July 11, 2021
The account of David’s repentance in 2 Samuel 12 is complemented by Psalm 51, where the king recognizes that sin is a matter not of what he has done but of who he fundamentally is. Alistair Begg reminds us that repentance like David’s is evidence of God’s grace at work in our heart. Through Christ, we can come to the Lord humbly yet confidently, trusting in His compassion and knowing that He who has provided reconciliation in His Son has also justly and mercifully dealt with our sins.
Well, as I said this morning, we come this evening to try and finish up the study that we left unfinished in the morning hour, and that in 2 Samuel chapter 12. But rather than rereading the first fifteen verses there, let me encourage you to turn to the Fifty-First Psalm. The Fifty-First Psalm. Psalm 51. And the heading in our Bibles is “To the choirmaster. A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” So, we have the record as it is provided for us here in 2 Samuel 12—the very brief interchange that takes place between Nathan and David—and here we have the background, as it were:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
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.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then [you will] delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
And this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Well, just a brief prayer and a brief study:
God our Father, we humble ourselves before the truth of your Word, asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to ponder it and to proclaim it in such a way that not only do we understand it but that we have a life-changing encounter with you, the living God. To this end we seek you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, for those of you who did not have the opportunity to be with us this morning, we were working our way through the opening section, the first half of 2 Samuel 12. We acknowledged the fact that David had incurred God’s displeasure. We saw that that is the context out of which all of chapter 12 unfolds. We then recognized the way in which God in his mercy had confronted David. He was confronted by the Lord’s servant, and then we went on to see that he was uncovered by God’s word. And as we reached the end of the time, we were paying attention to the way in which David finally said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan in turn said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
And we said that brings us to our third and final observation, which is that we discover David pardoned by God’s mercy. And in every real way, this is the turning point of not only this passage but the turning point in relationship to the balance of David’s life. This, in short order, is an expression of amazing grace. Ralph Davis, when he comments on this and David’s response to Nathan’s very direct statement, he points out, “There is no excuse, no cloaking, no searching for a loophole, … no pretext put forward, no human weakness pleaded. He acknowledges his guilt openly, candidly, [briefly,] and without prevarication.”
And, of course, the very brevity of it is striking to us when we are only in this twelfth chapter of 2 Samuel. That is why it is helpful for us always to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and it is why we are helped by not only his reflections that we noted this morning in Psalm 32 but also what we’re told here of what happened when Nathan came to him and confronted him with the situation—in other words, making the point very clearly that I tried to make this morning: that if we had seen him, as it were, out on the street, it may have appeared as though he had things under control, that his cover-up had been successful, but in actual fact, what was going on inside of him and his ultimate response to this is conveyed in that poem in Psalm 51.
Now, what is so, as I suggested this morning, scandalous about this—because when you read this, every sense that we have of justice and of retribution and of getting what you deserve and so on seems to be completely turned on its head in this encounter. And in actual fact, it is, and particularly when we think about the fact that we would not say that David was “a worse sinner” than Saul had been. In actual fact, when we read what went on with Saul, we would have said that in comparison to the events that are provided for us in chapter 11, Saul actually was, from one perspective, a better fellow. But Saul lost his kingdom, and David is going to keep his kingdom. The dynasty of Saul comes to a crashing end, and yet here, the dynasty of David is going to continue.
And as we said this morning, not only is David made aware of the fact—mortified by the fact—that he who has been the beneficiary of God’s grace and goodness to him could fall in such a way as this, but he’s also aware of the fact that the covenant-keeping part of God’s mercy to him is such that it doesn’t relieve him from his temptations and from his failures; but also, thirdly, that he is now to become confident that the covenant-keeping purposes and promises of God will yet be fulfilled in him and through him, despite all that we have read in chapter 11.
And so, what is the difference, then, between Saul and David? After all, Saul was on the receiving end of the word of the prophet. What did he do? Well, he prevaricated. He tried to explain it away. He offered various excuses and so on. What about David? David repented. He repented. Just three words: “I have sinned.” Three syllables, and yet three syllables—as Augustine said, in these three syllables, the flames of the heart’s desire rise up to heaven.
In his reaction—in his first reaction—to Nathan’s story, he appears to be attempting to rid himself of his own guilty conscience by passing judgment on someone else. Remember, we said this morning, it’s a strange reaction: “This man who did this to this lamb and was so unkind to his visiting neighbor, he deserves to die.” Really, David? Have you seen anything of yourself lately? No, he tries to alleviate his predicament, as we are tempted to do, by pointing out, “There’s somebody much worse than me, somebody who’s done far worse than me.” But now there is none of that.
And his repentance, his expression of repentance before God, is enabled by the grace of God. The grace of God. Repentance is actually a grace of God—that when we turn to God and acknowledge our guilt and confess our sin, it is indicative of the fact that God is actually at work in our hearts. Because by nature, we want to run. We want to hide. We want to explain it away. We want somehow or another to make ourselves appear better in the light of the watching world, and even in our own light.
