2 Samuel 12 – Nathan Confronts David
A. Nathan’s confrontation.
1. (1-4) Nathan’s parable.
Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. “The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
a. Then the LORD sent Nathan to David: David’s sin displeased the LORD but David didn’t listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit or to his conscience. Now God sent someone else to speak to David. God mercifully kept speaking to David even when David didn’t listen.
i. Yet no one should presume God will speak forever to the unrepentant sinner. God said in Genesis 6:3, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever.” When we hear or sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we must respond to it immediately, because it might not always be there.
b. There were two men in one city: With wisdom and courage, Nathan used a story to get the message through to David. It was common in those days to keep a lamb as a pet, and Nathan used this story of the pet lamb to speak to his friend David.
i. Previously the prophet Nathan delivered a message of great blessing to David (2 Samuel 7). David knew that Nathan was not a negative critic but a friend. It made David receptive to the message of the story.
c. Who refused to take from his own flock…he took the poor man’s lamb: The sin Nathan describes is theft. There is a sense in which David stole something from Uriah. The Bible (in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) says that in marriage a husband has authority over the body of his wife (and vice-versa). Obviously, David did not have this authority over the body of Bathsheba and he stole from Uriah. Adultery and sexual immorality are sins in many ways, and in one aspect are theft – taking something that does not belong to us.
i. This principle is also true regarding pornography and lust. Leviticus 18 describes the sin of uncovering the nakedness of those other than our spouse. The idea is that the nakedness of others doesn’t belong to us, and it is theft if we take it.
2. (5-6) David condemns the cruel man of Nathan’s story.
So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”
a. David’s anger was greatly aroused: Nathan did not ask David for a judicial decision, and David naturally assumed the story was true. David immediately passed sentence on the guilty man of Nathan’s story. David showed that we often try to rid our guilty consciences by passing judgment on someone else.
b. The man who has done this shall surely die: David’s sense of righteous indignation was so affected by his own guilt that he commanded a death sentence for the hypothetical case brought by Nathan, even though it wasn’t a capital crime.
i. David had to condemn his own sin before he could find forgiveness. We often try to find refuge in excusing or minimizing or deflecting the blame for our sin; we simply do not condemn sin in ourselves.
ii. David’s use of the oath “As the LORD lives” shows how passionate his indignation was. He called God to witness the righteousness of his death sentence upon Nathan’s hypothetical rich man.
c. He shall restore fourfold for the lamb: David rightly knew that penalizing the rich man – even with death – wasn’t enough. He also had to restore something to the man he took something from. David knew that true repentance means restitution.
i. Restore fourfold also shows that David’s sin and hardness of heart did not diminish his knowledge of the Bible. He immediately knew what the Bible said about those who steal sheep: If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep (Exodus 22:1). David knew the words of the Bible but was distant from the Author.
d. Because he had no pity: The idea is that the man should have had pity on his neighbor and did not. In the same way David should have had pity on Uriah and Bathsheba’s father and grandfather.
3. (7-9) Nathan’s confrontation.
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon.’”
a. You are the man: With this, Nathan applied the parable with alarming simplicity. Nathan had to shock David into seeing his sin for what it was. “This was downright plain dealing indeed.” (Trapp)
i. Shocked, but not frightened: “You cannot frighten men into repentance, you may frighten them into remorse; and the remorse may or may not lead on to repentance.” (Maclaren)
ii. “God accuses us and condemns us one by one that He may save us one by one.” (Maclaren) A personal salvation requires a personal conviction of sin. It wasn’t enough for David to confess that he was a sinner in a general sense; he had to confess his sin at this very point.
iii. In this sense, the confession of our sin needs to be specific. J. Edwin Orr tells of a time of revival in Brazil when a lady stood in a crowded church and said, “Please pray for me. I need to love people more.” The leader gently told her, “That is not confession, sister. Anyone could have said it.” Later in the service the woman stood again and said, “Please pray for me. What I should have said is that my tongue has caused a lot of trouble in this church.” Her pastor whispered to the leader, “Now she’s talking.”
