His Wise Decision
2 Samuel 24
It will be remembered that in the last two chapters upon the life of David we chose for their title "His Final Folly," but here we are to be occupied with his wise decision. What a strange mingling there is in the life of the believer of these two things—clearly exemplified in the recorded history of both Old and New Testament saints. This it is which often makes the experiences of a Christian to be so perplexing to him; yet the explanation thereof is not difficult to determine. There are two opposing principles operating within him: the "flesh" and the "spirit,’ and if one be essentially evil, it is also the cause of all his folly; while if the other be intrinsically holy, it is the spring of all true wisdom. Hence it is that in the Scriptures (outstandingly so throughout the book of Proverbs) sin and folly are synonymous terms, while holiness and wisdom are used interchangeably.
It is only by an unsparing and ceaseless judging of ourselves and by the maintenance of close and constant fellowship with God, that indwelling sin can be suppressed and ourselves preserved from deeds of madness. When communion with the Holy One is broken, we have forsaken the Fountain of wisdom, and then we are left to follow a course from which even the "common sense" of the worldling frequently deters him. We have seen this most solemnly illustrated in the case of David. First, he had allowed his heart to be lifted up over the strengthening and extension of his kingdom and by the great successes which had attended his arms. This led to the folly of his causing a needless military census to be taken of his subjects, without any divine authorization. Worse still, he persisted in this mad course against the express remonstrance of his officers. And worst of all, he failed to meet the requirements of Exodus 30:12 and provide the necessary ransom.
Painful as it is to dwell upon the failures of so eminent a servant of God, yet the same will prove beneficial to us if we duly take to heart such a solemn warning, and learn therefrom to walk more softly before God. The same evil tendencies lie within both the writer and the reader, and it is only as we are truly humbled by such a realization and are moved to deeper self-distrust and self-loathing, and only as we are led to more earnestly and definitely seek God’s subduing and preserving grace, that we shall ourselves be kept from falling into similar evils. These Old Testament histories are not merely given for information, but for our edification, and growth is possible only by feeding on God’s Word. Feeding on the Word means that we appropriate and masticate it; taking it unto ourselves and assimilating the same.
But alas, David fell; and so have we. Who amongst us dares to say that he has never followed a course of folly since he became a Christian? that he has never been guilty of God-dishonoring acts of madness? But as we are now to see, David recovered his sanity, and once more acted wisely. It was what lay between these two things which we would again call attention to, for it is at this very point that most important and precious practical instruction is furnished us. Surely those Christians who have entered the paths of folly desire to tread once more the ways of wisdom. Does it not behoove us, then, to attend closely unto our present narrative and observe the several steps by which the one path is left and the other path returned unto? How gracious of the Holy Spirit in here revealing to us the way of recovery and the means of restoration.
And what, my reader, do you suppose is the first step which leads us back into communion with God? what the particular exercise which recovers us from the disease of folly? If you have any acquaintance with divine things the answer will promptly be forthcoming, for the history of your own experience will prompt it. "And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people" (2 Sam. 24:10). We have previously commented upon this verse, so our remarks thereon must be brief. Yet once more we would point out what a mercy it is when an erring saint finds his heart reproving him for his madness and weighed down with a sense of guilt, for this is both a mark of regeneration and a sign that the Lord has not abandoned him—given him up to total hardness and blindness. But it is as intimating the first step in David’s recovery that we would now particularly consider the verse.
"And David’s heart smote him." This is basic and indispensable. There can be no real restoration to communion with a holy God until we unsparingly condemn ourselves for the lapse; that thing which broke the communion must be judged by us. God never forgives, either sinner or saint, where there is no repentance; and one essential ingredient in repentance is self-judgment. "If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). The first thing, then, is the humbling of ourselves, and that is what repentance is; it is the taking of sides with God against ourselves and sorrowing over our wickedness. Thus it is the tears of contrition which cleanse the eyes of our hearts from the grit of folly, and enable them once more to look on things with the vision of prudence.
