When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, 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. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’ Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 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 rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added 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, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very 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.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.’ Then Nathan went to his house.
The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 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, ‘While the child was still alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we tell him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.’ But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ They said, ‘He is dead.’
Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.’ He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” 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.’
Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he named him Solomon. The Lord loved him.
Bathsheba mourns her husband’s death, David takes her as another wife and their son is born; but God is displeased. Nathan’s parable prompts David to recognize his sins. His oracle drives home the truth that the wrongs David has inflicted on others also amount to a complete disregard of all that God has given him and done for him; and would have been willing to do for him in addition.
David had left God out of the equation; but Nathan’s words make him realise that he is nothing by himself and totally dependent on God. David’s sins will not be ignored by God. The new-born child will die, not David; he will have to live with the consequences of the mistrust, deceit and family rivalry that his own behaviour set in motion.
The punishment decreed by Nathan foretells the chaotic events that will unfold within David’s family throughout the rest of his life as his sons mirror some of the worst aspects of David’s own behaviour as they vie with one another for supremacy in the hope of succeeding their father to the throne.
David’s immediate response to Nathan is contrition and he pleads with God that the child’s life be spared, fasting and prostrating himself; but God is resolute. The story concludes with the birth of Solomon, Bathsheba’s second son to David; and this birth accords with God’s purposes and is blessed. This whole story was probably written long after David’s reign to explain why the great king’s reign was so turbulent and to justify the succession of Solomon instead of any of his older brothers. To us, however, the story reveals David remaining faithful to God and never turning to the gods of the nations. He trusted that God’s covenant love would never end because God is faithful – and so can we.
Prayer (using Ps.51:1-2, 10-11)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to you steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Amen
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge