F. W. Grant.
Division 4. (2 Sam. 10 — 12.)
Failure of David also.
The account of David's greatness is, as we have seen, a summary in some respects anticipative of the after-history. The first four sons given as born to him in Jerusalem are sons of Bathsheba, and yet the sorrowful history of their mother has not been given; so also apparently with the account of the victory over Hadadezer. The last seems evidently connected with the Syro-Ammonitish war, which now follows, and with which is interwoven the shameful fall of David himself. The story of this latter begins, therefore, with that of the war, the first successes of which are the preface to it, as the hour of prosperity is so often the prelude to some fleshly manifestation. The fall that seems most sudden is only the witness of decay that has begun before, or at least of some inherent weakness, some lack of self-judgment, which exposes one to it. Walking really with God in humility and dependence, we are safe, — safe as His strength can make us.
(1) The beginning is in blessing, — the victory over the Ammonites and their hired allies. Along with this, however, we may find, perhaps, some hint of another beginning, such as has just been intimated, an unjudged link between the Ammonite and the Israelite, such as we should not have imagined in David. Was it the fruit of alliances in time past,when in his distress he had gone to the king of Moab and the king of Gath, for help that faith would have found much nearer? If so, this would show us how surely, if not prevented by true self-judgment, the sins of our past pursue us. The Ammonite, with the Moabite and the Philistine, were all special enemies of Israel, upon whom, as such, the divine sentence rested. Faith, as in Ruth,would surely at any time have found grace, as she did: but in none of these was there any faith; and Nahash the Ammonite was apparently the same as he whose insolent reproach upon Israel Saul had in the beginning of his reign been called to avert from the men of Jabesh. That very contention with Saul may have led him (for his own ends) as it did Achish, to "show kindness" to David; but real ground of fellowship, we may be sure, there was not. Favor shown to the Ammonite could not have the blessing of God, and so in the end it proves. Hanun means "favored," and thus emphasizes the lesson, "Let favor be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn uprightness." Hanun, quickly persuaded by his counselors, adopts their suspicions as his own, repays the courtesy of David with contempt and ignominy, and then, anticipating the resentment he has provoked, seeks allies and rushes into open war.
Nahash would have thrust out the right eyes of the men of Jabesh, but to an Israelite this can never be done but by his own consent. Hanun, with a lighter reflection of his father's scorn, takes away from David's ambassadors half their beards and half their garments. At Jericho, the place of the world's judgment, they must tarry till they have recovered their dignity as men: so they return.
(b) The Ammonites betake themselves to their natural allies. The pride of the world, in its various forms, which the Syrians picture, goes in full harmony with that perversion of the truth which we recognize in the Ammonite. In all error will be found some association with a heart in insubjection to God. Nor need we wonder if the men of Tob ("good men," as the world speaks,) join themselves in numbers to this company: what a contrast to the discreditable one that came to Adullam before, to shelter themselves with David! But "ye see your calling, brethren," and will understand well the reproach which grace has bad at all times to meet. Just these Adullamites are now the "mighty men" that come with Joab against this array!
Joab, after all, ("Jehovah is Father,") is the suited leader of such. The "elder son" of the parable — a genuine "man of Tob" — never knew the gladness of the Father's house, never knew the Father's arms or the Father's kiss. An Adullamite that has known these grows quickly into a "mighty man" that has hearth and home to fight for: such links of love knit thews and sinews for the battlefield, as is well known. Nature still speaks in echo, though far off, of sweet tones with which the gospel has familiarized us.
Victory depends upon defeating the Syrians, and against them Joab leads the choice men of his host. We know both sides, and understand the spiritual meaning here. In fact the Syrians are vanquished, and fly, and so the Ammonites: and these battles are repeated to this day, with the same result, that all is found to depend upon the Syrians, — a secret which the "mighty men" know well.
(c) But the final victory waits for David in person, that is, for Christ in the day of His appearing. The pride of the world will not be smitten down effectually until He comes; and when He comes, the day of Armageddon will find it in Helam, the place of "their strength," banded together in opposition against Him. The full height of human pride will then be reached, the opposition in man's heart will come fully out, the confederacy which has existed ever since "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together "against the Lord and against His Christ, will have reached its highest power and most imposing front, when the beast and the kings of the earth shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them." Then Shobach, the "shedder" of blood, the prince of Hadarezer's ("Glory-help's") army shall himself be slain, and war between man and man be ended. "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
(2) From this hint of future blessing for the earth we turn back to trace in the executor of God's judgment upon others the course of sin which henceforth darkens with its shadow all David's life. Truly the king for whom Israel waited had not yet come; and for Him ("the desire of all nations") the earth and Israel still are waiting. Of this sin in David we may not think either, as if it were the one black spot in his history, or as the result of a sudden and violent temptation too strong for resistance, or as anything unaccountable at all. It is rather the breaking out of tendencies easily to be discerned in him before this; and which, unchecked by heartfelt humbling before God, only waited for opportunity, to display themselves, and work disaster. We know there was sudden temptation, and all the facilities afforded by despotic power and the license of the times; but it would be poor comfort to suppose that God's saints, if walking as saints, are liable to such sudden overthrows. The moral is not this; it is almost the very opposite of this: it is rather the certainty with which evil permitted in the heart works outward in the life at last; it is that sin is sin, and works as sin, however fashion may yield it license, and call it by another name. David's sin is not exceptional or unaccountable, else it would in that measure cease to have warning for us; and even as to himself would appear as much a misfortune as a crime; whereas nothing could more strictly follow law; cause and effect are as plain here as they may anywhere be traced.
The custom of the times favored polygamy; nor could the law itself as yet plainly and in terms forbid it. The law in its abstract form was perfect as exhibited in the tables of the covenant. In its concrete expression, as in the detailed commandments, "it was weak through the flesh." Grace alone could bring in power for perfect restraint, and therefore alone (as in Christianity) plainly declare the mind of God. In the precepts and walk of Christ our pattern, and in the competency of a known salvation and the indwelling Spirit, perfection absolutely is reached, but only thus. There has been, therefore, "the disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof, (for the law made nothing perfect,) and the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw near to God." (Heb. 7:18, 19.)
The law could not directly forbid polygamy. Early had the human race escaped from the divine law of creation in this matter (Gen. 4:19), but in the race of Cain, and in the family of him whose song to his two wives so taken is in justification of homicide. At the new beginning after the flood, Noah and his three sons are found maintaining what began in Paradise.
Generations pass, and the world has traveled far from God: in the story of Abraham the next lesson is given us of a patriarchal household distracted by a sin of this kind, but to which his wife had urged, against faith, the man of faith, apparently to fulfill by carnal means a divine promise. Thus there is the most plausible pretext in the world, and urged in the most plausible way. It ends, however, not in the fulfillment of the promise, for which God needs no help, but in the casting out both of Hagar and her son; while her son, begotten in lawlessness, becomes the father of a lawless race.
Next Leah is foisted upon Jacob in deceit, and has to be supplemented with Rachel, the loved and bargained for. But here again strife and distraction follow, and the sisters' rivalry increases the misery of it with two concubines additional. This very marriage of two sisters at the same time, which, standing where it did, might be a snare to Israel, the law (Lev. 18:18) specifically points out afterwards, to prohibit it.
In general, there were obvious hindrances which would limit the practice of polygamy; and it was yet reserved for a far future day and in the midst of the full light of Christianity, to put a premium upon it, as the Mormons do. On the contrary,where most temptation might meet with opportunity, as in the case of a king in Israel, such as David was, it was distinctly said, "He shall not multiply wives to himself, that they turn not his heart aside." (Deut. 17:17.) The perversion of the heart from God is here declared to be the result of such a practice; and the pregnant example of this we find in Solomon; but Solomon was himself the son of David and Bathsheba! Heredity, as men say, tells; but only where divine grace has not lifted the heart above it.
David had not fulfilled the injunction of the law. He had not realized his own weakness, as is shown by his many marriages. He had not made, as Job had, a covenant with his eyes. Walking in self-indulgence, the height to which he was raised precipitated his fall. In the warm sun of prosperity, the fruits of permitted license ripened into bitter vintage; and there was no resource, for none was sought! So he fell; and so will all who follow in this course.
At the time when kings go forth to war, and there being war, David remains at Jerusalem. These things which Scripture puts together tell their own tale as so put together. David was seeking ease and engirding himself when circumstances called for activity and energy. What a contrast with the behavior of the Hittite soldier, whom for his faithfulness he presently condemns to death! "The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord camp in the open field: and shall I go to my house?" What a wound for the conscience from this Hittite sword! David is at his house, and on his couch, and then walking upon the roof of his house, when he is snared through his eyes. The woman he finds is a wife, and of one of his own heroic men now at the war for Israel and for him; but nothing stops him. He is a king, and everything yields to him with the facility which is the curse of power. She returns — purified, alas! — to her dishonored home.
But the consequences follow, and to escape them sin follows sin. He sends for Uriah, plays the deceiver, is balked by the devotedness and honesty that contrast so manifestly with his own conduct here, and at last, wrought into madness by the thought of his own shame and what may come of it, sends back the unsuspecting man with his own death-warrant in his hand, to be put into execution by the unscrupulous man he knows so well, and who is to serve him by it.
