Externally, King David’s attempt to cover up Uriah’s murder appeared successful—but the Lord saw it and was displeased. In His mercy, God sent His servant Nathan to confront the king. Exposed by God’s word, David confessed his sin and received the Lord’s pardon. While the consequences of the king’s sin would still be devastating for his family and dynasty, Alistair Begg reminds us that the same scandalous grace God gave David is on offer to us through Christ, who died for us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn to 2 Samuel and to chapter 12. And the verses that are before us for, I would imagine, this morning and this evening are the first fifteen verses of 2 Samuel 12.
“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. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew … with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 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.’ 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, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
“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. 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. 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. 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.” 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. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.”’ 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. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’ Then Nathan went to his house.”
Lord, we come now to your Word. Free us, Lord, from the distractions that we bring with us, the distractions that we find around us, and the distractions of our own strange minds. We turn to you in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, here we are, 2 Samuel chapter 12. And in the ninth verse, David has “despised the word of the Lord.” This is the same David that we have been following. This is the same David who, on one occasion, writing in one of his poems, one of his psalms, was able to say, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” “I delight to do your will …; your law is within my heart.” And David “despised the word of the Lord.” As we’ve seen, in one sordid and cynical enterprise he has managed to break five of the Ten Commandments in short order. And as a result of that, quite literally, his life will never be the same again.
From the outside, as it were, if we had met him in the street, if we could, it would have appeared to a casual observer that he had actually got away with it. After all, the child had been born, he was more settled now, and it would appear that his cover-up had actually worked. However, if we had been able to somehow or another sleep on the floor in his bedroom during those nights, we would have discovered something there that we could never have known meeting in the street. And that is because later on, when he reflected upon this, he wrote another poem. And in that poem, he acknowledged what had actually been going on inside of him. And this is what he writes; this is in Psalm 32:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as [in] the heat of summer.
Now, at least a year has elapsed; probably even as much as almost two years has passed by. But time can’t erase the memory of this. And certainly time cannot cleanse the conscience. It is a myth for us to assume that we may simply move on from things, and as long as enough time elapses between then and now, we can just forget all about it. But when it comes to our own sinful hearts, such is not the case. And in the mercy of God, it shouldn’t be the case.
Now, it is the final sentence of chapter 11 which has set the context for all that we find here in chapter 12. And there we were told that “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” God, in his infinite mercy, has decided that he will not allow David’s cover-up to work. It is his mercy that does this. It is his grace to David, because he loves David. Remember, David is a man after God’s own heart. So he’s not about to allow him simply to shuffle this off, simply to avoid it by not thinking about it. No, he is determined that his cover-up will fail.
Unlike Saul, who, in circumstances not as severe as this, back in the first book of Samuel—unlike Saul, who was rejected by God—David is actually going to be restored by God. The road to repentance is, if you like, a rocky road. He is on the receiving end of, if you like, hammer blows from God and knives that come to him that are most unsettling and severe and difficult to handle. But it is by this mechanism that he will then be brought to his knees. And until he is brought to his knees, he will not be lifted up from his despair. Until he is brought down, he will not rise. There will be from his lips no songs of deliverance, if you like, until he himself is delivered. And so it is that in coming to this chapter, we recognize God’s displeasure with him.
This is multilayered, this chapter. I have wrestled with it and struggled with it, and this is the best I can do for now. I want us to look at it in the light of the fact that, number one, we see him confronted by the Lord’s servant, then that we find him uncovered by the Lord’s word, and then, quite gloriously, we see him pardoned by the Lord’s mercy. So that’s our framework. It’s questionable whether we will cover this in the morning hour, and actually, it will be fitting at Communion if we had some of it left to tackle then.
So first of all, then, here we find him confronted by the Lord’s servant.
