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2 Samuel 12:1
Jehovah sent Nathan unto David. Though David had remained unrepentant for nearly a year, for we read in 2 Samuel 12:14 that the child was born, yet we are not to suppose that there had been no compunctions of conscience. A man could scarcely pass from utter callousness to a state of mind so tender as that depicted in Psalms 51:1-19 without some preparation. Assuredly David had suffered much mental distress, but he had given no outward sign of contrition, and possibly, but for Nathan's message, he might have overpowered his conscience, and his self-reproaches have become less frequent and agitating. More probably he was slowly ripening for repentance, and Nathan's words let loose the agonizing feelings which had more and more struggled within him against his baser lusts. And the prophet's apologue was exactly suited to rouse up that strong sense of justice which was so noble an element in David's character. Doubtless it was framed for this purpose, and Nathan knew what was the right chord to touch. But we must not, because he was wise and skilful, refuse Nathan our fullest admiration for his manly courage. It is a very dangerous thing to tell princes of their sins, and especially when that prince is an absolute monarch, and his sins adultery and murder. But the position which Nathan held in David's court made it his duty so to do, and there is no stronger testimony to the power of religion and of God's grace than that it makes men so brave in doing their duty. We may feel sure that Nathan had long grieved over David's fall, and reflected upon the steps which ought to be taken for his admonition. And now, in answer to prayer, the command came from Jehovah bidding him go and bear his testimony. Nathan's parable is admirably adapted for its purpose. While making no direct reference to adultery or murder, it puts very strongly the injustice and heartlessness of the oppression of the weak by the strong, as exemplified in the deed of the rich man. On many occasions David had shown a warm and generous indignation at injustice, and a righteous pity for those wronged. Would such a feeling be called out now? David's conduct was had enough, and if there was no outburst of anger at the base deed reported to him, and no welling up of pity for the poor man robbed of his one joy, then was his case hopeless, and Nathan must withdraw in despair, and leave David to his fate. But his better feelings were not destroyed, and when Nathan saw them deeply stirred, he broke in with the stern application to the king's own sin, "Thou art the man!" The courage and the skill of the prophet are alike admirable.
2 Samuel 12:3
Was unto him as a daughter. The Orientals are excessively fond of pet animals, and, as the dog is with them unclean, its place is taken by fawns, kids, or lambs. The description, therefore, is not overcharged, for in many an English home the dog or cat takes its place as one of the family. The Revised Version preserves the tenderness of the original in translating "it did eat of his own morsel."
2 Samuel 12:4
A traveller, … wayfaring man,… man that was come to him. Nathan probably used these three terms chiefly to diversify his language, but it has served as a handle for much allegorizing. Thus Rashi explains it of covetousness, which comes at first as a mere "passer by," the literal meaning of the word rendered "traveller." But, if admitted, it grows into "a wayfaring man," who comes and goes on business, and stays a longer time. Finally it changes into "one who has come to him," and remains permanently. Such allegorical interpretations are common in the Fathers, and thus Augustine compares the three stages of sin to our Lord's three miracles of raising the dead. The sinner is at first like Jairus's daughter, just dead, and repentance can restore him immediately to life; but, if sin be persisted in, he becomes like the son of the widow of Nain, carried away to burial; and finally like Lazarus, given over to corruption.
2 Samuel 12:5
Shall surely die. It is strange language to declare that a man shall be put to death and then fined four lambs; But David says nothing of the sort, but that the man is "a son of death," that is, a wretch who deserves to die. The Revised Version correctly renders, "is worthy to die." The sentence actually passed, of fourfold restitution, is exactly in accordance with the Mosaic Law (Exodus 22:1), but the moral turpitude of the offence was far greater than could be atoned for by the legal penalty. Rightly, therefore, David expressed his indignation, and regretted that the sentence was so light; but a judge must not strain the law, which necessarily has regard chiefly to the outward offence.
2 Samuel 12:7
Thou art the man! Abruptly and with sudden vehemence comes the application to David himself. So skilfully had the parable been contrived, that up to this point David had had no suspicion that he was the rich man who had acted so meanly by his poorer neighbour Uriah. And now he stood self-condemned. Yet even so self-love might have made his indignation break forth against Nathan; but probably the reproof only completed a work that had long been secretly in progress, and brushed away the last obstacles to repentance. I anointed thee. The solemn anointing made David the representative of Jehovah, and thus his sin was aggravated by the degradation in the eyes of the people, beth of the kingly office and also of Jehovah himself. Rank and authority are given to men that they may lead others to do right; it is a fearful misuse of them when they give prestige to sin.
2 Samuel 12:8
I gave … thy master's wives into thy bosom. These words probably mean that, as the whole possessions of his predecessor belonged, by Oriental custom, to the next occupant of the throne, David might have claimed the entire household and the wives both of Saul and Ishbosbeth as his own, though apparently he had not done so. As far as we know, Saul had but one wife (1 Samuel 14:50) and one concubine, Rizpah (2 Samuel 3:7). Of Ishbosheth's family arrangements we know little, but his harem, if he had one, would become the property of David. But independently of this, the permission of polygamy had made it possible for him to take any of the daughters of Israel and Judah to wife, and he had freely availed himself of this licence. Yet, not content, he had lusted after a married woman, and had got rid of her husband by murder, meanly using the sword of the Ammonites to accomplish his own criminal purpose. The word used in this clause, and rendered "thou hast slain him," is a very strong one, and literally means "thou hast murdered him," though the sword was that of the enemy.
2 Samuel 12:10
The sword shall never depart from thine house; that is, thy crime shall not be expiated by one slaughter, but by many, so that thy punishment shall cease only at thine own death. This sentence was fulfilled in Amnon's murder (2 Samuel 13:28), who had been encouraged in his crime by his father's example. Upon this followed Absalom's rebellion and death (2 Samuel 18:14); and finally, when in his last hours David made Solomon his successor, he knew that he was virtually passing sentence on Adonijah, the eldest of his surviving sons. But what a fearful choice! for had he not done so, then Bathsheba and her four sons would doubtless have been slain, whereas there was some hope that Solomon might spare his brother. That Adonijah was unworthy we gather from the fact that he had ceased to be cohen, and that this office was conferred, after Absalom's rebellion, on Ira the Jairite (2 Samuel 20:26), Solomon being then too young to hold such a position. Until he committed this crime, David's family had probably dwelt in concord, and it was his own wickedness which broke up their unity, and introduced among them strife, mutual hatred, and the shedding of blood.
2 Samuel 12:11
He shall lie with thy wives. Fulfilled for political purposes by Absalom, under the advice of Bathsheba's grandfather (2 Samuel 16:22). The punishment was thus complete. For the murdered Uriah there was fourfold restitution, according to David's own sentence. First there was Bathsheba's child lately born, then Amnon, thirdly Absalom, and lastly Adonijah. For the adultery there was open disgrace wrought upon his royal dignity "before the sun," in open daylight. As he had brought shame and dishonour upon the family relations of his neighbour, so were his own family rights violated by his rebellious son. And, as is often the case, the sins which followed were worse than those which prepared the way. Vice begins as a small stream trickling through the opposing dam. but it quickly breaks down all moral restraints, and rushes along like a destroying flood.
2 Samuel 12:13
I have sinned against Jehovah. Saul had used the same words, and had meant very little by them; nor had he added "against Jehovah," because his purpose was to appease Samuel, and prevail upon him not to disgrace him before the people. David's confession came from the heart. There is no excuse making, no attempt at lessening his fault, no desire to evade punishment. Psalms 51:1-19 is the lasting testimony, not only to the reality, but to the tenderness of his repentance, and we may even feel here that confession was to him a relief. The deep internal wound was at length disclosed, and healing had become possible. Up to this time he had shut God away from his heart, and so there had been no remedy for a soul diseased. It was because his sorrow was genuine that comfort was not delayed. Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Now, death was the legal penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10), and though it might not be easy to exact it of a king, yet, until it was remitted, David would be in the eyes of all "a son of death" (see on Psalms 51:5); and how could he administer justice to others while the death sentence for a capital crime was hanging over himself? Had not the prophet been authorized to use his dispensing power as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, David could not have remained king. And we can see no reason for supposing, with Ewald and others, that a substantial interval of time elapsed between David's confession and Nathan's absolution. The sole conceivable reason for such a view would be the supposition that David's repentance began and was completed with the one stab of shame which pierced through him when he heard Nathan's sudden reproach. Such a mere thrill, following upon such persistent callousness, would have merited little attention. But if months of brooding sorrow and secret shame had been humbling David, then his open confession was the proof that the Spirit's work had reached the goal, and was now complete. And we gather from Psalms 51:3 that such was the case. "My sin," he says, "is ever before me." It had long haunted him; had long occupied his thoughts by day, and broken his rest at night. Like a flood, his iniquities had gone over his head, and threatened to drown him; like a heavy burden, they had pressed upon him so as to break him down (Psalms 38:4). Both these psalms tell of long continued sorrow of heart; but with confession had come relief. He had offered to God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, and knew that it had not been despised. We shall see subsequently that his time and attention had been much occupied with the Ammonite war, and this had probably helped him in evading the secret pleadings of his own conscience.
2 Samuel 12:14
Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme; Hebrew, thou hast made the enemies of Jehovah to despise; that is, to despise Jehovah's government, the theocracy, of which David was the visible head and earthly representative. Jehovah's enemies are not the heathen, but Israelitish unbelievers, who would scoff at all religion when one in David's position fell into terrible open sin. But the death of the adulterous offspring of David and Bathsheba would prove to these irreligious men that Jehovah's righteous rule could reach and punish the king himself, and would thus vindicate his justice from their reproach.
2 Samuel 12:16
David … went in. He went, not into the sanctuary, which he did not enter until after the child's death, but into some private room in his own house. There he remained, passing his nights stretched on the ground, and fasting until the seventh day. His fasting does not imply that he took no food during this long interval, but that he abstained from the royal table, and ate so much only as was necessary to maintain life. Now, what was the meaning of this privacy and abstinence? Evidently it was David's acknowledgment, before all his subjects, of his iniquity, and of his sorrow for it. The sickness of the child followed immediately upon Nathan's visit, and we may feel sure that news of his rebuke, and of all that passed between him and the king, ran quickly throughout Jerusalem. And David at once takes the position of a condemned criminal, and humbles himself with that thoroughness which forms so noble a part of his character. Grieved as he was at the child's sickness, and at the mother's sorrow, yet his grief was mainly for his sin; and he was willing that all should know how intense was his shame and self-reproach. And even when the most honourable of the rulers of his household (Genesis 24:2), or, as Ewald thinks, his uncles and elder brethren, came to comfort him, he persists in maintaining an attitude of heart stricken penitence.
2 Samuel 12:20
Then David arose from the earth. If David's grief had been occasioned by love for the child, then its death and the consciousness that, while his guilt had caused its sickness, his prayers had not availed to save it, would have aggravated his anguish. There was much personal regard for the child, which had been made the more precious by these very eyelets. But David's sorrow was, as we have seen, that of penitence, and not that of natural affection. When, therefore, the threatened penalty had been paid by the death of the child, David felt it to be his duty to show his resignation, and therefore he went into the sanctuary and worshipped, in proof that he acknowledged the justice of God's dealings, and was content to bear the punishment as his righteous desert.
2 Samuel 12:22
God; Hebrew, Jehovah, usually rendered "Lord." Similarly in Genesis 6:5 in the Authorized Version we find God in capital letters, as here, for the Hebrew Jehovah.
2 Samuel 12:23
I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. These words indicate, first of all, much personal feeling for the child. Hence some have supposed that, as Solomon is placed last of Bathsheba's four sons in 2 Samuel 5:14 and 1 Chronicles 3:5, three other sons had already been borne by her, and that consequently this child, the fruit of their adultery, would now have been seven or eight years of age. It is certainly remarkable that in 1 Chronicles 3:16 David calls him "the lad" (so the Hebrew), though in every other place he is styled "the child." On the other hand, we gather from 1 Chronicles 3:14 that probably he was as yet the only child, and this is the more reasonable view, even if Solomon was the youngest son (but see note on 1 Chronicles 3:24). But secondly, the words indicate a belief in the continued existence of the child, and even that David would recognize and know him in the future world. Less than this would have given no comfort to the father for his loss. Now, it is true that we can find no clear dogmatic teaching in the early Scriptures upon the immortality of the soul. Job could give expression to no such hope in Job 7:6-10, and the belief in a world to come would have solved the difficulties of himself and his friends, which really are left unsolved. Even in the Psalms there are words that border on despair (see Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:11; Psalms 115:17); nor had Hezekiah any such belief in continued existence as could solace him in the expectation of an early death (Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19). This hopelessness was not unnatural at a time when the doctrine had not been as yet clearly taught. On the other hand, in Psalms 17:15 and Psalms 16:9-11 We find proof that David did believe in his own immortality. For though the latter words have a second and higher meaning, yet the primary sense of Psalms 16:10 is that David's own soul (or self) would not always remain in Sheol, the abode of the departed, nor would he, Jehovah's anointed one, see such corruption as would end in annihilation.
2 Samuel 12:24
He called his name Solomon. It is rashly assumed that Solomon's birth followed next in order after that of the deceased child. More probably there was a long interval of time, and son after son was born, with little increase of happiness to the family polluted by Amnon's sin and troubled by its miserable consequences. While we must not lay too great stress upon Solomon calling himself "a little child" (1 Kings 3:7) after his accession, yet it forbids our believing that he was more than just grown up, It was the remarkable ability of Solomon, his goodness and precocious talent, which made him so great a comfort to his parents, and which received Jehovah's seal of approval in the name Jedidiah. This name would scarcely be given him until his good and great qualities were developing; and as it was a sort of indication that he was the chosen and elect son of David, and therefore the next king, we shall probably be right in believing that this second mission of Nathan, and this mark of Divine favour to David's youngest child, did not take place until after Absalom's death, possibly not until Solomon was ten or twelve years of age. The name Solomon means "the peaceful," and answers to the German Friedrich. It was given to the child in recognition that David's wars were now over, and that the era of quiet had begun, which was to be consecrated to the building of Jehovah's temple. It was the name given to the infant at his birth, and was a name of hope. Alas! this peace was to be rudely broken by the rebellion of the son whom David, in vain expectation and with all a father's pride, had named Absalom, "his father's peace."
2 Samuel 12:25
He sent. Some commentators make David the subject of the sentence, and translate, "And he, David, sent in the hand of Nathan, and called," etc. They suppose that this means that Nathan was entrusted with Solomon's education; but "in the hand" is the ordinary Hebrew preposition, meaning "by," and the sense plainly is that God sent a message by Nathan. David had already called the child Solomon, and now Jehovah, some years afterwards, gives him an indication of his special favour by naming him Yedidyah. The word is formed from the same root as David, that is, "lovely," with the addition of the Divine name. As we have already pointed out, this was no slight matter, but the virtual selection of Solomon to be David's successor, and probably, therefore, was delayed until he had given indica of his great intellectual gifts. His elder brothers would not be passed over without valid reasons.
2 Samuel 12:26
Joab … took the royal city. As the siege of Rabbah would be conducted by the slow process of blockade, it might easily be prolonged into the second year, and so give ample space for David's sin and its punishment by the death of the child. But more probably the narrator, having commenced the history of David's sin, completes the story before returning to his account of the war. Thus the capture of Rabbah would occupy some of the interval between David's adultery and Nathan's visit of rebuke, and would lessen the difficulty, which we cannot help feeling, of David remaining for nine or ten months with the guilt of adultery and murder resting upon him, and no open act of repentance. Some short time, then, after Uriah's death, Joab captured "the city of waters." This is not a poetical name for Rabbah, but means the "water city," that is, the town upon the Jabbok, whence the supply of water was obtained. The citadel, which occupied a high rock on the northwestern side, must, therefore, soon be starved into submission, and the whole of "the royal city," that is, of the metropolis of the Ammonites, be in Joab's power. He therefore urges David to come in person, both that the honour of the conquest may be his, and also because probably the blockading force had been reduced to as small a body of men as was safe, and the presence of a large army was necessary for completing the subjugation of the country, which would follow upon the capture of the capital.
2 Samuel 12:30
Their king; Hebrew, Malcam. This is another mode of spelling Milcom, the god of the Ammonites, and is found also in Zephaniah 1:5, and probably in Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:3; Amos 1:15. Strictly, Milcom or Malcom is a proper name for the supreme deity, formed from the word melec, a king, or, as it was pronounced in other Semitic dialects, Moloch. Grammatically, Malcam also means "their king," and even so belongs to Milcom. For the crown weighed a hundred pounds, a ponderous mass, which no man could possibly bear, and, least of all, when making, as was the case with the Ammonite king, his last stand for his life. But after the capture of the city, it was lifted from the head of the idol, and placed formally upon David's head, and held there for a few moments, as a sign of victory and of rejoicing over the fall of the false god. There is no reason for supposing that there is any exaggeration in the weight, nor will the Hebrew allow us to understand the talent of gold as referring to its value.
