Here’s a question for you: Which is stronger, David’s sin or God’s promise? Which is stronger or which will triumph over the other? David’s sin or God’s promise?
We’ve seen David’s sin, or perhaps I should say we’ve seen David’s sins, because he committed multiple sins when he slept with Bathsheba; and when he tried to cover up what he had done; and when he then arranged the death of her husband. We’ve seen his sins and they were serious sins. And they were all the more serious because David was the Lord’s Anointed King at that time, who had benefitted in multiple ways from the kindness of God and he was to walk in the ways of the Lord. But, despite the Lord’s kindness to him, he had despised the word of the Lord and done these terrible things.
So, we’ve seen David’s sins. But then there’s the promise of God, which he announced in chapter 7. The Lord had promised to establish David’s house, David’s dynasty, so that a succession of kings would come from David to rule over the Lord’s people on the Lord’s behalf. And the Lord promised that David’s house and David’s kingdom will endure forever and his throne will be established forever. That was God’s promise.
But David deserved to die for his sins. That was the penalty for what he had done wrong. David deserved to die. But if he died, what would become of God’s promise to him?
So, which is stronger? Is David’s sin strong enough, big enough, to annul God’s promise? Or is God’s promise strong enough, big enough, to overcome David’s sin? That’s what we’re thinking about today. And as we’ll see the Lord sent a preacher to David to convict him of his sin and to announce to him God’s willingness to pardon his sin so that he would not die. And indeed, not only did David not die, but a son was born to him who would grow up to succeed him as king so that God kept his promise to him.
And God has made a promise to you. He has promised you that if you believe in his Son, then you will have everlasting life in his presence. And despite all your sins and shortcomings, and despite a lifetime of sin and rebellion, he will keep his promise to you, just as he kept his promise to David, because he’s worked out a way to pardon you and to keep his promise.
Verses 1 to 6
In verses 1 to 6 of today’s passage, we read that the Lord sent Nathan to David. Do you remember I said last week that the word ‘sent’ was repeated many times. David sent Joab to fight against their enemies. David sent someone to find out about Bathsheba. David sent messengers to fetch her. Bathsheba then sent word to David that she was pregnant. David sent word to Joab and had Joab send Uriah to him. David sent Uriah back to the battlefield and he sent a letter with him to Joab. Joab then sent David news about the battle. And afterwards, David sent for Bathsheba and she became his wife. Everyone was sending in chapter 11. And here in chapter 12, the Lord sent a preacher to David.
And instead of going the direct route and immediately confronting David with his sin, Nathan took an indirect route. He told David a story about two men. One was extremely rich and he had a large number of sheep and cattle. In fact, he didn’t just have a large number of sheep and cattle, he had a very large number of sheep and cattle. We might even say he was as wealthy as King David, who had many sheep and cattle and who also had many wives. The other man in Nathan’s story was a poor man, who did not own a large number of sheep and cattle. All he had was one little ewe lamb. And he raised that one little ewe lamb, so that it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food and drank from his cup and he even let it sleep in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Well, this man was like Uriah, because whereas David had many possessions, including many wives, Uriah only had one wife, Bathsheba. And if David had been listening closely, he might have noticed that the Hebrew word for daughter is Bath, which forms the first part of Bathsheba’s name.
And so, this little story is not really about a rich man and a poor man. This little story is a parable and Nathan is — in a roundabout and indirect way — telling the story of David and Uriah.
Nathan went on with his story to say that a traveller came to visit the rich man. And, of course, it was the custom in those days to feed visitors who came to your home. But for whatever reason the rich man was unwilling to use one of his own sheep or cattle to feed his visitor. Instead he took the poor man’s single, solitary ewe lamb and he prepared it for his guest.
At this point, David interrupted the story because he was burning with anger. He doesn’t yet realise that this story is about him and Uriah. He thinks Nathan is telling him about two other people and Nathan has come to David so that David can make a judgment on what has happened. After all, that was one of the roles of the king in those days. The king was to judge wisely and to settle disputes among the people. And so, in his burning anger, David says that the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must pay for the lamb four times over, because he did this terrible thing and had no pity on the poor man.
The commentators are careful to point out that, according to the law of Moses, stealing someone’s lamb was not a capital offence. No one was to be put to death for stealing a sheep. Instead, the law required anyone who stole a sheep to pay back four sheep in return.
However, taking another man’s wife and taking another man’s life was something else entirely. The law stated very clearly that whoever sleeps with another man’s wife and whoever takes another man’s life deserves to die. And though David did not realise what he has doing, by means of his angry outburst David was announcing what he deserved for his own sins.
Verses 7 to 12
And so, in verse 7 Nathan said to David — and we can perhaps imagine him looking David right in the eye and lifting his finger and pointing it directly towards David — and Nathan said to David: You are the man! You are the man. You’re the rich man in the story. You’re the very rich man who has a very large number of sheep and cattle as well as wives. And Uriah only had one wife. And you took away Uriah’s one wife from him. And then you also took away his life. You are the man!
And what follows is what the scholars call a prophetic judgment speech, because it follows a pattern which we find many of the prophets using. Firstly, he makes clear that this is God’s word to David:
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says….
Nathan is there on behalf of the Lord to act as the Lord’s spokesman and ambassador.
Secondly, he reminds David of the Lord’s kindness to him. So, God anointed him as king over Israel. And I delivered you from the hand of Saul and gave you Saul’s house and his wives. In other words, all the power and possessions which Saul once had, God handed over to David. And I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah.
So, Nathan’s telling David that God anointed him as king, and he took the kingdom from Saul and he gave it to David. He had been good to David. He had been kind to David. And he adds that he would have given him even more.
And then, thirdly, we have God’s charge:
Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?
David knew God’s word, but instead of keeping God’s word, he despised it. The same word was used to describe Goliath’s reaction to David. This giant thought David was worthless and could be safely disregarded. Well, the Lord charged David with treating his word in the same way: as something worthless which can be safely disregarded. And Nathan went on to say to David: You struck down Uriah, killing him by the sword of the Ammonites. And you took his wife to be your own.
So, those are the charges. And, of course, David is guilty of all charges. And so, from verse 10 we have God’s sentence on David: The sword shall never depart from your house. So, his family will be spoiled by violence. Then in verse 11: God will bring calamity upon David from out of his own household. Someone from his own family will take David’s wives and lie with them in broad daylight. David acted in secret, but this person will do it openly so that everyone will hear of it.
So, there will be violence and there will be shame.
And as we’ll discover as we read on in the story of David’s life, these things happened. But before we move on, remember what David had said earlier and what Nathan did not say now. After David had heard Nathan’s parable about the rich man and the poor man, David said that the rich man deserved to die. And David deserved to die. The penalty for adultery was death. The penalty for murder was death. David deserved to die. But when Nathan announced the Lord’s sentence on David, he did not mention death. The Lord who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love was prepared to spare David’s life.
Verses 13 and 14
In verse 13 David says very simply and very briefly
I have sinned against the Lord.
And perhaps the brevity of his confession makes us wonder whether his confession was genuine or not. Did he really mean it? We’ve all heard people say they’re sorry, and we know that they’re not really sorry at all. But, of course, as well as verse 13, we also have Psalm 51 which was written after God sent Nathan to David. And there we see that David’s confession was heartfelt:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
And the Lord was merciful to David and he was willing to spare his life even though he deserved to die for his sins. And so, once David confessed his sins, Nathan gave David the assurance he needed to hear:
The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.
And when we come to church, as part of the service, I lead you in a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins to the Lord. Instead of covering them up, and hiding them, or instead of pretending they didn’t happen, or instead of making excuses, we confess them before the Lord. And after confessing our sins, there’s the assurance of pardon, a verse from the word of God to reassure believers of God’s willingness to pardon our sins. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. All of us deserve to die and to be sent away from the presence of the Lord for a lifetime of sins, because the wages for sin is death. Like David, we have despised the word of the Lord and we have disregarded what he has said. Instead of walking in his ways, we have gone astray. Instead of doing his will, we have pleased ourselves. And yet, the Lord is merciful and gracious and though we deserve to die and to be punished forever, he forgives our sins; and he promises to give us eternal life, so that though we die, and our bodies are laid in the ground, yet we shall live in body and soul with the Lord forever.
And the Lord our God is able to forgive us our sins and to give us eternal life in his presence because of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in the place of sinners. He bore the punishment we deserve. He took the blame for us. He suffered the wrath and curse of God in our place for our sins so that we might receive forgiveness and eternal life. And it’s possible, it’s possible, that what we read next in this chapter anticipates the cross of Christ, because what we read next is that while David’s life was spared, the life of his son was taken. Nathan tells David in verse 14 that the son born to you will die.
Now, no one should go home and think that when a child dies today it died because of the sins of its parents. No one should think that. To think that is a terrible thing. The story of David is a unique story, because David was a unique person. He was the Lord’s Anointed King at that time who foreshadowed Christ the King who was coming into the world. And so, there are things that happened to him and there are things which he did which are recorded for us because they foreshadow the good news of the gospel and Christ’s life and death and resurrection for sinners. And so, no one should think that when a child dies today it died because of the sins of its parents. Banish that thought from your mind.
Nevertheless, in this unique story about David, what do we have? This is what we have: David the sinner is spared, while his son dies in his place. And as one of the commentators puts it: there’s a pattern here. There’s a pattern here which has been established by God, when one life was spared because another life was taken. You see the pattern in the book of Genesis, when Isaac’s life was spared and the Lord provided a ram to take his place. You see the pattern on the very first Passover night in the book of Exodus, when all the firstborn in Israel were spared because the lamb died in their place and its blood was put up on their doorposts. And we see the pattern here was well, because David, the guilty one, was spared, but his son died in his place. And this pattern points to the good news of the gospel and how God’s only begotten Son died, so that we, the guilty ones, are spared.
And you see, our salvation is both free and costly. It’s free for us, because God graciously and freely gives it to us, though we don’t deserve it and cannot do anything to earn it. He gives it to us graciously and freely. But our salvation is costly, because our Saviour had to pay for our sin with his life. Our salvation cost him his life, but God offers salvation to you graciously and freely and you receive it from him by faith. Whoever trusts in Christ is pardoned by God. Though you deserve to die and to be punished forever, he gives forgiveness to all who believe and he promises all who believe eternal life in his presence.
What have you done wrong? In what ways have you sinned against the Lord? What have you done this past week to dishonour him? How have you despised his word this week? Perhaps you’ve been a believer all your life, but you’re still sinning against him and you still disregard his word. You still say ‘no’ to him. You still repeat the same sins. You’re still a sinner. But how wonderful. How wonderful. The Saviour laid down his life to pay for your sins so that you will not die, but will have eternal life.
Verses 15 to 23
But we haven’t reached the end of the chapter, have we? So, what happened next? According to verse 15, Nathan went home and the Lord struck the child with an illness. And David pleaded with the Lord for the child. He fasted. And he lay on the ground in humility. The elders in his household became worried about him, but he would not eat. And then, on the seventh day, the child died. The elders were reluctant to tell David, but he noticed them whispering and he realised they were whispering because the child had died. And to the surprise of the elders, David got up, washed and dressed himself, and went into the house of the Lord to worship. And afterwards, he called for food and he ate. How come David fasted and wept when the child was alive, but when the child was dead he got up and ate? That’s what the elders want to know. And David explained that the reason he fasted and wept when the child was alive was because he knows the Lord is merciful and gracious and he may be willing to spare his son. But when the child died, he was prepared to submit to God’s will.
And here’s the thing to notice. Look at verse 23 where David said:
Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.
He said: I will go to him. Go to him where? It’s possible he meant nothing more than go to him in the grave. After all, all of us will end up in the grave one day and some of us are laid to rest in a family grave. However, it’s also possible that David meant more than that. It’s possible that he meant that he will go to his son in the life to come. And in that case, David was speaking of the hope which God gives to his people of everlasting life in his presence. For God’s people — chosen in Christ before the world was made — death is not the end, because the grave is the doorway into the presence of our Saviour, where all of God’s people will gather together to worship him. And to be in his presence is better than anything else.
And so, what a wonderful chapter this is, because it speaks to us of Christ the Saviour who paid for our sins with his life; and it speaks to us of the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence.
Verses 24 to 31
And then, it testifies to us of God’s faithfulness to his promise, because after the child died, and the parents mourned, another child was born to David and Bathsheba. And this child was loved by God, because that’s what the name Jedidiah means. But this child was also known as Solomon and he was to succeed David as king. And descended from David and from Solomon there came the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son and our Saviour, who came into the world as one of us and who died, but who was raised and who ascended to heaven to rule over all forever and who gives forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life to all who believe in him.
And so, do you remember the question I began with? Which is stronger? Which is stronger? David’s sin or God’s promise? God’s promise is stronger, because he was able to put away David’s sin and to keep his promise to David and to the world that one of David’s descendants would rule as king forever. Christ is the king who rules forever and God promises you that you too will live forever because of Christ the king.