2 Samuel 12:15-23
And Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it was very sick.…
In one of the chambers of David's palace his little child lies smitten with a fatal malady. In another the king, divested of his royal robes and clothed in sackcloth, prostrates himself in profound sorrow and abasement. He prays, weeps, fasts, and lies all night upon the ground. His oldest and most confidential servants endeavour to comfort him, and beseech him to take food, in vain. At length the blow falls; and his servants fear to communicate the intelligence, lest it should plunge him into a dangerous paroxysm of grief. But their reserved demeanour and soft whispering among themselves indicate what has happened; and their answer to his question, "Is the child dead?" confirms his conclusion. Contrary to their expectation, however, he rises up, washes and anoints himself, puts on becoming garments, goes into the house of the Lord (the tabernacle adjoining the palace), and pours forth his heart in lowly adoration. Then, returning, he asks for bread, and eats. Astonished at his conduct, they inquire the reason of it; and he replies (in effect) that he has acted, not from thoughtlessness or indifference, but from a due regard to the will of God and the altered circumstances of the case. Whilst the life of the child hung in suspense, he might hope, by prayer and humiliation (since God deals with men according to their moral attitude toward him), to avert the threatening calamity; but now he is gone it is useless to indulge in lamentation; the will of God must be submitted to without repining (1 Samuel 3:18). "Those who are ignorant of the Divine life cannot comprehend the reasons of a believer's conduct in his varied experiences" (Scott). "How little can any one of us understand another! The element of conscious sin gave to David thoughts and feelings other than the ordinary ones, and beyond the appreciation of those who looked for the usual signs of grief" (R. Tuck). "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). Consider -
I. HIS BELIEVING RECOGNITION OF THE HAND OF GOD. "David was a great lover of his children" (Patrick); and to such a father the sufferings of his child must have been naturally a severe affliction. But:
1. He also perceived therein a just chastisement of his transgression. It is a common fact of experience (no less than a solemn declaration of Scripture) that the sufferings of a child are often the immediate and inevitable fruit of the father's sin. This is, indeed, by no means always the case. In most instances no moral cause thereof can be discerned, save the sinfulness of the race to which he belongs, and which is subject to the universal law of sorrow and mortality.
2. He perceived therein, moreover, a merciful administration of such chastisement. "Thou shalt not die. Howbeit," etc. (ver. 14). His life was spared in mercy to himself and his people. He was afflicted in such a manner as would be most conducive to his benefit. His child was smitten to stop the mouths of blasphemers. The innocent suffers for the guilty; suffers - who shall say (believing in the perfect wisdom, righteousness, and love of God) either unjustly or to his own ultimate disadvantage?
3. And he believed in the Divine susceptibility to human entreaty; and that it might be possible for the impending blow to be turned aside. "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?" (ver. 22). He evidently regarded the prediction of the prophet, though absolute in form, as really conditional (Isaiah 38:1; Jeremiah 18:7, 8). We have to do, not with an iron fate, but with a loving Father, "full of pity and merciful" (James 4:11; Psalm 34:15; Psalm 103:13).
II. HIS PRAYERFUL HUMILIATION IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
1. His grief was not merely natural, but spiritual; penitential sorrow for sin, exhibited in solitary, thoughtful, continued self-abasement, fasting, weeping, and genuine purposes of amendment (Psalm 51:3, 4, 13). This is the end of God's afflictive discipline; and, when attained, it may be hoped that the immediate occasion thereof will be removed. Even when affliction is not directly due to personal transgression, it should lead to reflection, humiliation and "godly sorrow"
2. It was associated with fervent supplication. And David besought God for the child" (ver. 16). "He herein only showed his natural affection, still subordinating his prayer to the will of God; as Christ did to show his human condition when he prayed that the cup might pass from him" (Wilier). What evils does prayer avert, what blessings does it obtain, both for ourselves and others!
3. Although the immediate object in view was not gained, his prayer was not unavailing. He received light, strength, and comfort; was kept from despair and enabled to endure in a right spirit whatever might occur. God always hears the cries of his children; but he often withholds what they ask. He fulfils their requests in a higher way, transforms the curse into a blessing, and gives them abundant tokens of his favour (ver. 25). "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us," etc. (1 John 5:14, 15).
III. HIS CHEERFUL ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF GOD. "And David arose from the ground," etc. (ver. 20). Deeming it vain to strive against and mourn over an event which could not be altered, and which he regarded as the expression of the settled determination of God (Deuteronomy 3:26), he acted accordingly:
1. With loyal submission to his sovereign, wise, and beneficent will; strengthened by the conviction that he himself would, ere long, "go the way of all the earth," and be at rest; and by the hope of meeting his child again in God (ver. 23). "Religion," it has been remarked, "is summed up in one word - submission. The chief virtue of Christianity and the root of all the rest is readiness under all circumstances to fulfil the will of God in doing and suffering."
2. With resolute restraint upon his natural feelings of sorrow and regret. "The unprofitable and bad consequences, the sinful nature, of profuse sorrowing for the dead, are easily deduced from the former part of this reflection ('Wherefore should I fast?' etc.); in the latter ('I shall go to him') we have the strongest motives to enforce our striving against it - a remedy exactly suited to the disease" (John Wesley).
3. With cheerful performance of immediate, practical, appropriate duties; in due attention to personal appearance and needs, public worship in the house of God ("weeping must not hinder worship"), edifying conversation with friends, consoling counsel to the sorrowful (ver. 24). In this manner bereavement is most easily borne and most effectually sanctified, and God is most worthily served and glorified. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.