There are three standard reactions we have when we’re rebuked by someone else.
These responses showcase our fallen human condition and remind us just how bad we really are.
- The first way we react is by blame-shifting. In a collective voice with Adam, we say, “The woman you gave to me made me do this!” Or as Taylor Swift recently put it in her most recent song, "Ooh, look what you made me do."
- Second, we try covering it up. With Adam and Eve, we try to throw on some fig leaves to hide our nakedness. We’ll do this most readily when we are caught in a lie.
- And third, we try to soften the blow by making up for it in some other way. Whether it’s doing our own works or brushing it off as not being “as bad” as what so-and-so has done—both of these are self-righteous reactions, and the Pharisees were masters of this sinful craft.
Let’s do a little experiment to really drive this home because being able to identify these three reactions is useful for daily life. During a typical week, I’ll find myself identifying all three of these in myself and other people. In the story of David and Bathsheba, for example, we see three standard reactions on display (2 Samuel 11). First, let’s look at what David did right after he sinned by sleeping with Bathsheba. Then let’s look at what it would have looked like for David to have reacted in each of these three ways after Nathan’s rebuke. Imagine how this could have played out.
Scenario 1 – The “Blame Shift Tactic”
What David Did: David shifted the blame. Instead of accepting responsibility and taking the blame for his crime, he ordered his servant Uriah killed. He shifted his offense to Uriah.
What David Could Have Done: David blame shifts and says that Bathsheba was really putting herself out there, you know, she was the one who was bathing naked after all, in a place where David could see. It wasn’t my fault. She basically threw herself at me, what’s a guy to do? “If she wasn’t out in public view bathing, I wouldn’t have done that. Does this strike a familiar chord? “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” (Gen. 3:12). That’s what Adam did in Eden, didn’t he? We readily do this too.
Scenario 2 – The “Fig Leaf Maneuver”
What David Did: David tried to cover it up. He took Bathsheba as his own wife before the pregnancy got too far along so no one would notice it happened out of wedlock.
What David Could Have Done: Nathan approaches David to confront him, telling a story about another guy who happens to do something very similar to what David had done to elicit David’s judgment, but Nathan responds, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). Then in our hypothetical scenario David finds a way to murder Nathan. Since Nathan is the only one who knows, I’ll get rid of him and then no one will know what I’ve done. That’s what Cain did to Abel out in the field, didn’t he? In Genesis 4 Cain murdered his brother and buried him in the dirt. Men and women who frequently look at pornography on the internet use this tactic: delete, delete. Or a spouse committing an affair will hide what he or she is really up to at night (“Staying at work late” or some other excuse). Children do this, more innocently but still sinfully, by trying to change the subject when they’re being disciplined. Me: “Why did you smack your brother?”
Me: “Why did you smack your brother?”
My son: “Hey Dad, want to go play with the fire truck?”
But even the best fig leaves will fail us in the long run. We cannot hide forever. Our sin will find us out eventually.
Scenario 3 – The “Filthy Pharisee”
What David Did: When he heard Nathan’s parable, he was out to get the rich man in the parable. He wanted to assert justice, even though he was a hypocrite, living as if his sin was no big deal.
What David Could Have Done: David tells God it wasn’t that bad. “Lord, look at how much I’ve done for you up to this point. I’ve always been a man after your heart, Lord. Just this time I slipped. And you know, there are many pagan Kings who do this all the time. Come on Lord, it’s no big deal. Lighten up a little!” That would-be David pleading his own filthy rags, comparing himself to others to show how he makes out better. That’s playing the Filthy Pharisee.
Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk. 18:9-14)? Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this pathetic tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off and out of sight, is so humble that he won’t even lift his eyes to heaven, and he says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
What David Actually Did and What We Should Do, Too
What did David actually do after he was confronted by Nathan? Does he blame shift? Does he throw up a fig leaf and hide his sin all over again? Does he plead his own filthy rags before God? No. At this point, David owns his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God” (Psalm 51:1). Like the tax collector, David humbles himself before God, confesses his sin, and finds forgiveness, mercy, and love.
When we approach God in confession, we should never be superficial. God knows how bad our sin is, so we should be honest with him. We also shouldn’t turn it into a prayer masked in our selfish pride: “God, thank you that I’m not like him…her,” “God, thank you that I’m not a drug addict,” God, thank you that I don’t dress like her,” but rather, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is how we are to respond when we’re caught up in our own sin. We are to run to the grace and mercy given to us through the second Adam and better David, Jesus Christ.
Jesus never blame-shifted but was blamed for all of our sin. He had no sin to cover up because he was sinless, and he became for us the new animal skin that covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness when he was sacrificed on the cross. Jesus replaced our filthy rags with his righteous robes by living a perfect life of obedience before God’s law (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil 3:7-9). In Christ, we find the only place where God’s just punishment of our sins meets mercy, and we have peace with God.
How do you normally respond to rebuke or criticism?
When the law comes knocking on your door through a friend, a pastor, an elder, or an enemy, how do you normally respond? Do you flee to the free forgiveness offered only in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, or do you blame, hide, or lie?
What Jesus Did for You
Whatever you have done in the past, look to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith from now on. According to the Bible, Jesus is the promised son and seed of David—he is the better David—the David who never sinned and who always did what he was supposed to do before his Father.
Jesus allowed for all of your blame to be shifted onto him when he was cursed on that Roman cross. Jesus was no fig leaf or temporary fix to cover up your dirty past and many mistakes; he was the precious animal skin that God used to clothe you and atone for every one of your sins. Jesus takes your filthy rags and replaces them with his spotless robes of righteousness. He allowed himself to be crucified and condemned by all of the filthy Pharisees of this world, all so that God’s justice would be met and you would be justified along with the likes of tax collectors. In Christ, God’s mercy and grace for you is greater than all of your sin—past, present, and future. Go in peace.