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Lesson 11: Getting Right When You’ve Done Wrong (2 Samuel 12:1-23)

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After a tough exam, two college roommates headed to the campus tavern to have a few beers and relax. When they parked the car, the rider pointed out a sign that prohibited parking in that area. Since he usually lent the money to pay off his roommate’s large collection of parking fines, he was annoyed. “Don’t worry,” the driver assured him. “I won’t be getting any more tickets ever again.”

“How do you figure that?” the other retorted sarcastically.

“Well, I looked at the problem scientifically, collected the variables, studied the data and came up with the solution that will eliminate any further encounters with the law.” As he walked away, he added, “I took the windshield wipers off the car.” (Reader’s Digest, “Campus Comedy,” 1982.)

That’s a classic example of how we wrongly attempt to deal with our sin! Quite often we go right on sinning, but we try to skirt around the consequences of the sin. Instead of dealing with the real problem, we work overtime at inventing ways to get away with it.

While that may work in some cases with the law of our land, it never works when we violate the law of God. As we saw in our last study, David tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. But he encountered one inescapable flaw: “... the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). David had not reckoned on the fact that “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).

God let David go for about nine months to a year. The child conceived by David and Bathsheba’s illicit union had been born (11:27). Then, when God, who knows the hearts, knew that David was miserable in his guilt and ready to repent He sent Nathan the prophet (12:1). Nathan wisely told David a story about a rich man with many sheep who mercilessly took the only pet lamb of a poor man and slaughtered it for his dinner guests. When David’s anger flared at the rich man in the story, Nathan sprung the trap by pointing his finger in David’s face and saying boldly, “You are the man!” David had condemned himself.

While we could study this episode as a classic example of how to confront someone who has fallen into sin, I am not going to approach it that way. Instead, I want to look at how we can get right with God when we’ve done wrong. God has made provision for us to experience consistent victory over sin. But in spite of this, we all do sin. It is therefore important that we learn how to deal with our sin God’s way so that we can be restored in our relationship with Him and go on growing in His grace. David’s response to Nathan’s rebuke shows us that

We get right with God when we’ve sinned by confession and by submission to God’s dealings with us.

David confessed his sin openly (12:13; Psalms 32, 51) and he submitted to God’s discipline (the death of the child and the ongoing painful consequences in David’s family [12:10-23]).

I realize that the ideas of confession and submission probably strike some of you as basic, perhaps even as boring. But before you tune out, I would point out that most spiritual failure involves a violation of some basic spiritual principle. In my years of pastoral experience, I have often mistakenly assumed that a person was applying the basics of Christian living. But quite often that is not the case, even with people who have been Christians for years. Thus we all can profit by studying this portion of God’s Word which shows how David got right with God after he had done wrong.

1. We get right with God when we’ve sinned by confession.

To understand confession, we must first look at ...

A. What confession is not: Covering our sin.

Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, there has been the innate tendency in the human heart to attempt to cover our sin. Sin results in guilt and estrangement from God and from our fellow man. Our sin embarrasses us and so we try, as Adam and Eve did, to put our fig leaves in place to cover our sin. There are various types of “fig leaves” that we use in our attempts to hide our sin from God and from one another:

(1) Deception and lying. David tried this first. He brought Bathsheba’s husband Uriah home from the battle and tried to get him to have relations with his wife so that the child would appear to be his. The human heart “is more deceitful than all else” (Jer. 17:9). So almost invariably when there is major sin, there is also deceit and lying.

(2) Being judgmental of others. The person who covers instead of confesses his sin is often judgmental of the same or even lesser sins in others. Note David’s harsh reaction to the rich man in Nathan’s parable (12:5-6). The law of Moses did prescribe four-fold restitution for the sheep (Exod. 22:1), but not the death of the one who took it. Certainly taking the man’s pet lamb was a crime, but it was nothing compared to David’s crime of taking a man’s wife. David’s harsh condemnation was a fig leaf to cover up his own wrong. If Nathan had not known better, he would have thought, “My, how zealous David is against evil!”

Some guys put limburger cheese very gently on a fraternity brother’s moustache while he slept. He woke about an hour later and said, “This room stinks!” He walked into the hall and said, “This hall stinks!” He walked into the living room and said, “This living room stinks!” Then, still perplexed as to where the smell was coming from, he walked outside and exclaimed, “This whole world stinks!” The real problem wasn’t the house or the world; the real problem was right under his own nose--just like sin in our lives! When you excuse sin in your own life, you often become very critical and judgmental of others. A third “fig leaf”:

(3) Attacking the one who confronts us. David did not do this with Nathan, probably because Nathan was so shrewd in the way he got David to condemn himself. But if Nathan had been more direct, who knows but what David would have said, “Who are you to condemn me? You’re just a legalist, Nathan!”

