Confession That Leads to Healing
“WHEN I kept silent my bones wore out through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My life’s moisture has been changed as in the dry heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3, 4) Those poignant words may have reflected the deep emotional pain felt by King David of ancient Israel, pain that he had brought upon himself by concealing rather than confessing a serious sin.
David was a man of outstanding abilities. He was a valiant warrior, a skilled statesman, a poet, and a musician. Yet, he relied, not on his abilities, but on his God. (1 Samuel 17:45, 46) He was described as a man whose heart was “complete with Jehovah.” (1 Kings 11:4) But one sin he committed was especially reprehensible, and he may have alluded to it in Psalm 32. We can learn much by examining the circumstances that led to his sin. We will discern pitfalls to avoid as well as see the need to confess our sins in order to restore our relationship with God.
A Loyal King Fell Into Sin
The Israelite nation was engaged in a military campaign against the Ammonites, but David was residing in Jerusalem. One evening while strolling on the rooftop of his palace, he noticed a beautiful woman bathing at a neighboring home. He failed to exercise restraint but began to desire her passionately. Learning that she was Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah, a soldier in his army, David summoned her, and he committed adultery with her. In due course Bath-sheba sent word to David that she was pregnant.—2 Samuel 11:1-5.
David was trapped. If their sin was exposed, the penalty for both of them was death. (Leviticus 20:10) So he devised a plan. He called Bath-sheba’s husband, Uriah, back from the battle. After questioning him at length about the war, David instructed Uriah to return home. David hoped that this would make it appear that Uriah was the father of Bath-sheba’s child.—2 Samuel 11:6-9.
To David’s chagrin, Uriah did not visit his wife. Uriah said that it was unthinkable for him to return home while the army was enduring the rigors of battle. When an Israelite army was engaged in a military campaign, the men refrained from sexual intercourse, even with their own wives. They had to remain ceremonially clean. (1 Samuel 21:5) David then invited Uriah for a meal and got him drunk, but he still would not go home to his wife. Uriah’s faithful conduct condemned David’s gross sin.—2 Samuel 11:10-13.
The snare set by his own sin was drawing tighter around David. In desperation he saw only one way out. He sent Uriah back to the battle with a note to the army general, Joab. The intent of the brief note was clear: “Put Uriah in front of the heaviest battle charges, and you men must retreat from behind him, and he must be struck down and die.” By the stroke of a pen, the powerful king seemed to have covered his tracks, sending Uriah to his death.—2 Samuel 11:14-17.
As soon as Bath-sheba’s mourning period for her husband was over, David married her. Time passed, and their child was born. Through all of this, David remained silent about his sins. Perhaps he was trying to justify his actions to himself. Did Uriah not die honorably in battle as others had? Further, had he not disobeyed his king by refusing to go to his wife? The ‘treacherous heart’ will use all sorts of reasonings to try to justify sin.—Jeremiah 17:9; 2 Samuel 11:25.
Missteps That Lead to Sin
How could David, a lover of righteousness, stoop to adultery and murder? The seeds of his sin were evidently sown over a period of time. We may wonder why David was not with his men, supporting them in their military campaign against Jehovah’s enemies. On the contrary, David was taking his ease at his palace, where the realities of warfare were too far away to blot out his wrong desire for the wife of a faithful soldier. Today, it is a protection for true Christians to be actively involved in spiritual pursuits with their congregations and to share regularly in the evangelizing work.—1 Timothy 6:12.
The Israelite king was instructed to make a copy of the Law and to read it daily. The Bible gives the reason for this: “In order that he may learn to fear Jehovah his God so as to keep all the words of this law and these regulations by doing them; that his heart may not exalt itself above his brothers and that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) It seems possible that David was not following that instruction at the time he committed these grave sins. Regular study and meditation on God’s Word will surely help to safeguard us from wrongdoing in these critical times.—Proverbs 2:10-12.
