A Dark Day in Israel
Spring had arrived, and conditions were ideal for battle. Under Joab’s command, David ordered Israel’s army to assault the Ammonites and attack their capital city, Rabbah (modern Ammon, Jordan—some forty-five miles east of Jerusalem). David remained in Jerusalem.
One afternoon, after the king had finished his nap, he walked on the palace roof. In a nearby courtyard below, he saw a very beautiful woman bathing. Had she been void of discretion? That conclusion is difficult to avoid.
David sent a message inquiring about her identity. He discovered that her name was Bathsheba and that she was married to Uriah, the Hittite, who apparently had proselyted to the Hebrew religion. Uriah was one of his officers deployed on the battlefield with Joab (David’s half-nephew).
The king’s intemperate passion motivated him to send her a message, bidding her to come. The progressive verbs are telling: “sent,” “came,” “took,” and “lay.” To this must be added, she “conceived.”
Soon after, she sent David a message informing him of her predicament (cf. 2 Sam. 11:1-5).
The Attempted Cover-up
The maneuvers to cover sin with sin now began.
David sent a message to Joab, ordering Uriah to return home. At first, David feigned interest in how Joab and others fared and how the war progressed.
David then instructed him to take some time and adjourn to his house, sending with him an ample supply of food. It was an act of utter duplicity. As Walter Scott wrote: “Oh, the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Uriah, however, was more noble than his king at this point. He refused to enjoy intimacy with his wife while his men were on the battlefield. Instead, he slept at the king’s door, where the servants reclined. David initiated another plot to get him home to his wife, but it also failed.
The situation was becoming desperate. David dispatched Uriah back to the battlefield. Unknown to Uriah, he was transporting his own death warrant.
A message to Joab instructed that Uriah be sent to the front line, the most dangerous area, and when the battle raged, Joab’s forces were to withdraw from him and let him be killed (vv. 6-15).
Joab was loyal to David and implemented the deadly plan. Uriah was killed, as were others who constituted nothing more than human sacrifices designed to give the murderous plan credibility (vv. 16-17).
Sin is a hideous monster that grows like cancer.
Joab then sent a message to David, providing a general characterization of the recent battle. The report was disguised, however, to obscure the secret message being smuggled to the king. If David’s wrath might be ignited at such a careless battle plan, the messenger must mention, as a passing thought, “Oh yes; and Uriah, your servant is dead” (v. 21). David would get the message!
The messenger accomplished his malicious chore. What a relief the news must have been to the conniving ruler! But the wages of his sin were far from paid (vv. 22-24).
David quickly dispatched a message to Joab, urging him not to worry about the foul deed. After all, one never knows what will happen during war!
In other words, Uriah’s death would appear simply as another war casualty. The captain, therefore, was to pursue the battle with vigor, breaking through the walls.
When Bathsheba received the news that her husband had died, she made “lamentation” over him, which probably means she went through the public formalities customarily expected of a widow. It might have been only seven days (1 Sam. 31:13) or as many as thirty days (Num. 20:29).
When the period was concluded, David brought her to the palace, and she formally became another of his several wives.
Several months later, their son was born. The tragic narrative concludes in this fashion: “But the thing that David had done displeased Jehovah” (v. 27). The progressively sensuous ruler would soon begin to taste the bitter fruit that transgression can produce (vv. 16-27).
Nathan’s Parable of Judgment
We now transition to 2 Samuel 12:1ff. Nathan was a prophet of God, mentioned several times in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Sam. 7:1ff; 1 Kgs. 1:11-45). He is best known for the courageous incident that followed.
Jehovah dispatched Nathan on a mission, likely one that initially made him nervous. The Lord gave his prophet a parable to convey to the king.
Parables sometimes were designed to solicit consent to a particular truth before an offender recognized the truth’s application to him. Note Christ’s use of this technique (Mt. 21:33-46). Such was the case in this instance.
Here is the parable Nathan was to tell to the king.
There were two men in a city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had ample livestock; the poor gentleman had only one little female lamb he had raised since she was very young. He cherished it as a pet.
One day, a traveler visited the wealthy man, and the host needed some meat for his guest. Instead of taking an animal from his large flock, he confiscated and slaughtered his neighbor’s precious lamb.
As far as the record goes, Nathan did not need to solicit a conclusion. David angrily blurted that the rich culprit was “worthy to die.” Moreover, the rich man must restore four lambs because he had demonstrated no pity for his poor neighbor (vv. 1-6).
“You Are The Man!”
The prophet then uttered those famous words: “You are the man.” He confronted the king with a message from Jehovah (v. 7ff).
The Lord rehearsed the many blessings David had received. He had been delivered from the scheming hands of Saul, made king of Israel, and endowed with his predecessor’s possessions. And this was only a token of what he might have had. The Lord was willing to bless him even more.
However, David had demonstrated the heart of an ingrate by how he treated Uriah. “In return, you have despised my instruction, and you are responsible for the death of Uriah so that you could steal his wife!”
The following penalties would fall upon the king.
Jehovah would allow evil to spring up within David’s family. Domestic disaster would plague the king for years, involving both sexual immorality and murder—the very transgression of which he had been guilty (cf. 16:21-22).
David’s sin had been done secretly (cf. 11:4-15), but his wives would be confiscated by his own household in a public and disgraceful way, humiliating the king (16:22).
The Bible student must remind himself that on many occasions, God is said to do what he merely permits to be done. This is a key to understanding many difficult texts.
David confessed his sin at the Lord’s rebuke and the punishment prophecy: “I have sinned against Jehovah.” His confession appears to have been entirely genuine, with no rationalization attached. Subsequently, he would write: “My sin is ever before me” (Psa. 51:3; cf. 38:4).
Nathan assured the king that the Lord had forgiven him, and he would not die for his sin—which ordinarily might have been the case.
On the other hand, David’s sin would become known among Israel’s enemies, and they would blame Jehovah as the ultimate one responsible. As a punishment, the child that was conceived would die. David would not be allowed to enjoy the fruit of his crimes (vv. 13-14).
David’s Punishment: Divine Cruelty or Righteous Discipline?
From our limited vantage point, we lack a complete understanding of God’s absolute sovereignty and overflowing mercy. We acknowledge our ignorance in some areas of divine operation (vv. 15-25).
Nonetheless, we make no apologies for the actions of the wise and perfectly holy God of the Scriptures.
The Lord allowed the child to become very ill. Though Nathan’s prophecy had been perfectly clear, David, in his pain, thought he might alter God’s mind. So he prayed devoutly, lying all night on the ground. He refused to eat, and his entire household fretted about his condition.
On the seventh day of the baby’s life, the child died. The king was not notified immediately, for the servants feared how he might react.
When he saw the servants whispering, David concluded the child was dead. Subsequently, he was informed of such.
The servants were amazed that he now arose, bathed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He then went to the Tabernacle and worshiped God (cf. 6:17).
Note the contrast of many today who, when struck by tragedy, curse God and permanently renounce him. The death of his sweet child did not destroy the king’s faith.
When his servants expressed surprise regarding David’s demeanor, he explained that as long as the child remained alive, there was hope that God might respond to his prayer.
However, the child was dead, and it was impossible for him to retrieve his life. The baby would not return to his family, but David was confident that he would eventually “go to him” (v. 23; cf. Gen. 37:35).
The narrative assuredly reflects the continued existence of the child and David’s ultimate recognition of him in heaven.
These things were “written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Let us be wise and learn the many lessons from David’s mistakes.