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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2970. B.C. 1034.

Nathan delivers and applies his parable, 2 Samuel 12:1-12 . David repents and is forgiven, but punished, 2 Samuel 12:13 , 2 Samuel 12:14 . The sickness and death of the child, with David’s behaviour on the occasion, 2 Samuel 12:15-23 . The birth of Solomon, 2 Samuel 12:24 , 2 Samuel 12:25 . The taking of Rabbah, 2 Samuel 12:26-31 .

Verse 1

2 Samuel 12:1. The Lord sent Nathan unto David When the ordinary means did not awaken David to repentance, God takes an extraordinary course. Thus the merciful Lord pities and prevents him who had so horribly forsaken God. He said He prudently ushers in his reproof with a parable, after the manner of the eastern nations, that so he might surprise David, and cause him unawares to give sentence against himself.

Verses 2-3

2 Samuel 12:2-3. Many flocks and herds Denoting David’s many wives and concubines, with whom he might have been satisfied. One little ewe-lamb It appears by this that Uriah had but one wife, with whom he was well contented. Which he had bought Or, had procured. Men frequently purchased their wives in those days, giving to their parents a sum of money for them. It did eat of his meat, &c. These words express the exceeding care which the poor man took of his one sheep, and the value he put upon it, as being, in some manner, his chief substance, furnishing him with milk for food, and wool for clothing; and they are intended to signify how dear his wife was to Uriah, and the high estimation in which he held her.

Verse 4

2 Samuel 12:4. There came a traveller unto the rich man This aptly signifies David’s roving affection, which he suffered to wander from his own home, and to covet another man’s wife. The Jewish doctors say it represents the evil disposition or desire that is in us, which must be carefully watched and resisted when we feel its motions. But took the poor man’s lamb Nathan, in this parable, omits touching the murder committed to cover the adultery, perhaps in order that David might not readily apprehend his meaning, and so be induced, unawares, to pronounce sentence of condemnation upon himself.

Verses 5-6

2 Samuel 12:5-6. David’s anger was greatly kindled, &c. So many base and aggravated circumstances appeared to him to attend it, that he thought it deserving of capital punishment. The man shall surely die This seems more than the fact deserved, or than he had commission to inflict for it. But it is observable that David now, when he was most indulgent to himself, and to his own sin, was most severe, and even unjust, to others, as appears by this passage, and the following relation, (2 Samuel 12:31,) which was done in the time of David’s impenitent continuance in his sin. He shall restore the lamb four-fold This was agreeable to the law, Exodus 22:1.

Verse 7

2 Samuel 12:7. Nathan said to David, Thou art the man Though he took such a mild, gentle, and prudent manner to bring David to a proper view and just sense of his sin, yet he deals faithfully with him at the last, and sets his iniquity before him in all its aggravations. Thus, in a similar way, by most appropriate and striking parables, our Lord set the sin which the Jews were about to commit in crucifying him before them in so clear a light, and showed it to be so inexcusable, that they were led, before they were aware, to pass an equally severe sentence against themselves. See Matthew 21:28-46. The Jews, however, when they perceived that Christ referred to them in his parables, were only exasperated the more, and sought the sooner to lay hands on him. But David being, although greatly fallen, of a different spirit, was brought by Nathan’s words to deep and lasting repentance. O, how did Nathan’s application of his parable, Thou art the man, pronounced in all the dignity and authority of the prophetic character, sink into David’s soul! especially when he proceeded to a further explication of the greatness of his iniquity, which he does in the following words. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel Nathan now speaks, not as a petitioner from a poor man, but as an ambassador from the great Jehovah, I anointed thee king over Israel, &c. Thus he aggravates David’s sin, from the obligations he was under to God, who had raised him to the highest dignity from a very low condition, and had extricated him from the greatest dangers and distresses.

Verse 8

2 Samuel 12:8. I gave thee thy master’s house All that pertained to him as a king, which came, of course, to David, as his successor. Thy master’s wives into thy bosom For the wives of a king went along with his lands and goods unto his successor, it being unlawful for the widow of a king to be wife to any but a king, as appears by the story of Adonijah. The expression in the text, however, does not necessarily signify that David married any of them; nor have we any proof that he did. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he could consistently with the law of God. See Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 18:15. The meaning seems only to be, that God put them into David’s power, together with Saul’s house and other property. And gave thee the house of Israel Dominion over the twelve tribes. And if that had been too little, &c. He needed but have asked, and God would have given him all he could have reasonably desired.

