Refuge in Him
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Refuge in Him

2 Samuel 22:21-31  (ID: 3550)

While David was called a man after God’s own heart, he was neither a perfect man nor a perfect king. So how can we account for David rejoicing that he was righteous and clean before a holy God? Examining 2 Samuel 22, Alistair Begg explains that David was not claiming sinlessness. Rather, David was expressing his trust in God’s promise to blot out his transgressions. The righteousness David experienced was an imputed righteousness that all who put their faith in Jesus enjoy.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 2 Samuel and to chapter 22 and to follow along as I read from the twenty-first verse. Two Samuel 22, beginning at verse 21.

And David sings out to the Lord,

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
 according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
 and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
 and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
 and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
 according to my cleanness in his sight.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
 with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
 and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
 but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
For you are my lamp, O Lord,
 and my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
 and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
 the word of the Lord proves true;
 he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

Amen. We thank God for his Word.

We ended last time at verse 20, and so we begin again at verse 21. We saw that David in the poetic section of it, verses 8–16, has been describing the dramatic intervention of God in his life, using imagery from other parts of God’s dealings with his people in the past and applying them very straightforwardly to himself. By the time you reach verse 20, he tells us that God brought him “out into a broad place,” which is the very same terminology of what happened when God, through the exodus, brought his people into a broad place. And just as he rescued them, so, says David, “he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”

David was the man of God’s own choosing. The great mystery was not that David loved God but that God chose David.

And then he goes on, in verse 21, to record his perception of himself in a way that is at least puzzling. It sounds virtually self-serving, doesn’t it—all the “mys,” all the “mes”? What he is saying is actually true. It’s not difficult to understand what he’s saying. But the real puzzle is: How is he able to say what he says? And you will look at that.

Remember that Samuel had told Saul that he was not going to be able to proceed with the kingdom because the Lord had sought out a man after his own heart.[1] It’s a long time ago, in 1 Samuel 13. We noted when we studied that passage that the correct understanding of that phraseology, “a man after God’s own heart,” was the place that David had in the heart of God, not the place that God had in the heart of David. And we said at the time, “It’s very important to recognize that, because all that we’re going to discover of David is going to challenge the idea that somehow or another, he was just full of God and preoccupied with God.” And we said it is a quite amazing thought that God is the one who has called out to him, who has bypassed his other brothers, who has set his hand upon him, and who has prepared him for this particular role as king.

David was the man of God’s own choosing. The great mystery was not that David loved God but that God chose David. If you think about it, that is also true of all who are in Christ. And in choosing David, you will remember, he promised him. He promised him that he would make of him a great name,[2] he promised him that he would establish his throne,[3] and he promised him that even when he did wrong, he would discipline him.[4] But then, he said, “my steadfast love will not depart from him.”[5] The covenant love of God: “I have made a commitment to him, and I will not go back on that commitment.” And that is all contained in a prophecy that came to David in chapter 7 of 2 Samuel.

But those of us who have been following along know that Nathan the prophet came also to speak the word to David on a different day. He came to confront him, you will remember, with the sin of his adultery and of his attempt at covering it up by the murder of his friend. And so that provides for us something of a panoramic background that allows us then to come to verse 21 and say, “Wow! Look at how David sees himself.” Look at how he sees himself: “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness … the cleanness of my hands …. His rules were before me, [I never turned] from his statutes …. I was blameless … I kept myself from guilt.” Again, 25, as in 21: “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.”

Well, what, we may ask, has happened to the David who had previously freely acknowledged, when the prophecy of Nathan had come to him in chapter 7, “You know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your … heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.”[6] “You are… You did… You have… You…” “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness.”

See, it is a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? I hope you’re puzzled by it. And you hope that I know the answer to the puzzle. And I hope that the answer to the puzzle will be as clear to you as it has been clear to me. How do we account for these expressions that appear almost to be, like, self-righteous? And David almost appears to be claiming to be sinless. He can’t be claiming to be sinless, can he? Uh-uh.