2 Samuel 12:31
The people that were therein. The cruel treatment described in this verse was inflicted, first of all, upon those who had defended Rabbah, now reduced to a small number by the long siege; but David next proceeded through all the cities, that is, the fortified towns of the Ammonites, inflicting similar barbarities. They were confined probably to the fighting men, and most of these would make their escape as soon as resistance became hopeless. The general population would, of course, scatter themselves in every direction, but the misery caused by such a breaking up of civil life, as well as by the cruel bloodshed, must have been terrible. Instead of "he put them in a saw," we find, in 1 Chronicles 20:3, "he sawed them with a saw." This reading differs from what we have here only in one letter, and is plainly right, as the translation, "under saws," "under harrows of iron," etc; found both in the Authorized and Revised Versions, is simply an expedient, tendered necessary by the corruption of the text. If we restore the passage by the help of the parallel place, it runs on thus: "He sawed with a saw, and with threshing sledges of iron, and with cutting instruments of iron." What exactly the second were we do not know, as the word does not occur elsewhere. The Vulgate renders it "wains shod with iron," meaning, apparently, those driven over the corn for threshing purposes, and now driven over these unfortunate people. The barbarity is not more horrible than that of sawing prisoners asunder. He made them pass through the brick kiln. Both the Septuagint and Vulgate have "brick kiln," Hebrew, malban, which the Massorites have adopted, but the Hebrew text has malchan. No commentator has given any satisfactory explanation of what can be meant by making the Ammonites pass through a brick kiln; but Kimchi gives a very probable interpretation of the word really found in the Hebrew, and which, not being intelligible, has been corrupted. For the Malchan was, he says, the place where the Ammonites made their children pass through the fire to Moloch. He thinks, therefore, that David put some of the people to death in this way. We cannot defend these cruelties, but they unhappily were the rule in Oriental warfare, and would have been inflicted on their enemies by the Ammonites. We have proof in l Samuel 1 Chronicles 11:2 and Amos 1:13 that they were a barbarous race; but this did not justify barbarous retaliation.
2 Samuel 12:1-14
The facts are:
1. God sends Nathan the prophet to David, who tells him a story of the greed of a wicked rich man, who, to satisfy his avarice, took away and slew the pot ewe lamb of a poor man.
2. David, accepting the story as a matter of fact, is very angry with this man, and swears that for his deed and lack of compassion he ought to die and restore fourfold.
3. Nathan thereupon reveals the parabolic character of his narrative, by saying unto David, "Thou art the man!"
4. He then proceeds to state
(1) the goodness of God to him in anointing him king, in delivering him from Saul, in giving him the royal succession, and in guaranteeing all else that might be needed;
(2) his despite to the commands of God—his murder of Uriah, and his taking possession of Uriah's wife.
5. He also declares, by way of punishment, that war would arise in his own house; that the purity and safety of his domestic life would be invaded; and that the punishment of his secret sin would be open.
6. On David confessing his guilt, Nathan assures him that the Lord had so far put away his sin that he should not die, but that the child of his guilt should.
This remarkable parable is, perhaps, the most exquisite Genesis of the kind in the Old Testament. Its beauty and pathos are enhanced by the plain matter of fact way in which the historian narrates, in Genesis 11:1-32; the fall of David and his subsequent crime. Apart from its specific purpose, it indicates to us the occasional functions of the prophets in those times as admonishers of kings and rulers, and consequently as representatives of the Divine element in the history of Israel. The great variety of teaching in this parable may be briefly indicated thus—
I. A DOUBLE LIFE. At least ten months had elapsed from the date of David's fall to the visit of Nathan. During that period many public and private acts had been performed by the king in the ordinary course of life, in addition to those referred to in 2 Samuel 11:14-27. It was his policy to keep up a good appearance—to be in administration, in public worship, in regard for religious ordinances, and in general morality all that he had ever been. He passed still as the pious, just ruler and exemplary man. That was one life. But inwardly there was another. The conscience was dull, or, if it spoke plainly, was constantly being suppressed. The uncomfortableness of secret sin induced self-reproach and loss of self-respect. He was an instance of a man "holding the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). This double life is the experience of every good man who falls into sin and seeks to cover it up. He knows too much to be really happy, but he is too enslaved by his sin to be truly godly. The outside is fair; within is desolation.
II. FELLOWSHIP IN SIN. David and Bathsheba shared in a fellowship of sin. They, most probably without words, communed with each other over their guilt, and so far strengthened the chains of iniquity. Two individuals in possession of a dreadful secret do not, dare not, speak about it. There is simply a common understanding and a mutual support in keeping up the appearance necessary to social reputation. It is a pitiable sight before God and holy angels! It is a case of the fallen, the defiled, the inwardly wretched, and the prospectively condemned, seeking to find comfort and strength in each other's sympathy. The channels of sympathetic feeling are filled by a polluted stream of affection and interest.
III. A LOST CHARM. It is well known that a pure disposition and a clear conscience lend a charm to personal life; much more does such deep and strong piety as once characterized the "man after God's own heart." If we, in reading the historic narrative of David's early years, and the psalms, in which his best thoughts are embodied, feel the spell of his spirit, we may be sure that those in daily converse with him recognized a charm of the most exalted kind. But all that was now gone, because the honesty and the purity from which it sprang were no more. In vain did he strive to maintain the form of godliness; in vain his careful discharge of official duties and kindly bearing towards his friends. The "secret of the Lord" was lost. The salt had lost its savour. To truly spiritual men he would not be as in former times. This loss of a spiritual charm always takes place when good men fall into sin and cover it up. The light of the spiritual eye is dim. The pure ring of the voice is gone. The "form of godliness" is left, but the "power" is no more.
IV. THE DIVINE RESERVE. At least ten months elapsed before Nathan was commissioned by God to speak to David. The lustful look, the secret deed, the scheme for concealment and for the death of Uriah, were allowed to pass and issue in seeming success without one act of a decidedly positive character, as far as we know, on the part of God either to smite with punishment or bring to penitence. The "workers of iniquity" flourished, and the innocent perished unavenged (Psalms 92:7; cf. Psalms 12:5; Proverbs 1:11-19). That conscience uttered its protest, and that the laws of mind as constituted by God worked misery from the first in the inner life of David, is no doubt true; but there was no open justice, no obvious interposition on behalf of the oppressed, no distinct and proportionate chastisement, no special call to repentance. Human nature took its course, and human society remained in relation to the sinner unchanged. Yet God is not indifferent. He slumbereth not. Government does not relax its hold on each man. The explanation is that God is in no haste in what he does; he reserves his action for a while for reasons more complicate and far reaching than we can trace. The very reserve only renders the judgment, when it comes, more impressive. Human nature is evidently favoured as a free power, which must have certain scope both for origination of evil, maturing of evil, and filling up its own measure of chastisement. There is a patience, a goodness, in the reserve which need to be studied (Romans 2:4-9; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9, 2 Peter 3:15). This reserve attends many a modern sinner's cause.
V. THE DIVINE BEGINNING OF SALVATION. Had David been left to himself the probability is that the coils of iniquity would have been formed around him more and more as time advanced; for the law of habit here holds good. It is instructive to observe that the first step towards a change in his condition was on the Divine side. God sent his prophet Nathan, charged with a merciful purpose, though mercy was to be tempered with judgment. Certainly David might well say in days subsequent, "My salvation cometh from him" (Psalms 62:1, Psalms 62:7). Here we have an illustration of the great truth that God is the Author of our salvation. He seeks us. He comes to us in our low estate. This is true of mankind as a whole (John 3:16, John 3:17; 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10), of each one brought from the ways of sin (1 John 4:19), and of the backslider (Psalms 23:3). It is all of grace. Our Saviour's earthly life of pleading and seeking was a visible and audible illustration of the outgoing of the heart of the Father towards the fallen.
VI. THE DEFENSIVE ATTITUDE OF IMPENITENCE. The elaborate simplicity of Nathan's parable, in order to reach the conscience and heart of David, suggest to us the fact of a certain defensive attitude of David's mind, which had to be broken down. It is a special weapon in a "holy war," designed to attack a peculiar line of defence. It is well known how men, when they have done a wrong, are on the qui vive lest the wrong should be detected and brought home to them; and the resources of reason, ingenuity, and cunning are employed to ward off any approach to the inner life. Any attempt to touch the springs of penitence or remorse, or to arouse the fears which attend conviction, is neutralized by some counter move of thought or resolve. Hearers of the gospel knows if they would only testify honestly, how they too often fortify themselves against statements, arguments, and appeals. The failure of some ministers and teachers lies in their not knowing enough of human nature to direct their statements so as to meet the actual mental attitude of those who live in sin. A study of this subject is of extreme importance to all who seek to convince and to save men. There are various avenues to the conscience and heart. Some are so utterly closed and guarded that it is a waste of power to seek to penetrate through them. A fortress should be attacked in its weakest point, and only a very special survey can find out where it is. Nathan had reconnoitred the position, and assailed David along the best line.
VII. THE USE OF THE GOOD ELEMENT IN MAN. Nathan approached David in friendliness, recognizing him as a man generally mindful of his people, pitiful towards the poor and weak, and a lover of justice. He knew that there were still elements of good in the fallen saint. The great transgression had not obliterated all trace of the noble qualities of former days. Where these did not come in the way of the one selfish lust which had for the time gained dominion, they were not only cherished, but were at hand for expression when occasion required. In proportion as these could be strengthened and utilized, there would be hope of bringing them to bear, by a reflected light, on the one deed in which they had been suppressed. By a flank movement, and using a piece of history as the instrument, he hoped to turn the whole force of David's better qualities on the cherished secret sin. It was an instance of a wise setting of one part of a man's nature against another part, so that, by a sort. of moral dynamic, the worse should be forced out. In dealing with men we ought to avail ourselves of their good qualities and bring them to bear on the removal of the bad. When Christ dealt with publicans and sinners he did not make a direct attack on their sins. There was a something in them which he made the ground of appeal. In the vilest sinner there is some human love, or kindliness, or sense of right. Who is wise to win souls? What are the methods, according to varying temperaments, education, habits, and indulgences?
VIII. GOD'S JUDGMENT FORESTALLED BY CONSCIENCE. History is a mental reflector. In Nathan's story, which was not a parable to David when he heard it, David saw a sin and a judgment. He was true to his better qualities when he denounced the sin and pronounced sentence of death. The story became to David a parable the moment the prophet said to him, "Thou art the man!" The whole figures then become specific, and he was the one most conspicuous against whom the judgment was pronounced. The psychological and moral changes involved in this we cannot now deal with; the point is that, when David's aroused righteous indignation pronounced judgment on the evil man, the human conscience really forestalled the judgment of God on David's sin by declaring its deserts. God does not, in providence or on the day of judgment, declare anything really new to the impenitent sinner. Conscience some time or other has virtually given the sentence of condemnation. Those who worked themselves up to a state of self-delusion (Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23) knew a time when the conscience witnessed against the formalities which issued in its being seared (Ephesians 4:19; 1 Timothy 4:2). It is this assent of conscience which will render the sense of injustice impossible in the future judgments God may see fit to bring on those who "hold the truth in unrighteousness."
1. We should take warning from the instances in the Bible, and not presume on God's silence, or think that, because we are left to pursue our own courses, it will always be so.
2. There are always in existence agents or agencies by which in due time sin will be rebuked and exposed either in this life or in the life to come (Matthew 10:26; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
3. In dealing with the lapsed we should not act on the same rule in all cases, but deal with each according to his peculiar character.
4. It will repay parents, teachers, and evangelists to study human nature and the records of biography and sacred history to find out the best methods of reaching the conscience of the impenitent.
5. We should be ready, as was Nathan, to carry through the most painful duties when God calls us in his providence to them.
The convicted sinner.
The fitness of the parable is revealed in its sequel. Nathan, laying aside the character of a friendly visitor relating a story of wrong, now assumes the functions of the prophet of God, and turns the whole light and force of David's just indignation in upon himself, and, with an incisiveness most irresistible, brings an accusation of guilt without naming the actual deed done; states the aggravating circumstances arising out of the exceeding goodness of God in the past; declares the retribution about to come; and, on witnessing the true penitence of the sinner, announces the fact of forgiveness, but qualifies the announcement by foretelling an event of blended justice and mercy. The commission of sin is unhappily common enough, and also, we may thankfully admit, the conviction of sinners is an event of frequent occurrence. Few sins exhibit the peculiar aggravations of this one of David, and few convictions are more sudden and thorough than his; but as there are common qualities in all sins and true convictions of sin, we may regard this case of David's as setting forth features in human experience and Divine procedure universally true.
I. THE FACT OF SIN IS BROUGHT HOME TO THE CONSCIENCE. David all along knew of the existence of the sin, but had conducted himself as though it were not. In general terms he would doubtless speak of sin as an evil of deepest dye, and desire its banishment from mankind. Such sentiments were at the base of his deep interest in Nathan's story, and gave rise to the outburst of indignation. Sin was evil, the sinner ought to be punished, the doer of this deed must come under the ban of law. All this was quite correct. It was orthodoxy. The friendly visitor could not but admit its force. But it was just here, when David was dealing with generalities, and was eager to see general principles applied to a particular case, that Nathan brought him away from the general to the particular, from others to himself. "Thou art the man!" This was a straight charge. Nathan held a twofold position—he was a man in Israel, a subject and neighbour, a pious friend of David's; he was also a prophet, a representative of God, and in that capacity a superior to David. When, then, the friendly visitor said, with an unrecordable tone and gesture, "Thou art the man!" it was evident to David
(1) that his deed, long kept secret, was known to his most influential and incorruptible subject and friend; and
(2) that God was speaking straight to his conscience. Even so far as related to Nathan as a good man in Israel, the revelation of his acquaintance with the deed was startling and astounding; but the most potent element in the utterance was the direct charge of God. A sinner cannot look on the Holy One—he dare not. The conscience knows the awful voice of God, and, when that voice speaks straight to it, all thought of men and opinions vanishes, and the soul in its solemn individuality feels itself in the actual presence of the Eternal. In true conviction the man "comes to himself." The deed of evil is brought home. In a light not of earth, self is seen to be undone, because the sin, hitherto professedly not a reality, is now forced on self as its own offspring.
II. THE AGGRAVATION OF SIN IS SET FORTH. As soon as the charge is brought home, and before the paralyzed man can speak, the prophet, in the name of God, with swift words reminds him of his privileges and the manifold blessings and honours God had showered on him or was ready to grant if needed. He was a chosen servant of the Eternal, called to perform a part in the working out of a great future for the world; he had filled a position of honour and influence; he had been charged with high and holy duties; he had been blessed with plenty, and more than ordinary provision for the necessary cravings of nature (2 Samuel 11:7, 2 Samuel 11:8). Yet, "Thou art the man!" None can doubt that here was sin of the most aggravated character. No sin is excusable or free from Divine condemnation; otherwise it were not sin, but weakness or fault. But some sins are worthy of being punished with "many stripes" because of being committed under special circumstances, e.g. the possession of religious light and feeling; the occupation of a position of power, and the being recipient of manifold tokens of Divine care and love. But be the privileges many or few, when God brings home the guilt to the conscience, the sin is revealed in the light of past mercies. The swift review of David's advantages by Nathan finds its analogue in the swift floating before the mind of the circumstances of one's position which render the sin so utterly inexcusable. Men see in a few moments the reasons for their utter shame and self-abasement. This is a feature in all true conviction, and tends to the proper prostration of the soul before God. Saul of Tarsus knew this. It is an unspeakable mercy that God does set our sins in the light of his great goodness.
III. THE HEART IS PROBED TO REVEAL THE CAUSE OF SIN. "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord?" (2 Samuel 11:9). No sooner did the light flash on the conscience to set forth the aggravated character of the sin, than with unrelenting incisiveness the "wherefore" followed to probe those depths of the heart from whence the evil sprang. The question really contains an inquiry and a statement. Why? "Thou didst despise." The eye of the sinner is turned in upon himself, to search out and behold those vile feelings and false principles out of which issued the preference of self-will over the holy will of God, which had been so clearly expressed in the Law of the Lord and in the special intimations of Providence. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The time of conviction is a time of probing and searching. It is well for men under conviction to face the real facts, and get at the causes that lie out of sight. There must be some dreadfully subtle evils lurking within to induce a man to "despise" the august majesty of God's will by setting it aside. Was it not in reference to this probing, and probably in reference to this very deed, that the psalmist said, "Search me, O God" (Psalms 139:23; cf. Psalms 51:5, Psalms 51:6, Psalms 51:10)?
IV. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN IS BROUGHT TO MIND. The prophet ceases not; without giving the convicted man time to speak, he passes on to tell of the retribution that is sure to come by the will of God. The man of whom Nathan once spoke such good things (2 Samuel 7:12-17) is now informed of coming trouble in life; that this trouble will be the same in kind with that of his sin—murder and adultery; that it will not be secret, as was his, in performance, but open, to his disgrace; that it will arise out of his own house, consequent in a measure on the mischief wrought by his own sin on his domestic life. Had David not fallen, he would have been a different man, and consequently his private influence at home among his children would have been more holy and powerful; his relation to his kingdom would have been more satisfactory, and therefore moral and political circumstances would probably, arise of so important a character as to have prevented the creation of the conditions out of which the troubles now recorded in his later history arose. He was to reap according to his sowing. In the conviction of sin, the recognition of personal guilt is the chief element, as we have seen (division I.); but just as here the messenger revealed the aggravation of the guilt, probed the heart for causes, and referred to coming retribution, so in the simple processes of mind attending true conviction there is an anticipation of punishment—an assurance that evil is coming on the soul as a consequence of sin done. Sin is transgression of law; law involves authority to vindicate its righteousness; and, as soon as the conviction of sin is real, the logic of conscience points to coming judgment. Whether it be a temporal judgment, as in Old Testament references, or eternal, as in New Testament references, the experience is virtually the same.
