2 Samuel 12:1-14
1. 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. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
3. 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.
4. And there came a traveller unto the rich Prayer of Manasseh, 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.
5. 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.
6. And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
7. 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;
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
13. 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.
14. 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.
IN reading the opening words of this chapter we can have no doubt as to their authenticity. The words are these, "And the Lord sent Nathan unto David." We cannot mistake the Heaven-sent man. Wherever he is sent he carries his credentials along with him, not written with pen and ink, but so written in his face or tone or manner as to leave no doubt as to the divinity of his mission and the heavenliness of his inspiration. "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." It is in vain for men to send themselves, or to imagine that they can confer any advantage upon the Christian cause on account of their own dignity, or personal renown, or social recognition in any direction. God himself must send, in his own way. The man is exalted by his mission. Though a dumb man to begin with, he waxes eloquent in God"s cause; though a stammerer at the outset, he is no stammerer at the end. Is there a greater blessing known amongst us than to be brought now and again into vital association with a Heaven-sent Prayer of Manasseh, whether he come as speaker or writer or private friend—a man who has in very deed a gift in prayer, a genius of sympathy, an inspiration of method and of tone, so that his gracious appeal is thrown over us ere yet we have given him full consent? Has not the world stoned its prophets, and killed them that were sent unto it? Last of all, God said—I will send my Son; they will reverence my Son—the great parabolist, the great musician, the great teacher, all led up to the great Saviour. They killed him. They recognised him as to the worthiness and mystery of his power; they thought they had found his origin, but had not; they supposed they had measured him, but their tape fell short of the infinite bulk. So they killed him whom they could not understand and perfectly follow, because following such a man meant suffering with him, dying with him, that with him they might rise again. We should soon have discovered any imposture on the part of Nathan. His very first sentence would have betrayed him. Men cannot profess to come in God"s name and then speak in their own without being instantly detected. This parable is its own witness. It is not a fabric built by human hands upon the cold earth; it is a picture or sign let down from heaven, until it comes to the eye-line and every tint of it can be perfectly discerned. We know the true poet when we hear him, at least in some of his measures and strains; if now and again he be quite beyond us—a child of the stars, a man standing in the sun—yet also he comes down and sings until we join him, falling into the same tune, carrying it home with us, repeating it and spreading it abroad like a gospel of joy. It is just so that the Book of God stands before human judgment. If there is anything else like it, let the objector produce it. That is all that requires to be done. If there is anywhere a finer literary touch, a more consummate judgment of human life in all its bearings and outlooks, a finer criticism of human motive and character, all the critic has to do is to produce it. This parable of Nathan"s stands up before us a thing unrivalled in beauty, complete as a dew-drop, fragrant as a flower, yet—for the figure may be changed even without violence—a picture painted in the sky. If there is anything superior to it our only desire is to know where it is and to look upon it. And what is true of the parable is true of the whole revelation in which it stands—a revelation unique in all the elements that constitute simplicity, beauty, majesty, divinity. But what is a parable unless it be the larger fact? A parable is not mere poetry of words but poetry of interpretation of facts. Fiction has well been declared to be the larger truth. There are some who have no opinion of fiction: simply because they are blind, incomplete, ignorant men; men who do not know what they are talking about. Fiction is the completion of fact; fiction is the sky of thought. The holy book is full of this kind of imaginative teaching—teaching that could only be taught as a subtle yet sublime appeal to the imagination. Let us then look at the parable as based upon fact.
