January 23, 2011

Life of David (6): Return of the Prodigal (2 Samuel 12)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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Last time, we studied about David’s mid-life crisis and how he failed because 1. He indulged his fleshly desires 2. His life was too easy and comfortable 3. He failed in the face of temptation 4. He deceitfully schemed to cover up his sin; as a result, this man after God’s own heart lived his days in darkness for at least two long years. During this period, the Lord’s spirit often moved and convicted him of his sins; Psalm 32:3, David said, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” When he kept silent and refused to confess his sins, he experienced no peace, his bones wasted away. Today, let us study how the prodigal returned home:

I. The Reason David the Prodigal Returned

The time came when the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke him. Nathan was a very wise prophet. When he came before King David, he told David a story. Why did Nathan do that? Nathan knew David very well. David had a strong sense of justice, he could not stand seeing the weak and helpless oppressed. When he was still a shepherd boy, David couldn’t stand by and watch tigers or lions attack his sheep; he would fight off the tigers or lions. David was someone who couldn’t stand seeing the weak and helpless oppressed. So, Nathan told David, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” This is what we call `an appropriate and timely warning’.

Hearing the rebuke, David didn’t say, “Guard, take Nathan out and behead him! How dare you rebuke the king!” Let us not forget, David lived three thousand years ago. Three thousand years ago, was there any king who didn’t conduct himself this way? When a king wanted a woman, the woman becomes his. There was nothing unusual about him taking the wife of another man. But David’s first words were, “I have sinned against the Lord.” We would have already felt it very acceptable even if David had only said, “I have sinned against Uriah, I killed him, I stole his wife”, or if he had said, “I have sinned against Bathsheba. I stole her and turned her into a mistress.” It would have been already acceptable if David had said, “I have sinned against my family. They trusted me so much, and I destroyed my own family”, or “I have sinned against my people. I am their king, yet I have left a bad example.” Instead, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” David the prodigal had returned, because he had returned to the Lord. A man who acknowledges and repents of his sin is a man who has returned to the Lord.

What is sin? Sin is disobedience to God’s Word and obeying the devil’s word. The first sin man committed is recorded in Genesis chapter three. Sin entered the world and God drove man out of the Garden of Eden, man became separated from the holy God, from the Lord of life. What is sin? To sin is to depart from the Creator, it is failure to acknowledge the Heavenly Father as Father. David disobeyed God’s word, and did not walk in God’s truth. He broke at least three of the Ten Commandments: 1. Do not murder: He murdered Uriah. 2. Do not commit adultery: He committed adultery with Bathsheba. 3. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife: He stole Bathsheba and made her his wife. The real reason he sinned was because he had drifted away from the Lord. He lost the reverent heart he had for the Lord. One thousand years before David, there lived a young man by the name of Joseph. Joseph was such a handsome young man that everyone found him attractive, including his master’s wife. In fact, she told him brazenly: `Come, sleep with me.’ What a great temptation that was. It is so much easier for women to seduce men than for men to seduce women. Yet Joseph did not yield to temptation. Joseph was a man of character. The woman was relentless, every day she pressed Joseph to sleep with her! Every day! Imagine this – every day as you leave your house, you meet a very attractive lady who smiles at you. She doesn’t do anything else but simply smile at you. After a week, a month, or a year, can there be any man who will remain unaffected? Every day, his master’s wife tried to make him go to bed with her, yet Joseph didn’t give in. What was Joseph’s secret to overcoming this temptation? He told his master’s wife: “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” In a time of temptation, he referred back to God, he knew it would be a great sin against God. However, with David, he didn’t even realize he had already drifted away from God. Only upon Nathan’s timely warning did he suddenly realize his own sin. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” David was a spiritual man, he had sinned but he knew how to acknowledge his sin, and the Lord forgave him his sin. This is what I want to discuss today, sin is departing from God, acknowledging our sins is returning to God. As long as a prodigal returns, the Heavenly Father will accept him back.

II. Result of David the Prodigal’s Return

Where there is cause, there is effect. Where there is effect, there is cause. The Lord Jesus died for our sins on the cross, there is no sin that the Lord cannot forgive, but everything we do affects others, even our family and we still have to bear the consequences of our sins. When David told Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But …” and he went on to pronounce the consequences of David’s sins. First, we must understand an important thing – when a non-Christian sins, what he has to face is punishment for his sins. But for a Christian, as long as he confesses and repents of his sins, he will be forgiven; all his sins have already been placed on Jesus Christ; however, he still will have to face the consequence of his sins; but it is not punishment, it is discipline. We must differentiate between punishment and discipline. Punishment is for the sins of the past, discipline is to prevent the commitment of sins in the future. At first glance, they look similar, but the results are totally different. After he acknowledged his sins, David was forgiven, but the Lord disciplined him, in order to refine his life further.

1. The Child He Had with Bathsheba Died – The prophet told David, “But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.” And so, the Lord struck down his son, and the boy died after seven days. The child was innocent but he had to die because of his parents’ sin. This should be a warning for us, whatever we do can hurt innocent people. But from another viewpoint, death may not necessarily be a bad thing for it can mean entering eternal joy. And also, if this child had lived, with the whole nation knowing he was David’s illegitimate child, life could be very difficult for him as he could be the subject of talks! So it may not necessarily be a bad thing for him that the Lord took him away.