Even though David didn’t yet realize it, the rich man in Nathan’s parable confronted David. David’s angry response was to attack the man: “He deserves to die.” We sometimes attack our confronter by applying the law to him but not to ourselves. If a man who stole a lamb deserves to die, what about an adulterer and murderer? “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).

We’re often like the college student who was filling out a questionnaire to help determine roommate compatibility. By the questions, “Do you make your bed regularly?” and “Do you consider yourself a neat person?” he checked the box marked “Yes.”

His mother read his answers and, knowing they were far from the truth, asked why he had lied. “What?” he replied. “And have them stick me with some slob!” (Reader’s Digest, [12/85], p. 109.)

As someone put it, “Most of us are umpires at heart; we like to call balls and strikes on somebody else.” We’re all adept at applying God’s standard to others, but dodging its application for us.

So, the one being confronted often attacks the confronter, rather than facing his own sin. Two brief applications:

(a) If you find yourself getting angry and attacking the person who confronts you with your sin, it should serve as a warning that there may be some truth to the charges.

(b) If you go to confront someone in their sin, be prepared to bear the brunt of their anger. Recognize it for what it is--a fig leaf--and don’t take it personally. A fourth fig leaf:

(4) Rationalizing our sin. David did this when he sent word to Joab, “... the sword devours one as well as another” (11:25). In other words, “That’s the way it goes! We’re not responsible for such mishaps.” We rationalize when we make up excuses to absolve us of responsibility for our sin. Our whole criminal justice system has bought heavily into this mentality. Everyone is a victim, but no one seems to be responsible for his actions: “It’s just the way I am!” “I had a tough childhood!” “If you had been through what I’ve been through, you’d understand why I behave like I do!” A fifth fig leaf:

(5) Blaming others or God. David did not use this one, as far as the text reveals, but I include it because it’s so common. Adam blamed Eve and the Lord who gave Eve to him; Eve blamed the serpent. And we’ve all been in the blame game ever since. David could have blamed Bathsheba for bathing in a visible location. He could have blamed God for giving him such a strong sex drive. But if you’re blaming, you’re not confessing. Whatever fig leaf we use, covering our sin is not confessing it.

B. What confession is: Admitting and exposing our sin.

David confesses his sin in 12:13: “I have sinned against the Lord.” In Psalm 32:5 (written after David’s confession, to extol the blessings of God’s forgiveness), David wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’” The word “confess” used in that verse means to make known or declare. God’s method is not to hide sin, but to expose it. Thus to confess our sin means to admit and expose it openly before God and usually to those we have wronged.

For confession of sin to be genuine, three elements must be present:

(1) Accepting full responsibility for my sin. “I have sinned.” David didn’t say, “We all mess up once in a while,” or “What do you expect when a red-blooded man sees a gorgeous, willing woman?” David admitted his own responsibility for it and he called it what it was--sin. As long as we shrug off sin or see ourselves as a victim of circumstances, we are not accepting responsibility for our sin.

(2) Agreeing with God concerning my sin. This means that I see my sin as God sees it. It is primarily “against the Lord.” Sin is despising God and His Word (12:9, 10). God sees sin as serious enough to separate us from His holy presence. That’s why He took the drastic solution of sending His Son to die for our sin. I need to see how my sin has wronged the holy God above all others. Just as God sees it as evil (11:27), so must I. Agreeing with God means that I must turn from it.

But if we stopped there, we would all be afraid to confess our sins. We would want to run from God rather than run to Him.

(3) Applying the blood to my sin. “The Lord also has taken away your sin” (12:13). Only God can forgive our sin, and that only on the basis of the shed blood of Christ: “Without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Living under the Old Covenant, David’s forgiveness was based on what the sacrificial system pointed forward to. Living under the New Covenant, our forgiveness is based on the finished work of Christ on the cross, where He paid the penalty for all our sins.

All of your sin is forgiven at the moment you put your trust in Christ as Savior. God has once and for all reconciled you to Himself through the cross. But when you sin subsequent to salvation, in order to experience God’s forgiveness and to enjoy fellowship with Him, you must apply the blood of Christ by confessing your sin. It’s best to keep short accounts with God. The instant you’re aware of sin, whether in thought, word, or deed, turn from it and confess it to Him and you will enjoy renewed cleansing and communion with our holy and gracious Father.

