A Complex Arrangement of Methods

2 Samuel

I. The Lord’s favor shown to Israel in the further securing their territory from foreign interference.

A. David’s attempt at showing sympathy and kindness to the Ammonites was rebuffed and resulted in the insulting of those who were sent with a message of consolation. This began a series of conflicts with the Ammonites and their eventual submission.

B. David sent Joab to fight the Ammonites and the Arameans. Two forces were arrayed against Joab, but he devised a plan, trusted God to deliver and routed both forces who had planned attack from both the front and the rear of Joab’s army. (10:9-14)

C. David himself leads in a fight against a reconstituted Aramean force (10:15-19). They were defeated with such finality, that all those allied with Hadadezer made peace with Israel and served them.

D. God had given David peace with his enemies, had secured Israel with respect and a place of strength among the surrounding nations. The future turmoil, division, and eventual exile would come as a result of the moral failure of David. A major element of the fall of nations may be traced, virtually without exception, to the lapse of moral nerve and general virtue.


II. The Immorality, Deceit, and Treachery of David.

A. (Verse 1) – David Had taken advantage of his position of authority and relinquished his duty of leadership. When he should have gone to war to continue to protect Israel’s interest, prosperity, and safety, he stayed behind.

B. David allowed a fortuitous look to develop into lust and then be consummated in adultery. From his roof, he saw Bathsheba bathing. He called for her, she came, they had intercourse, and she reported later that she was pregnant. He had servants involved along the way in this pursuit, so the affair was not one of complete secrecy. It is not entirely clear if Bathsheba was complicit or if this was a matter of consent only because of the impression of power.

C. David attempted to hide his sin by deceiving Uriah. David sent for Uriah and tried in several ways to entice him to go to his wife Bathsheba so as to provide cover for the evidence of his own moral turpitude. First, he enticed him with a sense of a well-deserved rest and then with drunkenness. Uriah proved to be too committed to the task at hand in a battle with the Ammonites to allow himself to be distracted by domestic pleasure.

D. David arranged for the sure death of Uriah. He sent a letter to Joab with instructions to isolate Uriah at the most intense place of battle. The plan worked, and though the temporary retreat resulted in the loss of life and some difficulty in regaining military advantage, Uriah the Hittite was killed apparently by the archers from the wall.

E. David married Uriah’s widow. After a period of mourning for her husband, Bathsheba was called by the king to his house where she became his wife and bore him a son.

F. We find a different refrain from the usual observation of David’s life—“The thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.”


III. Nathan the Advisor and Prophet presents a case to David.

A. (Verse 1) – Nathan was sent by God to confront David. Nathan was both an advisor to David and a prophet of God. David thought at this point that Nathan was bringing a case of injustice that required his judgment.

B. (Verses 1-4) – Nathan, with obvious knowledge of the laws that governed Israel as a civil entity, and with divine insight into the precise way in which a riveting analogy could be presented set forth an act that called for emotional response. A rich man does not want to part with any of his massive flock and so forces a poor man to give his only sheep, a beloved pet, to him to slaughter it to show hospitality to a stranger.

C. When viewing the dynamics of this situation as an objective observer and called on to render an equitable judgment, David shows his understanding of the goodness of the law and also feels deeply the emotional ties violated in the story. He consulted both the law and expressed his feelings when he demanded a fourfold restitution of the sheep (Exodus 22:1) and condemned the man for his lack of compassion. He knew, having been a shepherd and hazarded his own life to protect his sheep, the kind of affection one develops for dumb animals. Such a sin, so David sensed as a matter of human sympathy, demanded death.


IV. Nathan Points to David as the lawbreaker (Verses 7-15)

A. He practices no subtlety in the application but points to David’s judgment against this crime with the bold statement, “You are the man.” David had seen, though in greatly diminished terms, the heinousness of what he had done and without hesitation had condemned the person. In so doing he brought judgment on himself. Perhaps Paul has this in mind in Romans 2:1-5 when he reasons about the implications of our being able to see wrong in others that we ignore in ourselves.

B. Nathan described the favors of God toward David (7b-8). God had lifted David to the position of king, had protected him from Saul, when Saul clearly had the advantage of men, arms, and power. He had given him charge of all that Saul had as king, all that Saul had accumulated through his many victories in enriching the coffers of Israel. God had united Judah and Israel under the leadership of David.

C. Nathan now unveils, in layers of intensifying aggravation, the sin of David.

  1. In spite of such undeserved favors, sovereignly bestowed on David, David had “despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in his sight.” This points to a reality, discussed below, that sin and evil always have their primary relationship to God and his revealed word.
  2. In violating the word of the Lord, David had broken the commandment, Thou shalt not kill” by arranging for Uriah’s certain death.
  3. David had violated “Thou shalt not commit adultery” by violating Bathsheba sexually and then marrying her to take her as his own wife.
  4. All of this was done in the context of David’s desperation to cover his initial sin when he permitted the “sword of Ammon” to take the life of Uriah. One of his mighty men was struck down by the hand of enemies. Uncircumcised, uncovenanted people who earlier had insulted David’s messengers of mercy were made by David the instrument of killing one whose loyalty to David and Israel was unquestioned.

D. Nathan shows the temporal troubles that will plague David and his house for this sin. Even though the promise would continue that God would build David a house and through him would come the eternal king of peace and righteousness, his temporal house would be filled with troubles.

  1. The sword would not depart from his house. One son would violate a daughter (Amnon and Tamar) and another son, Absalom, would take vengeance on Amnon (13:29), would rise up against David and cause a civil war (15-18), driving David into exile (15:13ff).
  2. Another son would seek to usurp the throne even during the last days of David and would eventually be killed.
  3. As he had violated Uriah’s wife and sought to hide the deed from knowledge (12), one close to David would violate his concubines in “broad daylight” for all Israel to observe (16:22). Nothing can be hidden from God, and when he knows, it does not matter who doesn’t know.
  4. The son born to Bathsheba would die (15-23).


V. David’s confession and the Lord’s forgiveness (verse 13).

A. David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

  1. God created a man and a woman; he placed the law of God in their hearts and gave them a positive command as a test of their commitment to the intrinsic moral relationship they had with him. When they sinned, they sinned against the Lord.
  2. When we sin, we sin against the Lord. All sin is first and foremost against the Lord; sin is transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). God has given the law and where there is no law there is no sin (Romans 5:15); but through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). Our entire consciousness that there is right and wrong, that there is sin and righteousness, that there is good and evil testifies to a law that exists outside of us, above us, and is the arbiter of all our relationships. Attempts to deny this establishes relativism that give birth to the twin evils of anarchy and totalitarianism.
  3. There are two tables of the law. The first deals with our immediate relationship with God and is summarized as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. The second table is summarized as “You shall love your neighbor as your self.” (Mark 12:28-34).
  4. When we do wrong to our neighbor, we have sinned against God and have violated the prerogatives that God has granted to all of us as his image bearers. Either we have taken his life, his mate, his property, his reputation, or have harbored thoughts about him with evil intent. Doing these things to our neighbor and invading him in areas where God himself has granted him sovereignty, means that we ask for forgiveness from our neighbor (Matthew 6:15; 18:15, 21-22).
  5. Where there is no sin against God, there can be no sin against neighbor. We must not fall into the trap of establishing secret standards of personal offense, calling for apologies where one has not violated the law of God.
  6. David, therefore, though guilty of sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, saw first of all that he had sinned against God. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51: 3,4).

B. And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.”

  1. These words show the absolutely gratuitous nature of justification. Immediately upon his confession, David hears the pronouncement, “The Lord also has taken away your sin.”
  2. When Paul wrote that those who believe have righteousness through faith (Romans 3:22), he emphasized that as lawbreakers, that is, sinners, our justification is pure and free gift—no works of righteousness that we have done, for the standard of righteousness in the law only stands over us in condemnation.
  3. Paul then immediately includes David’s writing about this blessing in Psalm 32: “Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:6-8). The law is honored in both. Sin is forgiven for Jesus has paid its wages in his death; eternal life is granted for Jesus has gained it through his perfect obedience. Our sin is imputed to Christ and his death is accounted to us for forgiveness. His obedience is imputed to us and his life flows to us as our merit for eternal life (Romans 5: 9, 10).
  4. I cannot conceive of a Bible without Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. Yet these chapters would not exist apart from the sin of David against God’s law and, consequently, against Uriah’s wife and life. Nor can we form any way of contorting our minds to envision a Bible without the death of Christ on a Roman cross. Nor can we see such a death as having occurred without the rejection of the Jews and the cruel pragmatism of Rome. The confluence of divine sovereignty—in its most beautiful and majestic and holy displays—with human responsibility—even in its most sordid and egregious violations of divine law—is one of the most mysterious juxtapositions of truth in the entirety of human literature. None but God could superintend such events and inspire the recording of them and their meaning.
  5. This very complexity in providential dealings in the context of human sin and divine judgment is treated in the Second London Confession Chapter 5, paragraph 4. “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God are so thoroughly demonstrated in His providence, that His sovereign plan includes even the first fall and every other sinful action both of angels and humans. God’s providence over sinful actions does not occur by simple permission. Instead, God most wisely and powerfully limits and in other ways arranges and governs sinful actions. Through a complex arrangement of methods, He governs sinful actions to accomplish His perfectly holy purposes. Yet He does this in such a way that the sinfulness of their acts arises only from the creatures and not from God. Because God is altogether holy and righteous, He can neither originate nor approve of sin.”
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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