Verse 9

2 Samuel 12:9. Thou hast killed Uriah David’s contriving his death was as bad as if he had killed him with his own hand. With the sword of the children of Ammon This was an aggravation of his crime, that he caused him to be slain by the professed enemies of God, who doubtless triumphed in the slaughter of so great a man. Hast taken his wife, &c. To marry her whom he had defiled, and whose husband he had slain, was an affront upon the ordinance of marriage, making that not only to palliate, but in a manner to consecrate such villanies. In all this he despised the word of the Lord; (so it is in the Hebrew;) not only his commandment in general, but the particular word of promise, which God had before sent him by Nathan, that he would build him a house: which sacred promise if he had had a due value for, he would not have polluted his house with lust and blood.

Verse 10

2 Samuel 12:10. The sword shall never depart from thy house During the residue of thy life. As long as he lived, at times there should be destruction made in his family by the sword, which was awfully fulfilled in the violent deaths of his children, Amnon and Absalom, and, about the time of his death, Adonijah.

Verses 11-12

2 Samuel 12:11-12. I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house Which was notoriously fulfilled in Absalom’s conspiracy against him. I will take thy wives before thine eyes Openly, so that thou shalt know it as certainly as if thou didst see it, and yet shalt not be able to prevent it. For Absalom had a tent spread upon the house-top, and there went in unto them. And give them unto thy neighbour I shall, by my providence, give power over them to one who is very near unto thee. But God expresseth this darkly, that the accomplishment of it might not be hindered. I will do this thing before all Israel It was made notorious to all, that David fled in haste from his son, and left his wives and concubines behind him. “Whoever,” says Dr. Delaney, “considers the predictions of divine vengeance now denounced against David, must surely find them to be very extraordinary. His family to continue beyond any other regal race in the known world, and yet the sword to continue as long never to depart from it! A king, the greatest of his time! his dominion thoroughly established, and his enemies under his feet: highly honoured and beloved at home, and as highly awful to all the neighbouring nations! Such a king threatened to have his wives publicly prostituted before the face of all his people! And, what is yet stranger, more shocking, and more incredible, by one of his own race! and, as a sure proof of this, the darling offspring of his guilt to perish quickly, before his eyes! He alone who fills futurity could foresee this. He alone who sways the world, and knows what evil appetites and dispositions, unrestrained, will attempt and perpetrate, could pronounce it.”

Verse 13

2 Samuel 12:13. David said, I have sinned against the Lord Overwhelmed with shame, stung with remorse, and oppressed with a dreadful sense of the divine vengeance, impending, and ready to fall upon himself and his family, he could only give utterance to this short confession. How sincere and serious it was, what a deep sense he now had of his guilt, and from what a softened, penetrated, broken, and contrite heart, his acknowledgment proceeded, we may see in the psalms he penned on this occasion, especially the 1st. The Lord also hath put away thy sin That is, so far as concerns thy own life. Thou shalt not die As, according to thy own sentence, 2 Samuel 12:5, thou dost deserve, and mightest justly expect to do from God’s immediate stroke; though possibly thou mightest elude the law before a human judicature, or there should be no superior to execute the law upon thee. There is something unspeakably gracious in this sudden sentence of pardon, pronounced by the prophet in the instant of David’s confession of guilt and humiliation before God, even if we consider it as only implying exemption from the stroke of temporal death, and the granting him space for repentance, and for making his peace with God, with respect to his spiritual and immortal interests. And this seems to be the true light in which we ought to view it. If the psalm we have just mentioned was written after the event of Nathan’s coming to him, as the title of it signifies, and as is generally allowed, it is evident David did not yet consider himself as pardoned by God, or in a state of reconciliation with him. For, in that psalm we find not any thanksgivings for pardon actually obtained, but several most fervent supplications and entreaties for it as a blessing not yet granted. It may, therefore, be true enough, as Dr. Delaney supposes, that David’s pardon was not obtained by the instantaneous submission which he expressed, when he said, I have sinned; but that a long and bitter repentance preceded it; and yet that able divine may be mistaken, as it seems evident from the whole narrative he is, in supposing that repentance took place before Nathan was sent to him. The sacred historian gives no intimation of David’s being awakened to a proper sense of guilt, or of his being made truly penitent for it, till the application of Nathan’s parable. Then, and not before, it appears, he began to feel the compunction and distress expressed in that and the 32nd Psalm, during the continuance of which, day and night God’s hand was heavy upon him: his moisture was turned into the drought of summer, and his bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long. Some time after, but how long we are not told, he was made a partaker of the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered; and that on his own certain knowledge and experience: for he says, I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.

Verse 14

2 Samuel 12:14. Great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme To reproach God and his people, and the true religion. For, although these were not concerned in David’s sin, but the blame and shame of it belonged entirely to himself, yet heathen and wicked men would, according to their own evil hearts, endeavour to throw the reproach of it upon God and religion; as if God were unholy because the man whom he had termed a man after his own heart was so; and partial in conniving at so great a crime in him, when Saul was cast off for an apparently less sin; and negligent in the government of the world and of his church, in suffering such wickedness, as even heathen have abhorred, to go unpunished; and as if all religion were but hypocrisy and imposture, and a pretence for villanies. The neighbouring nations in particular might well take occasion to object to the Israelites, that they had no room to boast much about the purity of their religion; since he whom they acknowledged to be their best king, and the great favourite of their God, was guilty of such atrocious crimes. And the Ammonites, upon their success against Uriah and his party, would, doubtless, magnify and praise their idols, and blaspheme the God of Israel. The child that is born unto thee shall surely die David seems to have been much taken with Bath-sheba, and very desirous of having a child by her, otherwise it is hardly to be supposed that he would have been so distressed at the denunciation of its death; especially, as its life must needs have been a standing monument of his adultery, and of the murder of Uriah. It must be observed, that the immediate infliction of this punishment was a certain token that Nathan was sent by God, and that the other threatenings which he had denounced would be executed.

Verses 15-16

2 Samuel 12:15-16. The Lord struck the child With some sudden and dangerous distemper. David besought God for the child Supposing the threatening might be conditional, and so the execution of it prevented by prayer. And went in Namely, into his closet to pray, solitarily and earnestly. Or, perhaps, into the sanctuary, where the ark of God was; where he lay all night on the earth Humbling himself, mourning, repenting, weeping, praying, with all the agonies of the most bitter grief.

Verse 17

2 Samuel 12:17. The elders of his house The chief officers of his kingdom and household. He would not This excessive mourning did not proceed simply from the fear of the loss of the child, but from a deep sense of his sin, and the divine displeasure manifested herein.

Verse 18

2 Samuel 12:18. On the seventh day the child died The seventh from the beginning of the distemper. “Thus was the first instance of the divine vengeance for David’s guilt speedily and rigidly executed; other instances of it were fulfilled in their order, before his own eyes, as will abundantly appear in the sequel of this history; and the most dreadful of all the rest, The sword shall never depart from thy house, sadly and successively fulfilled in his posterity; from the death of Amnon, by the order of his own brother, to the slaughter of the sons of Zedekiah before his own eyes, by the king of Babylon.” We may learn from hence, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons, for David’s guilt was as signally and dreadfully punished in his own person, and in his posterity, as perhaps any guilt in any other person since Adam. “The Jews are of opinion that his own decree of repaying the robbery four-fold was strictly executed upon him. The deflouring of Tamar by her own brother; the death of four sons, three of them before his own eyes, and one by the hand of his brother; the unnatural rebellion of one son, which brought him almost to the brink of ruin; the prostitution of ten wives in the sight of all his subjects; and the successive and signal massacre of his posterity; besides the distress of his own public shame and infamy, added to at least one cruel disease.” These are surely awful proofs that God did not connive at sin in David any more than in any other. Why then are the scoffers so fond of urging and dwelling on the heinous crimes of David? Do the Holy Scriptures deny them? No, they set them forth with all their aggravating circumstances, but at the same time they assure us they were followed by such a train of calamities as is enough to make every sinner tremble; since it affords an indubitable proof that the ALMIGHTY GOVERNOR of the world is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity without detestation, and that every species of vice and wickedness, in whomsoever it is found, will certainly be punished under his government. Let the reader consider these things, and then say, whether David’s example be an encouragement to sin? Who would incur his guilt to go through such a scene of sorrow and suffering? See Delaney.