V. THE CONFESSION OF GUILT IS ABSOLUTE. The guilty king sat in silence till the prophet had delivered his charge. The time was brief, but the power accompanying the words was Divine. Swifter than lightning the spell of hypocritical concealment was broken. The bonds in which the unholy passion had long held the soul were snapped asunder. The eye of conscience, turning in upon self, gave fresh life to the old suppressed loyalty to righteousness and God, and, as a consequence, the confession came, "I have sinned against the Lord." The question as to whether the historian here simply gives a summary of what passed, and intended to include also the fifty-first psalm, or whether literally this is all that was said and done, does not affect our purpose. There is here a recognition prompt, unqualified, of sin, not as a fault, a weakness, but of sin as known by conscience and stamped with the curse of God and man. It is also a recognition of sin as against God, not as a wrong done to Uriah, Bathsheba, or Israel, or his own family. The conscience is not indifferent to the injuries done to men, but when fully aroused, and face to face with sin as sin, it seems to see only God. Hence the expression in Psalms 51:4. Again, there is pain and shame, not because of what men may say or do, not because personal influence will now be weakened, but because it is sin. It is the sin which troubles and appals the truly convicted soul. Moreover, there is abstention from all claim to consideration; no excuse, no palliation. The convicted one can only say, "I have sinned." There is obviously an inward bowing of the spirit before the holy God; an absolute surrender as undone, condemned, helpless, lost. The very brevity of the confession bespeaks the depth of penitential woe. Contrast the wordy confession (1 Samuel 15:17-25; cf. Luke 15:18, Luke 15:19; Luke 18:13).
VI. FORGIVENESS IS FREE, FULL, BUT QUALIFIED. How long Nathan stood by the prostrate silent king, and whether this confession was the literal whole or not, we do not know; but he saw enough to enable him to say in the name of God, "The Lord bath put away thy sin"—a statement clear and unreserved, intended to go home to the smitten heart. The forgiveness of sin has to do with a personal relation of God to man. It is the restoration of the personal relation of favour and fellowship which had been inter rupted by sin. It is conditional on true repentance, the objective ground being the sacrificial death of Christ—under the Old Testament dispensation by anticipation (Romans 3:25), and under the New by retrospective reference. God is the sole Judge of the reality of repentance. He looketh at the heart. He knew that David's conviction had issued in the state' of mind known as true repentance, and foreseeing this before it occurred, he commissioned the prophet to "declare and pronounce" to David "being penitent," the remission of his sin. "Thy sins are forgiven thee!" Blessed words! How often brought to penitents since our Lord uttered them! But the pardon left untouched the natural consequences of sin referred to in Psalms 51:19, 20, because a personal relation does not alter the course of the forces which a man sets in motion on earth by his sin. Also, the child born must die, not to its injury, but gain, yet in judgment, so that the father should not find comfort in the fruit of his sin, and in mercy, lest there should be a living memorial of his guilt and shame to which men might point and further blaspheme the Name of the Lord. The same holds good of our forgiveness; it is free, full, but qualified by the continuance of some ill consequences which chastise us all our days. The sinner never entirely gets rid of all the earthly effects of his sin while on earth; they work in his flow of thought and feeling, and often in the checks on his influence, and possibly on the character and health of others. The full redemption comes with the glorified body and the new heavens and earth.
1. The first thing to be sought in men in order to their salvation is a due recognition of themselves as sinners in the sight of God. A general recognition of the evil of sin as distinct from consciousness of personal guilt may really be a cover for unpardoned sin.
2. The tendency and drift of God's messages to men living in sin is to bring them to a right mind in reference to their personal position in his sight, as a preliminary to their seeking forgiveness.
3. Much will be found to depend, in respect to religious views and action, on the apprehension men have of what Sin really is and their own guilt. A prepared state of mind is necessary to get good out of gospel statements.
4. The Christian religion especially lays stress on intense individuality in our relationships to God and to good and evil, and aims to bring us to a true self-knowledge.
5. It is an astonishing illustration of the tremendous power of our lower tendencies that they may even gain ascendency over men of most exalted privileges and whose very position would suggest superiority to them.
6. It behoves Christian people living in the enjoyment of many advantages to consider well their conduct in comparison with that of others less favoured.
7. The essence of sin abides in all times, though the form may vary; for as Adam preferred the suggestion of the evil one and so despised the word of the Lord, so did David; and on this method did Satan seek to win over Christ in the wilderness.
8. It is of extreme importance to remember that we may carry about with us deep laid and subtle tendencies which may assert their power in an unguarded hour; and hence we should often probe our heart, and search and see by the help of God whether there be any evil way within us.
9. It should operate as a deterrent to know that our sins will entail unavoidable social and physical troubles as long as life lasts.
10. We are authorized in speaking to the truly penitent of the free and full forgiveness which God has in store for them, and which through his abounding grace they may have at once.
11. In the fuller sense of the words it may be declared to the penitent that they shall not die (John 3:16).
12. The evil deeds of professors are a stumbling block to other men, and give occasion to them to blaspheme, and as this must be a most bitter element in the life of the restored backslider, so it is a warning to all Christians to take heed lest they fall, and so bring occasion for reproach on the Name which is above every name.
2 Samuel 12:15-31
The facts are:
1. The child born to David becoming very sick, he entreats God for its life by prayer and fasting.
2. He persists in refusing the consolations which the elders of his household offer him.
3. The child dying on the seventh day and David observing the whisperings of his servants, at once ascertains by direct inquiry the certainty of it.
4. His servants noticing that, on ascertaining the fact of the child's death, he lays aside the tokens of grief and resumes his wonted manner, are amazed at his conduct.
5. Whereupon he justifies his conduct, and intimates his expectation of some day going to the child.
6. Bathsheba is comforted by David, and bears to him another son, Solomon.
7. Joab, carrying on war against Rabbah of the Ammonites, and being about to bring the war to a conclusion, urges on David that he should come and enjoy the honour of taking the city.
8. David, complying with this request, takes possession of Babbah, and acquires the king's crown with much spoil.
9. He completes his conquest of the Ammonites by causing some of them to endure great sufferings.
Providence and natural affection.
The mercy of God to David was immediate, and it continued throughout his life; the judgment with which it was tempered was chiefly to come in days hence, but it began in the severe sickness of Bathsheba's child. It is not an unusual thing for a father to have to face the loss of an infant; in such cases natural affection will manifest itself in unmistakable forms. The extraordinary way in which David's feelings were excited by the apprehended death of this child is to be accounted for by reasons springing out of the peculiar circumstances of his position. These will appear as we proceed to consider the struggle between natural affection and the order of Providence.
I. THERE IS A CERTAIN REASONABLENESS IN THE PLEADING OF NATURAL AFFECTION AGAINST WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE ORDINATION OF GOD. The declaration of the prophet (2 Samuel 12:14), that the child should die, was accepted by David as an ordination of God, and the severe sickness which came on soon after Nathan's departure was interpreted by the king as the first stage in the execution of it. But David was not conscious of a rebellious spirit in the exhibition of such distress, and in such earnest entreaty that the intended cause of providential judgment might be averted. Human affection is as much a part of the order of Nature as is the law of gravity, and its spontaneous action is as natural as is the falling of a weight to the earth. Affection is nothing if it does not feel. There is no law requiring it to be annihilated, if that were possible, in presence of the inevitable. To the pious Hebrew all charges in nature were brought about by God; they were the outcome of his will, as surely as would be the death of this child according to the word of the prophet. Divine ordinations were silent and spoken. Yet the silent ordinations in daily providence were modified by prayer and to meet new conditions; and why, then, might not this spoken one be modified at the entreaty of an agonized parent? As a father, he could not help thinking of this infant as a severe sufferer in being deprived of the blessing of life through no fault of its own. If spared, the child might be a perpetual memorial of befitting sorrow and shame, and so would help to keep him lowly and penitent. Nor could he but feel for the poor woman cruelly sinned against, and whose grief would be consequent on her husband's sin. Moreover, precedents were not wanting in the case Of Abraham (Genesis 18:20-33) and of Moses (Exodus 32:30-35), in which men pleaded against what seemed to be inevitable. Subsequent to David's time, we know that men were permitted to pray against the apparently inevitable (Joel 2:12-14). Our Saviour gave utterance to human sensibility when he prayed that, if possible, the cup might pass from him. God has never expressed displeasure at the utterance of the sorrows which spring from natural affection, for feelings often struggle thus with the course of providence. Stoicism has no place in Christianity. The physical order is subordinate to the moral.
II. INTENSE FEELING IS REASONABLE WHERE OUR SINS HAVE TO DO WITH THE ANTICIPATED DISASTER. The intensity of David's anguish arose, not from the fact that he was a father, but from the knowledge he had that the providence that was bringing death to his child was connected with his own sin. That another should suffer for his sin, and this other a little child, was indeed a bitter reason for pleading with God. Although the course of providence, which connects the suffering of offspring with the sins of parents, is in the widest moral bearings of the fact, both just and merciful, yet it is not always seen to be so. Nevertheless, the great anguish of the evil doer on that account is not a protest so much as a lament over his own sin, and a prayer that, if possible, this organic issue of sin may, by some intervention, be prevented or modified. The educational value of that feeling on the life of a repentant sinner is of great worth in itself, and really leads to the formation of a character that shall, in the order of providence, do much to lessen the evils that otherwise would arise.
III. THE RESORT OF NATURAL AFFECTION WHEN STRUGGLING AGAINST THE ORDER OF PROVIDENCE IS TO GOD. A great change had recently come over David. The alienation of the backsliding heart was gone. As of old, so he now brings his sorrows and troubles to his God. The overwhelmed heart flies to the Rock that is high. He sits not with the scornful, mocking at the ways of Providence, and seeing evil where only there is mysterious judgment. The best and tenderest feelings of human nature, where sanctified by the spirit of piety, turn instinctively to God for help, and they find prayer as the form in Which their yearnings are expressed. Some men fancy that they only see and feel the apparent severities of the providential order, and that sullen vexation and displeasure ate the only appropriate conditions of mind in relation to it. Christians see and feel quite as much, but their bruised spirit finds refuge in him who ordains all in justice and mercy, and implores him, so far as may be wise and good, to let the penitent, entreating heart count for something among the elements which determine the ultimate issues.
IV. WHEN THE COURSE OF PROVIDENCE IS FOUND TO BE UNALTERABLE, NATURAL AFFECTION IS SUBORDINATED TO THE HIGHER PRINCIPLE OF ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF GOD. David was right in feeling as he did, in expressing his feeling in earnest prayer, in waiting as long as there was hope of reversal of the sentence. He acted as a father, as a husband, as a penitent. But when once the human desire and human view of wisdom and kindness were proved, by accomplished fact, not to be in accord with Divine wisdom, then, as became a trustful, restored child of God, David ceased to plead and to be in anguish. "Not my will, bat thine be done!" was the spirit of his action. It was his duty and privilege now to rest in the Lord, and believe that he will bring to pass the kindest and wisest issue. The death of the child is accepted as the best thing, and the evils once supposed to issue from the event are now believed to be qualified by a love which maketh all things work together for good. It is the sign of an enlightened mind when a man can thus rise from his griefs, and conform his mental and moral-and social life to the unalterable will of God. It takes time for a good man to recover from the natural, and, therefore, reasonable, outflow of his feelings; but when he does recover, he retains all the sanctity and softening influence of his anguish in combination with a calm spirit, concerned now in ministering to the consolation of others (2 Samuel 12:24), and cheered by the hope of a time when the breaches caused by sin will be healed (2 Samuel 12:23).
1. It becomes us to regard all death in our homes as connected with sin, and we should always give due weight to its moral causes in our consideration of the course of providence.
2. There may exist high moral reasons why intense earnestness in prayer is not always successful; and yet it may be true that God does answer fervent prayer.
3. Men not familiar with the secret life of a Christian are not in a position to understand his conduct on special occasions, just as David's servants could not understand his conduct in relation to the death of the child.
4. We should avail ourselves of such light concerning the future as may be vouchsafed, in order to obtain consolation amidst the bereavements of life (2 Samuel 12:23).
5. The doctrine of recognition in heaven is certainly in accord with sanctified instincts, and may be held as variously hinted at in Scripture (2 Samuel 12:23; cf. Matthew 17:3, Matthew 17:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).
Tokens of restoration.
In 2 Samuel 12:23, 2 Samuel 12:24 we have two statements which incidentally reveal the reality and completeness of the restoration of the fallen king to the favour and care of God.
(1) The name (Solomon) given by himself, probably at circumcision, to his son;
(2) the name (Jedidiah) which the prophet was instructed to give to the son, not as a substitute, but as a supplement. The one indicated David's sense of peace with God and in himself, the other God's abiding favour. Here, then, we may observe—
I. THAT RESTORATION TO GOD AFTER A FALL IS A REALITY. It is not a state rendered problematical by the observance of conditions extending over a long period. David was at peace with God, and God did regard him with unqualified favour. Old things had passed away—the displeasure of God, the fear and apprehension of the man; the relation of complacent delight and tender care on the one side, and filial love and trust on the other, was now complete. It is important to keep this truth clear. It is bound up with the great doctrine of justification. God once accepting and forgiving a sinner becomes and remains to him a gracious God, forgetting all the past and cherishing only love and tender interest. It is a misreading of the gospel, and implies an ignorance of the most blessed Christian experience to imagine that a really forgiven one is kept in suspense and dread, or that God is holding back the fulness of his favour till we have repented a little more, or more fully perfected our general life. We are accepted in Christ. When he "restoreth" our "soul" (Psalms 23:3), it is actual, not possible, germinal restoration.
II. THAT THE TOKENS OF RESTORATION VARY ACCORDING TO CIRCUMSTANCES, The inward token in David's case was the assured peace of a conscience purged by the grace of God (Psalms 51:7-10, Psalms 51:12), which came in answer to his penitential cry. The outward token was the life of another child, the peaceful order of the kingdom, and especially this welcome message of the prophet (2 Samuel 12:25). The reality of restoration was known as soon as the almighty word of pardon was spoken, the confirmatory signs of it—to strengthen the heart and ward off subtle temptations of the evil one-came in process of time. No doubt fallen Peter found pardon during the dark night of his penitence; but the outward token, which was also an instruction to the other disciples not to distrust and shun him, came in the gracious message of the angel of the Lord, "Tell his disciples, and Peter" (Mark 16:7), and again in the exhortation and encouragement given in the presence of those who might otherwise have distrusted him, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). The ordinary sign of full restoration is in the "witness of the Spirit" (Romans 8:14-16), and the outward care and blessing vouchsafed to our work of faith and labour of love (John 15:7, John 15:8). God will be sure to give his people some "token for good" (Psalms 86:17).
III. THAT SIGNS OF GOD'S FAVOUR SHOULD BE GIVEN IS AN ILLUSTRATION OF HIS WONDERFUL CONSIDERATION FOR HIS PEOPLE. There is something truly wonderful in this grace shown to David. Not only is he forgiven and treated in all things spiritual as though he had not sinned; not only permitted to reign over Israel, and enter into close, though it may be very subdued, fellowship with God; but God goes, as it were, out of the ordinary course of providence, and sends a messenger to give him, in this other name for his child, a special sign of full restoration. Thus the occasional doubts suggested by the evil one, the possible distrust of the prophet in Israel and those under him, and the sneers of the profane, are all anticipated by the love that slumbers not and that cares most tenderly and minutely for all the need of the reconciled ones. "How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God!" (Psalms 36:7); "He is rich in mercy, and plenteous in redemption."
Rabbah's lesson to mankind. The fall of David occurred while the war was going on under Joab (2 Samuel 11:1, 2 Samuel 11:7, 2 Samuel 11:25). It is probable that, as the historian began to tell the story of the fall, he thought well to finish it, with the account of the restoration, before he took up again the account of the campaign being carried on against the Ammonites. We shall assume, therefore, that the fall of Rabbah referred to in 2 Samuel 12:26-31 took place in the interval between the sin of David and the birth of Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24). The narrative is inserted here doubtless with the primary design of completing the history of David's wars, and thus keeping up the continuity of his exploits. But as all Scripture is written for our learning, we may notice a few incidental lessons suggested by the capture of the city of Rabbah.
I. A GOOD MAN'S FALL INTO SIN UNFITS HIM FOR MANY OF THE DUTIES OF HIS DAILY LIFE. Joab was not only left to carry on the war alone, but he even felt it to be right (2 Samuel 12:28) to stir up the king that he might come and take part, and so share in the honour about to be won. The secret of this most probably lay in the fact that, during and after David's entanglement with Bathsheba and crime against Uriah, he was not in a mind to enter upon the perils of war. A woman's spell was on him; his conscience was secretly troubled; he who feared not the lion or the giant now fears lest, if he go to the war, he should be slain. Therefore he tarries in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11:1-25). His sins rendered him incompetent to do what otherwise he would have done, and it required even an urgent request from his general, coupled with an assurance that the city was virtually captured already (2 Samuel 12:27-29), to induce him to move. There are sins which sometimes drive men to desperate deeds and perilous places, and give apparently more zest to life; but in the case of good men, a known habit of sin impairs their energy in life; it creates an abiding fear; it paralyzes certain incumbent moral actions; it keeps from entering on work which otherwise would be cheerfully undertaken; it makes him less a man.
II. THOSE WHO DO DELIBERATE DEEDS OF WRONG TO OTHERS COURT AN INFLICTION ON THEMSELVES OF SIMILAR EVILS. This account of the infliction of tortures on the Ammonites (2 Samuel 12:31) is the first instance in Hebrew history of such a deed, and it seems strange that David should have ordered it. But without justifying the retaliation, the point here to be noted is that the Ammonites laid themselves open to such treatment by their own actions. They had proposed barbarous conditions of servitude to men of Israel in the time of trouble (1 Samuel 11:1, 1 Samuel 11:2) and they had cruelly insulted David's ambassadors (2 Samuel 10:1-6). It is also probable that in this protracted war they may have carried out these barbarous tendencies towards prisoners taken in war. They thus, by deeds of cruelty, sought for deeds of cruelty to themselves in their day of defeat. There is doubtless a principle of retaliation in kind recognizable in the law of nature. As a man soweth so he reapeth. What they do to others they so far justify others to do to them, that they have set an example and are incapable of protest. In some guarded form this principle enters into human law, national and international. In the Mosaic code it received specific illustration (Exodus 21:22-25). Whether David was right or wrong, the Ammonites courted torture by evil deeds, as men now court evil from their imperfect fellow men by evil deeds to them. The harsh employer courts distrust and injury from the employes. Tyrannical rulers court plots, conspiracies, and possibly assassinations, from oppressed subjects.
