I am regularly grateful that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager. I can’t imagine what might have remained online had I announced to the world my opinions about anything and everything. The most frightening aspect of what might remain is the possibility of never erasing a thoughtless post.
Although the prophet Nathan told David that he would receive God’s forgiveness, the consequences for his sins remained. First, David’s oldest son ruined the life of David’s daughter Tamar through incestuous lust, sexual assault, and subsequent hatred. Tamar’s full brother Absalom quietly seethed for two years before murdering Amnon. Absalom then fled but returned, was welcomed, and won the public’s approval. The whole period may have been as many as 11 years. Absalom then staged a coup in Hebron, forcing David and those loyal to him to leave Jerusalem. What the Lord had predicted through Nathan had come true.
What can we learn today through such sordid events? The obvious conclusion is that sin has consequences. David sinned grievously, and grievous events followed. This lesson is one we need at the “front end” of temptation when Satan tries to persuade us that our temptations are “not that bad.” Amnon’s sins reveal much about lust, particularly in the way his desire for Tamar dehumanizes her. Absalom’s grudges, moreover, consume himself along with others.
But what can we learn at the “back end,” so to speak, of grievous sins? The first lesson is to learn from failures. David was guilty of lust, oppression, and murder. Amnon lusted and oppressed Tamar, and Absalom murdered Amnon (and was willing to kill David). No one forced them to do what they did. Yes, God was sovereign over every event, but they refused to learn the lessons they needed. Second, we still have decisions to make even after we fail. David had to decide whether or not to leave Jerusalem. The people in Jerusalem had to choose which side to take. Many remained loyal to David, God’s anointed one. Many, like Bathsheba’s grandfather Ahithophel, did not. When our world is falling apart, we must still choose to follow Jesus.
Third, we must still trust in God. David knew that the Lord was disciplining him. David appeared to be losing everything. Yet he decided (1) not to take the ark of the covenant with him; (2) not to ask the priests Zadok and Abiathar to go with him; and (3) not to pursue vengeance on Shimei as he threw rocks and cursed David and his men. These are all expressions of trusting in the Lord.
I’m sure the consequences of David’s sin seemed like what I would fear in a social media post: something that would never go away. God, however, wasn’t finished with David. There’s a final lesson for us. As David was weeping and walking up the Mount of Olives to leave Jerusalem, he probably passed not far from where his Descendant would cry out in the Garden of Gethsemane. The difference is that whereas David wept for his own sins, Jesus wept for our sins. David’s life and second exile give us reason to take heart. Because of Jesus’ love, our sins and their consequences will not last forever.