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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 12

 

 

Introduction

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

SECTION 7. David Falls Into Great Sin Whilst The Ammonites Are Being Defeated (2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 12:31).

Having summarised the glories of David’s reign the writer now considers its dark side. 2 Samuel 11-12 form a unit in themselves as is clear from their chiastic structure, and they cover both the final defeat of the Ammonites, which finalises David’s external conquests, and the great sins that he committed while in a state of spiritual lethargy.

Analysis.

a David sends Joab to besiege Rabbah (2 Samuel 11:1).

b David lies with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, with the result that she becomes pregnant (2 Samuel 11:2-5).

c David arranges for the death of Uriah the Hittite so as to cover up his sin (2 Samuel 11:6-17).

d Joab sends David a message to let him know that Uriah is dead (2 Samuel 11:18-27 a).

e YHWH is displeased with David (2 Samuel 11:27 b).

d YHWH sends a message to David through Nathan the prophet in order to let him know that YHWH knows why Uriah is dead (2 Samuel 12:1-14).

c David's infant son dies as a consequence of David’s sin (2 Samuel 12:15-23).

b David lies with Bathsheba, who is now his wife, with the result that she becomes pregnant (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

a Joab sends for David to come and besiege Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

The section then divides up into a number of smaller units.


Verses 1-14

Through Nathan The Prophet YHWH Calls David To Account For His Sins (1 Samuel 12:1-15 a).

David should have been aware that YHWH knew his secret sins. He said so often enough in his Psalms. But it is a sign of how hardened even the most spiritual person can become to the truth about himself that David appears to have felt no qualms about the appalling behaviour in which he had been involved. After all, affairs were going well at Rabbah, he now had Bathsheba as his wife, he was looking forward to the birth of (hopefully) a new son, and all seemed well. Thus when he learned that Nathan the Prophet wanted to see him he probably felt quite at peace.

But he was soon to be disillusioned. For with a vivid and moving parable Nathan brought home to him the despicable nature of his sin, and that YHWH knew all about it. And he made him condemn himself, after which he was to learn of the judgment of YHWH that was to be upon him.

Analysis.

a And YHWH sent Nathan to David (2 Samuel 12:1 a).

b And he came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, apart from one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up. And it grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter. And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who was come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who was come to him” (2 Samuel 12:1-4).

c And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As YHWH lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6).

d And Nathan said to David, “You are the man.”

e “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added unto you such and such things” (2 Samuel 12:7-8).

f “Why therefore have you despised the word of YHWH, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:9-10).

e “Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:11-12).

d And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against YHWH” (2 Samuel 12:13 a).

c And Nathan said to David, “YHWH also has put away your sin. You will not die” (2 Samuel 12:13 b).

b “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme, the child also which is born to you will surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

a And Nathan departed to his house (2 Samuel 12:15 a).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH sends Nathan to David, and in the parallel Nathan returns to his house having imparted the word of YHWH. In ‘b’ Nathan tells the story of the behaviour of the rich man who unscrupulously slew the lamb of the poor man, and in the parallel he declares that similarly David’s behaviour has given occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme. In ‘c’ David declares that the rich man deserves to die, and in the parallel Nathan confirms to David that YHWH has put away his sin so that, while he deserves to die, he will not. In ‘d’ Nathan says to David ‘you are the man’ and in the parallel David in return confesses, ‘I have sinned against YHWH’. In ‘e’ Nathan tells David how much of what was good YHWH had given him, including Saul’s wives and concubines, and in the parallel YHWH will give David what is evil, and David’s wives and concubines are to be taken from him in the sight of all. Centrally in ‘f’ his two great sins are described, he had smitten Uriah with the sword and had stolen his wife from him. The result is to be that his own house will similarly know the effects of the sword.

2 Samuel 12:1 a

‘And YHWH sent Nathan to David.’