III. THERE ARE PROPHETIC SYMBOLS OF HONOUR FALLING ON THE RIGHT HEAD. It was, perhaps, on the part of Joab and the army, a mere feat of military triumph to place the heavy crown of the Ammonite god (for so we take it to be) on the head of David; but it was suggestive at the time to all spectators of the honours that ought to come, and in course of years were coming, on One who was the Anointed of the Lord. And to us it seems to suggest the ultimate passing of all highest honours, long usurped, to him whose right it is to reign, and who is not only said to be worthy of all honours (Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13), but is so gradually acquiring them that he at last shall be crowned with many crowns (Hebrews 2:9; Revelation 4:10; Revelation 19:12). In the triumph of every good man over evil, we see a symbolic intimation of the final triumph of the Son of man over all enemies (1 Corinthians 15:25). In the distinction awarded to any of Christ's servants, who are really his representatives in the world, because of the destruction of some monstrous evil, we have a symbolic representation of the glory and honour that will come on the head of the great Deliverer, when to him every knee shall bow, and the last enemy shall have been destroyed. Faith can see coming victories in passing events.
IV. THE EDUCATION OF THE CONSCIENCE IN HUMAN RELATIONS IS VERY SLOW. The principle of retaliation is in all legal punishments (division I.), but the application of the principle is a matter of judgment, and the judgment depends on the culture of the conscience. There are coordinate powers in human nature. The feeling of benevolence has a place as truly as a sense of justice. It depends on the degree in which conscience is cultivated as to whether the rigid carrying out of what justice may seem to demand, i.e. the spirit of retaliation in the name of love, not of self, should be tempered by kindly consideration, and to what extent. Probably David at this time was in the degenerate mood of mind brought on by his fall, and therefore restive and harsh, as men are when the heart is corroded by guilt. But at all events, in those times there was not that fine sense of delicacy in regard to human suffering as now. The same mental and moral condition prevailed during the ages of persecution for religion. Romanists and Protestants did once what now their descendants would be shocked at. It is a defective education of conscience which enables men to live in careless ease and luxury while thousands are lacking food. Christ only was perfect Man. If all were like him, every consideration would be paid to human feeling in the administration of justice, and in the private relations of life.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
2 Samuel 12:1
A faithful reprover of sin.
"And Jehovah sent Nathan to David." The sin Of David could not be hid. It was known to his servants (2 Samuel 11:4) and to Joab; it must have been surmised by many from his hasty marriage; and now it was fully manifest (2 Samuel 11:27). About a year had elapsed. "What a year for David to have spent! What a joyless, sunless, godless year! Were God's words still sweet to his taste? Were they still the rejoicing of his heart? or had he come to hate the threatening of the Law?" (J. Wright). At length Nathan (2 Samuel 7:3) came—an example of a faithful reprover (Psalms 141:5; Proverbs 27:6; 1 Samuel 1:13; 1 Samuel 2:22). Consider—
I. HIS DIVINE COMMISSION. He came, not because he was sent for by David, nor because he was prompted by natural reason or impulse (2 Samuel 7:3), but in obedience to the word of the Lord (2 Samuel 12:7), and in fulfilment of his prophetic calling. "It was the true mission of the prophets, as champions of the oppressed in the courts of kings; it was the true prophetic spirit that spoke through Nathan's mouth" (Stanley).
1. Reproof should be administered only according to the will of God. It is not forevery one to assume the office of reprover (Psalms 50:16); nor to administer reproof to every one who may deserve it, especially when holding a position of authority. In this matter men are apt to run before they are sent. The duty is a relative one, and demands careful consideration before it is undertaken.
2. The will of God concerning the administration of reproof is indicated in various ways; such as the authority given to parents, magistrates, pastors, and teachers—"reprove, rebuke," etc. (2 Timothy 4:2; 5:1); the teachings of the Divine Word; the guidance of the Divine Spirit.
3. When the will of God is clearly made known, it should be humbly, readily, and diligently obeyed; both when it requires his servants to testify his favour (2 Samuel 7:4, 2 Samuel 7:25) and his displeasure (2 Samuel 11:27).
II. HIS CONSUMMATE WISDOM. In nothing are wisdom and prudence more needed than in reproof. If given unwisely it is likely to excite opposition, produce equivocation, repel and harden. "A word fitly spoken," etc. (Proverbs 25:11, Proverbs 25:12). It should be given:
1. At a proper time—when the proof of wrong doing admits of no denial, and the mind of the wrong doer is duly prepared. It is not probable that Nathan came immediately after he first heard of David's transgression. "His task was not to gain a confession, but only to facilitate it. He was appointed by God to await the time of the internal crisis of David" (Hengstenberg).
2. When the offender is alone (Matthew 18:15), and is likely to pay greater heed to it and to be less influenced by what others think. Sometimes, however, sinners must be "rebuked before all, that others also may fear" (1 Timothy 5:20).
3. In a maimer adapted to produce the most salutary effect; with harmless wisdom (Matthew 10:16) and holy and beneficent "guile" (2 Corinthians 12:16) displayed in;
(1) A respectful, courteous, and conciliatory bearing. To begin with rude reproaches is to ensure failure.
(2) An ingenious invention of a "form of speech" (2 Samuel 14:20) and illustration suitable to the case.
(3) A generous recognition of the better qualities in men. "David's goodness is not denied because of his sin, nor is David's sin denied because of his goodness."
(4) A clear statement of the truth, avoiding exaggeration and everything that may hinder its illuminating force.
(5) A strong appeal to the conscience, so as to quicken its action as a witness and judge.
(6) A dexterous application of admitted principles and expressed judgments and emotions.
(7) An effectual removal of the mists of self-deception, so as to enable the evil doer to see his actual character and conduct, and constrain him to reprove and condemn himself. The wisdom of the prophet in fulfilling his mission to the king was "inimitably admirable." "Observing that this direct road (the recommendation of self-knowledge) which led to it (the reformation of mankind) was guarded on all sides by self-love, and consequently very difficult to open access, public instructors soon found out that a different and more artful course was requisite. As they had not strength to remove this flattering passion which stood in their way and blocked up the passages to the heart, they endeavoured by stratagem to get beyond it, and, by a skilful address, if possible to deceive it. This gave rise to the only manner of conveying their instructions in parables, fables, and such sort of indirect applications; which, though they could not conquer this principle of self-love, yet often laid it asleep, or at least overreached it for a few moments, till a just judgment could be procured. The Prophet Nathan seems to have been a great master in this art of address" (Laurence Sterne).
III. HIS HOLY COURAGE. His mission was as perilous as it was painful; and might, if it failed, have cost him his life. But he feared not "the wrath of the king" (Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12; Hebrews 11:27). Such moral courage as he exhibited:
1. Is inspired by faith in God, whose face it beholds, and on whose might it relies.
2. Consists in the fearless fulfilment of duty, whatever consequences it may involve—the loss of friendship or other earthly good; the endurance of bonds, suffering, and death. "None of these things move me," etc. (Acts 20:24).
3. Appears in simple, bold, direct, and unreserved utterance of God's Word (Ezekiel 33:7). At the proper moment the prophet changed his style of address; gave it a particular application, "the very life of doctrine;" and, in the name of the supreme King and Judge, arraigned the offender, declared his guilt, and pronounced his sentence. "His example is especially to be noted by all whose office is to 'rebuke with all authority'" ('Speaker's Commentary').
IV. HIS BENEVOLEST AIM. He came not only to testify against sin, to maintain the authority of the Law, etc.; but also (in connection therewith) to benefit the sinner, by:
1. Leading him to repentance.
2. Assuring him of forgiveness.
3. Restoring him to righteousness, peace, and joy (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 51:12).
"Reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 17:10). Sympathy with the holy love of God toward sinners is an essential qualification of a faithful reprover of sin; and as it is God's mercy that employs agents and means for their restoration, so it is his grace alone that makes them effectual (John 16:8).
"And so wide arms
Hath goodness infinite, that it receives
All who turn to it."
2 Samuel 12:1-4
(THE KING'S PALACE.)
The parable of the rich oppressor; or, the poor man's lamb.
1. This is the first and almost the only parable contained in the Old Testament. There is one instance of a fable of earlier date (Judges 9:8-15). The former belongs to a higher order of teaching than the latter (Smith's 'Dict. of the Bible,' art. "Fable;" Trench, 'Notes on the Parables'); and it was employed most perfectly by the great Teacher. Compare his parables of the unmerciful servant, the rich fool, the rich man and Lazarus.
2. It was in part an acted parable (like 2 Samuel 14:5-7; 1 Kings 20:35-43); and was at first regarded by the king as the simple, literal statement of a case in which one of his subjects, a poor man, had suffered wrong at the hands of another, a rich man; and with reference to which the prophet appeared as an advocate on behalf of the former against the latter, seeking justice and judgment. "Nathan, it is likely, used to come to him on such errands, which made this the less suspected. It becomes those who have interest in princes and free access to them to intercede for those that are wronged, that they may have right done them" (Matthew Henry).
3. Its moral and spiritual aim (which is always the chief thing to be considered in the interpretation of a parable) was to set forth the guilt of a rich oppressor, and thereby to awaken the general sense of outraged justice in the king concerning his own conduct.
4. "It is one of those little gems of Divinity that are scattered so plentifully through the sacred Scriptures, that sparkle with a lustre, pure and brilliant as the light of heaven, and attest the sacred origin of the wonderful book that contains them" (Blaikie). Consider the guilt of this rich man in the light of—
I. HIS POSITION compared with that of the poor man, and his relation to him. "There were two men in one city," etc. (2 Samuel 12:1-3).
1. He had much possessions, "exceeding many flocks and herds." Providence had been very kind to him. He had abundance for personal gratification and princely hospitality and liberality. But the poor man had nothing "save one little ewe lamb," which he valued all the more on that account, and reared amidst his family with the utmost care and tenderness.
2. He had great power, which he might use for good or evil; in fulfilment of the Law or in frustration of it; to protect and benefit "the poor and needy" or to oppress and rob them.
3. He dwelt in the same city with the poor man, and was well acquainted with his circumstances. He knew the story of the little lamb. The picture is exquisitely drawn by one who was familiar with many such scenes in humble life, and adapted to excite sympathy and pity. The obligations of the rich man toward his "neighbour" are manifest; and they shadow forth the greater obligations of others in a still higher position (2 Samuel 12:7, 2 Samuel 12:8). Although the king had well nigh absolute power over the property and lives of his subjects, it belonged to the true idea of his office to "reign, command, and punish, as though it were not he that reigned, commanded, and punished, but the One to whom he never ceases to be responsible, and as though he might himself be in the position of any other member of the community and the latter in his own" (Ewald, 'Antiquities').
II. HIS DISPOSITION. "And there came a traveller," etc. (2 Samuel 12:4). "The Jewish doctors say, it represents that which they call 'the evil disposition,' or desire that is in us, which must be diligently watched and observed when we feel its motions. 'In the beginning it is but a traveller, but in time it becomes a guest, and in conclusion is the master of the house'" (Patrick). This is pressing the imagery of the parable too far. Nevertheless, "the sin is traced to its root, viz. insatiable covetousness; this hidden background of all sins" (Keil); sinful, selfish, inordinate desire (2 Samuel 11:1-5). It is a "root of bitterness." And in the case supposed what evils it involved!
1. Discontentment with a man's own possessions, notwithstanding their abundance "Nature is content with little, grace with less, sin with nothing."
2. Ingratitude toward the Giver of them.
3. Envy of another man on account of some imaginary advantage he possesses, notwithstanding its comparative insignificance—"One little ewe lamb."
6. Pride in the possession of power; and its irresponsible exercise. There was no sense of personal accountability to God.
7. Vanity or love of display, though at the expense of another an undue regard for outward appearance.
8. Deceitfulness. Did the guest who enjoyed the rich man's hospitality dream at whose cost it was provided?
9. Pitilessness and obduracy. "Because he had no pity" (2 Samuel 12:6).
10. Idolatry (Colossians 3:5) It is only when sin is viewed in the light of the spirituality Of the commandment, that its "exceeding sinfulness'' becomes manifest (Romans 7:13). "Covetousness is a subtle sin, a dangerous sin, a mother sin, a radical vice, a breach of all the ten commandments" (T. Watson).
III. His CONDUCT. "And he spared to take of his own flock," etc. It was:
3. Cruel; "a wanton aggravation of the evils of poverty, humbling the poor man with a sense of injustice and inability to protect himself, deriving a momentary gratification from seeing his neighbour laid low at his feet, as if no lamb was so savoury as that which had been torn from the poor man's bosom amidst the tears of his children."
4. Lawless and reckless; "a despising of the commandment of the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:9). The poor man's complaint is unheard. But is you condemn yourself. This is a parable; and I would have you consider whether under another name it is not spoken concerning you. Reserve your rebuke, lest it come back upon yourself" (R. Halley).—D.
2 Samuel 12:5, 2 Samuel 12:6
The blinding influence of sin.
"David's anger was greatly kindled against the man;" he declared with a solemn oath (2 Samuel 4:9-11) that he deserved to die (literally, "was a son of death," 1 Samuel 26:16; 1 Kings 2:26), and ordered restitution according to the Law (Exodus 22:1). His severity displayed the fiery temper of the man, and the arbitrary power of the monarch, rather than the calm deliberation of the judge; and (like the treatment of the Ammonites, 2 Samuel 12:31) indicated a mind ill at ease (2 Samuel 11:22-27; Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4); for he was not totally blind to his sin, nor "past feeling" (Ephesians 4:19); though he had no thought of the application of the case to himself. We have here an illustration of—
I. AN ASTONISHING FACT; viz. the self-ignorance, self-deception, internal hypocrisy, of men. Nothing is more important than self-knowledge. It is often enjoined. "From heaven came the precept, 'Know thyself.'" And it might naturally appear to be easily attained, seeing that it lies so near home. Yet how certain, how common, and how surprising its absence! "There is not anything relating to men's characters mere surprising and unaccountable than this partiality to themselves which is observable in many; as there is nothing of more melancholy reflection respecting morality and religion". They are blind (at least partially) and deceived as to their sin; notwithstanding:
1. Their perception of the evil of sin in general or in the abstract. Ingratitude, selfishness, oppression, pitilessness; who is not ready to denounce these vices?
2. Their sinfulness in the sight of other people. Although David had sought to conceal his sin from others, perhaps still flattered himself that it was known only to a few, and. justified or palliated its guilt to himself, many others besides Nathan saw and abhorred it (Psalms 36:2).
"O wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion."
3. Their condemnation of sin in others, of the very same kind as that which they tolerate in themselves. The resemblance between the rich oppressor and David was so close that it is astonishing it was not detected.
4. Their abhorrence at another time and under other circumstances of its guilt when thought of in relation to themselves (1 Samuel 24:5). "What! is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?" (2 Kings 8:13). Yet the dog did it (Matthew Henry). Next to these instances of self-deceit of our true disposition and character, which appear in not seeing that in ourselves which shocks us in another man, there is another species still more dangerous and delusive, and which the more guarded perpetually fall into, from the judgments they make of different vices according to their age and complexion, and the various ebbs and flows of their passions and desires" (L. Sterne, 'Self-Knowledge').
5. Their culpability beyond that of those whom they condemn. It was not a little lamb of which he had robbed the poor man, but his dearly loved wife, his one earthly treasure. It was not a lamb that he had killed, but a man, his neighbour and faithful defender. His superior position and possessions aggravated his guilt. Was he not himself "a son of death"? "What a sad proof of the blinding influence of self-love, that men are ready to form so different an estimate of their conduct when it is not seen to be their own! How ignorant are we of ourselves, and how true it is that even when our own hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things!" (Blaikie). For this fact let us seek—
II. AS ADEQUATE CAUSE. It is seldom due to insufficiency of light or means of knowing sin. Is it, then, due to men's inconsideration of themselves? or to the perversion of their moral judgment? Doubtless to both; but still more to sin itself, which is essentially setfishness—a false and inordinate love of self. "For consider: nothing is more manifest than that affection and passion of all kinds influence the judgment" (Butler); prejudicing its decisions in their own favour. Even when there is more than a suspicion that all is not well, it stifles further inquiry and prevents full conviction by:
1. Producing a general persuasion in men that their moral condition is better than it really is.
2. Directing exclusive attention to those dispositions and actions of which conscience can approve.
3. Inducing unwillingness to consider the opposite, and to know the worst of themselves. The glimpse of the truth which they perceive is painful, and (as in the case of diseased vision) it causes them to shut their eyes against perceiving the whole truth (John 3:20).
