Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

2 Samuel 12

Verses 1-7

DISCOURSE: 316

NATHAN’S PARABLE

2 Samuel 12:1-7. 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. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: 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. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, 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. 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: and he shall restore the lamb four-fold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

GOD, in the disposal of his gifts, does not conduct himself by any such laws as are necessary for the regulation of human actions. He is a Sovereign who may deal with his creatures as he pleases, without “giving account to us of any of his matters.” Accordingly we find that sometimes he has exercised a severity beyond what we, with our limited apprehensions, might have expected: and at other times he has shewn mercy, where we could have expected nothing but the heaviest judgments. We have lately seen him striking Uzzah dead for a well-meant error, and taking the kingdom from Saul for not waiting quite so long for Samuel as he should have done: but in our text we behold him sending a prophet unto David to bring him to repentance, after the commission of such crimes as cannot be contemplated without horror and amazement. But “His ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.”

The conduct of David as portrayed in our text, together with the means used by Nathan to humble him for it, lead us to shew,

I. To what an awful extent a man’s conscience may be seared—

We read of persons whose “consciences are seared as with an hot iron [Note: 1 Timothy 4:2.]:” and such was now the state of David—

[One would have supposed that, after the commission of adultery with Bathsheba, he would have been scarcely able to endure his existence through the agonies of his mind: but he was only concerned about concealing it from man: accordingly, on finding that her pregnancy must of necessity lead to a discovery of the crime, he adopted various means to deceive Uriah; and when he did not succeed in them, he sent an order to Joab to expose, and to desert, him in battle, so as to ensure his death by the hands of the enemy. Would one not suppose that such complicated crimes as these should awaken him? Yet behold for nine or ten months he was, as far as appears to us, altogether insensible of his guilt.

At the same time he was quick-sighted enough to the crimes of others, and severe in the extreme against the man, whom Nathan represented as oppressively taking the favourite lamb of a poor neighbour in preference to one out of his own flock: he deemed that man to be worthy of death, because he had shewn no pity; and adjudged him to pay four-fold for the injury he had committed.

Who can reflect on this without utter astonishment? That so holy a man as David, who had been so honoured of the Lord, and had done so much for the honour of his God, should be left to fall in so grievous a manner, and to lie for so long a time impenitent in his sins! Who can look upon it, and not weep for him? Who can look upon it, and not tremble for himself?]

But awful as this state of mind appears, it is, alas! too common in this world—

[Such enormous crimes indeed as those of David are not common: but who has not committed some evils which ought to have humbled him in the dust before God? — — — yet who has not continued months, and even years, without ever abasing himself with humiliation and contrition? Who has not shewn a strange insensibility with respect to the guilt he has contracted? — — — We can easily discern the faults of others, and can censure them with severity; but towards our own we are most blind and most indulgent.

Nor must we be considered here as referring altogether to those who despise religion: it is a common evil: it is found even in the house of God: there are professors of religion who are as blind to their own sins, as if they never had known what sin was; and who, if their misdeeds are unknown to man, continue for years unhumbled in the sight of God. Yes; there are too many, who are both blinded and “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin;” and, if ever God should give them true repentance, they will be as much astonished at their present insensibility, as now they are at that which is recorded in our text.]

Seeing then how callous a man’s conscience may become, let us inquire,

II. In what way it may be most successfully excited to perform its office—

Much may be learned from the conduct of Nathan on this occasion:

1. We should endeavour to divest men of the self-love that blinds them—

[This was well contrived in the parable that Nathan spake. David did not see the drift of the parable as relating to himself, and therefore felt no personal interest in his decision. Hence his judgment was free, and his determination of the cause unbiassed. Had he been aware that he was about to condemn himself, he would have been far more indulgent towards the offending person.

Now this mode of convicting persons, who would have revolted at any plainer dealing, has been frequently practised with good effect. It was to such an expedient that Joab resorted, in order to prevail on David to recall his son Absalom from banishment [Note: 2 Samuel 14:5-11; 2 Samuel 14:20.] — — — and by a similar device a prophet constrained Ahab to condemn himself for sparing Benhadad, whom God had delivered into his hands to be destroyed [Note: 1 Kings 20:35-42.] — — — Our Lord himself also frequently adopted the same method of counteracting the prejudices of the Scribes and Pharisees [Note: Matthew 21:40-45.] — — — By such means a person is silenced at once, and is “condemned out of his own mouth.” True indeed, in cases where the mind is open to conviction, these precautions are less necessary; but the sentence that is founded on such grounds is always less offensive, because the criminal passes it upon himself.]