Now, there have been various attempts to navigate this. And I won’t use up your time with them, but… So, for example, somebody says, “Well, we didn’t know when he actually sang this song. And so perhaps he sang this song before the Bathsheba incident.” Well, don’t you think the writer knew, when he put the song here, that we, in reading chapter 22, would already have known all about the previous chapters? And furthermore, even if you take out the Bathsheba incident, that doesn’t deal with the problem of David’s own personal sin. So some people say, “Well, perhaps it’s the answer.” I think not a chance on that.

“Perhaps,” says somebody else, “David didn’t actually mean it as absolutely as it sounds.” So perhaps when he says “blameless,” he really meant “wholehearted.” I don’t think so.

Perhaps, per Brueggemann, who’s one of the commentators of old, “blameless” can only be understood ironically—that he’s speaking in ironic terms.[7] Uh-uh.

Perhaps his keeping of “the ways of the Lord” is just another way of him saying, “I didn’t kill Saul when I had the chance.” And some of you will remember the occasions when even his friends said to him, “Take him out right now.” And on those occasions, he says, “I could not do this to the Lord’s anointed. I must act in a righteous way.” And so some say, “Perhaps this is his way of saying that was true of him,” and so on.

Now, the problem with each of these attempts at explaining how David is apparently not really saying what he’s saying is that it is perfectly clear to me that he is saying what he’s saying. I mean, you don’t have to be a genius to understand this. What he says is absolutely clear, and he makes it very, very clear. So how, then, are we to understand this?

What we need to do is we need to go back to the prophecy of Nathan back in chapter 12. And if your Bible is there, please turn to it and note as I note it with you. You remember what happens. Nathan comes to him. He tells him that little story about the man—the two men, a rich man and a poor man, flocks and herds. Remember, the one, he took the poor man’s lamb, and he prepared it for himself, and David’s anger was greatly kindled, and so on. And he said, “The man who has done this deserves to die.” That’s 2 Samuel 12:5. “He [should] restore the lamb fourfold, because he did [that] thing, and … he had no pity.” And then, of course, the devastating moment when Nathan says to David, “You are the man!” “You are the man!”

And as that hits him like a thunderbolt, he then is on the receiving end of the word of Nathan to him. In verse 13: “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” “The Lord … has put away your sin; you shall not die.” How is it possible, how is it right, that God would put away the sin of David?

This actually is scandalous. “This is,” as we sing sometimes, “amazing grace, this is unfailing love.”[8] Because remember, when David says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord,” if we step away from that for a moment and turn to Psalm 51, we’re able there to eavesdrop on, if you like, an extrapolation or an expansion of that straightforward statement by David to Nathan. “I have sinned against the Lord.” He’s not talking about what happened with Bathsheba. He’s not talking about what he did in relation to Uriah and so on. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” That’s the issue. That’s the issue always with sin. The Lord is dealing with his sin. David is going to have to deal with the consequences. We said that when we studied it. We won’t go back along that line.

But when we go to Psalm 51, we hear David, as it were, in his bedroom, praying in that context. What does he pray? “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”[9] Not “according to me” or “to how well I’ve been doing” but “according to your covenant love—the promise that you gave, that your steadfast love would not depart from me. Now, please, God, have mercy on me according to that.”

According to your abundant mercy,
 blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
 … cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
 and my sin is ever before me.
[And] against you, you only, have I sinned
 and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
 and blameless in your judgment.[10]

And then he goes on to say, “You know, from the very beginning of it, the whole of my human existence, I was brought forth in such a fashion that I was bent in on myself.”[11]

His previous attempts at covering up his sin, at avoiding public exposure, had left him absolutely sick in mind and body. Let none of us be in any doubt about this: a guilty conscience is sheer misery. A guilty conscience is sheer misery. I don’t care if you’re five or fifty. David says, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” This is Psalm 32:

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
 my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

[But] I acknowledged my sin to you,
 and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I[’ll] confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
 And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.   Selah.[12]

“Let me think about that for a moment.”

See, what happened was that David trusted entirely in God’s word—that God said, via his servant the prophet, “Your sins have been put away.” Now, how could the sins of David be put away? This is where when we say to one another, “The Bible is a book about Jesus,” that’s not just a sort of way to give ourselves a quote, but it is actually true. The benefits of Christ’s death on the cross as the only Savior were reckoned beforehand to those who lived before Jesus. There is salvation in only one person. There is only “one mediator between God and [man], the man Christ Jesus.”[13] All acts of mediation by prophets, priests, and kings all the way through the Old Testament are pointing forward entirely to the mediation that is that of Christ in each of those offices—or in the one office, if you like, of Prophet, Priest, and King. The instances of salvation in the Old Testament depend as much on Christ’s death as the instances of salvation in the New Testament and beyond.

It is the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ that enables David to write as he does, to catch a glimpse of himself as God sees him.

Now, again, if your Bible is open, turn to Romans chapter 4, because I want to try and make sure that we see this in a way that helps us. In Romans chapter 4, Paul is explaining to these folks to whom he writes the wonder of salvation and the wonder of what it means to be justified by faith. Now, we can’t pause apart to note this, and then you can come back to it on your own.

He is explaining to them there that the righteousness that was the righteousness of Abraham in verse 3—“If Abraham was justified by works, he [had] something to boast about, but not before God.”[14] Well, no. If he did it, he could say, “I did it.” He could say, “My, my, my, me, me, me.” No, no. He says no, he couldn’t do that. “For what does the Scripture say?” Well, it says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him,” credited to him, reckoned to him, imputed to him, “as righteousness.”[15] It wasn’t his righteousness. It was a righteousness imputed to him.

And then he goes on. He says, “[Well, if you think about it,] the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but [who] believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Then he says, “And if you want to think about it in relationship to David, let’s just do that”: “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, … whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”[16]

In other words, it is the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ that enables David to write as he does. It enables David, if you like, to catch a glimpse of himself as God sees him. As God sees him. And that is true of all who are in Christ. All who trust in Christ’s atoning work, all who believe in the promise of salvation that is found in him, are not then proceeding through life in the hope that they will manage to have enough righteousness infused in them to have sufficient to be able to present finally on that day, “Well, I did as best as I could, and I tried not to, and I tried not to,” and so on.

It’s quite amazing to me how many professing Christian people still are limping along the line of their Christian life with that perspective—because when they look on this and they say, “How could David possibly say this?” the reason is because when they look on themselves, they say, “How could I possibly say this?” Surely God could only tolerate me if he sees me in Christ. Surely only in Christ is there no condemnation. I am justifiably condemned by my actions and by my inactions. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”[17] Oh, you see,

All we like sheep have gone astray;
 [each of us has] turned … to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
 the iniquity of us all.[18]

The reason that David writes as he does is because he was trusting in the Christ to come, and we trust in the Christ who has come. If you are in Christ, this is your testimony—Romans 3:21. Listen: “But now the righteousness of God…” This is what Luther wrestled with all the way through, till he finally was grabbed hold of by God. Because he was a Roman Catholic monk. He knew all the things you’re supposed to do and all the things you’re not supposed to do. He tried his jolly best all the time—went to Rome in a great search for satisfaction with God. And it was the Holy Spirit who turned the light on for him.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested,” or revealed, or displayed, “apart from the law, although the Law … the Prophets bear witness to it.” What is this “righteousness of God”? It is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who…” Do their best? No, exactly: “for all who believe.” Because “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”—none of us is in any different position, as far as that’s concerned—“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins”—waiting now, the Old Testament folks looking forward to one who would come that they did not see; we looking back to one who came, whom we have not seen. And “it was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who” does their best. No, he’s to be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in [Christ] Jesus.”

