2 Samuel 12:1-14 (NIV)
1The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
It is spring. If you are like me, you own at least one pair of shoes that has a permanent green stain around the bottom edge. These are our lawn mowing shoes.
Love it or hate, spring means yard work. And if you don’t love it, just remember that there are Midwestern states that experienced record snowfall for the month of May last week, all from one storm. How much snow does it really take to make a record snowfall in May anyway? Regardless, I would rather mow my yard than shovel my walk.
As I was mowing my yard this past Friday I started thinking about how I would probably need to mow it again by Monday. And this brought me back to a conversation that I had a few years ago with a friend who we will call Fred.
Fred had a beautiful yard. There were always flowers in bloom, the shrubs were neatly trimmed, and the birds flocked to the bird feeders. It was a yard right out of Better Homes and Gardens.
As I sat with Fred in the middle of this beautiful yard one day, he began to complain about all of the hard work associated with keeping up this yard. Being spring, he complained about how often he needed to mow the grass. “It seems like I’m mowing every three days or so,” said Fred.
So I said to Fred, “Fred, you really do have a beautiful yard. Can you tell me, what kind of fertilizer do you use?”
Fred replied, “I use nothing but the best. Scots turf builder plus.”
“How often do you apply the fertilizer?” I asked.
“Oh, I like to put it on a little heavier than the directions call for in the fall and the spring.”
There was a pause in the conversation as I let him think about it for a second. Then I asked him, “Do you think that might be why you have to mow so often?”
The point is, if you don’t like to mow the grass, you probably shouldn’t apply fertilizer.
I could have told Fred that he was contributing to his own problem in a different way. I could have used a derogatory name that called his intelligence into question. I could have posted it online or announced it to a lot of friends. But I engaged him one-on-one as a friend trying to help a friend. And I did it in what I believe to be a creative way allowing him to come to conclusion rather than forcing it down his throat.
For the last few weeks we have been looking at the life of David and asking how he was a man after God’s own heart. To better understand what attributes David shared with God we placed him side-by-side with the fullness of God revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But today we are doing something a little different because it isn’t David who shows Christ-like qualities in this passage. It is the prophet Nathan. So we want to see how Nathan, like Jesus, opens David’s eyes to his own mistakes in a creative and effective way.
Let’s run through the context to set up today’s passage for us. David is the king of Israel, and Israel is at war. This means that a lot of the men of Israel are out in the battlefield while their wives are back home. Oh, and so is the king.
David enters into an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, who is married to a solider, Uriah the Hittite. Bathsheba becomes pregnant with David’s son and David tries to trick Uriah into believing that the child is his own. This is an attempt by a former shepherd to pull the metaphorical wool over Uriah’s eyes.
But Uriah is a noble man and the author of 2 Samuel really pushes the contrast between David and Uriah. Uriah refuses to go to his home while his fellow soldiers are out in battle and instead sleeps at the palace gates with the king’s servants. David, on the other hand, has been staying in the palace while his men have been living in a field. It is kind of hard to convince Uriah that the child his wife is carrying is his own if he doesn’t even see her. So David tries again, and this time alcohol is involved. He gets Uriah drunk and tries to send him back home to his wife, but again Uriah doesn’t feel comfortable going to his home while others are out in battle. It has been noted that Uriah drunk is more noble than David is while sober.
So finally David has Uriah sent into a dangerous situation in the heat of the battle, knowing very well that Uriah will be killed, making it “okay” for David to marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Or as the text says, to take Uriah’s wife as his own.
David is a coveter, an adulterer, a manipulator, a deceiver, and a murderer. Walter Brueggemann notes that David knocks out close to 1/3 of the Ten Commandments in this one story. And David seems to be okay with that.
This brings us to today’s passage from 2 Samuel 12. Our passage tells us that the Lord sent Nathan to David. Two things I want you to notice here: Nathan and David had an on-going relationship. This is not their first interaction. David seems to be the go-to prophet for David, as we find a previous interaction in 2 Samuel 7. This isn’t some stranger approaching another person to point out their sin. He isn’t standing on a street corner, accusing people of all sorts of sin and telling them that they are going to hell. No, he knows David. They have a personal relationship.
If they hadn’t had a personal relationship, David probably would have blown off Nathan’s accusations. Perhaps he would have said, “Don’t judge me; you don’t know me.” Regardless, this confrontational method isn’t overly effective.
The second thing is that verse one says Nathan goes to David. It does not say that he goes before David and his council of leaders, his family, or even his servants. This is a one-on-one time between David and Nathan.
Sounds a lot like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 on pointing out to brother or sister that they have sinned against you. Jesus says to “go” to them, point out their offense, and to keep it between the two of you if you can.
What happens when we are criticized in public? We get defensive. We make excuses. We may do these things when confronted in private as well, but I think that we tend to be more open to criticism when people approach us in private. If you accuse me of something in front of someone else, my first response is to try to convince that third person that I didn’t do what you are accusing me of doing. I know you already believe I did it, but they might be persuaded otherwise.
