It seems to have been a great while after David had been guilty of adultery with Bath-sheba before he was brought to repentance for it. For, when Nathan was sent to him, the child was born (2 Sam. 12:14), so that it was about nine months that David lay under the guilt of that sin, and, for aught that appears, unrepented of. What shall we think of David’s state all this while? Can we imagine that his heart never smote him for it, or that he never lamented it in secret before God? I would willingly hope that he did, and that Nathan was sent to him, immediately upon the birth of the child, when the thing by that means came to be publicly known and talked of, to draw from him an open confession of the sin, to the glory of God, the admonition of others, and that he might receive, by Nathan, absolution with certain limitations. But, during these nine months, we may well suppose his comforts and the exercises of his graces suspended, and his communion with God interrupted; during all that time, it is certain, he penned no psalms, his harp was out of tune, and his soul like a tree in winter, that has life in the root only. Therefore, after Nathan had been with him, he prays, Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and open thou my lips, Ps. 51:12, 15. Let us observe,
I. The messenger God sent to him. We were told by the last words of the foregoing chapter that the thing David had done displeased the Lord, upon which, one would think, it should have followed that the Lord sent enemies to invade him, terrors to take hold on him, and the messengers of death to arrest him. No, he sent a prophet to him—Nathan, his faithful friend and confidant, to instruct and counsel him, 2 Sam. 12:1. David did not send for Nathan (though he had never had so much occasion as he had now for his confessor), but God sent Nathan to David. Note, Though God may suffer his people to fall into sin, he will not suffer them to lie still in it. He went on frowardly in the way of his heart, and if left to himself, would have wandered endlessly, but (saith God) I have seen his ways, and will heal him, Isa. 57:17, 18. He sends after us before we seek after him, else we should certainly be lost. Nathan was the prophet by whom God had sent him notice of his kind intentions towards him (2 Sam. 7:4), and now, by the same hand, he sends him this message of wrath. God’s word in the mouth of his ministers must be received, whether it speak terror or comfort. Nathan was obedient to the heavenly vision, and went on God’s errand to David. He did not say, “David has sinned, I will not come near him.” No; count him not an enemy, but admonish him as a brother, 2 Thess. 3:15. He did not say, “David is a king, I dare not reprove him.” No; if God sends him, he sets his face like a flint, Isa. 50:7.
II. The message Nathan delivered to him, in order to his conviction.
1. He fetched a compass with a parable, which seemed to David as a complaint made to him by Nathan against one of his subjects that had wronged his poor neighbour, in order to his redressing the injury and punishing the injurious. Nathan, it is likely, used to come to him upon such errands, which made this the less suspected. It becomes those who have interest in princes, and have free access to them, to intercede for those that are wronged, that they may have justice done them. (1.) Nathan represented to David a grievous injury which a rich man had done to an honest neighbour that was not able to contend with him: The rich man had many flocks and herds (2 Sam. 12:2); the poor man had one lamb only; so unequally is the world divided; and yet infinite wisdom, righteousness, and goodness, make the distribution, that the rich may learn charity and the poor contentment. This poor man had but one lamb, a ewe-lamb, a little ewe-lamb, having not wherewithal to buy or keep more. But it was a cade—lamb (as we call it); it grew up with his children, 2 Sam. 12:3. He was fond of it, and it was familiar with him at all times. The rich man, having occasion for a lamb to entertain a friend with, took the poor man’s lamb from him by violence and made use of that (2 Sam. 12:4), either out of covetousness, because he grudged to make use of his own, or rather out of luxury, because he fancied the lamb that was thus tenderly kept, and ate and drank like a child, must needs be more delicate food than any of his own and have a better relish. (2.) In this he showed him the evil of the sin he had been guilty of in defiling Bath-sheba. He had many wives and concubines, whom he kept at a distance, as rich men keep their flocks in their fields. Had he had but one, and had she been dear to him, as the ewe-lamb was to its owner, had she been dear to him as the loving hind and the pleasant roe, her breasts would have satisfied him at all times, and he would have looked no further, Prov. 5:19. Marriage is a remedy against fornication, but marrying many is not; for, when once the law of unity is transgressed, the indulged lust will hardly stint itself. Uriah, like the poor man, had only one wife, who was to him as his own soul, and always lay in his bosom, for he had no other, he desired no other, to lie there. The traveller or wayfaring man was, as bishop Patrick explains it from the Jewish writers, the evil imagination, disposition, or desire, which came into David’s heart, which he might have satisfied with some of his own, yet nothing would serve but Uriah’s darling. They observe that this evil disposition is called a traveller, for in the beginning it is only so, but, in time, it becomes a guest, and, in conclusion, is master of the house. For he that is called a traveller in the beginning of the verse is called a man (ish—a husband) in the close of it. Yet some observe that in David’s breast lust was but as a wayfaring man that tarries only for a night; it did not constantly dwell and rule there. (3.) By this parable he drew from David a sentence against himself. For David supposing it to be a case in fact, and not doubting the truth of it when he had it from Nathan himself, gave judgment immediately against the offender, and confirmed it with an oath, 2 Sam. 12:5, 6. [1.] That, for his injustice in taking away the lamb, he should restore four-fold, according to the law (Exod. 22:1), four sheep for a sheep. [2.] That for his tyranny and cruelty, and the pleasure he took in abusing a poor man, he should be put to death. If a poor man steal from a rich man, to satisfy his soul when he is hungry, he shall make restitution, though it cost him all the substance of his house, Prov. 6:30 (and Solomon there compares the sin of adultery with that, Prov. 6:32); but if a rich man steal for stealing sake, not for want but wantonness, merely that he may be imperious and vexatious, he deserves to die for it, for to him the making of restitution is no punishment, or next to none. If the sentence be thought too severe, it must be imputed to the present roughness of David’s temper, being under guilt, and not having himself as yet received mercy.