Now, where does this really come to rest? I’ll tell you where it comes to rest. I have a lot of good friends. Well, I have a few good friends. I have a friend. Amongst my religious friends—amongst my religious friends—some of them will straightforwardly say to me, “I wish I believed what you believe. Because it’s such cheap grace. It’s just so easy. All you have to do is believe. If you had come to my church, you’re not going to get away with it on that basis. You’re going to have to do this and that and the next thing, and you’re going to have to hope that finally, when you kick it, that there will be people that will begin to pray you through purgatory and make sure that whatever stuff has still got to be cleaned up will get cleaned up. Oh, I wish I believed what you believe!” The fact is, they don’t wish that they believed what I believe, or what we believe. I wish they did wish that. They scorn the very idea.

And on that path that those folks are on—on that path—innumerable people are driven to despair at the hour of their death. They are driven to despair at the hour of their death. Because now it is absolutely clear that there is no time left to fix this. There will be no more opportunities to do this and to do that and to do the next thing. And the next appointment is a divine appointment. And the answer to the question of the catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is my only hope in life and in death?”: “It is that I belong entirely to my Savior, who has bled for me,”[19] and so on. And Luther, he actually, in his [commentary on] Galatians, he says, “You know, I would have been in that exact same predicament. It would have happened to me if Christ had not looked at me in mercy and liberated me from this error.”

You see, strangely and yet wonderfully, here in these somewhat daunting verses of 2 Samuel 22, we’re at the very heart of the gospel message: what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinners to a holy God. David in verse 20 says of God that “he delighted in me.” Because he sees his life as God sees his life. How did God deal with David? He dealt with him as a forgiven and a cleansed man. On what basis? On the basis of the righteousness of Christ.

And my fellow believers this morning, if you are in Christ, that is how God sees you. That is how he sees you. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin. We’re still sinners. But by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account, transferred to our miserable balance—all the riches of the provision of Christ, both in his passive obedience through death and in his active obedience through keeping the law—we are considered just or righteous.

How did God deal with David? He dealt with him as a forgiven and a cleansed man. On what basis? On the basis of the righteousness of Christ.

We actually have Luther to thank for the little Latin phrase simul justus et peccator. And those of you who did Latin at school will know what that is, and the rest of us need to understand that what he’s saying in a nutshell is that we are simultaneously righteous and a sinner. Simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

Now, if you think about that, it makes perfect sense. We can at least understand what’s going on. Because in Christ, sin no longer reigns; hence “no condemnation.”[20] It no longer reigns. We don’t live under its dominion in Christ. But it remains. It remains. That’s why we constantly come to say, “Father, please forgive me for this, and forgive me for that, and forgive me for the next thing.” What is happening along that journey? The journey of the Christian life is becoming what God says we are. It’s not becoming something we’re not. It’s not making ourselves something that we would like to be. It’s, in C.S. Lewis’s terminology—you know, he says, “When you become a Christian, it’s as though the Holy Spirit comes to inhabit a little cottage, and it seems so wonderfully nice. And then all of a sudden, workmen show up, and they start bashing the place around, beating down walls and changing it. And you say to yourself, ‘I didn’t think this is what it would be like to be a Christian!’ Oh, no,” says Lewis, “you see, the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit, he intends to make it into a palace so that you do not live in that condition forever.”[21] So you see, the work of the gospel is to conform us to the image of Christ.

You see, if I were to trust in my own righteousness to get me into heaven, I would despair of any possibility at all. And if you wouldn’t, you’d better think. “I will not trust in anything,” we sing, “no gifts, no power, no wisdom.” What are we singing? “But I will trust in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.”[22]

Or, in the hymn “’Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies,” we sing these four lines:

In Christ accepted and brought near
And clothed in righteousness divine,
I see the path to life made clear…
Listen: “and all your merits, Lord, are mine.”[23]

You see this double imputation? That our sins are imputed to Christ. He is forsaken that we might be forgiven, and his righteousness is imputed to us in order that we might then live to the praise of his glory.

