You know the story.
In 2 Samuel 11, King David is at home in Jerusalem while his army is off to war. It was custom for the king to be out with his army, but for some reason he chooses to stay behind. With all of his responsibilities delegated and most of his friends away, he’s got a lot of time on his hands.
One afternoon David has nothing to do—he’s sick of laying on the couch binge-watching Netflix. Of course, he did not have Netflix but the Bible does say he was sitting on the couch. Anyway, he gets up from there and wanders onto his roof.
As he scans the city around him he sees a woman bathing. Temptation fills his mind and his heart. And he gives in. The woman’s name is Bathsheba, she is married to one of David’s own soldiers named Uriah, but he takes her. Soon she is pregnant with David’s child. David tries to cover this up, but he can’t do it. So, he stages Uriah’s murder, and takes Bathsheba as his own wife.
In verse 13 David confesses. Look at what he says: “David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”In Psalm 51 we get an extended description of David’s confession, but the emphasis is exactly the same. In Psalm 51:4 David prays, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Now, does that sound right to you?
Don’t you want to say, “Really David? You only sinned against the Lord? What about Bathsheba? What about Uriah?”
Here’s what’s happening. David is not denying the fact that he has sinned greatly against other people. David, however, is rightly emphasizing that ultimately every sin we commit is an offense against the Lord.
Bathsheba and Uriah are human beings created by God in his image. Therefore, just as despising God’s word is ultimately an act of despising God himself, offending God’s people is ultimately an offense against God himself. When you harm people, who are made in God’s image, you offend God. So, David rightly confesses, I have sinned against the LORD.
And then the prophet Nathan responds.
We might expect Nathan to say: “Yes you have, and therefore the Lord is rejecting you as king, and he is condemning you to death.” That’s what David deserves, but that’s not what happens: “And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 13:13),
Many of us are so familiar with this story that this moment doesn’t shock us. But put yourself in the shoes of Bathsheba’s dad or Uriah’s mom. If they heard this, wouldn’t they say, “What do you mean the Lord has put away David’s sin?!” You can imagine Bathsheba’s dad crying out, “This man objectified and coerced my daughter into a relationship. And his sin is simply put away? How is that just?” You can imagine Uriah’s mom crying out, “This man murdered my son! He stole his wife! And his sin is simply put away? How is that just?”
How is this just? That’s a really important question. If we have a God who lets evil like this go unpunished, how is he good?
That is a point of tension that runs right through the Old Testament. God is gracious to sinners like David, and it leaves us wondering: how is he a God of justice and righteousness?
Putting Away Sin
There’s a hint to the answer in our text. The word translated “put away” is also commonly translated “pass over.”
So, God did not “put away” David’s sin like we put something away in the trash, tossing it aside, and ignoring it. No, God “put away” David’s sin by passing over him. And if his judgment passed over David that means it can still land somewhere else.
Or we could say it can still land on someone else. Which is exactly what happened. In Romans 3:23, Paul says we are all like David: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All of us have offended God, all of us deserve his just condemnation. But, Paul continues, and says that we are justified by his grace as a gift. By a gracious gift from God we can be forgiven.
What is this gift? Romans 3:24 says it is “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” At the cross Jesus became a propitiation, a substitutionary sacrifice, bearing the wrath of God for sin. The justice of God fell on Christ so that it would not fall on David. And the same is true of us: The justice of God fell on Christ so that it need not fall on us. And then Paul declares that “this was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25).
The question of God’s justice in passing over sins like David’s is not resolved until the cross. But at the cross we see that David’s sin was put away from him because it was ultimately put on to Jesus.
God is just. He will punish sin, but he is also a God of amazing, scandalous, grace. And if you believe in what he has done for you, in his Son Jesus, he has put away your sin.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
(This article comes from a sermon I preached called “Prophet” on April 7. You can find the link to the audio on the sermons page.)