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King David humbles himself before God during the illness and death of Bathsheba's first child
After Nathan challenged David with the 'parable' of the 'little ewe lamb' the king was genuinely repentant and immediately confessed (v13), "I have sinned against the Lord". He did not try to claim his sin was against Bathsheba or Uriah alone but acknowledged that all sin is first and foremost against God. Nathan replied (v13), "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die". Following the encounter with Nathan, David was a broken and repentant man. Nevertheless, a price must be paid. There is no miraculous deliverance from the after-effects of a sin that affects those around us or dishonors the One we profess to serve. God's words of judgment through Nathan continued (v142): "Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme ..."
We know the depth of David's repentance because of Psalm 32, one of two psalms (cf. Psalm 51) in which David himself reflects on his sin, his repentance, and his recovery. Verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 322 are particularly instructive for the Christian:
3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
We can also see why David wrote these words in Psalm 51:42: "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned." David clearly took his sin very seriously as contrasted with Saul who constantly sought to minimize his sin, to make it appear that he was less sinful than he was. David did the opposite. Psalms 32 and 51 indicate to us that David gave his sin a great deal of thought, and the more he reflected on it, the more heinous he recognised it to be. Since these psalms were preserved for worship and for posterity, David's sin and his confession became public knowledge. Ultimately, his sin was against God, God alone. This is not to diminish the evil he had done to Uriah and Bathsheba. Sin is the breaking of God's law, and in this sense, all sin is against God, for it breaks His laws. Crimes are offenses against people, but sin (in this highly specific sense) is only against God, in that it breaks His laws. David had broken at least three laws. He coveted his neighbour's wife, he committed adultery, and he committed murder (Exodus 20:13, 14, 17).
These verses fit between chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel. The confrontation of David by Nathan the prophet described here results in David's repentance and confession. But this repentance is not just the fruit of Nathan's rebuke; it is also David's response to the work God has been doing in David's heart before he confesses, while he is still attempting to conceal his sin. In these verses, David makes it clear that God is at work even when it does not appear to be so. During the time David tried to cover up his sin, God was at work exposing it in his heart. These were not times of pleasure and joy, as Satan would like us to conclude, but days of misery. David was plagued with guilt and cannot sleep or eat so that he is physically suffering and even losing weight. David recognized it as God at work in him, and it made him thoroughly miserable. It was this misery which apparently tenderized David, preparing him for the rebuke Nathan was to bring and preparing him for repentance. David's repentance was not the result of David's assessment of his situation; it was the result of divine intervention. He had gone so far in sin that he couldn't think straight. God was at work in David's life to break him, so that he would once again cast himself upon God for grace.
The true repentance demonstrated by David is a rare thing to find, even in the Bible. The words David spoke to Nathan, "I have sinned. . . ." are found elsewhere in the Scriptures, but not always with the same sincerity. For example, Pharaoh twice told Moses, "I have sinned . . ." (ref. Exodus 9:27; 10:16-17). It became obvious to all that his was not a sincere repentance. Balaam was intercepted by the angel of God on his way to Balak, and when he realized he had barely escaped death at the hand of the angel of God, he exclaimed, "I have sinned . . ." (Numbers 22:34). Later biblical texts (Numbers 31:8) reveal that his repentance was also false. Judas, who betrayed our Lord, confessed to his sin, but he did not truly repent of it either (Matthew 27:4). Thus, we must conclude that merely saying, "I have sinned" is not necessarily proof of genuine repentance, but we see later the difference in the heart of God's servant, David.
But there was still an awful price to pay and this would be in David's own household because he had destroyed the household of Uriah (v10-12). The use of the sword against Uriah's household meant the sword would not depart from David's own house. The impact of what he had done would have its affect on his wives and children - they have seen him act deceitfully and it affected them psychologically so that many of them act in the same way later. There is no way to change this - even though David repented and God forgave and spared him. God would not miraculously erase what everyone had seen take place and which affected them from this time on so that David reaped the harvest of what he had sown in 2 Samuel 11.
In addition to future judgment, God also decreed that the child which Bathsheba bore would die. After Nathan left him, the child became ill. Even though God had said "the child ... shall surely die" (v14), David still besought the Lord for the child's life. He did everything he possibly could to change God's will in the matter. This is obviously well within the capabilities of our God, although many Christians today find it hard to accept that God could withhold the life of a child as a result of sin. David did not sit back as Eli had done (1 Samuel 3:18) and say, "Let God do what He will." God had determined that the child would die, but David demonstrated an exactly opposite reaction to the spineless Eli and implored the Lord to spare the baby's life. He fasted; he prayed; he lay all night on the ground. He mourned and wept and when the elders came and stood beside him to implore him to eat, David would not because he was doing everything possible, physically and spiritually, to implore God to save his child. We notice that David did not appeal to any of his good works to offset or reduce the guilt of his sin. Many assume that men need only outnumber their sins with their good deeds and, if they do more "good" than "evil," (and most believe that, on the whole, they are more good than bad) they are thus qualified to be accepted by God and can barter their "good" with Him to sway His will. They do not understand that the kind of righteousness God requires of men is perfect obedience to His Word. One failure is all it takes to make us unrighteous, and thus worthy of death:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10; cf. Matthew 5:19; Galatians 5:3).
David was a man after God's own heart. He loved God's law. The hand of God was upon him in nearly all he did. Overall, David's life was an example for us to follow, setting a standard for which we should strive. His sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba was clearly the exception, rather than the rule, thus we read:
Because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:54).
If there was ever a man who could have pointed out that his good deeds outweighed his sins, it would have to be David. But instead, we find David confessing his sin, avoiding all reference to anything good he had done, knowing he deserved God's wrath and throwing himself totally on God's mercy.
3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge (Psalm 51:3-44).
David did not presume upon God's grace, expecting to be forgiven and to have his life spared. There are those who plan and purpose to sin, believing that God is obligated to forgive them, no matter what they have done. They think that going through some ritual, or repeating some formula, will then automatically lead to forgiveness, and that life can go on, just as it was. Many who presume upon God's grace in forgiveness confess their sins on the one hand, while planning to repeat them on the other. David confessed his sin against God, and then asked for nothing. He knew what he deserved, and he did not ask to escape it, but still had compassion for the baby who had been born out of his sin with Bathsheba.
The tragic death of David's son was a consequence of David's sin, but it was not the penalty David deserved for his sin. The penalty for adultery and murder is death, on each count. David deserved to die, on two counts: adultery and murder. But Nathan had made it very clear that David's sin has been "taken away." The death of this child was a painful consequence of David's sin, but it was not punishment for his sin, per se. That punishment had been taken away, borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. We notice that the fast which David observed was a very serious one. In the Hebrew Old Testament, there is a unique way of emphasizing a point, the language repeating the word for emphasis. Thus, when we read that God told Adam that he would "surely die" (Genesis 2:17) some English translations read something like: "You shall die a death." Young's Literal Translation is an example and reads:
"And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it - dying thou dost die."
In our text, God uses this doubling method to emphasize the certainty of the child's death:
"However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:144).
The same doubling is found in verse 16:
"David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground."
Only in the marginal notes of the King James Version do we see the literal rendering, "fasted a fast." This seems to emphasise clearly that David's fasting was not entered into casually. He was in deadly earnest about this fast, for it was a matter of life and death.
Bathsheba is not prominent in this text, for the sin of adultery was David's doing, while Bathsheba is described by God through Nathan as a victim. So it is only fitting that it is David who is prominent in this text which depicts his fasting and prayer, pleading with God for the child's life. David was not a stranger to mourning. He had mourned when Saul and Jonathan died in battle (2 Samuel 1), when Abner was killed by Joab (2 Samuel 3), and even when Nahash the Ammonite king died (2 Samuel 10). His mourning here, however, was not a mourning over the death of his son (for he has not yet died), but is instead the mourning of repentance. David mourned as a sign of his repentance as he beseeched God to spare the life of his son. Some will ask is it right for David to beseech God to spare the life of this child when He has already said that He is going to take the life of the child? David knew that some prophecies were warnings of what God would do unless men repented. God sometimes foretold future judgment, which would come to pass if men did not repent. The hope for divine relenting in response to human repenting is set down in Jeremiah 18:5-84:
5 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 6 "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7 "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
This hope of forgiveness proved to be true for ancient Nineveh, much to Jonah's displeasure (ref. Jonah 3 and 4), and also for Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-13). Further, it may be that David viewed this situation through the eyes of the Davidic Covenant, which God had recently made with him:
12 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My loving-kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you" (2 Samuel 7:12-154).
It is possible that David felt this child might be the heir to his throne and, if this were the case, then David surely had reason to hope that God would spare the child's life. David was certainly right in his assumption that the life of this child was in God's hands, and that his best course of action was to appeal to God to spare the child's life. David believed in the sovereignty of God, and thus he rested his case with Him. David's prayers are not only the expression of his repentance, but the exercise of his faith. Believing in God's sovereignty did not keep David from taking action (fasting and praying) for his faith prompted him to act.
In spite of David's sorrow, sincerity, and persistence in petitioning God to spare the child's life, his request was denied. The child died and David must not have been with the child when it happened or he would have seen this for himself. David did see his servants whispering to one another, perhaps furtively glancing in his direction as they did so. They were afraid to tell David because they feared he might cause himself, or perhaps someone else, harm. The text is not altogether clear about whom the servants feared David might harm and some bible translations, such as the New American Standard Bible, use italics to indicate to us that the word himself is supplied by the translators. I am not so sure David's servants feared only for David's safety. They may have feared for themselves as well and the New International Version conveys the ambiguity of the original text:
On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate" (2 Samuel 12:18, NIV).
No one wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings to David. After all, if David had taken this child's illness so seriously, would he not take the news of his death even more so? They did not need to inform David because he instinctively knew the child was gone. The words of Nathan were fulfilled as David could see on the faces of his servants. When David asked if the child was dead they could not deny it. They told him the child was indeed dead.
It is what happens from this point on that perplexes David's servants. While the child was ill they had not been able to get David up from the ground, nor to eat any food. They assumed it would only get worse once he knew the child was dead. Instead, David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord, where he worshipped. When he had finished worshipping God, he came home and asked for food. When they set it before him, he ate it. The servants were amazed and puzzled. David was expected to mourn for the child after he died. From the servants' perspective, David had mourned so much for this child while he was still alive that they feared what would happen when they told him he was now dead but, finally, they worked up the courage to ask the king how he could respond so calmly, knowing that the child was dead (12:212):
"What is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child is dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.
David explained his change in behaviour. I think David's unusual response can partly be explained because the death of this child had already been foretold by Nathan. Through Nathan God had informed David that this son, the fruit of David's sinful union with Bathsheba, "Uriah's widow," would surely die. The death of this child was the revealed will of God. For David to mourn excessively would have been to express his regret over God's will. David's actions indicated that he had accepted the death of this child as God's will. The purpose for this child's death was instructive. It was meant to silence any blasphemy on the part of the "enemies of God." In case any might wrongly conclude that Israel's God was oblivious to David's sin in the breaking of God's law, God made it apparent that He would not wink at sin, even the sin of a man after His own heart. The death of David's son was an object lesson to the enemies of God and the chapter is a wonderful example of emotional and psychological well-being. David explained:
While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept. for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (12:22-234)
The death of this child was accepted as God's final answer to David's petitions for the child's life. This is the substance of David's answer to the question posed by his servants. While the child was alive, David fasted, wept, and prayed. But now the child is dead. David has done all that he could. God has given David a clear and final answer: "No." David sees death as the time to cease those activities which were only appropriate in life. We have a saying, "Where there's life, there's hope." As far as David's hope for the healing of this child is concerned, God has indicated to David that he should cease his efforts to persuade Him to relent concerning this child's death.
There is so much we can learn from David's sin, suffering and repentance. We often follow the opposite reaction to his example of sincere fasting and mourning. He mourned and cried, and lay all night on the ground, and fasted, hoping that God might spare his loved sick child, and then responded with faith when he saw that his child had been taken by Father God. In these circumstances I have seen many sink into despair, some even encouraged by their pastor to rant and scream at their Lord. Then, when their child dies, they continue grieving, and often become very bitter. Their hearts turn against God because He did not spare them. The root of bitterness begins to spring up and causes people to hate God and to spend the rest of their lives looking inwardly in self inflicted pity. Many of us have lost children during pregnancy and in infant-hood but, as Christians, we have the great blessed hope of meeting out little ones in heaven. This was the attitude of David. He was a spiritually and psychologically well-adjusted man who had failed his God in an area where so many of us are tempted, but who provides a pattern for us to follow. David said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." Here is a tremendous Old Testament statement of the resurrection and also indicating that children, before the age of accountability, go home to be with Jesus.
David's repentance and prayer and fasting for his child resulted in a renewed joy in the presence and service of God, and a commitment to teach others to turn from sin. From Psalm 51, we know that David prayed for a renewal of his joy in the Lord (51:8, 12). We have every reason to believe that he was granted this request. In addition, David now desired to teach others:
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You (Psalm 51:134).
David will now be teaching sinners as a repentant sinner as we shortly see. His teaching will seek to turn sinners from their sin. How different this is from the wicked, who seek to entice others to follow them in their sin:
And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:324).
Simon Peter, whose denial our Lord foretold, also heard these encouraging words of hope from the Lord Jesus Christ:
31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-324).
David's love for Bathsheba continued. She conceived and bore a son whom they named Solomon. Verse 24 says that "the Lord loved him. " Sin had been forgiven and put behind them. There is no better example in all of God's Word regarding this truth as found in Psalm 103:10-144:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness. 9 He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; And its place acknowledges it no longer. 17 But the loving-kindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children, 18 To those who keep His covenant, And who remember His precepts to do them.
We can waste years of our lives mourning over sins which are past, even grieving and feeling guilty over sins which God has forgiven. When David penned the words of Psalm 103, he may well have been thinking about this event, which would have remained with him for all of his life. David's sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah were in the past. As in the words of the Apostle Paul, "Forgetting those things which are behind. . . . I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). Bathsheba gave birth to a son, and this son would become, in the eyes of many, the greatest man ever to sit on the throne of Israel: "And the Lord loved him".
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