iv. It costs nothing to say, “I’m not everything I should be” or “I ought to be a better Christian.” It does cost something to say, “I have been a trouble-maker in this church” or “I have had bitterness towards certain leaders, to whom I apologize right now.”
b. I anointed you…I delivered you…. I gave you…and gave you the house of Israel and Judah…. I also would have given you much more: Through Nathan, God explained to David that his sin was really a base expression of ingratitude. When God gave all this to David and had so much more to give him, David sought out sin instead.
c. Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? In Psalm 19:8, David said: The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. Yet by his sin, he despised the commandment of the LORD. David acted as if God’s command was wrong and to be despised when he did evil in His sight.
d. You have killed Uriah…you have taken his wife: This is another way of saying, “You are the man!” God won’t allow David to blame anyone or anything else.
4. (10) David’s punishment.
“Now 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.”
a. The sword shall never depart from your house: God promised that from that day forward David would know violence and bloodshed among his own family members.
i. David demanded fourfold restitution for the man in Nathan’s parable. God exacted fourfold restitution for Uriah from four of David’s sons: Bathsheba’s child, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah.
b. Because you have despised Me: In 2 Samuel 12:9 God said that David despised the commandment of the LORD. Here Nathan explained that in doing this, David despised God Himself. We can’t despise God’s commandments without despising Him.
i. Many who live in either open or hidden sin seem to believe it has no effect or little effect on their relationship with God. But despising God’s commandment means despising God Himself, and we can’t have fellowship with God and despise Him at the same time. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)
c. The wife of Uriah the Hittite: God didn’t even use Bathsheba’s own name. He wanted David to consider Bathsheba not only as an individual but also as the wife of Uriah the Hittite.
5. (11-12) Adversity against David.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from 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. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’”
a. I will raise up adversity against you from your own house: The Living Bible translates adversity as “rebellion.” God warned David that because he troubled another man’s house, God would allow trouble to come upon David’s house – from within the house.
b. I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor: As David violated another man’s wife, so another will violate his wives. This was fulfilled in 2 Samuel 16:21-22.
i. “Absalom abused his father’s concubines on the house-top: and haply on that same terrace from whence he first looked, liked, and lusted after Bath-sheba.” (Trapp)
c. You did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel: In these judgments, David will reap what he has sown – with interest.
B. David’s repentance; the death of his newborn son.
1. (13a) David’s repentance.
So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
a. I have sinned against the LORD: David’s confession is a good example. He placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders. He did not minimize his offense. David realized that he had especially sinned against God.
i. In the original Hebrew, David’s statement I have sinned against the LORD amounts to only two words: hata al-Yahweh. These two words, and the heart they reflect, show the fundamental difference between David and Saul. Confession doesn’t need to be long to be real and sincere. “The greatest griefs are not always the most verbal. Saul confessed his sin more largely, but less effectually.” (Trapp)
ii. “The words are very few, but that is a good sign of a thoroughly broken spirit. There is no excuse, no hiding, no concealment of the sin. There is no searching for a loophole, no pretext put forward, no human weakness pleaded. He acknowledged his guilt openly, candidly and without any denial of truth.” (Keil and Delitzsch)
iii. This was an exceptionally good response from a man of David’s standing in life. When confronted with sin, kings often say, “Off with their head.” David showed that God was working on his heart all along, and Nathan’s confrontation was just the last piece of that work.
iv. “In all this David was pre-eminently revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Other men who had been guilty of such failure might have defended their actions, might have slain the prophet. Not so with this man. He knew God, and he knew the wrong of his action, and he confessed his sin.” (Morgan)
b. I: David spoke of himself. It isn’t “we” though it was true that he was not the only sinner. Yet David knew that he had to deal with his sin. David showed personal responsibility for his sin.
c. Have sinned: David didn’t use elaborate or soft vocabulary. He sinned. It wasn’t a mistake, an error, a mess-up, an indiscretion, or a problem.
d. Against the LORD: This expressed the enormity of David’s sin. His sin against Bathsheba, against Uriah, against Ahithophel, against his wives and children, and against the nation were great. But his sin against the LORD was greatest of all. There are no small sins against a great God, and great sins are even greater.
e. I have sinned against the LORD: After meditation, David more eloquently expressed his repentance in Psalm 51.
i. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge…. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:1-4; 16-17)
ii. David’s awareness of sin, desire for cleansing, recognition of God’s righteous judgment, and understanding of what God wants are each clear in Psalm 51.