4. Inventing specious arguments in justification of the course to which they are disposed.
5. Dwelling upon supposed compensations for injury done or guilt incurred. Self-love is wondrously fertile in devising such excuses and palliatives. David may have thought that the standard by which others were judged was not applicable to him. "Perhaps, as power is intoxicating, he conceived of himself as not subjected to the ordinary rules of society. In sending an order to his general to put Uriah 'in the hottest of the battle,' he probably found a palliative for his conscience; for what was it but to give to a brave soldier a post of honour? No doubt the victim considered himself honoured by the appointment, while it gave occasion to the king to solace himself with the thought that it was an enemy and not he who put an end to the life of his subject" (W. White). His marrying Bathsheba, also, he may have supposed, made amends for the wrong he had done to her. But the means which he adopted to conceal his sin from others, and deemed a palliative of his guilt, were a special aggravation of it (2 Samuel 12:9, 2 Samuel 12:10).
1. Nothing is more ruinous than self-deception (Hebrews 3:13; James 1:12; 1 John 1:8).
2. To avoid it there must be honest self-examination (Psalms 4:4; 2 Corinthians 13:5).
3. We should especially guard against the blinding influence of undue self-love (Psalms 19:12; Jeremiah 17:9).
4. There should also be earnest prayer to him who searcheth the hearts, for true self-knowledge (Psalms 139:23; Job 13:23; Job 34:32).—D.
2 Samuel 12:7-10
Thou art the man!
The proper purpose of reproof is conviction of sin. This purpose was accomplished by the words of the prophet. They were like a "two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12), the point of which was, "Thou art the man!" "If ever a word from human lips fell with crushing weight and with the illuminating power of a gleam of lightning, it was this" (Krummacher). "His indignation against the rich man of the parable showed that the moral sense was not wholly extinguished. The instant recollection of guilt breaks up the illusion of months" (Stanley). Observe that:
1. One of the most effectual means of convincing a man of sin is by setting it before him as existing in another person. "Thou art the man!" the story of whose crime has stirred thine indignation and called forth the sentence of death from thy lips. Self-interest, passion, and prejudice, that darken a man's view of his own sin, have comparatively little influence upon him when looking at the sin of another. Here the veil is removed; he sees clearly and judges impartially. For this reason (among others) our Lord "spake many things unto them in parables."
2. The force of truth depends upon the particular application which is made of it. "Thou art the man who hast done this!" (LXX.); against thyself thine indignation should be directed; upon thyself the sentence has been pronounced. It is as if hitherto only the back of the offender was seen, when, suddenly turning round, his face appeared, and David beheld himself! "Men often correctly understand a message of God without observing its personal application to them." Hence the preacher, like the prophet of old (1 Kings 14:7; 1Ki 18:18; 1 Kings 21:19; 2 Kings 5:26; Daniel 5:22; Matthew 14:4), must directly, wisely, and faithfully apply the truth to his hearers. "'Thou art the man!' is or ought to be the conclusion, expressed or unexpressed, of every practical sermon." What is a sword without a point? "Here also is a lesson to hearers. David listened to a sermon from Nathan, which exactly suited his own case, and yet he did not apply it to himself. He turned the edge of it from himself to another. The benefit of sermons depends more upon the hearer than the preacher. The best sermon is that who hear most, but who apply most what they hear to their own hearts."
3. Every man is responsible to God for the sin which he has committed. "Thou art inexcusable, O man" (Romans 2:1), however thou mayest have persuaded thyself to the contrary. Is the man whom thou judgest accountable for his conduct; and art not thou for thine? Is he accountable to thee? How much more art thou to God? No position, however exalted, can release from responsibility to him or exempt from obedience to his commandment; no constitutional tendency, no temptation, expediency, or necessity be an adequate reason for despising it (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 3:6).
"And self to take or leave is free,
Feeling its own sufficiency:
In spite of science, spite of fate,
The judge within thee, soon or late,
Will blame but thee, O man!
"Say not. 'I would, but could not. He
Should bear the blame who fashioned me.
Call a mere change of motive choice?'
'Scorning such pleas, the inner voice
Cries, 'Thine the deed, O man!'"
4. A messenger of Heaven is always in readiness to single out the sinner, bring his sin to remembrance, and call him to account. "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel," etc. (2 Samuel 12:7), "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight?" etc. (2 Samuel 12:9). Every wrong done to man, yea, every sin, is a factual contempt of his commandment (Psalms 51:4). Whilst the supreme King and Judge observes it, and is long suffering towards the doer of it, he provides many witnesses, holds them in reserve, and sends them with his word at the proper moment to declare all its enormity—its ingratitude (2 Samuel 12:8), presumption (2 Samuel 12:9), disloyalty before him, its "intense and brutal selfishness," sensuality, cruelty, and craft. Conscience also awakes to confirm their testimony, with "a thousand several tongues, and every tongue" crying, "Thou art the man!"
5. The less expected the charge preferred against the sinner, the more overwhelming his conviction of guilt. "The further David was from thinking of a reference to himself, the greater the force with which the word must have struck him" (Erdmann). There could be no defence, no extenuation, no answer (Acts 24:25; Matthew 22:12).
6. The condemnation which one man pronounces on another sometimes recoils upon himself with increased severity. "Out of thine own mouth," etc. (Luke 19:22). "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house," etc. "For a single moment the features of the king are charged with the expression of astonishment. He gazes eagerly at the prophet like one at a loss to divine his meaning. But, almost instantly, as if an inward light had burst upon his soul, the expression changes to one of agony and horror. The deeds of the last twelve months glare in all their infamous baseness upon him, and outraged justice, with a hundred guttering swords, seems all impatient to devour him" (Blaikie). "O wicked man, thou shalt surely die!" (Ezekiel 33:8).
7. The conviction of sin is the first step in the way of restoration to righteousness. The sense of sin is the beginning of salvation. "He that humbleth himself," etc. (Luke 14:11; 1 John 1:9). "If we would judge ourselves," etc. (1 Corinthians 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:32). Every man must be revealed to himself in the light of God's righteous judgment here or hereafter (Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14).—D.
2 Samuel 12:10-12
The penalties of sin.
"Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house," etc.
1. Sin is connected with suffering. The connection is real, intimate, inevitable. Nothing is more clearly manifest or more generally admitted; yet nothing is more practically disregarded. Men commit sin under the delusion that they can do so with impunity. But "they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8; Galatians 6:7).
2. Sin serves to account for suffering; explains and justifies its existence under the righteous and beneficent government of God. The subsequent sufferings of David would have been inexplicable if his great transgression had not been recorded. "The remainder of David's life was as disastrous as the beginning had been prosperous" (Hale). Personal suffering, however, often appears disproportionate to personal transgression (1 Samuel 4:3); and its reason in such cases must be sought in hereditary or other relationships, and in the purposes to which it is subservient. The penalties of sin (such as David suffered) take place—
I. BY DIVINE INFLICTION. "Behold, I will raise up evil against thee," etc. (2 Samuel 12:11; 2 Samuel 9:1-27). They are:
1. Necessitated by the justice of God. "Justice is that causality in God which connects suffering with actual sin" (Schleiermacher). He who "despises the commandment of the Lord" ought to be punished.
2. Declared by the Word of God, both in the Law and the prophets. The word of Nathan was a sentence, as well as a prediction of judgment.
3. Effectuated by the power of God, which operates, not only by extraordinary agencies, but also, and most commonly, in the ordinary course of things, and by way of natural consequence; directs and controls the actions of men to the accomplishment of special results; and often makes use of the sins of one man to punish those of another. Natural law is the regular method of Divine activity. In accordance therewith the violation of moral law is followed by internal misery and external calamity, which are closely associated (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:4). "Vengeance is mine," etc.
II. WITH SIGNIFICANT SEVERITY; which appears in:
1. The peculiarity of their form. Not only do they follow sin by way of natural consequence, but also the manner of their infliction corresponds with that of its commission; as that which is reaped resembles that which is sown (1 Samuel 4:1-11). "The seeds of our own punishment are sown at the same time we commit sin" (Hesiod). Having sinned with the sword, his house would be ravaged with the sword; and having sinned by the indulgence of impure passion, he would be troubled in like manner. "Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah! Amnon thought, 'Has my father indulged in it?—Absalom relied on the resentment of the people on account of the double crime. Adonijah fell because he wished to make the best of the precedence of his birth in opposition to him who had been begotten with Bathsheba" (Thenius).
"The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us."
There is a tendency in the sin of one to perpetuate itself in others over whom his influence extends, and so to recoil upon himself.
2. The publicity of their exhibition. "For thou didst it secretly," etc. (2 Samuel 12:12). Falsehood and injustice seek darkness; truth and justice seek light. The evil, which is concealed for the sake of public honour, is followed by public shame.
3. The extent and perpetuity of their infliction. "The sword shall never depart from thine house." "The fortunes of David turned upon this one sin, which, according to Scripture, itself eclipsed every other" (Blunt). "One sin led to another; the bitter spring of sin grew in time to a river of destruction that flowed over the whole land, and even endangered his throne and life" (Baumgarten). Who can tell the far reaching effects of one transgression (Ecclesiastes 9:18)?
III. FOR MANIFOLD PURPOSES.
1. To manifest the justice of God and uphold the authority of his Law.
2. To exhibit the evil of sin, and deter the sinner himself and others from its commission.
3. To humble, prove, chastise, instruct, purify, and confirm the sufferer. "If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him," etc. (2 Samuel 7:14; Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 8:5; Job 5:17; Psalms 94:12; Hebrews 12:6). This last effect is wrought only on those who turn to God in penitence and trust. The forgiveness of sin and restoration to righteousness do not counteract, except in a limited degree, the natural consequences of past transgression; but they transform punishment into chastisement, and alleviate the pressure of suffering and sorrow by Divine fellowship, and the inward peace, strength, and hope which it imparts. "In general the forgiveness of sin has only this result—punishment is changed into fatherly chastisement, the rod into the correction of love. Outwardly the consequences of sin remain the same; their internal character is changed. If it were otherwise, the forgiveness of sins might too readily be attributed to caprice" (Hengstenberg). "The personal forgiveness indulged to the King of Israel, in consideration of his penitence, did not break the connection between causes and their effects. This connection is stamped on the unchanging laws of God in nature; and it becomes every man, instead of arraigning the appointment, to bring support to his domestic happiness by the instrumentality of a good example" (W. White). His family, his kingdom, and even his own character, were permanently affected by his sin. "Broken in spirit by the consciousness of how deeply he had sinned against God and against men; humbled in the eyes of his subjects, and his influence with them weakened by the knowledge of his crimes; and even his authority in his own household, and his claim to the reverence of his sons, relaxed by the loss of character; David appears henceforth a much altered man. He is as one who goes down to the grave mourning. His active history is past—henceforth he is passive merely. All that was high and firm and noble in his character goes out of view, and all that is weak and low and wayward comes out in strong relief. The balance of his character is broken. Alas for him! The bird which once rose to heights unattained before by mortal wing, filling the air with its joyful songs, now lies with maimed wing upon the ground, pouring forth its doleful cries to God" (Kitto, 'Daily Bible Illust.').—D.
2 Samuel 12:13
The acknowledgment of sin.
"And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord."
1. The words of the prophet were a decisive test of the character of David. Had he treated the messenger and his message as others have done (1 Samuel 15:12-21; 1 Kings 13:4; 1Ki 21:20; 1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 36:23; Luke 3:10; Acts 24:25), his partial blindness to his sin would have become total, and he would have fallen to a still lower depth, perhaps never to rise again. But his genuine piety, as well as the exceeding grace of God (2 Samuel 7:15), ensured a better issue; and the confidence in his recovery, which Nathan probably felt in coming to him, was fully justified.
2. Hardly was the sentence pronounced, "Thou art the man!" before the long repressed confession broke from his lips (1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Samuel 15:24-31), "I am the man! Who says this of me? Yet—God knows all—yes, I am the man. I have sinned against the Lord."
"Never so fast, in silent April shower,
Flushed into green the dry and leafless bower,
As Israel's crowned mourner felt
The dull hard stone within him melt"
The ruling principle of his nature was like a spring of water which, though choked and buried beneath a heap of rubbish, at length finds its way again to the surface. "The fundamental trait in David's character is a deep and tender susceptibility, which, although even for a time it may yield to lust or the pressure of the world, yet always quickly rises again in repentance and faith" ('Old Test. Hist. of Redemption'). "If in this matter Nathan shows himself great, David is no less so. The cutting truth of the prophetic word shakes him out of the hollow passion in which he has lived since first he saw this woman, and rouses him again to the consciousness of his better self. His greatness, however, is shown in the fact that, king as he was, he soon humbled himself, like the lowliest, before the higher truth; and, although his penitence was as deep and sincere as possible, it did not cause him either to lose his dignity or to forget his royal duties" (Ewald).
3. There is no part of his life for the proper understanding of which it is so necessary to read the history in connection with what he himself has written—"the songs of sore repentance," which he "sang in sorrowful mood" (Dante). Psalms 51:1-19 (see inscription), 'The prayer of the penitent;' the germ of which lay in this confession, but which was composed after the utterance of the word, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin;" for "the promise of forgiveness did not take immediate possession of his soul, but simply kept him from despair at first, and gave him strength to attain to a thorough knowledge of his guilt through prayer and supplication, and to pray for its entire removal that the heart might be renewed and fortified through the Holy Ghost" (Keil). "It is a generally acknowledged experience that there is often a great gulf between the objective word of forgiveness, presented from without, and its subjective appropriation by man, which hesitating conscience is unable to bridge without great struggles" (Tholuck). Psalms 32:1-11; 'The blessedness of forgiveness;' written subsequently. Other psalms have been sometimes associated with his confession, viz. Psalms 6:1-10; Psalms 38:1-22.; three others, viz. Psalms 102:1-28; Psalms 130:1-8; Psalms 143:1-12, make up "the seven penitential psalms."
4. David is here set before us as "the model and ideal of and the encouragement to true penitence." Consider his acknowledgment of sin as to—
I. ITS MATTER; or the conviction, contrition, change of mind and will, which is expressed. For words alone are not properly confession in the view of him who "looketh at the heart." Having, by means of the prophetic word, been led to enter into himself (Luke 15:17), and had his sin brought to remembrance ("the twin-brother of repentance"), its aggravation described and its punishment declared, he not only recognizes the fact of his sin; but also:
1. Looks at it as committed against the Lord; the living God, the Holy One of Israel; and not simply against man. "Thou hast despised me" (Psalms 143:10). "For my transgressions do I know, And my sin is ever before me. Against thee only have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thine eyes," etc. (Psalms 51:3, Psalms 51:4.)
2. Takes the blame of it entirely to himself, as individually responsible, inexcusable, and guilty; thus accepting the judgment of conscience, without indulging vain and misleading thoughts.
3. Feels sorrow, shame, and self-condemnation on account of its nature and enormity; transgression, iniquity, sin (Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2); rebellion against the supreme King, disobedience to his Law; debt, pollution, guile, leprosy, bloodguiltiness (Psalms 51:14). He expresses no fear of consequences, and deprecates them only in so far as they include separation from God and loss of the blessings of his fellowship.
4. Puts it away from him with aversion and hatred, and purposes to forsake it completely (Proverbs 28:13); which confession implies and testifies.
"For mine iniquity will I confess;
I will be sorry for my sin."
II. ITS MANNER; or the evidence afforded of its sincerity by the language employed and the attendant circumstances. Observe:
1. Its promptness, readiness, and spontaneity. As soon as he became fully alive to his sin, he said, "I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah" (Psalms 32:5).
2. Its brevity. Two words only: "I-have-sinned against-Jehovah." "There is in the Bible no confession so unconditional, no expression of repentance so short, but also none so thoroughly true" (Disselhoff). "Saul confessed his sin more largely, less effectually. God cares not for phrases, but for affections" (Hall).
3. Its frankness and fulness, without prevarication or extenuation. "The plain and simple confession, 'I have sinned against God,' is a great thing, if we remember how rich the corrupt heart is in the discovery of excuses and apparent justification, and that the king was assailed by one of his subjects with hard, unsparing rebuke" (Hengstenberg).
4. Its publicity. He had sought, to hide his sin, but he did not seek to hide his penitence. He would have it set "in the sight of this sun," even as his chastisement would be; in order that the ways of God might be justified before men, and the evil effects of transgression upon them in some measure repaired. It is for this purpose, among others, that confession is made a condition of forgiveness (Job 33:27, Job 33:28; 1 John 1:9). "The necessity of confession (to God) arises from the load of unacknowledged guilt. By confession we sever ourselves from our sin and we disown it. Confession relieves by giving a sense of honesty. So long as we retain sin unconfessed, we are conscious of a secret insincerity" (F.W. Robertson, vol. 5.).
III. ITS ACCOMPANIMENT; or the further thoughts, feelings, and purposes which should be present in every potential confession.
1. Faith in the "loving kindness and tender mercies" of God (Psalms 51:1).
"But with thee is forgiveness,
That thou mayest be feared."
(Psalms 130:4, Psalms 130:7.)
2. Prayer for pardon, purity, the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 16:4-13); steadfastness, freedom, joy, and salvation (Psalms 51:7-12).
3. Submission to the will of God (Psalms 32:9; Psalms 38:13).
4. Consecration to his service (Psalms 51:13-17). "They were not many words which he spoke, but in them he owned two realities—sin and God. But to own them in their true meaning—sin as against God, and God as the Holy One, and yet God as merciful and gracious—was to return to the way of peace. Lower than this penitence could not descend, higher than this faith could not rise; and God was Jehovah, and David's sin was put away" (Edersheim). "It was not his sin, but his struggle with sin, which makes his history remarkable" (D. Macleod). "David experienced in a greater degree than any other Old Testament character the restlessness and desolation of a soul burdened with the consciousness of guilt, the desire for reconciliation with God, the struggle after purity and renovation of heart, the joy of fellowship, the heroic, the all-conquering power of confidence in God, the ardent love of a gracious heart for God; and has given in his psalms the imperishable testimony as to what is the fruit of the Law and what the fruit of the Spirit in man" (Oehler, 'Theology of the Old Test.,' 2:159). "The charm of his great name is broken. Our reverence for David is shaken, not destroyed. He is not what he was before; but he is far nobler and greater than many a just man who never fell and never repented. He is far more closely bound up with the sympathies of mankind than if he had never fallen" (Stanley). Even Bayle is constrained to say, "His amour with the wife of Uriah and the order he gave to destroy her husband are two most enormous crimes. But he was so grieved for them, and expiated them by so admirable a repentance, that this is not the passage in his life wherein he contributes the least to the instruction and edification of the faithful. We therein learn the frailty of saints, and it is a precept of vigilance; we therein learn in what manner we ought to lament our sins, and it is an excellent model."—D.