Well, let me just use two quotes. And we must come back to this; our time is gone. And maybe these two quotes will help you. They’re a help to me. I think to myself, “Well, maybe somebody else has said something really good about this that I could read, so that if what I said was really tough, then they’ll remember that.” So, here we go.

B. B. Warfield, professor at Princeton, and in the days when people at Princeton believed things—this is him. Listen very carefully:

There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot … be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relationship to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in … behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.[24]

So how can David say that “I was blameless before God”? Only in the righteousness that is provided, that it is an alien righteousness.

You will never understand, you will never love, the story of the gospel until you first see yourself as hopeless and helpless.

Lloyd-Jones—and this is the final quote. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his wonderful little book Truth Unchanged, Unchanging, he says,

There is but one cure for the ills of [our world]. When my conscience accuses me there is … one thing I know of that can give me rest and peace. It is to know that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, … has forgiven me. It is to believe, and to know, that because He loved me and died for me, I am clear of accusation. And, conscious as I am of my weakness and failure, and my lack of power to live a life worthy of [His] name, I am again driven back to Him. It is only from Him and the power of the Holy Spirit which He imparts that I can be made more than conqueror. And as I contemplate myself lying on my deathbed and going on to meet my Maker and my Judge Eternal, my only hope is that I shall be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and that He will take me by the hand and present me “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” It is always, and only, in Christ that I find satisfaction. It is only in Him that my problems are solved. The world, with all its methods, cannot help me at the moment of my greatest need. … Christ never fails. He satisfies always and in every respect. [Wesley was right]:

 Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
 More than all in thee I find![25]

And the promise of the Bible is that God saves the humble. If you’re here today, and you have been working your way down a laborious track in the hope that you would manage to fix things yourself, then I commend to you Jesus Christ. But you will never understand, you will never love, the story of the gospel until you first see yourself as hopeless and helpless.

Well, Father, in a multitude of words may we hear your Word as we, as it were, jump off this page and seek to remind ourselves of the amazing nature of grace, it just… Most of us—in fact, all of us, by nature—we cherish the idea that if you were going to build a kingdom, you’d use really, really good people. And then we read the genealogy of Christ, and some real beauties in that. Of course. Of course. For all our acceptance is in Christ. All David’s acceptance, somehow, when one day in a new heaven and in a new earth we sit down with him—we find him somewhere in the vast company—he will testify to the saving power of the one and only mediator, Jesus Christ, the one true King, the one sufficient sacrifice, the one unerring Prophet.

Bless us, Lord, as we sing our closing song. Make it grace to us. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] See 1 Samuel 13:14.

[2] See 2 Samuel 7:9.

[3] See 2 Samuel 7:13.

[4] See 2 Samuel 7:14.

[5] 2 Samuel 7:15 (ESV).

[6] 2 Samuel 7:20–21 (ESV). Emphasis added.

[7] Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1990), 343.

[8] Phil Wickham, “This Is Amazing Grace” (2013).

[9] Psalm 51:1 (ESV).

[10] Psalm 51:1–4 (ESV).

[11] Psalm 51:5 (paraphrased).

[12] Psalm 32:3–4 (ESV).

[13] 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV).

[14] Romans 4:2 (ESV).

[15] Romans 4:3 (ESV).

[16] Romans 4:4–8 (ESV).

[17] 1 John 1:8 (ESV).

[18] Isaiah 53:6 (ESV).

[19] Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1. Paraphrased.

[20] Romans 8:1 (ESV).

[21] Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 4, chap. 9. Paraphrased.

[22] Stuart Townend, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” (1995).

[23] Charles Wesley, “’Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[24] “‘Miserable-Sinner Christianity’ in the Hands of the Rationalists,” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 7, Perfectionism: Volume One (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 113.

[25] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Truth Unchanged, Unchanging (London: James Clarke, 1951), 117–18.

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.