CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES
2Sa . "Was unto him," etc. "The custom of keeping pet sheep in the house, as we keep lap-dogs, is still met with among the Arabs." (Keil.) "As a poor man he had the means of buying only one little lamb, which he was now raising, and which he loved the more as it was his only property." (Erdmann.)
2Sa . "Shall surely die," or, "deserves to die." "Because the forcible robbery of a poor man's pet lamb was almost as bad as man-stealing." (Keil.) "Four-fold." This was the compensation demanded by the Mosaic law. (Exo 21:36.)
2Sa . "Thus saith the Lord." "Just as in the parable the sin is traced to its root—namely, insatiable covetousness—so now, in the words of Jehovah which follow the prophet brings out in the most unsparing manner this hidden background of all sins." (Keil.)
2Sa . "Thy master's wives." It is a general custom in the East for a king to succeed to his predecessor's harem, and these words seem to show it was permitted to the kings of Israel. "Bishop Patrick and others give the later Jewish understanding of the law or custom; the king and no other person fell heir to the property and harem of his predecessor, but it did not follow that he actually married the inmates of the harem; they might be merely a part of the establishment. If it was a son that succeeded his father, he treated these women with reverence; if no blood relation existed between the two kings, the successor might actually take the women as his wives." (Phillipson.) "As to the morality of the act, it was the natural result of a polygamous system, and morally in the same category with it." (Tr. of Lange's Commentary.)
2Sa . "Slain." "This word to murder in the Hebrew is stronger than the one translated to kill in the former clause. "With the sword of … Ammon." That David used the heathen to commit the deed, added to the guilt.
2Sa . "Never depart." "That is, as long as the house or posterity of David shall last.… The bloody sword appears in the murder of the incestuous Ammon by Absalom (2Sa 13:28-29), in the death of the rebel Absalom (ch. 13-14), and in the execution of Adonijah." (Erdmann.) "Thou has despised Me." "This is here said instead of "Thou hast despised the word of the Lord.' For in His word the Lord Himself reveals Himself." (Erdmann.)
2Sa . "I will take thy wives." The two crimes of murder and adultery were to be visited by distinct and separate punishments. (See 2Sa 14:22.)
2Sa . "Thou Shalt not die." What is the exact meaning of these words as applied to David?… The application of the law (Lev 20:10; Deu 22:22) to an absolute Eastern monarch is out of the question, and if it were not, such an application would utterly mar the force of the passage. It is obvious, too, to observe that the criminal's death in the parable must represent some analogous punishment in the wider field in which the real events lay, where the criminal was above human laws, and Almighty God was the Judge. In other words, the death of the soul is certainly meant, as in Eze 18:4; Eze 18:13, etc. (Biblical Commentary.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Sa
I. The first step in David's return to God is taken by God Himself. "The Lord sent Nathan." The man who has fallen into a pit and broken his limbs must have help from without. It is useless to expect him to climb out unaided—someone must come and lift him out if he is ever again to find himself on the spot whence he fell. The first step to recovery must come from outside and from above himself. David had fallen by his own want of vigilance into a horrible pit of sin; his moral backbone was broken (Psa ), and he could no longer stand upright before his conscience and God, and the longer this state continued the deeper did he sink into the mire of moral insensibility. Some help must come from without if he is ever to recover, in any degree, his lost position—some means must be taken to awaken within him, first a sense of guilt and then a hope of pardon. God sends the means and thus takes the first step towards reconciliation between Himself and David, and He does the same we believe in all similar cases. The tendency of sin is either to harden the transgressor or to fill him with despair. He either tries to palliate his guilt or he is so overwhelmed by the consciousness of it that he becomes hopeless of ever being free from either its penalty or its power. But provision has been made by God to meet both states of mind. He has sent a greater than Nathan, and in Christ (2Co 5:19) has taken the first step in reconciling the world unto Himself.
II. The means used are wonderfully adapted to attain the end desired. There is no parable of the Old Testament that can be compared with that of the "ewe lamb." Its skill in concealing its application reminds one of our Lord's parable of the vineyard and the wicked husbandmen, (Mar ) and in practical application to the heart and conscience it has never been surpassed. A consideration of the analogy and contrast which it sets forth as existing between Uriah and David shows how fitted it was to set before the latter the aggravated guilt of his deed.
1. The analogy. The men in the parable were, in some respects, on an equality; they were fellow-men and fellow-citizens. "There were two men in one city." So David and Uriah, although one was a king and the other a subject, were on a level on the common ground of humanity, and were both subject to the laws, political, social, and religious which had been given by God to the nation which regarded Jerusalem as the seat of government. David was by birth a member of the highly favoured nation to whom God had given laws direct from heaven, and Uriah by choice was a citizen of the city of the great king, and stood in this sense on a level with his royal master, as did the poor man of the parable with his oppressive fellow-citizen.
