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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 12

Verses 1-31

Nathan and David’s Sin (12:1-31)

Nathan belongs in the great prophetic succession, with his deep spiritual insight and keen understanding of the divine intention and purpose. It was he who withstood David and brought home to him the reality of his sin. Like those of the later canonical prophets, Nathan’s messages seem to have come through creative imagination and vision rather than ecstatic emotional upsurge. He attracted the king’s interest and got his message across to him by a shrewd use of imagination. The king, the final court of appeal in matters of justice, would not fail to respond to the story of the poor man and his one ewe lamb. As David rose to the bait and declared that the offender deserved to perish and that, according to the legal ruling, he must restore the lamb fourfold (Exodus 22:1), the prophet delivered the shrewd counterthrust which drove the meaning of the parable home to the king’s conscience. By legal right he had appropriated the harem of his predecessor Saul. God had given him much, but he had set his wolfish eyes upon the wife of one of his own trusted officers and had smitten the husband with the sword. In measured terms Nathan pronounced the judgment of God on David’s sin, foretelling strife, division, and infidelity in the royal household to such a degree that, unlike David’s secret sin with Bathsheba, these tragedies would be manifest to all Israel. David was stirred to such penitence that God’s forgiveness was assured, but the punishment had still to be borne. Part of the price he would pay was that the child of his and Bathsheba’s sin must die.

This is a remarkable illustration of the heights which the prophetic ministry could attain in early days. Elijah’s fiery denunciations of Ahab (1 Kings 21:17-24), set alongside the shrewd and indirect approach of Nathan to David, remind us of how varied the prophetic method could be in those days, as preaching can be now. The parable of the ewe lamb was beautifully conceived and delivered, shaped to its purpose of awakening David’s interest and piercing his conscience.

The last part of this section shows us the judgment of God working out. David might have silenced Nathan by decreeing his death, but even the king of Israel acknowledged himself to be under God’s word. The king was appointed and anointed by the Lord, and neither David nor his successors laid claim to a divine nature or other than a divinely delegated authority. It was this theocratic understanding of kingship which meant that the king, like the commonest of his subjects, must stand before the bar of God and listen humbly to his prophets.

David, stricken with penitence, still sought by prayer and fasting to divert the judgment of God. But judgment descended, and the child died. David showed his greatness in the way he bore his punishment and retained his faith. Even God’s forgiveness does not mean that we shall escape all the consequences of sin, but if we are in God’s forgiveness, he gives us grace to bear them and to bear them as a testimony to our faith. This happened to David. Out of his grief, he arose, went to the sanctuary, and worshiped. David’s saying about the dead child in verse 23 is rooted in the common conception of Sheol, the place of the departed. His words imply that the child had passed from all that was worth while to something that was little better than nonexistence. From Sheol there was no return, so David could find no hope at this point. He, too, could go to Sheol by death, but it would be no place of joyful reunion; rather it was a place where he, too, would be absorbed into the meaningless existence which had overtaken his child. It is against such a background that we must understand the growing hope in the Old Testament of a resurrection from the dead and grasp the full significance of our Lord’s triumph, in which he abolished death and brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10). The men of Old Testament times walked in the land of the shadow of death and waited for the light to shine upon them.

Later Solomon was born to Bathsheba, his birth being interpreted as a divine gift. The chapter closes with an account of a further attack by Joab on the Ammonites in their walled city of Rabbah. The final credit for taking this city was left by Joab for David himself. The city was captured, the Ammonite crown of gold was added to David’s regalia, and he returned from battle with great spoil. The Ammomtes were generally subjugated and apparently were turned into industrial slaves for Israel.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-12.html.