And what, dear reader, do you suppose is the next step in the return to the ways of wisdom? And again the answer is very simple, where there is a true and honest judging of self, there will also be an humble and contrite owning of the fault to God. Consequently we find in the passage quoted above (2 Chron. 7:14) that immediately after, If my people "shall humble themselves" is, "and pray and seek My face." This is exactly what we find poor David did; "And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done; and now, I beseech Thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done very foolishly" (v. 10). He made honest confession of his transgression, emphasizing the greatness of his folly. And this is what every backslider must do before he can be recovered from his madness and restored to fellowship with the Lord.
It is to be observed that coupled with David’s confession of sin to the Lord was his request "take away the iniquity of Thy servant." By that petition at least three things were denoted. First, remit the guilt of the same, both from before Thine accusing Law and the weight of the same upon my conscience. Second, cleanse the defilement thereof, both from before Thy holy sight and in my polluted soul. Third, cancel or annul the governmental consequences of my crime, so that I may not be punished for it. We need to be clear upon these distinctions, for they are something more than mere technicalities. Now where the holy requirements of God have been duly met and He is pleased to bestow a pardon, the first two of these elements are always included; guilt is blotted out and defilement is cleansed. But the third by no means always obtains.
God ever reserves to Himself the sovereign right to mete out the governmental consequences of our sins as best sub-serves His glory and the accomplishment of His eternal purpose. So far as the believer himself is concerned, those consequences are not penal but disciplinary, visited upon him not in wrath but in love. Yet it must not be forgotten that wider interests are involved than our own personal ones. Were God to remit all the consequences of sin every time a believer committed a flagrant offence and then sincerely repented of and confessed-the same, what impression would be received by men in general! Would not the ungodly draw the conclusion that the Lord regarded transgressions as trifles and was indifferent to our conduct? Thus it is that, as the moral Ruler of this world, God often gives solemn tokens of His disapproval of our sins by making us suffer some painful effects of them in this life.
Yet it would be a great mistake for an afflicted saint to draw the inference from what has just been said, that such tokens in his present life of God’s displeasure are so many evidences that the sins he has penitently confessed are still unpardoned. A striking case in point occurs in the earlier life of David himself. After he had transgressed so grievously in the matter of Uriah’s wife, the prophet was sent to charge him with his crime. Whereupon David acknowledged, "I have sinned against the Lord," and none who have read seriously Psalm 51 can doubt either the sincerity or the depth of his repentance. Accordingly Nathan told him "the Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Yet he at once added, Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:14).
A much commoner example is met with in the case of those who in their unregenerate days lived reckless and profligate lives. Upon their conversion God graciously remits the guilt of their sins, canceling the penal consequences of the same so far as eternity is concerned, as He also cleanses them from all the defilements thereof but it is rare indeed that debauchee is given back again the health and strength which he had squandered in riotous living; rather is he (in the vast majority or cases, at least) left to now reap in his body the wild oats sown in his mad youth. So it was with David in the matter of his awful crime against Uriah; the "sword" of God’s displeasure was not sheathed, but was used against him and his household during the remainder of his earthly pilgrimage.
In the instance now before us, the prophet Gad was sent unto David to say unto him, "Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to Him that sent me" (2 Sam. 24:12, 13). It must be borne in mind (as we pointed out more than once in our chapters on the earlier verses of this chapter) that the Lord had a grievance against Israel, and therefore His governmental displeasure could not be averted by David’s prayer. Divine judgment must fall upon the Nation which had so grievously provoked the Lord, but the form in which it was to come lay with David to choose, though within the prescribed limits.
"And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the Lord" (v. 14). David was now made to taste the bitterness of his sin, yet it is most blessed to see that he neither hardened his heart nor murmured against God when he heard the terrifying message of the prophet. His beautiful response thereto clearly evidenced the genuineness of his repentance and the sincerity of his confession. This is another point in our narrative which we do well to heed, for alas our hearts frequently deceive us therein. How often have we mourned over our iniquities and acknowledged them unto the Lord, and then have fretted and fumed when made to feel the governmental consequences of the same—thereby manifesting the superficiality of our repentance and the dishonesty of our confession.