Strange it seems to find all this dwelt on and lingered over as it is in the history! the awful accusation of one who finds the place in it that David finds! The account of a crime by which truly the enemies of the Lord have been made to blaspheme, as Nathan says, from that day to this. There it is, clear and sharp-edged, to the last word of smooth hypocrisy: "Let not this thing be grievous in thine eyes, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: — encourage him!" There it is in the light, and to be ever in the light, published in the book of inspiration, handed down from generation to generation, to be read by all eyes that will, and by the people of God assuredly, as long as the word of God shall last! Yes, down to the seven days of mourning of the wife for her husband by her sin done to death, after which "David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife."
David, too, has faced that ever since, and faces it still: he will face it ever. It is put away, that sin, yet it remains, and will remain, type of all sins of His people, and of God's dealing with them: out of the holy light of eternity they will never pass, — out of our memories never! Here is man, here is his condemnation, — redeemed, saved, justified man! Thyself; reader; myself. Cease ye from man forever! — from ourselves, sinner or saint! Turn we to God forever, and let us ascribe greatness and salvation to Him alone.
This is what an unexercised conscience can bring a David to. This is what lack of self-judgment, with temptation and opportunity, may make of a saint! Shall we not cry afresh, with David himself, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting"?
(3) "Lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Even among Christians, paralysis of conscience is not rare. Not, indeed, general paralysis, which would be as fatal spiritually as it is naturally, but a local paralysis. Touch a man at one point, he is all alive; he can feel acutely; he can denounce earnestly: touch him at another, there is no response; it is not even that he feels, but governs himself and gives no answer: no, he does not even feel it. Take two things judged by the Word alike as contrary to God, how differently will the minds of even true Christians be affected by them! Take the question of moral evil,with the mass, perhaps,of Christians today, how little are they affected by the most serious doctrinal evil in comparison with this! They would league readily with Unitarians or any others for the suppression of drunkenness, when if you asked them to league with drunkards for the suppression of Unitarianism, they would open their eyes with astonishment. And they would be quite right in the latter case, of course; but is the denial of Christ less serious? If we are to judge by the Word we shall have to say that, if the one is fleshly, the other is devilish; if the truth it is that sanctifies, the denial of the truth is to prohibit sanctification. And who in the light of Christianity will stand up to defend drunkenness? while as an angel of light Satan can propagate the other.
It is true that this may be urged upon the other side, that what the conscience of men almost universally condemns must be the most pernicious evil; and that to get men to Christ you must first reform them: but this is mere natural judgment only, and the denial of the gospel and of the power of Christ.
It will be found, one must fear, that with the highest possible standard of judgment, those who accept the word of God as that are practically far below it, and walk not in the light of the sanctuary, but in the common light of men. And how easily, if at any time the walk is not with God, does the standard lower itself to something much nearer the level of the walk! Adepts as we are at self-deceit, if the eye be not single and the whole body be not full of light, and if we can no longer see, we dream, — shaping our dreams also in a way which will show clearly (to others, at least) the quality of our slumber: "if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Thus David's sin, with all its aggravation, does not seem to have been like a blow that wakes one with a start to consciousness and pain, but like the heavier blow or fall that brings unconsciousness. His demeanor before Nathan does not betray at least the convicted sinner, while he listens to the story, so much less grave than his, of the rich man, with his flocks and herds, singling out for slaughter for his pleasure the one pet ewe lamb of the poor man his neighbor. At the end he is wrought into a passion of justice, which falls, one can see plainly, in the most unlooked-for way, upon himself at the disclosure, "Thou art the man." Then comes the summing up, item by item, of his guilt, the word of Jehovah that breaks the rocks asunder, and makes the mightiest and proudest quake before it; until humbled, silenced, all the fire gone out of him, not the judge now but the criminal, he bows to receive the sentence of the Lord. Out of his own house, that house of which once so differently, and "not after the manner of men," had Jehovah spoken, — out of that house should evil now arise, the blessing banned, because he had profaned it. He had struck at the holiest of nature's ties; and nature in his own cherished ties should strike him. Think of how he would look now into. the faces of his children, and shudder, asking himself, which of these was to be the destined wrath of God upon his sin, — which of these sons of his strength should smite his father!
But the sentence is passed, and is not to be revoked: it has smitten him with a divinely directed blow right on the head of his sin; yea, it is his sin that smites him. But he does not say, "I have sinned against myself," though that be true; nor does he plead against his sentence. He does not say, though that be plainly true, "I have sinned against my brother." Nor does he profess his penitence even, adding to his confession what is meant as some balance, however slight, over against it. His mouth is stopped as to all this: he knows God and himself too well. "I have sinned against Jehovah" is now all that he can say; and the flash of divine light which has revealed this to him is more, as one sees, than the thunder-peal which follows it. Such is true conviction.
