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.
2 Samuel 12:1-7
The chief devotional exercise which turns religion into a personal thing, which brings it home to men's business and bosoms, is self-examination. A man's religion cannot well be one of merely good impressions, the staple of it cannot well be an evaporating sentiment, if he have acquired the habit of honestly and candidly looking within.
I. Self-examination may be called an arraignment of ourselves at our own bar. It is an exercise most essential to our spiritual health, and the more earnestly to be pressed upon Protestants, because there exists in the Reformed Churches no security but that of right principle for its ever being practised. The system of the confessional, with all its evils and abominations, may at least fairly lay claim to the advantage of exacting a certain amount of introspection with those who honestly conform to it.
II. The necessity for self-examination arises from the fact, so distinctly stated in Scripture, that "the heart is deceitful above all things," and that "he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." While all characters are liable to this snare of self-deception, those are more particularly exposed to it who, like St. Peter and David, are persons of keen sensibilities, warm temperaments, quick affections. An acrid, soured character cannot flatter itself that it is right with half the facility of a warm and genial character. Self-love conspires with trust in our own hearts to make dupes of us as regards our spiritual account.
III. The first step in self-examination is to be fully aware of the deceitfulness of the heart, and to pray against it, watch against it, and use every possible method of counteracting it. The probe of self-examination must be applied to the better as well as to the worse parts of our conduct. And we must not forget that dissatisfaction with ourselves will avail us nothing, except as it leads us to a perfect, joyful, and loving satisfaction with our Saviour.
E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 68.
References: 2 Samuel 12:1-7.—S. Goebel, The Parables of Jesus, p. 10. 2 Samuel 12:1-14.—Parker, vol. vii., p. 160.
2 Samuel 12:4The mixture of gold and clay of which our nature is composed is nowhere so strikingly displayed as in the constant tendency of men to conceive lofty purposes, and then to attain them by mean and sordid methods. The high impulse and the low self-indulgent method are both real, and this confused and contradictory humanity of ours is able to attain them both. We are always building steps of straw to climb to heights of gold.
There is real charity in the impulse of the rich man in Samuel, there is essential meanness in his act. He really wanted to help the poor traveller who came to him, but he wanted to help him with another man's property, to feed him on a neighbour's sheep. A great deal of our official charity comes very near the pattern of this ancient benefactor.
I. One of the truths about the advancing culture of a human nature is, that it is always deepening the idea of possession and making it more intimate. There are deepening degrees of ownership, and as each one of them becomes real to a man, the previous ownerships get a kind of unreality. With this deepening of the idea of property, the idea of charity must deepen also. No relief of need is satisfactory which stops short of at least the effort to inspire character, to make the poor man a sharer in what is at least the substance of the rich man's wealth. And at the bottom of this profounder conception of charity there must lie a deeper and more spiritual conception of property. The rich man's wealth, what is it? Not his money. It is something which came to him in the slow accumulation of his money. It is a character into which enter those qualities that make true and robust manliness in all the ages and throughout the world; independence, intelligence, and the love cf struggle.
II. This makes chanty a far more exacting thing than it could be without such an idea. It clothes it in self-sacrifice. It requires the entrance into it of a high motive.
III. The deeper conception of benefaction which will not rest satisfied with anything short of the imparting of character still does not do away with the inferior and more superficial ideas. It uses the lower forms of gift as means or types or pledges. The giving of money is ennobled by being made the type of a Diviner gift which lies beyond.
Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 336.
Reference: Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 18.
2 Samuel 12:7I. It is just in this circumstance, that David's righteous and evil acts are not to be harmonised, that the wholesomeness of his written story lies. We do not feel the inconsistency which unbelievers point to in David, with the sneering question, "Is this the man after God's own heart?" We feel rather that were it not for these inconsistencies David would be unlike us, and his story no pattern of ours.
II. David's method of attaining his treacherous object here seems to us clumsy when compared with some modern refinements of treachery; but the moving cause—gratification of self and disregard of all that stood in the way of it—this is the sin: the rest is merely an accident of time and locality.
