David sinned grievously, but his repentance went as deep as his sin had gone. We see complete forgiveness in this portion of the story, offered to David, and received by him. We also see that the reality of ongoing consequences is not the same thing as lack of forgiveness. We must learn to stop reading the latter in terms of the former.
“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 . . .” (2 Sam. 12:1-31)
Summary of the Text
As many messengers had been sent in the previous chapter, so now the Lord sends Nathan the prophet to David (v. 1). The prophet tells him a stylized story about a rich man and a poor one (v. 1). The rich man had many flocks (v. 2), while the poor man had only one small ewe lamb, like one of the family (v. 3). A traveler came, and the rich man killed the poor man’s sheep in order to feed his guest (v. 4). David got angry, and said that such a man deserved to die (v. 5). Because he had no pity, he will have to restore four-fold (v. 6). And so Nathan then said, “You are the man” (v. 7). God made you king over everything (vv. 7-8), and God would have done even more than that (v. 8). But you killed Uriah and took his wife (v. 9). The sword will therefore not depart from your house (v. 10). Revolt will come from within your own house (v. 11), and another man will publicly sleep with your wives (v. 12).
David confesses fully (v. 13). Nathan tells him that he won’t die, but because he opened the way for blasphemies, the child will die (v. 14). So Nathan departed, and the (unnamed) child got very sick (v. 15). David fasted, and prostrated himself on the ground before the Lord (v. 16). The elders tried to get him to get up, but he refused (v. 17). After seven days of this, the child died (v. 18), and the servants were afraid to tell him. When David sees them whispering, he understands the child was dead and asks about it (v. 19). So David gets up, and cleanses himself, goes to the house of the Lord, worships, and comes home to eat (v. 20). Obviously, the servants ask him about it (v. 21). He replies that while the child was alive, there was a chance (v. 22). Now that he is dead, the matter is settled (v. 23). David then comforts Bathsheba, and she bore a son—Solomon (v. 24). The Lord loved him, and Nathan came with another name, Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord” (v. 25). In the meantime, the siege of Rabbah was almost done (v. 26). Joab sent word—he had already captured the city’s water supply (v. 27). David had better come quickly if he didn’t want Joab to get the credit (v. 28). So David comes against Rabbah, and captures it (v. 29). The ceremonial crown that they place on David’s head weighed between 65-75 pounds (v. 30). David then puts the Ammonites to forced labor, and returns to Jerusalem (v. 31).
A King Under Law
One of the great differences between pagan forms of government and biblical forms of government is that in biblical forms of government the “king” is not divine. This means that it becomes possible for a prophetic rebuke to come to the king. It is possible for a “thus saith the Lord” to come from outside the Oval Office. Nathan comes to David because he was sent. Remember that David had already had one man killed as part of this cover-up, and there was no reason to assume that he wouldn’t do it again. And yet, once sent, Nathan courageously came with the message.
If we look at David’s descriptions of his internal state during this time (Psalm 32 & 51), we know that his conscience was tormenting him. We see in his reaction to Nathan’s story that his conscience was fully functional. He says that the rich man deserved to die, even though he was not guilty of murder. David’s moral outrage here is conflicted.
Nathan uses a prophetic form of godly deception. He frames the case in a way that David would not recognize, but where all the essential elements of the offense were still there. When David pronounces sentence on that offense, he was pronouncing sentence on himself, a fact that would be revealed to him immediately afterwards.
David pronounced a four-fold judgment, which was a kind of restitution that law sometimes required (Luke 19:8). It is striking that this is exactly what happened to David’s house—he lost four sons because of this. First was this small child, then Amnon, then Absalom, and last Adonijah.
Uriah had slept on the ground for two nights, outside David’s palace. Here David sleeps on the “earth” for seven nights.
Rich man, poor man, a man came . . . and for the seventh occasion of it, we hear Nathan saying, “You are the man . . .”
Forgiveness in the Aftermath
David is laid low by his sin. He could have doubled down on it, had Nathan executed, and declared himself an absolute ruler.
He accepts the statement of his guilt, full stop. He also accepts the consequences, but feels free to intercede concerning those consequences before the Lord makes it final. One of the consequences is that the sword will not depart from his house (v. 10). This is what lies behind David not being permitted to build the Temple. The reason stated there was that he was a “man of blood” (1 Chron. 28:3), which did not refer to him fighting the Lord’s battles. Rather, I take it as referring to the blood of Uriah, and the cascading bloodshed and warfare in his house as a result of it.
David is a penitent, and exhibits that repentance in truth. He sorrows in the presence of the Lord. In a type, when “a son of David” dies, he then gets up. He then washes and dresses himself. He then goes to worship the Lord. A son of David dies, and David the sinner is restored. Then another son of David is born, a son who is beloved by God.