Accordingly, the voice of divine mercy is not delayed: "Jehovah has also put away thy sin: thou shalt not die." For sin such as his, there was in the law no offering or sacrifice: death was the righteous penalty, which only could be remitted directly by the Throne above the throne. And this is the meaning of what he declares in his psalm of penitence: "for Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt-offering"; and then, in contrast with that, he shows what God had accepted as of more value with Him: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." (Ps. 51:16, 17.)
This is not, of course, a denial of the worth and need of sacrifice, but only of such as were in his hand to bring, or the law could ordain. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin; and for sins like David's these were not spoken of at all. What really availed to prevent the extreme sentence, when nothing else could, was just the broken heart," divinely convicted, which God saw in him. This is no question of atonement: there was no atonement made with God by this conviction; the atonement — for David and for all others — was made on Calvary alone; only through this could the mercy of God prevail against judgment. The contrite heart was only, as a "sacrifice," upon the footing of the legal sacrifices, as having efficacy through the work to which they pointed; — though more efficacious than these because it testified of real faith on the part of him in whom it had produced this, and which linked him with that in which the efficacy truly was.
Yet the government of God is not displaced by the grace shown, nor would it be grace that did displace it. The throne becomes a "throne of grace," but is no less one may reverently say, all the more — a throne. God reigns, through Christ's work, in the joyful hearts of the redeemed. The knowledge of Him who reigns makes His reign to be the one necessity, and rest, and joy. His acts are light and love. If there be evil, He must be seen to be in opposition to the evil, even as He seeks in His love to deliver men from it. His chastenings are needed by His children, because they are children; they are needed, also, as witness to the world of what He is. Thus for David the government of God is not hindered but necessitated by the relation that David bears to Him: "because by this thing thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.".
To remove this sentence, therefore, all David's fasting and prayer are ineffectual. The king mourns but submits, and to the question of his servants as to his change of conduct on hearing of the child's death he answers by showing that it was not mere natural grief that had actuated him, nor would he fret against the Lord by useless sorrow. The child had gone whither David himself would follow, and where he would find him: in this certainly he expresses the comfort that remains for him of meeting in eternity the babe of a few days' existence upon earth.
The birth and naming of Solomon shows us, on the other hand, how complete was the divine forgiveness, and how completely David's heart was possessed by it. "Peaceful" could he be and call this child of Bathsheba, spite even of the unrevoked declaration as to the sword upon his house. The future is not untroubled, and yet his heart is. There is a true peace in submission, where God is known in His perfect love: that "perfect love casteth out fear"; and how else is this ever attainable?
And to this faith Jehovah answers: not hence is the blow to come, though it might well be thought so. Where our sin has been met and healed by the grace of God in self-judgment, there are we strongest against attack; the enemy will rather select another part. This son of Bathsheba, son of peace as he is to his father's heart, God seals to him as His gift, with a love the barrier of which cannot be broken through: "Jehovah loved him; and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet, and called him Jedidiah," "beloved of Jah." Let us bless God for a love that can so triumph over sin.
(4) And now the chief city of Ammon falls, — Rabbah, the "great." Were we in the line of former symbolism, the connection of this with what immediately precedes would not be doubtful. Let God's great remedy for sin be understood and realized in souls, the stronghold of heresy (of which the Ammonite speaks) is surely taken, and the power of it destroyed. The mind wanders from God because the heart has wandered, — if indeed it has ever known Him. The apprehension of grace it is that keeps the heart, and delivers therefore from the dominion of sin, putting one under Him in whose presence is our sanctuary from it. Grace maintains the sovereignty of God for the soul; while he who is not at peace with God in the knowledge of it invents, or is ready to accept the invention of, a God with whom he can be at peace. The son of Bathsheba being born, Rabbah falls. For Bathsheba here attains the power of her name, which, we have seen, is "daughter of the oath," and equivalent to what she is also called, Bathshua, the "daughter of salvation." Thus all is of a piece.
A gleam of typical meaning would, in fact, seem to flash out here, most appropriately, surely. And in this way we need not find fault with our David, if he deal however severely with the Ammonite. Scripture is severe enough against doctrinal evil,which is the dishonor of God and the perversion of the truth which alone sanctifies. The knowledge of God in Christ is not consistent with indifference to that which affects His glory. The crown which the Ammonite king usurps belongs to David's head, which alone can easily sustain the weight of it: the error must meet its judgment.
Historically we are in no way inclined to justify the king of Israel. There may have been retaliation for Ammonite barbarities, such as Nahash's threatening of the men of Jabesh would prepare us for. Nothing of this, however, is in the history, which leaves all moral questions of this kind in general to the conscience of the reader. David has not shown himself in any way beyond criticism; and the word of God does not, as we know, cover up anything. The customs of the times were barbarous. We leave all this as really outside our province, and beyond our power to deal with aright. The instruction that we need lies in another direction.