David’s life can be split neatly into two parts: his life as told in I Samuel as the up and coming warrior, outlaw and leader of men, and his life as told in II Samuel as King of Israel. His life as King can then be split into another two parts: his life before Bathsheba and his life after. The life after Bathsheba is what is told in II Samuel 13 through the end of the book. His life before Bathsheba was almost entirely one of success and faithfulness. His life after is also one of faithfulness but it’s faithfulness in the midst of almost unending tragedy. It’s safe to say that David stands in the Bible as perhaps the clearest example of what it means to live with the ramifications of sin. Nothing in his life is ever the same after the forbidden night with Bathsheba.
Chapter 12 marks the transition between the two lives. It is here that David comes face to face with what he’s done and hears all that will now happen as a result. It is also here that he responds as he should and experiences the amazing grace of God. The ramifications of his sin promise to be harsh and lead to a lifetime of regret, but the story of II Samuel 12 is really the incredible grace bestowed on David by his loving Creator.
We don’t know how much time has passed since David slept with Bathsheba, arranged for Uriah’s death and brought Bathsheba to the palace as his wife. The end of Chapter 11 makes it sound like she gives birth before the events of Chapter 12, but Nathan’s words later in this chapter can be interpreted to mean that Bathsheba is still pregnant. That means Nathan now comes to David within months of his sin or perhaps up to a year later.
The other thing we don’t know is what all God tells Nathan when He sends him to David. Verse 1 simply says God sends him. How this sending occurred would be fascinating to know because Nathan comes to David with a perfect approach. Does Nathan come up with this strategy on his own based on his knowledge of David or does God send him with instructions as to what to say? There is no way to know – and ultimately it’s not important to the story – but the approach is so well executed and effective that it’s interesting to speculate (and its effectiveness probably means God directed it).
Something to notice at the outset is that God comes after David. David doesn’t realize his sin and repent, God comes after him. In fairness to David, it’s worth remembering that this takes place before the age of the ministry of the Spirit, so perhaps we should see this as God coming after David as the Holy Spirit would today. But regardless of how we see it, it’s still God acting and not waiting on David, and ultimately it’s a mark of both the justice and grace of God that He does. An uncaring God could allow David to simply wallow in his sin. God, however, comes after the man He chose to lead His people. God will never allow one of His children to remain in sin without hearing from Him.
The end of Chapter 11 prepared us for God addressing David’s sin. We knew God wasn’t pleased and so it’s no surprise that a prophet of God shows up to pronounce judgment on the king. What is a surprise, however, is how he goes about it. We might expect him to come into the palace with guns blazing and judgment flowing and proclaim, “God has seen what you’ve done and will judge you for your sin!” But that’s not how he approaches it. He instead tells a parable and leads David to the inescapable conclusion that he’s sinned and deserves the strictest punishment.
Why does Nathan approach David this way? Nothing is explicit, but Nathan knows first of all that David as king probably won’t respond well to someone directly taking him on. More importantly, however, Nathan’s ultimate intent isn’t to condemn as much as it is to convict and convince. He wants David to repent. If he simply wanted to proclaim judgment and bring down wrath, the direct approach would be fine. But he presumably wants David to come back to the God he’s forsaken and restore the kingdom to its right relationship with God. And if that’s his goal, then his approach is both perfect and worth emulating. It’s not that we should tell parables every time we confront a brother or sister who’s in sin. It’s that we should take a lesson from Nathan and approach always with the intent of restoring, not just condemning. If we’re called to love one another, then there’s perhaps no better way to show that than to confront a brother in sin with the goal of bringing him back to the God who loves him.
Nathan tells David a story and tells it in such a way that David has no idea what the ultimate meaning of the story is. He won’t know until Nathan springs his trap. Since we know what Nathan’s endpoint is, however, we can notice some vital aspects of the parable. One, the lamb isn’t culpable. We pointed this out in our study of Chapter 11, but if the lamb represents Bathsheba it’s notable that the parable seems to present her as innocent. The lamb doesn’t eagerly go along with the rich man’s plan. Second, the lamb is treated by the poor man like a daughter. David may not pick up that this story has relevance for him, but Nathan doesn’t leave much to the imagination by saying the poor man treats the lamb like a daughter (not a son). Third, the rich man took the lamb. If we go back to the description of how David brought Bathsheba to the palace, it’s the same word (11:4).