That opening sentence could be a sermon on its own: “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.” Nathan was the servant of God. Therefore, when God said “Go,” he went, and when God gave him a message to deliver, he delivered it. And this, as you see, is quite an assignment. We are not introduced to Nathan here for the first time. Back in chapter 7, particularly, we recognized the wonderful word that he had been given to declare to David on that occasion. In fact, if you turn back to chapter 7 for just a moment, you can look at it as I just point it out to you. He had on that occasion been the bearer of good news—amazing statement from God through his servant; for example, in verse 8, reminding David, “I took you from the pasture and from following the sheep, to make you a prince of my people. I’ve been with you,” verse 9. “I cut off your enemies. I’ve decided to make a great name for you.”
As you go on and further into those difficult verses that we struggled over again and again and finally just decided—I think you decided, “Okay, Pastor, nice try; we’ve had enough.” But we noted there in verse 14, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. [And] when he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men.” And we must have said to ourselves on that occasion, “I wonder how that will work out in his life.” And then, gloriously and in light of what we’ve just sung, verse 15: “But my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away … before you.” In other words, in the midst of all of that, in that great promise, the contrast is established between what had happened to Saul as the king—rejected—and David now to be restored.
Now, on that occasion, back in chapter 7, the word that Nathan had been privileged to bring was responded to by David with a great prayer of gratitude. And that essentially forms the second half of chapter 7. But now it’s entirely different. This is a different day. Events have unfolded, as we’ve seen, and the remedy and the word that God is bringing is a sharp word. It is a hard word. Calvin says, “Let us not find it strange when we see that after [God] has given us his Word with gentleness, he strikes us with heavy blows.” And some of us have no theology to fit this at all, because we’ve imbibed a kind of superficial notion of what it means to be a servant of God and a follower of the King, as if somehow or another, everything just slots into line, everything is fine. It’s neither true to the Bible, nor is it true to our own personal histories.
And I want us just to notice here that the way in which God addresses his erring child is through his word. Through his word. Nathan is the prophet, and as the prophet, he must speak the word of the Lord, whether it is, if you like, a pleasant word, or a difficult word; whether it is one that is immediately building up or whether it is one that appears in its immediacy to be tearing down.
Now, you say, “Well, what has that got to do with us?” Well, what we’re doing Sunday by Sunday as a church in every venue is saying, “We want to pay attention to the Word of God.” And the Word of God comes to us as, if you like, a prophetic word—prophetic not in the sense of new revelation, but prophetic in the sense that it speaks to the very issues of the day, whether it is, as last Sunday, as we gave some thought to the question of our culture, or as we think about the nature of family life and what does it mean to be a mom and a dad, and to raise your children, or what does it mean for us to actually profess to follow Jesus and to face the challenges that come along with that?
In my own study, I found myself—because I thought about this—going to Ezekiel 33. You needn’t turn to it there. But you have this great statement that God makes concerning Ezekiel, which is true of the prophets in general. And he says to him,
Son of man, I have made [you] a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, [the] wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
And so on. In other words, who would ever want to be set apart to be the very mouthpiece of God, to be the bearer of the word of God?
And, of course, God in his wisdom recognizes how easy it is for the people of God to reject the word of God simply by superficially dismissing it directly in relationship to the source from which it comes. Every teacher of the Bible, every pastor, every preacher, is a soiled soul. It is a mystery that God uses any of us to be the bearer of his word! We’re not made bearers of his word because of the uniqueness of our character or because of the sinlessness of our lives. We are made bearers of his word.
And so he says,
As for you, son of man, [you] people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, “Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.” And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes [the prophecy]—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.
Do you know one of the most disheartening comments that we get from the radio? “I love his accent.” Yeah, but did you hear the word of God? “Who cares?”
So, in line with the responsibility of the prophet, Nathan is now charged with rebuking the king. Wow! He’s the king. And you will notice that he does so directly, and he does so skillfully. Skillfully. There is a hammer blow in his message, but he is not, if you like, responsible for the hammer blow. No. “Nathan’s sword,” writes [Alexander Whyte], “was within an inch of David’s conscience before David knew that [he] had a sword.” That’s very good. I wish I’d been able to think of something like that.
Now, notice how he begins: “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.” Well, that’s pretty accessible, isn’t it? That’s along the lines of one who would come after, “great David’s greater Son.” He began like that a lot, didn’t he? “A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father…” The people are like, “Oh, we should listen to this!” And so, skillfully, he begins, and he tells the story. And he informs David. Whether this was a real case or whether it is a parable, we’re given no knowledge of it. But the king would be responsible, in executing justice and righteousness, to adjudicate on things like this. Things like this would be brought to him. Therefore, it would not be unusual. So whether it was real-time history or whether it was a parable matters little.
And you will notice there in verse 3 that this little lamb that the poor man had, “it grew up with him,” grew up “with his children.” It’s a very pastoral scene. “It used to eat of his morsel … drink from his cup and lie in his arms.” “Eat,” “drink,” “lie.” If this was class, I’d ask you, “Does this remind you of anything?” And one of the bright girls would put up her hand and say, “Yes, Pastor, it does. It reminds me of 11:11.” And we would all look down and say surprisingly, “How did you remember that?” “Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and … drink and … lie with my wife?’”
Wow! If David had half a conscience at this point, he may have been uncovered immediately. But he didn’t. Because his conscience was asleep. When conscience sleeps, you and I can read the Bible, listen to the Bible, understand the Bible, and remain entirely unchanged by the Bible. Those are the facts. That’s what makes it such an amazing venture to sit under the Word of God and to be a teacher of the Word of God. No, the three luxuries of domestic bliss, which Uriah himself had chosen not to enjoy, are represented here.
Well, so far, so good. But here we go on. Well, the traveler came. The rich man decided, although he had many in his own flocks, he wasn’t going to use them. And so he decided he would take the poor man’s lamb and prepare it for the man who had come to him.
And then David responds, verse 5: “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.” This is what we used to refer to as being “OTT,” don’t you think? This is an over-the-top reaction. Notice what he says: “As the Lord lives…” Well, that’s a little bit rich, isn’t it? We’ve gone through the entire chapter 11 without any mention of God. “As the Lord lives”? He’s just spent the greater part of his most recent life living as if there is no Lord who lives. No reference to him at all! The only time in chapter 11 that the Lord himself is mentioned is to express, in the twenty-seventh verse, “[And] the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” That’s the first mention of the Lord.
And now he says, “Of course, as the Lord lives, this man should die.” Why should he die? This wasn’t a murder. Oh, you see: “Justice must be served! There should be a fourfold retribution,” he says—and all the time still failing to make the connection, still failing to realize that this is actually his story. A reminder to us, at least, of this: that we see our own sins most clearly in other people; that, like David, it is not unusual for us to be enraged by the sins of others while our own hearts are hardened and unrepentant in relationship to our own sinful ways. It is much easier to say, “Oh, look at that, and did you see her, and what about that?”—and all the time to fail to realize that the word of God comes first of all home to my heart.
Now, in this expression of skillful brevity, the pathway is cleared, and so Nathan is now able to deliver the punchline: “Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” “You are the man!”
Now, I want to pause here again, because I paused in my own notes. I said to myself as I was studying this, “Now, wait a minute. David was able to set aside this parable without making any application to him at all, until he was uncovered.” I said, “It’s very possible for me to do the exact same thing with the story of David, and maybe others will feel the same.” In other words, here we go: “‘You are the man!’ Well, this is interesting. This is interesting history about a king of Israel.” No, actually, through Christ, Nathan moves from pulpit to pew, from seat to seat, and, in Christ, addresses us and says to us, “You are the man!”
Now, you say, “Well, wait a moment. I am not a murderer. I didn’t steal my neighbor’s wife. Surely the application of this parable is to the notorious sinner. Surely this is for people who have done really, really bad things. How can this have anything really to say to averagely well-respected attendees at Parkside Church?” Well, remember what we always say: that the Bible unfolds to us always until ultimately we are confronted by Christ. And it is on account of Jesus that I take this to myself and I bring it to you.
