Sin and Forgiveness


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Building Healthy Relationships week 5

Toronto, November 9, 2008

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2SA 12:13)

  1. The story of David and Bathsheba creates a vivid picture of the spiritual consequences of sin – and at the same time, the forgiveness that the Lord will provide to those who seek it from him by bringing themselves back into order.
    1. Usually, a sermon deals with just a verse or two. In this case, however, the story is contained in two full chapters of the 2nd book of Samuel. While this prevents our studying the literal story in detail, it is offset by the fact that the story is so well known. A few references from the key elements will serve to remind anyone with a basic acquaintance with the Old Testament of the main elements of the story. In our approach for today in taking the wide sweep of the story in our attempt to see the general context and lesson, the detail is not so important.
  2. The key to the story of David and Bathsheba is the apparently unimportant detail that begins and ends the story, the siege of the Ammonite city, Rabbah
    1. The land of Israel generally represents the human mind. All the various Canaanite nations that were originally in the land when Abraham was introduced to Canaan, and against whom Joshua fought and with the Lord’s help conquered, represented the various hereditary evils that we face in our own lives.
      1. This explains why the Lord was so adamant that these nations be utterly destroyed and driven out: they represented evils. You cannot shun an evil conditionally. You cannot shun the evil of stealing, for example, by vowing that you will never steal again – except on Tuesdays. With shunning evil, it is all or nothing.
      2. This story begins with the siege of Rabbah, a city of Ammon. This gives us the key to the story that follows, for it identifies the leading evil that this battle, or temptation, is being fought against. The sons of Ammon represent “those who are in an external worship which appears holy, but who are not in internal worship….Such worship (is with) those who are in natural good, but despise others in comparison with themselves” (AC 2468).
        1. This tells us that while the letter of the story may be about the deeds and misdeeds of Israel’s greatest king, as to its internal sense, it is about our own battles with the love of self, with the belief that we are better than others, and that because we are better than others, that somehow we have the right to do, think, and say anything we like.
        2. Certainly, this is what we see David doing. And the purpose of this story is to lead us to see that such a belief can only lead to that shattering of all the commandments, and deep personal tragedy.
    2. The armies of Israel are being led by Joab, while David remains in Jerusalem.
      1. Which should be noted as something unusual for David.
        1. David had built his reputation as the great warrior king beginning with his conquest of Goliath, and continuing with his reputation as the one who, under Saul, had killed ten thousand Philistines (1SA 18:7,8; 21:11; 29:5). We can only wonder why David did not lead his armies forth this time, as the text does not tell us. However, looking to the internal sense, we can see that this may represent our own reluctance to turn away from our evils. We may know they are there, and we may understand that we have to fight them, but yet we are reluctant to begin. We seek excuses to delay, to put off the painful experience we know shunning evil to be.
        2. There was another aspect to this situation: with all the other men away at the battle, David was relatively alone in the city. Certainly there were servants around, but not the other military men whose opinion mattered to David. He found himself in a situation where he could do pretty much what he wanted without having to justify or explain to anyone of consequence.
        3. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the thing that keeps most of us under control, within the limits of external order, is our own fear of the loss of our reputation, honour, or gain. David was suddenly (at least it seemed to him) freed of this restraint, and he allowed his fantasies to become realities.
    3. David sees Bathsheba bathing while he walks on the roof in the evening. Inquiring about her, he is told that she is the wife of Uriah.
      1. Knowing that, he sends for her anyhow. It is not too difficult for us to imagine the various ways he justified his behaviour to himself, but it is clear from the text that he had been specifically informed that Bathsheba was a married woman. He knew it was wrong, but he did it anyhow. And she becomes pregnant.
      2. In the Divine order of things, every truth has some good conjoined with it. Every knowledge can result in something that is useful and of benefit. But adultery represents that conjunction of a good with what is false, thus destroying both the good and its truth. Certainly, we would not eat adulterated food, for we would know that it had been contaminated with filth.
        1. And it is no coincidence that the Canaanite nation that David is fighting represents the adulteration of good and truth. Thus we can see that the subject of this scripture is not just the specific sin of adultery, but includes all kinds of sin where we deliberately combine what is profane and from the loves of self and the world with what is good and from the Lord.
    4. When Bathsheba reveals to him that she is pregnant, David knows that their adultery will become known, for she must explain how she became pregnant while her husband was away.
      1. This is a scandal which David wishes to avoid. He sends for Uriah, who obediently returns from Rabbah.
      2. Three times David tries to get Uriah to spend the night at home with Bathsheba, obviously so the child will appear to be Uriah’s
      3. But Uriah is an honourable soldier. He cannot sleep in comfort at home while Israel is at war.
      4. David decides that he must kill Uriah because only her husband could testify against him. If Uriah is dead, David could say that Uriah was the father of the child without fear of contradiction.
      5. Uriah carries his own death warrant to Joab and he soon thereafter dies in the battle when the rest of his unit retreats.
      6. Uriah was an experienced man of war. He had no doubt trained with this unit. How could it happen that they withdraw from him in battle without his knowledge, with him noticing? Why did he not fall back with them? Perhaps this was his way of showing his love for the peace and security of his country.
      7. Joab sends David a coded message to say that the deed is done and Uriah has died. But Joab’s knowledge of David’s part in this has given him power over David, so David seeks to control Joab in his reply, carried by the messenger. David said, “Thus you shall say to Joab: ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Strengthen your attack against the city, and overthrow it.’ So encourage him” (2SA 11:25)
      8. And David marries Bathsheba as soon as the period of mourning is over. A son is born. The child is not named in scripture.
    5. The 11th chapter ends with things in the depths of sin and despair. Most of the commandments have been broken, but David still thinks he has gotten away with it. After all, he is the king and he can do whatever he wants. Even those who know about what has gone on are too weak to threaten him about it. David feels the false power that comes from hell, the exaltation that comes just before the humiliation of exposure when the truth is revealed – as it always is.
    6. The Lord sends Nathan to tell David the parable of the Lamb.
      1. We may be able to hide our sin from others. We may even be able to hide it from ourselves, but we cannot hide it from the Lord.
      2. Nathan weaves a story of a rich man killing and eating his poor neighbour’s pet lamb
      3. David is outraged and condemns the rich man
      4. Nathan tells him that he is that man.
      5. David is suddenly aware of his sin, and is humiliated.
    7. Nathan is the prophet of the Lord. As everywhere else in the Word, a prophet, because the Lord speaks the truth through him, represents the Word.
      1. The Word has many functions in our lives. It instructs us in the laws of the Lord, it comforts us in times of trouble, and as in this case, it helps to see ourselves as the Lord sees us. We read about the life of some character in the Word, and it strikes a chord within us when we see that we have been acting in the same way.
      2. David is made suddenly aware that his sin has not been hidden, that he has fooled no one except himself. The light of heaven has shone upon him, and the wonderful palaces he imagined in his mind are suddenly seen to be mud huts.
      3. In modern terms, this state of mind is called “hitting bottom,” and it is generally recognized that for a person to make real change in their lives, they have to first hit bottom, that is, truly recognize that to continue on their course of life will mean the destruction of everything they love.
      4. From a spiritual point of view, we know that a person cannot fight hell from their own strength, so we have to ask the Lord to help us. But until we “hit bottom” we are too full of ourselves to admit that we need help. We can’t win without the Lord, and we don’t seek the Lord until we have clearly seen our own failure when trying to do it alone.
    8. David says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2SA 12:13). The recognition of sin is the beginning of new life: the old self has to die before the spirit can live. But the amazing thing is that once we humbly recognize our own sin, acknowledge it, and seek the Lord’s help in removing it, He does forgive us! “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2SA 12:13).
      1. It’s like when kids suddenly find themselves in big trouble. They say, “my parents are going to kill me!” In fact, it often happens that parents are angry over the little, stupid things, but quite helpful and understanding about the big, serious things.
      2. The child becomes ill, Nathan says it will die.
      3. David mourns dramatically, so that the servants fear to tell him when the child dies.
      4. But when he does die, David worships, cleans up, and returns to his house.
      5. While the child lived there was hope for a miracle.
      6. The child was the result of an adulterous conjunction, and as such was a symbol of David’s sin. Even while Nathan had showed him his sin, and there was an intellectual acknowledgement that he had done wrong, yet there lingered within him the memory of the delight, the thrill, of the adultery. This lingering affection for the evil is represented by the child.
      7. But David held himself in order. He did not commit adultery again, and so as time passed, the delight in that evil faded, and eventually died. It is true that while the affection remained, he struggled with it: it was a difficult time for him, but he persevered. And so eventually he knew that it was behind him, and it was time to begin his life anew.
    9. In the eyes of the law, David was free to marry the widow Bathsheba, and so the next child conceived was legitimate and in fact became the next King of Israel.
      1. He and Bathsheba have a second son, Solomon/Jedediah
      2. In spite of how we may feel while struggling in the depths of temptation, there is an end to it, and a life of use and happiness on the other side. With the Lord’s help, no matter how deeply we may fall into sin, we can come out again if we are willing to amend the course of our lives and bring ourselves into order.
    10. And we return full circle to find that Joab is still fighting in Rabbah at least two years later.
      1. Joab calls David to the battle. David returns to his proper position as the ruler of the armies of Israel, the sons of Moab are defeated, and all return to Jerusalem. The cycle of sin and forgiveness is complete. Another hereditary tendency to evil is defeated and removed from the spirit, and there is a time of rest, happiness and peace before it is once again time to fight against the evils within.
  3. Herein lies the mechanism of God’s forgiveness of us.
    1. When we enter the world of spirits upon the death of the physical body, all our deeds, both good and bad, are left behind.
      1. The foolishness of youth
      2. The failures in temptation
      3. The experiments that went wrong
    2. They are no longer with us, they are no longer regarded by the Lord. Only the lessons that we learned while fighting the battles remain, the character that has been built through the trials of life in this world.
    3. In the second states of the World of Spirits, our inhibitions are removed and the interior loves of our hearts are revealed. We are judged (or more correctly we judge ourselves) on the basis of the deeds that come forth from the heart while in the spiritual world.
    4. In heaven, the Lord and the angels do not look to our physical appearance, nor do they look at the size of our bank account. Remember what the Lord said to the prophet Samuel when he was sent to anoint the new king from among the sons of Jesse, and Samuel was surprised that the Eliab, the eldest son had not been chosen. The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1SA 16:7)
      1. Thus the ultimate in forgiveness – the things that we do not love, that are not a part of us, that we have rejected through the process of self-examination, reformation, and regeneration are left behind, forgotten, and never mentioned again.
      2. AMEN.

First Lesson: 2 SAM 11:1-11

It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. {2} Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. {3} So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” {4} Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. {5} And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.” {6} Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. {7} When Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. {8} And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah departed from the king’s house, and a gift of food from the king followed him. {9} But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. {10} So when they told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” {11} And Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” Amen.

Second Lesson: JOH 8:3-11

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, {4} they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. {5} “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” {6} This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. {7} So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” {8} And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. {9} Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. {10} When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” {11} She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 8393

Repentance present on the lips but not in one’s life is not repentance. Lip repentance does not cause sins to be forgiven; only repentance in life can lead to this. Being Mercy itself, the Lord is constantly forgiving a person’s sins; but sins cling to a person no matter how much he supposes them to have been forgiven. Nor are they removed from him except through a life in keeping with the commandments of faith. To the extent that his life is in keeping with them his sins are removed; and to the extent that his sins are removed they have been forgiven. For a person is withheld from evil by the Lord and maintained in good; for he can be withheld from evil in the next life to the extent that during his lifetime he was resisting evil, and he can be maintained in good then to the extent that during his lifetime he was doing good out of an affection for it. From all this one may see what the forgiveness of sins is and how it arises. Anyone who supposes that there is any other way in which sins are forgiven is much mistaken. Amen.


Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified November 9, 2008

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