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“A King’s Contempt, A Poor Man’s Lamb”

July 29, 2012  2Samuel 12:1-14


Summer holidays are a time to kick back, relax, and take it easy – but that doesn’t mean we can put our spiritual life “on hold”. God’s enemies are relentlessly watching for ways to trip us up, so they can capitalize on our sins and rub them in God’s face as it were; they’re eager to find any excuse to show contempt for the Almighty. When we carelessly trip, we provide them with that excuse.
    At the start of 2Samuel 11, we find the “setup” for such a moral lapse. Commentators estimate this occurred about 10 years after David became established as king in Jerusalem. He became king at age 30, ruled 7 years in Hebron, then another 33 years from Jerusalem, so that would put him about age 47 when our story opens. Age 47: what’s that represent for many men? The so-called “midlife crisis”; you maybe realize your life isn’t quite turning out as you’d hoped or expected, or perhaps you’ve reached the top of the corporate ladder and aren’t sure what’s next. Some men try to cope with their midlife crisis by indulging themselves, buying a motorcycle, starting skydiving, or taking a plunge of a different sort – having an affair.
    What are we looking for in order to satisfy our heart’s deepest desires? Career? Toys? Sex? If so, in our desperate plunge to find fulfilment, have we forgotten God who formed our heart for Himself in the first place? (Ps 33:15)
    11:1 says it was “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war...” David sent Joab his trusty military commander and the army off to besiege the Ammonites - to finish the conflict the Ammonites themselves had sparked previously. The author adds, “But David remained in Jerusalem.” Hmm – is there an unspoken implication there that David should have gone with them?
    V2, David got up from a nap late one afternoon and walked around on the flat roof of the palace; not unusual, it was a place to catch the cooler evening breeze. Perhaps David was restless, a little bored, susceptible to distraction, looking for entertainment (remember, channel-surfing hadn’t been invented yet!). All his soldier chums were miles away at the front. He was idle, enjoying a life of indolence, feeling a bit purposeless. The perfect combination to fall into the Devil’s trap: being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong attitude.