Approaching someone in private makes it a lot easier for them to hear what you have to say. Sure, people will still put up their defenses, but perhaps they will also listen.
So we have made it through the first half of verse one and so far we have been told to go to the person and speak to them one-on-one. That’s the hard part. Now it is time for the creative part, which can also be difficult.
Nathan begins to tell a story, which is much like the parables that Jesus tells to convict his listeners. He says that once there was a city where two men lived. One was a very rich man who had everything that he could ever want and need. The other was a very poor man who had next to nothing. But what he did have he loved dearly, that is, is little ewe; a female sheep.
This poor man treated the lamb like it was a member of his family. The lamb ate at his table, drank from his cup, and even snuggled into his chest to cuddle. Nathan says that this poor man loved that sheep just like it was one of his own daughters.
One day the rich man was entertaining a traveler and rather than slaughter a sheep from his own herd, he took the poor man’s one and only sheep, and cooked it up for supper.
When David heard this, he became outraged. He says in verse 5, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!”
David’s reaction illustrates just how perfect Nathan’s parable was for the situation. Remember that before he was king, even before he was a soldier, David was a shepherd. He spent days and nights with his father’s sheep. They probably played together as he looked to pass the time. They probably snuggled in close to keep warm during the night hours. Perhaps they drank from the same brooks. They were his only companions, his only friends. It is possible that he loved them just like he would love his own children.
I find it quite interesting that David automatically associates himself with the poor man. And again, this is part of the brilliance of Nathan’s story. Here is the most powerful man in all of Israel, reaching back into his memory bank to retrieve data that he hadn’t accessed in years. David could relate to this story, and it hit home for him.
Then comes the big reversal. Nathan wasn’t talking about sheep. He was talking about wives. David, the rich and powerful king, had multiple wives. But he saw someone else’s wife and he took her for his own pleasure, not even considering how it might affect Uriah the Hittite.
Think of how gutsy of a move this was on Nathan’s part! He is showing the king where he has gone astray. The king. A person who could have him killed with the snap of his fingers, no questions asked.
Verse 13 says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.’”
The light goes on in David’s head and he realizes what he has done. You get the idea that he never even understood what had taken place until Nathan lays it out for him. And God forgives David, though we know that there are still going to be consequences for David’s decisions. His repentance isn’t going to bring Uriah back from the dead and make all of his problems go away. But you must wonder how his life would have gone if he had not realized his mistake and repented of it. That line “You are not going to die” seems to suggest that without repentance, he would have.
Remember that Saul, too, was the Lord’s anointed leader of Israel. When Saul made mistakes, he failed to repent. And we know how things turned out for Saul. It is David that is remembered as the great king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart. I think that a lot of that comes down to Nathan’s decision to not confront or accuse David, but to illuminate him to his ways.
I think that mutual accountability is an unpopular thing today that we as the church cannot allow to die. As I have said before, if you see me doing something destructive in my life or something that is hurtful toward another, I want you to come to me and tell me. No, it isn’t pleasant for me to hear it and it shouldn’t be pleasant for you to tell me. But if it saves my marriage or keeps my children safe, I want to know. If there is a better way to live to give glory to God, I want to know.
That is one reason that I appreciate a small church setting. We are all up in one another’s business, and I think that is a good thing as long as it doesn’t slip into gossip. (Can you believe what a gossip Agnes is?) In a mutually accountable relationship you are aware of the decisions that I make and I am aware of the decisions that you make.
When we have a baptism or receive new members, we always have a line in our vows about being willing to give and receive counsel. When we dedicate children we have a line about helping one another raise the children. I take that seriously.
Our goal is and should always be reconciliation. David could not be reconciled with Uriah, but he did repent. And no, David was not perfect following this episode with Bathsheba. But when he sins in 2 Samuel 24, he repents again.
I can’t say for sure if my friend Fred is still dumping on the fertilizer and complaining about how fast his yard is growing. But what I do know is that there are things that we do that cause us pain and can hurt others as well. Sometimes we don’t even realize that the choices we make are hurting us and hurting others. It is times like that when we need someone like Nathan to tell us. We need to be in community with others where we know them personally, can go to people one-on-one, and tell them in a creative, loving, and illuminating way that their decisions are problematic. Let us build the kinds of relationships where our friends can tell us when we have been putting on too much bull…fertilizer.
My friends, we have seen far too many bad examples of Christians calling out other people’s sins. To these individuals Jesus says to first remove the plank from their own eye before addressing the speck of saw dust in the eye of another. There are healthy ways to show people where they are hurting themselves, hurting others, and hurting their relationship with God. Nobody likes to be called out. But there are better and more effective ways to illuminate others, to show them where they are missing the mark. In doing so we seek reconciliation, reconciliation with God and with others.
Let us follow the teachings and examples of Nathan and Jesus. May we build the kinds of relationships with others so that they can tell us when we are off track. May we have the courage to return the favor. Let us build the kinds of relationships where our friends can tell us when we have been putting on too much bull fertilizer.