You Are the Man

David sinned grievously, but his repentance went as deep as his sin had gone. We see complete forgiveness in this portion of the story, offered to David, and received by him. We also see that the reality of ongoing consequences is not the same thing as lack of forgiveness. We must learn to stop reading the latter in terms of the former.

The Text:

“And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor . . .” (2 Sam. 12:1-31)

Summary of the Text:

As many messengers had been sent in the previous chapter, so now the Lord sends Nathan the prophet to David (v. 1). The prophet tells him a stylized story about a rich man and a poor one (v. 1). The rich man had many flocks (v. 2), while the poor man had only one small ewe lamb, like one of the family (v. 3). A traveler came, and the rich man killed the poor man’s sheep in order to feed his guest (v. 4). David got angry, and said that such a man deserved to die (v. 5). Because he had no pity, he will have to restore four-fold (v. 6). And so Nathan then said, “You are the man” (v. 7). God made you king over everything (vv. 7-8), and God would have done even more than that (v. 8). But you killed Uriah and took his wife (v. 9). The sword will therefore not depart from your house (v. 10). Revolt will come from within your own house (v. 11), and another man will publicly sleep with your wives (v. 12).

David confesses fully (v. 13). Nathan tells him that he won’t die, but because he opened the way for blasphemies, the child will die (v. 14). So Nathan departed, and the (unnamed) child got very sick (v. 15). David fasted, and prostrated himself on the ground before the Lord (v. 16). The elders tried to get him to get up, but he refused (v. 17). After seven days of this, the child died (v. 18), and the servants were afraid to tell him. When David sees them whispering, he understands the child was dead and asks about it (v. 19). So David gets up, and cleanses himself, goes to the house of the Lord, worships, and comes home to eat (v. 20). Obviously, the servants ask him about it (v. 21). He replies that while the child was alive, there was a chance (v. 22). Now that he is dead, the matter is settled (v. 23). David then comforts Bathsheba, and she bore a son—Solomon (v. 24). The Lord loved him, and Nathan came with another name, Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord” (v. 25).

In the meantime, the siege of Rabbah was almost done (v. 26). Joab sent word—he had already captured the city’s water supply (v. 27). David had better come quickly if he didn’t want Joab to get the credit (v. 28). So David comes against Rabbah, and captures it (v. 29). The ceremonial crown that they place on David’s head weighed between 65-75 pounds (v. 30). David then puts the Ammonites to forced labor, and returns to Jerusalem (v. 31).

A King Under Law:
One of the great differences between pagan forms of government and biblical forms of government is that in biblical forms of government the “king” is not divine. This means that it becomes possible for a prophetic rebuke to come to the king. It is possible for a “thus saith the Lord” to come from outside the Oval Office.

Nathan comes to David because he was sent. Remember that David had already had one man killed as part of this cover-up, and there was no reason to assume that he wouldn’t do it again. And yet, once sent, Nathan courageously came with the message.

Ego Camouflage:

If we look at David’s descriptions of his internal state during this time (Psalm 32 & 51), we know that his conscience was tormenting him. We see in his reaction to Nathan’s story that his conscience was fully functional. He says that the rich man deserved to die, even though he was not guilty of murder. David’s moral outrage here is conflicted.

Nathan uses a prophetic form of godly deception. He frames the case in a way that David would not recognize, but where all the essential elements of the offense were still there. When David pronounces sentence on that offense, he was pronouncing sentence on himself, a fact that would be revealed to him immediately afterwards.

Some Numbers:

David pronounced a four-fold judgment, which was a kind of restitution that law sometimes required (Luke 19:8). It is striking that this is exactly what happened to David’s house—he lost four sons because of this. First was this small child, then Amnon, then Absalom, and last Adonijah.

Uriah had slept on the ground for two nights, outside David’s palace. Here David sleeps on the “earth” for seven nights.

Rich man, poor man, a man came . . . and for the seventh occasion of it, we hear Nathan saying, “You are the man . . .”

