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3 Lessons from David’s Fall and Forgiveness

Editors’ note: 

Take part in TGC’s Read the Bible initiative, where we’re encouraging Christians and churches to read together through God’s Word in a year.

As we face our sin, we have to navigate between two unbiblical ditches. One is despairing that our sin is beyond forgiveness. The other is carelessly thinking we can violate God’s commands without experiencing painful repercussions.

The fall of David in 2 Samuel 11 is one of the saddest accounts in all of Scripture. Yet it also has great value as it offers us hope about the greatness of God’s forgiving grace—while also warning us about the terrible consequences of sin, even forgiven sin.

As we reach 2 Samuel 11, David is at his pinnacle. His throne has been established, his enemies have been subdued, and preparations are being made for building the temple in Jerusalem. Then suddenly David falls into heinous sin when he steals a man’s wife and then has her husband murdered as part of the coverup (2 Sam. 11). The Lord then sends the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin (2 Sam. 12). David repents. God forgives. But David still has to suffer the consequences of his sin.

There are at least three practical lessons we can learn from the aftermath of David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12.

1. God’s Amazing Grace to Those Who Repent

When David is confronted by Nathan, he confesses: “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13). Then Nathan the prophet declares, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (v. 13). God’s forgiveness of David includes:

  • Temporal judicial forgiveness. The Lord sets aside the requirement of the law that murderers and adulterers be put to death (Lev. 20:10; 24:17). David’s life is spared, and his throne is not taken from him.
  • Spiritual forgiveness. God reconciles David to himself. David later writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity” (Ps. 32:1–2). Paul later uses the example of God’s forgiveness of David to show that God’s way of salvation has always been to the unworthy, by grace through faith (Rom. 4:4–8).

While I’m saddened by the account of David’s great sin, I’m thankful that these events are recorded in Scripture.

While I’m saddened by the account of David’s great sin, I’m thankful these events are recorded in Scripture. What wonderful hope God’s grace offers to sinners like us, especially when we’re aware of how shameful our sins are. God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). He saves the sexually immoral and murderers who repent (including abusers and those who have been involved in abortion). God invites sinners to run to him for compassion and abundant pardon (Isa. 55:6–7)

2. Forgiven Sin Still Has Consequences

While it’s wonderful to read of God’s lavish forgiveness, we should also pay careful attention to the painful and fitting consequences the Lord brought upon David for his sin. We’re told David’s chastisement was necessary both to uphold the Lord’s reputation (2 Sam. 12:14) and also to teach future generations that sin has consequences (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). As I’ve studied the latter part of David’s life, I’ve often wondered if it would’ve been easier on him not to have lived to see the horrible events of his final years (recorded in 2 Sam. 13–24).

Just consider how God’s words through Nathan played out:

  • “The sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Sam. 12:10). God shatters the peace and stability David had spent a lifetime establishing, as his kingdom is torn apart by two civil wars.
  • “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Sam. 12:11–12). The shameful sexual sin and murderous violence in which David engaged secretly is practiced openly by his sons, Amnon and Absalom.
  • “The child . . . shall die.” (2 Sam. 12:14). The baby conceived by David’s sin died seven days after he was born (2 Sam. 12:15–23).

Many professing Christians take sin far too lightly. The example of David should remind us that God doesn’t.

Many professing Christians take sin far too lightly. The example of David should remind us that God doesn’t. As Calvin asked, “If God did not spare his servant David, what right do we have to expect to be exempted?” I have counseled sexually immoral believers who have contracted a disease and were divorced by their spouses. I’ve known child abusers who have gone to prison. I’ve counseled men who lost their jobs for looking at porn at work.

God forgives sin with great grace and at great price. Such love should motivate us to flee from sin and pursue righteousness (2 Tim. 2:22). But if love won’t, then the consequences of sin might (1 Tim. 5:20).

3. We Need a Better King Than David

This is a central theme in 1 and 2 Samuel. While David surpasses those who came before (and after) him as leaders in Israel, he still falls short of what God’s people need. While his good qualities as the man after God’s own heart point ahead to Christ, his fall into sin reminds us that we need a worthier king.

Jesus, the Son of David, is the flawless leader who never failed when he was tested. He had no sins to cover up. He never once abused his power. Israel’s daughters were safe with him. Moreover, it was because of God’s plan to put Jesus forward as a propitiation 1,000 years later that he was able to forgive the sins of Old Testament saints like David (Rom. 3:25–26), along with all the rest of us who fall short of God’s standard (Rom. 3:23–24).

Wonderfully Balanced

Scripture is wonderfully balanced. While God’s grace encourages sinners to turn to him for forgiveness, his chastisement should also encourage us not to take sin lightly (Heb. 3:15; 12:5). David’s example reminds us that forgiven sin still has consequences, but that bitter consequences don’t mean we’re not forgiven.

Forgiven sin still has consequences, [but] bitter consequences don’t mean we’re not forgiven.

Behold the kindness and severity of God as you read 2 Samuel 12. Don’t doubt God’s willingness to forgive even the greatest sins, and don’t test God by indulging in sin while assuming you’ll be able to repent later. Many other sinners (including Saul and many of the kings who followed David) were hardened in their rebellion and did not find repentance. Don’t use the pretext of forgiveness to rationalize your sin. Sin is never worth it.

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