Notes for teaching on 2 Samuel 12:1-14, which is featured in Explore the Bible, Summer 2018, Session 6.
Nathan confronts David with David’s sin, and David owns up to his failures.
The passage is applicable today because it invites us to consider how sin takes hold in our lives and how we should react when we are convicted of our sin.
Background to the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
To understand what is happening in 2 Sam 12:1-14, we must first know the backstory of David and Bathsheba, which takes place in 2 Sam 11. Here are highlights from that story along with a bit of commentary.
1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
David’s transgression begins at a moment when he is not where he is supposed to be. Indeed, the narrator makes this clear by saying that it was “the time when kings go off to war” and that “David remained in Jerusalem.” As king, David should be leading his troops, but he stays home instead. Had David been where he was supposed to be in the first place, he would not have had opportunity to engage in the folly that follows.
Walter Brueggemann notes here: “[David] has ceased to be the king requested by Israel who would ‘go out before us and fight our battles’ (1 Sam. 8:20).” In this light, David ignores his vocation by staying in Jerusalem and gets into trouble when he ceases doing the work God has for him to do.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
Here is a useful note from John Goldingay on this section:
You can’t necessarily blame David for spotting Bathsheba bathing on the roof, nor Bathsheba for doing so. She was apparently undertaking the bath that the Torah required at the end of her period, and the roof is normally the place where people go when they want to be in private. Maybe the only residence that would overlook her roof would be the palace, which was located at the height of the city; only the sanctuary was located above the palace. (This explanation for Bathsheba bathing outdoors is better than the one given in ETB, p. 65.)
Things begin innocently enough for both David and Bathsheba. David is not trying to be a peeping tom (he’s just strolling in the evening), and Bathsheba is not trying to draw attention to herself as she bathes. David, however, moves from innocence to transgression when he does not respond appropriately to seeing Bathsheba. Rather than turning away, David keeps looking and goes on to enquire about her. This is the second point in the story where things could have gone differently. If David had been at war rather than in Jerusalem, this incident would have never taken place. Now, if David had simply turned away and gone about his business, he would not have waded into transgression as he did.
Upon enquiring about Bathsheba, David learns that she is a married woman. This is yet another moment when the story could have gone differently. Rather than respecting the marital covenant, however, David moves forward in unfaithfulness.
Note that in all of this, David is the source of the action. Bathsheba is in the difficult position of dealing with a king who is abusing his power. We don’t know whether Bathsheba was complicit or if David raped her. What we do know is that Bathsheba never asked for any of this. David intrudes on her world and irreversibly changes it.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
We don’t have time to look at the whole of chapter 11 (though I encourage you to read it!). The interplay between David and Urriah is more drawn out, but these verses show us where things are headed. David, the king who abused his power, must now cover up his transgression. He therefore has Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, killed in battle so that he can take Bathsheba as his own wife.
27b But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
At the end of the story, David seems to have gotten away clean. God, however, knew of David’s actions, and he was displeased.
Notes on the Text
(Quotations taken from the NIV)
1 The Lord sent Nathan to David.
This statement comes directly on the heels of the Lord’s displeasure in 11:27b. Not only is God displeased, but he is also taking measures to address the situation.
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.”
Coming before a king is a dangerous prospect for anyone and no less for a prophet who is about to confront the king with his sin. Nathan finds himself in a difficult position! He is wise, though, in the way that he confronts David. Rather than cutting right to the chase, Nathan takes a side door into the king’s improprieties by telling a parable that seems at first to be a true story. The parable is about a rich man who takes advantage of a poor man when the rich man had no need or reason to do so.
ETB is right in warning us to be careful in carrying the specifics of the parable into the actual story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah. In the end, the specifics just don’t line up – the sheep dies in the parable, whereas the Uriah dies in real life (we would expect Bathsheba to die if the parable perfectly parroted the actual situation). The point of crossover is the inappropriate action of the rich man.
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!
David is rightly enraged when he hears of this transgression. As king, he passes a harsh sentence on the man in the parable. Then Nathan lowers the boom: David is passing judgment on himself. David is the guilty man!
This part of the story is as compelling as it is true to life. Here we have David acting as a righteous judge while failing to see his own sin. For some reason, we humans can often see things outside of ourselves quite clearly and justly even as we rationalize our own sins and failures away.
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.’
Nathan now begins to speak for God, who takes David’s offense personally. The LORD has done much for David. In particular, the LORD has brought David to power and given him limitless resources as king. What is more, he would have done more for David had David only asked. Yet David “despised” the word of the same LORD to whom he owed so much and who would have continued to bless David if asked. And judgment is therefore pronounced: the sword will never depart from David’s house.
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.’”
The specifics of David’s punishment mirror his sin. As David took Uriah’s wife in secret, so one close to David will take David’s wives in public. God will apparently drive this action, which is troubling. Goldingay is helpful on this point:
God will bring this calamity about, but there will be nothing supranatural about it. You could say it will be the natural outworking of the way David has behaved; certainly the punishment will fit the crime. David has let violence and sexual immorality loose in his household and in Uriah’s; but when you have let these loose, you may not be able to get them back into their cage.
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.”
The one redeeming quality in David in the entire narrative is his willingness to admit that he was wrong. Rather than arguing with Nathan (as we often see people do when they try to justify their actions) or just killing Nathan straight out (as David could have done as king), David admits his fault. Nathan quickly tells him that he will not die for his transgression (this apparently has some connection to God taking away David’s sin) but that his son with Bathsheba will die.
This last piece is a very troubling section, because a child who holds no culpability for David’s actions will die for David’s wrong-doing. While God’s action in all of this makes us uncomfortable, we nevertheless see a narrative that has played out countless times through history – a parent’s bad decisions affect his/her children in negative ways.
In this section, The LORD notes again that he takes David’s sin personally. We might expect God to talk about how David sinned against Uriah or Bathsheba. Instead, the LORD says that David has shown “utter contempt” for the LORD himself. Indeed, David admits as much when he says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” David’s sin is taken to this higher level because (1) he broke one of the LORD’s commandments and (2) because he was dissatisfied with the good things God had given him. Regarding the second, we might think of a father who takes it personally when his son steals a car the day after receiving a new car for his birthday.
Notes for Teaching
The story of David and Bathsheba is rich in content and application. In teaching the passage, I would treat David’s sin and repentance as a template for our own. In watching the arc of David’s sin, we see how sin can come about in our own lives and steel ourselves against it. In watching David’s repentance, we see how we should act when we become aware of our own sin. Here are some points to keep in mind when taking David’s sin as illustrative for sin in general:
- David was able to be tempted because he was not where he was supposed to be.
- David’s temptation began in an innocent moment.
- David had multiple chances to choose a better course of action but didn’t.
- David actively engaged in the sin – it didn’t just happen to him – by having Bathsheba brought to him and sleeping with her.
- David’s transgression had unintended consequences.
- David’s transgression led to other transgressions as he sought to keep up the appearance of being a righteous and good king.
- David’s sin had consequences that stood even though God removed his sin.
- The consequences of David’s sin were felt by others.
- David’s sin was an indication that he had lost sight of all that God had done for him.
Moving to repentance:
- David is quick to admit his fault.
- David ultimately accepts the consequences of his actions.
- David recognizes that he has affected his relationship with God rather than just sinning against human beings.
I would also make a point to interpret Bathsheba compassionately. Rather than giving her a bad rap, open the possibility that she didn’t want any of this. Ultimately, we don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we have to assume the worst.
Also, while the bulk of the lesson focuses on Nathan and David, we can’t really delve into that part of the story without first knowing the backstory. I would divide the lesson into two parts: (1) Looking at David’s transgression and (2) Looking at Nathan’s confrontation.
A Possible Teaching Plan
- What do we know/remember about David and Bathsheba?
- How did David get mixed up with Bathsheba?
- Who was at fault in their relationship?
Read 2 Sam 11:1-11
- Why do you think the narrator starts the story by saying that it was the time when kings go to war?
- Why do you think David stayed home?
- Was David doing anything wrong when he went for a walk on the roof?
- Was Bathsheba doing anything wrong in bathing where David could see her?
- What should David have done when he first saw Bathsheba? Why didn’t he?
- Why is it important to the story that David knows that Bathsheba was the “wife of Uriah”?
- Do you think Bathsheba was complicit in the affair? Did she have a choice?
- How do you think David felt when he received word that Bathsheba was pregnant?
- How do you think Bathsheba felt when she discovered that she was pregnant?
- What does David do to cover up his impropriety with Bathsheba?
Explain: Fill in the blanks of David’s treatment of Uriah as needed.
Read: 2 Sam 11:26-27
- Do you think David thought that he had gotten away with it?
- What did God think about David’s behavior?
Read: 2 Sam 12:1-6
- How do you think Nathan felt when he was on his way to the palace?
- Do you think it was easy or hard for Nathan to confront David?
- Why doesn’t Nathan just cut to the chase instead of telling a story?
- What is the point of Nathan’s story?
- How could David burn with anger against the man in story while failing to recognize his own sin?
- How do you think David felt when Nathan said, “You are the man!”?
- Why does God take David’s trespasses against Uriah and Bathsheba personally?
- How do you think David got to the point where he was not satisfied with what the LORD had given him?
- How do you think David is able to admit his sin so quickly?
- How should we understand the part about the punishment falling on David’s child?
- What can we learn about sin and temptation from David’s story?
- What can we learn about repentance from David’s story?
- What can we learn from Nathan?
Explain: Fill in blanks as needed.
Walter Brueggemann’s 1 and 2 Samuel in the Interpretation commentary series
John Goldingay’s 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone
Explore the Bible curriculum
 Brueggemann, W. (1990). First and Second Samuel (p. 273). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
 Goldingay, J. (2011). 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (p. 141). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
 Goldingay, J. (2011). 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (p. 145). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.