So how is it that David does what he does? Well, let me suggest to you that he does so because he trusts in God’s word as conveyed to him by Nathan. What was the word? Well, the first was “You are the man!” He has now confessed his sin. But here is the word: “The Lord also has put away your sin.” In other words, he not only trusts in the word that God has spoken through his prophet, but he trusts in God’s unfailing love. He trusts in God’s compassion.
And as we read in the psalm, he is alert to the fact that although he understands all of, if you like, the liturgical framework of life in Israel, he realizes that it is distinctly possible to go through the motions of various sacrifices and the offerings and so on, which God has put in place purposefully and which are there for every right reason. It’s possible, he recognizes, to do that. But he says to himself, “You know, the only thing that I can bring to God by way of sacrifice is a broken and a contrite heart.” In other words, he recognizes that God can cleanse him, and he realizes that God will cleanse him. Confronted by his servant, uncovered by his word, everything that has been covered up by him is laid bare.
And, of course, we read that—and I alluded to it this morning without turning to it—when in the letter of the Hebrews we have that amazing statement. It’s somewhat scary, isn’t it? Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give [an] account.”
Well, that is devastating, isn’t it? There is no escape from that. But the writer goes on to point out that we need not fear being uncovered, because we have in Jesus the one who covers our sins. In fact, in that very section, it goes on. And usually, when we read and hear people dealing with Hebrews chapter 4, these things… And the gap that is there in the Bible—in my Bible—I don’t think is a helpful gap at all: the gap between verse 13 and 14. There’s a huge paragraph break, and then there is a statement and a heading, “Jesus [Is] the Great High Priest.” And so you’re tempted to actually begin a whole new section. But no, this great statement comes after the statement in 13: we’re “all naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give [an] account.” Well, what are we gonna do about that?
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [Because] we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in [our] time of need.
So, the invitation in coming to God in repentance is to approach confidently to his throne, recognizing that we can hide nothing from him but that he has provided a covering in his Son.
You see, the reason that David actually stopped covering up his iniquity was because he was convinced of the blessing of having his sin forgiven and covered. That, actually, is not 51, but it is 32:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
You see, here’s the thing: we will never actually come to God in our exposed nakedness and confess our sin to him unless we are actually convinced of his compassion and of his love and of his grace and of his mercy. And David acknowledges that. He says, “I acknowledged my sin. I didn’t cover my iniquity. I said, ‘I’ll confess my transgressions.’ And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Now, here is the great question, and it is a question that runs the whole way through the Bible and all the way, as we said this morning, into the New: How can this possibly be? How is it that God justifies the wicked? How is it that Christ dies for the ungodly?
It is quite interesting—in fact, it is wonderfully helpful—that when Paul is addressing this very subject in his great theological treatise, if we regard Romans as such; when he is addressing this (that the whole world is accountable before God; that whether you are Jew or gentile, that our mouths should be stopped; we have nothing to say in our defense); when he goes on from there to explain that no righteousness that we could produce would ever avail, but the wonder of it is, he says in 3:24, we “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” How is it, then, that the godless can be put in a right relationship with God? How is it that God could justify the wicked? How is it that I could “gain an int’rest in the Savior’s blood”?
Now, fascinatingly, when he goes on into chapter 4, as he explains the nature of justification by faith, he uses two Old Testament illustrations. And the first one is Abraham, as the father of them all, and it was “counted to him as righteousness.” He “believed God.” What else did he do? Well, he did different things, but in terms of his status before God, all he did was believe God: “I believe you.” And then who does he use? David. And what does he quote? What we’re quoting now: “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, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”
Now, how does this work? Religion says, “Well, it’s all on our part. We have got to do our best. We’ve got to fulfill our obligations. We’ve got to keep the law. We’ve got to try everything that that we possibly can to ensure that all that we have done will enable us to stand right before God.” The problem with that—and it comes to a crashing collapse when we realize that the Bible also says that even our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. In other words, not only will we be kept from the reality of this by our bad deeds, but many of us are kept by our good deeds. The reasons that we have never ever come to living faith in Jesus is not because we are aware of how dreadfully bad we are and think there is no hope, but it is because we are convinced of how relatively good we are and therefore that there is no need.
But here, all he says is, “I have sinned.” Just three syllables. And Nathan says, “And God has put away your sin.” He buries your sin in the deepest ocean, as far as the east is from the west, never to bring it up again, never to confront you with it again, never to try you, as it were, in the court, in the bar of his judgment again. The answer to this, of course, is in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ: that God “made him … who knew no sin,” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5—that God “made him … who knew no sin” to “be sin” for us, in order that “in him we might become the [very] righteousness of God.”
The reason that some of us have never actually come to God in this way is because we have never faced up to the fact that we’re sinful. We’ve never actually faced up to the fact that sin is not simply what we do, but sin is fundamentally what we are. Hence Psalm 51: that before ever we were born, while we were still in that gestation period, before we had ever an opportunity to do anything good or do anything bad, the inherent, natural warp of the human heart was at work in our fetal position. That’s what the Bible says. And in terms of any opportunity for us to alleviate ourselves of that, where can we go? That’s why we ended this morning, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” Because I’ve got nowhere else to hide. Where am I gonna go to cover things up?
