2 Samuel 12
Pulpit Commentary
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.
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
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.
Verse 3. - Was unto him as a daughter. The Orientals are excessively fond of pet animals, and, as the dog is with them unclean, its place is taken by fawns, kids, or lambs. The description, therefore, is not overcharged, for in many an English home the dog or cat takes its place as one of the family. The Revised Version preserves the tenderness of the original in translating "it did eat of his own morsel."
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
Verse 4. - A traveller,... wayfaring man,... man that was come to him. Nathan probably used these three terms chiefly to diversify his language, but it has served as a handle for much allegorizing. Thus Rashi explains it of covetousness, which comes at first as a mere "passer by," the literal meaning of the word rendered "traveller." But, if admitted, it grows into "a wayfaring man," who comes and goes on business, and stays a longer time. Finally it changes into "one who has come to him," and remains permanently. Such allegorical interpretations are common in the Fathers, and thus Augustine compares the three stages of sin to our Lord's three miracles of raising the dead. The sinner is at first like Jairus's daughter, just dead, and repentance can restore him immediately to life; but, if sin be persisted in, he becomes like the son of the widow of Nain, carried away to burial; and finally like Lazarus, given over to corruption.
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:
Verse 5. - Shall surely die. It is strange language to declare that a man shall be put to death and then fined four lambs; But David says nothing of the sort, but that the man is "a son of death," that is, a wretch who deserves to die. The Revised Version correctly renders, "is worthy to die." The sentence actually passed, of fourfold restitution, is exactly in accordance with the Mosaic Law (Exodus 22:1), but the moral turpitude of the offence was far greater than could be atoned for by the legal penalty. Rightly, therefore, David expressed his indignation, and regretted that the sentence was so light; but a judge must not strain the law, which necessarily has regard chiefly to the outward offence.
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
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;
Verse 7. - Thou art the man! Abruptly and with sudden vehemence comes the application to David himself. So skilfully had the parable been contrived, that up to this point David had had no suspicion that he was the rich man who had acted so meanly by his poorer neighbour Uriah. And now he stood self-condemned. Yet even so self-love might have made his indignation break forth against Nathan; but probably the reproof only completed a work that had long been secretly in progress, and brushed away the last obstacles to repentance. I anointed thee. The solemn anointing made David the representative of Jehovah, and thus his sin was aggravated by the degradation in the eyes of the people, beth of the kingly office and also of Jehovah himself. Rank and authority are given to men that they may lead others to do right; it is a fearful misuse of them when they give prestige to sin.
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.
Verse 8. - I gave... thy master's wives into thy bosom. These words probably mean that, as the whole possessions of his predecessor belonged, by Oriental custom, to the next occupant of the throne, David might have claimed the entire household and the wives both of Saul and Ishbosbeth as his own, though apparently he had not done so. As far as we know, Saul had but one wife (1 Samuel 14:50) and one concubine, Rizpah (2 Samuel 3:7). Of Ishbosheth's family arrangements we know little, but his harem, if he had one, would become the property of David. But independently of this, the permission of polygamy had made it possible for him to take any of the daughters of Israel and Judah to wife, and he had freely availed himself of this licence. Yet, not content, he had lusted after a married woman, and had got rid of her husband by murder, meanly using the sword of the Ammonites to accomplish his own criminal purpose. The word used in this clause, and rendered "thou hast slain him," is a very strong one, and literally means "thou hast murdered him," though the sword was that of the enemy.
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.
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.
Verse 10. - The sword shall never depart from thine house; that is, thy crime shall not be expiated by one slaughter, but by many, so that thy punishment shall cease only at thine own death. This sentence was fulfilled in Amnon's murder (2 Samuel 13:28), who had been encouraged in his crime by his father's example. Upon this followed Absalom's rebellion and death (2 Samuel 18:14); and finally, when in his last hours David made Solomon his successor, he knew that he was virtually passing sentence on Adonijah, the eldest of his surviving sons. But what a fearful choice! for had he not done so, then Bathsheba and her four sons would doubtless have been slain, whereas there was some hope that Solomon might spare his brother. That Adonijah was unworthy we gather from the fact that he had ceased to be cohen, and that this office was conferred, after Absalom's rebellion, on Ira the Jairite (2 Samuel 20:26), Solomon being then too young to hold such a position. Until he committed this crime, David's family had probably dwelt in concord, and it was his own wickedness which broke up their unity, and introduced among them strife, mutual hatred, and the shedding of blood.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
Verse 11. - He shall lie with thy wives. Fulfilled for political purposes by Absalom, under the advice of Bathsheba's grandfather (2 Samuel 16:22). The punishment was thus complete. For the murdered Uriah there was fourfold restitution, according to David's own sentence. First there was Bathsheba's child lately born, then Amnon, thirdly Absalom, and lastly Adonijah. For the adultery there was open disgrace wrought upon his royal dignity "before the sun," in open daylight. As he had brought shame and dishonour upon the family relations of his neighbour, so were his own family rights violated by his rebellious son. And, as is often the case, the sins which followed were worse than those which prepared the way. Vice begins as a small stream trickling through the opposing dam. but it quickly breaks down all moral restraints, and rushes along like a destroying flood.
