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2 Samuel 11
It is impossible long to peruse the record of human transactions without having cause to mourn over the frailty of human nature. History, both sacred and secular, is, to a considerable extent, a record of the vices and follies of mankind. It was meet that the Book which reveals the origin of evil and the fall of man, should trace the evil through its devious course, and exhibit the consequences of the fall in the darker doings of corrupt humanity. However painful these may be to our better feelings, and indelicate some of them may seem to our conventional sentiments, they are all capable of producing beneficial effects, when rightly contemplated. The purpose of Revelation, in recording such transactions, is to place crime before us, not only as evil, but as sin; to point it out, not only as a breach of the laws of man, but as a violation of the laws of God; to show us that the Lord has placed our secret sins in the light of His countenance; and that the sinner, though he may be above the reach of human authority, shall not escape the judgement of a righteous God.
A striking exemplification of this is given in the case of David in the double crime he committed in the matter of Bathsheba.
There are some reflections that can hardly fail to arise in our minds in reading the narrative of David's sins, and which it may be necessary to consider before proceeding to speak of its more interior sense.
It may not be necessary to employ much time in meeting the not uncommon objection, How, viewing such conduct, can David have been called a man after God's own heart? It is abundantly proved that this could not have been affirmed of him in regard to his personal, but his official and representative character; for it is not the man but the function that represents. This is evident from David's own treatment of Saul, whom he regarded and treated as the Lord's anointed.
There is another and still more serious difficulty. How could David, in such acts as those of which he had been guilty, represent the Lord, or even the regenerate man? The fact, which has been already stated, must be kept in mind, that evil actions committed by representative men represent, in the Lord and in the regenerate, not acts but temptations. Nor are they to be understood as temptations to commit those very acts of which David and others were guilty; but temptations which have a much deeper ground, and go much more to the root of evil, which grows up and branches out into the numerous forms of sin that men commit. All evil has its primary root in self-love, which is the opposite of love to God. Love to God is the root of all goodness, for even love to the neighbour grows out of love to God. And these two loves comprehend all goodness, for on them hang all the law and the prophets. In like manner the love of the world grows out of the love of self; and these two loves comprehend all that is opposed to goodness, for all evils are opposed to the law and the prophets. As love to God thus comprehends all religion, the love of self comprehends all irreligion; as the one includes all righteousness, the other includes all unrighteousness. What the apostle calls sins of the flesh have their root in self-love as truly as any other sins. Self-love is at the root of whatever we do to gratify our own desires without regard to the welfare and happiness of others. And what can be more greedily and basely selfish than to gratify the lust of the flesh at the expense of all that is most precious to a human being upon earth, not to speak of the effects which are spiritual and may be eternal?
It is in this way we are to look at sin and at temptation. Christian temptation is not simply that which comes from external objects, exciting our desires and alluring us to sinful acts. These no doubt are temptations. But real spiritual temptations may be endured without externally exciting causes, if causes they can be called, for they are rather the occasions than the causes of sin. The causes, as well as the ends, are within us. Unless these are removed, sin is never put away; the axe is never laid at the root of the tree; we are content to try to lop off the branches. Temptation goes to the root of evil, to the end and the cause; and not until we endure and overcome such temptations are we in the true way of being perfected by suffering. The Lord took upon Him all our hereditary evils, which had their root in His maternal humanity. That root descended, so to speak, into the lowest hell, from which, through that hereditary root, His deepest and direst temptations came, and in overcoming which He carried His redeeming power to the very root of evil and to the lowest depths of Satan; so that He is now able to succour them that are tempted, however severe their temptations may be.
