II Samuel 12:1-14
12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” 5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ 11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
1. The Poor Man’s Ewe Lamb1-4
A length of time passed, at least nine months, during which David could have, but did not repent, before Nathan brought a message from God to David. By then the child had already been born. “But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die” (14). David was guilty of adultery and murder, yet for nine months he was unrepentant. Did his conscience never bother him during that time? Did he never feel remorse? We can probably assume that during that time there was no witness of the Spirit that God was with him, no comfort from the Word of God, no joy in his salvation and little, in any, strumming of his harp and singing of songs to the Lord and no Psalms written as far as we can tell.
God did not send Nathan to place a nice comfortable bandage on this wound. This situation required a major operation and Nathan must do it. It is not for the prophet of God—pastor, evangelist or teacher—to choose his message. If we want to be a man or woman of God, we must be a man or woman of God—and deliver His messages. The last time Nathan had given a message from God to David, it was a good message; easy to deliver and easy to receive: The Lord will build your house and it will last for eternity. Now Nathan is called upon to deliver a difficult, but necessary remedial memorandum.
Though the information Nathan gave and David received was severe, it was what was needed and we can see the good fruit of it in Ps 51:12-15: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” We could wish that David’s heart had told him to repent before Nathan’s visit, but whether that is true or not, we know he did not. Did the birth of the baby not declare openly David had been with Uriah’s wife long before Uriah died and the king married his neighbor? Yet David did not repent. David needed a wake-up call; a cannonball from God and Nathan delivered it.
We learned in II Samuel chapter 11 that David had displeased the Lord. We might think that if that were so, enemies would invade and terrors and plagues would come to Israel. But no, God sent Nathan, David’s friend and confidant, to instruct and counsel him. A friend that will tell you the truth you need to hear, not what he thinks you want to hear, is a true friend. Every Christian leader should have a few of that kind of friends, whether they be your spouse, a staff member or your partner in ministry. You, like David, need someone who is not afraid of you and will tell you the truth. And when they do, don’t scold them; thank them.
If there ever was a time when David needed counsel from Nathan, this would be that time. But David did not call for Nathan, rather God sent Nathan to David—because God loves His people and God loves His ministers. God may allow us to fall into sin, but He will not allow us to comfortably remain in it; He cares enough to confront us and we can be thankful for that. We do not know how long David would have continued in his unrepentant state had Nathan not come to visit him that day. But we do know what Isaiah 57:17-18 says: “I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners.”
God pursues us before we seek after Him or know we need to seek Him, or else certainly we would be lost. Nathan was the prophet through whom God had earlier sent him notice of his kind intentions to build his house for eternity and now by that same Nathan, God sent him this message of wrath. God’s word in the mouth of His ministers must be received, whether of terror or comfort. Nathan was obedient and went on God’s errand. He did not say, “David has sinned, don’t send me.” No. II Thess. 3:15 says,“Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.” Neither did Nathan say “David is our king, I cannot reprove him.” Is 50:7 says, “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” The servant of the Lord is a servant of the Lord; we do what He says and God takes care of us.
God knows how to use parables. Jesus and others in the Bible did. The message needs to be clear and if a parable is the better, more effective vehicle, then use a parable. In order to reach into David’s heart without warning David to set up his defenses, Nathan told a story. And it was effective. It was a parable which David thought addressed a problem between two of his subjects, one rich with many sheep and one poor with only one ewe lamb that he dearly loved. David was wise to give Nathan access to himself and this was probably not the only time Nathan visited David. Pastor, take notice. Be available to your people.
Nathan presented to David a sad story of a grievous injury that a rich man had done to an honest neighbor. “The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him” (2). The rich man had flocks and herds but the poor man had one lamb, a ewe-lamb, a little ewe-lamb, not having enough money to buy or keep more. This little lamb “grew up with him and his children” (3). He was fond of it, and it was always familiar with him. The rich man, needed a lamb with which to entertain a friend, took and cooked the poor man’s lamb rather than using one of his own many lambs. “He took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him” (4).