For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
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.
Verse 13. - I have sinned against Jehovah. Saul had used the same words, and had meant very little by them; nor had he added "against Jehovah," because his purpose was to appease Samuel, and prevail upon him not to disgrace him before the people. David's confession came from the heart. There is no excuse making, no attempt at lessening his fault, no desire to evade punishment. Psalm 51 is the lasting testimony, not only to the reality, but to the tenderness of his repentance, and we may even feel here that confession was to him a relief. The deep internal wound was at length disclosed, and healing had become possible. Up to this time he had shut God away from his heart, and so there had been no remedy for a soul diseased. It was because his sorrow was genuine that comfort was not delayed. Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Now, death was the legal penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10), and though it might not be easy to exact it of a king, yet, until it was remitted, David would be in the eyes of all "a son of death" (see on ver. 5); and how could he administer justice to others while the death sentence for a capital crime was hanging over himself? Had not the prophet been authorized to use his dispensing power as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, David could not have remained king. And we can see no reason for supposing, with Ewald and others, that a substantial interval of time elapsed between David's confession and Nathan's absolution. The sole conceivable reason for such a view would be the supposition that David's repentance began and was completed with the one stab of shame which pierced through him when he heard Nathan's sudden reproach. Such a mere thrill, following upon such persistent callousness, would have merited little attention. But if months of brooding sorrow and secret shame had been humbling David, then his open confession was the proof that the Spirit's work had reached the goal, and was now complete. And we gather from Psalm 51:3 that such was the case. "My sin," he says, "is ever before me." It had long haunted him; had long occupied his thoughts by day, and broken his rest at night. Like a flood, his iniquities had gone over his head, and threatened to drown him; like a heavy burden, they had pressed upon him so as to break him down (Psalm 38:4). Both these psalms tell of long continued sorrow of heart; but with confession had come relief. He had offered to God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, and knew that it had not been despised. We shall see subsequently that his time and attention had been much occupied with the Ammonite war, and this had probably helped him in evading the secret pleadings of his own conscience.
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.
Verse 14. - Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme; Hebrew, thou hast made the enemies of Jehovah to despise; that is, to despise Jehovah's government, the theocracy, of which David was the visible head and earthly representative. Jehovah's enemies are not the heathen, but Israelitish unbelievers, who would scoff at all religion when one in David's position fell into terrible open sin. But the death of the adulterous offspring of David and Bathsheba would prove to these irreligious men that Jehovah's righteous rule could reach and punish the king himself, and would thus vindicate his justice from their reproach.
And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.
Verse 16. - David... went in. He went, not into the sanctuary, which he did not enter until after the child's death, but into some private room in his own house. There he remained, passing his nights stretched on the ground, and fasting until the seventh day. His fasting does not imply that he took no food during this long interval, but that he abstained from the royal table, and ate so much only as was necessary to maintain life. Now, what was the meaning of this privacy and abstinence? Evidently it was David's acknowledgment, before all his subjects, of his iniquity, and of his sorrow for it. The sickness of the child followed immediately upon Nathan's visit, and we may feel sure that news of his rebuke, and of all that passed between him and the king, ran quickly throughout Jerusalem. And David at once takes the position of a condemned criminal, and humbles himself with that thoroughness which forms so noble a part of his character. Grieved as he was at the child's sickness, and at the mother's sorrow, yet his grief was mainly for his sin; and he was willing that all should know how intense was his shame and self-reproach. And even when the most honourable of the rulers of his household (Genesis 24:2), or, as Ewald thinks, his uncles and elder brethren, came to comfort him, he persists in maintaining an attitude of heart stricken penitence.