2. We should however combine fidelity with address—

[Sooner or later we must come to the point, “Thou art the man.” We are to consider ourselves as messengers of the Most High God, who has said, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat [Note: Jeremiah 23:28.]?” We must not fear the face of man: our concern for his welfare must swallow up all dread of his displeasure; and the consideration of the account which we must one clay give to God, must impel us, even at the peril of our lives, to bear a faithful testimony in his service. Behold the boldness of Elijah in reproving Ahab [Note: 1 Kings 18:17-18; 1 Kings 21:19-21.]; and of John in condemning the incestuous commerce of Herod [Note: Matthew 14:4.]: these are the examples which we must follow, when milder methods have proved ineffectual: but our object must always be, not merely to acquit ourselves to God as faithful monitors, but to win the souls of those whom we admonish. The recollection of our own weakness, and proneness to fall, must ever render us as tender as possible towards our fallen brother: “we must restore him in the spirit of meekness; considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted [Note: Galatians 6:1.].”]

Let us then, in the view of this history, learn,

1. To tremble for ourselves—

[Did David fall? Who then is safe? Did David sink into such an obdurate state? Who has not reason to dread lest he be given over to a reprobate mind? Clear enough it is from whence repentance must proceed, whether in its first commencement, or in its further progress: if God work it not in us by his Holy Spirit, we shall be altogether as insensible as a rock of adamant. Let none of us then indulge a proud security, or imagine ourselves out of the reach of temptation; “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” — — —]

2. To rejoice in God—

[O what mercy did God display on this occasion; that instead of cutting off the royal miscreant by some signal judgment, he sent a prophet to awaken his drowsy conscience, and bring him to repentance! We lament indeed, that many have taken occasion from David’s fall to make light of sin; and from his recovery, to imagine, that God will never execute his threatened judgments: but we have reason to bless our God that such a monument of mercy has been exhibited in the Scriptures. How many thousands of backsliding Christians have been restored by means of this one example! We are now encouraged to say to all, however heinous their iniquities have been, “Return, ye backsliding children; and God will heal your backslidings, and love you freely.” “Only acknowledge your iniquity,” and then “it shall not be your ruin.” Is there any one amongst us who has become hardened in his sins? O, hear what God says to his people of old [Note: Isaiah 57:17-18.]; and seek “repentance unto life,” even that “repentance which is not to be repented of.”]

Verse 13

DISCOURSE: 317

DAVID’S HUMILIATION AND ACCEPTANCE

2 Samuel 12:13. 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.

IT is scarcely to be conceived to what a degree sin will blind the eyes, and harden the heart. We see indeed that the ungodly world will commit every species of iniquity without either shame or remorse: but who would imagine that a person enlightened, renewed, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, should in the space of a few days be reduced by sin to a state of utter obduracy? Yet such was the change which one single temptation speedily effected on him who was “the man after God’s own heart.” The circumstances of David’s crime are so well known, that they need not at present to be enlarged upon. But his long impenitence, his apparent forgetfulness of his horrid deeds, and his excessive severity against a man whose fault bore no proportion to his own, are less noticed; though they cannot fail to strike every one who reads the account of his conversation with Nathan. By an apposite and well-wrought parable, the Prophet Nathan had led David inadvertently to pass sentence against himself; and then availed himself of the opportunity to charge home upon him the crimes he had perpetrated. Then it was, and not till then, that David felt a just sense of his guilt: though nine months at least had elapsed since his criminal intercourse with Bathsheba, yet his conscience had slept, till it was now awakened to perform its office. On this occasion he confessed his sin to Nathan; and received from Nathan a consolatory assurance, that his iniquity, heinous as it was, was pardoned.

There are two points to which the text directs our attention;

I. David’s humiliation—

There does not at first sight appear any thing worthy of notice in David’s confession: but, if we examine it carefully, we shall find in it several things which indicated a deep and true repentance.

1. He acknowledged his sin as an offence against God—

[The evil of sin in this view is generally overlooked; and the quality of actions is appreciated and determined by their effects on society. Hence the offences which are committed solely against God, such as unbelief, impenitence, self-righteousness, and the like, are never condemned by the world, or even considered as blemishing the moral character at all; while such crimes as theft and perjury render a man universally execrated and abhorred. But it is from its relation to God that sin derives its principal malignity: its chief heinousness consists in its being a violation of God’s law, a contempt of his authority, and a practical denial of all his attributes. If any sin whatever could deserve to be marked with superior infamy on other considerations, it would surely be the crimes which David had committed: yet, in adverting to these very actions, David passes over their criminality in relation to man, and notices them only as offences against God [Note: See Psalms 51:4. Joseph’s views of sin perfectly agreed with those of David. See Genesis 39:9.]. This shews that he had just views of his conduct: and that the grounds of his humiliation were precisely such as the occasion required.]

2. He made no attempt to extenuate his guilt—

[Unhumbled persons uniformly endeavour to palliate their faults. Adam cast the blame of his transgression on Eve; and Eve transferred it to the serpent [Note: Genesis 3:12-13.]. Saul, when reproved for sparing Agag and the chief of the spoil, shifted the blame from himself upon the people; and, as far as it still attached to him, excused himself as acting involuntarily, and as overawed by the people [Note: 1 Samuel 15:15; 1 Samuel 15:24.]. But David’s mouth was shut: he uttered not one single word in extenuation of his crimes: heavy as Nathan’s charge against him was, he fell under it. This was another excellent proof of his penitence and contrition: and it is certain, that wherever real humiliation is, the penitent will be more ready to aggravate his guilt, than to palliate and excuse it.]

3. He manifested no displeasure against his reprover—

[Men in general, and great men in particular, are very apt to take offence, when told of their faults. They think themselves at liberty to insult God as much as they please: but no one must take the liberty to maintain the cause of God in opposition to them. Some indeed have been found, in different ages, who have ventured to speak with faithfulness to monarchs: but they have always done it at the peril of their lives [Note: See 1 Kings 13:4; 1 Kings 21:20; 1 Kings 22:8 and 2 Kings 1:9 and 2 Chronicles 16:10.], and not unfrequently have paid the penalty of death for their presumption [Note: 2 Chronicles 24:21; 2 Chronicles 25:16 and Matthew 14:3-5; Matthew 14:10.]. But in the present instance no displeasure at all was manifested: on the contrary, we have reason to think that Nathan was more endeared to David than ever by his fidelity, since David afterwards called one of his own children by the prophet’s name [Note: 2 Samuel 5:14.]; and shewed confidence in him to the latest hour of his life [Note: 1 Kings 1:24; 1 Kings 1:27; 1 Kings 1:32-34.]. In this therefore we have a further evidence of the sincerity and depth of David’s repentance.]

4. He was willing to take shame to himself even before men—

[There is nothing which men will not do in order to conceal their guilt from men: they will “add iniquity to iniquity,” and perpetrate murder itself, in order to avoid the shame to which their crimes have exposed them. How keenly was Saul affected by Samuel’s refusal to honour him before the people! The dread of that public dishonour pained him more than all the denunciations of God’s wrath [Note: 1 Samuel 15:25-30.]. But the reproaches of men, however severe, were of no account in David’s eyes: that which pained him was, that he had given occasion for those reproaches, and that God would be dishonoured by them: and therefore, though he thereby published and perpetuated his own shame, he wrote some of his penitential Psalms, and set them to music for the use of penitents in that and all succeeding ages. Being “vile in his own eyes,” it was a matter of small concern to him that he was vile also in the eyes of others: he lothed and “abhorred himself,” and therefore submitted readily to be abhorred by others.]

The truth of his repentance being manifest, we proceed to notice,

II. His acceptance consequent upon it—

Very remarkable was the answer of the prophet to the royal penitent. We remark from it that David’s acceptance with God was,

1. Immediate—

[There was no interval of time between the confession of David and the reply of Nathan. The very instant that David repented, God forgave him. This is particularly noticed by David himself as a marvellous expression of God’s love and mercy; “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin [Note: Psalms 32:5.].” We should have expected that God would suspend his forgiveness, till David should have evinced the truth of his repentance by a subsequent life of piety: but “God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours; yea rather, they are as much above ours as the heavens are above the earth [Note: Isaiah 55:8-9.].” God acts in a way worthy of himself. His grace is his own, to dispose of according to his sovereign will; and he dispenses it to whomsoever, and in whatever way, he sees fit. He shews, if we may so speak, peculiar pleasure in manifesting his compassion towards repenting sinners. He represents himself as falling on the neck of the returning prodigal, and as interrupting his confessions by testimonies of his parental love and pardoning grace. Towards the dying thief also our incarnate God displayed the same readiness to forgive, in that he not only complied with his petition, but far exceeded, without one moment’s hesitation, his most enlarged desires [Note: Luke 23:42-43.].

