The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD sent Nathan to David, and Nathan came to him and told him this story: “There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, the other was poor. 2The rich man had a huge flock of sheep and lots of cattle, 3but the poor man only had one little ewe lamb he had managed to purchase. He brought it into his house, and it grew up with him as one of his children. It ate from his plate, drank from his cup, and even slept in his lap, as if it were his own daughter. 4Then a traveler came to the rich man’s house, but instead of butchering one of his own animals to prepare a meal for his guest, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and slaughtered it.”
5David was irate. “As the LORD lives,” he stormed, “that man deserves to die! 6I demand that he gives his poor neighbor four lambs to pay for the loss of the one, because he acted without any sympathy!”
7Nathan said, “You are that man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says to you: ‘I made you king over Israel. I spared you from Saul’s hand. 8I gave his whole family to you, including his wives and the whole population of Israel and Judah, and if that didn’t satisfy you, I would have given you even more. 9Why did you turn your back on God’s word and do this wicked thing in the LORD’s eyes. You had Uriah the Hittite murdered so you could have his wife. You used the Ammonites to murder him! 10Now there will be no end to violence in your house because you disrespected me and took Uriah’s wife.'”
11Nathan continued, “So, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring you troubles from within your own household. Your wives will be given to someone near you, and he will ravage them in broad daylight. 12You committed adultery in secret, but I will see to it that it will be done to you publicly.'”
13David said, “I have disobeyed the LORD.”
“The LORD will not take your life,” said Nathan, 14“but because what you have done was in total disregard for the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” 15And with that, Nathan returned to his own house.
The child that had been born to David and Uriah’s wife became ill. 16David begged the LORD to spare the child’s life. He refused to eat, and would not sleep in his own bed, but lay on the ground at night. 17His older relatives tried to raise him up off the ground but he refused and would not eat with them.
18The child died on the seventh day. David’s servants were afraid to tell him. They said, “He wouldn’t listen to us while the child was still alive. What will he do when he is told the child is dead? He may harm himself.”
19But David saw them whispering together and realized what must have happened. He asked them, “Is the child dead?”
They said, “Yes. He has died.”
20Then David got up from the ground. He bathed himself and rubbed his body with oils and dressed in clean clothes. He went into the LORD’s tent and worshiped, then returned home and ordered his servants to bring food, and he ate.
21The servants were confused. They said, “We don’t understand. You cried and refused to eat while the child lived, but now that the child has died you get up and ask for food.”
22David said, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive because I thought perhaps the LORD would be kind to me and let the child live. 23But now the child has died. Why should I starve myself? I’ll go to him someday, but he will never return to me.”
24Then David consoled his wife, Bathsheba. He slept with her, and she became pregnant again and gave birth to a son. They named him Solomon. The LORD loved Solomon, 25and sent them a message through the prophet Nathan that he was loved by the LORD.
26All this time Joab had besieged Rabbah, the royal city of the Amonites, and was ready to take it. 27He sent runners to tell David, “I have fought against Rabbah and have captured their water supply. 28Come now, with the rest of the army and attack the city and take it. Or I’ll take it myself and call it my city.”
29Then David summoned his troops and went to Rabbah and captured it.30They took the crown from the head of the Ammonite king, Milcom – it was made of gold and weighed seventy-five pounds and had precious stones imbedded in it — and they gave it to David. They took a great deal of plunder as well. 31David captured the people of the city and put them to work with saws and picks and axes, and sent some of them to work at the brick ovens. He did the same to all the towns in the territory of the Ammonites. Then he returned to Jerusalem.
1-6: We met Nathan back in chapter seven and saw then that he was not one to simply tell the king what the king wanted to hear. Now Nathan, acting as God’s mouthpiece, comes again to David. Even though David acts to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba, it is doubtful that anybody in the palace has been fooled. Perhaps you have noticed as well that God has not been consulted since chapter seven.
Nathan approaches David with a sad story about a powerful man who takes advantage of a less powerful man. David is incensed by the story and is ready to punish the imaginary perpetrator.
7-14: Nathan drops the bomb: “YouÂ are the man!” I can hear the words ringing off the stone walls. Nathan bores in unflinchingly, making David understand the full spiritual import of what he has done. God has given David everything, he says, and David has responded by treating God with utter disregard. He makes sure David understands the long-term consequences of his actions; he has set an example that others will copy — they will think that’s how a king is supposed to behave — and the deed will come back to haunt him in the days to come. To his credit, David denies nothing, but confesses his sin. Nathan informs him that God will not punish him with death, but his child born to Bathsheba will die.
15-19: The baby becomes gravely ill, and David does his best to dissuade God from letting it die, praying and fasting. A touching scene ensues with his servants not knowing how to break the news to him, but David has always been a keen observer of people, and he intuits what has happened.
20-23: Upon hearing of the baby’s death, David gets up, bathes, splashes on some cologne, goes to worship, and then sits down to dinner. His servants are astonished and impressed and ask why; his response is basically that he attempted to get God to spare the child and since those efforts have failed, he may as well get on about his business. He will die himself one day, he says, but he can’t bring the dead back to life.
24-25: David and Bathsheba have another son. David names him Solomon. Nathan is told that he is Jedidiah, which means “Beloved of the LORD,” which signals that Solomon will be the heir to David’s throne and that Nathan will be his champion. This is the only occurrence of the name ‘Jedidiah’ in the Bible, and probably the text should simply read, “The LORD loved Solomon, and sent them a message through the prophet Nathan that he was loved by the LORD.”
26-31: The end of the battle of Rabbah is now told. Joab is successful in breaching the walls, and summons David to come and take credit, which David does. The crown of the chief Ammonite god Milcom (the text reads “king Milcom,” but Milcom is probably a variant spelling of Molech, a Canaanite god), which apparently had adorned a statue, is placed on David’s head as a sign of his conquest. (His son Solomon will in the years to come become a worshiper of Milcom, but that is another story.) The thing weighed seventy-five pounds, so maybe David couldn’t lift his head very high. Fitting, don’t you think? David enslaves the population of Rabbah and puts them to work on his pet projects. Just as the Egyptians had done to his ancestors, he made some of them slaves to work making bricks.
I am not trying to paint David in an unfavorable light. I am trying to present him as the text presents him and, in so doing, avoid the kindergarten niceness that has informed most of our notions about the kind of man he was. David was not a nice man. He was capable of incredible cruelty, like making the defeated Moabite soldiers lie down on the ground and measuring them off with a cord to determine the ones who would be put to death and the ones who would become slaves (8:2); or slaughtering the men, women, and children of the Amalekite towns when he pretended to be a Philistine mercenary (I Samuel 27:8-9). There are other flaws as well. But he was also the man God chose for the specific task of bringing stability to Israel, and in that he succeeded.
God chooses flawed men and women: often, there are no other kinds from which to choose. From chapter 12 on, David’s administration will sink into deepening corruption. It is no accident.