In its story of David’s double sin, the Bible describes certain theological aspects of all sin, by portraying David’s offense through a series of striking parallels with the earlier account of Adam’s Fall in the Garden.
First, regarding the circumstances and immediate consequences of King David’s infidelity, there are several points of correspondence with the offense of Adam. Thus, both Adam and David were tempted by women, Eve (Genesis 3:6) and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2–4). Likewise, in both cases the two men were abruptly confronted with the gravity of their transgressions: “Have you eaten from the tree . . . ?” (Genesis 3:11) and “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). Next, the judgment of death was pronounced on the house of each offender (Genesis 3:19; 2 Samuel 12:14). In fact, Adam and David would each be preceded to the grave by a son born of that same woman (Genesis 4:8; 2 Samuel 12:18). That is to say, in both instances the commission of sin led immediately to death (cf. Romans 5:12). On the other hand, in each example, a new son was born as a sign of promise and renewed hope (Genesis 4:25; 2 Samuel 12:24). Thus, in the circumstances of Adam’s and David’s sins, we see a narrative sequence of fall, judgment, curse, and mercy.
Second, with respect to the more extended effects of their transgressions, both Adam and David became the fathers of fratricides, Cain (Genesis 4:8) and Absalom (2 Samuel 13:29). Their fall, that is to say, led to both hatred and murder. Indeed, there is a remarkable similarity between the description of Cain’s murder of Abel and the parabolic portrayal of Absalom’s killing of Amnon. In each instance the murderer rises up and slays his brother in a field (compare Genesis 4:8 and 2 Samuel 14:6). We observe, moreover, that in each case, the murderer himself is initially spared (Genesis 4:15; 2 Samuel 14:11), though a restricting curse still hangs over him (Genesis 4:16; 2 Samuel 14:24). Thus, even though in neither instance is the murderer punished by death, guilt remains as an active element in the story, a source of continuing narrative tension.
Third, the biblical text goes to some length to demonstrate the long-term consequences of the sins of Adam and David, which intensify through the fratricides committed by Cain and Absalom. Both of the latter act out of the motive of hatred, which in turn provokes the fear of vengeance (Genesis 4:14; 2 Samuel 14:7). The consequences of these offenses eventually include full-scale rebellions. In the account of Adam this rebellion is indicated both before and after the Flood (Genesis 6:5; 11:3–4), while in the case of David the resulting rebellion takes shape in Absalom’s civil war (2 Samuel 15–18).
Thus, by this remarkable series of parallels with the fallen founder of the human race, the biblical tale portrays the offending David as the symbol of all human offenders since Adam. David’s sin becomes, like Adam’s, a kind of archetype of man’s rebellion against God’s command.
This was not a theory. The tenth-century-B.C. narrator of David’s story had seen it happen, and his sixth-century editor had witnessed the later fruits of it toward the end of the Davidic monarchy, ending with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Within the full canonical context of the biblical account, nonetheless, David’s swift repentance serves as the proper pattern of conversion and pardon. The contrition of this fallen king is the story of all who fall and rise. It is instructive, then, that the Bible’s great psalm of contrition, the Miserere (Psalm 50 in Greek, 51 in Hebrew), is traditionally ascribed to David. It is significant, too, that this prayer of a repentant adulterer and murderer has always been one of the favorite prayers, even a daily prayer, among Christian believers. The repentant David is the image of all of us children of Adam who are obliged constantly to live in the spirit of repentance.
Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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