In the transaction we have been considering, David committed the two greatest crimes of which a man can be guilty, and they must therefore have represented the Lord's deepest temptations. To see the true nature of the two evils he committed, and so to understand something of the depth of the temptations they represented, we must inquire into their spiritual origin. And this we cannot better ascertain than in the Writings of the Church:—
" The origin of love truly conjugal is the love of the Lord towards the Church, whence the Lord is called in the Word the Bridegroom, and the Church the bride and wife. From this marriage the Church is a Church, both in general and in particular; and the Church in particular is the man in whom the Church is. Hence it is evident that the conjunction of the Lord with the man of the Church is the very origin of true conjugal love. How that conjunction is the origin of this love shall be explained. The conjunction of the Lord with the man of the Church is the conjunction of goodness and truth. From the Lord is goodness, and with man is truth. Hence the conjunction is called the heavenly marriage, from which exists love truly conjugal between married partners who are in the conjunction of goodness and truth from the Lord. Hence it is first evident that love truly conjugal is from the Lord alone, and with those who are in the conjunction of goodness and truth from Him. Now since the origin of conjugal love is the marriage of goodness and truth, which is heaven, it is manifest that the origin of the love of adultery is the marriage of evil and falsity, which in its essence is hell. Heaven is marriage, because all who are in the heavens are in the marriage of goodness and truth; and hell is adultery, because all who are in the hells are in the marriage of evil and falsity. Hence it follows that marriage and adultery are as opposite to each other as heaven and hell. The love of marriage corresponds to the love of the supreme heaven, which is love to the Lord from the Lord, and the love of adultery corresponds to the love of the lowest hell. The reason why the love of marriage is so holy and celestial is that it commences from the Lord Himself in the inmost parts of man, and descends according to order to the ultimate parts of the body, and thereby fills the whole man with celestial love, and induces in him a form of Divine love, which form is the form of heaven, and is an image of the Lord. But the love of adultery commences from the ultimate parts of man, and from an impure lascivious fire there, and thence, contrary to order, penetrates towards the interiors, always into man's selfhood, which is nothing but evil, and induces therein a form of hell, which is an image of the devil.
" The good works of chastity which concern married partners are, spiritual and celestial loves, intelligence and wisdom, innocence and peace, power and protection against the hells. The evils consequent upon adulteries are opposite to these. Instead of spiritual and celestial loves are infernal and diabolical loves; instead of intelligence and wisdom there are insanities and follies; instead of innocence and peace are deceit and no peace; instead of power and protection against hell are demons themselves, and the hells; and instead of beauty there is deformity.... Adulteries correspond to the adulterations and defilements of goodness and truth." So far respecting David's violation of one commandment. What is involved in his violation of the other?
" In the spiritual celestial sense, You shall not kill, means, You shall not take away from man the faith and love of God, and thereby his spiritual life, this being homicide itself; for by virtue of this life man is man, the life of the body serving thereto as the instrumental cause serves the principal cause. From this spiritual homicide moral homicide is derived, -wherefore he who is in the one is also in the other; for he who wills to take away man's spiritual life, is in hatred against him if he cannot take it away, for he hates his faith and love, and thus the man himself. Spiritual homicide, which is that of faith and love; moral homicide, which is that of fame and honour; and natural homicide, which is that of the body, are consequent in a series, one from the other, as cause and effect. Since all who are in hell are in hatred against the Lord, and thence in hatred against heaven, for they are against goodness and truth, therefore hell is the very homicide or murderer itself, whence homicide or murder proceeds. The reason is this: man is man from the Lord through the reception of goodness and truth, wherefore to destroy goodness and truth is to destroy what constitutes humanity itself, thus to kill the man."
But there is this to be taken into consideration in regard to David's sins. The principles which have been stated are absolutely true in themselves, but the guilt attaching to those who act against them is in proportion to the moral and spiritual light they enjoy. Under the Jewish dispensation men did not see the sinfulness of such violations of the law so clearly as Christians do. Indeed polygamy, which the law sanctioned, and in which they lived, was inconsistent with the true idea of marriage, and therefore with a clear conception of the sinful-ness of violating its sanctity; and comparatively little value was then set on human life, because they had but an obscure notion of the soul and of its eternal existence. To us who live under a higher dispensation, to which the true nature and the sanctity of marriage, and the true nature of the soul and of the future life, have been so fully made known, the lessons which these sins teach are most solemn.