But confession is only part of the matter. Many people don’t understand God’s holy opposition to all sin. So they expect there to be no consequences once they’ve confessed their sin. But if our confession is genuine, we will submit to God and His dealings with us:

2. We get right with God when we’ve sinned by submission to God’s dealings with us.

The fact is, even though God forgives our sin, He does not erase all the consequences. He often deals severely with us after we’ve sinned in order to vindicate His own righteousness and to impress upon us the seriousness of what we did. God dealt very severely with David in the immediate death of his newborn son and long-range through multiple family problems. The genuineness of David’s confession is seen in the fact that he submitted to God’s dealings with him and never shook his fist in God’s face. If we’re defiant, thinking that God has no right to treat us so severely, we haven’t truly confessed. There were two broad areas in which David submitted and where we must submit in the aftermath of our sin:

A. We must submit to the righteousness of God.

From our human perspective, we would think that God would have tried to cover David’s sin from public view. After all, this was the man after God’s own heart. This was God’s anointed king over His chosen people. It makes God look bad if the word leaks out that God’s man had done such a thing.

But God’s way is not to cover sin, but to expose it. C. H. Mackintosh writes, “He will prove to every spectator that He has no fellowship with evil, by the judgment which He executes in the midst of His people” (Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers], VI, 169). God must vindicate His holiness. That means that when we sin, God will make it clear to the angels and principalities, to the world and the church, that He has no part in our sin and that He is not involved in our iniquity.

It would be erroneous to conclude that all affliction is the immediate result of our sin; but it would be equally erroneous to assume that none of it is. God uses affliction to vindicate His righteousness, and we must submit to Him in the matter. In Psalm 51:4 David writes, “Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” David wasn’t angry with God for His righteous dealings with him after his sin.

B. We must submit to the law of sowing and reaping.

Just as God must vindicate His righteousness, so He must impress upon us and upon the world the gravity of sin. He does this through the law of sowing and reaping, stated in Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

I remind you that the law of sowing and reaping occurs in Galatians, the epistle written to defend God’s grace, and thus it is consistent with God’s grace and applies to those under grace. It is God’s gracious, although sometimes severe, means of impressing upon us and others the serious nature of our sin. It is seen when a loving parent, whose teenager irresponsibly crashes the family car, forgives the boy and fellowship is restored. But to teach him the serious responsibility of driving a car, the parent restricts the boy’s driving privilege and requires him to work off the repair bill. There is forgiveness and fellowship, but there are consequences to teach an important lesson.

The crucial question is: How do you respond when God deals with you in the aftermath of your sin? Do you shake your fist in God’s face and exclaim, “It’s not fair!”? Do you pout and say, “See if I ever serve God again”? Note David’s response (12:19-23). His infant son had died. But instead of maligning God, David worshiped Him! He submitted to God’s dealings with him. He said in effect, “You are God; Your ways are right. If my affliction can vindicate Your holiness and can be used to impress upon others the serious nature of sin, so be it! I submit to Your dealings with me.”


A little boy visiting his grandparents was given his first slingshot. He had great fun playing with it in the woods. He would take aim and let the stone fly, but he never hit a thing. Then, on his way home for lunch, he cut through the backyard and saw Grandmother’s pet duck. He took aim and let the stone fly. It went straight to the mark and, to his horror, the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. In desperation, he took the dead duck and hid it in the woodpile.

Then he saw his sister Sally standing by the corner of the house. She had seen the whole thing. They went into lunch. Sally said nothing. After lunch Grandmother said, “Okay Sally, let’s clear the table and wash the dishes.” Sally said, “Oh, Grandmother, Johnny said he wanted to help you in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny!” And then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck.” So Johnny did the dishes. Later in the day Grandfather called the children to go fishing. Grandmother said, “I’m sorry, but Sally can’t go. She has to stay here and help me clean the house and get supper.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help today, didn’t you, Johnny?” And then she whispered, “Remember the duck.”

This went on for several days. Johnny did all the chores, his and those assigned to Sally. Finally, he could stand it no longer, so he went to his grandmother and confessed all. She took him in her arms and said, “I know, Johnny. I was standing at the kitchen window and I saw the whole thing. And because I love you, I forgave you. And knowing that I loved you and would always forgive you, I wondered just how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

If we don’t confess our sin, we become slaves to our guilt. But there’s no need to do that. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, ready to forgive our sin. In His righteousness, He may deal with us severely even after He has forgiven us. But we can trust that He always has our ultimate good in mind (Rom. 8:28). So we can submit to Him and worship Him, even when He sends affliction into our lives.

Don’t deal with your sin by removing the windshield wipers, by continuing in sin and trying to dodge the consequences! Don’t try to cover it, because you will be miserably enslaved to guilt! Deal with it by confessing it to the Lord and to those you’ve wronged; and by submitting to God’s dealings with you.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what extent should we confess our faults to one another (James 5:16)? Should we expose all of our sins to the whole church? If not, which ones and to whom?
  2. Does genuine confession require feeling sorry for your sins? Use Scripture to defend your answer.
  3. Is it possible to be overly sensitive to our own sin? Can we be too introspective?
  4. How can God be both kind and severe? As a parent, when should you allow your child to reap the consequences of his sin, and when should you bail him out?

Copyright 1993, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character Study, Confession, Hamartiology (Sin)

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