From the high vantage point of the palace roof the king caught a view that arrested him – a beautiful woman bathing, probably down in her own place’s courtyard. While this would be protected from view at street level, it her bareness was completely visible from the height of the palace roof nearby. Whether Bathsheba was aware of this risk, we can only guess.
    So, guys, there are certain places and situations that are just begging for temptation – such as being alone on the computer late at night without any real purpose. And, ladies, please don’t expose yourself unnecessarily in a way that could tempt a brother! Unfortunately fashions these days tend toward ever-shorter shorts, lower belts on jeans and shorts, and plunging necklines. But you don’t need to bare yourself like some piece of cellophane-wrapped meat on the shelf at a grocery store. You don’t really want the kind of hungry-eyed oaf who’s looking for cleavage now and, supposing he does marry you and gets bored at age 47, keeps letting his hungry eyes wander to land on someone else. What you really want is the kind of man who’s attracted by the qualities the apostle mentions in 1Peter 3(3f): the beauty of the inner self, a gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in GOD’S sight.
    Back to our story. Whether it was Bathsheba’s brazen brashness, or David’s daring dalliance, one thing led to another. David sent for her and slept with her. We’re not told whether she protested or was intimidated on account of his authority. One commentary notes, “The despotic kings of the East, when they wanted a woman, would send a courtier or officer to the house where she lived, who announced it to be the royal pleasure that she should take up residence in the palace.An apartment and maidservant would then be assigned to her, and she became a sexual plaything of the king.So great was the power of a king’s expressed wish that a woman had little or no choice in the matter.”
    If our passage two weeks ago (2Samuel 9) showed David as ruler at his best, using his royal power to help someone poor like crippled Mephibosheth, this chapter shows him at his worst and most despotic – abusing royal power to seize whatever he takes a fancy to. He already had half a dozen wives and many concubines. His act is particularly sleazy when you consider that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, not just any soldier but a member of David’s personal bodyguard and one of the so-called “Mighty Men”, is miles away camped out in the open risking life and limb to defend David. But none of that gives David cause to pause; he just barges right ahead, drawn at full throttle by his lust. His adrenaline is pumping, his senses are aroused, his nostrils are flaring in anticipation – it’s a real rush, making him feel 20 years younger. But he’s forgotten all about decency, propriety, and respect for this woman’s marriage, her husband, and his own vows.
    A subtle but important issue in all this is that the king is NOT above the law. God didn’t intent for rulers to act like those eastern despots that treat women like objects, like playthings or sex-toys. That’s abusive and degrading, dehumanizing. The king like everybody else ought to be UNDER the law. God’s laws require humans to respect others’ lives, wives, and belongings REGARDLESS of social status. If you think about it, God’s laws actually elevate the lowly to the same plane as royalty, in that respect.
    11:5, nature takes its course after intercourse; Bathsheba sent word to David indicating she was pregnant. Now the affair could no longer be hidden. Her husband was away with the troops and here she was up the stump. According to the law of Moses, both she and the man responsible would be guilty of adultery and deserving of the death penalty! Leviticus 20:10,  “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife— with the wife of his neighbor— both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” That’s actually the seventh of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14) One thing leads to another, especially where sin is concerned: before David’s done, he’ll have broken 3 if not 4 of the Ten Commandments – coveting his neighbour’s wife, adultery, murder, and possibly false witness (depending how you interpret his hypocrisy towards her husband). Sin grows. It may seem all sweet and fun at the first, but in the end it turns out really nasty.
    Well, this development of pregnancy complicates David’s fling considerably. He becomes a schemer, sneaky, a real weasel as he pulls all stops to cover up the affair. He calls her husband Uriah back from the front and tries to encourage him to have sex with Bathsheba so it will seem like it’s Uriah’s child not David’s. 11:8 David tells Uriah to go home and even sends a gift after him so he and his wife can really enjoy their evening together. When that doesn’t work, next day David gets Uriah to eat and drink and get drunk, then sends him home again, but both times Uriah insists on sleeping in the guardhouse at the palace entrance (11:12). When David asks why, Uriah protests that the Lord’s ark and Israel’s army are camped out in combat, so how could he hang back and enjoy himself at home with his wife? (Rather an indictment of David indirectly) If the ark were out in the field as seems to be the case, that makes it somewhat a ‘holy war’ and troops were bound to remain ritually clean, i.e.no sex with women. Uriah is showing himself to be very loyal both to his fellow troops and to God. By the way, though he is a Hittite thus one of the ‘people of the land’ and not an Israelite by birth, Uriah seems to have become a worshipper of the Lord, for his name means “Yahweh is my light.” All through this, Uriah’s blamelessness and righteousness serves as a foil in stark contrast to David’s dastardliness.
    Having exhausted his best attempts at a cover-up, in 11:14 David sends a letter to his commander Joab with instructions unknown to the carrier, Uriah. Essentially he sends Uriah back carrying his own sealed death warrant. Joab reads between the lines and arranges for the faithful loyal soldier to be killed in the thick of the fighting. Thus David breaks the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” (Ex 20:13) Another capital offence; as Leviticus 24(17) stipulates,  “If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.”
    Thus the cover-up seems complete. 11:27 after the appropriate period of mourning, Bathsheba became David’s wife and bore a son; and Bob’s your uncle, or so it would seem. No one was the wiser – or those who were (like Joab) knew enough to keep their mouths shut. The Bible adds, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord” – literally, it “was EVIL in the Lord’s eyes.”
    At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how other people see us; what matters is how God sees us. You may be able to ‘pull the wool over’ people’s eyes, but you can’t fool God. 1Samuel 16:7,  “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
    I titled this section “The Woman, the Warrior, and the Weasel.” How are you being weasely / sneaky / deceptive? Are you trying to ‘put one over’ on everybody? On God? Though David seemed to have gotten away with his mischief, Psalm 32 reveals he found the weight of God’s hand heavy upon him when he tried to conceal his guilt. He only found relief by confessing it. Vv3-4,  “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Sin tilts the weight of God’s wrath to lean against you until you acknowledge it.


