David's Greater Sin

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NKJV) 

God raised up David, a young shepherd from Bethlehem, to be shepherd of His people Israel. As God’s anointed king, David’s primary job description was framed in terms of shepherding. 

      Psalm 78:70–72

            70 He also chose David His servant,

                 And took him from the sheepfolds;

            71 From following the ewes that had young He brought him,

                 To shepherd Jacob His people,

                 And Israel His inheritance.

            72 So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,

                 And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands. 

As shepherd he was to lead God’s people in the way of righteousness. He was to protect them and provide for them. Of all the nations of the earth, God had chosen Israel as His own, and He had raised up David to shepherd them. 

But David was a flawed man. Driven by lust he allowed himself to satisfy his appetite with one of his sheep, and, in an attempt to cover his tracks, he sacrificed another of his sheep on the field of battle. Instead of being protected, they became prey for him. 

In confronting David, Nathan the prophet brought to bear the story of a sheep, a sheep tenderly loved, stolen and slaughtered. Nathan exposed David as the culprit, David whom God had appointed king over Israel. 

David’s heart was smitten and convicted. He acknowledged his sin: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:10). Psalm 51 records the holy angst of David’s heart. He had failed as God’s shepherd. He asks God in His steadfast love and abundant mercy not to remove him from the position for which God had anointed him by His Spirit. 

God was merciful. He forgave David his sin and unlike Saul, David’s predecessor, allowed him to remain as king. David suffered repercussions for his failures but God did not leave him or discard him. Before the close of David’s reign, however, God did make something unmistakably clear. 

Under the sovereign hand of God, Satan stirred David to conduct a census (2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chr. 21:10). Evidently, the census was fueled not by necessity but by pride with David wanting to measure his greatness. 

David became convicted of his sin and was given the option by God of three years of famine, three months of pursuit by an enemy, or three days of pestilence. David picked the pestilence and for three days that census was reduced by the deaths of 70,000. 

It was then that he realized the nature of his sin. “Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house’” (2 Sam. 24:17). 

David’s greater sin was being an unfaithful shepherd, failing that basic call given him by God to shepherd His people. What God made abundantly clear was that another shepherd was needed, a faithful shepherd, a good shepherd. 

That shepherd would be God Himself, born as David’s greater Son, to be the good and faithful shepherd of God’s people. He would lay down His life for the sheep, never to abandon them, never to fail them (John 10:11-30). 

Pastors, elders, in kinship with David, guard your own heart and give yourselves to shepherd the church of God He has placed in your care. Let not numbers of salary or membership or square footage drive you. Rather, be driven by the compassion and care of Christ, who gave His life for His sheep, including those He calls to shepherd the flock. 

Digging Deeper

  1. For what failures as a shepherd do you need to repent?
  2. How does knowing that the well-being of the flock depends on Christ as the great Shepherd of the sheep direct your ministry? 

Father, I see myself so much in David. I fail to guard my own heart and so give license to sinful appetites. I confess that I have failed You and failed to love the sheep You have placed in my care. I praise You as the Good Shepherd and rest in your unchanging faithfulness and unbreakable promises. Lord Jesus, shepherd the shepherds. Shepherd the sheep through us. For Your name’s sake. Amen. 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.

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