2. The contrast. "The one rich and the other poor." Wealth means power to gratify one's desires, to execute one's purposes to a great extent. Poverty often means the necessity of submission to the will of those socially above us even though they be beneath us in every other respect. It was so with the oppressor and the oppressed in the parable, and it was so with Uriah and David. The king's position made it possible for him to indulge his lawless desires without hindrance. The position of Uriah put his domestic happiness and his life at his master's disposal, and this inequality aggravated David's crime. The parable seems to hint at a further contrast. "The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb." David had many wives; we infer from the narrative that Uriah had but one. His love was therefore deeper, because purer, than that of David. The owner of many wives could not gauge the deep affection of the husband of one wife, even as the rich man of the parable could not understand the feeling with which his poor neighbour regarded his only lamb. Both the points of resemblance and of contrast were calculated to set the many aggravations of David's sin before him when once his conscience began to awake from its long slumber. Until this moment David had evidently never looked his crime in the face; now it was so placed before him that he saw it in all its enormity, stripped of any palliation or excuse which he might have thrown over it, if he had known it for his own. It is also probable that Nathan, who was evidently much esteemed by David, had in past days informed the king of deeds of injustice committed by his rich subjects against their poorer brethren. Add to this the fact that Nathan had been the mouthpiece of God's goodwill to David and his house, and we shall see how adapted were both the messenger and the message—first to secure the desired attention, and then to produce the needed conviction. The whole transaction is an exhibition of the manifold wisdom and the gracious condescension which ever marks the dealings of God with his erring creatures, and puts into the mouth of every restored wanderer the song, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." (Psa ).
III. God's pardon of the sin follows immediately upon David's confession. This is the law of the kingdom of God, both before and since the death of the Sinbearer—"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." (1Jn .) In the narrative before us the same verse contains the acknowledgement of the guilt and its remission;—it seems as though David had hardly uttered his confession before he received an assurance that he was pardoned,—that is, that the worst effect of sin—the displeasure of God—was removed. This by no means, as we see from David's subsequent history, frees the transgressor from all the penalty of his transgression, but it opens or reopens the way of access to a merciful God, and gives a different aspect to all the chastisement that follows. If David had, in his own words, still "kept silence" before God, (Psalms 33), he would have had no place of refuge in the calamities of his after life; but having acknowledged his iniquity, he was able to look for help to the very hand that smote him. This is the great and vital difference between the afflictions of the forgiven and the unforgiven sinner. The former must still suffer many of the consequences of sin, but the deadly sting is gone from them, and although the sentence pronounced at the fall is not reversed for him any more than for the latter, his relations to the Lawgiver are those of a forgiven child instead of a rebel subject. David's history shows how ready God is to let a man pass from the one position to the other.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
2Sa . He must be of God's sending that shall effectually awaken conscience and speak to the heart. Nathan the prophet is here purposely sent to let good David feel the bruise of his fall.… If God's best children have been sometimes suffered to sleep in sin, at last he awakeneth them in a fright. Now because men that are awakened hastily out of a deep and sweet sleep are apt to take it ill, and to brawl with their best friends, wise Nathan beginneth his reproof, not in plain terms, but by an allegory.… and it is most likely he did it privately, that he might the more easily work and win upon him.… Private admonition saith one, is the pastor's privy purse, as princes have theirs, besides their public disbursements.—Trapp.
2Sa . The greater was his sin, since pressed with no necessity. What need had the angels to leave their first estate and habitation? (Jude 1:6.) What need had Adam to reach after a deity? What need had Ahab to covet Naboth's vineyard? etc. It is no small aggravation of a man's sin to fall into it without strong temptation.—Trapp.
2Sa . It is most instructive to observe that Nathan in his parable calls attention, not to the sensuality and cruelty of David's crime, but simply to its intense and brutal selfishness … Remember this, even as regards the special sin of which David was guilty. Many, perhaps, who would excuse themselves on other grounds for the ruin which, by the indulgence of their own passions, they help to bring upon the souls and bodies of their fellow-creatures, might be startled, as was David, if once they could be convinced of its mean and selfish baseness.—Dean Stanley.
2Sa . This energy of virtue, this mighty effort to get credit with oneself for a lively sense of right and hatred of injustice—who does not recognise it? Who should not tremble when he thinks—the evil spirit who prompts to this consummate deceit and hypocrisy is near to me? I am tempted continually to fly from the light which would show me the foul spots in my own soul, by projecting them outside of me, and pronouncing sentence upon them in another man.—Maurice.
I. Impartial reason is ever ready to condemn any flagrant iniquity. There is as discernable a difference between good and evil as between white and black, when nothing interposes to obstruct the sight, or misrepresent the object. When a particular case happens to be entangled with something of nicety, there may be room for doubt, or need of consideration, but in general men can pass judgment readily and boldly. David wanted not the wisdom of an angel to discern what common sense would have dictated in a like case. But—II. The prejudices of interest and lust, may, and do hinder men from discerning, or at least distinguishing in practice between right and wrong, even in the plainest cases. Such was most apparently the case with David. There was no room for comparison between two injuries of a size so unequal. He who was so tenderly sensible of what the poor man was supposed to suffer, could not possibly be ignorant of how much the injured Uriah must have suffered. In the heat of his indignation against a supposed oppressor, he put on the severity of a judge more rigorous than the law directed. And this when he had been guilty of a cruelty which left not the possibility of restitution. III. Although men do sometimes suffer themselves to commit gross sins, in open contradiction to their own inward light, yet all notorious iniquity stands condemned by the universal verdict of mankind. It is no easy matter to bribe the reason and warp the judgment so far as to make men advocate their own irregularities; but let sinners once sit in judgment on each other, and they will all come in condemnation in their turns, and all with equal justice. While the affections are unengaged, and temptation at a distance, nature recoils at the very thought of a great enormity. (See 2Ki .) It is probable had David been foretold by Nathan how he would act in the matter of Uriah, he would have answered him in the words of Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?"—Dean Moss.