We see from the teaching of the Writings how holy marriage is, and how great is the sin of those who violate its sanctity; how precious the soul of man is, and how sinful it is to destroy its spiritual life. The violation of what is most holy and the destruction of what is most precious lie at the root of David's two sins. The two spiritual evils are most destructive of the Church, as the two natural evils are of human society. They are the evils in which the spirits of darkness are most deeply involved; and are the most directly and deeply opposed to the love of God and man, in which the angels of heaven are principled, and which they embody most perfectly in the sanctity of marriage, and in the intense love of the human soul, which makes them all ministering spirits, and inspires them with joy over every sinner that repents. In short, heaven and hell are opposed to each other as life and death, purity and impurity.
Now the Lord in His temptations had the angels with Him although He took nothing from them; because, as His maternal humanity brought Him into connection with all the hells, His Paternal humanity brought Him into connection with all the heavens; so that while the Lord as the Redeemer was conquering the hells, He was at the same time and in the same degree ordering the heavens; and in this way establishing the equilibrium between heaven and hell, on which the spiritual freedom of the human race, because of the human will, depends. But, as hell could not be subdued, so heaven could not be co-ordinated, without conflict. The angels of heaven as well as the spirits of hell retain the selfhood, or proprium, which is the ground of their conscious existence as individual human beings. This in its very nature is opposed to the Divine, but only in the way that the centrifugal force of the planets is opposed to the centripetal or attractive force of the sun. If the planets had not the tendency to fly off from the sun as their centre they would fall into it, and could therefore have no individual separate existence; and if the sun did not attract them, they would fly off into space, and be lost or destroyed. So comparatively with God and man. God, as man's Creator, has given him a selfhood, as the ground of his individuality, which, from its very nature, tends outwards, away from the Author of his existence and Fountain of his life; but his Creator exerts an attractive force which is equal to the contrary force exerted by the creature. This applies when man is in a state of order. For, unlike the planet, man has freewill, and can overcome the attractive force of Divine love, and wander away into the spiritual region of darkness and death. That region is hell; for hell is nothing more than wilful separation from God, and determined opposition to Him, and to all that is with Him, therefore to His kingdom on earth and in heaven. Angels are with the Lord, and yet their selfhood is against Him. In this is grounded the singular fact that, in the great work of redemption, the Lord was tempted even by the angels, nay, that the severest of His temptations were from that source. And this, in the highest sense, is involved in David's temptation in the matter of Bathsheba.
But in effecting redemption the Lord had a work to perform in His Church on earth as well as in His Church in heaven. Redemption included among its immediate objects the establishment of a Church on earth, as the basis of the Church in heaven, and as the means of saving souls, and thus supplying heaven with inhabitants. And in the internal sense it is to this that the history of David and Bathsheba relates.
Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. "The Hittites were among the better sort of inhabitants of the land of Canaan, as may appear from the circumstance that Abraham dwelt among them, and afterwards Isaac and Jacob, and were also buried there; and they behaved themselves with piety and modesty towards Abraham, as is manifest from Genesis 23Hence it is that this people, as a well-disposed nation, represented the spiritual Church. But it came to pass with them, as with the rest of the nations who composed the ancient Church, that in process of time they declined from charity or the good of faith, and hence they afterwards signified the false principle of the Church, as in Ezekiel 16:3, 45 (where Jerusalem is reproached with her father having been an Amorite and her mother a Hittite). Still the Hittites were among the more honourable, as may appear from the consideration that Hittites were attendant on David, as Ahimelech (1 Sam 26:6), and Uriah (2 Sam 11:3), whose wife was Bathsheba, of whom David had Solomon." But the circumstance that has more particular relation to the present subject is the burial of Sarah, Abraham's wife, in the land of the Hittites, who were the children of Heth. Sarah died in Hebron, which we have seen represented the spiritual Church; and there Abraham buried her in the field of Ephron.
