Our study for today is 2 Sam. 12. In the last essay we studied chapters 10 and 11, which began a new major section of Second Samuel. The events of these chapters record the beginning of the second half of David’s reign. In those two chapters we saw Israel’s war with the Ammonites and Arameans, which was the context for David’s moral fall. His fall started when David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite and then arranged the murder of Uriah. And as we shall see, those sins led to other sins, which brought a series of heavy judgments on David and his family.
In 12:1-7a we see the famous rebuke of David by the prophet, Nathan. It appears from verse 15 that David and Bathsheba’s baby already had been born when Nathan confronted David. So the better part of a year had gone by since David’s infidelity and murder of Uriah. So It may have appeared to the sinful pair up to this point that they had gotten away with it. But they hadn’t. Immediately after Nathan’s confrontation, the baby became ill and died. And they began to reap the consequences of their sins.
Nathan was under obligation as a true prophet of God to confront David with his sin, but he had to pick the right time and place. And he chose to do it in a clever manner. As we have just seen, Nathan chose to tell David a very believable story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many flocks, but the poor man had only one ewe lamb. From the description given, the poor man’s lamb was a pet, which was not uncommon in that culture. They often kept pet sheep the way we keep pet dogs. He kept it in the house and treated it like a daughter. And then the rich man took the poor man’s lamb it and used it for his own purposes.
David was incensed. He needed to hear no more, because this was an easy case to judge. And he pronounced immediate judgment. The man deserved to die, and the lamb must be restored four-fold. The four-fold restoration was simply fulfillment of the Law in Ex. 22:1; but David’s first thought, that the person who did such a thing should die, was an unconscious pronouncement of sentence upon himself.
Nathan immediately hit David with his verbal sledgehammer: “You are the man!” What a shock for David! If he had rationalized his sin during the intervening months, if he had convinced himself that killing Uriah was the only way out, if he had hardened his heart to the meanness of his sins, all of that was now over. He was now under his own intense condemnation.
Nathan continued speaking directly for God. First, the Lord reminded David of all he had done for David: “I anointed you king . . . I rescued you from the hand of Saul . . . I gave you your master’s house [meaning the house of Saul]. . . and gave you the house of Israel.”
Second, the Lord reminded David of his sin. He accused David of despising the word of the Lord and doing what is evil in the Lord’s sight. This in spite of all the Lord had done for him.
Third, the Lord pronounced judgment. He predicted that the sword would never depart from David’s house, primarily meaning while David was alive, though it stretched a little beyond that. As we shall see in future chapters, this was dramatically fulfilled. In chapter 13 we will see the murder of Amnon by Absalom (vv. 28-29); in chapter 18, Absalom is killed , because of his rebellion against David (vv. 14-15); and in 1 Kings two David’s son Adonijah is executed by Solomon (vv. 23-25).
But there was more. The Lord also predicted that David would be humiliated by trouble in his own household. His wives would be taken away from him, even as he took Bathsheba. But he took Bathsheba secretly. A neighbor not only would take David’s wives, they would be taken publicly. This prediction was fulfilled, as recorded in chapter 16, when Absalom, as part of his rebellion, demonstrated his pretended kingly presence by going into David’s concubines in a public place (vv. 20-22).
Obviously these were serious punishments. However, when David’s predecessor, Saul, rejected the word of the Lord, he was rejected as king (1 Sam. 15:23). Now David was under similar condemnation; indeed, his sins were more serious than Saul’s. He was worthy of death, but the Lord chose to take neither his life nor his kingdom from him.
In verses 13-15a the drama before us reaches its apex. David’s defenses are totally penetrated. He has no place to hide. But he reacts properly. Rather than go into denial and refuse to face the truth, David takes his courage into his hands and confesses his sin to the prophet. This was a humiliating experience, because although Nathan was a prophet of God, he also was a royal subject of David’s.
But then Nathan dropped another bombshell. “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” The Lord chose to forgive David. It always is very speculative to attempt to discern what God is thinking in a given situation, but the best guess in this situation is that he forgave David in response to David’s heartfelt repentance.
But then Nathan told David, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” That is the NRSV. The Hebrew says, in verse 14, as translated by the NKJV, “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”
Whichever way one translates the verse, it is a hard saying. Indeed it presents a powerful theological problem. We have to ask why God would kill the child because of David’s sin. One explanation, given by Keil and Delitzsch, is based on the Hebrew text. That is, the child symbolized David’s sin, which was known to the enemy nations round about. And those nations were blaspheming the Lord because of it, apparently by ridiculing the situation. So the Lord acted to put a stop to that.
I personally do not know exactly what to do with this. I can only offer some ideas. It seems to me that we must take progressive revelation into account. God did not relate to Israel and the anointed kings of Israel under the Old Covenant the same way he relates to us under the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant the Lord has no need to save face before men. And when the Lord forgives, he remits the punishment. He does, under the New Covenant, permit the consequences of the sin to play out. But he doesn’t actively punish one person’s sin by taking the life of another. Jesus took the sin of the world on his sinless person when he died. But that was God himself taking the punishment, not his punishing someone else.
In verses 15b we see that immediately after Nathan went home, the child was stricken. Interestingly David, even though he knew from Nathan that the boy was going to die (v. 14), still interceded intensely with the Lord on behalf of the child. In verses 16-23 we see that David prayed and fasted for a week while the child’s life appeared to hang in the balance. Then the little boy died.
The servants were afraid to tell David, but he gathered from their whispering what had happened. He confirmed it, and then laid aside his fasting and prayer. He bathed, anointed himself, worshipped the Lord, and went home to eat. His servants asked him why he did that, and David gave a very practical answer. While the boy was alive David had hope that the Lord might have mercy and change his mind. Thus the prayer and fasting. But once the child was dead, there was no need to continue. Then David concluded with a plain truth. “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
In verses 24-25 we see that David and Bathsheba had another boy, whom they named Solomon. The name Solomon means “man of peace.” But notice that Nathan gave him another name, Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord.” Nathan’s name was not intended to replace the one given by the parents. Rather it was a message from the Lord that David truly was restored. This son would not die.
Verses 26-31 bring final resolution to the war against the Ammonites. Israel’s war against the Ammonites was a success. And the army took much plunder.
The primary applications for us in his chapter are seen in connection with David’s sinfulness and its results. First, sin does not pay. Sooner or later God’s judgment catches up with us. The Lord sent Nathan to confront David, and he did so masterfully. David’s reaction to Nathan’s story caused David to condemn himself. And then Nathan informed David that the sword would never depart from household. The first consequence was the death of David and Bathsheba’s son, who was the fruit of their adultery.
Second, God forgives our sins, as he did David’s, though he allows the natural consequences our sins to play themselves out. David was worthy of death, but he was allowed to remain alive, and he was allowed to keep his kingdom.