Verse 20

2 Samuel 12:20. David arose from the earth and changed his apparel Put off the habit of a mourner, and prepared himself to appear before God. And came into the house of the Lord That is, to the tabernacle, to confess his sin before the Lord, to own his justice in this stroke, to deprecate his just displeasure, to acknowledge God’s rich mercy in sparing his own life, and to offer such sacrifices as were required in such cases.

Verse 23

2 Samuel 12:23. Wherefore should I fast Seeing fasting and prayer cannot now prevail with God for his life. I shall go to him Into the state of the dead in which he is, and into heaven, where, I doubt not, I shall find him. Or, as Mr. Saurin paraphrases the words, “If I cannot have the consolation to partake with this infant the temporal happiness wherewith the divine goodness hath blessed me, I hope to rejoin his soul one day in heaven, and to partake with him eternal felicity.” As David undoubtedly believed in the immortality of the soul, and even in the resurrection of the body, it would be quite unreasonable to leave out this latter idea, and suppose, with some commentators, that he only meant he should die and go to the grave like his son, which would be a very poor consolation. But, considered in the light here stated, his words convey the most satisfactory comfort, and “are the noblest lesson,” says Delaney, “upon all that is reasonable and religious in grief that ever was penned.”

Verses 24-25

2 Samuel 12:24-25. And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife Who, no doubt, was deeply afflicted for the loss of her child, and dejected for her sin. It is observable, however, that there is not one word said to her in all this relation, either concerning her guilt or her punishment. She was punished in the calamities that befell David; who enticed her, and not she him, to commit the foul sin of adultery, and was innocent in the murder of Uriah. She bare a son, and he called his name Solomon Probably his mother, with the consent of David, gave him this name as soon as he was born. And the Lord loved him That is, the Lord declared to David, probably by Nathan the prophet, that he loved this his son, notwithstanding the just cause which David had given to God to withdraw his love from him and his. Perhaps after his great humiliation, Nathan was sent to comfort him with this good hope, that God would have a peculiar regard for this son, and make him very famous. Such is the wonderful goodness of God to truly penitent sinners, who manifest the sincerity of their repentance by an humble submission to whatsoever punishments God sees fit to inflict upon them, (as David did to the death of the former child,) and thereby induce that goodness to show them still further mercy, He sent Namely, God did; by Nathan, and he called his name Jedidiah That is, beloved of Jehovah. Because of the Lord Either because of the Lord’s love to him, or because the Lord commanded him so to do. This name, however, was merely significative, being only intended to express to the child’s parents what they might expect; for we find him always called Solomon in the Scriptures.

Verses 26-27

2 Samuel 12:26-27. Took the royal city That is, that part of the city where the king’s palace was; though now, it seems, he was retired to a strong fort. It is not to be supposed that Joab had continued the siege so long as till David had two children by Bath-sheba; this was done soon after the death of Uriah, when David commanded them to assault the city with greater force. The city of waters That part of the city which lay open, or was encompassed with the water; the other part, which was the upper city, and probably much stronger, was not yet taken.

Verse 28

2 Samuel 12:28. Encamp against the city, and take it For, having taken one part of the city, he concluded the remaining part of it could not long stand out. Lest I take the city Lest I have the honour of taking it; and it be called by my name As from the conquest of Africa, the Roman general Scipio, many years after, was called Africanus. By this it appears that though Joab had many faults, yet he loved his prince, and endeavoured to raise his glory. “There is a magnificence in this proposal capable of creating admiration in the meanest minds. The man that could transfer the glory of his own conquests upon his prince, needs no higher eulogy. And it is but justice to the character of Joab to declare that he is supreme, if not unrivalled, in this singular instance of heroism. Rabbah, it must be observed, was a royal, a large, and a populous city, the metropolis of Arabia Felix, watered, and in some measure encompassed by the river Jabbok. It had its name from its grandeur, being derived from a Hebrew word which signifies to increase and grow great, and was now in the height of its glory.” Delaney.

Verse 29

2 Samuel 12:29. David gathered all the people and went The reader will naturally observe that this was an expedition which came very seasonably to relieve David in his distress, and to revive his glory in arms. And if Joab considered it in this light, as in all probability he did, the praise of his generosity is still more ennobled in this view.

Verse 30

2 Samuel 12:30. He took the king’s crown from off his head This was the king’s part of the spoil. The weight thereof was a talent of gold Or, rather, the price or value of it, as the Hebrew frequently signifies, and not only weight; and so it is to be taken here; for who could be able to carry on his head such a weight as a talent; which is computed to be one hundred and twenty-five pounds. With precious stones Which made the value of it so great. Josephus says that there was a stone of great price in the middle of the crown, which he calls a sardonyx. And it was set on David’s head To show the inhabitants that they were to submit to him as their king.

Verse 31

2 Samuel 12:31. He brought forth the people The words are indefinite, and therefore not necessarily to be understood of all the people, but of the men of war, and especially of those who had been the chief actors of that villanous action against David’s ambassadors, and of the dreadful war ensuing upon it; for which they deserved severe punishments. Indeed, since David left Shobi in the government of Rabbah, (2 Samuel 17:27,) it must be presumed that he left some besides female subjects under his dominion; and it is most likely that the bulk of the people were received to mercy, and only the king, and the accomplices and instruments of his tyranny, suffered the chastisements due to their guilt. And put them under saws, &c. The Hebrew, וישׂם במגרה , vajasem bammegeerah, &c., may be literally and properly rendered, and he put them to the saw, and to iron harrows, or mines, and to axes of iron, and made them pass by, or to, the brick-kilns; that is, he made them slaves, and put them to the most servile employments, namely, sawing, harrowing, or making iron harrows, or mining, hewing of wood, and making brick. The version of the Seventy, though not very clear, may be interpreted to the same purpose. The Syriac and Arabic versions render the passage, He brought them out, and threw them into chains, and iron shackles, and made them pass before him in a proper measure, or by companies at a time. If the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 20:3, which our version renders, He cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes, be objected, it must be observed, the Hebrew, וישׂר , vajasser, may be rendered, He separated to the saw, &c.; or, He ruled or governed by the saw, harrows, mines, and axes; made them slaves, and condemned them to these servile employments. Thus the words are rendered by Schmidius. And “this interpretation,” says Dr. Dodd, “is far from being forced, is agreeable to the proper sense and construction of the words, and will vindicate David from any inhumanity that can be charged upon the man after God’s own heart. The Syriac version is, He bound them with iron chains, &c.; and thus he bound them all. And the Arabic, He bound them all with chains, killing none of the Ammonites, This interpretation may be further confirmed by the next clause: Thus did he unto all the children of Ammon For had he destroyed all the inhabitants by these, or any methods of severity, it would have been an almost total extirpation of them; and yet we read of them as united with the Moabites, and the inhabitants of Seir, and forming a very large army to invade the dominions of Jehoshaphat. It may be added, that if the punishments inflicted on this people were as severe as our version represents them, they were undoubtedly inflicted by way of reprisals. Nahash, the father of Hanun, in the wantonness of cruelty, would admit the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead to surrender themselves to him upon no other condition than their every one consenting to have their right eye thrust out, that he might lay it as a reproach upon all Israel. If these severities of David were now exercised by way of retaliation for former cruelties of this nature, it will greatly lessen the horror that may be conceived upon account of them, and, in some measure, justify David’s using them; and as the sacred writers, who have transmitted this history to us, do not pass any censure on David for having exceeded the bounds of humanity in this punishment of the Ammonites, we may reasonably conclude, either that the punishment was not so severe as our version represents it, or that there was some peculiar reason that demanded this exemplary vengeance, and which, if we were acquainted with it, would induce us to pass a more favourable judgment concerning it; or that the law of nations, then subsisting, admitted such kind of executions upon very extraordinary provocations, though there are scarce any that can justify them.” See Delaney and Chandler, p. 178. But in whatever light we view these severities exercised upon the Ammonites, they ought, in no manner, to be proposed as an example to Christians, nor be pleaded as a precedent for any people to do the like. For the divine laws are the rules of our conduct, and not the actions of any men whomsoever.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/2-samuel-12.html. 1857.
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