offering for the nation at that place to link the pause with the offering, thus reinforcing the sacrificial system in their minds and reminding the Israelites that it was there and it worked!
  •   Everything that takes place here is to reinforce the Law that had been given to Israel:
    •   Sin brings guilt.
    •   Guilt requires repentance
    •   Repentance is seen by a sacrifice being offered
    •   All of this hinges on the work of Christ on the Cross (only later realised, although there for all of time-space history).



23.6 Summary-Conclusions



We have considered in this chapter the following events involving David:


1. His sin in respect of Bathsheba and Uriah.

2. His acting to resolve Saul's past guilt in respect of the Gibeonites

3. His role as head of the nation – being incited to number them and perhaps identifying with their sin of pride – to deal with the sin of Israel at the time.




In respect of these three events we have observed the following judgments involving David (and our suggestions):


1A. The death of his child

- to draw a line to cut off that past sin

1B. Rebellion from within his household (Absalom)

- to show a public punishment

1C. Ongoing violence

-  to provide ongoing discipline and reminder

2. Seven of Saul's family executed

        - as a token acknowledgment of the guilt and need for justice

3. Choice of punishment for sin – plague,

        - halted by repentance and sacrifice.




In respect of these three judgments we have learned the following lessons in respect of what happened with David:


1. Power and authority does not reduce or cover up guilt

  •   guilt carries with it repercussions
  •   guilt requires repentance
  •   repentance opens the way for forgiveness but discipline may also come a) as a one-off act and b) as ongoing reminder.

2. The Past does not mean that unresolved issues reduce guilt

  •   guilt still needs dealing with appropriately


3. Sometimes sin needs revealing

  •   here by a famine and later by David's own pride
  •   it still brings guilt and needs repentance
  •   it is only dealt with by God's method – the death of His Son on the Cross.


These are profound and very basic lessons which the unbeliever will balk at, but which still apply, and may be summarised in the following two lessons:


•  Ultimately Sin is a propensity to self-centred godlessness resulting in individual sins which God wants dealt with here and now on this earth, and the means of dealing with both the attitude and outworkings is by accepting Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour, giving over the sovereignty of your life to his leading, and receiving forgiveness and cleansing on the basis of what he achieved for you on the Cross.

•  Failure to do that while on this earth means that at death we face God and receive His ultimate judgment which is separation from Him in eternity.


As with all these things, the choice is always ours.



Return to top of page