Written by: Don Carson
IN NATHAN'S DRAMATIC CONFRONTATION with King David (2 Sam. 12), the prophet's courage was mingled with a formidable sagacity. How else could a prophet grab the attention of an autocratic king and denounce his sin to his face, apart from this oblique approach?
Certain features of this chapter must be reflected on.
First, the fundamental difference between David and Saul is now obvious. Both men abused power in high office. What makes them different is the way they respond to a rebuke. When Samuel accused Saul of sin, the latter dissembled; when Jonathan questioned Saul's policy, a spear was thrown at him. By contrast, although Nathan approaches his subject obliquely, the sin is soon out in the open: "You are the man!" (2 Sam. 12:7). Yet David's response is radically different: "I have sinned against the LORD" (2 Sam. 12:13).
That, surely, is one of the ultimate tests of the direction of a person's life. We are a race of sinners. Even good people, people of strong faith, even someone like David--who is "a man after God's own heart" (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14)--may slip and sin. There is never an excuse for it, but when it happens it should never surprise us. But those who are serious about the knowledge of God will in due course return with genuine contrition. Spurious converts and apostates will string out a plethora of lame excuses, but will not admit personal guilt except in the most superficial ways.
Second, only God can forgive sin. When he does so, sin's proper punishment, death itself, is not applied (2 Sam. 12:13).
Third, even when sin's ultimate sanction is not applied, there may be other consequences that cannot be avoided in this fallen and broken world. David now faces three of them: (1) that the child Bathsheba is carrying will die; (2) that throughout his lifetime there will be skirmishing and warfare as he establishes his kingdom; (3) that at some point in his life he will see what it is like to be betrayed: someone from his own household will temporarily seize the throne, exemplified by sleeping with the royal harem (2 Sam. 12:12-13). Each is piquant. The first is bound up with the adultery itself; the second is perhaps a hint that the reason David was tempted in the first place was because he had not gone forth to war along with Joab, but had stayed home (2 Sam. 11:1), clearly longing for peace; and the third treats David to the betrayal that he himself has practiced.
Fourth, David's response to the most pressing of the judgments is altogether salutary. God is not the equivalent of impersonal Fate. He is a person, and a person may be petitioned and pursued. Despite his massive failure, David is still a man who knows God better than his numerous critics.