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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 12

Verse 1

2 Samuel 12:1. There were two men, &c.— See Judges 9:7. It is not easy to conceive any thing more masterly and exquisite than the present parable. It places Nathan's character in a fine point of view, and at the same time affords the ministers of religion a lively lesson how to manage the great and difficult duty of reproof with wisdom and discretion. We may just observe, that there is no need for parables, any more than for similes, to correspond exactly in every particular. It is sufficient, if the great and leading truth aimed at be marked out in a strong and conspicuous manner.

Verse 13

2 Samuel 12:13. David said—I have sinned No sooner was the application of the parable made by Nathan, but David owns his offence; and the Psalms he penned on this occasion, shew the deep sense he had of the guilt he contracted, and will be a memorial of his repentance to all future ages. See especially the 51st Psalm. His unhesitating confession, I have sinned, short, but more expressive than all the parade of eloquence, darted, as God saw it was, from a contrite, softened, penetrated heart, averted the impending stroke; and God was gracious to heal his soul with those balmy words, the Lord also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die. Upon the whole, let David stand as a warning to mankind of the frailty of human nature, of the deceitfulness of sin, of the danger of giving way to criminal passions, and the first violations of conscience and duty. Thus will his fall be a means of their security; and they will learn not to insult his memory, but pity the man by whom they are warned and guarded against the like transgressions. Or, if like him they offend, they may hope from his example that they shall not die, if, as he did, they acknowledge their sin, and with a broken and contrite heart earnestly implore the divine forgiveness. O what a pregnant lesson to all ages, to keep a constant guard upon their hearts, and to tremble at the thoughts of the unseen, undefinable consequences of every vicious, and particularly every lustful act! Lust is a vice as infectious to the souls, as the disease with which Providence has armed it is to the bodies of men. No lewd person knows, or can guess, to how many souls the poison of lewdness may communicate itself. The hearts of thousands may be tainted by means of one single act. The moral infection of it may spread on through successive subjects, producing in its ravages not only habits of lewdness, but thefts, perjuries, adulteries, murders—till the day of doom arrive, to call the pale astonished wretch from the long train of sins which sprung from his lust, to that dreadful condemnation, which nothing could have eluded, but an humble, contrite, perpetual repentance. Happy was it for David that he took this only expedient to obtain from God, in Christ, "that his sins should be put away, and remembered no more!"

The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die That is, has put away the guilt and eternal punishment, together with the temporal punishment of death, due to this offence by the Mosaic law.

REFLECTIONS.—If God were not to restore us in our vile and sinful departures from him, every iniquity would issue in apostacy; but he hateth putting away, therefore he delivers our souls, when we seem appointed unto death.

1. God sends Nathan the prophet to awaken David from his lethargy. David had not cast off the form of religion, though so degenerated from the power of it, but still retained and honoured the prophets and priests of the Lord, and continued a profession of godliness. Nathan instantly obeys the command, and, though prepared to reprove him sharply, yet introduces his message in such a way, as to insinuate deeper into David's conscience, and leave him self-condemned. Note; A reproof wisely administered is doubly effectual.

2. Nathan appears a poor man's advocate to the king against a rich oppressor, and, under this fictitious character, represents the circumstances of David's guilt, and draws from him his own condemnation. He represents the case as lately happening between two men, (David and Uriah,) the one rich in flocks and herds, (for David had many wives,) the other possessing but one ewe lamb, (Bath-sheba,) which lay in his bosom, and was treated with the greatest tenderness. A traveller coming to the rich man, (Satan, who goeth to and fro in the earth to tempt, or his own inordinate concupiscence which craved indulgence,) he spared his own flocks and herds, (his own wives, and robbed the poor man of his lamb (even Uriah's wife,) to dress for the traveller (his own corrupt lust and appetite). So tender a story awakened David's anger; and, little suspecting how nearly he was concerned, he swears the offender shall die for his inhumanity, as well as his oppression. Note; (1.) Every wife has a title to her husband's singular and endeared affection. (2.) Multiplying wives never cures concupiscence, but inflames it. He who is not satisfied with one, will never be satisfied with more. (3.) Those are often severest in their censures on others, who are themselves most deserving of that severity. (4.) They who pronounce sentence in anger, will, it is to be feared, exceed the boundaries of justice as well as mercy.

3. Nathan unmasks his battery against David's conscience, and plainly charges him home with the very guilt that he had condemned. Thou art the man; thou hast not only robbed the poor man of his lamb, but of his life too. In the name of the God of Israel, that sacred name before which he used to tremble, Nathan upbraids him with his deep ingratitude: God had delivered him from Saul, had given him a kingdom, and his master's wives into his bosom; filled his house with riches, and would have done for him more if that had not sufficed him. Most ungrateful, therefore, were these returns. He boldly charges his crimes upon him; high contempt of God, and the greater baseness and cruelty to man. He had despised God's government by the most open violation of his commands; had taken the wife of Uriah to the bed of adultery, and had then murdered the husband, with the deepest treachery, by the sword of the uncircumcised, after plunging him into the guilt of drunkenness. Therefore he denounces the sentence of terrible, but most just judgment against him. The sword he had so wickedly used should smite his own house, and never depart from it; beginning in the slaughter of his son Amnon and Absalom, and, after long wars, completing the ruin of his kingdom. The adultery he had committed secretly, should be visited upon him in his own wives, prostituted in the sight of the sun; and this evil, for its greater aggravation, should arise out of his own house; a house that he would live to see defiled with murder, incest, rebellion, and full of misery and wretchedness. Note; (1.) We must deal plainly and freely with the sinner's conscience. (2.) The root of all sin is unbelief of the divine threatenings, making men think lightly of the divine law. (3.) The poisoned chalice returns justly to the lips of him that mingled it. (4.) They must pay dear for their lusts who dare indulge them, either in present punishment, or shortly in eternal torment.