Furthermore, the last of the Ten Commandments specifically stated: “You must not desire your fellowman’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17) By this time David had a number of wives and concubines. (2 Samuel 3:2-5) But that did not protect him from desiring another attractive woman. This account reminds us of the seriousness of Jesus’ words: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Rather than entertain such improper desires, let us be quick to dismiss them from our mind and heart.
Repentance and Mercy
The Bible’s candid account of David’s sin is surely not there to satisfy someone’s prurient interest. The record affords an opportunity for us to witness an active and moving expression of one of Jehovah’s outstanding qualities—his mercy.—Exodus 34:6, 7.
After Bath-sheba had given birth to a son, Jehovah sent the prophet Nathan to confront David. This was an act of mercy. If David had not been approached and had remained silent, it is possible that he would have become hardened in a course of sin. (Hebrews 3:13) Happily, David responded to God’s mercy. Nathan’s skillful but clear words prodded David’s conscience, and he humbly acknowledged that he had sinned against God. In fact, Psalm 51, which addresses David’s sin in connection with Bath-sheba, was composed after he repented and confessed his grave sin. May we never allow our heart to be hardened if we should be overtaken by serious sin.—2 Samuel 12:1-13.
David was forgiven, but he was not spared discipline or the consequences of his sin. (Proverbs 6:27) How could it be otherwise? If God were simply to overlook everything, his standards would be compromised. He would be ineffectual like High Priest Eli, who gave a mild rebuke to his wicked sons and then let them carry on with their bad deeds. (1 Samuel 2:22-25) Yet, Jehovah does not shut the contrite one off from His loving-kindness. His mercy, like refreshing, cool water, will help the erring one endure the consequences of sin. The warmth of divine forgiveness and the upbuilding association with fellow worshipers are restorative. Yes, on the basis of Christ’s ransom, the repentant one can come to taste “the riches of [God’s] undeserved kindness.”—Ephesians 1:7.
“A Pure Heart” and “a New Spirit”
After David confessed, he did not regress to a negative sense of worthlessness. His expressions in the psalms that he wrote about confessions show the relief he felt and his determination to serve God faithfully. Look, for example, at Psalm 32. In verse 1, we read: “Happy is the one whose revolt is pardoned, whose sin is covered.” No matter how serious the sin, a happy outcome is possible if a person is sincere in his repentance. One way to show this sincerity is by accepting full responsibility for one’s actions, as David did. (2 Samuel 12:13) He did not try to justify himself before Jehovah or attempt to pass the blame on to others. Verse 5 says: “My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover. I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.” Genuine confession brings relief, so that a person no longer needs to be plagued by his conscience over past wrongs.
After begging for Jehovah’s forgiveness, David requested: “Create in me even a pure heart, O God, and put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one.” (Psalm 51:10) Requesting “a pure heart” and “a new spirit” shows that David was aware of the sinful tendency in him and that he needed God’s help in cleansing his heart and making a new start. Rather than succumbing to self-pity, he was determined to press on with his service to God. He prayed: “O Jehovah, may you open these lips of mine, that my own mouth may tell forth your praise.”—Psalm 51:15.
What was Jehovah’s reaction to David’s sincere repentance and determined effort to serve him? He gave David this heartwarming reassurance: “I shall make you have insight and instruct you in the way you should go. I will give advice with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8) Here is assurance of Jehovah’s personal attention to the repentant one’s feelings and needs. Jehovah undertook to give David more insight, the ability to see beyond the surface appearance of matters. If faced with temptation in the future, he would be able to perceive the outcome of his actions and their effect on others, and he would be able to act discreetly.
This episode in David’s life serves as an encouragement to all who have fallen into serious sin. By confessing our sin and showing sincere repentance, we can regain our most precious possession, our relationship with Jehovah God. The momentary pain and shame we may have to endure is far better than the anguish caused by remaining silent, or the dire consequence of allowing ourselves to become hardened in a rebellious course. (Psalm 32:9) Rather, we can experience the warm forgiveness of a loving, merciful God, “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.”—2 Corinthians 1:3.
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David hoped to escape the consequences of his sin by sending Uriah to his death