2. He closed in with him, at length, in the application of the parable. In beginning with a parable he showed his prudence, and great need there is of prudence in giving reproofs. It is well managed if, as here, the offender can be brought ere he is aware, to convict and condemn himself. But here, in his application, he shows his faithfulness, and deals as plainly and roundly with king David himself as if he had been a common person. In plain terms, “Thou art the man who hast done this wrong, and a much greater, to thy neighbour; and therefore, by thy own sentence, thou deservest to die, and shalt be judged out of thy own mouth. Did he deserve to die who took his neighbour’s lamb? and dost not thou who hast taken thy neighbour’s wife? Though he took the lamb, he did not cause the owner thereof to lose his life, as thou hast done, and therefore much more art thou worthy to die.” Now he speaks immediately from God, and in his name. He begins with, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, a name sacred and venerable to David, and which commanded his attention. Nathan now speaks, not as a petitioner for a poor man, but as an ambassador from the great God, with whom is no respect of persons.
(1.) God, by Nathan, reminds David of the great things he had done and designed for him, anointing him to be king, and preserving him to the kingdom (2 Sam. 12:7), giving him power over the house and household of his predecessor, and of others that had been his masters, Nabal for one. He had given him the house of Israel and Judah. The wealth of the kingdom was at his service and every body was willing to oblige him. Nay, he was ready to bestow any thing upon him to make him easy: I would have given thee such and such things, 2 Sam. 12:8. See how liberal God is in his gifts; we are not straitened in him. Where he has given much, yet he gives more. And God’s bounty to us is a great aggravation of our discontent and desire of forbidden fruit. It is ungrateful to covet what God has prohibited, while we have liberty to pray for what God has promised, and that is enough.
(2.) He charges him with a high contempt of the divine authority, in the sins he had been guilty of: Wherefore hast thou (presuming upon thy royal dignity and power) despised the commandment of the Lord? 2 Sam. 12:9. This is the spring and this is the malignity of sin, that it is making light of the divine law and the law-maker; as if the obligation of it were weak, the precepts of it trifling, and the threats not at all formidable. Though no man ever wrote more honourably of the law of God than David did, yet, in this instance, he is justly charged with a contempt of it. His adultery with Bath-sheba, which began the mischief, is not mentioned, perhaps because he was already convinced of that, but, [1.] The murder of Uriah is twice mentioned: “Thou hast killed Uriah with the sword, though not with thy sword, yet, which is equally heinous, with thy pen, by ordering him to be set in the forefront of the battle.” Those that contrive wickedness and command it are as truly guilty of it as those that execute it. It is repeated with an aggravation: Thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon, those uncircumcised enemies of God and Israel. [2.] The marrying of Bath-sheba is likewise twice mentioned, because he thought there was no harm in that (2 Sam. 12:9): Thou hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and again, 2 Sam. 12:10. To marry her whom he had before defiled, and whose husband he had slain, was an affront upon the ordinance of marriage, making that not only to palliate, but in a manner to consecrate, such villanies. In all this he despised the word of the Lord (so it is in the Hebrew), not only his commandment in general which forbade such things, but the particular word of promise which God had, by Nathan, sent to him some time before, that he would build him a house. If he had had a due value and veneration for this sacred promise, he would not thus have polluted his house with lust and blood.
(3.) He threatens an entail of judgements upon his family for this sin (2 Sam. 12:10): “The sword shall never depart from thy house, not in thy time nor afterwards, but, for the most part, thou and thy posterity shall be engaged in war.” Or it points at the slaughters that should be among his children, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah, all falling by the sword. God had promised that his mercy should not depart from him and his house (2 Sam. 7:15), yet here threatens that the sword should not depart. Can the mercy and the sword consist with each other? Yes, those may lie under great and long afflictions who yet shall not be excluded from the grace of the covenant. The reason given is, Because thou hast despised me. Note, Those who despise the word and law of God despise God himself and shall be lightly esteemed. It is particularly threatened, [1.] That his children should be his grief: I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house. Sin brings trouble into a family, and one sin is often made the punishment of another. [2.] That his wives should be his shame, that by an unparalleled piece of villany they should be publicly debauched before all Israel, 2 Sam. 12:11, 12. It is not said that this should be done by his own son, lest the accomplishment should have been hindered by the prediction being too plain; but it was done by Absalom, at the counsel of Ahithophel, 2 Sam. 16:21, 22. He that defiled his neighbour’s wife should have his own defiled, for thus that sin used to be punished, as appears by Job’s imprecation, Job 31:10; Then let my wife grind unto another, and that threatening, Hos. 4:14. The sin was secret, and industriously concealed, but the punishment should be open, and industriously proclaimed, to the shame of David, whose sin in the matter of Uriah, though committed many years before, would then be called to mind and commonly talked of upon that occasion. As face answers to face in a glass, so does the punishment often answer to the sin; here is blood for blood and uncleanness for uncleanness. And thus God would show how much he hates sin, even in his own people, and that, wherever he find it, he will not let it go unpunished.
3. David’s penitent confession of his sin hereupon. He says not a word to excuse himself or extenuate his sin, but freely owns it: I have sinned against the Lord, 2 Sam. 12:13. It is probable that he said more to this purport; but this is enough to show that he was truly humbled by what Nathan said, and submitted to the conviction. He owns his guilt—I have sinned, and aggravates it—It was against the Lord: on this string he harps in the psalm he penned on this occasion. Ps. 51:1; Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.
4. His pardon declared, upon this penitent confession, but with a proviso. When David said I have sinned, and Nathan perceived that he was a true penitent,
(1.) He did, in God’s name, assure him that his sin was forgiven: “The Lord also has put away thy sin out of the sight of his avenging eye; thou shalt not die,” that is, “not die eternally, nor be for ever put away from God, as thou wouldest have been if he had not put away the sin.” The obligation to punishment is hereby cancelled and vacated. He shall not come into condemnation: that is the nature of forgiveness. “Thy iniquity shall not be thy everlasting ruin. The sword shall not depart from thy house, but, [1.] It shall not cut thee off, thou shalt come to thy grave in peace.” David deserved to die as an adulterer and murderer, but God would not cut him off as he might justly have done. [2.] “Though thou shalt all thy days be chastened of the Lord, yet thou shalt not be condemned with the world.” See how ready God is to forgive sin. To this instance, perhaps, David refers, Ps. 32:5; I said, I will confess, and thou forgavest. Let not great sinners despair of finding mercy with God if they truly repent; for who is a God like unto him, pardoning iniquity?
(2.) Yet he pronounces a sentence of death upon the child, 2 Sam. 12:14. Behold the sovereignty of God! The guilty parent lives, and the guiltless infant dies; but all souls are his, and he may, in what way he pleases, glorify himself in his creatures. [1.] David had, by his sin, wronged God in his honour; he had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. The wicked people of that generation, the infidels, idolaters, and profane, would triumph in David’s fall, and speak ill of God and of his law, when they saw one guilty of such foul enormities that professed such an honour both for him and it. “These are your professors! This is he that prays and sings psalms, and is so very devout! What good can there be in such exercises, if they will not restrain men from adultery and murder?” They would say, “Was not Saul rejected for a less matter? why then must David live and reign still?” not considering that God sees not as man sees, but searches the heart. To this day there are those who reproach God, and are hardened in sin, through the example of David. Now, though it is true that none have any just reason to speak ill of God, or of his word and ways, for David’s sake, and it is their sin that do so, yet he shall be reckoned with that laid the stumbling-block in their way, and gave, though not cause, yet colour, for the reproach. Note, There is this great evil in the scandalous sins of those that profess religion, and relation to God, that they furnish the enemies of God and religion with matter for reproach and blasphemy, Rom. 2:24. [2.] God will therefore vindicate his honour by showing his displeasure against David for this sin, and letting the world see that though he loves David he hates his sin; and he chooses to do it by the death of the child. The landlord may distrain on any part of the premises where he pleases. Perhaps the diseases and deaths of infants were not so common in those days as they are now, which might make this, as an unusual thing, the more evident token of God’s displeasure; according to the word he had often said, that he would visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.