2. (13b-14) Forgiveness and the immediate consequences of David’s sin.
And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 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.”
a. The LORD also has put away your sin: God’s forgiveness was immediate. God did not demand a time of probation. You shall not die meant that David would be spared the penalty for adultery commanded under the Law of Moses.
i. David believed the word of the prophet, “You are the man!” Therefore he could also believe the word, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
b. You have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme: David did this by doing just what those enemies of the LORD would do in the same situation. What David did was not unusual among the kings and rulers of the world, but it should be unusual among God’s people.
i. “Hitherto all the king’s care had been to conceal his sin from the world, which yet he could not do with all his skill, for the enemies had got it by the end.” (Trapp)
c. The child who is born to you shall surely die: There is a difference in judgment for sin and judgment by sin. God forgave David’s sin, but He would not shield him from every consequence of the sin. David had to face the consequences of his sin, beginning with the death of the child born by Bathsheba.
i. This shows that God didn’t only want to heal David of the guilt of his sin; He also wanted to heal David of the presence of this sin. We never read of David committing adultery again because God used these chastisements to drive such impurities far from David.
ii. “Long before his sin with Bathsheba, there were various indications as to David’s special liability to temptation. That sin only threw out upon the surface the evil that was always within him; and now God, having him see that the deadly cancer is there, begins to use the knife to cut it out of him.” (Spurgeon)
3. (15-23) The death of David’s son.
Then Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, “Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm!” When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
a. The LORD struck the child: This is hard for many to accept. Sadly, often the innocent suffers because of the sin of the guilty. Since the sickness came immediately after the words of Nathan the prophet, it was received as from the hand of God.
i. “The biblical writer does not hesitate to attribute directly to the Lord the sickness of this child, in accordance with the prophet’s word.” (Baldwin)
ii. This was far more tragic for David and Bathsheba than it was for the child himself. Their young son suffered for several days and we may trust that God’s comfort was extended to the child in the midst of suffering. At the end of his suffering, the child went to eternal glory. Though the child died, the chastisement was really upon David and Bathsheba and not upon the child.
iii. “God’s mercy to his erring and repentant children will be shown in converting the results of their sin into the fires of their purification.” (Meyer)
iv. This illustrates an important principle: even when sin is forgiven a price must be paid. God does not simply pass over or excuse our sin. It is forgiven, and a price is paid. Often an innocent party pays the price for forgiveness.
b. That Uriah’s wife bore to David: Though Uriah was dead, and David was legally married to Bathsheba, the biblical writer still referred to Bathsheba as Uriah’s wife. This is because when the child was conceived Uriah was alive and Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife. It is God’s way of saying, “Uriah’s death and the subsequent marriage doesn’t make everything alright.”
c. David therefore pleaded with God for the child: David was right to take the announcement of God’s judgment as an invitation to earnestly seek His mercy. When God’s judgment is announced or present, we shouldn’t receive it passively or fatalistically. We should cry out to God in repentance and ask for His grace and mercy.
d. David fasted…. the child died: This shows that extraordinary prayer and fasting do not change God’s mind. It put David in the right place to receive what he must from God, but it did not “force” God to change His plan.
i. Extraordinary prayer and fasting are not tools to get whatever we want from God. They are demonstrations of radical submission and surrender to God’s power and will.
e. He went into the house of the LORD and worshiped: This shows that David’s extraordinary prayer and fasting were answered. He had a sense of peace when the child died, knowing he did all he could to seek God’s mercy in a time of chastisement.
i. The ability to worship and honor God in a time of trial or crisis is a wonderful demonstration of spiritual confidence.
f. I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me: David was confident that his son would meet him in heaven. This is an indication that babies and perhaps children who pass from this world to the next will go to heaven.
i. 1 Corinthians 7:14 is an additional promise of assurance that the children of believers are saved, at least until they come to an age of personal accountability (which may differ for each child). However, we have no similar promise for the children of parents who are not Christians.
ii. If the children of non-Christian parents are saved and do go to heaven – even some of them – it is important to understand that it is not because they are innocent. As sons and daughters of guilty Adam, we are also born guilty. If such children go to heaven, it is not because they are innocent and deserve heaven, but because the rich mercy of God has been extended to them also.
4. (24-25) God extends His mercy to David and Bathsheba.
Then David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her and lay with her. So she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. Now the LORD loved him, and He sent word by the hand of Nathan the prophet: So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.
a. David comforted Bathsheba his wife: This is the first time the biblical writer called this woman Bathsheba except for the mere reporting of her name in 2 Samuel 11:3. Each time before this she is called the wife of Uriah. Only now, after the chastisement for sin, is she called Bathsheba his wife.
b. Went in to her and lay with her: This shows that God did not command that David forsake or leave Bathsheba, even though his marriage to her was originally sinful. He was to honor God in the marriage commitment he made, even though it began in sin.
i. Paul commands the same principle in 1 Corinthians 7:17: As the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. In part, this principle in context warns us against trying to undo the past in regard to relationships. God tells us to repent of whatever sin is there and then to move on. If you are married to your second wife, after wrongfully divorcing your first wife, and become a Christian, don’t think you must now leave your second wife and go back to your first wife, trying to undo the past. As the Lord has called you, walk in that place right now.
c. So she bore a son…. the LORD loved him: Here is the great forgiveness and tenderness of God. He did not hold a grudge against David and Bathsheba. The days of blessing and fruitfulness were not over for David.
i. “David’s best sons came of Bath-sheba; because they were the fruit of their humiliation.” (Trapp)
d. He called his name Solomon: Remarkably it is this son– the son born out of a marriage that began in adultery – that will be heir to David’s throne. God chose this son among David’s many sons to be heir to the throne and the ancestor of the Messiah to demonstrate the truth that God forgives repentant sinners.
i. People may not forgive; we may refuse to really believe that we are forgiven. But God forgives repentant sinners.
e. So he called his name Jedidiah: The name Jedidiah means, “loved of the LORD.” It was God’s way of saying that He would love and bless this son of David and Bathsheba.
C. David’s victory at Rabbah.
1. (26-28) Joab fights against Rabbah.
Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the people of Ammon, and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, and I have taken the city’s water supply. Now therefore, gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called after my name.”
a. Joab fought against Rabbah and the people of Ammon, and took the royal city: This continued the war that began in 2 Samuel 10. Joab was about to complete the defeat of the Ammonites.
b. Lest I take the city and it be called after my name: Joab goaded David into returning to battle by saying, “I’ll take all the credit to myself if you don’t come and finish this war.”
i. Joab struggled for more than a year to conquer Rabbah, and the victory only came when David got things right with God. There was an unseen spiritual reason behind the lack of victory at Rabbah.
ii. “David’s sin at home had hindered Joab’s good success abroad, and retarded the conquest of this city Rabbah, which now is ready to be taken, that David reconciled to God may have the honour of it.” (Trapp)
2. (29-31) David captures the city, takes the spoil, and sets the people to forced labor.
So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah, fought against it, and took it. Then he took their king’s crown from his head. Its weight was a talent of gold, with precious stones. And it was set on David’s head. Also he brought out the spoil of the city in great abundance. And he brought out the people who were in it, and put them to work with saws and iron picks and iron axes, and made them cross over to the brick works. So he did to all the cities of the people of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.
a. David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah: This was the final phase of David’s restoration. He went back to doing what he should have done all along – leading Israel out to battle, instead of remaining in Jerusalem.
b. Fought against it, and took it: David was in victory once again. His sin did not condemn him to a life of failure and defeat. There was chastisement for David’s sin, but it did not mean that his life was ruined.
c. He took their king’s crown…. it was set on David’s head: David’s sin didn’t take away his crown. Had David refused the voice of Nathan the prophet it might have. Because David responded with confession and repentance, there was still a crown for David’s head.
i. “David’s fall should put those who have not fallen on their guard, and save from despair those who have.” (Augustine)