So when we come, you see, to the Lord’s Table like this and we remember that his body was broken for us, when we remember that his blood was shed for us, what we’re affirming is this: that in the cross, God pardons those who believe in Jesus, even though we have sinned and even though we deserve his condemnation.
You see, the gospel message is not condemnation. The gospel message is invitation. The gospel message is not “You are the man!” The gospel message is “God has put away your sins”—that in the cross he has dealt with sin. So the invitation is to come now to the one who hanged upon that cross, who bore our punishment—a punishment we deserve—to grant to us a forgiveness we don’t deserve and to come to him and to receive the reconciliation that he has provided for us.
You say, “Well, that just somehow or another seems still almost unjust.” But no, think about it. Because in the cross, not only does he pardon those who believe in Christ, but he displays and he satisfies his perfect justice. And he does so by executing the punishment that our sins deserve upon his sinless Son. “Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free”—for that reason and no other reason at all. “For God the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.”
It’s virtually impossible for us to read this section and this interchange between Nathan and David without finding ourselves going to the cross, not simply in order to understand this theologically but also because there at the cross you have one of the great evidences of this at work, don’t you? And there they crucified him between the malefactors, between the thieves. And the people had abused him and scorned him, and they dressed him up and torn down his clothes and stripped him apart and put him up on that cross. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the two folks on either side of him have nothing good to say at all. They malign him. They cajole him. They say brutal things concerning him.
And as their time on earth begins to wane, suddenly, one of them wakes up. One of them. You ever think about that? You ever think about the other guy? He was as close as his friend! He saw what his friend saw! He heard what his friend heard! But it was his friend who said, “Hey, wait a minute. We are up here getting what our sins deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And then, hope against hope: “Lord, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?”
Now, can you get to heaven on the strength of that? Yes! If you have faith, says John Murray, as slender as one strand of a spider’s web, there you will find the evidence of God’s redeeming love. “I have sinned. God has put it away.” The benefits of the compassion and goodness and mercy of God are inestimable. David in his poem says, “I’m a transgressor. I’m a rebel. I am guilty of iniquity. I’m guilty of sin. But you, Lord, you’re full of mercy. You’re full of love. You’re full of compassion.”
But, of course—and we will return to this—there is still this question of consequences. Because it is inevitable that we wrestle with this: “Well, how come, if God is so gracious to him as to make sure that his eternal destiny is cared for, why is it that his family life is such manifold chaos? Why is it that the characteristics of his kingdom from this point out are marked by bloodshed?” Well, we will come to this. We have to come to it, because we come to it in the next section. But I will give you this from Motyer, who has at least given me hope that in my study this week, I can make something of it. This is what Motyer writes: repentance is like fetching back a stone one has just thrown into a pool; the stone can be retrieved, but the ripples go on spreading. God mercifully accepted David’s repentance, but as we’ll see in the remainder of his life, the Lord did not choose to stop the ripples.” And surely in part to humble him. Surely in part to remind him. But again, as I say, to that we’ll come.
Well, we’ll pause and pray. And I want to use Calvin’s prayer, at the end of the twelfth verse, in his sermon on this passage. Bow with me as I make this prayer my own and make it our own.
Calvin concludes his sermon, and he says to his congregation,
Now let us prostrate ourselves before his majesty, recognizing all our faults, praying that he may be pleased to make us feel them so that we can be displeased with them and recognize that he has just reason to destroy us without the least mercy. By this means may we experience such sorrow that there will be no other remedy except our taking refuge in his goodness. May he also be pleased to show himself full of pity for us so that we may taste more of his grace. In order to receive pardon for our sins, let us learn to be our own judges, touched by his Spirit in such a way that all the rebukes which are given to us will serve to prosecute our case, not to drive us to despair but so that we may be humbled so much that we experience his salvation. And may all our afflictions and griefs be as agreeable to him as a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and may we be increasingly guided by his hand, so that our whole life may be dedicated to his obedience. And may he not only bestow this grace upon us but upon all peoples and all the nations of the earth.
 The Berleburg Bible (1720–29), cited in C. F. Keil, Bible Commentary on the Books of Samuel (1875; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), 391, quoted in Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 1999), 155.
 See 1 Sam. 15:10–31.
 Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV).
 Psalm 32:1–2 (ESV).
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (1738).
 See Romans 4:11
 Romans 4:3 (ESV).
 Romans 4:3 (ESV).
 Romans 4:6–8 (ESV).
 See Isaiah 64:6.
 See Micah 7:19
 See Psalm 103:12.
 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV).
 Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776).
 Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863).
 Luke 23:41–42 (paraphrased).
 Alec Motyer, Treasures of the King: Psalms from the Life of David (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007), chap. 13.
 John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel: Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992). Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2021, 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.