2. Amnon Raped Tamar – Amnon was David’s eldest son. Tamar was David’s daughter. Amnon and Tamar were brother and sister albeit of different mothers. Yet this brother raped his own sister. David was very angry when he heard of it, but he did nothing. Why? What could David say to Amnon? Amnon could retort to his face, “Father, I learned from you. Didn’t you steal another man’s wife? Father, you couldn’t keep away from Bathsheba, and so it is with me, when I saw Tamar, I couldn’t stand it, I had to have her. Father, we are like father like son.” David didn’t know what to do, he only became very angry but didn’t do anything.

3. Absalom Killed Amnon – David’s sin brought on a third consequence – brothers killing each other. Tamar’s brother Absalom decided to kill Amnon himself when he saw how their father failed to take any action. After two years, using the excuse of shearing the sheep, he invited all the princes to it, and killed Amnon there. Absalom plotted this murder for two years. We can simply imagine how his hatred must have grown in those two years, yet it didn’t show at all. The Bible says, “And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad…” In those two years, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong outwardly; however, deep in his heart, the hatred was festering. It is lamentable when brothers are at odds with one another. Brothers, love one another, because you are kin. In my family, I have 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Sixteen years ago, when my brother was stricken with leukemia, I flew to Hong Kong to donate bone marrow for him, however we were not compatible, so it did not push through. Last year, my mother passed away. When I was in Hong Kong then, I had opportunity to talk to my younger brother. He told me that it is difficult to be a mere wage-earner in HK, and he was thinking of going into business but had financial constraints. I told him that I have some money in Hong Kong, although it isn’t much, but if he needed it, he may have it any time. He was very grateful when he heard that. Twelve years ago, my sister came to the Philippines, she wanted me to officiate her wedding. I didn’t only officiate her wedding, I even held a reception for her, I shouldered all the expenses; in fact, since my sister didn’t know anyone in the church, so I didn’t accept any monetary gifts from the invited guests, I invited the guests on the premise of a thanksgiving celebration. When my parents were still alive, every year I returned to Hong Kong to see them, and whenever I get the chance, I would treat my siblings to dinner and I would insist on paying the bill, not because they don’t have money, but because it is my way of showing my love for them. Brother and sisters ought to love one another because they are siblings. Brothers and sisters in the Lord must also love one another. David, because of a moment’s passion, brought conflict among his children, even to the extent of murder. How frightening sin is!

4. Absalom Revolted Against David – Absalom not only hated Amnon for raping his sister, he also hated David; for apart from getting angry, David didn’t do anything about the crime. After Absalom killed Amnon, he fled to Geshur and hid there for three years. After he returned, David did not allow Absalom to see him for three years. Absalom’s hatred grew by the day. After four years, he openly rebelled against his father. It is a very sad thing that brothers kill each other, now, the son rebels against his father, and wants to kill him. How grieved David must have been as a father. When Absalom was killed, David was sorrowful. He cried as he went and said, ““O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you? O Absalom, my son, my son!” David felt he killed his son, because this was the consequence of his sin. Although his son dishonoured him, still he was willing to die on his behalf, David’s heart was truly broken.

5. Absalom Raped David’s Concubines – When Absalom entered Jerusalem, among those who went with him was a man by the name of Ahithophel. 2 Samuel 16:23 records “Now in those days the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Ahithophel’s advice.” Ahithophel presented Absalom with a terrible plot. In 2 Samuel 16:21 , when Absalom sought his advice, “Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” David and Absalom were father and son, even if his son was a bad son, David continued to love him, for the relationship of father and son is very unique – a father will always love his own son; for a parent, a son will always be a son. Unless Absalom does something detestable to David, there is always a chance of reconciliation between the two, thus, Ahitophel made this terrible advice and told Absalom to sleep with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. His purpose was so that in the sight of all men, David will not be able to forgive Absalom. Why did Ahithophel give this wicked advice? It was because Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. Ahithophel couldn’t forget what David did to his granddaughter, committing adultery and killing Uriah. He wanted to destroy David’s family. V.22 “So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” They let him do this terrible thing in the very place where David first saw Bathsheba and plotted adultery in his heart. A man reaps whatever he sows! Let us be careful!

6. Joab killed Absalom – In the end, Absalom was killed by Joab in battle. Absalom was very handsome. He was most famous for his beautiful long hair. During the battle, his hair caught among the branches of a tree, leaving him hanging in midair, and Joab speared him to death there. This serves as a warning to us, our greatest strength often becomes our greatest weakness. An eloquent person, such as a gifted preacher can become the greatest deceiver, he has a great possibility of stealing the glory from God. A person gifted in music can become simply a great entertainer. A wealthy and powerful man can become a dictator, a conceited person. Your strength if not submitted to the Lord can become the cause of your downfall. After Absalom’s death, David cried as he went ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you? O Absalom, my son, my son!’ How painful sin’s consequences can be!

Of course we may confess our sins and the Lord can forgive us; but sin has its consequences. God forgives the sins we have committed, but we still have to undergo discipline, the effect of sin continues. We must understand that when God forgives us, it doesn’t necessarily follow that people will forgive us too. When our sin has affected others, people may seek to avenge themselves. We must be careful, for sin has its consequences. Sometimes the consequences can be unbearable. May the Lord have mercy on us and keep us from sin and its lures.