2 Samuel 12:1-23: Nathan's Parable
Do you remember the prophet Nathan? It was he who brought the Lord's word to David when he wished to build a temple in Jerusalem, telling him that he should not build the temple, but that his son would do it. (2 Sam. 7) Now the Lord sent Nathan again to David with a parable about a rich man who would not take from his own flocks and herds to feed a traveler on his journey, but took from a poor man his one little ewe lamb which he dearly loved. When David was angry and said that the man who had done this thing should die, Nathan answered, "Thou art the man."
The Lord's parables in the Gospels are spoken to us all. Often after a parable the Lord said, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear," which means that we must try to understand the parable and take its lesson to heart. It is the same with the parables and commandments of the Old Testament. In them all, the Lord is speaking to us lessons which we ought to take to heart. We can always think as we read them, "Thou art the man." The parable of the little ewe lamb, which Nathan spoke to David, should make us ask ourselves how we have been selfish, how being bent on our own pleasure we have been careless of other people and have made things hard for them.
We hear again of the prophet Nathan, who was sent to David with a parable about a rich man who would not take from his own flocks and herds to feed a traveler on his journey, but took from a poor man his one little ewe lamb which he loved. When David was angry and said that the man who had done this thing should die, Nathan answered, "Thou art the man." Looking back one chapter we learn what David had done. He had taken away Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who lived in Jerusalem, to become his wife, and he had sent Uriah to the war that was then going on with the Ammonites and had arranged that he should be killed in the attack upon the city.
You remember the Hittites, remnants of an ancient people whom the children of Israel found living in the land of Canaan. They were among the best of the native people. It was from Ephron the Hittite that Abraham bought the burial-place in Hebron. And you remember the Ammonites who lived far to the east beyond the Dead Sea; the people from whom Saul saved Jabesh-gilead, and with whom David had long war.
David had done two great wrongs, and when the prophet told his parable and said, "Thou art the man," he saw how he had sinned and was very penitent. Read Psalm 51. It is a wonderful Psalm of penitence, and its title tells us that it was spoken by David at this time. It is a very tender prayer that the Lord, who knows our life and our secret thoughts and feelings, will help us to put away all evil things.
The child of Bath-sheba was sick and died. While the child was sick, David mourned and fasted, but after the child had died he put aside his grief. He said, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." So we can always think when those that we love die. We ought not to wish them back again in this world, but should think of the heavenly world into which they have awakened, and should try with the Lord's help to live so that we shall keep near to them in spirit and shall come to them in heaven by and by. Afterward, Bath-sheba had another son. It was Solomon, who ruled after David and was a wise and peaceful king. We shall soon learn more about him and about his building of the temple.
1. Who was Nathan? On what two errands did he come to David?
2. What is a parable? Tell me two parables about sheep, one in the New Testament, and one in the Old.
3. What Psalm of penitence belongs to this part of David's life?
4. To whom does the Bible say, "Thou art the man"?
Older scholars will think more particularly of the sins which David had committed and which are described in Nathan's parable. They are the two sins forbidden by the fifth and sixth commandments. In taking the lesson to ourselves we ought to think in particular of these evils and our need of the Lord's help to deliver us from them. We know that the commandments forbid evil not only in outward act but also in thought and feeling. The Lord teaches this very plainly in regard to these two commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:21-28) Suggestions of evil will come; for that we are not to blame, but we are to blame if we allow the thought of evil to linger in our minds.
There is especial need of promptness and courage in putting away every thought and feeling which is not pure. It would seem to be with special reference to evil of this kind that the Lord said, "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. . . . If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee." (Matt. 5:28-30) Every thought and every feeling which leads toward the forbidden evil must be promptly put away. We must remember the commandment which forbids it. We must ask the Lord's help and not delay. No kind of evil if it is indulged, so completely closes the mind toward heaven, and there is no temptation, if we are faithful in resisting it, which opens the doors more widely to the influence of heaven, or makes us more sensible of the Lord's protecting power. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." We may think of the little ewe lamb of Nathan's parable as representing especially the innocence of this holy kind which is so precious to the Lord. Read E. 982, 999.
This is a part of David's history which shows plainly that David as a man was not better than others. When he is spoken of as one after the Lord's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), it is not David that is meant, but the Lord in His life on earth, whom David represented. But how can this part of David's story represent anything in the Lord's life? The Lord did no evil. He cherished no evil thought or feeling; and yet in the nature which He inherited from humanity He felt the temptation to every evil, and He felt the tempting power of all evil spirits. David's sin may picture to us the Lord's temptation; especially does Psalm 51, the Psalm of penitence, reveal to us the Lord's heart in His temptation. David was penitent in an outward way, but the real, deep penitence which the Psalm expresses is the Lord's not David's. Read P. P. Ps. 51; A. 1444, 1573. We know that Solomon was a type of kingly strength, and of the peace which comes to all and which came to the Lord after seasons of temptations. He would seem especially to represent the great peace and strength which come after faithfulness in the temptation here described.
The story has another beautiful meaning in application to the Lord. The Lord speaks of Himself as the husband, and of His church as the bride and wife. It is a very tender way of describing the Lord's love for His church. We read that King David, and after him King Solomon took many wives, and wives from other nations. This in itself was an evil thing to do, and still as a part of the Lord's Word it becomes a picture of something Divine and holy. It pictures the reaching out of the Lord's great love to all kinds of people who try to do His will, recognizing something of His church in everyone. David's taking the wife of the Hittite in this sense represents the Lord's love for goodness of a simple, Gentile kind, His desire to free it from its weakness and ignorance and draw it to Himself. (A. 3246; P. 245)