"And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure to Abraham for a possession of a burying-place by the son of Heth." Sarah represented the Church, and burial signifies resurrection. Abraham burying Sarah among the children of Heth, was representative of the Lord raising up a Church among the Gentiles, when the former Church had expired. This Church was also represented by Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. It may be difficult to see how a criminal connection can represent anything that is good. And yet we know there are in Scripture things evil that are types of things good, and things false that are types of things true. This seeming inconsistency originates in the circumstance that evil is the perversion of good, and falsity is the perversion of truth; and when the perversion is removed the good and the truth remain. Evil and falsity have no original or independent existence. Evil is nothing without reference to good, falsity is nothing without reference to truth. If there had been no such thing as good, there could have been no such thing as evil; if there had been no such thing as truth, there would have been no such thing as error or falsity. On this ground the connection between Lot and his daughters had a good as well as a bad representation; so had that between Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar, through whom, as afterwards through the harlot Rahab, came the seed royal, and finally the Messiah. Although, naturally, this tells us that on the Lord was made to rest, by hereditary transmission, the iniquity of us all; yet, spiritually, the Lord's progenitors represented the remains of goodness and truth, of all kinds and degrees, which the Lord acquired from His birth upwards. David's first connection with Bathsheba represented the conjunction which existed between the Lord and the Gentiles before the Church, in its true sense, was established amongst them. The universal Church has, indeed, in all times and under all dispensations, included the Gentiles, since it includes all who are in the good of their religion, whatever that religion may be. But Gentile good, though not false, is spurious, because it is good unenlightened and unpurified, like the good of childhood. Yet that good, like the good of childhood, is very beautiful to look upon, as Bathsheba was; and although it is not pure, it desires purity, and employs such means of purification as the Gentiles possess, or as the Church may indirectly supply, as the woman was washing herself when David from the roof of his house beheld her. The conjunction of the Lord with the Gentiles, when the Church was established among them, was represented by the connection that existed between David and Bathsheba when she became his wife, the marriage of the Lord and the Church being the result of the union of goodness and truth; for Gentile good becomes Christian good when it is enlightened and purified by, and united to, Christian truth. The fruits of these two dissimilar conjunctions were represented by the child born, whom the Lord smote that he died, and by Solomon the wise, who succeeded David on the throne. All good is from the Lord; but good from the Lord is not genuine good in us unless it is united to truth, and the fruit of such good has not true spiritual life in it. When good is united to truth, then, from this union, which is the heavenly marriage, the fruit of wisdom and righteousness is produced.
Such is a general view of the spiritual meaning of this inspired record, which, while it stands as a great moral and religious warning, teaches a high spiritual truth.
As all evil is, as far as possible, turned by Divine providence to some substantial good, this evil has produced some results that may be profitable to the Church in all future times. To David's crime we owe the penitential psalm, through which the prostrate sinner breathes the very language of a broken and contrite heart; and which assuredly shows the royal sinner's repentance to have been sincere and deep. One should never read the account of David's crime without reading also the utterance of his contrition. It would do much to temper the severity of our judgement respecting him, and to diffuse over our minds a feeling of reverential awe in the presence of Him who alone can give us power to resist temptation as well as grant us pardon for our sins. The fifty-first psalm is so perfectly full of the beauties of holiness, and they are linked together in such perfect harmony, that it seems like doing violence to the whole to part them to pieces.
Another benefit the Church has received from David's sin is that beautiful lesson of active piety and wise resignation which he displayed, one during the illness, the other at the death, of his child. "The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bare to David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth." On the seventh day the child died, and his servants feared to tell him that the child was dead, concluding that, as he refused all comfort while the child was yet alive, he would vex himself much more on hearing of his death. But David acted a wiser and more consistent part. When David perceived from his servants' whisperings what they feared to tell, he rose from the earth, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshiped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. When his servants remarked on this strange conduct, he said, "While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." This is conduct which Christians would do well to imitate, and the reasons on which it was grounded Christians would do wisely to adopt as their own. Under David's circumstances, earnest prayer and pious resignation are equally dutiful and perfectly consistent. While there is hope we may send up the prayer of faith. Yet even in this prayer there should be resignation, whether unuttered or expressed, as in the words of the Lord Himself, "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." When the issue is no longer uncertain, what should be our course but meek and quiet submission? It is hard to part with the objects of our love, who are a part of ourselves and of our very life. But wherefore should we afflict our souls? We cannot bring one of them back. And we can say with more enlightened views of life and immortality, and with a brighter hope than David had, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."14 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page