And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?
But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.
Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.
Verse 20. - Then David arose from the earth. If David's grief had been occasioned by love for the child, then its death and the consciousness that, while his guilt had caused its sickness, his prayers had not availed to save it, would have aggravated his anguish. There was much personal regard for the child, which had been made the more precious by these very eyelets. But David's sorrow was, as we have seen, that of penitence, and not that of natural affection. When, therefore, the threatened penalty had been paid by the death of the child, David felt it to be his duty to show his resignation, and therefore he went into the sanctuary and worshipped, in proof that he acknowledged the justice of God's dealings, and was content to bear the punishment as his righteous desert.
Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.
And he said, 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?
Verse 22. - God; Hebrew, Jehovah, usually rendered "Lord." Similarly in Genesis 6:5 in the Authorized Version we find God in capital letters, as here, for the Hebrew Jehovah.
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.
Verse 23. - I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. These words indicate, first of all, much personal feeling for the child. Hence some have supposed that, as Solomon is placed last of Bathsheba's four sons in 2 Samuel 5:14 and 1 Chronicles 3:5, three other sons had already been borne by her, and that consequently this child, the fruit of their adultery, would now have been seven or eight years of age. It is certainly remarkable that in ver. 16 David calls him "the lad" (so the Hebrew), though in every other place he is styled "the child." On the other hand, we gather from ver. 14 that probably he was as yet the only child, and this is the more reasonable view, even if Solomon was the youngest son (but see note on ver. 24). But secondly, the words indicate a belief in the continued existence of the child, and even that David would recognize and know him in the future world. Less than this would have given no comfort to the father for his loss. Now, it is true that we can find no clear dogmatic teaching in the early Scriptures upon the immortality of the soul. Job could give expression to no such hope in Job 7:6-10, and the belief in a world to come would have solved the difficulties of himself and his friends, which really are left unsolved. Even in the Psalms there are words that border on despair (see Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Psalm 88:11; Psalm 115:17); nor had Hezekiah any such belief in continued existence as could solace him in the expectation of an early death (Isaiah 38:18, 19). This hopelessness was not unnatural at a time when the doctrine had not been as yet clearly taught. On the other hand, in Psalm 17:15 and Psalm 16:9-11 We find proof that David did believe in his own immortality. For though the latter words have a second and higher meaning, yet the primary sense of Psalm 16:10 is that David's own soul (or self) would not always remain in Sheol, the abode of the departed, nor would he, Jehovah's anointed one, see such corruption as would end in annihilation.
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.
Verse 24. - He called his name Solomon. It is rashly assumed that Solomon's birth followed next in order after that of the deceased child. More probably there was a long interval of time, and son after son was born, with little increase of happiness to the family polluted by Amnon's sin and troubled by its miserable consequences. While we must not lay too great stress upon Solomon calling himself "a little child" (1 Kings 3:7) after his accession, yet it forbids our believing that he was more than just grown up, It was the remarkable ability of Solomon, his goodness and precocious talent, which made him so great a comfort to his parents, and which received Jehovah's seal of approval in the name Jedidiah. This name would scarcely be given him until his good and great qualities were developing; and as it was a sort of indication that he was the chosen and elect son of David, and therefore the next king, we shall probably be right in believing that this second mission of Nathan, and this mark of Divine favour to David's youngest child, did not take place until after Absalom's death, possibly not until Solomon was ten or twelve years of age. The name Solomon means "the peaceful," and answers to the German Friedrich. It was given to the child in recognition that David's wars were now over, and that the era of quiet had begun, which was to be consecrated to the building of Jehovah's temple. It was the name given to the infant at his birth, and was a name of hope. Alas! this peace was to be rudely broken by the rebellion of the son whom David, in vain expectation and with all a father's pride, had named Absalom, "his father's peace."
And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.
Verse 25. - He sent. Some commentators make David the subject of the sentence, and translate, "And he, David, sent in the hand of Nathan, and called," etc. They suppose that this means that Nathan was entrusted with Solomon's education; but "in the hand" is the ordinary Hebrew preposition, meaning "by," and the sense plainly is that God sent a message by Nathan. David had already called the child Solomon, and now Jehovah, some years afterwards, gives him an indication of his special favour by naming him Yedidyah. The word is formed from the same root as David, that is, "lovely," with the addition of the Divine name. As we have already pointed out, this was no slight matter, but the virtual selection of Solomon to be David's successor, and probably, therefore, was delayed until he had given indica of his great intellectual gifts. His elder brothers would not be passed over without valid reasons.
And Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.
Verse 26. - Joab... took the royal city. As the siege of Rabbah would be conducted by the slow process of blockade, it might easily be prolonged into the second year, and so give ample space for David's sin and its punishment by the death of the child. But more probably the narrator, having commenced the history of David's sin, completes the story before returning to his account of the war. Thus the capture of Rabbah would occupy some of the interval between David's adultery and Nathan's visit of rebuke, and would lessen the difficulty, which we cannot help feeling, of David remaining for nine or ten months with the guilt of adultery and murder resting upon him, and no open act of repentance. Some short time, then, after Uriah's death, Joab captured "the city of waters." This is not a poetical name for Rabbah, but means the "water city," that is, the town upon the Jabbok, whence the supply of water was obtained. The citadel, which occupied a high rock on the northwestern side, must, therefore, soon be starved into submission, and the whole of "the royal city," that is, of the metropolis of the Ammonites, be in Joab's power. He therefore urges David to come in person, both that the honour of the conquest may be his, and also because probably the blockading force had been reduced to as small a body of men as was safe, and the presence of a large army was necessary for completing the subjugation of the country, which would follow upon the capture of the capital.
And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters.
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.
And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.
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.
Verse 30. - Their king; Hebrew, Malcam. This is another mode of spelling Milcom, the god of the Ammonites, and is found also in Zephaniah 1:5, and probably in Jeremiah 49:1, 3; Amos 1:15. Strictly, Milcom or Malcom is a proper name for the supreme deity, formed from the word melec, a king, or, as it was pronounced in other Semitic dialects, Moloch. Grammatically, Malcam also means "their king," and even so belongs to Milcom. For the crown weighed a hundred pounds, a ponderous mass, which no man could possibly bear, and, least of all, when making, as was the case with the Ammonite king, his last stand for his life. But after the capture of the city, it was lifted from the head of the idol, and placed formally upon David's head, and held there for a few moments, as a sign of victory and of rejoicing over the fall of the false god. There is no reason for supposing that there is any exaggeration in the weight, nor will the Hebrew allow us to understand the talent of gold as referring to its value.
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.
Verse 31. - The people that were therein. The cruel treatment described in this verse was inflicted, first of all, upon those who had defended Rabbah, now reduced to a small number by the long siege; but David next proceeded through all the cities, that is, the fortified towns of the Ammonites, inflicting similar barbarities. They were confined probably to the fighting men, and most of these would make their escape as soon as resistance became hopeless. The general population would, of course, scatter themselves in every direction, but the misery caused by such a breaking up of civil life, as well as by the cruel bloodshed, must have been terrible. Instead of "he put them in a saw," we find, in 1 Chronicles 20:3, "he sawed them with a saw." This reading differs from what we have here only in one letter, and is plainly right, as the translation, "under saws," "under harrows of iron," etc., found both in the Authorized and Revised Versions, is simply an expedient, tendered necessary by the corruption of the text. If we restore the passage by the help of the parallel place, it runs on thus: "He sawed with a saw, and with threshing sledges of iron, and with cutting instruments of iron." What exactly the second were we do not know, as the word does not occur elsewhere. The Vulgate renders it "wains shod with iron," meaning, apparently, those driven over the corn for threshing purposes, and now driven over these unfortunate people. The barbarity is not more horrible than that of sawing prisoners asunder. He made them pass through the brick kiln. Both the Septuagint and Vulgate have "brick kiln," Hebrew, malban, which the Massorites have adopted, but the Hebrew text has malchan. No commentator has given any satisfactory explanation of what can be meant by making the Ammonites pass through a brick kiln; but Kimchi gives a very probable interpretation of the word really found in the Hebrew, and which, not being intelligible, has been corrupted. For the Malchan was, he says, the place where the Ammonites made their children pass through the fire to Moloch. He thinks, therefore, that David put some of the people to death in this way. We cannot defend these cruelties, but they unhappily were the rule in Oriental warfare, and would have been inflicted on their enemies by the Ammonites. We have proof in l 1 Samuel 11:2 and Amos 1:13 that they were a barbarous race; but this did not justify barbarous retaliation.

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