Nathan the Prophet Confronts David, 1-25
12:1 So the LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to David, Nathan said, “There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. 12:2 The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 12:3 But the poor man had nothing except for a little lamb he had acquired. He raised it, and it grew up alongside him and his children. It used to eat his food, drink from his cup, and sleep in his arms. It was just like a daughter to him.
12:4 “When a traveler arrived at the rich man’s home, he did not want to use one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler who had come to visit him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and cooked it for the man who had come to visit him.”
12:5 Then David became very angry at this man. He said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 12:6 Because he committed this cold-hearted crime, he must pay for the lamb four times over!”
12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are that man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I chose you to be king over Israel and I rescued you from the hand of Saul. 12:8 I gave you your master’s house, and put your master’s wives into your arms. I also gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all that somehow seems insignificant, I would have given you so much more as well!
12:9 Why have you shown contempt for the word of the LORD by doing evil in my sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and you have taken his wife as your own! You have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 12:10 So now the sword will never depart from your house. For you have despised me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own!’ 12:11 This is what the LORD says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on you from inside your own household! Right before your eyes I will take your wives and hand them over to your companion. He will have sexual relations with your wives in broad daylight! 12:12 Although you have acted in secret, I will do this thing before all Israel, and in broad daylight.’ ”
12:13 Then David exclaimed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD!” Nathan replied to David, “Yes, and the LORD has forgiven your sin. You are not going to die. 12:14 Nonetheless, because you have treated the LORD with such contempt in this matter, the son who has been born to you will certainly die.”
“The son who has been born to you will certainly die” – ‘Why did the son born to Bathsheba die, since it was David who committed the sin? Behavior that ignores the Lord’s purposes and precepts always hurts others, including the “innocent”; this is one of sin’s most terrifying realities. As an example, an inebriated driver rams his car into a church van full of young people on the way to a conference. David’s high-handed and sinful behavior toward Bathsheba and Uriah led to turmoil and great sadness within his own family, including the death of this newborn son.’ (Apologetics Study Bible. This explanation seems acceptable as far as it goes, but it does not take account of the statement, in the next verse, that it was ‘the Lord’ who struck the child.
12:15 Then Nathan went to his home. The LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and the child became very ill. 12:16 Then David prayed to God for the child and fasted. He would even go and spend the night lying on the ground. 12:17 The elders of his house stood over him and tried to lift him from the ground, but he was unwilling, and refused to eat food with them.
The Lord struck the child…and the child became very ill – and we learn in v18 that the child died just a week later.
Paul Ellis pitches this text against those that proclaim God’s perfect goodness (Deut 32:4; James 1:17) and adjudicates in favour of the latter. Ellis is willing to blame sin, and he is also willing to blame Nathan, but he is not willing to hold the Lord responsible. Ellis asks: ‘do you try to interpret God based on what you see in scripture, or scripture based on what you see in God?’ For him, the answer is obvious. For us to assign any kind of responsibility to God in such matters, leads to passivity (‘It’s the will of God; I must accept it’) and closes the door on his grace.
Ellis’ view is a neat attempt to sidestep the problem. But the problem is not an isolated one. The following OT passages also represent the death of children as a judgment upon their parents: firstborn of Egypt, Ex. 12:29; sons of Eli, 1 Sam. 3:13, 14; sons of Saul, 1 Sam. 28:18, 19.
Grudem notes that ‘David remained mindful of the fact that God could bring evil against him, because at a later time, when Shimei cursed David and threw stones at him and his servants (2 Sam. 16:5–8), David refused to take vengeance on Shimei but said to his soldiers, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD has bidden him” (2 Sam. 16:11).’ (Systematic Theology, p324)
Grudem goes on to consider the occasion when the Lord ‘incited’ David to take a census of the people (2 Sam 24:1). See the discussion there.
12:18 On the seventh day the child died. But the servants of David were afraid to inform him that the child had died, for they said, “While the child was still alive he would not listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He will do himself harm!”
On the seventh day the child died – ‘The fact that the child died on the seventh day of his life is of great significance when considered in light of the Torah. Sons were not to receive circumcision, the physical sign of identification with the Lord’s covenant, until the eighth day of their life (cf. Lev 12:3; also Luke 1:59; 2:21; Phil 3:5). David’s son was conceived as a result of David’s contempt for the Lord’s covenant (cf. v. 9), so it was painfully fitting that the child should be permanently excluded from Israel’s covenant community (cf. Gen 17:14). This seventh-day death may also explain why the child is never referred to by name; perhaps the child never received a name, since under normal circumstances naming might not occur until after the child received the covenant sign (cf. Luke 1:59–62).’ (Bergen, NAC)