Thus has he given us a practical comment on his own gracious declarations, and demonstrated, for our comfort, that he is “slow to anger and ready to forgive.”]

2. Attested—

[Nathan spake, not as a man who suggested only a surmise or doubtful opinion, but as a prophet who was inspired to declare what God had really done. God willed not that his repenting servant should be kept in suspense; and therefore ordered Nathan to communicate to him the joyful tidings, not that God would put away his sin, but that he had put it away, and that the penal consequences of his transgression should never come upon his soul. It is thus that God frequently acts towards his people: as he made known to David by his prophet, so he reveals to them by his Spirit, that their iniquities are forgiven, and their sins covered [Note: See Isaiah 6:7; Isaiah 38:17; Zechariah 3:4.]. He desires not the constrained service of a slave, but the willing and grateful obedience of a child. “Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies [Note: Lamentations 3:32.];” and will cause his believing people to enjoy an assured sense of their acceptance with him [Note: Isaiah 12:1 and Romans 8:15-16.].]

3. Complete—

[The sins which David had committed were from that very moment “blotted out as a morning cloud:” neither his adultery nor his murder, nor one particle of guilt of any kind, was imputed to him. There were indeed some temporal judgments entailed upon him: the fruit of his adulterous commerce was blasted, and the child stricken with death. David’s own wives were all defiled publicly by his son Absalom: and the sword, according to Nathan’s prediction, never departed from his house. These things however were merely temporal, and were designed as much for the benefit of others as for his correction: they tended to impress on all a sense of the malignity of David’s crimes; and to shew that, however God might pity and forgive a sinner, he utterly and unchangeably abhorred sin. But, notwithstanding these remembrancers of his iniquity, his sin was “cast, as it were, into the very depths of the sea;” as ours also shall be, if we truly repent; nor will God ever remember them against us any more for ever [Note: Micah 7:18-19; Hebrews 8:12.].]

We may learn then from this subject,

1. The benefit of a judicious and faithful Ministry—

[The method which Nathan used in order to reach the conscience of David, was extremely judicious: and when he had succeeded in making a breach, then he commenced a direct attack, “Thou art the man.” Had he been less cautious, he had probably shut the ears of his royal master; and had he been satisfied with offering some oblique hints, he had failed to impress his callous mind. But by a happy union of wisdom and fidelity, he gained his point [Note: Proverbs 25:12.]. Well was it for David that he had such a prophet in his court; for, without his admonitions, he might probably have become more and more obdurate, till he had perished in his sin. Thus should all esteem themselves highly favoured of God, if they have a minister, who, while he fears not the faces of men, has a tender love for their souls. They should gladly listen to his admonitions, and thankfully receive his reproofs: they should make it a continual subject of their prayers, that his word may come with power to their souls, to awaken them to a sense of sin, and to bring them to the enjoyment of salvation.]

2. The boundless extent of God’s mercy—

[Who would have conceived it possible that such sins as David’s should be so soon forgiven? But, “as God’s majesty is, so also is his mercy.” “He delighteth in mercy;” and “waits that he may be gracious unto us.” His message to us is, “Only acknowledge thy transgressions that thou hast sinned against the Lord thy God [Note: Jeremiah 3:13.].” And for our encouragement he declares, “If any say, I have sinned, and it profited me not; I will deliver him from going down into the pit, and his soul shall see the light [Note: Job 33:27-28.].” Let us then carry all our sins to him: whether they have been more or less heinous in the sight of men, let us not continue under the guilt of them, when they may be so speedily removed: let us remember, that, in and through Christ, God is reconciled to a guilty world; and that, while “they who cover their sins shall not prosper, whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.].”]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/2-samuel-12.html. 1832.