In His displeasure YHWH sent Nathan the Prophet to David. The previous chapter has been full of the ‘sending’ of people. Now it was YHWH’s turn. This sending would appear to have been after the birth of the child (verse 14). Thus David had had a few months in which to consider his ways and repent. But instead he appears to have been impervious to the situation. The godly David of old had seemingly disappeared, and had been replaced by this arrogant stranger. How dangerous it is to be successful and to live at peace. For then it is not long before the conscience goes to sleep, unless we keep very close to God.

However, God was not only displeased, He was also gracious. He sent Nathan because He was concerned for David’s wellbeing. He wanted to bring David back to Himself. And so within the words of judgment we discover a core of mercy. David was not to receive the judgment that he was due to. He would not die. Nevertheless there had to be consequences.

We should acknowledge the courage of Nathan in coming boldly to confront the king. He would have been quite well aware that with David in the state that he was he might easily be executed. But we should also note that he did not just rush in like a bull at a gate. He approached him with great forethought. For the purpose of his coming was not in order to condemn, but in order to win him to repentance. So there was nothing thoughtless or arrogant about his approach. It was determined but carefully worked out. He was well aware that in order to win David ranting would be no good. He had to get him to condemn himself. (How careful we must be in our witnessing that we do not just blast people with our message, but think how we can approach them so as to lure them into condemning themselves)

2 Samuel 12:1-3 (1b-3)

‘And he came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, apart from one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up. And it grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a daughter.”

The beauty and applicability of this parable, comparing the position of the rich man in contrast with the poor man, cannot be denied, and it would especially appeal to the heart of David the shepherd. The rich man has a great many flocks and herds (wives and concubines) the poor man has only one little ewe lamb (Bathsheba). But because the poor man only had the one lamb he especially cherished it and loved it. It became the pet of the family and ate and drank with them and was like a daughter to him. Such treatment of pet lambs was quite common among pastoral people, especially those who had few possessions.

2 Samuel 12:4

And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who was come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who was come to him.”

But when a traveller arrived at the rich man’s house the rich man did not want to spare any of his own lambs, and so he sent his servants to take the cherished lamb of the poor man, with the result that that little pet ewe lamb was killed and dressed to satisfy the traveller. The poignancy of the story can hardly fail to come over to us. Who with any heart would not have condemned the rich man? For the rich man’s act was clearly one of despicable arrogance and unforgivable callousness. Just like David’s.

2 Samuel 12:5-6

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As YHWH lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” ’

Not recognising that it was speaking about himself David was absolutely livid at what the rich man had done. Why, it was inexcusable. What kind of a man could do a thing like that? He was so incensed that he declared that such a man deserved to die (although if literally fulfilled that would have been against the Law), but as that was not permissible under the Law he should instead fulfil the Law and restore the lamb fourfold as the Law required of a thief (Exodus 22:1).

2 Samuel 12:7-8

And Nathan said to David, “You are the man. Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added unto you such and such things.” ’

And then to David’s total discomfort and horror Nathan looked him straight in the eye and declared, “YOU ARE THE MAN.” The words must have come crashing into David’s heart like a thunderbolt. He had thought that his sins had been covered up and now he realised that Nathan knew, and what was worse, it meant that YHWH knew, the YHWH Whom he had conveniently been forgetting. He felt totally ashamed. Oh yes, he had still attended regular worship, and had played his part as an intercessory priest. He had even no doubt been married in the presence of YHWH (for the umpteenth time). But his conscience had been carefully anaesthetised and he had probably convinced himself that for a king his action had not been so bad after all. But now he was being made to recognise the truth about himself.

Nathan then proceeded to give him a tongue-lashing from YHWH. He reminded him of all that YHWH, the God of Israel, had done for him. He had anointed him as king over Israel, He had delivered him from the hand of Saul, He had handed over to David the royal household that had been Saul’s and He had given him Saul’s wives and concubines (they naturally came with the crown. No king could allow a former king’s wives to be available to anyone else, for it could represent a threat to the throne. It did not necessarily mean that he treated them as wives on an intimate basis, only that he took them under his protection. But they were equally available to him if he wanted them). Indeed YHWH had given him the whole of Israel and Judah so that he could be king over them. And if that had not been enough He would have given him anything that he asked for, as long as it was within the Law. There was nothing that YHWH would not have done for him.