Forgiveness in the Aftermath:

David is laid low by his sin. He could have doubled down on it, had Nathan executed, and declared himself an absolute ruler.

He accepts the statement of his guilt, full stop. He also accepts the consequences, but feels free to intercede concerning those consequences before the Lord makes it final. One of the consequences is that the sword will not depart from his house (v. 10). This is what lies behind David not being permitted to build the Temple. The reason stated there was that he was a “man of blood” (1 Chron. 28:3), which did not refer to him fighting the Lord’s battles. Rather, I take it as referring to the blood of Uriah, and the cascading bloodshed and warfare in his house as a result of it.

David is a penitent, and exhibits that repentance in truth. He sorrows in the presence of the Lord. In a type, when “a son of David” dies, he then gets up. He then washes and dresses himself. He then goes to worship the Lord. A son of David dies, and David the sinner is restored. Then another son of David is born, a son who is beloved by God.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • James Bradshaw

    “Against thee only have I sinned”.

    Truer words were never spoken. While David did have a man killed so he could take his wife, as a creature intentionally born into original sin, the man probably had it coming to him, anyhow. In the end, he only upset God. You see, it’s not really possible to commit an action against a human being that they don’t deserve if you start with the premise that everyone is born deserving eternal Hellfire already. Don’t try to one-up God when it comes to inflicting suffering … His plans for most of humanity in the NEXT life make the Spanish Inquisition look like life on “Little House on the Prairie”.

  • Douglas Wilson

    James, that is certainly true in your case. Everything you say against others is really aimed at God.

  • James Bradshaw

    Now why would that be, Doug? God is incapable of being harmed or hurt by anyone, certainly not by silly little posts.

    In any rate, the point is not what Jesus will do to sinners:

    How Jesus gets His kicks is not for me to judge. What I think IS worth discussing is the delight of the Elect when something like this happens to … who knows … maybe their own mother?

  • katecho

    Bradshaw is so swollen with bitterness toward God that he could hardly be described as an unbeliever. In order to blaspheme with such consuming devotion, he must believe in the target of his aim, even if blasphemy is the worst he can do.

    But the god that Bradshaw has devoted his service to is not the God we worship. Bradshaw is angry with a god who torments creation; a bully who gets “kicks” out of the suffering of others. Bradshaw is unaware, or has forgotten, that the God of Scripture became one of us, so that men like Bradshaw could finally get their hands on Him. We did more than simply blaspheme the name of Jesus, and lie against His character. We humiliated Him, and beat Him, and mocked, and flayed, and crucified Him.

    Why would the God of all creation leave the safety of heaven to be man-handled and humiliated by His creatures like this? Why suffer the indignity? Why put Himself at our mercy (and find no mercy)? This act is the opposite of what a tyrant and a bully does. The bully inflicts suffering, he doesn’t share in it. The tyrant demands sacrifice, he doesn’t lay himself down on the altar to be the sacrifice.

    Perhaps it was to show us who we really are inside. We are Bradshaw. Now it’s James’s move. Continued mockery and blasphemy is anti-climactic here. Christ’s blood has already been shed.

  • katecho

    On the topic of Doug’s sermon text, the History Channel did a popular series called The Bible. I got to see just a couple of those episodes, but I recall I was really disappointed in their handling of this very powerful exchange between David and Nathan. They completely “whiffed it”, as Doug would say. They didn’t even cover any of the set up about the poor man’s beloved ewe lamb where David unknowingly condemns himself. That hit the cutting room floor, apparently. Just no awareness of the dramatic tension.

  • James Bradshaw

    Katecho writes: “Continued mockery and blasphemy is anti-climactic here. ”

    How am I mocking anything? I’m simply trying to force you to own up to your beliefs.

    If Christ says that your own mother wasn’t given “saving faith” (whatever that means), you must have the capacity to be satisfied that she is tortured in unimaginable ways for ever and to thank Him for it, whatever love and goodness she may have brought to your life.

    This isn’t about God. It’s about you.

    Your religion may turn you into a devil if you’re not careful.