4. David, thunderstruck with the application, confounded with guilt, and self-condemned, confesses the charge, owns the heinousness of his guilt against God, and is ready to sink under despair on the black review. But God, though correcting him, will not give him over unto death. He revives his failing heart with hope: Thou shalt not die, as a murderer and adulterer deserves; thy sin is put away, is forgiven, so far as relates to eternal punishment. But let him not think all was over; no, dire marks of God's displeasure he should receive, because God will vindicate his honour, which was by this wicked conduct blasphemed among the people; and, as a present striking instance of God's anger, he denounces the death of the new-born babe: though he shall not die in his sin, he shall not enjoy the fruit of it. Note; (1.) The only way to avoid the judgments that we have provoked, is by returning to God, through Jesus Christ, with humble acknowledgment of our guilt. (2.) They shall not die eternally, whose iniquity God in his dear Son has put away and forgiven. (3.) Nothing causes more reproach on God and his cause, than these scandalous falls of professors. (4.) God will make those sins bitter to his people, in which they foolishly and wickedly sought enjoyment, and by dire experience cause them to feel how evil and bitter a thing it is to transgress against him.

Verse 16

2 Samuel 12:16. David therefore besought God for the child It may be thought surprising to see so wise a man as David fasting and mourning in this extraordinary manner for a child, who, being yet an infant, could not possibly have been endeared to him by any of those blandishments which so strongly fix the parental affections to their offspring; and who must moreover, if he should live, be a perpetual brand of infamy upon his parents. The true way of accounting for it is by ascribing it, as Le Clerc does, to David's excess of passion for Bath-sheba, which so strongly attached him to every offspring of hers, and made him forget every thing in this child but that motive of endearment. Besides this, there is something in human nature which prompts us to rate things after a manner seemingly unaccountable, and to estimate them, not according to their real worth, but according to the expence, or trouble, or even distress, that they have cost us.

Verse 18

2 Samuel 12:18. It came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died Thus was the first instance of the divine vengeance upon David's guilt speedily and rigidly executed. Other instances of it were fulfilled in their order before his own eyes; and the dreadfullest of all the rest, the sword shall never depart from thine 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 by the king of Babylon. Indeed, David's guilt was more signally and dreadfully punished in his own person and in his posterity, than any guilt that I ever heard or read of 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. And as he was professedly punished by the death of one of his sons for the murder of Uriah, they imagine that the other three also, who died violent deaths, fell so many sacrifices to the divine justice upon the same account. In this view, can David's example be an encouragement for sin? Who would incur his guilt, to go through such a scene of sorrow and repentance?

Verse 23

2 Samuel 12:23. Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? &c.— If David meant only that he should die, and go to the grave like his son, as some commentators explain this passage, the consolation which it conveys would be very poor, and we should lose one of the noblest lessons that was ever penned, upon all that is reasonable and religious in grief. There can be no doubt that David believed the immortality of the soul. His writings abundantly prove it: and in this view we may well paraphrase the words thus, "If I cannot have the consolation to partake with this infant the temporal happiness wherewith the divine goodness has blessed me, yet, I hope, to rejoin his soul one day in Heaven, and to partake with him eternal felicity." Considered in this light, the words convey the most satisfactory comfort; and, surely, it would be wrong to suppose that David was unacquainted with the felicities of that future state, and incapable of drawing the only solid consolation from that knowledge, when a heathen confessedly has done so. For who admires not those fine sentiments of Cato of Utica, who cries out with so much rapture, "O happy day! when I shall quit this impure and corrupted multitude, and join myself to that divine company of great souls, who have quitted the earth before me! There I shall find not only those illustrious personages, but also my Cato, who, I can say, was one of the best men, of the best nature, and the most faithful to his duty. I have placed his body upon 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 into a country where he saw I should soon rejoin him!" See Cic. de Senect. ad fin.

Verse 24

2 Samuel 12:24. And she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon As David was now in peace with God, and foresaw, in the spirit of prophesy, that his son would be a pacific prince, he called his name Solomon, or peaceable; and as this son was conceived in innocence, in the happy season of God's reconcilement to his parents, and to their establishment in true religion, by sincere repentance and humiliation before him, it pleased God to accept him in a singular manner, which is signified to us by that remarkable expression, and the Lord loved him: and to manifest his favour to him for the consolation of David, God conveyed his benediction to the son by the same hand which had before conveyed his chastisements to the father. He sent Nathan to David, to bestow upon his son, in his name, the most blessed of all earthly, the most blessed but one of all heavenly appellations; Jedidiah, or the beloved of the Lord. Bath-sheba some time after had another son, called Nathan; and it is in him that the two lines of our Saviour's genealogy unite themselves; who, on Joseph's side, descended from Solomon, and on Mary's from Nathan. See Matthew 1:6-40.1.7. Luke 3:31. Berruyer is of opinion, that Solomon was born in the fourth year after the death of the infant mentioned above.

Verse 26

2 Samuel 12:26. And Joab fought—and took Or, Now Joab had fought—and had taken.

Verses 27-28

2 Samuel 12:27-10.12.28. I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters, &c.— Rabbah was a royal, a large, and a populous city, watered, and in some measure encompassed by the river Jabbok. It had its name from its grandeur, being derived from a Hebrew word, signifying to increase and grow great, and was now in the height of its glory. As the city of waters must mean Rabbah only, Houbigant translates after Josephus, and I have intercepted, or cut off the waters from it, which gives a good reason for Joab's message, as it was not probable that the city in this case should hold out long. Nothing can be more gallant and generous than the message of Joab: Lest I take the city, and it be called after my name. There is a magnanimity in the proposal capable of creating admiration in the meanest minds. The man who could transfer the glory of his own conquests to his prince, needs no higher eulogy as a general; 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.

Verse 30

2 Samuel 12:30. And he took their king's crown, &c.— David formally deposed this king; and Dr. Trapp thinks that the form of his deposal was, by arraying him in his royal robes, and probably placing him on his throne with his crown upon his head, and then divesting him of all his ensigns of royalty. If instead of weight we read the price or value of his crown, was a talent gold, all the difficulties will be removed which have given commentators so much trouble, arising from the extraordinary weight of this crown, which certainly was too heavy to have been borne upon the head: and the original word will well bear this meaning, which the context seems to confirm; for it is there said, that the value was so much with the precious stones; but if the weight only had been spoken of, certainly the mention of the precious stones would have been improper. See Le Cene's Proposal for a new version. Some, however, who defend the present version, suppose, that the Syriac, not the Hebrew talent is here meant; the latter being four times heavier than the former. See Pfeiffer, and Michaelis.

Verse 31

2 Samuel 12:31. And he brought forth the people, &c.— This treatment of the Ammonites having shocked some unthinking readers, it will not be unseasonable to inform them, that the words will bear a milder interpretation. Literally, they may be rendered thus: And he brought forth the people, and placed them by, [במגרה וישׂם vaiiusem bamgerah,] or, more nearly, 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; i.e. made them slaves, and put them to the most servile employments; sawing, harrowing, or making iron harrows, or mining, and hewing of wood, and making of bricks. That the prefix ב beth, signifies to, in numerous places, may be seen in Noldius; and it does so in construction with this very verb במגרה bamgerah, in the place before us; let not the king [ישׂם iasem] put this thing [בעבדוע beabdo] to his servant; 1Sa 22:15 and in several other instances which might be mentioned. It may also be observed, that the Syriac and Arabic versions give a more favourable interpretation of this passage, and render it, he brought them out, and threw them into chains, and iron shackles, and made them pass before him in a proper measure, or by proper companies at a time. The version of the LXX is not so clear. He put them in, or to, the saw, &c. and made them pass by the brick-kiln, which may well be interpreted of his putting them to these servile employments. The words הברזל בחרצי bacharitzei habbarzel, rendered harrows of iron, signify iron mines; which will determine the meaning in this more favourable sense. Thus חרוצ charutz, signifies gold, as being deeply dug out of the mines, from חרצ cheretz, to dig; Proverbs 3:14. But what shall we say to the parallel place, 1Ch 20:3 which our version renders, he cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes? Why, first, the verb does not agree in sense with the several punishments mentioned; for if נשׂר nasar be the root of ושׂיר vaiiasar, as our version makes it to be, it properly signifies he cut with a saw; and therefore cannot be applied either to the ax, or harrow, or mine. But though this be the original sense of nasar, yet it is used in the Arabic in a more general sense, to signify, he dispersed, divided, separated, and the place may be rendered, he divided or separated them to the saw, harrows, or iron mines, and axes; i.e. to these servile employments, some to one, and some to another. It may be farther observed, that the root ישׂר iasar, may be שׂור sur; the meaning of which is, he ruled, or governed them, viz. by the saw, the harrows, or mines, and axes; made them slaves, and condemned them to these servile employments. The word is thus rendered by Schmidius, he ruled by the saw, &c. And this interpretation is far from forced, agreeable to the proper sense and construction of the words, and will vindicate David from any inhumanity which can be charged upon him in this instance. 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 account may be farther confirmed by the next clause, thus did he unto all the cities of 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 which may be conceived on account of them, and in some measure justify David's using them, considering more especially the dispensation of grace under which he lived: and as the sacred writers, who have transmitted this history to us, do not pass any censure on David as 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 which 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 scarcely any which can justify them.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-12.html. 1801-1803.