2 Samuel 12:9

Why therefore have you despised the word of YHWH, to do what is evil in his sight? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”

And what had David done in return? He had despised the word of YHWH by doing what was evil in His sight. He had caused to be smitten with the sword his faithful and loyal servant Uriah the Hittite, a man of the highest integrity, simply in order to hide his own sin. He had taken Uriah’s only beloved wife and, while Uriah was still alive, had committed adultery with her, and then he had finally taken her as his wife, after having arranged for Uriah to be slain with the sword of the children of Ammon, a victim to barbarians.

2 Samuel 12:10

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

And now, because of what he had done, violent death and the sword would never depart from his house, and this was because he had despised YHWH and had taken Uriah’s wife to be his wife, in a way that was completely contrary to the Law.

It is a salutary lesson to us all that to sin is to ‘despise God’. Perhaps if we recognised more what sin is we would sin less. But the truth is that we despise God by assuming on His grace.

2 Samuel 12:11

Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.”

And not only would his house be plagued with violent death, but YHWH would raise up evil against David himself. He would take his own wives before his eyes and give them to one who was close to him, and the one who was close to him would lie with them openly in the sight of the sun, where all could see,

2 Samuel 12:12

For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

And whereas David had taken Uriah’s wife secretly so that no one knew, his wives would be taken openly in such a way that everyone knew, both in earth and heaven (before all Israel and before the sun). This would be literally fulfilled when Absalom lay with David’s concubine wives in broad daylight and in the sight of all Israel (2 Samuel 16:21-22).

2 Samuel 12:13 a

‘And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against YHWH.”

Faced with the unexpected accusation and aware of how far he had fallen David made no denials. He had suddenly been brought to a halt in his wayward tracks, and was now turning back to his old allegiance, always a painful process. Nathan saw before him a broken man. He humbly acknowledged with a penitent heart that he had sinned deeply, and that against YHWH. This was the evidence of the spiritual greatness of David. Once he recognised what he had done he repented deeply and sought YHWH’s forgiveness, a repentance writ large in Psalms 51, ‘against You, You only, have I sinned’.

2 Samuel 12:13 b

‘And Nathan said to David, “YHWH also has put away your sin. You will not die.”

Then Nathan declared that in view of his repentance YHWH would not demand the death penalty that his sin deserved. He had indeed already put away his sin and would therefore not cause him to die.

2 Samuel 12:14

However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme, the child also which is born to you will surely die.”

Nevertheless he must not think that that was the end of the matter, for because what he had done had given occasion to YHWH’s enemies (the sceptics in the land as well as foreign enemies) to blaspheme and mock at believers, the son who had been born to him as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba would certainly die. That would be the first consequence of his sin. All would see that his sin was being punished. We do not need to see here that YHWH Himself struck a healthy child. The point was that in the course of nature this would happen to the child and YHWH would do nothing to prevent it. And yet in that mysterious way in which in the end all is of God, it was to be seen as YHWH’s judgment on David and his house, the firstfruits of premature death to a household which would from now on suffer premature deaths continually.

2 Samuel 12:15 a

‘And Nathan departed to his house.’

Having faithfully delivered his message Nathan strode from the palace leaving David to consider his ways, which we know from Psalms 51 he did thoroughly. David had now happily been shaken out of his religious complacency and had come back to YHWH. But at what a cost.


Verses 15-23

The Son Born Of Adultery Dies As YHWH Had Said (12:15b-23).

The first consequence of David’s sin was to be that the son born of his adultery would die. While it would be clear to all at the time that this was YHWH’s judgment on David, we do not need to see in this an indication that YHWH personally struck the child down in a direct act of judgment which would not otherwise have taken place. In fact we may probably presume that this death would actually have taken place in the natural course of events, for the writer in Samuel takes all natural events as resulting from YHWH’s activity as much as any other kind of events. To him YHWH had total control over all events in history which he saw as proceeding from His hand, no matter who or what was naturally responsible for it. All was under the sovereignty of God, even the nations who invaded Israel. Thus if anything happened the writer acknowledged that YHWH had done it. (The prophets had the same idea. ‘Shall evil come on a city, and YHWH has not done it?’ - Amos 3:6; compare also Isaiah 10:5-7 and often). For example, in 2 Samuel 24 it was in the writer’s view YHWH Who was said to have moved David to number Israel, whereas in 1 Chronicles 21:1 it was the Chronicler’s view that it was Satan. Both were, in fact, correct, but as seen from differing points of view. To the writer of Samuel anything that Satan did could only have occurred because YHWH permitted it, because YHWH is over all. To him YHWH is the cause of all that is and all that happens. He knows no second causes. The Chronicler sees the second cause. (The third cause was David’s renewed arrogance which was always an inevitable danger of greatness. If you would seek to be holy, do not seek to be great).

However, that the death of his son meant a great deal to David comes out in that he fasted and prayed and wept in the hope of persuading YHWH to keep the child from dying. He was genuinely concerned. But once the child had died he recognised that that was YHWH’s will and therefore humbly submitted himself to that will and accepted His punishment.

Analysis.

a And YHWH struck the child which Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very ill (2 Samuel 12:15 b).

b David therefore besought God for the child, and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth (2 Samuel 12:16).

c And the elders of his house arose, and stood beside him, to raise him up from the earth, but he would not, nor did he eat bread with them (2 Samuel 12:17).

d And it came about on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “See, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to our voice. How much will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead!” (2 Samuel 12:18).

e But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead, and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead” (2 Samuel 12:19).

d Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothing, and he came into the house of YHWH, and worshipped. Then he came to his own house, and when he required it, they set bread before him, and he ate (2 Samuel 12:20).’

c Then his servants said to him, “What thing is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child, while it was alive, but when the child was dead, you rose and ate food” (2 Samuel 12:21).

b And he said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether YHWH will not be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ ” (2 Samuel 12:22).

a “But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH struck the child and he was very ill, and in the parallel the child was dead and would not return. In ‘b’ David prayed and fasted all night, and in the parallel he said that he had prayed and fasted hoping that the child may yet live. In ‘c’ the elders of his house tried to assist him and persuade him to eat, and in the parallel his servants wondered that he ate food now that the child was dead. In ‘d’ his servants feared that he would vex himself on knowing that the child was dead, while in the parallel in contrast he does the opposite. Centrally in ‘e’ it is confirmed that the child had died.

2 Samuel 12:15 b (e-Sword Note: For commentary on 12:15a, see the commentary on 2 Samuel 12:14)

‘And YHWH struck the child which Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very ill.’

As mentioned above any natural illness that struck the child would, to the writer and to those who surrounded David, have been seen as being from the hand of YHWH. Thus we need not see here a positive act of YHWH in striking down a healthy baby, while at the same time we can see it as an act of judgment. We may understand that the baby was born sickly and weak, which explains why it was very ill, and that what YHWH refrained from doing was hearing the prayer for healing. But to those living at that day it would be quite clear that ‘YHWH had smitten the baby’. It was obvious, for the baby was ‘smitten’ with illness and YHWH was to be seen as overall responsible for all that happened.

In the same way we may ourselves see certain events as indicating God’s judgment on us, while at the same time recognising that those events happen within the natural course of events. God’s judgments and natural happenings are often to be seen as intertwined. The earthquake may occur naturally, but what it signifies to us may well be that it is a sign of the judgment of God, for God has built His judgments into creation.

2 Samuel 12:16

David therefore besought God for the child, and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth.’

Recognising that the baby might die from its illness David went before YHWH and pleaded for the child’s life. And to that end he fasted, and prayed all night, lying on the earth before God. He was no longer the arrogant king, but the humble suppliant.

2 Samuel 12:17

And the elders of his house arose, and stood beside him, to raise him up from the earth, but he would not, nor did he eat bread with them.’

The leading servants in the household came to him to try to persuade him to rise up and eat some food, but he refused to do either and continued on in his attitude of prayer. He would not desist while the baby was alive and there was hope.

“The elders of his house.” These would be the older and wiser men among his servants who had known him for many years and were his trusted servants. They were probably the only ones who dared to approach David at such a time.

2 Samuel 12:18

And it came about on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “See, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to our voice. How much will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead!” ’

When therefore, after seven days, the baby died the servants were afraid to tell David because of what they feared that the news might do to him. In their view, as he had not listened to him while the baby was alive, he would be so distraught that the baby was dead he would be even less likely to listen to them. So they quietly discussed the matter among themselves, baffled as to what to do, and concerned for David’s reaction.

2 Samuel 12:19

But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead, and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” ’

David, however, saw them whispering together, and probably saw them looking at him in a worried way, and it made him realise that it could only mean one thing, and that was that the baby was dead. And so he asked them straightly, ‘Is the baby dead?’ to which they replied, ‘Yes, he is dead.’

2 Samuel 12:20

Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothing, and he came into the house of YHWH, and worshipped. Then he came to his own house, and when he required it, they set bread before him, and he ate.’

Then to their surprise instead of being so distraught that he collapsed, he arose, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothing and went into the house of YHWH and worshipped. Then he returned to his house, and when he required it they gave him food and he ate. To their great surprise he was behaving as though nothing had happened.

2 Samuel 12:21

Then his servants said to him, “What thing is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child, while it was alive, but when the child was dead, you rose and ate food.” ’

His servants were amazed. To them it all seemed the wrong way round. In their view he should have fasted and wept when the baby died. So they asked him why it was that he had fasted and wept for the baby while it was still alive, but then arose and ate food when he heard that it was dead.

2 Samuel 12:22-23

And he said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether YHWH will not be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” ’

David’s reply was that while the baby had been alive he had hoped by his fasting and praying and weeping to cause YHWH to reveal His goodness and compassion towards him by allowing the baby to live. But once the baby had died that had lost its point. He knew then what YHWH’s will was. So what was the use of praying and fasting further? For he knew that he could not bring him back again by prayer. And he was then sure that while one day he would go to be with the baby, there was no way in which the baby would return to him on earth. He was simply referring to the grave, not to what lay beyond it. He would go to the grave just as his son had, but his son would not emerge from the grave (unlike his Greater Son Who would do just that).

It is a reminder that to David, once he was in his right mind, prayer was a meaningful exercise which he saw as being effective, not just a ritual to be gone through at the recognised times.


Verse 24-25

YHWH Demonstrates By Means Of The Birth Of Another Son Through Bathsheba That David Is Still Greatly Loved (2 Samuel 12:24-25).

David might easily have begun to despair of the future as he remembered how sinful he had been and the dreadful things that he had done. Perhaps this would be the end of his hopes and of his success? But YHWH now graciously gave him two signs that his future in YHWH was secure, the first lay in the birth of another son, who was stated to be ‘the beloved of YHWH’, which convinced him that all was still well between him and YHWH, so much so that he called him Solomon, which means ‘peace’. The second lay in his personal success against the people of Ammon, which would prove that YHWH was still with him.

In this small passage he is assured that YHWH has set His love on Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, and has chosen him, and as evidence of that He sent Nathan to give the child a special name from Him. The name was Jedidiah, a name that meant ‘beloved of YHWH’. This was the special proof that, in spite of his sins, YHWH had not rejected the house of David as he had rejected the house of Saul.

Analysis.

a And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24 a).

b And YHWH loved him (2 Samuel 12:24 b).

a And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet, and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake (2 Samuel 12:25).

Note that in ‘a’ David calls his son Solomon, and in the parallel YHWH calls him Jedidiah. Central in ‘b’ is that YHWH loved Solomon right from the cradle.

2 Samuel 12:24 a

‘And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and went in to her, and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon.’

David comforted his wife Bathsheba after the death of their first baby. And he once again had sexual relations with her, and eventually she again bore a son, and David called his name Solomon, which meant ‘peace’ or ‘wellbeing’, for it demonstrated to him that God still looked on him in blessing.

2 Samuel 12:24 b

‘And YHWH loved him, and he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, for YHWH’s sake.’

And YHWH also loved Solomon from the day of his birth. This idea of being loved very much includes the idea of his being chosen (compare Deuteronomy 7:6-8). YHWH therefore sent His prophet Nathan to give the baby the extra name of Jedidiah, ‘beloved of YHWH’, a sign of His great love for him, and a sign that he was the chosen successor of David. It was also a further sign to David that he was truly forgiven, and a seal on the everlasting covenant. It was evidence that his royal house was to continue. It is interesting that the name Jedidiah is never again applied to Solomon. It was seen not as a name to be used, but as a sealing of his future by YHWH. From then on he was recognised by David as the chosen one, and therefore the guarantee of the fulfilment of YHWH’s everlasting covenant with David (7:9-16), which explains why David would finally choose him to be his heir. He was the chosen of YHWH.


Verses 26-31

As A Result Of His Forgiveness David’s Success Continues As He Reduces The City Of Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

The fact that David was a changed man is now brought out in that he left his palace and personally took charge of the siege of Rabbah, and the fact that he had truly been forgiven was confirmed in that he was now successful in taking Rabbah and bringing the whole of Ammon under his control, receiving the crown of Ammon and setting the people to forced labour. Thus alongside the grief that would come on his family his success continued. He too was still the chosen of YHWH.

That this incident is to be seen as significant in the light of what has gone before comes out in that it is stressed that:

1). David ceased to rest in Jerusalem (the cause of his downfall) and went forth to battle. He had awoken from his spiritual lethargy (contrast 2 Samuel 11:1).

2). The capture of Rabbah would enhance his name and his greatness, thus confirming that YHWH was still fulfilling His promises for David. He was making his name great (2 Samuel 12:28; compare 2 Samuel 7:9).

3). In accordance with His covenant David was once again seen to be successful against all his enemies (compare 2 Samuel 7:9).

We are therefore here given the assurance that David, in spite of his sins, was still safely established within the promises that YHWH had given him (2 Samuel 7:8-16), because he had truly repented and had received his initial punishment. The narrative will then go on to indicate the wider punishment that David will receive. But before doing so it gives us this assurance that YHWH was still with David.

Analysis.

a Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city (2 Samuel 12:26).

b And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, yes, I have taken the city of waters” (2 Samuel 12:27).

c “Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name” (2 Samuel 12:28).

d And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it (2 Samuel 12:29).

c And he took the crown of their king from off his head, and its weight was a talent of gold, and in it were precious stones, and it was set on David’s head (2 Samuel 12:30 a).

b And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount (2 Samuel 12:30 b).

a And he brought forth the people who were in it, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln, and thus did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 12:31).

Note that in ‘a’ the royal city was subdued and taken, and in the parallel its people were set to forced labour. In ‘b’ the city is called ‘the city of waters’ and in the parallel great spoil flows from it. In ‘c’ the city is to be called after David’s name, and in the parallel its crown is placed on his head. Centrally in ‘d’ David turns from his former indolence and personally supervises the taking of Rabbah.

2 Samuel 12:26

Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.’

While what has been described above was going on Joab continued with the siege of ‘Rabbah of the children of Ammon’, and eventually took part of the city. The name Rabbah means ‘large’ or ‘main city’ and thus ‘the main city of the children of Ammon’. Today it is called Amman and is the capital city of Jordan. Remains have been discovered on its airfield of a storage building used for the storage of cremated remains and dating from 13th century BC. Many of the remains were of children and may well have been ‘passed through the fire to Molech’ (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Kings 23:10; etc). Traces of ancient fortifications from the Middle Bronze and Iron Age have also been unearthed.

