Down, But Not OutErwin W. Lutzer | December 1, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Can God use us even if we’ve committed horrible sins? Yes. God can even use us in a mighty way—but first we have to get our souls revived and restored.
By looking at the adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, Pastor Lutzer shows us how David went from despair, guilt, and unbelievable regret to a man who’s sweeping story—with all of its high and low points—leads to the birth of Christ.
David was out of hope and had nowhere else to turn. He went before God and confessed his sin through guilt-ridden tears. God not only forgave him, but He used a child born of Bathsheba, put them into the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
So yes, God can use us even if we’ve greatly sinned.
King David is the last man we would expect to see in such a mess. On the one hand, he lures a woman to bed and she becomes pregnant, and then he becomes a murderer to cover his sin.
Well, as you know, this is a series of messages and the last of a series entitled Restoring the Soul – Healing in an Age of Brokenness. And today very briefly we’re going to look into the life of David, and we’re going to see the state of his soul, how he got where he was, but also, how God delivered him and lifted him at the end of his life. We’re going to see David in the mud, but we’re also going to see David walk on marble, because our emphasis is on the restoration of the soul.
David discovered that it was much easier for him to fight Goliath than it was to fight his passions. Our passage of Scripture is 2 Samuel 11, and the details of the story are known to you. It says in verse 2: “It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” It says, “David saw,” and he acted on what he saw.
As David saw this woman, his desires were awakened. And it’s interesting that there are things that he didn’t see, and we want to emphasize those. As he gazed at her, contemplating in his heart what he would eventually do, what he did not see was the loss of four sons. He did not see the guilt. He did not see the shame. He did not see the remorse, and he did not see the disintegration of his kingdom, and how his wives would laugh at him and mock him. He did not see that. That was hidden from his sight.
Nor at that moment did David see God. It wasn’t that David was angry with God. It’s just that God was not a part of what was happening now. God, he would deal with later. This was an issue that needed some immediate attention. I want you to know that there on the rooftop that would have been the easiest opportunity for David to back out of what he was contemplating. Think of how differently his live would have been if he prayed and said, “Oh God, I thank You for this beautiful woman. I thank You that you created her, but she belongs to a man by the name of Uriah. I pray that You might mightily bless their marriage.” And then he should have turned around and gone back into the house. But David did not do that.
As he was looking at her he was, in effect, cutting an anchor that would lead him into a river whose size and speed was continually increasing, and soon the consequences of what he had done would be totally out of his hands. But he didn’t see that. He only saw her.
And so the Bible says that he sent messengers to call for her. I wonder what he told the messengers to say to her. Maybe he said, “Well, you know, one of the things that we have is we’re all so busy we don’t get time to know our neighbors. So, you know, there are certain community projects that we can work on here, and what I want to do is to talk to Bathsheba about the possibility of heading up a committee in our neighborhood.”
Whatever it was the Bible says that he sent messengers and then he took her and he lay with her, and lo and behold, sometime later, she sent him a note and said, “I’m pregnant. Signed B.” And somehow this casual affair between two consenting adults was not quite as casual as David had thought it might be.
Now what should David have done in a situation like that? Well, ideally what he should have done is to call Uriah from battle and say, “Uriah, I’m going to tell you the truth about what happened. The child that your wife is bearing is my child.” Then they could have discussed some custody issues and worked out the best arrangement possible. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, there’s no way in the world! I mean, who in the world would ever do that?” But the choice that David now made would be far worse, and the consequences literally unending.
Well now we turn to the cover-up. The cover-up begins and it actually is in three stages, and I’m going to assume that you know this story because I’m only giving you what the text says, and what you need to do is to read it on your own. But David brings Uriah home from the battlefield, and what he wants Uriah to do is to go home and to sleep with Bathsheba, his wife, so that Uriah will think that the child is his. That’s Plan A.
And he brings Uriah back home, but Uriah will not go home to see his wife. He’s there at the door of the king’s palace, and he’s saying, “You know, how can I possibly do this when there are so many men dying on the battlefield?” And his loyalty prevented him from enjoying an evening with his wife, even though David sent some presents along so that it would be a very romantic atmosphere.
Uriah doesn’t do it. Hmmm! Plan B! Get him drunk. So the text tells us in chapter 11, verses 12 and 13: “Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.” Hmm! What are you going to do with a guy like this? He’s a better man drunk than David is sober.
