And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:1-14 ESV
When David had received the news from Joab that Uriah had been killed in battle (just as David had commanded), he responded in very flippant manner: “Do not let this matter displease you…” (2 Samuel 11:25 ESV). The Hebrew word he used, yara`, can also mean “evil”. So in other words, David was telling Joab not to see what he had done as evil or sinful. He wasn’t to grieve over it or be upset about it. The prophet, Isaiah, wisely wrote, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). David was attempting to negate the gravity of his sin and was even unwilling to see what he had done to Uriah and with Bathsheba as sin. He didn’t want Joab to be displeased about his role in the affair. But David forgot about the displeasure of God. What he had done was sin and God hates sin. He is the holy and righteous God who must deal justly with sin. He can’t ignore it, excuse it, or turn his back on it. And because David was the king of Israel, he was held by God to an even higher standard. He was God’s chosen representative. He was the leader of God’s people. And as the old proverb states: “As is the king, so are the subjects.”
What is amazing about this story is that it took a third party to bring David to a point of repentance. It was not until Nathan, the prophet, showed up at David’s doorstep, that David had second thoughts about what he had done. Even Psalm 51, written by David as a result of this whole affair regarding Bathsheba and Uriah, was written after Nathan had been used by God to convict David. The description attached to the psalm explains this fact: “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It was because God had sent Nathan and Nathan had exposed David’s sin, that David realized the gravity of what he had done. It took the rather deceptive tactics of Nathan to get David to recognize the reality of his sin and the depth of God’s displeasure.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment. – Psalm 51:1-4 ESV
While David may have been able to dissuade Joab from being displeased with his role in Uriah’s death, David had not been able to convince God that what he had done was a good thing. God was displeased. He was angry, and His was a righteous indignation. He had taken David’s actions personally.
“Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” – 2 Samuel 12:9 ESV
God reminded David that He had been the one to put him on the throne. David’s reign had been God’s doing. “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul” (2 Samuel 12:7 ESV). God even reminded David of what had happened to Saul, who had also multiplied wives for himself, in direct violation of God’s command.
“And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.” – 2 Samuel 12:8 ESV
This was not God giving approval of Saul’s collection of wives. And it cannot be used to say that God was transferring the rights to Saul’s many wives to David. This would be in direct contradiction to God’s own commands regarding the king and his wives (Deuteronomy 17:17). God was simply stating that the sins of Saul had led to his fall. David had taken ownership of all that had belonged to Saul, all because God had made it possible. And David’s response had been to disobey God.
And God gave David the very bad news regarding his sin: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10 ESV). David’s sin was going to have dire consequences. He was going to receive forgiveness from God, but that would not change the fact that he would also be punished by God for what he had done.
“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV
This very devastating news got David’s full attention. As a result of what he heard, David responded: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13 ESV). He owned up to his sin. He admitted that what he had done had been a sin against God Himself. He had violated the law of God. He took responsibility for it, and repented of it. But Nathan would give David a good-news, bad-news report:
“The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” – 2 Samuel 12:13-14 ESV
Years later, in one of his psalms, David would say of God, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 ESV). David would come to love and appreciate the forgiveness of God. But he would also know the discipline of God.
The most difficult thing about this passage is the death of the child born to David and Bathsheba. This innocent child had been the result of their adulterous affair, but had played no part in it. He had been the unwitting byproduct of their sin. And yet, it was the child who died. We must always keep in mind the passage regarding sin found in James, chapter one.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15 ESV
To blame God for the death of the child would be wrong. It was the sin of David that caused the child’s death. The sad reality about sin is that the innocent always suffer the most. When we sin, we almost always try to justify or rationalize our actions by claiming that we are not hurting anybody else. But sin always has a victim other than us. If we look at the list of sins listed in Galatians five, we see that they are all other-oriented. Our sins are always damaging to others. And it was David’s sin with Bathsheba and his role in the death of Uriah that led to the loss of his own son. He could not point his finger at God and attempt to blame Him. As we will see in the rest of the chapter, David would pray to God for his son’s healing, but he would not blame God for his sickness. He knew where the blame belonged. David had taken another man’s wife and shown no pity. He had arranged for the murder of that very same man, and had shown no remorse.
But David was going to learn a powerful and life-changing lesson from this dark moment of the soul. He would later write these words that reflect his new understanding regarding sin and repentance.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.