2 Samuel 12:13
The forgiveness of sin.
"And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die."
"The absolver saw the mighty grief,
And hastened with relief;—
'The Lord forgives; thou shalt not die'
'Twas gently spoke, yet heard on high,
And all the band of angels, us'd to sing
In heaven, accordant to his raptured string,
Who many a month had turned away
With veiled eyes, nor own'd his lay,
"Now spread their wings and throng around
To the glad mournful sound,
And welcome with bright, open face
The broken heart to love's embrace.
The rock is smitten, and to future years
Springs ever fresh the tide of holy tears
And holy music, whispering peace
Till time and sin together cease."
(Keble, 'Sixth Sunday after Trinity.')
In the interview of Nathan with David much may have passed which is not recorded. But it is improbable that (as some have supposed) there was a long interval between the confession of sin and the assurance of forgiveness, or that the latter was given at a second interview (2 Samuel 12:15). Perceiving the sincerity of the king's repentance, the prophet forthwith declared that Jehovah also put away (literally, "caused to pass over," 2 Samuel 24:10; Zechariah 3:4) his sin, remitting the penalty of death, which the Law appointed and himself had pronounced (2 Samuel 12:5); and became a messenger of mercy, "one of a thousand" (Job 33:23), as well as of judgment. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Consider remission, pardon, forgiveness of sin, as—
I. NEEDED BY A SINFUL MAN. Forgiveness of sin is a change of personal relation between God and man; in which there is:
1. Release from condemnation incurred by the latter, through his violation of Divine Law; the removal of the displeasure (2 Samuel 10:1-27) and wrath (Psalms 38:1) of God; the blotting out of transgressions (Psalms 51:1; Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2; Isaiah 43:25; Romans 8:1); deliverance from death (Ezekiel 18:21). Since "all have sinned," all have need of it; but only those who are convinced of sin value, desire, and seek it. It also involves:
2. Restoration of communion with God; which is hindered by sin, as the light of the sun is intercepted by a cloud. "It is the foundation of all our communion with God here, and of all undeceiving expectations of our enjoyment of him hereafter" (Owen, in Psalms 130:1-8.).
3. Renewal of the heart in righteousness; which, though separate from it in thought, is never so in reality, and which was longed for by David with the same intensity and prayed for in the same breath (Psalms 51:9, Psalms 51:10). How lamentable is the condition of that man on whom the wrath of eternal, holy love "abideth" (John 3:36) l
II. GRANTED BY A MERCIFUL GOD. Forgiveness of sin is an act or gift, which:
1. God alone can perform or bestow; the prerogative of the supreme Ruler, against whom it has been committed. "The Lord hath put away thy sin." "To pardon sin is one of the jura regalia, the flowers of God's crown" (T. Watson).
2. Proceeds from his abounding mercy and grace (Exodus 34:7). "It is impossible this flower should spring from any other root" (Psalms 51:1).
3. Rests upon an adequate ground or moral cause; which, although little known to David, was always present to the mind of God (1 Peter 1:20), shadowed forth in the "mediatorial sovereignty" of former ages and manifested in Jesus Christ, "in whom we have forgiveness of sins" (Acts 13:38; Ephesians 1:7).
"Here is the might,
And hero the wisdom, which did open lay
The path, that had been yearned for so long,
Betwixt the heaven and earth."
(Dante, 'Par.,' 23.)
III. ANNOUNCED BY A FAITHFUL MINISTER. The prophet said not, "I forgive;" he simply declared what God had done or purposed to do (1 Samuel 15:28); and in this sense only can there be absolution by man. "To forgive sins is the part and inalienable prerogative of God. To absolve is to dispense and convey forgiveness to those who have the right dispositions of heart for receiving it; and this is the part of God's messengers and representatives, whether under the Old or New dispensations" (E.M. Goulburn). The claim of any other power is a groundless assumption. The language employed in the New Testament refers either to cases of discipline in the Church, or to the declaration of the forgiving love of God, the reconciliation of God in Christ, and the assurance of its reality (Matthew 18:15-20; John 20:23; 2 Corinthians 2:10); this assurance defending for its beneficial influence, on:
1. Its accordance with the revealed Word of God (Jeremiah 23:28; Galatians 1:8).
2. Its utterance by a faithful, holy, merciful servant of God, in his ministerial and representative character. "The power of absolution belonged to the Church, and to the apostle through the Church. It was a power belonging to all Christians: to the apostle, because he was a Christian, not because he was an apostle. A priestly power, no doubt, because Christ has made all Christians kings and priests" (F.W. Robertson, vol. 3.).
3. Its communication to and reception by such as are truly penitent. "The poet said with a great deal of justice, that no sinner is absolved by himself; yet, in another sense, the sinner is absolved by that very self-accusation; and, sorrowing for his sins, is freed from the guilt of them" (Leighton).
IV. APPROPRIATED BY A BELIEVING HEART. The inward assurance of the blessing of forgiveness:
1. Is usually gained through many struggles and fervent prayers. David prayed for pardon after the prophet's assurance of it. "Psalms 51:1-19. shows us how David struggles to gain an inward and conscious certainty of the forgiveness of sin, which was announced to him by Nathan" (Delitzsch). "Under the Old Testament none loved God more than he, none was loved by God more than he. The paths of faith and love wherein he walked are unto the most of us like the way of an eagle in the air—too high and hard for us. Yet to this day do the cries of this man after God's own heart sound in our ears" (Owen).
2. Is personally realized through faith in the Word inspired by God and declaring his mercy. "They that really believe forgiveness in God do thereby obtain forgiveness."
3. Is commonly attended with peace, refreshment, and gladness, "sweet as the living stream to summer thirst." Happy is he who can say from the heart, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins!"
"Blessed is he whose transgression is taken away,
Whose sin is covered;
Blessed is the man to whom
Jehovah doth not reckon iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile."
(Psalms 32:1, Psalms 32:2; Romans 4:7.)
2 Samuel 12:14
Giving occasion to blaspheme.
"Nevertheless, because by this deed thou hast surely caused [literally, 'causing,' etc; 'hast caused,' etc.] the enemies of Jehovah to speak evil ['despise,' 'contemn,' 'abhor,' provoke,' 'blaspheme']," etc. A scorner, being in company with a devout man, took occasion to speak contemptuously of those whom he called "the Old Testament saints," and especially of David as "a man after God's own heart," asking, "And what did he do?" "He wrote the fifty-first psalm and the thirty-second," was the reply; "and if you cherish such feelings as he there expresses, you will be a man after God's own heart." "But," he persisted, "tell me what he did besides." "He did that which the Prophet Nathan said would cause the enemies of God to blaspheme.'" The scorner felt the rebuke, and was silent. Even to this day the pernicious influence of his sin appears; but, on the other hand, the fact of its having been recorded is an evidence of, at least, the truthfulness of Scripture; whilst the invaluable lessons taught by it more than compensate for the evil effects it produces. "The sacred writer is perfectly aware of the tendency of this passage of David's history, and yet he is not directed by the Holy Spirit to suppress it. It might have been suppressed. The failings of David are not less useful than his virtues, if we will only faithfully improve the warnings they afford us. It is only to the enemies of the Lord that they afford occasion of blasphemy. They, indeed, will never want occasion; and we are not to be denied the salutary examples which the Scriptures hold forth to us because there are those who wrest them to their own destruction. But it is chiefly in the failings of the good that the enemies of the Lord find cause of triumph" (Thompson, 'Davidica'). Concerning the sin of David and other godly men, observe that—
I. IT IS RENDERED ALL THE MORE CULPABLE AND CONSPICUOUS BY THEIR PREVIOUS EXALTATION. Culpable, inasmuch as their profession of godliness, especially when hired with eminent position, increases their responsibility, and furnishes special motives to a consistent course of conduct; conspicuous, inasmuch as their apparent superiority to others:
1. Attracts the attention of men to them more than others, and makes it impossible that their failings should pass unnoticed.
2. Naturally leads men to expect more from them than others.
3. Produces a deeper impression by the contrast exhibited between what is expected from them and what is actually done by them. The transgression of David was in itself great; but it was all the greater, in the view of men, because committed by one of his acknowledged piety, and "in the fierce light that beats upon the throne, and blackens every blot."
II. IT IS CALCULATED TO EXERT A MOST INJURIOUS INFLUENCE ON OTHER MEN. The sin of every man has a baneful effect on his fellow men; but that of a godly man, in an eminent degree, by:
1. Causing them not only to despise him, but also others, who are associated and identified with him in religious faith and service, as (like him) unworthy of respect, insincere, and hypocritical.
2. Inciting them to contemn religion itself; doubt the Word of God, distrust the reality of piety everywhere, and even speak evil of God himself; wherein it is commonly implied that sin is sanctioned by religion, or at least is not prevented by it because of its essential weakness. A false impression of the requirements and character of God is given.
3. Lessening the restraints of holy example, hindering the acceptance of the truth, multiplying excuses for neglect, encouraging indulgence in sin.
4. Affording means of opposition to the faith, whereby others still are made to stumble. "This observation gives us a deep insight into the whole position of David. In him the good principle had attained to supremacy; the godless party had seen this with terror, and now they mocked piety in its representative, who, because he held this position, ought to have kept watch over his heart the more carefully, and afterwards made use of the first opportunity of throwing off the burdensome yoke" (Hengstenberg). "Towards the heathen Israel's duty was, by obedience to God's Word and commands, to set forth the theocracy, and bring it to honour and recognition. Transgressions of God's command by the king himself must lead the heathen to heap shame and reproach on Israel and on Israel's God" (Erdmann).
III. ITS INJURIOUS EFFECT ON OTHERS DEPENDS UPON THEIR OWN CHARACTER. It is only "the enemies of the Lord" who despise the Lord, his Word, or his people.
1. Their enmity disposes them to make use of the sin of another as a reason in favour of the course upon which their heart is already set; thus silencing the voice of conscience. increasing their pride and self-deception, and confirming themselves in unbelief and disobedience.
2. It also indisposes them to regard it in a proper manner; to consider the strength of his temptation, the depth of his penitence, the earnestness of his aspirations after righteousness; that the conduct of one man does not prove the character of all with whom he is associated, still less the truth of the religion they profess, or the character of the God they serve; that it may not be sanctioned by God, but forbidden, reproved, and punished by him; that it is not the standard of practice, which is found in the Law of God alone; and that "every man must give account of himself to God." Those who stand may be led by it to take heed lest they fall, and those who fall to hope to rise again; but the enemies of the Lord see in it nothing but an excuse for persisting in the evil of their way. "Bees will collect honey and spiders poison from the same plant, according to their different natures" (Scott).
3. Their sin is not lessened by the sin of another, but rather increased by the use they make of it. Nevertheless, "all conduct of ours which tends in the slightest degree to strengthen that system of false reasoning, by which sinners confirm themselves in their sins, and undermine the faith and practice of others, is sin of the deepest dye" (Thompson).
IV. ALTHOUGH IT MAY BE PARDONED, IT CANNOT GO UNPUNISHED. "The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.,
1. To manifest the justice and righteousness of God. The penalty of death which he had incurred was transferred from the guilty father to the innocent son.
2. To humble him more deeply on account of his sin, and to produce in him "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11). "For the most grievous sins a provision of mercy is so made as to secure long and humbling recollections of the aggravated guilt" (Halley).
3. To counteract the evil effects of his sin, and "that the visible occasion of any further blasphemy should be taken away." "God in his wisdom did take away this child, because he should have lived but to be a shame unto David" (Willet). This was only the beginning of a long course of chastisement in his family (2 Samuel 13:1-39.), his person (Psalms 41:1-13; Psalms 55:1-23; Psalms 39:1-13.), and his kingdom (ch, 14.). Judgment was mingled with mercy; yea, it was itself the chastisement of love. "What was the answer to his prayer? First, the death of Bathsheba's child. Next, the discovery of hateful crimes in his household. Finally, the revolt of the beloved Absalom. These answers to a prayer for forgiveness? Yes, if forgiveness be what David took it to mean—having truth in the inward parts, knowing wisdom secretly" (Maurice).—D.
2 Samuel 12:15-23
(THE PALACE AND THE TABERNACLE.)
David's behaviour in affliction.
In one of the chambers of David's palace his little child lies smitten with a fatal malady. In another the king, divested of his royal robes and clothed in sackcloth, prostrates himself in profound sorrow and abasement. He prays, weeps, fasts, and lies all night upon the ground. His oldest and most confidential servants endeavour to comfort him, and beseech him to take food, in vain. At length the blow falls; and his servants fear to communicate the intelligence, lest it should plunge him into a dangerous paroxysm of grief. But their reserved demeanour and soft whispering among themselves indicate what has happened; and their answer to his question, "Is the child dead?" confirms his conclusion. Contrary to their expectation, however, he rises up, washes and anoints himself, puts on becoming garments, goes into the house of the Lord (the tabernacle adjoining the palace), and pours forth his heart in lowly adoration. Then, returning, he asks for bread, and eats. Astonished at his conduct, they inquire the reason of it; and he replies (in effect) that he has acted, not from thoughtlessness or indifference, but from a due regard to the will of God and the altered circumstances of the case. Whilst the life of the child hung in suspense, he might hope, by prayer and humiliation (since God deals with men according to their moral attitude toward him), to avert the threatening calamity; but now he is gone it is useless to indulge in lamentation; the will of God must be submitted to without repining (1 Samuel 3:18). "Those who are ignorant of the Divine life cannot comprehend the reasons of a believer's conduct in his varied experiences" (Scott). "How little can any one of us understand another! The element of conscious sin gave to David thoughts and feelings other than the ordinary ones, and beyond the appreciation of those who looked for the usual signs of grief" (R. Tuck). "In the case of a man whose penitence was so earnest and so deep, the prayer for the preservation of his child must have sprung from some other source than excessive love of any created object. His great desire was to avert the stroke, as a sign of the wrath of God, in the hope that he might be able to discern, in the preservation of the child, a proof of Divine favour consequent upon the restoration of his fellowship with God. But when the child was dead he humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and rested satisfied with his grace, without giving himself up to fruitless pain" (O von Gerlach). Consider—
I. HIS BELIEVING RECOGNITION OF THE HAND OF GOD. "David was a great lover of his children" (Patrick); and to such a father the sufferings of his child must have been naturally a severe affliction. But:
1. He also perceived therein a just chastisement of his transgression. It is a common fact of experience that the sufferings of a child are often the immediate and inevitable fruit of the father's sin. This is, indeed, by no means always the case. In most instances no moral cause thereof can be discerned, save the sinfulness of the race to which he belongs, and which is subject to the universal law of sorrow and mortality.
2. He perceived therein, moreover, a merciful administration of such chastisement. "Thou shalt not die. Howbeit," etc. (2 Samuel 12:14). His life was spared in mercy to himself and his people. He was afflicted in such a manner as would be most conducive to his benefit. His child was smitten to stop the mouths of blasphemers. The innocent suffers for the guilty; suffers—who shall say (believing in the perfect wisdom, righteousness, and love of God) either unjustly or to his own ultimate disadvantage?
3. And he believed in the Divine susceptibility to human entreaty; and that it might be possible for the impending blow to be turned aside. "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?" (2 Samuel 12:22). He evidently regarded the prediction of the prophet, though absolute in form, as really conditional (Isaiah 38:1; Jeremiah 18:7, Jeremiah 18:8). We have to do, not with an iron fate, but with a loving Father, "full of pity and merciful" (James 4:11; Psalms 34:15; Psalms 103:13).
II. HIS PRAYERFUL HUMILIATION IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
1. His grief was not merely natural, but spiritual; penitential sorrow for sin, exhibited in solitary, thoughtful, continued self-abasement, fasting, weeping, and genuine purposes of amendment (Psalms 51:3, Psalms 51:4, Psalms 51:13). This is the end of God's afflictive discipline; and, when attained, it may be hoped that the immediate occasion thereof will be removed. Even when affliction is not directly due to personal transgression, it should lead to reflection, humiliation and "godly sorrow"
2. It was associated with fervent supplication. And David besought God for the child" (2 Samuel 12:16). "He herein only showed his natural affection, still subordinating his prayer to the will of God; as Christ did to show his human condition when he prayed that the cup might pass from him" (Wilier). What evils does prayer avert, what blessings does it obtain, both for ourselves and others!
3. Although the immediate object in view was not gained, his prayer was not unavailing. He received light, strength, and comfort; was kept from despair and enabled to endure in a right spirit whatever might occur. God always hears the cries of his children; but he often withholds what they ask. He fulfils their requests in a higher way, transforms the curse into a blessing, and gives them abundant tokens of his favour (2 Samuel 12:25). "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us," etc. (1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15).