David’s response is telling. He’s furious. He says the rich man deserves to die (a punishment much harsher than what is called for under the Law). Since the rich man can’t legally be executed, however, David swears that he will restore the lamb fourfold to the poor man (which IS the remedy called for under the Law). David’s last statement in verse 6 is perhaps the most condemning. He says the rich man deserves punishment because he had no compassion. The rich man didn’t care that the poor man loved the only lamb he had and that the rich man had many lambs of his own that he could’ve prepared for his guest. He only knew that he wanted the one lamb and didn’t care about anything or anyone else.
In Psalm 32, David describes his life when he lived with unconfessed sin (the Psalm doesn’t mention Bathsheba but it very well could be a description of this time in David’s life). David says when he kept his sin to himself he felt like his body wasted away as he groaned all day and night (Ps 32:3-4). Perhaps this explains his overwrought response to Nathan’s story. He’s at his wits’ end and his emotions are raw. He explodes at the acts of the rich man because his soul is in anguish and though he’s blind to his own sin it causes him to hate the same sin in others.
In response to David’s outburst, Nathan utters perhaps the best ‘drop the mic’ line in the Old Testament. “You are the man!” The man David felt was worthy of death is David. The rich man with many lambs who had no compassion on a poor man with only one is David. The rich man who took the poor man’s lamb is David. Nathan springs the trap and perfectly catches his prey.
Nathan doesn’t stop with the one line, however. He goes on and clarifies for David who it is he’s sinned against and all that will happen as a result. God made David king; God delivered him from Saul; God gave him Saul’s kingdom and all the benefits of that kingdom and would’ve given him more if he’d asked (which seems to imply that God would’ve given him more wives had he wanted them). And that means it’s God who David has sinned against. David despised the word of the Lord and actually despised God (you have despised Me) when he sinned. It was God who made David king and gave him Israel and Judah so it’s God David sinned against.
David will acknowledge this when he writes about his repentance. He’ll summarize his sin by saying, Against You, You only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight (Ps 51:4). It’s an amazing way to describe adultery and murder. A case can pretty easily be made that he sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Uriah’s family, the men who died with Uriah, the families of the men who died with Uriah, Joab, Bathsheba’s family, and the son produced by the adultery (and there are many more names yet to be added). Yet he says he sinned only against God. It’s a lesson for any believer. We may sin against others horizontally, but all sin is ultimately against God. There is no sin that isn’t finally a direct rebellion against God. It is God who we betray when we choose to sin.
As a result of this direct affront to God, David’s kingdom will never be the same. Violence will never depart from his house. Someone from within his own family will seek to destroy him. David’s wives will be taken from him and given to another and that man will sleep with his wives in broad daylight. What David did he did in secret but what God will do will be done under the sun in front of all Israel. David tried to cover his sin but the ramifications of that sin will be exposed for all to see.
David responds perfectly. The man who since his night with Bathsheba has done everything wrong (lied, schemed, caused the death of others, responded callously to those deaths) now expresses remorse and repents. He doesn’t blame-shift, rationalize, or equivocate. He simply states the truth. “I have sinned against the Lord.”
In six words David shows that he gets it. He’s been blind to this point but Nathan’s story has shown him who he is. And by firmly stating his situation he begins the road back. This is how to confess sin and find forgiveness. This is how to begin repentance. “I have sinned against the Lord.” When we confess our sins and take responsibility for them and acknowledge that they are rebellion against God we find forgiveness and restoration (I Jn 1:9).
Nathan immediately reassures David. “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” God hears David’s confession and forgives him. It’s an amazing scene. Think about what God takes away. David committed adultery and multiple murders. He not only literally destroyed lives, he destroyed the lives of entire families of the men he killed. And God takes it all away. David repents and God acts. It’s almost too clean – too simple. How is He able to do this? Why does He do this? Because of the cross. God grants forgiveness based on what Jesus will do. He couldn’t justifiably forgive David otherwise. And by doing so He shows us that there is no sin greater than the cross. He takes away serious, willful sin. David didn’t fall into adultery and he certainly didn’t inadvertently kill several men to cover his tracks. But God carries it all away. The cross is greater than our sin and there’s nothing we can do that wasn’t put to death on it.
