Nathan Rebukes David
12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms,1 and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 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.’ 11 Thus says the LORD, ‘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 neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD,2 the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.
David's Child Dies
And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick. 16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
24 Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him 25 and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah,3 because of the LORD.
Rabbah Is Captured
26 Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. 27 And Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. 28 Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” 29 So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah and fought against it and took it. 30 And he took the crown of their king from his head. The weight of it was a talent4 of gold, and in it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David's head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. 31 And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at5 the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.
If you have ever wished that God would speak to you, you need to know that He does. God speaks through His Word and by His Spirit. When His Word is opened, His voice is heard.
As you study the Bible and hear it proclaimed, you will find that God says some things that can be hard to take. Hearing the truth about your sins will make you uncomfortable. But whenever God speaks, it is a sign of His grace. His purpose is always to restore and to bless.
People who are given positions of power often begin to feel that they are somehow beyond the rules that apply to others. That’s how it was for David. One day the king saw a married woman by the name of Bathsheba. David had the power to get what he wanted, so he ignored God’s law and took the woman.
David loved the Lord, but even a heart that loves God can harbor some strange affections. David’s feelings for Bathsheba were utterly offensive to God, but they were also very powerful, and he gave way to them.
When David found that Bathsheba was pregnant, he scrambled to cover his tracks. David ordered that the woman’s husband, Uriah, be sent home from the battlefield under the guise of bringing news from the army. If Uriah spent a few nights at home with his wife, he would be identified as the father of the child.
But it didn’t work. Uriah was a conscientious soldier, and he did not feel that he should be at home with his wife while others were risking their lives on the field of battle. So David had to resort to more desperate measures. He ordered that Uriah be put on the front lines, making his death inevitable (2 Samuel 11:5–17).
A short time later, David took the recently widowed Bathsheba to be his wife. The whole thing happened without a trace of public knowledge. It was the ultimate cover up. Except for one thing: “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27). God saw what was done, and He did not remain silent.
The Terrors of Hearing the Voice of God
We have already seen from the Old Testament story that hearing the voice of God directly was a terrifying experience. When God spoke at Mount Sinai, even Moses was trembling with fear, and when the people heard the voice of God, they begged that no further word be spoken to them (Hebrews 12:18–21). They must have felt something of what it will be like for sinners to stand before almighty God on the last day.
The people said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). So God spoke to Moses, and when he came down from the presence of God, he spoke the words of God to the people. That was the beginning of what we call “prophecy.” God sent prophets to bring His Word so that the people would be saved from the terror of hearing God speak to them directly.
When God sent a prophet, it was always a sign of His grace. The prophets said some pretty fierce things, but nothing they said could ever come close to the prospect of standing in the presence of God and hearing His voice directly.
Standing in a Prophet’s Shoes
What was it like to receive the Word of God? The apostle Peter tells us about this in the New Testament: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
The best way to grasp what Peter is saying here is through a story in the book of Acts. Paul was under arrest and was being taken by ship as a prisoner to Rome. Luke records: “A tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along” (Acts 27:14-15).
The word Luke used for the ship being “driven along” by the wind is the same word Peter used for the prophets being “carried along” by the Spirit. How much control do you have when you are in a ship being carried along in a storm? Not much. The direction of the boat is controlled by the wind. The message of the prophets was controlled by the Spirit.
The words of the prophets came from God. These men “spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). They did not control the message; the message controlled them. It came to them from God like a mighty wind, and they were carried along so that what they wrote was exactly what God wanted them to say.
God has spoken, and we can be thankful that He did. If God had not made Himself known, all we would have is the sum of human experience, much of which is immensely painful. In a world of opinion, God has given us revelation.
This is how the prophets could speak about things that otherwise could not have been known. Isaiah spoke about a virgin who would conceive and give birth to a son (Isaiah 7:14). Zechariah spoke about a king who would come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). The only way prophets could have known these things was that God told them.
How did Nathan know about David’s adultery? God told him! God spoke to Nathan and blew David’s cover apart.
Speaking the Word of God
David thought that his cover up of the scandal had been successful, until Nathan arrived at the palace. Using a clever parable, Nathan told David about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb. As David listened to the story, he was filled with anger at what this man had done. He wanted to know who the man was so that he could see him brought to justice. Nathan looked at David and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
David’s defenses were ripped wide open. But this was God’s grace in action. David had moved into the darkness, and God sent a prophet to bring him back.
Down through the centuries, God spoke His Word through the prophets. But in the fullness of time, God sent His Son (Hebrews 1:1–2). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The prophets had heard the Word of God, but Christ is the Word of God. The words He spoke were given to Him by the Father: “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak…. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).
But Jesus is more than a prophet. He claimed what no other prophet would dare to say: “I and the Father are one.” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 10:30; 14:9).
Everything that God has to say to you is expressed in Jesus Christ. This is why we do not need any other prophet today. God spoke in the past by the prophets, but they were all pointing forward to Christ who is the Word of God.
Responding to the Word of God
The Bible tells us the stories of two kings who received God’s word from a prophet and responded in very different ways.
When God confronted David through Nathan, the king said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13). David could have said, “Nathan, you have to understand that the woman threw herself at me.” And there may have been some truth in that. He might have said, “Nathan, you don’t understand. My marriage has been dead for years.” That may also have been true. David could even have said, “Nathan, I know that I’ve done wrong, but other leaders have done the same thing or worse.” That also would have been true. But David did not use any of these excuses. He said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Would you have said that? How you respond to the Word of God when it hurts you will reveal a great deal about you.
The result of David’s honest confession was that he found forgiveness. The pain of his suppressed conscience was released, and the joy of his salvation was restored.
A thousand years later, another king named Herod sat on the throne in Jerusalem. God spoke to him through a prophet whose name was John the Baptist. Herod was very interested in spiritual things, and he liked listening to John’s preaching.
One day John was taken up in the gale of the Spirit, and God gave him words to speak to Herod about his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife. The king didn’t want to hear it, and in the end he ordered that the head of John the Baptist be brought to him on a plate.
Despite this atrocity, Herod was interested in meeting Jesus, and when he had the opportunity, he plied him with many questions, but Jesus refused to answer (Luke 23:9). Herod had refused God’s word to him through John the Baptist. He had hardened his heart, and now the Savior had nothing more to say to him.
As far as we can tell, the next time God spoke to Herod, it was without a prophet, and without a Savior. The next time he heard the word of God, he was in the presence of God.
David made a better choice than Herod. He listened to the Word of God even when it exposed him, and he responded with faith and repentance. God restored David and He did it through His Word.
- Have you ever tried to cover up something you did, and then later on God made it known? What happened?
- In your own words, how would you describe what it was like for a prophet to receive a word from God?
- Why do we no longer need prophets today?
- Have you ever wished that God would speak to you?
- What is the most uncomfortable thing you’ve read in the Bible so far? How are you responding to the Word of God? What difference has it made in your life?