If David thought he’d gotten away with it – he had another think coming. 12:1 “The Lord sent Nathan to David”: God holds kings accountable; those in authority are not above the law of conscience. Vv1-5 the prophet launched straight into a parable about a rich man who had many sheep and cattle, and a poor man who had only a dear little pet lamb. It grew up with him and his children, shared his food and his cup, slept in his arms, and was like a daughter to him. This story must really have appealed to David with his upbringing as a shepherd, defending helpless sheep. With his particular background, he would relate at a gut level, his emotions were drawn in; the prophet was framing it in such a way that the king couldn’t help but see the situation from the poor man’s angle. David the former shepherd boy would be identifying with this poor man who so loved his sheep.
    And then came the shocking injustice. When a traveler came to visit, the rich man to prepare a meal took NOT an animal from his own bountiful herds, but seized the single lamb of the poor man and slaughtered it. Note the actions parallel David’s taking of Bathsheba and slaughtering Uriah. It’s a perfect set-up: David falls for it holus bolus. Vv5-6,  “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity."” Contemptible...awful...unthinkable.
    David’s legal sentence of paying fourfold is based on Old Testament law; Exodus 22:1, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” Incidentally, how many of David’s sons died prematurely? Four: Bathsheba’s son, Amnon following his rape of Tamar, Absalom following his abortive coup, and Adonijah following his politically significant (if dumb) request for his father’s concubine (12:18; 13:28f; 16:14f; 1Kings 2:25).
    12:7 records Nathan’s piercing indictment after David has swallowed the parable: “You are the man!” As the rich man had cruelly taken and killed the poor man’s precious only lamb, David the king had stolen poor Uriah’s wife. The truth must have come crashing in upon David like a ton of bricks. HE was the one who “did such a thing and had no pity”. He had been heartless, despicable. The parable made it possible for him to see the heinousness of his trespasses. In Scottish poet Robbie Burns’ language:
“Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel's as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.”
God’s truth, particularly His word in Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, helps us see ourselves as HE sees us. And that is grace. God’s revealed truth helps us gauge the true significance of our actions.
    Nathan the prophet proceeds to enlighten David with God’s perspective on the matter in vv7-9. “I anointed you..I delivered you...I gave you..I gave you...And if all this had been too little, I would have given you more.” The emphasis here is God’s gracious generous loving GIVING-ness – but David was dissatisfied, not content with all that God provided.
    Nathan continues to speak for the Lord: “Why did you DESPISE the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes?” David had trampled on several of the Ten Commandments, and ignored God’s promises to Him personally. V10B, “You DESPISED Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” Hear the attitude? “You DESPISED Me” / My word. V14  “you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt...” NLT, “you have given the enemies of the Lord great opportunity to despise and blaspheme him...” Are these talking about earthly enemies? Would it not rather be enemies in the spiritual dimension, Satan who loves to be the ‘accuser of the brethren’ before God?
    Our sin is a despising / showing contempt or disgust for God’s grace to us. The sinful heart is bent or shriveled so doesn’t appreciate the treasure of God’s pledge of Himself for our good. Think of Peter saying to Ananias in Acts 5(3),  “how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money...?” In Mark 7(7f) Jesus referred to evils such as sexual immorality, theft, adultery, greed, deceit, and arrogance that “come from inside and make a man unclean”, that separate us from God. Such attitudes are a despising of God’s grace.
    In Philippians 3(19), Paul described “enemies of the cross of Christ” this way:  “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is on earthly things.” By contrast, Paul invited the church to consider everything loss (rubbish or dung) compared to knowing Christ and being found in Him; what was Paul’s burning passion? “I want to know Christ.” (Php 3:9f) Not despising God or showing contempt, but treasuring relationship with Him.
    After Nathan unloads the word of the Lord, David responds with true repentance. 2Sam 12:13, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He comes clean before God. There’s no hint of blaming others or self-justification, making excuses; he acknowledges his primary offence is against God. Psalm 51:4 comes from this occasion:  “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”


After the conviction triggered by the parable, and confession, comes surprising assurance of God’s grace and mercy. V13, Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin.You are not going to die.” Who bore the penalty for David’s sin? God took it to the cross of Jesus His Son. Romans 6:23,  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sin has deadly consequences, yet God arranges eternal life for believers as a gift. Romans 5:6, “when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” He paid the penalty for us. That made it possible for God to “impute” or “credit” Christ’s righteousness and innocence to us. Romans 4:4f,  “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”  It’s all God’s doing; our role is to believe and trust. Sheer gift, NOT obligation or ‘what we’ve got coming to us’ – that would be consequences of our sin.
    Though David is forgiven and doesn’t get the double-death penalty he deserves, there are still consequences for his
disobedience. Bathsheba’s child dies (12:14,18). But later in 12:24f David comforts her and they have a second boy, whom the name Solomon; and the Bible notes, “The Lord loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.” That means, “loved by the Lord” – what a beautiful name!
    So, there are at least 3 wonders of grace and forgiveness here. David doesn’t die; Solomon is born and loved by God; and, third, David’s lineage through Solomon includes Jesus the Saviour / Messiah through whom God’s grace is effected. God could have just as easily worked it through any other of David’s wives and sons, but He chose to do it through Bathsheba and Solomon. So we read in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, 1:6,  “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife...” Bathsheba even gets mentioned especially!
    So, even though David and Bathsheba’s start had been sinful and evil, God was pleased to redeem it. He made their relationship the vehicle or conduit of grace to us. Through them He chose to fulfill His promise to Abraham and David, to bless many nations. Praise God for His abundant mercy, and that He can turn around the muck-ups of our lives! May He help us learn to recognize what is evil in His eyes and to steer clear. Love and faith move us to desire Him, not despise Him. Let’s pray.