III. How are we to account for David's strange conversion? People who pride themselves on being worldly-wise will tell you that a man's conscience does not trouble him until he is found out. They will tell you that repentance is easy when there is no escape. But this will never account for the real repentance of any man who has been brought from darkness into light. When a man's arguments for sin are swept away, and he sees it as it is, he may well be filled with horror and disgust. The horror is no subject for a careless sneer, but for awe and reverence.
A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 26.
I. Notice first the general character of David. It is full of variety, full of impulse, full of genius; it covers a great range of characters amongst ourselves; it is not like one class or character only, but like many. He is exactly that mixture of good and evil which is in ourselves, not all good or all evil, but a mixture of both, of a higher good and of a deeper evil, yet still both together.
II. Let us now see how from this union of glory and shame, of holiness and sin, we can draw the fitting lessons of David's repentance and our own. (1) Observe that the Scripture narrative does not exaggerate and does not extenuate. The wise and impartial history sets before us without fear or favour, in all its brightness and in all its darkness, the life of David. His goodness is not denied because of his sin, nor is his sin because of his goodness. (2) The sin of David and his unconsciousness of his own sin, and so also his repentance through the disclosure to him of his own sin, are exactly what are most likely to take place in characters like his, like ours, made up of mixed forms of good and of evil. His good deeds conceal his bad deeds, often even from others, more often still from himself. (3) Notice that Nathan in his parable called attention, not to the sensuality and cruelty of David's crime but simply to its intense and brutal selfishness. Notice also that even deeper than David's sense, when once aroused, of his injustice to man, was his sense of his guilt and shame before God. (4) The story teaches: (a) that no case is too late or too bad to return if only the heart can be truly roused to a sense of its own guilt and God's holiness; (b) that David's former goodness had this advantage: that, great as was his fall, there was for him a hope of restoration which in another there would not have been. A foundation of good in a character is never thrown away. If it is not able to resist the trial altogether, it will at least be best able to recover from it.
A. P. Stanley, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1858, No. 2.
I. When Alexander, king of Macedon, had his portrait taken, he sat with his face resting on his fingers, as though he were in a profound reverie, but really that he might hide from the observer's view an unsightly scar. Our Bible always keeps the sitter's fingers off the scars. It paints the full face with flawless detail—beauty and blotches, saintliness and scars.
II. After all, is it not a true human instinct and a healthy canon of art that puts the finger on the scars of the face? Is it fair and just to David himself to reduce the account of his numerous victories over adjacent foes to a few verses, and be so prodigal in sketching the one glaring wickedness of a career of splendid purpose, fine daring, and magnificent achievement? All that depends upon the spirit in which the biographer conceives and carries out his design, and mainly upon the purpose which dominates every part of his painting. (1) This story has set in the irrefutable logic of facts the truth that increasing and incredible mischiefs follow the violation of the laws of social purity in monarch as well as subject, in the children of genius and of goodness as well as in the offspring of sensualism and vice. (2) It has proclaimed that woman is not a satanic bait for man's soul, but a minister to his purity and happiness. (3) It has revealed the essential falseness of the polygamous basis of family life. (4) It is a pathetic and powerful enforcement of the law, discovered in the dawn of the world's life, that it is impossible to hush up a solitary lapse. (5) But the principal message of this chapter in the life of Israel's greatest hero is that David's great sin is met and mastered by God's greater grace.
III. It is not well for any of us to escape difficulty, combat, or criticism. We must not forget the perils of advancing years. Age has its dangers not less than youth. The true soldier aims to be faithful unto death. If David falls after half a century's experience of God's mercy, who is safe?
IV. God enlarges a thorough repentance with His free and instant forgiveness, and crowns it with swift peace, soul-enlargement, and hallowed progress. "The Lord hath also put away thy sin."
V. But forgiveness is not all David seeks, nor is it all he obtains. The greater grace of God triumphs over the great sin of David in making it contributive to his spiritual enlargement, the clearing and expansion of his conceptions of sin, of responsibility, of the personality of God, and of holiness.
J. Clifford, Daily Strength for Daily Living, p. 203.
References: 2 Samuel 12:7.—T. Coster, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 332; Bishop Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 144; J. G. Packer, Twelve Sermons, p. 112; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 15; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 293; C. Girdlestone, A Course of Sermons for the Year, p. 165; H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, 1st series, p. 85. 2 Samuel 12:7-13.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 348.
2 Samuel 12:13The David of the Old Testament and the Peter of the New were alike keen, impetuous, high-wrought. Each falls in his strong point, because the strength of the good is necessarily the strength of the evil. But in both sin is the parenthesis; the thread of grace is gathered up again.
I. This was not David's only transgression. But it was the greatest, and perhaps if this had been resisted, the others would not have been committed, for sin strangely makes sin, as the mists of to-day fall in the rain of to-morrow. His great successes had brought him to that state of mind which is most open to the assaults of evil.
II. The strength of David's confession lay in the three words "against the Lord." Any one can say, "I have sinned," but you must have known God, you must have realised what sin is to God, and you must have felt something of what God is to you before you can say, "I have sinned against the Lord."
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 112.
2 Samuel 12:13I. The first thought which strikes us in connection with this text is the rapidity with which the penitent received his answer, a rapidity so great that the pardon had actually preceded the confession, for the instant David's acknowledgment had passed his lips God's messenger said, "The Lord hath put away thy sin."
II. In these grand, simple words "put away," what immeasurable distances lie! Even the eye of Omnipotence cannot reach them. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us."
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 120.
I. Too little attention is commonly bestowed on the severity with which David was punished for his sins. He was punished as long as he lived, and as long as he lived he repented of those sins and humbled himself under the consciousness of them. When Nathan was sent to David, he spoke five distinct prophecies, not only "Thou shalt not die," but four others also, and these of a very different tenor; and all of them were alike fulfilled. To point out the fulfilment of these prophecies is simply to give a summary of the after-life of David. (1) First we read how the child Bathsheba had borne to David was smitten of the Lord and died. (2) The sword did not depart from his house through the whole remainder of his life. (3) This enemy was raised up to David from among the members of his own house and family. (4) As he had invaded the sanctuary of another man's home, his own hearth was no longer sacred. All this teaches us that "wherewithal a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished." But, above all, it is a lesson that God is never more merciful than when He makes punishment follow upon sin.
II. Although David was severely punished, he was yet freely forgiven. The forgiveness of an offender may be granted in two ways: it may be without any conditions, or it may be granted quite as truly, quite as freely, and yet not so unconditionally. In the present case God had annexed a chastisement to His pardon and declared that it should fall upon David, and from that day forward every worldly visitation which recalled the memory of his sin brought with it a twofold blessing: it kept his conscience tender, that his fall might be his warning; and it renewed the pledge of the full and final forgiveness that had been promised to him.
R. Scott, University Sermons, p. 251.
References: 2 Samuel 12:13.—R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 54; R. C. Trench, Brief Thoughts and Meditations, p. 120; J. Van Oosterzee, Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 57; Sermons for the Christian Seasons, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 705.
2 Samuel 12:13-14I. When we read the history of David's fall, what surprises and perhaps somewhat perplexes us at the first is the apparent suddenness of it. There seems no preparation, no warning. But if we look back to the first verse of the chapter preceding, we shall find the explanation there: "At the time when kings go forth to battle... David tarried still at Jerusalem." Had he been enduring hardship with the armies of Israel, these temptations to luxury and uncleanness would probably never have come near him; certainly he would not have succumbed beneath them. The first lesson from the story is that prosperous times are perilous times.
II. Notice the way in which sins are linked to one another, in which, as by a terrible necessity, one leads on to a second, and a second to a third, and so on. The great enemy of souls is in nothing more skilful than in breaking down the bridges of retreat behind the sinner. Wrong may become worse wrong, but it never becomes right. Close walking with God is the only safe walking.
III. Do not miss this lesson—the ignoble servitude to men in which the sinner is very often through his sin entangled. Mark how David becomes the servant of Joab from the moment that he has made Joab the partaker of his evil counsels, the accomplice of his crime. Let no man in this sense be thy master. Let no man know that of thee which, if he chose to reveal it, would cast thee down from the fair esteem and reputation which thou enjoyest before men.
IV. Note the darkness of heart which sin brings over its servants. For well-nigh a whole year David has lain in his sin, and yet all the while his conscience is in a deathlike sleep, so that it needs a thunder-voice from heaven, the rebuke of a prophet, to rouse him from this lethargy.
V. In David's answer to Nathan we observe: (1) The blessing that goes along with a full, free, unreserved confession of sin, being, as this is, the sure token of a true repentance. (2) While he who has fully confessed is fully forgiven, there is still, as concerns this present life, a sad "howbeit" behind. God had taken from him the eternal penalty of his sin; but He had never said, Thy sin shall not be bitter to thee. God may forgive His children their sin, and yet He may make their sin most bitter to them here, teaching them in this way its evil, which they might else have been in danger of forgetting, the aggravation which there is in the sins of a child, in sins against light, against knowledge, against love.
R. C. Trench, Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, p. 351.
I. Forgiveness does not mean impunity. God forgave David, yet bereaved him. Whatsoever men sow, that they reap, however bitterly they may repent having mingled tares with the wheat.
II. The meaning and mercy of punishment. (1) Punishment deepens both our sense of sin and our hatred of it. (2) Punishment deepens self-distrust and reliance upon God. (3) Punishment puts our repentance to the proof.
S. Cox, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 29.
References: 2 Samuel 12:13, 2 Samuel 12:14.—S. Cox, Expositions. 1st series, p. 143; Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. v., p. 139; F. W. Krummacher, David the King of Israel, p. 373. 2 Samuel 12:14.—Parker, vol. vii., p. 236. 2 Samuel 12:15-23.—W. M. Taylor, David King of Israel, p. 210. 2 Samuel 12:20-23.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 355. 2 Samuel 12:22.—Parker, vol. vii., p. 236.
2 Samuel 12:23.
The doctrine of our future meeting and recognition is intimated in the earlier records of Scripture. We are told of Abraham, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses that each was gathered to his people. This cannot be merely a peculiar idiom of language signifying that they died. In some instances it is expressly said they died, and then it is added, "were gathered to their fathers." There would seem to be in the very heart of the expression a recognition that their fathers were still in existence in some state or other. As we advance to the New Testament we find that the twilight is broadening into the perfect day. This doctrine forms much of the very warp of the teaching of our Saviour and His Apostles.
I. It is taught, for example, that in eternity and in heaven we shall retain our personal identity. What life has not been able to do in the way of destroying our identity, death will not do. The sense of I, me, myself, will be with us as before.
II. We must also remember that the departed just are not diffused through the universe, but are gathered into one place. They are with the Lord, and they are there in a family relation. It is only needful to appreciate fully this fact in order to see that mutual recognition is indispensable and inevitable.
III. We do not dream that the "spirits of the just made perfect," dwelling in our Father's house, will sit in silent reserve side by side, and as little do we dream that their speech will never be concerned with the way by which the Lord has led them. Unless the whole family in heaven is to be marked by features the very opposite of every earthly family, unless it is to be distinguished by isolation, reserve, and coldness, mutual recognition must be not only a possible thing, but an inevitable one, and we shall know as we are known.
E. Mellor, In the Footsteps of Heroes, p. 125.
References: 2 Samuel 12:23.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 9th series, p. 205. 2 Samuel 12:24.—Congregationalist, vol. vii., p. 734. 2Sam 13—E. White, The Mystery of Growth, p. 357.
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.
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.
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:
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.
And Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.
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.
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.