with Tony W. Cartledge
2 Samuel 11:26-12:15a
“David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” — 2 Samuel 12:13
Teachers: Scroll down to find teaching resources and Tony’s video.
You’re the Man
Do you like surprises? Do you like stories? Most of us do: Humans are hard-wired to appreciate a well-told tale that keeps us in suspense and has a discernible resolution.
The familiar text we find in 2 Samuel 12 contains both a story and a surprise, but the intended recipient didn’t like either one. You wouldn’t have, either.
For readers familiar with the life of David, the sordid tale of his dalliance with Bathsheba is all too familiar. The story would be bad enough if it were limited to adultery, but David went beyond taking another man’s wife: To cover his sin, he took the man’s life.
The man’s name was Uriah, who was apparently of Hittite ancestry, but had proven himself to be among the most valiant of David’s soldiers, and was on duty in Ammon. After learning that Bathsheba was pregnant, David recalled Uriah from the battlefield on the pretense of seeking news, hoping the faithful warrior would sleep with his wife and become the presumed father of her child.
Uriah refused, however, on the grounds that he had taken the customary vow to remain celibate while at war: With his fellow soldiers living in a war camp, he asked, “Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife?” Uriah swore that he would not do such a thing (11:8-11).
The following day David succeeded in getting Uriah drunk, but still failed to persuade his loyal soldier to sleep with his wife. In a desperate bid to cover his illicit transgression, David sent Uriah back to the front with sealed orders for Joab, his military chief, to engineer Uriah’s death in battle by having other soldiers abandon him.
Joab followed David’s orders, though in a less obvious way than David had suggested, and it cost additional Israelite lives. He sent an apologetic report to the king, but David counseled Joab not to worry: “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours one and now another …” (11:25).
Those words would come back to haunt the king. The NRSV’s “Do not let this matter trouble you” translates the Hebrew idiom “Do not let this thing be evil in your eyes.” Just two verses later, after recounting David’s marriage to Uriah’s widow and the subsequent birth of their son, the narrator tells us “but the thing David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). The narrator has used the same idiom: what David had done “was evil in the eyes of Yahweh.”
Humans have an innate ability to rationalize our actions and make them seem right in our own eyes. The judgment that matters, however, is “in the eyes of the LORD.”
The last phrase of 11:27 serves as an artful transition to the next chapter, for it is grammatically connected to the opening words of chapter 12: “… and Yahweh sent Nathan to David.”
This may lead us to believe that Nathan had quickly confronted David for his sin, but months had passed. David had married Uriah’s widow and the child conceived of their extramarital union had been born – an apparently healthy baby boy. David may have thought his plan had worked and his sin had gone unmarked.
The prophet Nathan had first entered the biblical story in 2 Samuel 7, where he had communicated God’s promise to establish David’s house as a dynasty that would rule over Israel forever. We would presume that Nathan had been supportive of David, and thus would have easy access to the king. God sent him back to David with a story designed to puncture his illusions of invulnerability with a very sharp point.
The story contrasts two men. One is rich, powerful, and arrogant. The other is poor, helpless, and humble. The rich man has more livestock than he can count, while the poor man has just one ewe lamb, which he loves like a child. When the wealthy man is obligated to entertain a passing traveler, he steals the poor man’s only lamb, slaughters it, and feeds it to his guest (vv. 2-4).
The characters are so clearly drawn and the rich man’s behavior so contemptible that David responded with great anger and an oath, declaring the wealthy man to be worthy of punishment (v. 5). English translations attribute to David the words “he deserves to die!” It is possible, however, that the expression – literally, “he is a son of death” – may have been intended as a negative epithet, not unlike a popular English idiom beginning with “son of …”
Reading “son of death” as an invective sidesteps the difficult problem of David’s handing down two different sentences: one of death and the other a financial penalty. While calling the rich man a “son of death,” David declares in v. 6 that he must restore the stolen lamb four times over. According to the law, the standard penalty for sheep stealing was fourfold restitution (Exod. 22:1).
