2 Samuel 12:13 – How Can Forgiveness Be Lawful?


In 2 Samuel 11, David commits adultery with Bathsheba while her husband Uriah is away doing battle as part of David’s army. When Bathsheba announces that she is pregnant, David calls Uriah back from the battle so that Uriah can go to his home and sleep with his wife and so get David off the hook. Uriah, however, is too loyal and noble to enjoy pleasures with his wife while the army of Israel is waging war in the open field. Even when David gets him drunk, he refuses to go to his house, so David commands Joab to send Uriah into the fiercest battle so that he will be killed. Uriah the warrior obeys his commander and goes into the fray and is killed by the archers from the wall. David marries Bathsheba, the beautiful and grieving widow, and so his tracks appear to be covered. Everything is okay, except that the LORD has seen David’s sins and is not pleased.

In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan the prophet comes to King David and tells him a story about a rich king and a poor man. In the story, the rich man takes the poor man’s only ewe lamb and has it cooked for dinner. David is outraged at the evil of the rich man in the story and demands that the rich man die. “Thou art the man!” These are the famous words that Nathan declares to David. David is the sinner and he deserves to die, just as he himself declared and just as the Law demands. Adultery and murder are both punished by death and David has thus just issued his own death sentence and execution. The Law demands that he die.

But that is not what occurs. The LORD speaks through Nathan and recounts for David all of his sins and David simply replies, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Astonishingly, Nathan then says, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13)

And at this point the Law cries out, “Treason!” It is unlawful to forgive this adulterer and this murderer when the sins have not been punished. The Law stands in judgment over every sin and demands a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2; Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23a; etc.) and here we have a confessed adulterer and murderer who is being set free! The Law demands death for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and the Law demands death for murder (Leviticus 24:17; Exodus 21:12), and yet God’s prophet has told David that the LORD has taken away his sin and that he will not die. The LORD is not requiring the punishment that David’s sins deserve. Outrageous! Scandalous! How can the Holy One allow David to go free? How can David’s simple confession be accepted as the only requirement for his forgiveness?

Here we are thrust into one of the great theological difficulties: namely, “How can God forgive any sin without compromising His own justice and without violating His own Law?” For the LORD has given His Law as an expression of His holiness and His righteousness. In the Law the LORD sets forth His demands for righteousness upon every man, and these demands and requirements cannot be set aside and cannot be ignored even by the LORD Himself. To set aside or to ignore even one sin without receiving the just punishment that the Law demands is to transgress the Law. Thus it appears that forgiveness itself is necessarily unlawful, for the Law requires condemnation and punishment for a person’s sin and yet David is forgiven and his sin is taken away without him personally being punished for his sin. By His forgiveness of the sinner, has the LORD become a transgressor?

The huge problems is, in a word, forgiveness. How can our holy God, who has given us His Law as His inflexible standard for holiness and righteousness, ever forgive any sin without Himself becoming a Law-breaker?

What is the answer to this dilemma? The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the gospel we see how God can forgive the sinner and remain perfectly just, for in the gospel, the sins of believers can be legally and justly forgiven because they have been fully punished in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Since Christ has borne the punishment for the believer’s sins, the Lord can justly forgive. The Law’s requirement for punishment of sin has been satisfied in the death of Christ.

How was David justly forgiven? David was forgiven because he was a man of faith and he believed that the LORD would someday reveal a means whereby even his heinous sin could be wiped away. Without knowing the details, David believed that the LORD was merciful and gracious and that the LORD would take his sins away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Although the details were still wrapped in mystery, David knew that one day the Messiah would be revealed and would bring about justice in the earth.

SDG        rmb       11/29/2017

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