III. HIS CHEERFUL ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF GOD. "And David arose from the ground," etc. (2 Samuel 12:20). Deeming it vain to strive against and mourn over an event which could not be altered, and which he regarded as the expression of the settled determination of God (Deuteronomy 3:26), he acted accordingly:
1. With loyal submission to his sovereign, wise, and beneficent will; strengthened by the conviction that he himself would, ere long, "go the way of all the earth," and be at rest; and by the hope of meeting his child again in God (2 Samuel 12:23). "Religion," it has been remarked, "is summed up in one word—submission. The chief virtue of Christianity and the root of all the rest is readiness under all circumstances to fulfil the will of God in doing and suffering."
2. With resolute restraint upon his natural feelings of sorrow and regret. "The unprofitable and bad consequences, the sinful nature, of profuse sorrowing for the dead, are easily deduced from the former part of this reflection ('Wherefore should I fast?' etc.); in the latter ('I shall go to him') we have the strongest motives to enforce our striving against it—a remedy exactly suited to the disease" (John Wesley).
3. With cheerful performance of immediate, practical, appropriate duties; in due attention to personal appearance and needs, public worship in the house of God ("weeping must not hinder worship"), edifying conversation with friends, consoling counsel to the sorrowful (2 Samuel 12:24). In this manner bereavement is most easily borne and most effectually sanctified, and God is most worthily served and glorified.—D.
2 Samuel 12:23
The death of a child.
"I shall go to him." David had at least a glimpse of the future life. The expectation of going to his child in the grave would have afforded him little comfort. But whatever meaning may be attached to the words as uttered by him, they may be profitably considered by us in the light of the gospel. Reason sheds only starlight on the future; the revelations of the Old Testament only twilight; but Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, illumines it with daylight. The Christian parent, bereaved of his little child, has—
I. THE PERSUASION OF THE CONTINUED EXISTENCE OF THE DEPARTED, in the unseen, spiritual, eternal world, "the Father's house;" where he:
1. Retains his conscious personality (neither ceasing to be, nor "swallowed up in the general sea of being").
2. Attains the highest perfection of which his nature is capable (his capacities of knowledge, holiness, and happiness being gradually developed).
3. Remains in permanent security (forever freed from the temptations and sorrows of this life). On what grounds does such a persuasion rest?
(1) The nature of a child—spiritual, immortal, blameless, "having no knowledge between good and evil" (Deuteronomy 1:39).
(2) The character of God; his justice and benevolence, and his fatherly relationship (Jeremiah 19:4; Ezekiel 16:21; Joel 2:16; Jonah 4:11), which, though consistent with the suffering of the innocent in this world (because of the beneficent purposes to which it is subservient), is not so with their final condemnation.
(3) The teachings and actions of Christ, and his redemptive work (Matthew 18:1-14; Matthew 19:13-15; Matthew 21:16; 1 Corinthians 15:22). "They belong to the kingdom of heaven." Whatever disadvantages they suffer from their relation to Adam are more than surpassed by the abounding grace of God in Christ. "He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom" (Isaiah 40:11).
II. THE ANTICIPATION OF FUTURE REUNION WITH THE DEPARTED; implying:
1. Hope of personal salvation on the part of him who cherishes it.
2. Belief in the individual recognition of those who are known on earth.
"I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven
If that be true, I shall see my boy again."
('King John,' Acts 3:0. sc. 4.)
3. Expectancy of common participation in the heavenly fellowship, service, and joy of the Lord.
"Ah! thy merciless stern mercy hath chastised us,
Goading us along the narrow road;
Thy bird, who warmed and dazzled us a moment
Hath returned to thine abode.
Lord, when we are purged within the furnace,
May we have our little child again?
All thine anguish by the olives in the garden,
All thy life and death are vain,
If thou yield us not our own again!"
(Reden Noel, 'A Little Child's Monument.')
III. CONSOLATION IN THE PAINFUL LOSS OF THE DEPARTED; derived from what has been said, the fact that it comes from a Father's hand, and the benefits which it brings by
(1) teaching patience in the trials of life;
(2) moderating attachment to its blessings;
(3) spiritualizing affection for those who are left;
(4) intensifying desire for the heavenly home.
"Let us consider to whom they have gone, from what they have been taken, for what they have been taken, and how this bereavement will appear to us when we come to die ourselves" (W.M. Taylor).
"'Tis sorrow builds the shining ladder up,
Whose golden rounds are our calamities."
2 Samuel 12:24, 2 Samuel 12:25
The birth of Solomon.
(References: 1 Kings 1-11; 1 Kings 1:0 Chronicles 22-29; 1 Chronicles 2:0 Chronicles 1-9.; Psalms 72:1-20; Proverbs 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:1; So Ecclesiastes 1:1.) Where a while ago a dead child lay amidst signs of grief, there now lies a living child amidst signs of gladness. In him David sees a gift of God, an answer to prayer which seemed to be denied, "a pledge of pardon and a sign of hope." In him we see one who was destined to become the wisest of men, the most glorious of monarchs—Solomon (whose name occurs only here and 2 Samuel 5:14, in this book)—
"The lofty light, endow'd
With sapience so profound, if truth be truth,
That with a ken of such wide amplitude
No second hath arisen."
(Dante, 'Par.,' 10.)
1. His parentage. David, Bathsheba; from whom he inherited physical strength and beauty, mental and moral qualities, a piercing insight, large heartedness, skill in ruling, sensuous susceptibilities, etc; royal rank and privileges. "The history of a man's childhood is the description of his parents' environment" (Carlyle).
2. His birth. After David's fall, repentance, and forgiveness, and the death of his unnamed infant (see, however, 1 Chronicles 3:5); when Rabbah had fallen, peace was established, and prosperity abounded. The time was propitious.
3. His name. (1 Samuel 1:20.) "And he called his name Solomon" (equivalent to "the man of peace," "pacific," Friedrich), "because he regarded his birth as a pledge that he should now become a partaker again of the peace of God" (Keil); or perhaps in allusion to the peaceful condition of the kingdom and "from the wish that peace might be allotted him as a gift of God, in contrast with the wars of his father's life" (Erdmann; 2 Samuel 7:12; 1 Chronicles 22:9). "And Jehovah loved him," and spared his life, in contrast with that of the dead child. "And he [Jehovah] sent by the hand [through] Nathan the prophet; and he [Nathan] called his name Jedid-jah [Jedid equivalent to 'David,' 'darling;' 'beloved of Jah,' his own name being combined with that of Jehovah], because of the Lord," who loved him; "a practical declaration on the part of Jehovah that the Lord loved Solomon, from which David could and was intended to discern that the Lord had blessed his marriage with Bathsheba. Jedidiah, therefore, was not actually adopted as Solomon's name" (Keil). "The pious father, in his happiness, entreated the oracle, through Nathan, to confer on the newborn child some name of lofty import, and Solomon, as his parents called him, received through the prophet the glorious additional name of Jedidiah. The sadness of the fate of his first child rendered the omens under which the second stepped into its place the more auspicious; and we can easily understand that of all his sons this one became the dearest" (Ewald).
4. His education; or the influences that went to form his character; of Nathan, to whom it may have been entrusted; of David, during his declining years; of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3); of a home and court where polygamy prevailed; of all the learning of the age; of the revolt of Absalom, and other public events. "A shepherd life, like his father's, furnished, we may believe, a better education for his kingly calling. Born to the purple, there was the inevitable risk of a selfish luxury. Cradled in liturgies, trained to think chiefly of the magnificent 'palace' of Jehovah, of which he was to be the builder, there was the danger first of an aesthetic formalism, and then of ultimate indifference" (Smith, 'Dict. of the Bible').
5. His prospects, after the death of Absalom, if not even before (2 Samuel 7:12; 1 Chronicles 22:9; 1 Kings 1:13); his accession and eminence.
6. His closing years.
7. His prefigurement, not in personal character but royal office, of "the Prince of Peace" "We must not confine our view to David's personal life and reign. After we have seen him fallen and suffering for sin, we must see him rising again and reviving in a more glorious reign, in Solomon his son, who began to reign while David his father was still alive, in order that the continuity might be more clearly marked. And above all, we must contemplate him as culminating upward and attaining the climax of his glory, which God had revealed to him, and for which he yearned with devout aspiration, in Christ, the Divine David and the Son of David, the Solomon, the Jedidiab, the Builder of the Church visible on earth and glorified in heaven" (Wordsworth).—D.
2 Samuel 12:26-31
(1 Chronicles 20:1-8 :l-3)
The fall of Rabbah.
This event, which occurred after a two years' siege, between the fall of David and his repentance, presents several significant contrasts.
1. Material success associated with moral failure. His army victorious, his enterprise terminating in triumph; David himself overcome by temptation, and troubled with a guilty conscience. Worldly success and prosperity are no true measure of moral worth and inward peace and happiness.
2. Praiseworthy conduct displayed by an unworthy character. Having captured the lower city, Joab, before attacking the citadel, "sent messengers," etc. (2 Samuel 12:27). The politic general may have wished to escape the envy and secure the favour of the king; apparently, however, his conduct exhibited consideration for the honour of his master, modesty, and humility. Even the worst men have some good qualities, and often perform excellent actions. "It is possible for a man to be faithful to some one person, and perfidious to others. I do not find Joab other than firm and loyal to David in the midst of all his private falsehoods" (Hall).
3. A disastrous end following a presumptuous beginning. (2 Samuel 12:29.) In this city the great conflict was commenced, wantonly, proudly, and contemptuously (2 Samuel 10:1-4). On the king (slain in battle) and the people a terrible retribution fell; and their confidence in Moloch (Malcom)was disappointed.
4. Excessive severity practised by a generous minded ruler (2 Samuel 12:31); not sanctioned by God; but expressive of David's present temper (2 Samuel 11:22-27), and demanded by the excitement of popular indignation.
(1) The cruel conduct of the Ammonites (l Samuel 2 Samuel 11:2; Amos 1:8);
(2) the common practices of the age;
(3) an intense zeal against idolatry;
(4) the strong conviction of being an appointed instrument of executing Divine vengeance (Psalms 149:7);—may palliate the culpability, though they cannot justify the procedure of David; which, in the light of truth and righteousness, must be condemned and regarded as a blot upon his great renown. This proceeds on the assumption of the correctness of the explanation usually given of the text, which is by no means certain (see critical Commentaries).—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 12:5-7
Great sinners are generally able to discern and condemn in others wickedness similar to their own. This gives an advantage to those who would convince them of their sins. Nathan made use of it in dealing with David, and with good effect.
I. NATHAN'S PARABLE. It presents a picture of conduct sufficiently like that of David to prepare the way for his self-condemnation, and yet so far different that its drift should not be at once detected. It is a picture of:
1. Gross covetousness. For a poor man to covet some part of a rich man's abundance is natural, though wrong; but for a rich man to covet the little of a poor man is monstrous wickedness. Such had been David's conduct towards Uriah.
3. Oppression of the weak by the strong.
4. Violation of feelings which should have been tenderly respected. The attachment of the poor man to his pet lamb. The counterpart was the affection of Uriah for his wife, and, till she was seduced, of the wife for her husband.
II. ITS EFFECT ON THE KING. It seems surprising that he did not at once see the prophet's meaning and intention. Perhaps Nathan had been accustomed to come to him to plead the cause of the injured who could obtain no redress otherwise, and David imagined this to be his errand now. Besides, it was a good while since David's sins were committed; yet the prophet had hitherto been silent about them, and would the less be suspected of coming to administer reproof for them now. Hence, all unconsciously, he:
1. Displayed hot anger against the wrong doer.
2. Passed a severe sentence upon him; saying that he deserved death, and condemning him to the fourfold restitution which the Law required (Exodus 22:1)—a remarkable illustration of Romans 2:1. Had he been aware that he was passing sentence upon himself, he would probably have been less severe. Or if he had remembered his own greater crimes, he would hardly so harshly have condemned a man whose crime was so much less heinous. But it is no uncommon thing for great offenders to be harsh in their judgment of others who are far less culpable than themselves.
III. NATHAN'S REJOINDER.
1. He applied to David himself the judgment he had pronounced. "Thou art the man!" With what terrific fore this must have fallen upon the king's ears! He was self-convicted, self-condemned. To such self-condemnation it should be the aim of religious teachers to lead their hearers. It is not permissible, indeed, unless in very extreme cases, to address individuals in public in such words as Nathan's to David; but the preacher's work is not effectually done until each hearer whose sin is described is brought to say to himself, "I am the man!" To use the language of a great preacher of a former generation (Robert Hall), "Without descending to such a minute specification of circumstances as shall make our addresses personal, they ought unquestionably to be characteristic, that the conscience of the audience may feel the hand of the preacher searching it, and every individual know where to class himself. The preacher who aims at doing good will endeavour, above all things, to insulate his hearers, to place each of them apart, and render it impossible for him to escape by losing himself in the crowd. At the day of judgment, the attention excited by the surrounding scene, the strange aspect of nature, the dissolution of the elements, and the last trump, will have no other effect than to cause the reflections of the sinner to return with a more overwhelming tide on his own character, his sentence, his unchanging destiny; and amid the innumerable millions who surround him, he will mourn apart. It is thus the Christian minister should endeavour to prepare the tribunal of conscience, and turn the eyes of every one of his hearers on himself." Hearers should welcome such preaching, and thank God for the convictions it produces, as a necessary step in the process of their salvation.
2. He faithfully delivered God's message to him.
(1) Reminding him of the great kindness of God to him.
(2) Charging him distinctly with his crimes.
(3) Pronouncing upon him the Divine sentence.
In the whole interview, Nathan acted with singular courage, and fidelity to him who sent him.
IV. THE RESULT. David's frank and penitent confession of his sin; and his pardon. Had he been utterly hardened, he might have resented the prophet's faithfulness, dismissed him with anger, or even ordered him to prison or death. But the workings of his own conscience had prepared him to recognize the justice of Nathan's words; and these now melted into contrition the long burdened yet stubborn heart, which at length found relief in the brief but sincere words, "I have sinned against the Lord;" to which the prophet was able to return the consoling reply, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (comp. Psalms 32:3-5).
1. The duty of reproving sin in others. (Leviticus 19:17.)
2. The value of a minister or other friend faithful enough to administer reproof.
3. The responsibility which attaches to the Tower to discern and condemn sin in others.
(1) It should induce us to avoid the sins which we condemn, and others like them.
(2) It increases our guilt if we commit such sins.
(3) It ought to induce hearty self-condemnation and penitence when we fall into them. The indignation we feel against the sins of others should be turned on our own, in dealing with which there is more hope than in endeavouring to convince and reform our neighbours; besides which, when we have forsaken our own sins, we shall be better fitted to reprove and amend other offenders (see Matthew 7:4, Matthew 7:5).
4. The goodness of God in first sending reprovers to warn and convert, rather than inflicting swift punishment.—G.W.
2 Samuel 12:9
Despising the commandments of God.
David, by his grievous sins, had virtually shown contempt for the well-known commandments of God against coveting the wife of another, and against adultery and murder. Hence the force of this remonstrance. It may be properly addressed to all who in any way show contempt for any of the Divine commandments; to all men, therefore, since all are in some respects and in some degree guilty of this sin.
I. WHO MAY BE SAID TO DESPISE THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD?
1. Those who take no pains to know and understand them. Who do not think it worth while to inquire, in reference to their course of life, their duty to others, or any particular action, or even their religious faith and observances, what the will of God is; but are content to follow without question the customs of the world around them, or their own inclinations and habits.
2. Those who refuse to give heed when their attention is called to them. Which may be by their own consciences, or by other men.
3. Those who disobey them. And the degree of contempt shown by disobedience will be in proportion to
(1) their knowledge;
(2) their remembrance, at the time, of the commandment, its Author, and its sanctions;
(3) the difficulties of disobedience which have to be overcome; and
(4) the remonstrances of conscience, and of the Spirit of God, which are resisted and conquered.
II. THEIR SIN AND FOLLY. They may be addressed as the prophet addressed David, "Wherefore," etc.
1. What rational ground have you for doing it? Seeing the commandment
(1) is "of the Lord," who has the highest right to the obedience of his creatures;
(2) proceeds from the perfect reason and the infinite love; and therefore
(3) is adapted to promote the good of each and all. "The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good (Romans 7:12). Consider any particular commandment you have disregarded, and you will see that all this is true of it; and that, therefore, your conduct is foolish and wicked.
2. How can "you" do it? Who have been laid under obligations so weighty by the kindness of God; who know so well his character, claims, and laws; who have so often and in such various ways professed love and loyalty to him; who are bound by so many considerations to set a good example; or (as in David's case) are appointed to be an upholder of law, a guardian of innocence, a protector of the public morals.
3. How "dare" you do it? In view of the shame and moral injury you bring on yourself; the evil you do to others; the terrible threatenings of the Word of God against sinners; his knowledge of all you do; his awful holiness and justice; and his almighty power to execute his threatenings. In view also of death, and of the day of judgment, when your most secret sins will be brought to light and punished.—G.W.
2 Samuel 12:10
Despisers of God.
"Thou hast despised me." In the dreadful sins of which David had been guilty he had treated God with contempt. He had treated as of no account all the kindness of God to him; had disregarded his claims; shown contempt practically for his authority, his precepts, his observance of his conduct, his justice and its penalties, his favour, his voice in the conscience. The charge brought against David may be brought against many who are not guilty of gross and flagrant crimes like his.
I. WHO ARE GUILTY OF DESPISING GOD?
1. All sin involves contempt of him. It shows:
(1) Indifference as to his Being and perfections. If the sinner does not boldly say, "no God," he practically ignores him, leaves him out of account in his conduct, and treats his presence and observation of him, his hatred to sin, his threatened judgments, as of no importance, not worthy of serious consideration (see Psalms 10:13).
(2) Contempt for his authority.
(3) Despisal of his kindness (Romans 2:4).
