"You Are the Man!"
Nathan presents his "case" to David as the king was the highest judge in the land—the court of final appeal. In 2 Samuel 8:15, we learned that "David administered judgment and justice to all his people." These words are translated from the Hebrew mishpat and tzedakah, often translated "judgment and righteousness." As the second term is sometimes translated "equity," the entire phrase seems to indicate letter-of-the-law judgment as well as fairness or fair application. Evidently, the judges of Israel used the judgments in the law as a guideline and were able to consider other factors and circumstances when determining appropriate penalties in a given case. While the law called for restitution in cases of theft, David not only calls for restitution but even pronounces the death sentence—because the circumstances of the crime in this case make it particularly heinous, i.e., the great importance and value of the poor man's lamb to him and the callous and unfeeling attitude of the offender in the face of it. David, not recognizing that Nathan is speaking of him, actually judges himself guilty—and essentially calls for his own execution. It is always easier to see and condemn the sins of others—even when our own sins are staring us square in the face. We tend to have a lot more tolerance for ourselves than we do for others. This is something we all need to recognize and work on.
Nathan shows considerable courage and trust in God when he reveals the offender's identity to David. After all, David can have Nathan put to death. Still, the prophet delivers God's message: "You are the man!" (verse 7). With all that God had blessed him with, and as enamored with God's commandments as the Psalms show him to be, David, for a period of his life, came to "despise" or, as the word is perhaps better translated, "think light of" God's commandments (verse 9). He broke the tenth, which prohibits coveting. As Nathan's parable makes clear, David also broke the eighth, against stealing. He broke the seventh, against committing adultery. He broke the ninth, against lying and deception. He broke the sixth, against murder. He broke the third, against taking God's name in vain, by claiming to represent God while acting contrary to Him, causing God's name to be "profaned among the nations" (compare verse 14; Ezekiel 36:22-23). And David broke the First Commandment, against having other gods before God, by not putting God first in his life—serving his own desires instead. Indeed, "covetousness… is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5; compare Ephesians 5:5).
As a result of these sins, Nathan presents David with four specific punishments from God. The first three are given in 2 Samuel 12:10-12: 1) His family will hereafter experience infighting and bloodshed. 2) Adversity will be raised up against David from among his own family. 3) His wives will be taken from him by another, who will lie with them in public. Whereas David's original sin was committed in secret, this will be done in the open for all to see. As we continue with the story of David's life, we will see all these consequences come to pass.
At this point, David doesn't make excuses or try to rationalize his sin. Instead, he fully confesses to what he's done. A more complete account of his prayer of repentance is found in the sobering words of Psalm 51. For months David has agonized, suffering terrible guilt over his sin: "My sin is always before me" (verse 3). David has hurt a lot of people through what he's done. But above all, he has sinned against God (verse 4). So he begs God to forgive him and cleanse him from his filthy conduct. He asks for a clean heart and a renewed spirit to serve God—that He would remain in God's presence and that God's presence through the Holy Spirit would remain in him. His full confession and earnest desire to walk again in God's way evokes encouraging news from Nathan: "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Samuel 12:13).
However, Nathan stresses to David that he must still suffer many of the consequences for what he's done lest others think there is no justice with God or that He is not really concerned with holiness. For the fact is that God is quite concerned. Even though He forgives us when we repent of error, many times the consequences of sin continue with us for a long time in this life. Of all people, David, as an exalted leader, must be made an example of so that others will fear to do wrong. Clearly, David's sin has become widely known despite his attempts to conceal it. In this context, there is yet one more listed consequence David must suffer, which will come first in time order: 4) The child born of his adultery with Bathsheba is to die. And his heartfelt prayer and fasting before God for the child will not change God's mind.
Verses 16-23 provide some spiritual insight into fasting and the difference between penance and repentance. David fasted out of repentance and as part of his appeal to God to relent of His sentence regarding the child. Once David received God's answer, there was no reason to continue the fast. Yet his servants are baffled. They cannot understand how David could appear so grieved before and be less so now. But it's not that David is no longer grieved. It is simply that he no longer needs to fast. The fast was never about punishing and abusing himself—to satisfy God with substitute punishment—or to obligate God to fulfill his request. It was about drawing close to God in humility so that God would hear him—realizing that his attitude had to be one that would accept whatever God decided. Still, God affirms that the child must die. Yet David is comforted by his sure faith in the resurrection of the dead. He knows he will eventually join his child in death—but that beyond that he will see him again.
Verse 24 tells us, "Then David comforted Bathsheba." Often little is said about what Bathsheba had endured—her shame of a pregnancy out of wedlock, the death of her husband, an immediate wedding and adjustment to a new husband—the king of Israel no less—the illness and death of her firstborn, and the torment of terrible feelings of guilt over the adultery that started the tragic chain of events. But David was compassionate. His initial lust for her apparently had been replaced by genuine love.
And God comforted David and Bathsheba. Here is an example of God's perfect grace and forgiveness. God very soon granted a wonderful replacement for the deceased child, reminiscent of Seth replacing Abel (Genesis 4:25). Apparently the first time after the death of their child that David "went in to her and lay with her," God caused her to conceive the child that He had already chosen to be the next king of Israel. David would later report in 1 Chronicles 22:8-9: "But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, '...Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies all around. His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days.'" So when David calls his son's name Solomon in 2 Samuel 12:24, it is because God had already revealed the name to David. Meaning "Peaceful," this name is related to the name Jerusalem, and was prophetic of the nature of his future reign as king. God communicates his blessing on the child through Nathan, who gives him another name, Jedidiah ("Beloved of the Eternal").
Though there are some questions about the chronological sequence of events in 2 Samuel 12, it would appear that, with David's period of sinfulness finally over, the tide in the siege of the Ammonite capital of Rabbah is at last turned. It seems to have taken a long time—encompassing, if the time flow of the chapter is as presented, both of Bathsheba's pregnancies. That would make it more than 18 months—as the siege of Rabbah was underway before David first took Bathsheba and there would have been a period of time after the first birth before the second pregnancy. Having seized Rabbah's water supply, Joab knows it is only a short time until the Ammonites can no longer hold out. So he calls for David to lead the final charge against the city, which David does, and Rabbah finally falls to the Israelites.
The Ammonites are not "cut" with saws and axes as the King James Version translates 1 Chronicles 20:3, but are "put to work" with such implements as the New King James and other modern translations correctly render the verse.
Victorious, David returns to Jerusalem. But other consequences of his sin will soon follow, as God has warned.