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David's Greatest Sin

David’s Greatest Sin

What was David’s greatest sin? Many would say his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah. Obviously, these were heinous crimes that carried disastrous results. But what if I told you of another sin, which at least in terms of its toll on human life, brought even more tragic consequences? And what if I said it’s a sin frequently found in most of us?

When “cataloging” sin, we typically categorize it based on our own conduct. That is, we tend to view of our own sins differently from those of others. My gossip isn’t as evil as their drunkenness. My prejudice isn’t as bad as their deception. And my expressions of pride aren’t as condemning as their adultery. The flaw of such reasoning is exposed by the example of David in the accounts of 2 Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21.

In an atmosphere of success David is motivated to number the nation. He instructs Joab to travel throughout Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, so that he might “know their number” (21:2). Because the figures tallied involve those who “drew the sword” (21:5), it appears David is attempting to determine is the exact size of his fighting force. Though Joab is seldom portrayed as a model of spirituality, his perspective here is dead on: “Are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” (21:3). However, Joab is unable to deter the king and David’s commanding officer acquiesces. The endeavor takes almost 10 months to complete (2 Sam. 24:8), though Joab intentionally omits the tribes of Levi and Benjamin because “the king’s command was abhorrent” to him (21:6).

As the account continues we find the most significant difference between Israel’s first two kings. What sets David apart from Saul is not an absence of mistakes, but a stark contrast in their responses to those mistakes. Saul frequently justified himself and blamed others. David rightly places the responsibility where it belonged: “David’s heart troubled him...David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done...Please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly’” (I Sam. 24:10, emp. mine). No blame-shifting. No self-justification. Just a heartfelt anguish over his sin. But expressions of remorse don’t always bring a nullification of consequences.

Through the prophet Gad a choice is given regarding the punishment: three years of famine, three months of flight before his enemies, or three days of God’s wrath in the form of a pestilence (21:12). The motive behind the king’s decision is a lesson in itself. David believed that if you want to experience mercy, you find it with God and not men (21:13). At the end of the three days there are 70,000 fresh graves in Israel and David is left to wrestle with the crushing effect his sin has had on the lives of innocent Israelites. Think about it: More people died in Israel in three days than the U.S military lost over several years in Vietnam. And what was the cause? A king motivated by self-importance. Though some died as a result of David’s adultery, tens of thousands died because of his pride!

Doesn’t this serve as a stern rebuke to our regular attempts to shrink the significance of any sin, particularly pride? Doesn’t this shout, “Pride is a big deal!” God declares it’s an abomination that makes Him our opponent instead of an ally (Prov. 6:16, 16:5; James 4:6). That’s why the Bible always encourages humility and condemns pride. When we stand guilty, may our response mirror that of David—an honest recognition of evil, a contrite confession of guilt, and a deep sorrow over the result. Though packaged today with terms like “confidence,” “boldness,” and “good self-esteem,” spiritually speaking it would be wise to heed a principle frequently recited during Jesus’ ministry: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). Should we fail to embrace this simple counsel, we may discover pride to be our greatest sin as well.

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