o this day, King David is revered as the greatest of the Old Testament kings.
God directed Samuel to the house of Jesse to find someone after God’s own heart to lead His people Israel (1 Samuel 13:14). The prophet was directed to a shepherd boy, the youngest son of Jesse. This boy had so much faith that he was able to defeat the giant Goliath and God sustained him through many trials under King Saul until David himself ascended the throne. He loved God so much that God entered into the last Old Testament covenant with him, promising him that his house and his kingdom would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
But then David fell.
During the time when kings should go to war, David instead stayed at the palace. While walking, he saw Bathsheba bathing on a roof. After finding out she was married, he still took her into his bed. He thought he had timed it correctly so that she would not get pregnant, but she did. When he schemes to pass off the child as her husband’s failed, he has him murdered. When Nathan the prophet forced David to confront his sin, David was punished with the death of his infant son and a life of perpetual warfare.
The rest of David’s life is a very sad story. So what are the lessons that we can learn from his fall?
1.No one is immune from falling.
One of the reasons the Catholic Church never declares someone to be a saint while they are still alive is that everyone is capable of falling into terrible sin. I cannot tell you how many heartbreaking stories I have heard of priests who had impeccable reputations for holiness only to have their hidden abuses come to light.
Anyone who thinks that they are impervious to certain sins are foolish. It is true, many of us think that crimes like murder are unthinkable horrors which most of us would never do. But I’ve read enough history to see how seemingly normal people change under horrific circumstances like war or disaster. All of us have the ability to do great evil. If we do not respect that fact, we leave ourselves open to that power taking over us under the right circumstances.
2.Big sins start as small sins.
Notice how all of the problems begin: David should have been out defending his country. Instead, he was lazy and wanted to indulge in leisure at the expense of his responsibilities. The same thing applies to us. That is not to say that there is a necessary causality between neglecting your duty and murder. But opening up the door to small sins causes the breach to get wider and wider.
Some students ask me why pornography is a sin if it doesn’t hurt anyone. Leaving aside the thousands of people (especially young women) who are objectified and used by the industry, there is another problem for the person who engages with it. Through habit, it attunes the soul to treat sexuality as an act only for selfish pleasure and not an act of giving love. As a result, it makes it difficult or even impossible for those who engage in pornography to truly open themselves up to its true, higher joys. In addition, weaking the will against sexual tempation in pornography will continue to weaken the will when other sexual temptations present themselves. Like David, if we are able to be resolved in the smaller temptations, we can nip in the bud many of the larger ones.
3.God’s punishments are His mercies.
It is very clear from the Bible that God sends punishments. It is very trendy today to say that God never punishes, but that goes against the Scriptures. To be fair, I think the main modern point is that we shouldn’t blame someone’s troubles on God punishing them. This is excellent advice that comes right from Christ Himself in the Gospel of John in the story of the Man Born Blind. The reason why we shouldn’t do this is because we are not God and we do not have His insight to see if something is or is not a punishment.
Regardless, God does punish. David’s punishments are harsh, to say the least. To be constantly at war and to lose a child sound like hellish experiences. But even in these, we see God’s mercy.
David opened himself up to great sin because he turned away from the fight and hid in luxury. The fact that the fight never leaves him means that he will not have the luxury to turn towards his sins. There is a saying: “Good times make soft men, soft men make bad times, bad times make strong men, strong men make good times.” These hard times will help keep David focused on how much he needs God.
But what about losing a child? I must tread very carefully here because this is a pain that I cannot even begin to fathom, so I do not want to tread headlessly on the suffering of those who have endured this loss. But I think of President Kennedy. It is well documented that was a drinker and a womanizer. Sadly, while he was president, his young son died. From what I understand, the shock of this caused him to take stock of his life. Apparently he re-committed to his wife and told her he was going to reform his ways.
This change of heart happened just months before President Kennedy was assassinated. Without the loss of his son, perhaps he would not have been able to shock his soul into repentance. Perhaps this was also the case with David. If David’s son had not died, perhaps David would not have been able to work out his own salvation.
4.No one is beyond redemption.
Even after all of this, David is still considered the greatest of the old kings.
Because David never stopped trying.