Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
We here pass from the story of David’s great and aggravated crimes to that of his deep repentance. Beyond all question Psalms 51 is the expression of his penitence after the visit of Nathan, and Psalms 32 the expression of his experience after the assurance of Divine forgiveness, set forth for the warning, instruction and comfort of others.
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.(1) Sent Nathan.—Nathan was already on intimate terms with David, and recognised by him as a prophet (2Samuel 7:1-17).
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:(2) There were two men.—The parable is designed to bring out David’s indignation against the offender without being so clear as to awaken at first any suspicion of a personal application. It does not allude to the special crimes of David, but to the meanness and selfishness of the transaction—qualities which David was still in a condition to appreciate. For a similar use of parables see 2Samuel 14:2-11; 1Kings 20:35-41.
But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.(3) It grew up together.—“All these circumstances are exquisitely contrived to heighten the pity of the hearer for the oppressed, and his indignation against the oppressor.”—Speaker’s Commentary.
And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:(5) Was greatly kindled.—David’s generous impulses had not been extinguished by his sin, nor his warm sense of justice; his naturally quick temper (1Samuel 25:13; 1Samuel 25:22; 1Samuel 25:33) at once roused his indignation to the utmost.
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.(6) Fourfold.—In exact accordance with the Law (Exodus 22:1; comp. Luke 19:8). The LXX. (in most copies “sevenfold,” comp. Proverbs 6:31) and the Chaldee (“fortyfold”) have expressed more of human indignation; but David knew the Law too well to change its terms.
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;(7) Thou art the man.—The boldness and suddenness of this application bring a shock to David which at once aroused his slumbering conscience. This could not have been the case had David been essentially a bad man. He was a man whose main purpose in life was to do God’s will, but he had yielded to temptation, had been entangled in further and greater guilt in the effort to conceal his sin, and all the while his conscience had been stupefied by the delirium of prosperity and power. Now what he had done is suddenly brought before him in its true light. For like prophetic rebukes of royal offenders see 1Samuel 15:21-23; 1Kings 21:21-24; Isaiah 7:3-25; Matthew 14:3-5.
And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.(8) Thy master’s wives.—In 2Samuel 12:7-8 the prophet enumerates the chief favours and blessings shown to David, and these are so brought out as to show not only his base ingratitude, but also the unreasonableness of this particular sin. We are told of only one wife of Saul (1Samuel 14:50) and of one concubine (2Samuel 3:7) who was taken by Abner. If he had others, David certainly could not have taken them until more than seven and a half years after Saul’s death. The prophet refers to the Oriental custom that the new king had a right to the harem of his predecessor.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.(9) Hast slain him.—This is a different and stronger word than “killed” in the first part of the verse, and might well be translated murdered. It was murder in the eyes of the Lord, although accomplished indirectly by the sword of the Ammonites.
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.(10) Shall never depart.—This word, in both its positive and negative forms, for ever and never, is constantly used to express the longest time possible in connection with the subject of which it is used. Here it must mean “as long as David lives;” and the punishment denounced found its realisation in a long succession of woes, from the murder of Amnon to the execution of Adonijah.
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.(13) I have sinned.—The same words were used by Saul (1Samuel 15:24; 1Samuel 15:30), but in a totally different spirit. Saul’s confession was a concession to the prophet for the purpose of securing his support, and with no real penitence; David, in these few words, pours out before God the confession of a broken heart.
Thou shalt not die.—David had committed two crimes for which the Law imposed the penalty of death—adultery (Leviticus 20:10) and murder (Leviticus 24:17). As an absolute monarch he had no reason to fear that the sentence would be put in force by any human authority; and the Divine word is to him of far more importance as an assurance of forgiveness than as a warding off of any possible earthly danger. The phrase is thus parallel to, and explanatory of, the previous clause, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.”
Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.(14) Thou hast given great occasion.—Although David was forgiven, yet since his sin had brought great scandal on the church, it was necessary that he should suffer publicly the consequences of that sin. We can see that this was especially important in David’s case, both for the vindication of God’s justice, and to destroy the hope that other sins also might go unpunished; yet it is not to be forgotten that the effect of sin generally is similar. The far greater part of David’s sufferings were from what are called “the natural consequences” of his sin, i.e., from consequences which flowed from it under the immutable laws of the world’s moral government. These laws are always in force, and bring home the earthly consequences of sin, however the sinner may have repented and been forgiven.
The child also that is born.—The death of a little infant in the harem of a great Oriental monarch might seem of small significance, and but a light punishment; David, however, saw it in its true light—as an evidence of God’s unalterable purpose, and a sign of the greater judgments that must come upon him. The people also, no doubt, saw and felt the appropriateness of this punishment.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.(16) Besought God for the child.—It can hardly be necessary to say that this does not imply any want of submissiveness to God’s will on David’s part, nor an inordinate love for the child of his guilt. “In the case of a man whose penitence was so earnest and so deep, the prayer for the preservation of his child must have sprung from some other source than excessive love of any created object. His great desire was to avert the stroke as a sign of the wrath of God, in the hope that he might be able to discern, in the preservation of the child, a proof of Divine favour consequent upon the restoration of his fellowship with God. But when the child was dead, he humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and rested satisfied with His grace, without giving himself up to fruitless pain” (O. von Gerlach, quoted by Keil). Yet David’s deep love for the child is not to be overlooked altogether.
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.(23) I shall go to him.—As far as the mere words themselves are concerned, this might be taken as the expression of a Stoic’s comfort, “I shall go to the dead, but the dead will not come to me;” but David, in his whole nature and belief, was as far as possible from being a Stoic, and these words in his mouth can scarcely be anything else than an expression of confidence in a life of consciousness beyond the grave, and of the future recognition of those loved on earth.
And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.(24) Called his name Solomon.—The birth of Solomon could hardly have taken place until after the events mentioned in 2Samuel 12:26-31, since it is not likely that the siege of Rabbah would have occupied two years. It is without doubt mentioned here (after the custom of Scripture narrative) to close the story of Bath-sheba in its proper connection. The birth of that son who should succeed to the kingdom, and through whom should pass the line to the Messiah, was too important to be overlooked.
And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.(25) Jedidiah.—It does not appear that this name (beloved of the Lord) was intended to do more than express the Divine acceptance of Solomon; and it never came into use as a personal title.
And Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.(26) Took the royal city.—The parallel narrative is resumed at this point in 1Chronicles 20:2. Rabbah was situated in the narrow valley of the upper Jabbok, on both sides of the stream, but with its citadel on the cliff on the northern side. The “royal city” of this verse, and “the city of waters” of the next, refer probably to the city proper, while the “city” of 2Samuel 12:28-29 is no doubt the citadel, which was more strongly fortified.
Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.(28) The rest of the people.—Joab proposes a general muster of the remaining forces of Israel, either because additional force was actually needed for the capture of the citadel, or simply to carry out the formal capturing of the city by David in person.
And he took their king's crown from off his head, the weight whereof was a talent of gold with the precious stones: and it was set on David's head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city in great abundance.(30) Their king’s crown.—The same Hebrew letters, translated their king, form the name of Milcom, the chief idol of the Ammonites, and hence some writer have quite unnecessarily supposed that the idol’s crown is meant.
A talent of gold.—If this is according to the Hebrew weights, the amount is extraordinary, for the silver talent was above a hundred pounds, the gold talent twice as much. But there were various other Eastern talents, as the Babylonian and Persian, of much smaller weight, and it is not unlikely that a light talent may have been in use among the Ammonites. The weight, however, on any reasonable supposition, would have been too great to allow of this crown being commonly worn.
And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.(31) Put them under saws.—The literal translation of the Hebrew (put them with, or into, the saw) does not give any good sense, and no doubt a single letter of the text should be changed, bringing it into agreement with 1Chronicles 20:3, “cut them with saws.” (Comp. Hebrews 11:37.)
Harrows of iron.—These are the heavy iron tools, often armed with sharp points on the lower side, which were used for the purposes of threshing the grain and breaking up the straw.
The brick-kiln.—This is the reading of the Hebrew text, and there is no sufficient reason to call it in question. The Hebrew margin, however, has “through Malchan; “and hence some have supposed that David made the Ammonites pass through the same fire by which they were accustomed to consecrate their children to Molech.
In the infliction of these cruelties on his enemies David acted in accordance with the customs and the knowledge of his time. Abhorrent as they may be to the spirit of Christianity, David and his contemporaries took them as matters of course, without a suspicion that they were not in accordance with God’s will.