His Chastenings

2 Samuel 12

It may strike some readers as strange that our last chapter upon Davidís forgiveness should be immediately followed by one upon his chastening: surely if God had pardoned his transgressions we would not expect to hear of His rod now being laid upon him. But there will be no difficulty if we carefully distinguish between two of the principal offices which God sustains, namely, the character of moral Ruler of the world, and that of the Judge of His creatures: the one relating to His dealings with us in time, the other pertaining to His passing formal sentence upon our eternal destiny; the one concerning His governmental actions, the other His penal verdict. Unless this distinction be plainly recognized and given a constant place in our thoughts, not only will our minds be clouded with confusion, but our peace will be seriously undermined and our hearts brought into bondage; worst of all, shall entertain erroneous ideas of God and sadly misinterpret His dealings with us in providence. How we need to pray that "our love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment, that we may try things that differ" (Phil. 1:9, 10 margin).

"And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (2 Sam. 12:13, 14). Here are the two things to which we have just called attention, and placed moreover in immediate juxtaposition. The first exhibits to us the Lord in His character as Judge, declaring that David had been pardoned for his great transgressionósuch a word (spoken now by the Spirit in power to the conscience of a penitent believer) is anticipatory of Godís verdict at the Great Assize. The second manifests the Lord in His character of Ruler, declaring that His holiness required Him to take governmental notice of Davidís wickedness, so that demonstration might be made that His laws cannot be broken with impugnity. Let us proceed to follow out this double thought a little further.

"He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps. 103:10). Here is a verse which no believer will hesitate to set to his seal that it is true, for he has abundant evidence thereof in his own personal experience, and therefore will he positively affirm, If I received my just deserts, I had been cast into hell long ago. Rightly did Spurgeon say on this passage, "We ought to praise the Lord for what He has not done, as well as for what He has wrought for us." O what cause has each Christian to marvel that his perverseness and sottishness have not utterly exhausted Godís patience. Alas that our hearts are so little affected by the infinite forbearance of God: O that His goodness may lead us to repentance.

Have we not abundant reason to conclude, because of our base ingratitude and vile behavior, that God would withhold from us the communications of His Spirit and the blessings of His providence, cause us to find the means of grace profitless, and allow us to sink into a state of settled backsliding? Is it not a wonder that He does not so deal with us? Truly, "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." And why? Because He dealt with Another "after our sins" and exacted from Him full satisfaction to His justice. And payment God cannot twice demand: first at my bleeding Suretyís hand, and then again at mine. God rewarded Christ according to our iniquities, and now He rewards us according to Christís merits. Hallelujah. Heaven be praised for such a Gospel! May this old, old truth, come with new power and sweetness unto our souls.

"He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." This is true penally (i.e. Godís dealings with us as Judge) and with respect to the eternal consequences of our sins. Yet this does not mean that the sins believers commit are ignored by God as the moral Ruler of this world, that He refrains from dealing with us governmentally. The whole of His dealings with His people Israel (who were in covenant relationship with Him) shows otherwise. The New Testament also forbids such a conclusion: see Galatians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 11:29, 30! Yet it must be remembered that God exercises His sovereignty in this, as in all things: the extent to which and the manner in which God makes His people smart for their "inventions" is determined by His own mere good pleasure.

Though God forgives His people their sins, yet He frequently gives them plain proof of His holy abhorrence of the same, and causes them to taste something of the bitter fruits which they bring forth. Another scripture which brings out this dual truth is, "Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions" (Ps. 99:8). What could possibly be plainer than this: God pardoning His people, yet also manifesting His sore displeasure against their transgressions. A striking case in pointóobviously included in Psalm 99:6-8óis recorded in Exodus 32. There we see Israel worshiping the golden calf in the lascivious manner of the heathen. In response to the intercession of Moses, they were forgiven: "The Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people" (v. 14). Nevertheless, God took vengeance of their inventions, "And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made" (v. 35).

Another example is seen in the case of the unbelief of Moses and Aaron at Meribah: though God pardoned the guilt of their anger as to eternal death, yet He took vengeance by not suffering them to conduct Israel into the promised land: see Numbers 20:12, 24. And so it is still, as many a Christian discovers from sorrowful experience when God takes him to task for his sinful "inventions" and visits upon him His governmental displeasure. Yet this in nowise clashes with the fact that "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." There is mercy in our chastenings, and no matter how heavily the rod may smite, we have good cause to say, "And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve" (Ezra 9:13).

Ere passing on, let us anticipate the objection of some tried saints, whose case may be quite extreme. There are some who are smarting so severely beneath the chastening rod of God that to them it certainly seems that He is dealing with them "after their sins" and rewarding them "according to their iniquities." The light of His countenance is withheld from them, His providential dealings wear only a dark frown, and it appears very much as though He has "forgotten to be gracious." Ah, dear friend, if your heart is in any measure truly exercised before God, then your case is far from being hopeless, and to you apply those words "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth" (Job 11:6). My brother, even your present sufferings are far, very far from being as great as your sins.

Now what we have sought to bring out above receives striking exemplification in the case of David. In a very real sense God did not deal with him after his sins, nor reward him according to his iniquities; yet in another sense, He did. God sent a prophet to faithfully rebuke him, He wrought conviction and repentance in David, He heard his cry, blotted out his transgressions, as Psalm 32 so blessedly shows. Yet though God pardoned David as to the guilt of eternal death, saved his soul, and spared his life, yet He "took vengeance of his inventions." There was a needs-be why sore afflictions came upon him: the divine holiness must be vindicated, His governmental righteousness must be manifested, a solemn warning must be given to wrong-doers, and David himself must learn that "the way of the transgressor is hard." O that writer and reader may lay this to heart and profit therefrom.

Through Nathan God said to David, "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun (2 Sam. 12:9-11). What a solemn exhibition of Godís governmental righteousness! David must reap as he had sown. He had caused Uriah to be slain by the sword, and now God tells him "the sword shall never depart from tine house"; he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and now he hears that his own wives shall be defiled. How true are those words "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2)!

God hath declared that to the froward He will show Himself froward" (Ps. l6:26), and frequently does He punish sin in its own kind. Upon the burning lusts of the Sodomites He rained down fire and brimstone from heaven (Gen. 19:24). Jacob deceived his father by means of the skin of a kid (Gen. 29:16), and he in turn was thus deceived by his sons, who brought him Josephís coat dipped in the blood of a kid (Gen. 37:31), saying he had been devoured by a wild beast. Because Pharaoh had cruelly ordered that the male infants of the Hebrews should be drowned (Ex. 1:24), the Egyptian king and all his hosts were swallowed up by the Red Sea (Ex. 14:26). Nadab and Abihu sinned grievously by offering "strange fire" unto the Lord, and accordingly they were consumed by fire from heaven (Lev. 10:1, 2). Adonibezek cut off the thumbs and toes of the kings he took in battle, and in like manner the Lord rewarded him (Judges 1:6, 7). Agagís sword made women childless, and so his own mother was made childless by his being torn in pieces before the Lord (1 Sam. 15:33).

What proofs are these that "the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3). What evidences are these of the inflexible justice of God: none need fear but what the Judge of all the earth will "do right." What solemn intimations are they that in the Day to come each one shall be judged "according to his works." What warnings are these that God is not to be mocked. But let it not be forgotten that if it is written, "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption": it is also added (though not nearly so frequently quoted) that "he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8). The same principle of Godís granting an exact quid pro quo applies to the service of His ministers: "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6)óthe harvest shall not only be answerable to the seed and the reward to the work, but it will be greater or less according to the quantity and quality of the work.

Nor does the last-quoted passage mean that God is going to reward His ministers according to the fruit and success of their work, but rather according to the labor itself, be it little or much, better or worse: "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor. 3:8). God in His sovereignty may set His servant over a blind and perverse people (as He did Ezekiel), who so far from profiting from his ministry, add iniquity to their iniquity; nevertheless his work is with God (Isa. 49:4). So too with the rank and file of Christians the more bountifully they sow the seeds of good works, the more shall they reap; and the more sparingly they sow, the less will be the harvest: "Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph. 6:8). What an incentive and stimulus should that be unto all of us: "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9).

But to return to David. "And Nathan departed unto his house" (v. 15). The prophet had faithfully delivered his message, and now he withdrew from the court. It is striking and blessed to see how God honored His servant: He moved David to name one of his sons "Nathan" (1 Chron. 3:5), and it was from him that Christ, according to the flesh, descended (Luke 3:31). "And the Lord struck the child that Uriahís wife bare unto David, and it was very sick" (v. 15). The prophetís words now began to receive their tragic fulfillment. Behold here the sovereignty of God: the parents lived, the child must die. See here too Godís respect for His law: David had broken it, but He executes it, by visiting the sins of the father upon the son.

"David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth" (v. 16). It is touching to see this seasoned warrior so affected by the sufferings of his little oneóproof of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, for the penitent are pitiful. It is true that the prophet had said, "The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (v. 14), yet David seems to have cherished the hope that this threat was but a conditional one, as in the case of Hezekiah: his words "while the child was yet alive I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" (v. 22) strongly appear to bear this out. In his fasting and lying all night upon the ground David humbled himself before the Lord, and evidenced both the sincerity of his repentance and the earnestness of his supplication. What is recorded in verse 17 illustrates the fact that the natural man is quite incapable of understanding the motives which regulate the conduct of believers.

"And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died" (v. 18). No detail of Scripture is meaningless. It was on the eighth day that the male children of the Israelites were to be circumcised (Gen. 17:12, etc.), thus in the death of his son before it could receive the sign of the covenant a further proof was given David of Godís governmental displeasure! Though it was a mercy to all concerned that the infant was removed from this world, yet inasmuch as its death had been publicly announced as a rebuke for their sin (v. 14), its decease was a manifest chastening from God upon David and Bathsheba.

"Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat" (v. 20). This is beautiful, reminding us of Jobís bowing beneath Godís chastening rod and worshiping Him when he received tidings of the death of his children. How different was this from the disconsolate grief and rebellion against God which is so often displayed by worldlings when their loved ones are matched away from them. Weeping should never hinder worshiping: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray" (James 5:13). How the terms of this verse rebuke the personal untidiness of some who attend public worship!

"And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the Lord loved him" (v. 24). Having meekly bowed before Godís rod, humbled himself beneath His mighty hand, and publicly owned Him in worship, David now received a token of Godís favor: "Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days" (1 Chron. 22:9). The birth and name given to Solomon was an evidence that God was reconciled to David, as it was also an earnest of the tranquility which would obtain in Israel during his reign. Solomon was also named "Jedidiah" which signifies "beloved of the Lord"ósignal demonstration of the sovereignty of divine grace!

The chapter closes (vv. 26-31) with a brief account of Israelís capture of Rabbah, the royal city of the Ammonites. Further proof was this of Godís grace unto David: he prospered his arms notwithstanding his aggravated sins. The additional chastisements which came upon him under the governmental dealings of God will be considered by us in the chapters which follow.