The Lord sent Nathan to deliver his rebuke to David as the latter had gone away from the fold of God. God does not send the prophet to David immediately after his grievous sin, but after some time had passed and the child had been born to Bathsheba. David would have least expected this visit from Nathan as he would have thought that the ordeal was behind him. He thought that he had fooled the world but he could not hide from God. Nathan came to David and told him a parable about a rich and a poor man. On the surface, the parable seemed like one of Jesus’ parables highlighting the injustice in Jewish society but this specific parable was directed at David and the injustice he had carried out.
The Parable of the Ewe Lamb
“There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.2 Samuel 12:1-4 (NIV)
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
The rich man who had everything treated his lambs as his possession. He could have very well provided supper for his traveller from his own ranch but he still chose to take away the poor man’s ewe lamb, the one that he had treated as his own family. The rich man was not only selfish but was also oblivious to the state of the poor man. He wanted to get a good name in the eyes of the traveller but not at the expense of sacrificing his cattle.
The king of Israel had every possession imaginable during those times. He had a separate palace for his wives and God gave him multiple children through these women. In spite of receiving every earthly blessing, he still coveted another man’s wife. Wives were regarded as property in Jewish culture and thus the parable of the ewe lamb perfectly fits David’s scenario. He slept with another man’s wife, thus committing adultery and possibly rape and had no remorse for his betrayal of his comrade Uriah and even tries to pass his child as another man’s.
The traveller in David’s example can be the world who thought that he was a just and honest king. To preserve that image, he went on committing one grievous sin after another. While the traveller in our example could be God who we try to fool after following through on the evil desires of our hearts. We think we can hide our sins into making God think that we are His most righteous and devoted followers. We take credit for what is not ours for self-adulation and go on telling a lie and building on our sins to try and persevere our image.
David burned with anger when he heard about the evil rich man, not realising that David was alluding to the king’s own murderous act. The king pretended to go on with his life and his family when one day his wickedness caught up to him. He wanted to execute the rich man from Nathan’s parable and even have him pay four times over for what he did. David gets this idea from the book of Exodus (22:1) which states that the price of stealing a sheep is four counts of sheep in return. He was aware of the law and would do anything to preserve it but he had no problems in living his life according to a lie.
“You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
2 Samuel 12:7-12 (NIV)
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
God punished David by bringing calamity upon David’s household as one by one, his sons started dying starting from the one born to him through Bathsheba. He did his heinous crimes in secret but the Lord promised to carry out his judgement in broad daylight before all of Israel. After Nathan left, the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David became ill. David pleaded and fasted but on the seventh day, the child died.
God has never asked for a living person’s life in lieu of someone else’s sin. Even the sacrifices of guilt and sin offerings involved domesticated animals. However, for David, the child was already dead when he wanted to get rid of his problem and trick Uriah into raising his child. Perhaps if David had come to God himself to confess his sins, the verdict would have been different. What we must understand is that death is not the ultimate punishment but it is separation from God (what we call hell). David killed a man in secret but God took the life of his child openly. Similarly, David killed his relationship with God in secret but God is chastising David in front of everyone to see. Even after everything that David had done, God was still ready to rebuild the relationship between them. God took his sin and made him clean but destroyed the lie that he had built.
Unanswered Prayer of Fasting
God had already given out His verdict but David thought that he could pray, fast and mourn into changing God’s mind. When Bathsheba was conceived, David did not care about his unborn son but now that that child was on his deathbed, he fervently prayed to God. It will bring shame upon his throne when everyone knows that it is his son that God is taking away. We have seen other examples where God has gone against his own verdict and spared someone’s life, like king Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-11) but David believed in rituals rather than true transformation of his heart.
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”2 Samuel 12:22-23 (NIV)
People treat God’s verdict like a decision made by the lower courts and think that they can keep appealing in a higher court even after the verdict has been delivered. We must learn from David here and understand that God is the ultimate authority. There is no power on this land or in the heavens greater than His name. We must understand the burden that God feels while delivering the verdict and should not revolt against Him just because it was not in our favour. Pray fervently for the desires of your heart but when God has delivered His verdict, move on to the next chapter of your life with Him.
After the loss of their child, David comforted his wife Bathsheba and she gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord had forgiven David and did not hold his sin against his newborn son. He sent word through Nathan the prophet to name the child Jedidiah, which meant loved by the Lord.
The Battle with the Ammonites
While all of this was happening, there was still a battle going on in the background with the Ammonites. This was the same battle that David had decided to stay back in Jerusalem for and Joab was at the cusp of capturing the royal citadel. Joab sent messengers to David, informing him that he had taken Rabbah’s (the capital city of the Ammonites) water supply. He warned David to leave Jerusalem and come to Rabbah with his troops otherwise he would take this city and name it after himself.
There seems to be a tone of disrespect in the words of Joab. While David was spending time with his wives and concubines, plotting to murder one of Joab’s finest, Joab and his brother Abishai fought endlessly with the surrounding armies at the expense of several of their men as well. Perhaps Joab sees David’s weakened state as an opportunity to grow his army and influence. The incident with Bathsheba has strained David’s kingdom both from the outside and as we see in the upcoming chapters from the inside as well as his family members start raping and killing each other and even challenge his throne. Even Saul’s family come out of the woods and try to seize the opportunity to get back the throne of Israel.
Everything that God had blessed David with was ruined by his stupidity. God’s forgiveness did not bring him back to normalcy but a threat from Joab to annex Rabbah in his own name brought him back to the battlefield. The chapter is bookended with David being rebuked by two men, Nathan the prophet and Joab the commander of his army. If we think about it, in the entire land of Israel, there were only two men capable of rebuking the king, Nathan the man of God and Joab the leader of the army of Israel. God used both these men to knock some sense into David and to bring him back on His path.
A Different Scenario
Just imagine what would have happened if Uriah had gone home that night. David would have gone on living a lie and his relationship with God would have been broken in his attempts to keep his sin a secret from the world. He could have even executed Nathan to ensure that his throne is not threatened by anyone. He would have gotten the respect of his people but he would have been like any other king and not “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
We should never hide our mistakes from God but seek His help to come out of them. And when we have come out of it we should not hide our past but tell of it as a witness to God and give him all the glory rather than preserving our perceived good name. Let us accept His helping hand as He is the only one who can drag us out of the mess that we have made around ourselves.
- 12:4 – Why did Nathan relay God’s word through the parable of the ewe lamb?
- 12:14 – How come an innocent life is a replacement for David’s sin?
- 12:18 – Why did God not answer David’s prayer of fasting?
- 12:28 – Why is Joab threatening David in such a way?
- Summary – What would have happened if Uriah had gone home that night?