Unfortunately for David, Nathan doesn’t stop with these words. The ramifications of David’s sin won’t go away even though he’s forgiven. And the primary ramification will be the death of the son produced by the adultery. Here’s where the timing gets confusing – is the son already born or is Bathsheba still pregnant? We ask because the child will be sick for seven days and it’s unclear if that means seven days from his birth or seven days from when he becomes sick.
Notice the reason for the baby’s death. It’s because David gave the enemies of Yahweh reason to blaspheme. David has shown that God’s anointed is capable of loathsome acts. By doing so he’s brought shame on the name of God. God’s anointed commits adultery and murder so David’s God must either be okay with adultery and murder or His followers must not worry about offending Him. God’s power and righteousness and justice are called into question by David’s actions.
Here’s another lesson for the reader. Not only is all sin directed at God, all sin harms His name. All sin gives the enemies of God or those who aren’t convinced reason to disregard our faith. If our actions show little fear of God or commitment to His kingdom then others will have no reason to believe or take the gospel seriously. Just as we never sin in a vacuum, so we never sin without assaulting His kingdom (this problem becomes more acute for those in positions of authority or prominence – it’s why not many should seek to become teachers (Jas 3:1)).
David’s son essentially dies a substitutionary death. David doesn’t die – though under the Law that’s what he deserves – but the child does. And it’s probably not too much of a stretch to see the child as the substitute for David. Thus the child becomes a type of Christ. He dies for the sins of others (although obviously Christ doesn’t die for His Father’s sin).
After Nathan pronounces God’s judgment and leaves, God strikes the son of Bathsheba (referred to as Uriah’s widow). The son lives for seven days (whether this is from the time he becomes sick or from the time he’s born is unknown – the fact that he’s not named may mean it’s seven days from his birth as he’s not circumcised or named on the eighth day as prescribed by the Law) and dies.
During the seven days, David lies on the ground and fasts and prays. His advisors and the elders of his household try to get him to eat, but he refuses as long as the child is alive and sick. Once the child dies, however, David ends his fasting and mourning and goes to worship God. This confuses his household as they assume his mourning will increase once the child dies. David explains that as long as the child was alive he thought there might be a chance that God would spare him (perhaps because of God’s grace in David’s life David thinks God might change his mind and save the child). Once the child was dead, however, there was no more reason to fast and pray. David can’t expect God to bring him back to life so it’s time to move on.
David comforts Bathsheba (if our theory of Bathsheba’s role in the original adultery is correct – that she was a pawn in David’s lust and was essentially violated against her will – then this scene is hard to understand – is Bathsheba really comforted by David sleeping with her?) and she conceives and gives birth to a son – Solomon (I Chron 3:5 seems to imply that Solomon is the fourth son of Bathsheba and David – if so, then perhaps this author simplifies this story and refers only to Solomon since he’s the son of promise and the future king). God sends word by Nathan that He loves Solomon and wants to call him Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord). As we know, Solomon will become king in David’s place after David abdicates the throne in old age.
This is another amazing aspect of the story. Solomon will succeed David and be in the line of the Messiah. Solomon will actually become a type of Christ by building the temple and further establishing the eternal throne of David (II Sam 7:12-13). And yet he’s the son of a relationship founded in adultery and murder. There’s ultimately no way to know why God chooses Solomon over David’s other sons to become king. But perhaps it’s another sign of God’s incredible grace and utter forgiveness that He chooses a son of Bathsheba to carry the Messianic line.
Lessons from II Samuel 12
God doesn’t leave His children alone in their sin.
God wants to restore His children after they sin, not simply condemn and judge.
God is who we sin against. Always God.
God’s name is what we damage with our sin.
God honors confession and repentance that honestly acknowledges sin against God.
God can take away our sin because there is no sin greater than the cross.
God forgives our sin but doesn’t necessarily remove the consequences of our sin.
God’s forgiveness is complete; His grace is overwhelming.