Surprised Into Repentance
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)
King David lived for about a year in a tangled web of denial and gradually growing coldness and hardness toward God. He sinned in both adultery and murder and then covered both crimes with the image of a rescuer of poor Bathsheba. God’s convicting power was at work within David for that year and as he resisted that convicting work of God, his spiritual life dried up as he described in Psalm 32. David got to the point where God would not allow him to go any deeper into the mire – so He sent David a prophet and friend named Nathan.
Nathan began with a simple story about a poor farmer and a rich farmer, and how the rich farmer wasn’t satisfied with what he had and stole the precious lamb of the poor farmer. David was outraged at the heartlessness of the rich man and condemned him to death. Nathan didn’t hesitate to bring the point home to his friend and simply said, “You are the man.” With this, Nathan applied the parable with alarming simplicity. Nathan had to shock David into seeing his sin for what it was. David was himself guilty of what he so readily condemned in a hypothetical man.
David was surprised into repentance, but he was not frightened. You cannot frighten men into repentance. It is possible to frighten them into regret about their sin, but true repentance is different. Regret over sin may lead to repentance, but it often does not. David needed to be surprised, not frightened.
This was a very personal confrontation from God (and His prophet) unto David. The great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren wrote, “God accuses us and condemns us one by one that He may save us one by one.” A personal salvation requires a personal conviction of sin. It wasn’t enough for David to confess that he was a sinner in a general sense; he had to confess his sin at this very point.
In this sense, the conviction and confession of our sin needs to be specific. J. Edwin Orr told of a time of revival in Brazil when a lady stood in a crowded church and said, “Please pray for me. I need to love people more.” The leader gently told her, “That is not confession, sister. Anyone could have said it.” Later in the service the woman stood again and said, “Please pray for me. What I should have said is that my tongue has caused a lot of trouble in this church.” Her pastor whispered to the leader, “Now she’s talking.”
Spurgeon told the story of a woman who came seeming to be in great sorrow, saying what a great sinner she was, but Spurgeon suspected her repentance wasn’t sincere. He said, “Well, if you are a sinner of course you have broken God’s laws. Let’s read the Ten Commandments and see which ones you have broken.” They started at the first: “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and Spurgeon asked her if she ever broke that commandment. “Oh no,” she said, “not that I know of.” ” ‘You shall not make any graven image’ – did you ever break that one?” “Never, sir,” she answered.
As you might suppose, Spurgeon went through all Ten Commandments and she could not find a single one that she had broken, and what he suspected was true. She didn’t really consider herself a sinner and her show of repentance was only because she thought it was expected of her. God put King David in a place where that just wasn’t possible – and if we find ourselves in the same place, we should regard it as a gift. The words, “You are the man” are really a gift from a loving God.
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David’s weekly devotional is also translated into German.