“And took the royal city.” This may refer to the whole city, the verse being in summary form before going into the detail of its gradual possession. Or it may indicate that section of Rabbah where the royal palace was, which was seemingly also called ‘the city of waters’ because it was where the main water sources were. Of course once that was taken the remainder would soon follow. No city could hold out long without a sufficient water supply.

2 Samuel 12:27

And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, “I have fought against Rabbah, yes, I have taken the city of waters.” ’

Once Joab had taken the section of the city containing its water supplies (the city of waters) he rapidly despatched messengers to David calling on him to come personally so that he could take the credit for capturing the whole city. This last was something regularly done by great kings, who would also often loose off a token arrow (compare 2 Kings 19:32; Isaiah 37:33) so that it could be recorded on inscriptions.

We should in fact note that large cities were often fortified in such a way that taking one part did not mean that the whole was taken. We can compare the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem, which was only a section of Jerusalem and yet had remained independent of the remainder for hundreds of years. So there is nothing surprising in enjoying a pause after taking a part of the city.

2 Samuel 12:28

Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.”

Joab’s aim was that David should gather ‘the rest of the people’, that is, the men of Israel who were not yet involved in the fighting, so that he could lead an army both in order to seize what remained to be taken of Rabbah and also in order to conquer the whole of Ammon. The importance of a great king being present when a city was forced to yield was widely recognised. Only then could he be seen as the victor. Joab was not suggesting that Rabbah would be renamed Joab, but that if David was not present the defeat of Rabbah would be remembered throughout the world as the work of Joab. Thus Joab, and YHWH, were ensuring that David’s name would be made great, just as YHWH had promised (2 Samuel 7:9).

2 Samuel 12:29

And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.’

So David gathered ‘all the people’ who were not yet involved in the siege and went to Rabbah and completed its subjection. This personal activity of David was important as a further evidence of his change of heart. He was no longer lingering in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 12:30

And he took the crown of their king from off his head, and its weight was a talent of gold, and in it were precious stones, and it was set on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city, a very great amount.’

Once the city was taken the ceremonial crown of the king of Ammon was taken ‘from off his head’, and set on David’s head. It was a crown of pure gold encrusted with jewels and was very heavy. It was thus probably a ceremonial crown and not for everyday usage. The ‘talent of gold’ was presumably a light talent of around 30 kilogrammes or 66 pounds. But it would still be excessively heavy. And as well as the crown a huge amount of spoil was taken from the city. It was openly apparent that YHWH had again caused David to prosper.

2 Samuel 12:31

And he brought forth the people who were in it, and put them to saws, and to harrows of iron, and to axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln, and thus did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.’

Then after their long resistance the people of Ammon were brought out and put to forced labour. It was common practise for the warriors of a city which had resisted a siege to be put to death (Deuteronomy 20:12-14). This was in order to encourage cities to surrender without a siege, and also so as to ensure that once the army had moved on to further conquests it could not be attacked from behind. The provision in Deuteronomy was actually merciful as well as being practical, for many conquerors would slaughter all the inhabitants, apart from those whom they took away as slaves. But David was powerful enough, and merciful enough, not to need to do either of these, and instead he set the inhabitants of the city to forced labour. They were set to using saws, iron harrows and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns. To be ‘made to pass through the brick kiln (malben)’ was probably a standing joke among the Israelites in view of the well known custom of the Ammonites of ‘passing their children through the fire to Molech (milcom)’.

Some see the description as signifying that the warriors of Ammon suffered cruel deaths by various means, but there are no other Scriptural examples of using such diverse methods of execution, while the descriptions adequately fit the idea of forced labour. Even so their fate would not be a happy one. 1 Chronicles 20:1 says, ‘and he brought forth the people who were in it, and he/they cut with saws, and with harrows of iron and with axes.’ The verb ‘cut’ is singular and might indicate David, but ‘people’ is also singular and it could therefore refer to what the people were made to do. But even if we do refer it to David it could signify that he did his cutting by means of the Ammonites

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-12.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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