2 Samuel 12
An interval of some months elapsed between what is recorded in 2 Samuel 11 and that which is found at the beginning of chapter 12. During this interval David was free to enjoy to the full that which he had acquired through his wrongdoing. The one obstacle which lay in the way of the free indulgence of his passion was removed; Bathsheba was now his. Apparently, the king, in his palace, was secure and immune. So far there had been no intervention of God in judgment, and throughout those months David had remained impenitent for the fearful crimes he had committed. Alas, how dull the conscience of a saint may become. But if David was pleased with the consummation of his vile plans, there was One who was displeased. The eyes of God had marked his evil conduct, and the divine righteousness would not pass it by. "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence," yet He adds "but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes" (Ps. 50:21).
God may suffer His people to indulge the lusts of the flesh and fall into grievous sin, but He will not allow them to remain content and happy in such a case; rather are they made to prove that "the way of transgressors is hard." In Job 20 the Holy Spirit has painted a graphic picture of the wretchedness experienced by the evil-doer. "Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth: yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him. He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly. He shall suck the poison of asps: the viper’s tongue shall slay him . . . It shall go ill with him that is left in his tabernacle. The heaven shall reveal his iniquity" (vv. 12-16, 26, 27). Notably is this the case with backsliders, for God will not he mocked with impugnity.
The coarse pleasures of sin cannot long content a child of God. It has been truly said that "Nobody buys a little passing pleasure in evil at so dear a rate, or keeps it so short a time, as a good man." The conscience of the righteous soon reasserts itself, and makes its disconcerting voice heard. He may yet be far from true repentance, but he will soon experience keen remorse. Months may pass before he again enjoys communion with God, but self-disgust will quickly fill his soul. The saint has to pay a fearfully high price for enjoying "the pleasures of sin for a season." Stolen waters may be sweet for a moment, but how quickly his "mouth is filled with gravel" (Prov. 20:17). Soon will the guilty one have to cry out, "He hath made my chain heavy . . . He hath made me desolate: He hath filled me with bitterness . . . Thou hast removed my soul far off from peace" (Lam. 3:7, 11, 15, 17).
Though the inspired historian has not described the wretchedness of David’s soul following his murder of Uriah, yet we may obtain a clear view of the same from the Psalms penned by him after his conviction and deep contrition. Those Psalms tell of a sullen closing of his mouth: "when I kept silence" (32:3). Though his heart must frequently have smitten him, yet he would not speak to God about his sin; and there was nothing else he could speak of. They tell of the inward perturbation and tumult that filled him: "My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long" (32:3): groans of remorse were wrung from his yet unbroken heart. "For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me" (v. 4)—a sense of the divine holiness and power oppressed him, though it did not melt him.
Even a palace can afford no relief unto one who is filled with bitter remorse. A king may command his subjects, but he cannot quiet the voice of outraged conscience. No matter whether the sun of the morning was shining or the shades of even were falling, there was no escape for David. "Day and night" God’s heavy hand weighted him down: "my moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (he declared in v. 4)—it was as though some heated iron was scorching him: all the dew and freshness of his life was dried up. Most probably he suffered acutely in both body and soul. "Thus he dragged through a weary year—ashamed of his guilty dalliance, wretched in his self-accusation, afraid of God, and skulking in the recesses of his palace from the sight of the people.
"David learned, what we all learn (and the holier a man is, the more speedily and sharply the lesson follows on the heels of his sin), that every transgression is a blunder, that we never get the satisfaction which we expect from any sin, or if we do, we get something with it which spoils it all. A nauseous drug is added to the exciting, intoxicating drink which temptation offers, and though its flavor is at first disguised by the pleasanter taste of sin, its bitterness is persistent though slow, and clings to the palate long after that has faded away utterly" (Alexander Maclaren). With equal clearness does this appear in Psalm 51: "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation" (v. 12) he cries, for spiritual comforts had entirely deserted him. "O Lord, open Thou my lips: and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise" (v. 15): the dust bad settled upon the strings of his harp because the Spirit within was grieved.
How could it be otherwise? So long as David refused to humble himself beneath the mighty hand of God, seeking from Him a spirit of true repentance, and freely confessing his great wickedness, there could be no more peace for him, no more happy communion with God, no further growth in grace. O my reader, we would earnestly press upon you the great importance of keeping short accounts with God. Let not guilt accumulate upon thy conscience: make it a point each night of spreading before Him the sins of the day, and seeking to be cleansed therefrom. Any great sin lying long upon the conscience, unrepented of, or not repented of as the matter requires, only furthers our indwelling corruptions: neglect causes the heart to be hardened. "My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness" (Ps. 38:5): it was his foolish neglect to make a timely application for the cure of the wounds that sin had made, which he there laments.
At the end of 2 Samuel 11 we read, "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord," upon which Matthew Henry says. "One would think it should have followed that the Lord sent enemies to invade him, terrors to take hold on, and the messengers of death to arrest him. No, He sent a prophet to him"—"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David" (12:1). We are here to behold the exceeding riches of divine grace and mercy: such "riches" that legal and self-righteous hearts have murmured at, as a making light of sin—so incapable is the natural man of discerning spiritual things: they are "foolishness" unto him. David had wandered far, but he was not lost. "Though the righteous fall," yet it is written "he shall not he utterly cast down" (Ps. 37:24). O how tenderly God watches over His sheep! How faithfully He goes after and recovers them, when they have strayed! With what amazing goodness does He heal their backslidings, and continue to love them freely!
"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David" (12:1). It is to be duly noted that it was not David who sent for the prophet, though never did he more sorely need his counsel than now. No, it was God who took the initiative: it is ever thus, for we never seek Him, until He seeks us. It was thus with Moses when a fugitive in Midian, with Elijah when fleeing from Jezebel, with Jonah under the juniper tree, with Peter after his denial (1 Cor. 15:5). O the marvel of it! How it should melt our hearts. "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). Though He says, "I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes." it is at once added, "Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail" (Ps. 89:32, 33). So it was here: David still had an interest in that everlasting covenant "ordered in all things and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5).
"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David." Probably about a year had elapsed from what is recorded in the beginning of the preceding chapter, for the adulterous child was already born (12:14). Rightly did Matthew Henry point out "Though God may suffer His people to fall into sin, He will not suffer His people to lie still in it." No, God will exhibit His holiness. His righteousness, and His mercy in connection therewith. His holiness, by displaying His hatred of the same, and by bringing the guilty one to penitently confess it. His righteousness. in the chastening visited upon it; His mercy, in leading the backslider to forsake it, and then bestow His pardon upon him. What a marvellous and blessed exercise of His varied attributes! "For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him (!!): I will lead him also and restore comforts unto him" (Isa. 57:17,18).
"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David." The prophet’s task was far from being an enviable one: to meet the guilty king alone, face to face. As yet David had evinced no sign of repentance. God had not cast off His erring child, but He would not condone his grievous offences: all must come out into the light. The divine displeasure must be made evident: the culprit must be charged and rebuked: David must judge himself, and then discover that where sin had abounded grace did much more abound. Wondrous uniting of divine righteousness and mercy—made possible by the Cross of Christ! The righteousness of God required that David should be faithfully dealt with; the mercy of God moved Him to send Nathan for the recovery of His strayed sheep. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps. 85:10).
Yes, Nathan might well have quailed before the commission which God now gave him. It was no easy matter to have to rebuke his royal master. Varied indeed are the tasks which the Lord assigns His servants. Often are they sent forth with a message which they well know will be most unpalatable to their hearers; and the temptation to tone it down, to take off its sharp edge, if not to substitute another which will be more acceptable, is both real and strong. Little do the rank and file even of God’s people realize what it costs a minister of the Gospel to be faithful to his calling. If the apostle Paul felt his need of requesting prayer "that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly" (Eph. 6:18, 19), how much more do God’s servants today need the support of the supplications of their brethren and sisters in Christ! For on every side the cry now is "speak unto us smooth things!"
On a previous occasion God had sent Nathan to David with a message of promise and comfort (7:4, 5, etc.): now he is ordered to charge the king with his crimes. He did not decline the unwelcome task, but executed it faithfully. Not only was his mission an unenviable one, but it was far from easy. Few things are more difficult and trying to one with a sensitive disposition than to be called upon to reprove an erring brother. In pondering the method here followed by the prophet—his line of approach to David’s slumbering conscience—there is valuable instruction for those of us who may be called upon to deal with similar cases. Wisdom from on High (we do not say "tact," the world’s term, for more often that word is employed to denote the serpentine subtleties of the serpent than the honest dealings of the Holy Spirit) is sorely needed if we are to be a real help to those who have fallen by the wayside—lest we either condone their offenses, or make them despair of obtaining pardon.
"And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children: it did eat of his own meat, and drink of his own cup. and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him" (2 Sam. 12:1-4).
Nathan did not immediately charge David with his crimes: instead, he approached his conscience indirectly by means of a parable—clear intimation that he was out of communion with God, for He never employed that method of revelation with those who were walking in fellowship with Him. The method employed by the prophet had the great advantage of presenting the facts of the case before David without stirring up his opposition of self-love and kindling resentment against being directly rebuked; yet causing him to pass sentence against himself without being aware of it—sure proof that Nathan had been given wisdom from above! "There scarcely ever was any thing more calculated, on the one hand, to awaken emotions of sympathy, and, on the other, those of indignation, than the case here supposed; and the several circumstances by which the heart must be interested in the poor man’s case, and by which the unfeeling oppression of his rich neighbour was aggravated" (Thomas Scott).
The prophet began, then, by giving an oblique representation of the vileness of David’s offence, which was conveyed in such a way that the king’s judgment was obliged to assent to the gross injustice of which he was guilty. The excuselessness, the heartlessness, and the abominable selfishness of his conduct was depicted, though Uriah’s loyal service and the king’s ingratitude and treachery, and the murder of him and his fellow-soldiers, was not alluded to— is there not a hint here that, when reproving an erring brother we should gradually lead up to the worst elements in his offense? Yet obvious as was the allusion in Nathan’s parable. David perceived not its application unto himself—how this shows that when one is out of touch with God, he is devoid of spiritual discernment: it is only in God’s light that we can see light!
"And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die" (v. 5). David supposed that a complaint was being preferred against one of his subjects. Forgetful of his own crimes, he was fired with indignation at the supposed offender, and with a solemn oath condemned him to death. In condemning the rich man, David unwittingly condemned himself. What a strange thing the heart of a believer is! what a medley dwells within it, often filled with righteous indignation against the sins of others, while blind to its own! Real need has each of us to solemnly and prayerfully ponder the questions of Romans 2:21-23. Self-flattery makes us quick to mark the faults of others, but blind to our own grievous sins. Just in proportion as a man is in love with his own sins, and resentful of being rebuked, will he be unduly severe in condemning those of his neighbors.
Having brought David to pronounce sentence upon a supposed offender for crimes of far less malignity than his own, the prophet now, with great courage and plainness, declared "Thou art the man" (v. 7), and speaks directly in the name of God: "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel." First, David is reminded of the signal favors which had been bestowed upon him (vv. 7, 8), among them the "wives" or women of Saul’s court, from which he might have selected a wife. Second, God was willing to bestow yet more (v. 6): had he considered anything was lacking, he might have asked for it, and had it been for his good the Lord had freely granted it—cf. Psalm 84:11. Third, in view of God’s tender mercies, faithful love, and all-sufficient gifts, he is asked "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight?" (v. 9). Ah, it is contempt of the divine authority which is the occasion of all sin—making light of the Law and its Giver, acting as though its precepts were mere trifles, and its threats meaningless.
The desired result was now accomplished. "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord" (v. 13). Those words were not uttered lightly or mechanically, as the sequel shows; but this we must leave till our next chapter.