There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds: the poor man had one ewe lamb. And the rich Prayer of Manasseh, in a case of emergency, instead of taking a lamb out of his own flock, killed the one ewe lamb of the poor man. If that never occurred we must know it. Did it ever occur? It is the thing that is occurring every day. It is the infinite danger of wealth that it becomes oppressive cruel, thoughtless, selfish. To say that it always becomes so would be to go contrary to the most gracious facts with which we are acquainted—would be to utter that which is not only unjust but absurd. There is a sanctified wealth; there is a gracious social position; there is a condescending royalty. But why should it be remarked that such should be the case? Simply because of the almost innate tendency of men to use wealth with cruelty and with selfishness. The poor man feels the cold wind first. The destruction of the poor man is his poverty. There are men who are poor today who are better than any king that ever reigned upon the earth. Wealth when it oppresses carries with it its own condemnation. Wealth when it is used as a means of succouring men, helping the true and the good—ay, and sometimes throwing a handful even to men whose characters are not beyond suspicion—is doing the work of God; and that it is often doing so is patent to us, and is a theme of gratitude and rejoicing. Who does not sometimes impose upon poverty? Who dares start a mission for the conversion of the rich? Is there such a mission amongst all the institutions of the day? It may be but sheer arrogance, the most pitiable impertinence, to open the poor man"s door and thrust upon him attentions which he has no wish to cultivate. Who can go to the high, and charge them across their wine-drinking with being adulterers, idolaters, wicked men? It is so cheap a virtue to preach to the poor, to take a part in urging upon what are termed "the masses" certain religious convictions,—all that ought to be done; all that may be beautifully done; that is being done today with great and happy effect by men who know how to use great powers without undue urgency or the very appearance of oppressiveness: but there is something more to be done. The rich man is in danger of becoming a fool. Who can carry wealth in both hands without feeling that the earth is his, and that all men ought to obey him? That such a miracle has been wrought we must always most thankfully acknowledge. Some of the most modest, gracious, tender-hearted men known to us are men of almost incomputable wealth. But we are dealing with something below all that we now know as personal facts—namely, with principles, mysteries, with that whole region, almost undiscovered, of motive, passion, impulse that never can be explained adequately in words. On the other hand, a man is not necessarily a virtuous citizen because he has only one ewe lamb. Let us be impartial. In the Church of God no preacher must bow before either one class or the other; nor must he spare the pulpit when he speaks in God"s name, even though he himself be the first to perish under the thunder of righteous judgment. The preacher is not a mere personality when he stands with open book before him in the sanctuary of God: being faithful to his vocation, he speaks the things that ought to be done, though he convict himself of inconsistency in every syllable he utters. Let it not, therefore, be established as a primary notion amongst us that because a man is poor therefore he is good. Some poor men would be worse men if they were rich. Some of us may even have to thank God in eternity that to get a mouthful of honest bread was the daily difficulty of our earthly life. This is a two-sided subject, and all that can be done is for every Prayer of Manasseh, whichever side of it he may be upon, to examine himself and guard himself, for the severer he is upon himself the gentler will he be in judging other men.
Look at the parable as a method of teaching. The parable was a favourite educational instrument in Eastern nations. There were many parable-makers in Oriental lands, and people have in all ages listened to parables as they have never listened to merely didactic or instructive discourse, partaking of the dry nature of information only, without picture, or poetic sign. But where are the parables equal to those which are to be found in the Bible? Balaam had a parable, Jotham had a parable,—these we have already studied; Nathan has a parable, and others in the Old Testament now and again come very near to the line of parable, but in proportion as we discover the parable to be beautiful and true we see in it the Spirit of the living God—the Eternal Force—the Divine Quantity. But when we come to the teaching of Jesus Christ all the other parables fall off into dim perspective; and after he laid down that instrument was it ever taken up again? Was Paul a teacher by parable? He had a great mind—a majestic, temple-like mind, but could he paint as Christ painted, or poetise after the manner of the Son of God? Does he not struggle with his great argument? Is he not a man in tortures and paroxysms, complaining in his very majesty of reasoning of his weakness and inadequateness? He totters under the weight he tries to carry. And John—sweet, loving Prayer of Manasseh, uttering many things most memorable and quotable—when did he teach as Christ taught? This was the method of the Saviour, and he adopted it oftentimes, because it led to men convicting themselves without their being able to fix any particular accusation upon the speaker. Jesus Christ often fetched a compass—as we read respecting the attack made upon the Philistines—and he fetched it by such a sweep, by such a reach of mind, that the men upon whom his attention was fastened little suspected, until after the completion of the parable, that they were the objects of his judgment and condemnation. This is masterly preaching—to be personal without the individuals knowing that we are such; to get up a whole statement, coloured in every hue of heaven, sharp with all the pungency of criticism, and for men afterwards to wake up to the fact that the preacher was meaning none other than themselves. Such wondrous sermons did Christ preach that men took them home, began to apply them to other people, and finding the unfitness of such a procedure, began to wonder what the meaning was, and then started up in offence because they had been impleaded, accused, transfixed. What applies to Christ"s parables, and to all others of the same quality, applies to the whole revelation of God. It is in very deed every man"s book—a special message sent to every reader. Whilst the Gentile is thinking that the judgments of God upon the Jews were well-deserved, lo! the thunder breaks upon his own ear, and the lightning plays before his own vision, and the stroke of God is heavy upon him. The Bible is the universal book. It is written in the universal language. It comes to every man straight from the heart of God.
Look at this parable as a practical Revelation, first, of God"s justice. We have seen that the thing which David did "displeased the Lord." We have insisted that wherever the sin is quoted against David the judgment should be quoted in favour of the Bible. We may continue to add to our denunciation of David"s guilt page after page of scathing criticism and condemnation, and yet never touch all that God meant when he set the seal of displeasure upon the man who was after his own heart. If David had been blessing others less sweetly, he would have been unable to sin so grievously. None can fall so far as an angel of God. Does God treat the sin lightly? He says: "The sword shall never depart from thine house;" across every bright summer that shines upon thee there shall be a great bar of blackness; when the birds sing to thee thou shalt be constrained to punctuate their song with memories of remorse; when thou dost lift the flagon to thy lips the wine shall leave behind it a poisonous taste; when thou liest down a thorn shall puncture thee: thou shalt never escape from this deed of wickedness. Whilst, therefore, the mocker is eager to quote as against the Bible the sin of David, if he be a just man as well as a jiber he ought to quote the judgment pronounced by God, and to see how true is the doctrine of eternal torment even in relation to this life. All punishment is for ever and ever. It is not a time-quantity. It is not an arithmetical sum. Time speaks in great Numbers, but this suffering requires the mysterious words "for ever and ever" to define its quality and scope.
This parable, too, shows us man"s responsibility. David is not allowed to escape on the ground of being overtaken in a fault. Kings ought to be their own subjects. The greater the Prayer of Manasseh, the greater should be the saint. The greater the opportunities we have had of education and culture of every kind, the severer should be public criticism upon our lapses and iniquities. To whom much has been given, from him shall much be expected. He who knoweth his Lord"s will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes. If we would know what fall means—apostasy, lapse from high privilege and intimate communion, ask not Prayer of Manasseh, but ask "the angels who kept not their first estate."
Now we cannot but pity David—that the sword is within him, and that God is turning it round as by the handle that it may give him added pain—pain but too well deserved. A scene that will never leave the vision of the world is that which describes David"s relation to the dying child and the child when dead. We could almost forgive him for his very love. A most rational course the poet took in his sorrow:—""While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?" He is so gracious; he has so often forgiven me: he has seventy times seven exercised his pardon towards me, and I said, Who can tell whether after this consummation of my wickedness "God will be gracious to me, that the child may live;" he is always first to repent; the tears are in his eyes before they are in the eyes of the sinner, and I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, remember that I am dust, and have pity upon me, and may yet even spare the child? "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."" Even our sorrow must be governed. We must be rational in our uttermost griefs. Here is the way in which a man may deport himself under the severest visitations of God Sorrow may be turned into idolatry. He is the most filial who, seizing the idea of Providence, answers it with obedience, resignation, and even with some measure of thankfulness, not always to be uttered at once, but by a promise of a hymn that shall one day be sung, and sorrow shall be turned into joy. Why did we not pity David and forgive him on the spot? Because there is in the universe a wronged man—a murdered man. Sentiment must be watched, or it may be turned into a kind of miserable superstition. We pity the criminal, and will not flog the man of violence: we forget the man whom he slew or injured, the undeserved sufferer, the murdered one. No; David, though a harper and a psalmist and the darling of Israel, must not be pardoned yet. Society owes something to the murdered man. David shows great beauty of character, great tenderness of spirit, but he shows it too late. We must not be deceived by the tears of the poet. They are genuine tears; no question can be thrown upon the sincerity of the man; this is human nature at its best—the "one touch of nature" that "makes the whole world kin:" but only yesterday, as it were, this man killed a valiant soldier and a faithful friend. He must be well held over the pit. As for those who have been murdered, slain, injured, we must leave them with God. He is a God of justice: they shall have their compensation. Yet David will be pardoned, for there is a way out of the greatest darkness; there is a road out of the deepest midnight, that leads right up towards morning: there is a fountain opened to the house of David for sin and for uncleanness; "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Let none despair! some ought indeed to create a hell for themselves, so bad has been their life from the first moment to the last. Yet the gospel of Christ is nothing if it do not include within its music all the children of men, of every hue and form,—sinners of every degree of turpitude. Herein the gospel magnifies itself: where sin abounds grace doth much more abound. It is not for us to exclude any man from gospel hope. The church ought to be the place where the music of hope is played and sung; the church ought to be a house of hope and love and gratitude; the Christian pulpit ought to be the place where, after judgment has been pronounced, the word of hope should be declared—sounded as upon a silver trumpet; and the message of mercy should be delivered in merciful tones, and the offer of pardon made with the pathos of a soul which has itself been pardoned.
That David was a man of ardent passions, and that he gratified these sometimes with the arbitrary license of an Oriental prince, lies on the surface of the record of his life. But men do ill to measure that heroic and many-stringed nature by the average standard of commonplace humanity; and it is foolish and wicked to dwell upon his obvious faults while no regard is paid to the nobler features of his soul, to the sublime piety in which his habitual life dwelt, to the intense agony with which he struggled for the mastery over these fiery passions, and the mournful remorse with which he bewailed their occasional triumph over his better nature. Some have even taken occasion from the sins into which David fell to sneer at the religion of which he appears as one of the most distinguished professors; forgetting how unfair and disingenuous it is to impute to a man"s religion what his religion had nothing to do with, except as it caused him frequently and constantly to deplore it It behoves us also to consider of how much good to the Church David"s varied experiences, even in their least excusable forms, have been made the vehicle. Though we neither excuse his acts of wickedness nor impute them to the temptation of God, who cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth any Prayer of Manasseh, we will add that by his loss the Church hath gained; and that if he had not passed through every valley of humiliation and stumbled upon the dark mountains, we should not have had a language for the souls of the penitent, or an expression for the dark troubles which compass the soul that feareth to be deserted by its God.
Almighty God, thy command is our law. We would hear a voice in our ear saying day by day, This is the way, walk ye in it. We would have a heart so prepared by thy grace that it would instantly answer, "In no other way will we walk, for this is the path of God." Then should we walk where the ways are ways of pleasantness, and where the paths are peace, and where the road is a line going upward evermore through cloud and noise into brightness and rest Oh that our life were so ordered that we might take no step of ourselves: that we might learn to stand still and see the salvation of God! We have learned in some measure to walk, to run, but not to stand. Do thou attemper and chasten us, giving us to feel that in sweet obedience is the perfection of faith, and that to stand still is all we are asked to do. Behold, thou wilt show wondrous things to them who close their eyes. Thou wilt bring great satisfactions to hearts that do not hinder thee by impatience; thou wilt ennoble the life that trusts thee and takes nothing into its own mean care. Thou art making our bed at night-time, and arranging all the morning light for us, setting our table as our hunger returns. Thou art finding for us water in the desert, and a tabernacle in sandy places; yea, thou art building in the wilderness a thing fit for heaven. This is God"s love; this is the divine miracle; this is the Lord"s supreme wonder. Thou hast given us the cross, a cross of sacrifice, a cross of blood, full of meaning we cannot penetrate, full of pathos which melts our heart. It is lifted up to the Rock of Righteousness; it rises into the rain-clouds of the divine compassion; it stretches itself across the universe; it would bar the downward way; it would open a door into Heaven"s pardon and peace. For the cross, the Lord be blessed; for the atonement, we would praise him through unending time. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme."— 2 Samuel 12:14.
We are to consider what effect our conduct will have upon outsiders, upon observers who are not kindly disposed towards us or towards our religion.—It is in vain to suppose that our evil deeds can be hidden, or can be shorn of their influence, or can be limited to the mere date and occasion of their committal.—Even where they are not known publicly they leave their impress upon ourselves; we are weakened by them; our heart is lowered in courage and in moral temperature, and we who might have gone forward like giants refreshed are willing to make any concession or accept any compromise, or settle down upon any terms of humiliation.—Every good man would seem to hold the reputation of God in his keeping.—Every professor of religion does this in a certain sense.—"When the Christian does that which is wrong he brings Jesus Christ himself into disrepute, he crucifies the Son of God afresh; not only does the man himself do that which is evil, but he humbles and grieves the Son of God.—The soldier who wears the national uniform aggravates every evil he does by the very fact that he represents the power and grandeur of an empire.—For other men to be cowards is bad enough, but for a soldier to be cowardly is unpardonable.—For a man of the world to do that which is wrong or unjust is shameful in a high degree, but when a Christian does this he violates all the commandments of God, all the instincts of the new life, and the whole inspiration which he is supposed to derive from Jesus Christ.—The contrary argument is of great effect on behalf of Christianity: when Christian men do good they make observers think that the fountain at which they refresh their spiritual life must be heavenly, not earthly; when they forgive their enemies, when they kindly use those who despitefully entreat them, they begin to excite wonder as to the origin of their feeling and the inspiration of their motive.—Holiness is an argument. Charity is a mighty weapon of defence.—A forgiving spirit is an eloquent sermon.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"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?"— 2 Samuel 12:22.
David had been afflicted because of the sin which he had committed.—The prophet had foretold that the child that was to be born unto him should surely die.—In fulfilment of this prophecy the Lord struck the child, and it was very sick.—David, though a guilty sinner, had a tender heart.—Above all the tumult of his wrongdoing there came the voice of prayer and intercession.—David besought God for the child, and fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.—" 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."—Now David shows another aspect of his character,—the strong, soldierly, royal aspect.—He had fought a battle, and lost it; he would not give up hope so long as life flickered in the pulse; he wrestled with death, and would have thrown the grim monster if he could; but death was not to be pacified by his tears or to be driven away by all his prayers.—A marvellous tribute is paid to God"s goodness in this very confession of David, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?"—he had seen so many acts of graciousness on the part of God; God had so often turned away from wrath, and rejoiced in mercy; he had overlooked so much, delivered from so many dangers, interposed in so many crises, that David had a lingering hope that even yet, though the sword was lifted high, it would be turned aside, and the little child should be permitted to live.—We must accept the providences of heaven alike when they are blessings and when they are judgments.—In this case the providence was a judgment, and David accepted it, saying, "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."—Thus we have to fall into the march of the divine providence; we have to note the rhythm of the heavenly movement and keep in step with it; and this being Song of Solomon, our resignation will be accepted as repentance, and our obedience accounted as prayer.—The man had sinned, sinned deeply, sinned all but unpardonably; yet, account for it as we may, there was something in him which God could not but look upon with complacency; the very seed of heaven was in him, and he had a great election to realise and justify.—So it may be with many of us.—We have great sins, but our love may be greater than our guilt.—After all we have done, enough indeed to darken all heaven as with a frown, it may be that the voice of God within us shall be stronger than the voice of temptation, and out of great sin and infinite danger, we may be brought to peace, restoration, and eternal blessedness.—Let no man trifle with these hopes, or these sacred promises; they were not meant to be trodden under foot, or to be made excuses for redoubling our sin; they were meant to deter us from the repetition of evil, and to encourage us in our upward way.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany