Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.Ch. 2 Samuel 12:1-6. Nathan’s Parable
1. the Lord sent Nathan] A year had passed, and Bath-sheba’s child had been born, before Nathan was sent to rouse the king’s slumbering conscience.
To this crisis belong Psalms 51. and 32. See Introd. ch. VIII. § 5, p. 47.
and said unto him] Some MSS of the Vulg. add Give me a judgment. The words cannot be regarded as part of the original text, though they are a correct gloss. The prophet asks for the king’s decision, as though he were consulting him about a case which had really happened. Compare the plan adopted by the widow of Tekoah (ch. 2 Samuel 14:4-7); and by the prophet sent to rebuke Ahab (1 Kings 20:35-41). Other parables are found in the O.T. in Jdg 9:7-15; 2 Kings 14:9; Isaiah 5:1-2.
The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:2. The rich man, &c.] Observe how the details of the parable are all arranged so as to bring the heartless selfishness of the rich man into the strongest relief.
But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.3. of his own meat] Of his own morsel. The E. V. misses something of the graphic tenderness of the original, describing how the lamb actually shared the poor man’s meal.
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.4. “The apologue of the rich man and the ewe lamb … ventures to disregard all particulars, and is content to aim at awakening the general sense of outraged justice. It fastens on the essential guilt of David’s sin; not its sensuality or its impurity, so much as its meanness and selfishness … A true description of a real incident, if like in its general character however unlike to our own case in all the surrounding particulars, strikes home with greater force than the sternest personal invective.” Stanley’s Lect. II. 90.
And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:5. shall surely die] Or, is worthy to die; lit. is a son of death. Cp. 1 Samuel 20:31; 1 Samuel 26:16.
And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.6. fourfold] The legal compensation. See Exodus 22:1; Luke 19:8. The Sept. reads sevenfold, and this may be the original reading. David in his indignation would be likely to prescribe a more liberal restitution than the usual fourfold. Cp. Proverbs 6:31.
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;7–14. The Prophet’s sentence. David’s confession
7. Thou art the man] The consciousness that they were God’s messengers inspired the prophets with fearless courage. Samuel rebuked Saul for his disobedience: the prophet from Judah reproved Jeroboam for his idolatry: Elijah pronounced sentence on Ahab for his murder of Naboth: Isaiah chid Ahaz for his faithlessness: John the Baptist condemned Herod for his adultery.
I anointed thee, &c.] God’s successive favours to David are enumerated, to bring out the baseness of his ingratitude and the folly of his sin.
And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.8. thy master’s house] His household and property. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 9:7. thy master’s wives] It was lawful for the King, and for him only, to marry his predecessor’s wives. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 3:7. That David actually married any of Saul’s wives does not appear. Only one wife (1 Samuel 14:50) and one concubine (2 Samuel 3:7) of Saul’s are mentioned.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.9. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord] Cp. Numbers 15:31; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Samuel 15:26. Great as was David’s sin against Uriah and Bath-sheba, his sin against God was greater in thus breaking two express commandments of the decalogue. Cp. Psalm 51:4.
and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon] This is not a mere repetition of the clause “thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword.” The verb is stronger, “thou hast murdered;” and the offence is shewn to have been aggravated by the employment of the Ammonites, the enemies of God’s people, as the instruments for its commission.
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.10. the sword shall never depart from thine house] The Heb. word for never is a relative term, which must be explained by the context. Here it may be understood as equivalent to “all the days of thy life.” Cp. 1 Samuel 1:22; 1 Samuel 27:12. The prophecy was fulfilled by Amnon’s murder (ch. 2 Samuel 13:28); Absalom’s death as a rebel (ch. 2 Samuel 18:14); and Adonijah’s execution as a traitor (1 Kings 2:25). In all these deeds may be traced the bitter fruit of David’s sin. Amnon no doubt excused his lust by alleging his father’s example: Absalom’s rebellion was indirectly the consequence of Amnon’s act: Adonijah died for presuming to appear as the rival of Bath-sheba’s son.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.11. I will take thy wives] See ch. 2 Samuel 16:21-22. “Having become the man of blood, of blood he was to drink deep; and having become the man of lust, by that same baneful passion in others was he himself to be scourged for ever.” Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences, p. 134.
For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.13. I have sinned against the Lord] True confession needs but few words. Cp. Luke 18:13. There is no attempt to excuse or palliate the sin. Saul too could say “I have sinned” (1 Samuel 15:24; 1 Samuel 15:30), but he felt no real contrition, and his chief desire was to save his own reputation with the people: David is crushed by the sense of his guilt in the sight of God. Cp. Psalm 32:5; Psalm 51:4. Cp. August. c. Faustum, xxii. 67. “In simili voce quam sensus humanus audiebat, dissimile pectus erat quod divinus oculus discernebat.” “Though the words heard by the human ear were alike, the heart seen by the eye of God was unlike.”
See Keble’s poem for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity in the Christian Year.
thou shalt not die] The sentence which he had pronounced on himself (2 Samuel 12:5) should not be executed, though he deserved to die as an adulterer and murderer (Leviticus 20:10; Leviticus 24:17). The punishment of death would certainly not have been inflicted on the king, who was supreme in the state, by any human authority: but God might Himself have inflicted it. The context shews that temporal death is primarily meant, and though we may now read in the words a reference to spiritual life and death, it may be doubted whether they could be so understood at the time.
Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.14. thou hast given great occasion, &c.] The enemies of Jehovah would mock and blaspheme Him, when they saw His chosen representative, the King of Israel, thus breaking His law. To divorce Bath-sheba now would be a further wrong. Yet if he was not punished men might answer yes to the question “May one be pardoned and retain the offence?” And therefore a long series of chastisements, beginning with the death of the child, must unequivocally declare the divine judgment on such sin.
And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.15–23. The Death of the Child
15. strake] An archaism for struck. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 20:10.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.16. besought God for the child] Such a prayer was not presumptuous, for God’s threatenings like his promises are conditional. See Isaiah 38:1 ff.; Jonah 3:7-10.
fasted] Cp. Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:16; Daniel 9:3; Acts 14:23.
went in] To his private chamber (Matthew 6:6), where he lay all night upon the floor, instead of sleeping on his bed. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 13:31. The tense of the verbs went in and lay all night is frequentative, indicating that David did so repeatedly.
And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.17. the elders of his house] His oldest and most confidential servants. Cp. Genesis 24:2; Genesis 50:7.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?
But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.
Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.20. washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel] He laid aside all the outward signs of mourning. Cp. Matthew 6:17.
anointed himself] Anointing the head and body with oil was and still is the regular practice in Eastern countries. It was believed to contribute to health and cleanliness. Its discontinuance was a mark of mourning. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 14:2; Isaiah 61:3.
Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.
And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?22. GOD] The Lord. The Heb. is Jehovah, not Elohim, as is indicated by the capital letters. Cp. Genesis 6:5.
But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.23. I shall go to him] Cp. Genesis 37:35. A belief in the continued existence of the soul after death in a state of consciousness is necessarily implied though not expressly stated: but how far this falls short of the Christian hope of the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting!
And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.24, 25. The birth of Solomon
24. he called his name Solomon] The name was given at the time of circumcision (Luke 1:59; Luke 2:21). The Hebrew form of the name is Shĕlômôh, the Sept. Salômôn, which by the time of the N.T. had become shortened to the familiar Solomon. It signifies peaceable, and was given him in anticipation of the peace and quietness promised to Israel in his reign in contrast to his father’s wars (1 Chronicles 22:9). Solomon’s birth is naturally related as the sequel to the preceding narrative, though in all probability it did not take place until some four or five years afterwards. See Introd. ch. IV. § 3, p. 26, and note on ch. 2 Samuel 5:14.
And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.25. he sent by the hand of Nathan, &c.] Jehovah commissioned Nathan (for the phrase cp. Exodus 4:13) to give the boy a second name, which he did accordingly. This is the meaning of the text as it stands: but some commentators would alter it slightly in accordance with the Vulgate, and render he (David) committed him to the hand of Nathan, that he might take charge of his education. But the explanation is doubtful, and there is no further trace of the fact, though it has been very generally supposed that Nathan was Solomon’s tutor.
Jedidiah] That is Beloved of Jah. Cp. Deuteronomy 33:12; Psalm 127:2. It is derived from the same root as David, which means beloved or darling. The name was given “because of the Lord,” i.e. because Jehovah loved the child; and it served as a pledge to David that he was again fully received into God’s favour.
And Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the royal city.26. And Joab fought against Rabbah] The narrative returns to the point at which it was left in ch. 2 Samuel 11:1. But how long a time was occupied in the siege does not appear. It is possible that it lasted more than one year, and did not come to an end till after the birth of Bath-sheba’s first child. But on the other hand it would be quite natural for the historian, having once commenced his account of Bath-sheba, to complete it before narrating the capture of Rabbah, so that this may have been effected within a year.
and took the royal city] “The royal city” seems to be equivalent to “the city of waters” of 2 Samuel 12:27, that is, the lower city on the river, as distinguished from “the city” (2 Samuel 12:28), i.e. the citadel. The capture of this probably deprived the citadel of its water-supply, and so rendered it untenable for any length of time.
26–31. Capture of Rabbah
= 1 Chronicles 20:1-3
And Joab sent messengers to David, and said, I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters.27. the city of waters] “Just before reaching Ammân [the modern name of Rabbah], the gorge takes a sudden turn to the north, and then swells into a narrow plain, covered with luxuriant grass, and embosomed in low round hills. The fish-stocked stream, with shells studding every stone and pebble, winds in the midst, a narrow channel, receiving occasional affluents in its course, and making Rabbah most truly a ‘city of waters.’ ” Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 533.
Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.28. and take it] Curtius relates how Craterus in like manner resigned the capture of Artacacna into the hands of Alexander. “After all the preparations were made, he awaited the king’s arrival, yielding to him, as was fitting, the honour of taking the city” (Curt. vi. 6).
and it be called after my name] This is the usual meaning of the phrase. Rabbah might have been called “the city of Joab” as Zion was called “the city of David.”
And David gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.
And he took their king's crown from off his head, the weight whereof was a talent of gold with the precious stones: and it was set on David's head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city in great abundance.30. their king’s crown] The word Malcham, rendered their king, may also be taken as a proper name. It occurs in Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 49:1; Jeremiah 49:3 (marg.), as a form of the name of the Ammonite deity, Moloch or Milcom. The Sept. now reads Molchom their king, “their king” being probably a gloss, and “Molchom” the original reading. A Jewish tradition recorded by Jerome tells how the crown was snatched from the head of Milcom by Ittai the Gittite, because it was unlawful for a Hebrew to take spoil from an idol (Quaest. Hebr. on 1 Chronicles 20:2). But while it was natural for David to take and wear the king’s crown, as the symbol of the subjection of the Ammonites to his rule, would he not have regarded the idol’s crown with abhorrence, and have shrunk from wearing it?
a talent of gold] Estimated at more than 100 pounds. If this estimate is correct, it can never have been habitually worn, and must have been placed on David’s head for a few moments only.
And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.31. put them under saws] Put them upon saws: or perhaps we should read as in Chron., sawed them with saws. Cp. Hebrews 11:37. This barbarous practice was not unknown at Rome. “[Caligula] medios serra dissecuit.” (Sueton. Calig. 27.)
harrows of iron] Threshing-sledges of iron: sledges or frames armed on the underside with rollers or sharp spikes, used for the purpose of bruising the ears of corn, and extracting the grain, and at the same time breaking up the straw into small pieces for use as fodder. See Wilkinson’s Ancient Egyptians, i. 408, ii. 423.
made them pass through the brick-kiln] Burned them in brick-kilns. The phrase is chosen with reference to the idolatrous rite practised by the Ammonites, of “making their children pass through the fire” in honour of Moloch (2 Kings 23:10). This is the meaning of the Qrî or read text (see Introd. p. 15), which is probably correct. The Kthîbh or written text however has “made them pass through the Malchan,” which is explained to mean the place where they burnt their children in honour of Moloch. But the word occurs nowhere else, and is of doubtful authority.
These cruel punishments must be judged according to the standard of the age in which they were inflicted, not by the light of Christian civilisation. The Ammonites were evidently a savage and brutal nation (1 Samuel 11:1-2; 2 Samuel 10:1-5; Amos 1:13), and in all probability they were treated no worse than they were accustomed to treat others. It was the age of retaliation, when the law of like for like—the lextalionis—prevailed (Jdg 1:7; Leviticus 24:19-20). They had foully insulted David, and it is not to be wondered at if he was provoked into making a signal example of them by this severity. In this respect he did not rise above the level of his own age. Modern history has its parallels, not only in the barbarities perpetrated at Alençon by a ruthless soldier like William the Conqueror, but in the merciless massacre by which the Black Prince sullied his fair fame on the capture of Limoges. Green’s History, pp. 72, 226.