2 Samuel 12:1-14
1And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.
2The rich man had very many flocks and herds,
3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.
4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die,
6and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
7Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.
8And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.
9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
11Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.
12For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ ”
13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”
If you flip through the Gospels, you will notice that many of the words are red. We all know that these are the words that Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry. And a vast majority of those red are words are parables. Jesus knew that engaging the imagination with a story was a great teaching tool. The utilization of story to make a difficult point is brilliant because it removes the onus of finger pointing. And all of us, down to the youngest child enjoy a good story. Nathan the prophet knew the same thing.
We were first introduced to Nathan back in 2 Samuel 7 where David first consults him regarding the building of the temple. Now, Nathan comes to David in his role as prophet and exposes David to himself. Clearly, David’s conscience is not doing the job, so God sends Nathan in to take on the serious role of accuser. You have to admire the brilliance with which Nathan approaches David. He appeals to David’s sense of fairness and justice. The story is absolutely perfect and it solicits the appropriate response from David. Now he is caught in his own judgment. When Nathan springs the door shut on David’s guilt he can do nothing but confess and repent; and so he does. David’s own pronouncement is harsh. While the perpetrator of the crime should die, the law doesn’t allow for that punishment in this case. Instead he declares that the criminal should pay back four times what he took. Of course, Uriah is no longer available to receive payback. But the judgment is difficult. While David will not die, the child of his adultery will.
Of interest in the text is a comparison of two verses. If you read 2 Samuel 11:11, you will find that Uriah refuses to go home to share his wife’s bed out of respect for those still on the battlefield.
“Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”
Then, as the story is being told to David, this passage is shared.
“. . . but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.”
David should have felt his grip on his own self-righteousness at that very point. It takes Nathan saying “You are that man,” to bring the point home. But once David is faced with is sin, his heart is broken. “And, as might be expected, the prophet does not leave the king comfortless. Nathan comes to David with words of divine grace. “Only the man who accepts that he was wrong can be forgiven. ‘Yahweh, for his part, forgives your sin’” In judging the rich man for his cruelty David had unwittingly chosen his own death penalty. But the Lord, through his prophet, announces the forgiveness of David’s “sin” (against Bathsheba) and preserves David’s life: “You are not going to die.” The fact that God does not hesitate to strike people down for what might be considered lesser infractions makes his forbearance in David’s case all the more noteworthy.*
In this one brief incident, we see the panorama of the human existence played out in unflinching honesty. We are sinners in need of judgment. We deserve to die for what we have done. But we have a God who loves and forgives. For those of you who struggle with the fact that a child had to die we can only say that he fell into the hands of a merciful and loving God. This is one of those times when we must allow God to be God and not tell Him how to do that.
This event in David’s life colors the rest of his career as king. Sadly, things go downhill for David after this point. His own family will be guilty of making choices that do not fall in line with the will of God and will bring compounded problems into David’s life. Should you want to read of David emotional response to this event, crack open Psalm 51, for there he pours out his heart to the Lord in confession and repentance. David did not lose the title “a man after God’s own heart” because of this decision. But it is a sad tale and proves that even when you love God, you can go the wrong way if sin is given the lead.
*Youngblood, R. F. (1992). 1, 2 Samuel. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (946). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.