2Sa . I. Men as sinners are frequently ignorant of their own characters.… Although there is no subject of more vital interest to man than himself, and none which he has such facilities for studying, yet of nothing is he more ignorant.… When Christ warned Peter of his denial of Him, the apostle exclaimed "Though all men deny thee, yet will not I deny thee;" but within a few hours Peter repeatedly, and with oaths, denied his Master.… Why are we so ignorant of our own characters? I may mention three reasons:—First, The lack of a sin-resisting force. "Sin," says Caird, in his admirable sermon on Self-Ignorance, "can be truly measured only when it is resisted." Steam is an illustration. So long as it is allowed to pass away freely and unrestrained from the boiling vessel its power is inappreciable; but resist it, endeavour to confine it, and it will gather a force that will shiver you to atoms. Conscience is the sin-resisting force, and this in the sinner is weak, etc. Secondly, The infirmity of the sin-detecting power. Conscience is this power, and by depravity it often gets deadened so that it does not feel or see. If the thermometer is frozen, how can you tell the temperature of the air?… Thirdly, The repulsiveness of a sin-polluted heart. Man feels that all things within are not right. He suspects that there are disease, danger, and a lurking enemy there, and he keeps away. He regards his own heart as the insolvent debtor regards his ledger, etc. II. The men who are most ignorant of themselves are most severe in their judgment of others.… This principle is illustrated also in the parable of the householders (Mat 21:33-42); in the history of Caiaphas (Mar 14:63); and in the conduct of the Pharisee in the temple, in relation to the Publican. He that has the "beam" in his own eye sees the "mote" in his brother's eye.… III. However self-ignorant a man may be, a period of self-recognition must come.… I have read in ancient history of a dumb prince who had never spoken a word in all his life, till one day he saw an enemy draw a sword against his father; and as he beheld the fatal blow descending, the terrible feeling unlocked his tongue and made him speak. So it will be with all dumb consciences soon. The period of self-recognition came to some of the murderers of Christ on the day of Pentecost; and they cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" It came to Paul, and he exclaimed, "What things were gain to me, I counted loss." When God touches the conscience, the man stands self-revealed.
Awakened conscience acts the artist;
Uses the Sun of Heaven's law
To photograph the sinner's life,
Then holds it up a life-like picture—
A hideous monster to the affrighted eye.
—Dr. David Thomas.
2Sa . Two things are to be remarked in connection with David's penitential utterance.
1. That he regarded social wrongs as sins against the Lord. All that appears to us in the crimes of which he was convicted was purely social.… Still, inasmuch as social order is a Divine institution, wrongs against society are sins against God. Things are right and wrong between man and man because Heaven has willed them so … and the sinner's grief, when conscience is aroused, is not so much that he has injured man, as that he has insulted his Maker. "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned."
2. That he felt that he himself was responsible for the commission of those sins. He does not refer to the tempter or the temptation,—does not say a word about necessity and the influence of circumstances upon his organisation; no, no! all this will do very well when conscience is sleeping for the intellect to speculate about. But conscience despises your fatalism, dashes its logical fabrics to pieces. "I have sinned".… Taking Nathan's language as expressing forgiveness of sin, the following remarks are suggested.
1. Forgiveness is a real act. It is not a mere vision, or an idea of a superstitious mind, nor a mere figure of speech;—it is a "putting away of sin".…
2. Forgiveness is an act performed by the Lord.… None can forgive men's sins but the Lord.…
3. Forgiveness is an act which delivers from death. "The wages of sin is death.".… "Thou shalt not die"; even thy physical dissolution shall be only a sleep.
4. Forgiveness is an act dependent on repentance.… Repent, that your sins may be blotted out, etc.
5. Forgiveness is an act with which the true minister has much to do. Whilst we repudiate the doctrine of priestly absolution, we hold it to be the right and duty of every true minister of Christ to do what Nathan now did,—Declare Divine forgiveness to Him who has proved the genuineness of his penitence.—Dr. David Thomas.
It may seem to some, that a penitence thus suddenly produced could be neither very deep nor very thorough. But to those who think thus, three things must be said.
First: an impression may be produced in a moment which will remain indelible. We have heard, for example, of one who, as he was travelling in an Alpine region at midnight, saw for an instant, by the brilliancy of a flash of lightning, that he was in such a position that another step would have been over a fearful precipice, and the effect upon him was that he started back and waited for the morning dawn. Now such a flash of lightning into the darkness of David's soul, this "Thou art the man," of Nathan's, was to him. It revealed to him, by its momentary brilliance, the full aggravation of his iniquity. He did not need or desire a second sight of it. That was enough to stir him up to hatred of his sin, and of himself.
But, second: we must, in connection with this narrative, read the Psalms to which David's penitence gave birth, namely, the 51st and the 32nd; and if these are not the genuine utterances of a passionate sincerity, where shall we find that quality in any literature? Admirably has Chandler said of the 51st Psalm: "The heart appears in every line; and the bitter anguish of a wounded conscience discovers itself by the most natural and convincing symbols. Let but the Psalm be read without prejudice, and with a view only to collect the real sentiments expressed in it, and the disposition of heart that appears throughout the whole of it, and no man of candour, I am confident, will ever suspect that it was the dictate of hypocrisy, or could be penned from any other motive but a strong conviction of the heinousness of his offence, and the earnest desire of God's forgiveness, and being restrained from the commission of the like transgressions for the future. Furthermore, as another evidence of the genuineness of David's repentance, we point to the words of Nathan, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin," and ask if the prophet, as Jehovah's representative, would have said anything like that if the penitence of David had not been sincere.… What, really, is the distinction between the people of God and the wicked on the earth? Is it that the one class commit no sins, while the other fall into iniquity? No; the godly man does sin. No one will be more ready to acknowledge that than himself. The difference, therefore, is not there. It lies in this: that when the child of God falls into sin, he rises out of it and leaves it, and cries to God for pardon, purity, and help; but when the ungodly man falls into sin, he continues in it, and delights in it, as does the sow in her wallowing in the mire. It is a poor, shallow philosophy, therefore, that sneers at such a history as this of David; nay, it is worse even than that: it is the very spirit of Satan, rejoicing, as it does, in the iniquity of others. On this point, however, I gladly avail myself of the language of a living writer, not usually considered to have any very strong bias in favour of the Scriptural views of men and things—I mean Thomas Carlyle. "Faults!" says this author, in his "Lecture on the Hero as Prophet;" "the greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. Readers of the Bible, above all, one would think might know better. Who is called there the man according to God's own heart? David, the Hebrew king, had fallen into sins enough; blackest crimes; there was no want of sins. And thereupon unbelievers sneer and ask, ‘Is this your man according to God's heart?' The sneer, I must say, seems to me but a shallow one. What are faults? what are the outward details of a life, if the inner secret of it—the remorse, temptations, true, often baffled, never-ending struggle of it—be forgotten? ‘It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.' Of all acts, is not, for a man, repentance the most Divine? The deadliest sin, I say were that same supercilious consciousness of no sin. That is death. The heart so conscious is divorced from sincerity, humility, and fact—is dead. It is pure, as dead dry sand is pure. David's life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul toward what is good and best. Struggle often baffled sore, baffled down into entire wreck, yet a struggle never ended; ever with tears, repentance, true, unconquerable purpose begun anew. Poor human nature! Is not a man's walking in truth always that—‘a succession of falls?' Man can do no other. In this wild element of a life, he has to struggle upward: now fallen, now abased; and ever with tears, repentance, and bleeding heart, he has to rise again, struggle again, still onward. That his struggle be a faithful, unconquerable one, that is the question of questions."—Taylor.
The greatest griefs are not most verbal. Saul confessed his sin more largely, less effectually. God cares not for phrases, but for affections. The first piece of our amends to God for sinning is the acknowledgment of sin: he can do little, that in a just offence cannot accuse himself. If we cannot be so good as we would, it is reason we should do God so much right, as to say how evil we are. And why was not this done sooner? It is strange to see how easily sin gets into the heart; how hardly it gets out of the mouth: is it because sin, like unto Satan, where it hath got possession, is desirous to hold it, and knows that it is fully ejected by a free confession? or because, in a guiltiness of deformity, it hides itself in the breast where it is once entertained, and hates the light? or because the tongue is so feed with self-love, that it is loath to be drawn unto any verdict against the heart or hands? or is it out of an idle misprision of shame, which, while it should be placed in offending, is misplaced in disclosing of our offence?—Bp. Hall.
2Sa . 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 evil. The hardened, depraved, worldly man is not ignorant of his sin; he knows it, defends it, he is accustomed to it. But the good man, or the man who is half good and half bad—he overlooks his sin. His good deeds conceal his bad deeds, often even from others, more often still from himself.… For others, this history teaches us to regard with tenderness the faults, the sins, the crimes, of those who, gifted with great and noble qualities, are, by that strange union of strength and weakness which we so often see, betrayed into acts which more ordinary, commonplace characters avoid or escape. We need not, nor dare, deny their sin … but we must thankfully acknowledge the background, the atmosphere, so to speak, of excellence which renders a return from such sins possible.… And for ourselves, let us remember that such a foundation of good as there was in David's 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. David's fall sufficiently teaches us, not to rely on our religious principle, however sound, nor to trust in our religious zeal, however fervent; but his repentance bids us humbly hope that whatever good purposes and sincere prayers and faith in God, and love of Christ, we have been able to retain amid the changes and chances of the world, will stand in the evil day, and do us good service still: there will be something to which we can appeal with the certainty of some response when the first flush of passion, the first cloud of self-deceit has passed away.—Dean Stanley.