Plan C! David writes a note to Joab, the military commander, and says, “Joab, I want you to put Uriah in the hottest battle, and when it’s really fierce, withdraw from him so that he dies.” He takes this and he puts it in an envelope of some type, seals it, gives it to Uriah, and trusts Uriah not to open it, and that it is given to Joab, and Joab does exactly as David requests. He’s a good military man who takes orders. And then he sends a messenger to David that says, “You know, the battle was very hot, and Uriah was fighting, and Uriah is dead.” And David hears the messenger and basically says, “Well, you know that’s the way war is. You win some and you lose some. Life is tough.”
So then Bathsheba is brought into the palace after that little bit of messiness has been taken of. Bathsheba is brought into the palace and she becomes another one of David’s wives, and everything from here on is sweetness and light because the cover-up was really, really successful.
Well, no! How successful was it? Well, who all knows the truth? Bathsheba knows. Joab knows. The servants know. They can count to nine. Uh, we know. Millions of people know. David is famous for his cover-up. Even people who don’t know anything else about the life of David know about his adultery and the murder that he got involved in. I mean, everybody knows. Millions know. David knows.
But there’s something else that is more important than all that. God knows! And that’s why you have this chapter ending, and I’m reading only the last phrase of chapter 11: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Wow! God knew the truth.
Well, let’s look at David now, and let’s consider his restoration. Nathan, the prophet, comes to him because the prophet also knows. Prophets tend to know. And so he comes to David with a story, and he says, “David, you know, there was this rich man who had all kinds of goats and sheep, and when a traveler came, do you know what he did? He stole a little lamb from his neighbor, and it was the only lamb that the neighbor had. What do you think of that, David?” David, who struggled with his temper anyway said, “That man ought to die.” And then he changed his mind a little bit and said, “He ought to at least pay four-fold.” And Nathan looked into David’s eyes and said (in the Hebrew text it’s very brief), “Atah haish.” - “You’re the man.”
I sometimes teach preaching to young preachers. This is a good example of a sermon. First of all it’s a story that would even appeal to the postmodern generation. Secondly, it’s brief. You all like that part, don’t you? And then thirdly, is it pointed, or what? Talk about a direct application. “You are the man.”
We can’t even pause to go into the beautiful illustration here of human nature, that David would consider a little lamb to be of more value than a man’s wife, but it shows that sin blinds us. Sin has that quality of confusing us so that we aren’t able to look at ourselves objectively.
And so David repents, but Nathan has a word for him from God. There are going to be several judgments upon David’s family. Yes, David will be forgiven, but he says in verse 10, “The sword shall never depart from your house.” And it goes on to say that within your own family God is going to raise up adversaries, and David is going to lose four sons. And he’ll lose those sons because he’ll have no moral authority over them whatever. David will never be able to tell them that they are misbehaving because they are going to say, “Dad, who are you to talk? Look at what you’ve done.” And so David is going to become a very passive father and just let the kids do whatever kids do, and they are going to turn against him and turn against one another.
Furthermore, God says, “You did this secretly. The same thing is going to happen to your wives now publicly.” And you remember that’s what Absalom did on the rooftops of Israel, humiliating David and trying to kill his own father.
And then furthermore, Nathan says that the child that Bathsheba is going to bear will die. And you may look at this and think, “Well, this is kind of harsh.” But if you read the text you’ll see that what God is saying is, “You did this sin in the presence of all these blessings that I gave you. I blessed you. I gave you wives. I gave you a kingdom. I gave you victories. In fact if you had wanted something more you could have prayed for it and I’d have given you that too. And now you’ve caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. There are people in the various nations of the world who are looking on and saying (because the rumor has spread throughout the whole kingdom and beyond the kingdom), “Look at David. You know, he claims to belong to God, but look at what he does. He’s living like the rest of us, committing adultery and murder.”
And so God is saying, “David, I want you to know that you are going to be forgiven, but the consequences are just going to boomerang.”
Well, since this is a message on the restoration of the soul, how is David’s soul at this point? How could we describe it? We could say, “Well, it’s defiled, guilt-ridden, no doubt angry (angry at himself and maybe anger towards God, anger towards others because guilt and anger are so often related), deep remorse, unbelievable regret that all this is going to have to fall upon his shoulders.”
If only he could turn the clock back, but he can’t turn the clock back. And so he is cast down. He is in despair. How does God revive a soul that is in despair? Is there the possibility of being revived and strengthened and restored even though the circumstances around you remain the same, and those uncontrollable circumstances just keep going? Is it possible that the soul can be restored in an inward way when the circumstances around you are such that there’s no way for you to be able to be restored even to the people whom you have hurt when the circumstances are so pointedly and directly out of your control?
Well, all of us know that David repented, and the Psalm that is most known to us, which I frequently have quoted from memory, though I shall not do so today, is Psalm 51, David’s great prayer of repentance. And what I want us to notice is that first of all, David is going to receive hope because God is going to forgive him. You say, “Well, yeah, of course.” Don’t skip over that so lightly.
Remember this. All of the tears that David might ever cry and weep will never, never change the circumstances. They will never bring a dead man back to life. They will never restore the purity of Bathsheba. Nothing will ever change that. Furthermore, God will forgive him, even though perhaps there is no forgiveness coming from anyone else.
“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.”
Oh God, my sin is ever before me. When a telephone rings I think to myself I wonder who knows. When somebody makes an appointment I am saying to myself I wonder if they know. I see in my mind’s eye a dead man. I see the face of Uriah. I wake up in the morning and I see his face and I remember that I had him deliberately murdered. Oh God, my sin is ever before me. Uriah can’t forgive me. He’s dead. Bathsheba may or may not forgive me.
Surely David’s other wives did not forgive him because they were upset with the fact that he not only did this, but he happened to love Bathsheba more than all the rest, as the story unfolds. And you can imagine how unhappy they were, and what they were saying behind David’s back. His family never forgave him. Absalom turned against his dad.
And so you have David saying, “I don’t know where to go because I can ask for forgiveness but I don’t know who will give it to me. And I know that some people most assuredly will withhold it. There is nothing that I can do to rectify this situation. But God, this sin was against You primarily, and then indirectly to others, and therefore, I appeal to You and to You alone for the forgiveness and the restoration that I so desperately long for and need.”
So God says, “David, I’m going to forgive you.” In fact, how clean is David going to be? He says in verse 7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” I’ve often marveled at that phrase because those of us who live in Chicago and know what snow is like – sometimes maybe 12 inches, sometimes 18 inches overnight, and you wake up and you see this snow glistening in the sunlight and you think, “Whiter than snow?” Wow! That’s pure for a man who committed adultery and murder. God says, “David, I’m going to forgive you.” God says, “David, I am also going to renew you.”
You’ll notice it says in verses 10 to 12: 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.” God, don’t just forgive me. Don’t just cleanse me, but God, let the sun shine in my soul again. God, let me sing again with joy.
David, how can you expect that? The mess is coming down upon your head. There’s nothing that you can do to alleviate the consequences. The stone has been thrown into the pond and the ripples are going all the way to the edge.
God, you do in me and for me what no human being can do. Restore me. Give me back my joy.
Furthermore, God says, “Not only do I forgive you and restore you, but I’ll use you.”
David is confident that if he is forgiven (in verse 13) he will teach transgressors God’s ways, and sinners will be converted unto Him. He’ll be able to enjoy Evangelism Explosion and people are going to come to know Christ the Savior as he witnesses. After all that? After a mess that cannot be undone? David, you’re expecting all that from God?
(sighs) You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, David was restored. His soul was restored, but what about the mess with all of its ugliness?”
Of course, the family turns against him. Absalom tries to overthrow his dad, tries to kill him. I mean this is all within the family. It’s ugly. It’s messy. It’s terrible. But was there any indication of grace in the midst of this mess? Well, let’s fast-forward the story. Let’s fast forward it a thousand years, and Jesus is born in Bethlehem, and one of the reasons that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was so that he could die on a cross, and so that David’s sin, which was temporarily set aside in the Old Testament, could now finally and permanently be put away. The Old Testament saints also were saved because of Jesus. And we read in the book of Matthew that when Jesus was born the genealogy of Jesus is important, and who is there in the genealogy except Solomon who is the son of Bathsheba, born to David at a later date? Wow! Solomon?
Solomon, strictly speaking, is not supposed to have been born because Bathsheba should have never been David’s wife. I mean, what’s going on here in the text. And we read a little more carefully and it says in the Old Testament that God said, “David, I want you to know today that I love Solomon, and I am going to bless Solomon because of you.” Because of David! “And Solomon is going to build a Temple, and Solomon is going to have a kingdom, David, that you can only imagine having. And I’m going to bless him. And furthermore, he is going to be in the genealogy of Jesus on a human level through Mary.” She would have a little bit of the blood, as it were, of Solomon and Bathsheba.
And furthermore, Solomon ends up giving us, you know, the majority of the book of Proverbs. He actually is in the Scripture, giving us his wisdom, because the Bible says that there was no man who lived who was as wise as Solomon. Despite all of his double-mindedness, the man did have a lot of wisdom.
And so, what is God saying? God is saying, “Yes, even in the midst of this mess that happened, there is also redemption, and there is also grace, and there is also the possibility of restoration, as God takes what strictly speaking should never have been, and does something very special with it.” The soul is restored, and the circumstances are redeemed.
Many people think that Psalm 23 was written when David was a shepherd boy. Maybe it was. I have some friends who think that Psalm 23 was maybe written late in David’s life as he was contemplating his past, and reminiscing a little bit. And one author that I read imagines that we dialog with David something along these lines.
David begins to write Psalm 23, and let us imagine him as an aged man, and he writes the words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
You say, “Oh David, come on. David, you know, that is fine. That is wonderful to say when the sun is shining and when your bills are paid, and when you family is all going to church and your kids are turning out nice, and the people in town talk about what a wonderful father you are. That’s fine, David, but what do you do when Saul pursues you for ten years, and you are running from cave to cave until you become so disoriented that you actually become insane, as it were, and you join the Philistine army and fight with the Philistines against Israel? David, do you realize how stupid that was? Do you realize how you failed God and failed your own people when you did that? Now what have you got to say, David?”
I can almost imagine him saying, “He restoreth my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
“Oh, David! David, David! What do you do when a prophet comes and points his finger in your face and says, “You are the man,” and you know that you’ve committed murder and adultery? What do you do when your son, Absalom, rebels against you, and commits immorality in the sight of all Israel, and then you have to leave and go over the Mount of Olives and run on the other side like an animal, though you’ve been a king? And you have to run and you have to hide in dens and caves once again because there’s a civil war in your kingdom and it is your family that has brought it about, David? What do you do when Absalom is about to kill you?”
And David continues to write and says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
“Oh David! David, but now you do get the kingdom back, but it’s in disarray. You have mutiny among your own advisors. You have things that are out of control. You number the nation Israel, and God smites the nation because of what you’ve done and because of your pride. And now the whole nation is being judged because of you, David. And thousands of people died because of what you (you! you!) did.
And David says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. My cup runneth over.”
“But David, now you’re dying. Two of your sons are going to fight over the kingdom. There’s going to be civil war and there’s going to be destruction. Things are falling apart. Your wives are laughing behind your back because of what you did. History is going to record your adultery and your cover-up. Preachers are going to preach about it, David, and when they see you in heaven, the first thing they’re going to say is, ‘Oh David, where’s Bathsheba?’ That’s what they’re going to be thinking, David. Don’t you see what you’ve done?”
And David continues to write and says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
And so the curtain closes on David’s life just as it opened. All that you have left is David and his God. And the man who fell so far would later write, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. How blessed is the man on whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and whose spirit there is no deceit. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way in which thou shalt go. I shall guide thee with mine eye upon you.”
The restoration – the restoration of a wounded sinful defiled soul!
And now, Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that you might do a work in the hearts of all who have listened, whether it is the restoration because of immorality, or restoration because of broken relationships, or a restoration because of the fragmentation of alcoholism, despair, betrayal. Whatever it is, Father, come to restore Your people. We ask for those who are here today with heavy hearts who may someday be able to sing again. We pray, Father, that there are those who someday shall yet teach transgressors Thy ways, that sinners shall be converted unto Thee. Come and restore Your people.
Today if God has spoken to you, as I conclude this prayer, you say, “Pastor Lutzer, God has talked to me, and I want to be restored.” Would you raise your hand just for a second please, throughout the auditorium? Up in the balcony, those of you to whom God has spoken, and you know who you are! Thank you for the hands that have gone up.
But Father, I want to thank You today for the many hands that were not raised, but are also within their hearts saying, “Lord, that is me. Today I want to be restored.”
Come and cleanse us. Forgive us. Make us new, and grant us hope, we pray, in Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.