Nathan responded to David’s heated judgment with a presumably pointed finger and the words: “You are the man!” The story had been about David all along, and the crestfallen king’s own words of judgment now rested on his own head. Nathan’s accusation, pronounced as a message direct from God, uses a striking combination of first person and second person verbs to remind David of the shocking nature of his sin: “I anointed you … I rescued you … I gave you … I would have added as much more” (12:7-8). But, you despised the word of the Lord … you have struck down Uriah … you have taken his wife … you have killed him … (12:9).
A third person verb marks the transition from accusation to judgment: “the sword shall never depart from your house” (12:10), then the narrator shifts back to first person verbs to show it is Yahweh who will wield the punishing blade: “I will raise up trouble … I will take your wives … and give them to your neighbor” (12:11). David’s sin was committed in secret, but his punishment would be a matter of public record (12:12).
The reference to David’s anointing as king probably points to Samuel’s prophetic anointing in 1 Sam. 16:13 rather than the two official ceremonies described in 2 Sam. 2:4 and 5:3. The point is that Yahweh, not just popular acclaim, was behind David’s rise to the throne.
Nathan’s insistence that David had “despised the word of the Lord” (12:9) probably refers to the law rather than any direct instructions. David had violated the commandments against coveting, adultery, theft, and murder. Sufficient time had passed for the child conceived in David’s sin to be born with no apparent trouble, but if David thought his crime would be forgotten, he was mistaken.
God had not forgotten, and Nathan’s fiery charges targeted David’s evil in no uncertain terms as he twice accused David of murder: “you have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword,” and “(you) have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (12:9). “Sword” in this case is metaphorical, for Uriah was actually killed by Ammonite archers (11:24), but at David’s orders.
David had told Joab not to worry, for “the sword devours now one and now another” (11:25), but Nathan turns the metaphor to David with a prediction that “the sword shall never depart from your house” (12:10) and that God “will raise up trouble against you from within your own house” (v. 11a). Tragic and bitter events will unfold in ensuing chapters, culminating in public humiliation for the king, the private rape of David’s daughter, the public abuse of his secondary wives, and the deaths of three sons.
Nathan’s cutting words had their intended effect, though David’s response is downplayed to keep the spotlight on Nathan. Was David downtrodden? Did he fall to his knees? Did he weep? We don’t know. The narrator tells us only that David said “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13a).
Remarkably, although he had predicted painful punishments to come, the prophet declared on Yahweh’s behalf that “I have put away your sin; you shall not die” (12:13b). The law prescribed capital punishment for both adultery (Lev. 20:10, Deut. 22:22) and for murder (Lev. 24:17), but David would not die.
David found grace, but it was not cheap grace. He had “utterly scorned the LORD,” and his sin could not be easily dismissed. Rather than falling upon David, however, the death penalty David deserved was transferred to the innocent child of his adultery (12:14-15), who would die in David’s behalf – a sad story told in the remainder of the chapter.
David’s actions in the Bathsheba-Uriah affair remind us of how one sin may often lead to greater sin and greater sorrow. David was neither the first nor the last to have done something wrong, and then compounded the problem while trying to cover up the error.
Sin, as Paul reminds us, ultimately leads to death (Rom. 6:23). It may lead to physical death, though not always the death of the sinner. Sin may also bring the death of relationships, the death of good health, the death of a career, or the death of hopes and dreams.
Can you think of ways in which you or your loved ones have experienced some kind of death as a result of sin?
Isn’t it better to foster life? BT
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for August 2, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15a
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
Actions do have consequences. Many, if not most of the students we minister with make their decisions based on impulse. How does this feel? Who is watching? What is she or he going to think about this? As students make decisions, they don’t think about the consequences, whether good or bad, of the decisions that they make? When we minister with our students we have a responsibility to help our students see beyond the action to what make happen because of our actions. We aren’t to make the decision for them, but to help them see what may result from their decisions. Don’t just think about the decisions that will have negative consequences, but also those that have positive consequences: Where will I go to college? Should I run for the track team this year? What would adding another AP class to my schedule mean?
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Charlie’s Choice” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Read Scripture online: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15a