(4) Contempt of his wisdom, as expressed in his laws. As if the sinner thought he could guide and govern himself better than God.
(5) Disesteem of his favour and friendship.
2. Certain kinds of sin may be mentioned as showing such contempt.
(1) Unthankfulness and discontent. As if God's gifts were not worth having.
(2) Rejection of Christ and salvation—his best gifts, in which he appears more fully and manifestly than in aught else. "He that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16). "Hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29).
(3) Neglect of the Holy Scriptures. In them God comes to instruct us, to make us partakers of his own wisdom, to make known his will, etc. To neglect them is to show contempt of him.
(4) Negligence as to his service. As to the hours and exercises of devotion. God invites us to converse with him, to make known our requests, with the promise of gracious answers. To disregard prayer, or offer unreal worship, is to treat him with contempt: He is most worthy to be praised. To decline to praise him, or to praise in words only, is to despise him. In the sacrament of the Lord's Supper he comes specially near to us, to commune with us in Christ, to feed us with the body and blood of his Son. To turn away from the holy feast, or come with hypocrisy, or with hearts or hands stained with unrepented sin, is to treat him with contempt. And in more active life, to be slovenly, slothful, indifferent; to offer him a half-hearted service; to present him with niggard offerings; is to show grievous disrespect to him (see Malachi 1:6-8).
(5) Contempt for his people, or any of them. As if the godly were necessarily fanatical. Or because they may be feeble, or inexperienced (Matthew 18:10), or poor (James 2:6). Or because they differ from us in judgment or observances (Romans 14:3, Romans 14:10). "He that despiseth you, despiseth me" (Luke 10:16).
II. THEIR FOLLY AND WICKEDNESS. Considering:
1. Who is despised. "Me." The infinite Majesty, the Source and Sustainer of all beings, the Giver of all good, the Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor of those who despise him, without whom they have nothing and can do nothing; perfect in all that is good, and worthy of all esteem and love; who is reverenced, adored, loved, and served by the loftiest intelligences, by all the wise and good in all worlds; the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all that is glorious in holiness and love appears, revealing the glorious excellences of God.
2. Who is the despiser. "Thou." So ignorant, so needy, so dependent, so greatly blessed, so sinful, so perverted in mind and heart, and incapable, while untaught of God, of judging aright as to the best things. It is the creature despising his Creator, folly despising wisdom, weakness despising Omnipotence, the lost despising his Deliverer, the destitute despising him who would enrich him with everlasting riches.
3. The contrast between him who is despised and the things which are valued. God is rejected and treated as of little or no account; while things which are worthless or injurious, or which if valuable have only a limited and transient worth, are highly prized and pursued as if of supreme worth and importance.
4. What is involved in despising God. It is to despise ourselves, our own souls and their salvation, the true riches and honour, our true and everlasting happiness, eternal life, all that most deserves to be valued.
III. THEIR DOOM.
1. To be themselves despised. "They that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). They shall rise "to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2), exposed and regarded as fools, and treated as worthless. "Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them" (Jeremiah 6:30).
2. To find by wretched experience how real and how essential to their happiness is he whom they have slighted. To learn the value of his favour by the irreparable loss of it. The sin of despising him they will no longer be able to commit. But the doom may be averted by repentance, as David's case teaches (2 Samuel 12:13).—G.W.
2 Samuel 12:13
Confession and pardon.
Two things are very surprising in this narrative—the awful wickedness of David, and the abounding mercy of God.
I. DAVID'S CONFESSION. It was:
1. Very prompt. The prophet's address awakened no resentment. There was no attempt at evasion, palliation, or self-justification. How could there be? He at once acknowledged his sin. This was the result, not only of Nathan's faithful reproof, but of the king's own previous mental exercises. The time which had elapsed since the commission of his sins, or some part of it, had been a sorrowful time for him. Burdened with conscious guilt, but not subdued to contrition, he had been wretched (see Psalms 32:3, Psalms 32:4). Nathan's admonitions completed the work; the king's heart was melted to penitence, and he unburdened his soul by a frank confession.
2. Very brief. Like the prayer of the publican (Luke 18:13). When the heart is fullest, the words are fewest. Not the length of a confession, but its meaning and sincerity, are the important thing. It is so with confessions of men to each other: a word, a look, or an action without a word, is often sufficient, always better than a long speech.
3. Very appropriate. Acknowledged sin—sin "against the Lord." Nathan had laid stress on this point, and David responds accordingly. He had grievously wronged Uriah, Bathsheba too, and had sinned against the people under his rule; but most had he sinned against God. Hence his language in Psalms 51:4. Only as sin is thus viewed is "godly sorrow" possible.
II. HIS FORGIVENESS. Which was:
1. Immediate. It startles us that so great a sinner should have been so speedily pardoned, so soon assured of pardon. We might have deemed some delay more suitable. But God is ever ready to forgive; he waits only for the sinner's penitent confession. There is no reason for delay of forgiveness except the sinner's impenitence and unbelief. The moment these are subdued, pardon is granted. This was assured by the promises of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 55:7. In the New we have the same assurances, and the difficulties which arise from the penitent sinner's conviction of the rightness of the punishment threatened to transgressors (his conscience being on the side of the Divine justice) are removed by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
2. Free. Burdened with no conditions, no demand for penances, or compensations, or sin offerings. The sin was too serious for these. So David felt (Psalms 51:16). Only a perfectly free pardon could meet the case. New love and service would follow; but these would spring from gratitude for forgiveness, not from the expectation of securing it. The attempt to merit or earn pardon for past transgressions by voluntary sufferings, by multiplied prayers or ceremonies, or by future obedience, is absurd on the face of it, and as contrary to the Old Testament as to the New. It was to the "multitude of God's tender mercies" (Psalms 51:1) that David appealed; and it is to the same abounding grace as shown in the gospel that we must trust.
3. Declared. Nathan pronounced the king's absolution: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Men would like a similar assurance to themselves individually; and the system of some Churches is constructed to meet this wish. On confession of sin to a priest, he pronounces absolution. But this practice is unwarranted and delusive. Confessedly the absolution is worthless unless the sinner be truly penitent; and if he be, it is useless; and in multitudes of cases it is most pernicious, fostering baseless hopes. If men could read the heart, or had, like Nathan, a special message of pardon from God in each case, they might safely pronounce absolution. But in ordinary cases none can know the reality of repentance until it is proved by the life; and therefore none can safely assure the sinner of his actual forgiveness until such assurance is needless. The repenting sinner, coming to God by faith in Jesus Christ, is assured of pardon
(1) by the promises of God, and
(2) by the Spirit of God in his heart applying the promises to the individual and enabling him to confide in them, and commencing in him the Christian life. A new heart is given with pardon; and this, with its fruit in the conduct, becomes a growing evidence of pardon.
4. Yet with a reservation. The penalty of death, to which David had virtually condemned himself, was remitted; but other penalties were not. One was specifically mentioned—the death of the child (verse 14); and the others, denounced (Isaiah 55:10-12) before the confession and forgiveness, we know from the subsequent history were inflicted. And it is often the case that the painful consequences of sin continue long after pardon is granted, perhaps till death. Shall we say, then, that the forgiveness is not real and full? By no means. But because it is real and full the pardoned sinner must suffer. Suffering, however, changes its character. As from Gad, it is no longer penal infliction, but fatherly chastisement and discipline
(1) to maintain a salutary remembrance of the sin, and produce constant gratitude and humility;
(2) to preserve in obedience and promote holiness;
(3) to vindicate to others the justice of God, and warn them against sin. And as to the penitent himself, his suffering produces no bitterness, abjectness, or sullenness. Love to him that chastises, kept alive by the sense of his forgiving and fatherly love, enables him to yield himself to the chastisement, thankful, resigned, acquiescent, and earnestly seeking to realize the intended profit.
1. Admire, adore, trust, and proclaim the pardoning love of God.
2. Let sinners repent of, confess, and forsake their sins, that they may obtain forgiveness. For, notwithstanding the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ, no impenitent sinner shall be forgiven.
3. Let no penitent despair. Not even the backslider, and though his sins have been as bad as David's.
4. Let none presume. One of the worst and most persistent consequences of David's sin and pardon has been the encouragement to sin, which foolish and wicked persons have derived from them, or—shall we say?—pretended to derive. For so foolish and impious is it to turn the narrative to such a purpose that it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of those who do so. Rather they love their sins, and are glad of anything that may quiet somewhat their consciences in committing them. Let any such consider that the proper effect of the narrative is to render sin odious and to awaken a dread of it; and that the sins of those who read it and persist in sin are rendered doubly guilty. Such are hardening their hearts and promoting in themselves incapacity to repent, and so incapability of being forgiven.—G.W.
2 Samuel 12:14
Religion reproached through the conduct of the religious.
David's wickedness gave occasion for reproach of religion by the ungodly among his subjects, and by the heathen peoples around. Indeed, it occasions blasphemy and contempt of religion down to the present day.
I. CONDUCT WHICH OCCASIONS CONTEMPT AND REPROACH OF RELIGION. The conduct must be that of professedly religious men, and the more strict their profession, and the more prominent their position, so much the greater the mischief they do.
1. Great inconsistency between profession and conduct. Gross immorality, fraud, falsehood, avarice, intemperance, hasty temper, revenge, etc.
2. Unworthy presentation of religion itself. Ignorant rant, unctuous cant, too much insistence on mere doctrinal refinements which have little or no bearing on practical life, elaborate ceremonialism, fierce strife in a Church, sectarian bitterness and exclusiveness, indifference to the well being of the general population, clerical pretensions, ambition, or avarice,—all in their various ways and degrees occasion "the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme."
II. THE CLASS OF PERSONS LED THEREBY TO DESPISE AND REPROACH RELIGION. "The enemies of the Lord." Not his friends; they know too well the value of religion; reverence and love it too much. The effect of such conduct on them is sorrow, self-examination, and greater watchfulness and prayer, lest they also should be overcome by temptation. Also prayer and effort (if possible) to restore those who have sinned. To take occasion from the inconsistencies of Christians to despise and revile their religion is a manifest sign of enmity to God. It is also a mark of great ignorance of the religion they revile; for, did they understand it, they would perceive its opposition to the sins and follies of its professed adherents; and that its truth and goodness remained the same, whatever their conduct. Or, if it be said that it is only the profession of religion that is spoken of with contempt, it is plainly unjust to cast a slur on all who make it because of the sins of a few of their number.
III. THE SERIOUS EVILS THUS WROUGHT.
1. The slanderers are themselves injured. To occasion them to blaspheme is to occasion the increase of their guilt, and the greater hardening of their hearts; whereas it should be the aim of good men to do all that is possible to bring them to the knowledge of the truth and the experience of salvation.
2. Discredit is brought upon religion. Hence some who might have been disposed to inquire into its claims, and others who were preparing to make an open profession of godliness, are deterred from doing so. In this view the inconsistencies of Christians are a serious matter. They help to promote in society a sentiment adverse to earnest godliness and the profession of it.
3. The hearts of true-hearted and consistent Christians are wounded and distressed.
4. Above all, and including all, the Name of God is dishonoured, and the progress of his kingdom checked.
Finally, let inconsistent professors of religion ponder the words of our Lord (Matthew 18:7, Revised Version), "Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling] for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh!"—G.W.
2 Samuel 12:22, 2 Samuel 12:23
An infant's illness and death.
This part of the narrative introduces us to a spectacle which, in its main features, is common enough. A child sickening and dying, a parent striving with God in prayer and fasting for its life, but striving in vain. But there are peculiar circumstances here which give the scene a special interest.
I. THE CHILD'S FATAL SICKNESS.
1. The cause of it. The sufferings and deaths of little children are painful to witness, and awaken many questionings. Why should these innocent lambs suffer? Why should the sinless die? To which we may reply, Why should they not, seeing that to them death is an escape from a world of sin and misery, with its awful possibilities of evil, into the world of perfect and eternal purity, safety, and bliss? Resides, he who gave life may take it at his pleasure. Holy Scripture throws some further light upon the mystery. It teaches us in general, that, death came into the world through sin. Children die because they belong to a sinful, dying race. Their deaths are part of the penalty of the sins of men. In them the innocent suffer for the guilty, because of their guilt, and to promote their deliverance from sin. Amongst the forces at work to promote repentance and holiness, not the least powerful are the deaths of little children. God thus finds a way to the hearts of parents and their surviving children. In the case of David we have express Divine explanation of the death of the babe (2 Samuel 12:14). It was inflicted on account of the sin to which it owed its existence, and to vindicate the justice of God as against the blasphemies of his enemies. And not unfrequently now the child's death is the direct consequence and penalty of the sins of its father or mother. But in such cases, as in David's, love is revealed as well as righteousness. "The Lord struck" David's child, not only to show his displeasure at David's sin, but to deepen his penitence, and promote his godliness and holiness.
2. Its effect on David. It might have seemed probable that, when the babe was taken ill, the father, while not actually desiring its death, would at least not have been much grieved at the prospect of it. For it was a child of shame, and as long as it lived would be a perpetual reminder of the dreadful past, and would keep alive the memory of it in the court and nation. And it is a striking proof of the tenderness and strength of the monarch's affections that the prospect of the death of his little boy was so distressing to him. Partly, however, his intense longing that the child's life should be spared sprang probably from the feeling that this would be a fresh assurance to him that his sins were forgiven. In his distress he resorted to prayer for the child's restoration. How could he do this, seeing Nathan had expressly told him that it should certainly die? It seems that Divine announcements of punishments were not regarded as irrevocable, however positive their terms. Compare the eases of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-6) and of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4-10). So David said, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" and he persevered in prayer and fasting and self-humiliation until the death of the child extinguished all hope. He "went in" to a retired part of his palace, and east himself on the ground, beseeching God for the child, and fasting (2 Samuel 12:16); and in these exercises he continued day and night, until on the seventh day the child died (2 Samuel 12:18). Doubtless, during that period of solitary communion with God, not only (lid he pray for the child's life, but reflected much on his sins, indulged anew his peuitential grief, prayed for forgiveness and a cleansed heart, surrendered himself and his babe to the Divine will, sought strength to endure whatever might be before him, and grace to derive lasting profit from all that he was passing through, whatever the issue might be. In all which we do well to take him as an example.
II. THE CHILD'S DEATH. The prayers offered for the restoration of the child were sincere, importunate, persevering; but they were offered in vain. "The child died." Yet not in vain. No. true. prayer is in vain. It brings blessing to him who offers it greater than that which is denied to him. God gives "more than we ask," better than we ask. The effect of his child's death on David astonished his servants. He "arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped," etc. (2 Samuel 12:20).
1. He laid aside all signs of mourning.
2. He went into the holy tent, and worshipped. His worship would now be of a different character from that which he had offered in his own privacy. No longer entreaties for the life of the child, but expressions of submission to the will of God at length made plain; acknowledgment of God's righteousness and loving kindness in what he had done; prayers for support and consolation and sanctifying grace, for himself and the sorrowing mother, and that God would, through this painful stroke, glorify his own Name.
3. He explained and justified his conduct to his astonished servants. They expressed their perplexity. He explains by reminding them of the utter uselessness of further fasting and weeping. The dead cannot be recalled to life. The living will go to the dead; the dead will not come back to the living. It is true that this consideration has often a terrible effect in increasing the anguish of bereavement. It adds despair to sorrow. The feeling that it is impossible to recall the departed; that no more will the loved one be seen, or heard, or embraced; that the rest of life must be spent without the society that was so dear and seemed so essential to happiness, is overpowering. Nevertheless, the sense of the unalterableness of the fact, and the utter uselessness of prolonged sorrow, has ultimately a calming effect. Men come at length to reconcile themselves to the unchangeable. But there is greater peace and consolation in the truth that the unchangeable is the expression of the will of the infinitely Wise and Good. Believing this, we reconcile our minds, not to a mere hard, stern fact, but to the will of our Father in heaven, who loves us, and pains us because he loves us. The second expression employed by David in reference to the impossibility of regaining his child is worthy of notice. "He shall not return to me." It reminds us that when our friends are dead all opportunity, not only of enjoying their presence and society, but of benefiting them, and otherwise doing our duty to them, is gone. A cause for regret and penitential sorrow if we have failed in our duty to them; and a reason for greater care in doing our duty to those that remain, and for seeking their forgiveness while we may for any wrong we have done to them. There is consolation, too, in reference to those who have been taken from us, that they cannot return, when we have good assurance that they are in heaven. We cannot wish them to return from heaven to earth. We thank God for their complete deliverance from sin and sorrow, and all liability to those evils.
4. He expressed his own expectations as to the future. "I shall go to him" (2 Samuel 12:23). Whither? To the grave? to Sheol (equivalent to Hades)? or to heaven? The precise thought of David in these words is hardly ascertainable. He may have intended to say only that he must join the child in the region of death. Probably, however, he expressed a hope of conscious reunion in the future world; and the Christian, taking up the words, can express by them a fuller and more confident hope of rejoining his little children and Christian relatives and friends in a state of blessedness than was possible to Old Testament believers, though glimpses of the glorious future were at times enjoyed by them. "Not lost, but gone before" is a thought that is daily comforting thousands. And it is felt how much better it is that the desire for reunion should be fulfilled yonder rather than here—that we should go to our departed friends into that world of perfection and joy, not they come back to us into this world of imperfection and trouble. Only let us take care so to live that such hopes may be reasonable. Think how terrible the thought, "I shall go to him," as cherished by one impenitent sinner in respect to another who has gone to his doom! How dreadful the reunions hereafter of those who have lived together in ungodliness and sin here, and encouraged and helped each other in the practice of them! Better to have died in infancy! Better not to have been born!—G.W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent