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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Our text does not declare that God revealed to Nathan any of the activities of the sinning king, something, of course, which God could have done. It appears to be far more likely that David’s sins were public knowledge throughout Jerusalem. It is nearly impossible for this writer to believe that all of those “servants” who made the report to David concerning that naked woman’s identity, who went to her with the king’s invitation, who escorted her into the king’s presence, took her home afterward and later conveyed her message revealing to David the fact of her pregnancy would have failed to whisper the truth all over the city.

Yes, and what about all that spying on Uriah? what he did, where he slept, the present sent to him by the king, the king’s extension of his leave from the army, his banquet in the king’s palace, the king’s insistence upon Uriah’s drinking himself into a state of drunkenness and where he slept that following night - There is simply far too much of that for it to have been kept secret. A state dinner in the palace for Uriah would have involved dozens of servants and retainers of the king, and for one to believe that none of them was able to figure out what was going on and then to talk about it afterward is to imagine the impossible.

Also, there was that letter, of which the text says, “David wrote a letter.” Any action commanded by one in authority is properly ascribed to him; and this does not mean that David himself necessarily penned that communication which Uriah carried to Joab. “Seraiah was secretary” (2 Samuel 8:17), and he must actually have written the letter for David’s signature.

David might have felt that he had effectively covered up his shameful deeds; but this writer cannot resist the opinion that David was profoundly wrong in such a conceit. Nathan’s perfect knowledge of all that had happened probably began with his hearing some of the gossip that filled Jerusalem. Gossip is never either accurate or dependable; and when God sent Nathan to David, the Lord no doubt endowed his prophet with a true knowledge of everything that happened.

Verses 1-6


“And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, `There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and his children; it used to eat of his morsel, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.’ Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, `As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb four-fold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’“

This is one of the rare parables in the O.T. A parable is different from a fable in that a parable relates things that either actually happened, or that might reasonably have happened. “Nathan came to David as if his purpose was to ask his judicial decision on a case which had been submitted to him.”(F1) David could have had no suspicion whatever of the prophet’s true mission, because all of his previous communications from God through Nathan had been extremely favorable to the king (as in 2 Samuel 7). Many have commented upon the attractiveness and beauty of this little parable. It was skillfully designed to arouse the sympathy of the hearer for the wronged poor man as well as angry contempt for the rich man who robbed him.

“David’s anger was greatly kindled” David had committed a far worse sin than that of the rich man in the parable; but, as Willis said, “It is much easier to see sin in others than in oneself.”(F2)

“Because he had no pity” The Christian virtue of feeling a genuine concern and pity for our fellow mortals in our common struggles of life was the missing quality in David’s heart that led to his shameful wickedness. “He had no pity.” He had no pity for the beautiful young Bathsheba whom he ordered to his bed. He had no pity for Bathsheba’s grandfather Ahithophel, David’s trusted friend and adviser, who became the king’s bitter enemy during Absalom’s rebellion. He had no pity for Uriah, a brave and devoted soldier, who daily risked wounds and death for his beloved king. He had no pity for Joab whom he enlisted as an accomplice in the shameful murder of those eighteen men. He had no pity for the families of his slaughtered soldiers.

“And he shall restore the lamb fourfold” This judgment of the king was exactly in keeping with the Law of God as revealed in Exodus 22:1. From this, we are certain that David also knew the law of God regarding adultery and murder which is recorded in the same Scriptures a few paragraphs earlier. Zacchaeus, and presumably all Israel, were thoroughly familiar with God’s Law (Luke 19:8).

Verses 7-9


“Nathan said to David, `You are the man.’ Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites.’“

This is only part of God’s Word to David; the remainder will be discussed in the next paragraph.

“I anointed you king… and delivered you out of the hand of Saul” The order of these two statements, “Indicates that the reference to David’s anointing is to that of his private anointing in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:13), rather than to either of the two subsequent anointings (2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 5:3).”(F3) Note also that God here says, “I anointed,” whereas it was actually Samuel who did the anointing. “Thus Samuel functioned as God’s representative; he anointed David for the Lord.”(F4)

“And your master’s wives into your bosom” Some respected scholars suppose that, “This may mean no more than that David was given absolute power over all that Saul possessed.”(F5) However, to this writer, the words “into thy bosom” deny any such explanation. Some have alleged that Saul had only one wife; but certainly Ishbosheth had more than one; and the loose usage of possessive personal pronouns involving family relationships would include also the wives of Saul’s son. Additionally, there is no certain information available on how many wives Saul had. Jamieson went so far as to say that, “History furnishes conclusive evidence that David never actually married any of the wives of Saul.”(F6) He did not document that statement; and such an opinion remains questionable. Willis suggests that, “Ahinoam was a wife of Saul when David married her.”(F7)

“And if this were too little I would add as much again” “The reference here is evidently to (the multiplicity of) David’s wives, first from the form of the pronoun, and secondly because it was the abundance in wives which formed the contrast in David’s wealth and Uriah’s poverty.” Also, we must add that the contrast between the many flocks of the rich man and the one little lamb of the poor man in the parable is best applied to the many wives of David and the one wife of Uriah.

“The sword of the Ammonites” “Nathan’s words (rather the Word of God) are here contemptuous. David had sunk so low as to get his enemies to do his murderous work for him.”(F8)

This blunt, overwhelming indictment of David’s conduct by an honored prophet of God must have come as a profound shock to the king. It is a miracle of David’s faith in God that he did not order his bodyguard to slay Nathan in the midst of this interview. We have fully discussed that possibility in our commentary on Psalms 51. It is not because of his sins that David deserves honor and respect; but it is because of his repentance, his humiliation in acknowledging and confessing his sins, and his unwavering trust in the Lord that he received and deserves the exalted place which God gave him in the O.T.

Verses 10-12


“’Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord, `Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’“

“The sword shall never depart from thy house” Three of David’s sons would be murdered: Amnon by Absalom, Absalom by Joab, and Adonijah by Solomon; but the punishment did not stop with that generation. The long, bloody history of the house of David continued (See 2 Kings 11:1, etc.) until the end of his earthly dynasty.

“I will take your wives, before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor… in the sight of this sun” Absalom, the king’s son, lived near the king and was therefore “a neighbor.” One of Absalom’s first actions in his attempt to take David’s throne was to lie publicly with the king’s concubines, thus exercising the prerogative that always belonged to a new king (2 Samuel 16:22).

In the light of this sun is an expression that means simply, “in broad open daylight.”

Verses 13-14

“David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house.”

“I have sinned against the Lord” This little paragraph is the glory of David. He offered no excuses; unlike Adam, he did not blame his wife; he pleaded no extenuating circumstances. He simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

“The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die” This statement from the prophet Nathan relates to one of the great questions regarding the nature of the forgiveness of sins that was available to worthies of the O.T. One of the greatest scholars of our times, John T. Willis, declared that, “Here and elsewhere the O.T. teaches that God forgave sins in O.T. times (Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35; Leviticus 5:10; Leviticus 5:13; Leviticus 5:16; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 103:3; Psalms 103:10; Psalms 103:12; Psalms 130:3-4).”(F9) Furthermore, it is a fact that the word “forgiveness” is used in all of those references. However, there are insurmountable objections to that view.


(1) The only true basis for the forgiveness of any man’s sin is lodged irrevocably and eternally in the Atoning death of Christ on Calvary, an event still future by a full millennium when David sinned. For this reason, those references cited by Willis do not state that the sinner’s sins had been forgiven but that, “THEY SHALL BE FORGIVEN” (Lev. 4:26.31,35, etc.), which is a reference to what God would do upon Calvary.

(2) Furthermore, for one to affirm that the worshippers mentioned in Leviticus 4 and Leviticus 5 were actually forgiven of their sins would indicate that the “blood of bulls, goats, pigeons and heifers can take away sins,” a proposition that is flatly denied in Hebrews 10:4.

(3) That still leaves the remarkable statement here that, “God has put away thy sin.” That is past tense and means that whatever was done had already been done when Nathan spoke. But was it forgiveness? It was not. Henry Preserved Smith warned us that, “It is misleading to translate this “God … has forgiven.”(F10) It is this writer’s opinion that in each place where the word forgiveness appears in the O.T. it is a misleading translation. Such translations are true only when the O.T. “forgiveness of sins” is understood to have been limited and conditional, the great condition being the ultimate achievement of the Son of God upon the Cross.

(4) The light from the N.T. (without which nobody, but nobody, ever understood the O.T.) reveals exactly what God did to sins in the times of the O.T. “This (the crucifixion of Christ) was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance HE HAD PASSED OVER FORMER SINS.”(Romans 3:25). Well, there you have the truth! Did God forgive sins in O.T. times? No! HE PASSED OVER THEM.

(5) The prophet Jeremiah made the forgiveness of sins an identifying feature of the New Covenant, which could not have been true if forgiveness of sins had already been available to the Israelites under the Old Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-35).

(6) If sins were actually forgiven in O.T. times, what was the use of the First Advent of Christ? Why was Jesus Christ, in any sense, necessary if Adam’s rebellious descendants already were able to receive the forgiveness of their sins?

(7) Since most of our versions actually speak of “forgiveness” in the O.T. period, what, actually, was it? The N.T. gives valuable light upon this question also. All forgiveness under the Old Covenant was accommodative, provisional and typical of that ultimate atonement and forgiveness that came through Christ alone. Any notion that animal sacrifices could remove sins is untenable (Hebrews 10:4). Certainly no mere confession of guilt could remove it. Nevertheless, there was a definite release of guilt for those who honored God’s commandments by obeying them. That type of “forgiveness” (if we may call it that) was not final and complete. There was no promise of God regarding their sins that he would “remember them no more” as in the forgiveness promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-35). As a matter of fact, the inspired author of Hebrews stressed the fact that under the Old Covenant there was, “A remembrance made of sins year by year” (Hebrews 10:3); and that was not a reference merely to new sins committed in the intervening time, but to all of the old sins as well. (See the full discussion of this in Vol. 10 of my N.T. series (Hebrews), pp. 193-197.)

“You shall not die” Some scholars refer this promise to the death which David had proposed for the rich man in the parable, which of course by his own admission he himself fully deserved; and others apply it to “eternal death.”(F11) DeHoff applied it to the death due to an adulterer (Leviticus 20:10).(F12) It very likely applies to both. As Smith noted, “God took away the penalty of death that David did not die; but the sin rested upon him and it wrought the death of the child.”(F13) Thus, sin has a double effect, separating a man from God, and producing a chain of evil deeds in the world.

Verses 15-23


“And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted and went in and lay all night upon the ground. And the elders of his house stood before him, to raise him up from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day 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 spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.’ But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived the child was dead; and David said to his servants, `Is the child dead?’ They said, `He is dead.’ Then David arose from the earth, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, `What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was yet alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ He said, `While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, `who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live’? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’“

This well-known passage, read at many funerals, is incapable of being misunderstood and, “Needs but little comment.”(F14)

To us, it seems strange that David was so touched by the death of this child. In the normal run of things, the death of some infant in the harem of an Oriental king would have rated little or no attention. Why the difference here? David knew that he deserved to die, according to God’s law, and he identified himself, in some sense, with this child, and it was doubtless the acute realization of his gross wickedness and the inevitable consequences of it which God had revealed to him that sent David into this frenzy of fasting, praying, and hoping that God would spare the child.

David’s response to the infant’s death, considered strange by the servants, was exactly correct. All mortals should respond in a similar manner when death strikes a loved one. As DeHoff said:

“This is the attitude that all of us must take when our loved ones have died. We must get hold of ourselves emotionally, arrange for the funeral, and resume the normal activities of life. We are obligated to ourselves, to those who are still alive, especially to those who still love us and depend upon us; and above all we are obligated to God to dry our tears and to get on with the business of living. We should not act as if the whole world had ended when some precious loved one dies, regardless of our broken hearts.”(F15)

Many years ago, in my commentary on Matthew, I wrote that, “It is a marvel of the Providence of God that this guilty and unfortunate wife of Uriah the Hittite should have found a place in the ancestry of our Lord.”(F16) We were reminded of this error on our part when we ran across this comment by Tatum, “The overcoming grace of God in spite of the sin of man is seen in that God chose to use Solomon; and that Jesus was born of the line that came from David and Bathsheba.”(F17) (See my commentary on Luke 3, for the proof that the Virgin Mary descended not from Solomon but from Nathan, another one of David’s sons.) As for God’s using Solomon, there was a remarkably good reason for that, which we shall cite later.

“David lay on the ground…the earth” It amazes us that some very learned man would write, “The ground here means the floor of his chamber as opposed to his couch.”(F18) Is it not a dirty shame that the blessed Holy Spirit could not think of the word for “floor”?

Verses 24-25


“Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and went in to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him, and sent a message by Nathan the prophet; so he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.”

“He called his name Solomon” “Solomon means peaceable, the name given to him upon the occasion of his circumcision. The name Jedidiah was given by the Lord; it comes from the same root as the name David and means “to love.” This God-given name was a prophecy of the child’s succession to the throne of David and of the glorious reign of Solomon, all of which God actually brought to pass.”(F19)

In answer to the question of why Solomon was chosen by the Lord, Payne has this logical answer: “Solomon was the oldest son to be born in Jerusalem by a wife of David, as opposed to a concubine.”(F20)

We include here also a statement by Porter, because it is interesting and not because of any certainty about what is stated.

2 Samuel 12:25 is not very clear as it stands in the RSV; and Mauchline (p. 256) says that the first clause could be rendered, and committed him to the care of Nathan the prophet. Thus, Nathan became Solomon’s tutor and gave him the name Jedidiah, which means, “beloved of God.”(F21)

Verses 26-31


“Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites, and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover I have taken the city of waters. Now, then, gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it; lest I take the city, and it be called by my name.” So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah, and fought against it and took it. And he took the crown of their king from his head; the weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone; and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought forth the people who were in it, and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes, and made them toil at the brickkilns; and thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”

“Now Joab … took the royal city” This is a topic sentence followed by a more detailed explanation.

“I have taken the city of waters” “This means that he had captured the city’s water supply.”(F22) That of course, assured his conquest of the whole city, exactly as General Eisenhower’s capture of the twenty-one water wells that supplied the city of Casa Blanca resulted in his capture of the city during the invasion of Africa in World War II.

“The city of waters” was the name of the fortification built to protect the fountain that still flows in Amman the capital of Jordan.”(F23)

The loyalty of Joab to David is conspicuous in this episode. He might easily have captured Rabbah, having already taken their water supply, but he desired that the king should have the glory of taking the city and so arranged it.

“And he took the crown of their king from his head” “The word here rendered their king is also the name of the national idol of the Ammonites, namely, Malcam (or Milcom. The RSV margin gives Milcom as the alternative reading). See Amos 1:15 and Zephaniah 1:5. That crown weighed a talent of gold, the equivalent of 100 to 125 pounds.”(F24) Thus it is extremely unlikely that David wore that kind of weight on the top of his head. The weight of that crown indicates clearly that it adorned a statute of their idol, not the head of their ruler.

“In it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David’s head” A proper respect for the antecedent of the pronoun it in this passage reveals that it was the precious stone that was placed on David’s head, probably as an ornament in the crown that he wore.

The translators of the RSV have severely altered the meaning of the last few clauses here in 2 Samuel 12:31, contrasting dramatically with the ASV. Note the difference:

ASV: “David brought forth the people… 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 to all the cities of the Ammonites.”

Of course, this is a reference to the wholesale torture of the Ammonites. Such brutal and inhuman treatment of captives was widely practiced in ancient times as proved by the statement in Amos that, “Damascus threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron” (Amos 1:3); and we are not fully convinced that David was not guilty of a similar treatment of the Ammonites. In the whole Biblical account of David’s behavior, we find nothing whatever that requires us to suppose that he was incapable of such an atrocity. God’s prophet in this very chapter tells us that HE HAD NO PITY (2 Samuel 12:5).

There are difficulties with the translation, because the RSV margin has “to harrows of iron” and “brick mould” instead of brickkiln; and the majority of modern scholars accept the meaning of these last two verses as reporting that David put all of the Ammonites into industrial enslavement. We sincerely hope that their understanding of the passage is correct, and that the RSV is the true translation.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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