Another view of the effect of David's humiliation may be noticed, not as if it were a matter of certainty, but rather as a suggestion for study and consideration. There is reason to think that this new exercise of David's soul—his deep sense of sin, and bitter experience of its fruits—fitted him for a most important function, which he would now begin to fulfil more especially than heretofore. These exercises of his soul enabled him to become more suitably the type of the sin-bearing Jesus, and to give utterance to those feelings of deep oppression and agonizing grief that, in their fullest and deepest meaning, none could appropriate but the Man of Sorrows. Up to this time David had had comparatively little acquaintance with the burden of sin; … but no one could in any measure foreshadow the Messiah without a deep personal acquaintance with the burden of guilt.… In one aspect it may be a startling thing to suggest that a time of writhing under the horrors of guilt fitted David better to become the type of the sinless One. But in another aspect the statement is no paradox.… It is not meant that either in kind or degree David's feelings were identical with the suffering Messiah, but only that the resemblance was such that the language which was suggested by the one was suitable, and shown to be suitable, to express the other.—Blaikie.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES
2Sa . "The enemies of the Lord to blaspheme." "Transgression of God's command by the king himself must lead the heathen to heap shame and reproach on Israel and its God; and there must therefore be expiation by punishment." (Erdmann.)
"Not only to the heathen, but also to the unbelieving among the Israelites." (Keil.) The external sufferings of David would be to all such blasphemers a witness to the holiness and justice of God. "David was also to discern in it a distinct token of the grace of God." (Keil.)
2Sa . "The Lord struck the child." It appears that Nathan did not visit David until after the birth of Bathsheba's child, and therefore that David's impenitent state of mind lasted for many months.
2Sa . "Besought God." "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." (Von Gerlach.) "Went in." Rather, "he came," not into the house of the Lord (2Sa 12:20 is proof to the contrary), but into his house, or into his chamber." (Keil.)
2Sa . "The elders." As in Gen 24:2, his oldest and most trusted servants.
2Sa . "What thing is this?" "This state of mind is fully explained in Psalms 51, though his servants could not comprehend it." (Keil.)
2Sa . "In this short passage the Divine names are used with greater variation than usual. 2Sa 12:15 has "Jehovah" (the Lord); 2Sa 12:16 has "God;" and in 2Sa 12:22 the Hebrew text has "Jehovah," where in our version is God. Whether the sacred historian was guided in the employment of these names by some unknown principle, or he used them indiscriminately it is difficult to decide." (Jamieson.)
2Sa . "I shall go to Him." Wordsworth sees in these words "an evidence of David's belief in the personal identity of risen saints, and in everlasting recognition in a future state." It seems quite evident that at least "the continued existence of the child's soul in Sheol is here assumed, and the hope of re-union with it expressed." (Erdmann.)
2Sa . "She bare a son." "In all probability Solomon was not born until after the capture of Rabbah and the termination of the Ammonitisli war. His birth is simply mentioned here because of its connection with what immediately precedes." (Keil.) "Solomon," i.e. the man of peace (Keil.) It was probably given "from the wish that peace might be allotted to him as God's gift, in contrast with the continual wars of his father's life." (Erdmann.) Or as Keil and others remark, "because David regarded his birth as a pledge that he should now become a partaker again of peace with God."
2Sa . "He sent." Expositors differ as to whether Jehovah or David is the subject here. It seems most in keeping with the construction to read with Kiel and others, "Jehovah loved him, and sent," etc.… and he (Nathan, in obedience to the Divine direction) called," etc. Some however make David the first subject, and understand the verb sent in the sense of delivered; i.e., David committed the child to the care of Nathan, and Nathan gave him his higher name. Others again make David the subject of both verbs. "Jedidiah," i.e., beloved of Jehovah.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Sa
I. A sinful deed committed by a child of God must be punished to vindicate the justice of the Divine government. The human king and father who claims to be the representative and executor of law is bound to begin at home, and exact strict obedience from the members of his own family before he deals with those outside his household. For if his home discipline be lax, and he overlook transgressions in his children that he would punish in other men, he loses his reputation as a just and impartial ruler. Indeed, those who stand most nearly related to him are rightly counted more blameworthy than others if they violate the law, inasmuch as their near relation implies a more perfect knowledge of what ought to be done, and therefore a more binding obligation. It is especially needful, therefore, that their sins be visited with the deserved penalty, and such a visitation is quite consistent with personal forgiveness of the offender. God, who claims to be the supreme ruler of all the nations, chose the Hebrew people as His especial inheritance, and selected David from the rest of the nation to stand in a peculiar and intimate relation to Himself. All the nation was under special obligation to obey the laws of God, and David was bound to obedience by even stronger ties than any of his subjects. As an Israelite he was called upon to show to the heathen around an example of godly living, and as the chosen king of Israel, and the professing servant of Jehovah, he was bound to be a living revelation of God's law to his own people. If his great sin had not been openly punished, and if the punishment had not been heavy, the reputation of the Divine Law-giver would have suffered. Therefore, although his sin was "put away" upon confession, justice demanded all the suffering that followed. This law is of necessity in constant operation in the government of God. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." (Amo .) Peculiar privileges and distinguishing marks of Divine favour are not licences to sin, but reasons why it cannot be lightly passed over.
II. The result of an unlawful deed soon changes from a source of pleasure into one of pain. The thief who succeeds in capturing his booty congratulates himself upon all the enjoyment he hopes to purchase with it. But it may be that he presently stumbles beneath its weight, and so enables the officer of justice to overtake and capture him, and thus the very largeness of the gain that he secured for an hour becomes the means of days and months of sorrow. It is not always, nor generally, that retribution follows so quickly upon the heels of wrong-doing, but whether its results be enjoyed for a longer or shorter period, they will one day be the cause of bitterness. David was allowed to enjoy, so far as a guilty conscience would permit him, the fruits of his sinful union with Bathsheba for a short time. It is evident that the child that was born to him was a source of joy to his heart. But soon that very source of his gladness was smitten, and the fountain whence the streams of pleasure had flowed now sent forth only bitter waters. From what we know of David we may conclude that the sufferings of an innocent child would have given him pain under any circumstances, but how great an addition to his mental suffering must it have been to remember that, in this instance, his guilty passion was the cause of all. This leads to the remembrance—
III. That those who commit the sin are not the only sufferers from it. This is an inevitable, although sad, consequence of that relativity between human creatures which is also the cause of so many blessings. As none can say where the effects of sin will end in relation to his own soul, so it is impossible to calculate how far its evil influence will extend in relation to others. Sometimes, as in the case before us, only bodily suffering is entailed upon the child by the transgressions of the parent, but often, alas, the sin of the father bears more deadly fruit in the moral contamination which it communicates to the children. David's infant child suffered bodily pain and death because of the iniquity of its parents, and no man—especially no parent—can sin without bringing misery of some kind upon those related to him. Our children, and others connected with us, can, by Divine help, free themselves from the moral consequences of our wrong-doing, but the law which binds our sin and their bodily or mental suffering together is one which cannot be broken in the present life. Blessed be God it can reach no further; but surely it reaches far enough to furnish an all-powerful motive to every man to pray, "Lead me not into temptation." If men will not hear the voice which cries "Do thyself no harm," and will contend that they may do what they please with their own souls, can they find even the shadow of an excuse for bringing pain and loss upon others, even though that pain and loss be only temporal?
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS.
2Sa . This observation gives us an insight into the whole position of David. In him the good principle had attained to supremacy; the godless party had seen this with terror; and now they mocked piety in its representative, who, because he held this position, ought to have kept watch over his heart the more carefully.—Hengstenberg.
2Sa . It is solemnizing to think that the one sinless member of the family—sinless as to actual sin—is the first to reap the deadly wages of sin. It leads the thoughts straight to the doctrine of imputed guilt; it makes us think of mankind as one great tree with ten thousand branches; and when the faithless root sends up poison instead of nourishment, it is the youngest and tenderest branchlet that first droops and dies.—Blaikie
2Sa . We like to read these words, for they tell us that David, though an erring-son of God, was yet a son. A godless man would have been driven farther from Jehovah by these troubles, and might have been led to make proclamation of his utter atheism; but David went to God. The more heavily he felt the rod, the nearer he crept to him who used it. He fled from God to God. He hid himself from God in God. This shows that his sin was out of the usual course of his nature. It was like the deflection of the needle, due to certain causes which at the time he permitted to have influence over him; but, these cause: removed, his old polarity of soul returned, and in his time of trouble he called on Jehovah. This was his habit. Repeatedly in his Psalms has he employed language which clearly indicate that God was regarded by him as a strong rock, whereunto, in time of trial, he continually resorted. Thus we have him saying, on one occasion, of his enemies: "For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer;" and again, "From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I."—Taylor.
2Sa . Repentance may come too late—is respect of temporal chastisements, which are yet not penal, but medicinal. (1Co 11:32.) Thus Moses and Aaron were kept out of Canaan for their disobedience at the waters of Meribah.—Trapp.
2Sa . A godly man saith Amen to God's Amen; and putteth his fiat and placet to God's. (Act 21:14.)—Trapp.
It is worthy of particular observation that the first step of the Psalmist in the day of his sorrow is "to the house of the Lord." His conduct is worthy of imitation. I know not where the children of sorrow should go, if not to the house of their heavenly Father. It is in the holiness of the sanctuary that this "beauty" is found which the prophet was to give instead of ashes to those "who mourned in Zion." It is in the sacred vessels of the temple that the "oil of joy" is kept which God's people are to have "for mourning."—Bp. Dehon.
2Sa . God was gracious to him in that the child did not live. How could he ever have looked upon him without grief and shame? How oft do God's children find themselves crossed with a blessing! and ont he contrary.—Trapp.