Matthew 5, Jesus said, “You have heard it said…” “You have heard it said…” He’s referring to the law. “You’ve heard it said that you shall not commit murder. But I want to say to you that every one of you who is angry with his brother, who insults his brother, is guilty of murder. You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks on a woman with lustful intent is guilty of adultery.” Yes, we are, all of us, “the man.” And our only recourse is, as we will see, the recourse of David when he says, “Have mercy upon me, O my God.”
Now, that’s the first point: that there we find him, confronted by the prophet. Not an easy role to fulfill: filled with joys, filled with sorrows, filled with challenges. Not an easy person to listen to when they are the bearer of the very word of God itself.
But secondly, he is not only confronted by the Lord’s servant, but as we go on to see, he is uncovered by the Lord’s word. Because what has happened here is that all of his defenses have been flattened at a stroke. All of a sudden, now, we find him, and he’s standing naked before God’s word. You remember the writer to the Hebrews says that it’s the word of God that is able to cut into the very heart of things and expose… Actually, he talks about the inner workings of our body, that it’s able to go in like a scalpel and reveal things. And so it’s not any sense of exaggeration to think of him standing naked.
Now, it is in light of that that Nathan goes on to speak. Verse 7b: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.” Now, what he does is three things. Number one, he reminds him of God’s provision. He reminds him of God’s provision. That’s there in verse 7 and into 8: “I anointed you king over Israel, … I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 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 [have given you more than that].” True! All true. And David knew it to be true.
Now, what is the word of God doing? Well, it is mortifying him. It is mortifying him. Because it dawns on him that he has been on the receiving end of the manifold goodness of God. He is the one who called him out as a shepherd boy. He is the one who anointed him. He is the one who gave him victory over his enemies. He is the one who allowed all these things to unfold. And now he recognizes that “I, so richly blessed, can fall so low.”
Not only does he remind him of God’s provision, but he has a question for him to answer. And it is the obvious question that flows from it, and you will see it there in verse 9. “If this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why …?” “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” “Why?” “Why?” Have you never got in your car and said, “Why did I say that? Why did I treat them that way? Why did I do that? It is entirely inexcusable. I have no recourse.” “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?”
Incidentally, the real issue here is that he despised the word of the Lord. His actions flow from the fact that he refuses to do what the Bible says. Check it out in your own life, and you will discover that to be the case. On every occasion where you have made a major right-hand turn when it should have been a left or staying straight down the pathway, you can trace it back to the fact that you knew what the Bible says, and you decided you knew better than the Bible, or that it didn’t apply in this instance, or that there was some other extenuating circumstance that made it possible for you to get a special pass on this occasion. Or am I just describing myself?
Now, you remember when the word had come back through the servant and the servant was being sent back to Joab, that the message that David sent back to Joab was “Do not let this matter be evil in your eyes, Joab. Don’t let it be evil in your eyes. Because after all, the sword devours now one and now another. Things happen.” Yeah. Well, “Why? Why have you done this evil?” God is displeased, God’s word is despised, and David’s actions reveal the fact that he was willing to set aside the clear commands of God in the pursuit of his passions.
The third thing: he has not only a reminder of God’s provision for him nor only a question that he needs to ask him in verse 9, but he has to let him know about the consequences that he now must face. “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.” Here we go. Here are the consequences: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house.” In other words, “David, you are responsible for the death of Uriah.” It goes on in the text; it says, “[at] the sword of the Ammonites.” But the culpability of David is there, because he is the one who had contrived and ordered the death of Uriah.
And so the word of the prophet to him is “The sword will not depart from your house.” We’re not going to delay on this now, because our time is fleeting—actually, has fled. But if you read on in the story, you will see that this is exactly the case. His sons are killing one another. The Davidic dynasty is going to continue, but bloodshed will be part of the story all the way to the death of David and beyond. “You killed Uriah for the taking of his wife,” he says. “I know what you were on about. And I’m going to tell you now that I will take your wives before your eyes, and I will give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives.”