By this story Nathan showed him the evil of the sin he had been guilty of in having adultery with Bathsheba. David had many wives and concubines, whom he kept at a distance, as rich men keep their flocks in their fields. Had David had but one wife, and had she been dear to him, as the ewe-lamb was to its owner, she would have been psychologically and physically close to him. For David to keep the principle recorded in Proverbs 5:19 would have been easy. “A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” Marriage is a good force against fornication and adultery, but to have many wives apparently cheapens the marriage vows and makes it more difficult to keep them. Uriah was like the poor man with one dear lamb. He had only one wife, who was to him as his own soul, and always lay in his bosom, for he had no other and desired no other to lie there. This makes David’s sin all the more grievous, he violated Bathsheba and gravely wronged Uriah.
David thought Nathan’s story was true and immediately passed judgment on the rich man that for his injustice in taking away the lamb, he must pay with his life and restore four-fold like the law said in Exodus 22:1. “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. Pr. 6:32 says, “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.” If a poor man steal from a rich man, to satisfy himself when he is hungry, he must make restitution even though the theft is understandable. Yet, on the other hand, Pr. 6:32 says, “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.” David’s sentence on the rich man seems harsh. David said the rich man must die. “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” David was then under guilt himself and perhaps he lashed out at the supposed rich man out of his own feelings of guilt.
2. The Pronouncement of Guilt 5-9
Nathan not only told a powerful story and led David to see the unfairness of someone who has much to take from another who has little, but he also waited for David to speak. Then, after David spoke and in doing so condemn himself, Nathan eloquently, forcefully and with few words delivered the punch line—the cannonball landed. “You are the man!” Nathan applied the parable.
If you think the rich man deserved to die then you also. David, you are the man who has done this wrong, and even worse than the rich man in the story, you did it to a faithful, honest, loyal neighbor who, as a soldier, was willing to give his life for you. You deserve to die, more than the rich man who took a lamb, you took a poor man’s wife. Did the rich man deserve to die who took his neighbor’s lamb and you do not who took your neighbor’s wife? The poor man lived though he lost his lamb, but Uriah who lost his wife, lost his life too.
If ever a king received a harsh rebuke, David did then. Nathan spoke as an ambassador and prophet from God. Verses 7-10 say, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”
Through Nathan God reminded David of the great things He did for him, anointed him king, preserved him in the kingdom, gave him power over Saul’s house and household and Nabal and then gave him Judah and then Israel. And, “I would have given you even more.” God was very liberal with David and with us, but when bountiful blessings cause us to want more than is proper or ethical; causes us to want forbidden fruit, we go beyond what God has promised when what He has promised should be enough.
Nathan, furthermore, charged David with contempt of divine authority because in verse 9 he included this: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” David wrote in lofty and noble expressions of his love for the law of God and yet here he is charged with contempt of the law. Is is possible to love it and not obey it. Don’t we show our love for it by our obedience to it?
The murder of Uriah is mentioned twice in verse 9 and, yes, the word murder is used. Those that plot evil are as truly guilty of it as those that execute it. David’s sin with Bathsheba is also mentioned twice, once in verse 9 and again in verse 10. Nathan had told David of God’s plan to build his family, preserve it and extend it eternally. Yet David showed contempt for God’s specific promise when he polluted his house with adultery and murder. Lust and blood is not the way to build a house for God. Sexual conquest is not always only a matter of lust; it often includes elements of power, authority, ownership, and domination. Murder is not always the product of hate either. David did not hate Uriah; he wanted power to have Bathsheba for himself for whatever other reason. We do not know which of these possible factors possessed David, but we know he was guilty of adultery and murder.
3. The Sentence Pronounced 10-14
Nathan furthermore foretold a detail regarding Gods judgements upon his family for this sin. Verse 10 says, “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” Not only in your time, but also in the times of your descendants. It is easy to see the connection between this prophesy and the bloody stories of Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah, all of whom fell by the sword. God had promised that his mercy should not depart from him and his house as recorded in chapter 7:13-16 telling of Solomon, “He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” Could the mercy of God and the sword coexist in one household? Probably. We can endure long afflictions and still experience steadfast mercy. Nathan said clearly that the sword should not depart.
In the story of Absalom we certainly see the fulfillment of verses 11-12. “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” Sin brings trouble into a family, and one sin is often made the punishment of another. During the revolt of Absalom, David’s wives were paraded on the rooftop and placed in tents for all to see—possibly on the same rooftop on which David had walked the night he received Bathsheba’s visit. Nathan did not say that it would be David’s own son who would do this, but it was in fact done by Absalom at Ahithophel’s suggestion.
Such sin used to be punished by having one’s own wife ravished by another. Job referred to this kind of humiliating punishment in Job 31:9-11 “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. For that would have been wicked, a sin to be judged.” The sin was done in secret and craftily hidden, but the punishment David would receive would be open, and just as shrewdly announced. God will show how much he hates sin, even in his own people, and wherever he finds it, he will punish it.
David immediately repented and confessed his sin. He did not excuse or minimize it. “I have sinned against the Lord” (13). We do not know how much more or what more he may have said then, but we do have a record of what he soon wrote. It is in Ps. 51:1-4 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge,” and verses 12-13 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you,” all of which was written at this time in David’s life.
His pardon was declared, upon this penitent confession, but with a sad qualification. Apparently the same God who commissioned Nathan to deliver His message to David also permitted him to declare His forgiveness upon repentance. When David said I have sinned, Nathan perceived that he was a true penitent but that the child would die. “Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die’” (14).
Your sin will not be your everlasting ruin. Nevertheless, the sword will not depart from your house. David deserved to die either as an adulterer or as a murderer. But God would not cut him off as He could justifiably have done. You will be chastened by the Lord, David, but you will not be condemned with the world. He did, in God’s name, assure him that his sin was forgiven. David deserved to die as an adulterer and murderer, but God would not cut him off as He might justly have done. God treated him, just as He treats us, better than we deserve.
We do not know when David wrote Psalm 32:5. It does not tell us. Neither do we know how soon David came to this position of not covering his sin, but confessing it. Nor do we know if it had long been his policy, but for the nine months between the affair and Nathan’s visit it had lapsed. But we do know that David wrote this: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Nathan pronounced a sentence of death upon the child in verse 14. “But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” Notice the display of the sovereignty of God who, in this instance, allowed the guilty parent to live and the guiltless infant to die. God can do what He wants with each person.
It is sad that David’s behavior brought reproach to God’s reputation. Our lives have the power to bring glory to him as we behave with good works so that others may see them and glorify our Father in heaven. By the same token, our bad works can discredit his name. David sinned against God’s honor; he gave an opportunity to God’s enemies to blaspheme Him. What might the wicked people of that generation have done? The unbelievers? The idolaters? Could they not, would they not triumph in David’s fall, speak ill of God and of his law, when they saw one guilty of such evil who professed to love him and His law? He prays, sings, writes Psalms. Ha! What good are those if they cannot restrain adultery and murder? Saul was rejected for a less matter. Why then must David live and reign? Even today some justify their own immoral behavior by wrongly using David’s bad example. They fail to realize that each must pay for his or her own sins and God looks on the heart. Believers, God’s sons and daughters, have a responsibility. Rom 2:24 says, “As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” So God vindicated his honor by showing His displeasure against David for this sin, and letting the world see that though He loved David He hates his sin. The child died.
A careful look at the subject headings throughout the remainder of II Samuel will readily reveal that from chapter 11 on David suffered the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah. Forgiven? Yes. But still there were consequences. Forgiveness has to do with our standing with God—are we justified or not? Consequences have to do with effectiveness in Christian living and fruitfulness for God’s glory.
I don’t want only to be forgiven, I want to be fruitful; not only to be righteous, but to be useful; not only to be a son, but to actively participate in the family business. I want to avoid sin, not because I fear I would not be forgiven (I could be forgiven), but because I know it would diminish the glory I give my Father.