2Sa . We may learn from David's words here, that we may cherish the most unwavering assurance of the salvation of those who die in infancy. Even in the comparative darkness of the Jewish dispensation, the Psalmist had the fullest persuasion of the eternal welfare of his baby-boy; and, under the Gospel economy, there are many things revealed which tend to make the doctrine of infant salvation perfectly indubitable. Not to refer to the fact that, as they have committed no actual transgressions, little children do not personally deserve condemnation, and may, therefore, presumably be regarded as included in the provisions of the covenant of grace, there are certain things which to my mind place the doctrine to which I refer beyond all question.
In the first place, there seems to me a moral impossibility involved in the very thought of infants being consigned to perdition. For what are the elements in the punishment of the lost? So far as we know, they are these two, memory and conscience. But in an infant conscience is virtually non-existent. Moral agency and responsibility have not yet been developed, and so there can be no such thing to it as remorse.
Again: memory has nothing of guilt in an infant's life to recall, and so it seems to me to be utterly impossible to connect retribution of any sort in the other world with those who have been taken from the present in the stage of infancy.
But, in the second place, there are positive indications that infants are included in the work of Christ. I grant at once that there is no one passage which in so many words makes the assertion that all who die in infancy are eternally saved; but then we may not wonder at the absence of such a declaration, since it would have been liable to great abuse; and we do not need to regret that we have it not, because there are many passages which very clearly imply it. Thus Jesus said of infants, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." This does not mean only, as some would have us to believe, that the kingdom of heaven consists of persons resembling little children. The word translated "of such" has evidently a definite reference to children themselves, and has elsewhere been employed in that way by the Saviour himself.—Taylor.
The issue of things doth more fully show the will of God than the prediction: God never did anything but what He would; He hath sometimes foretold that for trial which His secret will intended not: He would foretell it; He would not effect it; because He would therefore foretell it that He might not effect it. His predictions of outward evils are not always absolute; His actions are. David well sees, by the event, what the decree of God was concerning his child, which now he could not strive against without a vain impatience. Till we know the determination of the Almighty, it is free for us to strive in our prayers; to strive with Him, not against Him: when once we know them, it is our duty to sit down in a silent contentation.—Bp. Hall.
Whether David clearly expressed faith in the immortality of the soul or not, we know that the thing is true; and … even the heathen derived consolation from the reflection that they should meet their friends in a conscious state of existence. And a saying in Cicero, De Senectute, which he puts into the mouth of Cato of Utica, has been often quoted, and is universally admired: "O happy day" (says he) "when I shall quit this impure and corrupt multitude, and join myself to that Divine company and council of souls who have quitted the earth before me! There I shall find, not only those illustrious personages to whom I have spoken, but also my Cato, who I can say was one of the best men ever born, and whom none ever excelled in virtue and piety. I have placed his body on that funeral pile whereon he ought to have laid mine. But his soul has not left me; and without losing sight of me, he has only gone before me into a country where he saw I should soon rejoin him."—A. Clarke.
2Sa . Yea, sons, and David's best sons came of Bathsheba, because they were the fruit of their humiliation. Nathan, of whom came Christ (Luke 3), is ranked before Solomon (2Sa 5:14; 1Ch 3:5; 1Ch 14:4), but Solomon was the elder brother by Bathsheba, and a notable type of Christ, both in his name and in his reign. This may be for comfort to such as have leaped rashly into marriage; yea, have entered into that holy ordinance of God through the devil's portal, if for that they be after soundly humbled. Trapp.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES
2Sa . The narrative now returns to chapter 2Sa 11:1. "The royal city." From 2Sa 12:29 it appears that Rabbah was not wholly captured until David came, and unless "the whole result is here summarily stated in advance" (Erdmann), this seizure must refer to that part called in the next verse the water city.
2Sa . "The city of waters," or, the water city. The ruins of this city (see note on 2Sa 10:3) show that it lay on both sides of a narrow valley, through which runs a stream which is a tributary to the river Jabbok. The citadel still stands on the northern declivity. Apparently, Joab took all the city with the exception of this stronghold.
2Sa . "It be called after my name." Erdmann, Keil, and others, prefer to read "and my name be named upon it;" i.e., I receive the honour of the capture. "Joab's conduct here is either that of a devoted servant, wishing to give his master honour or shield him from popular disfavour (on account of Bathsheba), or that of an adroit courtier who will not run the risk of exciting his king's envy by too much success (see 1Sa 18:6-8).—(Tr. of Lange's Commentary.)
2Sa . "All the people," i.e., all the men of war who had remained behind in the land; from which we may see that Joab's besieging army had been considerably weakened during the long siege, and at the capture of the water-city." (Keil.)
2Sa . "Their king's crown." "So that he was either taken prisoner, or slain at the capture of the city." (Keil.) "A talent," etc. "About 100 English pounds." (Tr. of Lange's Commentary.) "This heavy crown of gold and precious stones might have been worn during the coronation by a strong man like David. In many places now weights scarcely less heavy are borne on the head even by women. We need not therefore suppose that the weight is accidentally exaggerated," (Keil), or that "the crown was supported on the throne above the head." (Clericus.) (Erdmann.)
2Sa . "Under saws," etc. This must be rendered "he cut them in two with the saw.' The other instruments mentioned denote also cutting tools. "The brick-kiln." Keil understands that they were burned in the brick-kiln, but some expositors read with Kimchi, "he passed them through Malcham." i.e., the place where the Ammonites laid human sacrifices in the arms of the red-hot image of their god, Moloch. (See Lev 18:21.) But many contend that the Hebrew text cannot be so translated, and its true signification is very uncertain.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Sa
THE FINAL CONQUEST OF AMMON
I. To forego honour in favour of another is often as prudent as it is kind. If a man is beneath us in social position, or is less known or esteemed than we are, we ought to be able sometimes to stand back a little in order that he may be raised or brought forward and reap some of the benefits of which we have enjoyed so large a share. It is surely not a great self-denial for him who has won many prizes in the race of life, now and then to slacken his pace so that a less favoured person may taste the sweets of victory. But when those with whom we are engaged are our equals or superiors, prudence sometimes dictates such a course when benevolence does not prompt it. Those who feel themselves on a level with us, or know that they stand above us in many respects, are more likely to be jealous of our successes, and to look on us with suspicion if we leave them too far or too constantly behind in the contest for renown. If we desire to retain their goodwill we must sometimes put aside our just claims in their favour. The previous and the subsequent history of Joab lead us to incline to the view that his conduct at this time was actuated by this latter motive. He might certainly have acted as he did out of kindness of heart. If this event happened—as is most likely—before David's repentance, Joab must have seen how ill at ease his master was, or, if the occurrence took place after the message of Nathan, David would still be in a depressed state of mind, and it is possible that Joab suggested his expedition against Rabbah to divert him from his gloomy thoughts. Or David's reputation among his subjects may have suffered by his sinful conduct, and his general may have resorted to this expedient to restore the king to his old place in their esteem by reviving his military fame. But we think his proposal was dictated rather by prudence. David had already somewhat against him in the murder of Abner, and had doubtless marked him as an ambitious and unscrupulous man. Joab could not be unconscious of the deep offence he had given to David when he slew Abner, and was too wise a politician not to know how far he might go and yet retain his position at the head of the army. So, although he had a perfect right to complete the undertaking which he had carried so far, he showed great wisdom in now giving it into David's hands, and thus laying him under a new obligation to continue his favours.
II. External success is no criterion by which to judge how a man stands in relation to the favour of God. By the conquest of Rabbah David completed that series of victories which made him secure against all his heathen foes. When the crown of the king of Ammon was placed upon his head and he returned to Jerusalem laden with spoil, those who measure how far a man's ways please the Lord by the amount of temporal success which He grants him, would say that now David was enjoying more of the Divine favour than ever before. But there can be little doubt that this campaign was undertaken while the heavy displeasure of God was resting upon David, and even if it did not take place until after his repentance, all this outward splendour stands in sad contrast to the inward gloom which must have overshadowed David's spirit when he thought of the terrible sentence, "The sword shall never depart from thine house because thou hast despised Me." David the shepherd and the fugitive was really enjoying far more of the Divine approval and favour than David the conqueror of Ammon, and this episode of his life is another illustration of a truth we are prone to forget even in the light of the Cross, that a man's external circumstances are no indication of his standing in the kingdom of God.
III. Isolated actions of men are often strangely at variance with their character as a whole. As we read this paragraph, we seem to want to transpose the names of the actors—to put into David's mouth the words of Joab, and to make Joab responsible for all that is here ascribed to David. Such a change would harmonize entirely with the characters of the two men regarded in their entirety. As the record stands, the apparently unselfish words of Joab sound as strangely in his lips as the boastful and cruel deeds of David seem out of harmony with his general spirit. If we knew no more of either of these men, how false would be the estimate we should form of their characters. But all who are observant of men in general, and especially of their own lives, know well how often very good men act inconsistently with their profession, and how it not unfrequently happens that, in individual instances, they suffer when compared with men who are morally far below them. A bad man sometimes seems to rise above himself, and really does so at times, and even the best of men often fall far below their better nature. It behoves us, therefore, always to abstain from passing hasty judgments, and to look at a man's deeds in the light of the general tenor of his life.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The whole conduct of David at Rabbah is strange and painful. It was not creditable to be roused to an enterprise by an appeal to his love of fame; he might have left, Joab to complete the conquest and enjoy the honour which his sword had substantially won. It was unworthy of him to go through the empty ceremony of being crowned with the diadem of the Ammonitish king, as if he set an extraordinary value on having so precious a crown upon his head. Above all, it was very terrible to show so harsh a spirit in disposing of his prisoners of war. But all this is quite likely to have happened if David had not yet come to repentance. When a man's conscience is ill at ease, his temper is commonly sullen and irritable. Feeling himself pursued by an enemy whom he dare not face, he avoids solitude and reflection—he courts bustle and business, and every kind of exciting and engrossing occupation. Uncomfortable and unhappy in his inmost soul, he is just in the temper to become savage and cruel when crossed.… The whole occurrence shows that want of humility, admiration, love, and obedience towards God, tells darkly upon the whole life and character.—Blaikie.
2Sa . Do we the like by Jesus Christ, when we get any victory over our spiritual enemies, let him have the whole ghory; say we as those two disciples in Act 3:12-16.—Trapp.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany