Does David’s life teach us that God can restore an adulterer to ministry? After all, David was a murderer and an adulterer, as well as a liar and poor father. Polygamy aside, his family life was a catastrophic train crash matched only by the debacle in 2 Samuel 11.
Yet God did not remove him from the throne, and allowed his reign to directly last 40 years, and indirectly forever. Why? What is the lesson there?
The wrong lesson is this: God does not take sin seriously. I have heard people who commit immorality point at David and say, “See! God let him be king, so he can return me to ministry despite my unbiblical divorce and/or adultery.”
Let me be clear about two things. First, God does use sinners (those are the only kind of people there are!). At the same time, there are some sins that in the church disqualify someone from being an elder or church leader. Second, it is possible for people who have committed certain disqualifying sins to eventually be restored to pastoral ministry after an extended time away. An excellent book on that topic is The Stain that Stays, as it provides principles to apply in those situations. This post does not want to go down the road of looking at those principles.
But I have heard Christian leaders who have committed disqualifying sexual sins point to David as justification for thier refusal to take time away from ministry. The goal of this post is to explain why David’s life does not function as an example of God blessing the ministry of a disqualified leader.
If you are familiar with David’s life, you know that after his affair with Bathsheba his reign was marked by one tragedy after another. Four of his sons died, all as a direct result of his sin with Uriah’s wife. Because David abdicated his war-time leadership to Joab, he effectively lost control of his army and his kingdom. One of his sons raped his wives on top of a platform built specifically for the purpose of showing off their violation.
Because of his sin with Uriah’s wife, Absalom revolted, and David was exiled from Jerusalem. As he was fleeing his capital city, he was showered with rocks and insults. And in a sign of how far David had fallen, he could not even tell his soldiers to shield him from the attacks. Instead, perhaps thinking of Uriah’s murder, David surmised that the attacks may have been because “Yahweh has said to him, ‘Curse David” (2 Samuel 16:10). David’s life had become so broken and desperate that attacks and coups may very well signs of the Lord’s displeasure with his sin.
David is simply the wrong person to look at for comfort that saints can sin and still be used by God. Even after Joab put an end the insurrection and summarily executed the pretend king (followed by a rebuke to David for not getting the basics of being king), David’s kingdom did not end well. Years of drought, followed by the public execution of Saul’s grand-sons and a humiliating vigil by a mourning mother, David sinned again by conducting an unauthorized census. That sin directly led to the deaths of 70,000 Israelites.
David’s reign is a trail of tears, in large part brought on by his own sin. In reality, most of our OT heroes are closer to David than to Enoch. Noah was a drunkard, Abraham and adulterer, and Moses was a murderer. You have to admit that the portion of Scripture which describes the days before the Spirit of God indwelt believers does not generally contain happy stories.
Nevertheless, David was a man after God’s own heart. While Saul had the kingdom ripped from him, David’s son inherited the throne. Why? Does that say something about God not hating David’s sin?
There are two answers to that question. First, way before Uriah was murdered; God had promised David that his kingdom would endure forever. This was an unconditional covenant, and not dependent upon anything David would or would not do. It would survive even Manasseh. So David’s endurance speaks to the promise of the Messiah, not to God’s restoration of adulterers.
The second reason David is a man after God’s own heart is because he repented of his sin. When confronted by Nathan, David broke. He gave up pretense and pompousness. He did not dwell on the laziness or lusting, nor did he mention the murder or the molesting. Instead, he simply said “I have sinned against Yahweh” (2 Samuel 12:13). He repented, and threw himself at the feet of Yahweh by submitting himself to the word of God’s prophet.
The consequences of David’s sin remain—four of his sons died, his wives were raped, and his crown was stolen from him, all because of this sin. But the eternal consequence was removed (the exact phrase Nathan used was “Yahweh has put away your sin, you shall not die”). Is this because God thinks little of adultery?
The opposite is actually true. David’s sin is removed because David’s son was killed for it. Not Ammon, not Absalom, not Adonijah, and not the newborn. Because Uriah was killed and his wife was taken, Jesus was crucified. His death becomes a demonstration that God hates sin, and it simultaneously opens up a way for sinners to have forgiveness.
David’s life shows the catastrophic and irreversible consequences of some sin. It shows the hatred God has for that sin. But it also shows the power of God’s promise to bring about a king better than David, and it shows the freedom and power of forgiveness that comes through repentance, based on faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
David stayed king not because of God’s pattern of restoring sinners to ministry, but rather because of the strength of God’s Messianic promises, as well as the sufficiency of the Messiah’s death.