As we have said in a previous paragraph, genuine repentance is a taking sides with God against ourselves. It is not only the unsparing condemnation of ourselves and a sorrowing for having displeased the Lord, but it is also a heartfelt acknowledgment that we richly deserve to receive the due reward of our iniquities. It is the recognition and acknowledgment that God will be righteous in making us smart severely under His chastening hand. But it is the sequel which will show how genuine or else how disingenuous is our confession; it is how we carry ourselves under the rod itself, whether meekly or rebelliously—that evidences the reality and depth of our self-judgment. Let us not forget that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, owned "I have sinned against the Lord your God" (Ex. 10:16), yet as soon as the plagues of Jehovah returned to his land, he again hardened his heart.
His heavenly Father must correct David himself, yet He graciously permitted him to determine whether it should be a long protracted or a brief yet terribly severe one. "Years of famine he and Israel had recently experienced. For three years had that scourge prevailed. What misery would seven years of it inflict on them all. During this period a Sabbatical year would fall, throughout which the land must rest, and the Nation would have to pass through it without the gracious provision of the sixth’s years prolific crop. Seven years’ famine would have been a heavy infliction indeed, as the history of such a scourge in the days of Joseph had made plain. Eight before his enemies was not an unknown trial to David. Years of harassment at the hands of Saul he had experienced, and Bight before Absalom he had known. Those trials, we may be sure, were nor forgotten, though they were ended; and they must have taught him of what men were capable, if allowed by God to pursue him" (C. E. Stuart).
In the previous chapter we quoted from Matthew Henry, who pointed out that the Lord had a fourfold design in presenting unto David the choice of what particular form His judgment should take, namely:—First, to humble David for his sin, which he would see to be exceedingly sinful, when he discovered what dreadful judgment it entailed. Second, to upbraid him for his pride; he had acted in self-will, deeming himself so great a monarch that he could do as he pleased; now he is bidden to exercise his choice in selecting from these dread alternatives. Third, to grant him some encouragement under the chastisement; so far from the Lord having totally deserted his servant, he is granted the power to decide what He should do. Fourth, that he might more patiently endure the rod, seeing it was one of his own choosing. To these we would add, fifth, to try out his heart and give opportunity for the exercise and exhibition of his faith.
"Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for His mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man" (v. 14). What proof was this that David had recovered his sanity. The wise decision which he now made clearly demonstrated his recovery from the paths of folly and his return to the ways of prudence. And how this illustrates once more the blessed fact that God ever honors those who honor Him. And let it be clearly grasped by us all, that we do honor God when we humble ourselves before Him and penitently confess our sins. And one of the ways in which He honors us in return is to grant us a renewed power of spiritual discernment, by which our hearts are drawn out to Him in warmer love and assurance, and by which we obtain a fuller realization of the greatness of His mercies. How much we miss, dear reader, by refusing to judge ourselves and take our place in the dust before the Throne of Grace!
How wondrous are the ways of Jehovah. He had not only dealt with David’s conscience, but He now drew out unto Himself the affections of his heart! He not only brought him to repentance, but He called forth the faith of His beloved servant—the order of which is ever the same. There must be repentance before there can be faith (Mark 1:15; Matt. 21:32) for it is impossible for an hard and impenitent heart to truly trust in the Lord. Thus we may learn that it is impenitency for our sins which lies at the root of our wicked unbelief. But after David had repented, the Lord (as we have said above) granted him the opportunity to display his faith. And what a grand exhibition of it he now gave. What acquaintance with and confidence in the divine character do these words breathe, "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord"!
Ah, my reader, even when the Lord is sorely chastening us for our faults, He is infinitely more gracious, more faithful, more deserving of our trust than is any creature. "And let me not fall into the hand of man." Poor David had had abundant experience of what man could do. His own brethren had been jealous of and had cruelly slandered him (1 Sam. 17:28). Saul had evilly requited him for his kindness. Ahithophel had basely deceived him and betrayed his trust. His beloved son had arisen up in rebellion against him and almost succeeded in dethroning him. Good reason, then, had he to say, "Let me not fall into the hand of man": unstable, treacherous, cruel man.