Well, remember the word of Samuel to Saul: “The Lord is going to remove your throne, he’s gonna remove your crown, and he’s going to give it to a neighbor.” And David was that neighbor. And now the Lord says to him, “I’m going to give your wives to a neighbor.” And I don’t want to let you into all the secrets, but this is a reference to Absalom, his son, who in turn is involved in incestuous activity with the wives of David. Do not for a moment assume that our blatant despising of the word of God, despite the forgiveness of God, does not… Do not believe for a moment that it does not come with consequences. Because it does come with consequences. And here it is made perfectly clear: “I will take your wives; I’ll give them to a neighbor. And what you did under cover will take place in broad daylight before the watching world.”
It’s so sad, isn’t it? I mean, it’s staggering! It’s staggering! And how is this going to work out? How is the judgment of God gonna work out? Well, as in the providence of God in everything, it’s gonna work out as a result of the free choices of men and women—that the family of David will make their own free choices and bring about the very things that God says will take place as a consequence of his sin.
Well, the question, then, of course, comes for us: Is it then over for David? Is David now to be despised and rejected? And what you have, actually, here in this transition is not only one of the great moments in the history of Israel or one of the great moments in the life of David, but this is actually one of the great moments in the history of the world. Nobody would ever believe this! This has more significance than the coming down of the Berlin Wall. This is more significant than the Normandy landings. This is more significant than just about anything. It’s not as significant as Calvary. No, this is an amazing moment.
What is going to happen now? “‘For you did it secretly, … I will do this thing before … Israel and before the sun.’ [And] David said to Nathan…” If it was on a scroll and we were reading it and we’d never read it, you’d want to pull it open as fast as you can: “What did he say?” And he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” No attempt to explain. No attempt to disprove or justify. Just two words in Hebrew. Two words in Hebrew. Actually, on three occasions, there are two words in Hebrew that just ring through this whole thing. Here’s two words in Hebrew: “I’m pregnant.” Here’s two words in Hebrew: “You’re the man.” Here’s two words in Hebrew: “I have sinned.” “I’m pregnant.” “You’re the man.” “I have sinned.”
And behind all of this is, as we will see later on, the cry of his heart. He recognizes that his actions have been directed, in the physical frame, against Uriah, against Bathsheba. But “when all [the] secondary charges,” says Wilcock, “when all [the] secondary charges have been dealt with there remains only the One who is outraged by every sin”—namely, the Lord himself.
“But wait a minute! You can’t stop yet! Because what about Nathan’s reply to David? Surely that’s the whole thing!” Well, let’s go back and see. Let me see. “And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin.’” He doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. He’s never gonna bring it up anymore. He has put it away.
This, my friends, is scandalous. This is the scandal of grace. This is the scandal of the cross.
And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Father, thank you that your Word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. Grant that we may receive it from the lips of a flawed spokesman as the very word of God, which it is. Bring it home to us, Lord. Bring the hammer blow as necessary. Shatter us in order that you might bring us down and build us up better than ever before. Bring us, Lord, in your providence this night, that around your Table we may take the emblems of all that makes this great justification possible.
And may grace and mercy and peace from God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit rest upon each one. Amen.
 Psalm 40:8 (ESV).
 Psalm 32:3–4 (ESV).
 2 Samuel 11:27 (ESV).
 See 1 Samuel 13:14.
 2 Samuel 7:8–9 (paraphrased).
 John Calvin, “You Are the Man!,” in Sermons on 2 Samuel: Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 532.
 Ezekiel 33:7–9 (ESV).
 Ezekiel 33:30–33 (ESV).
 Alexander Whyte, Bible Characters: Gideon to Absalom (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 1898), 122.
 James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).
 Luke 15:11–12 (KJV).
 2 Samuel 11:11 (ESV).
 Matthew 5:21–22, 27–28 (paraphrased).
 See Hebrews 4:12.
 2 Samuel 11:25 (paraphrased).
 1 Samuel 15:28 (paraphrased).
 Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 1–72: Songs for the People of God, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 186.
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (1738).
 See Psalm 119:105.