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The King's Justice

The story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, his attempts to cover it up, and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, is told in 2 Samuel 11. The last statement in the chapter is “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Afterward, the prophet Nathan, who had always been a staunch supporter, friend, and ally of King David, came to him and told a story of a poor man whose one pet lamb was stolen by a rich man, who had plenty of sheep and cattle of his own, then slaughtered to feed a guest. David was stirred with great indignation against the rich man who had so abused his power and taken advantage of one who could not retaliate. David angrily said that the rich man deserved death (2 Samuel 12:5). However, the law did not provide a death penalty for theft, and so David pronounced his judgment, based on legal precedent (Exodus 22:1), that the rich man must pay for that lamb “four times over because he had done such a thing and had no pity.” That’s when Nathan made the famous statement to David, “You are the man.” Nathan proceeded to deliver a severe godly rebuke for David’s lack of gratitude and his unfaithfulness toward God, his great benefactor. Nathan told him that the cost of what he had done would be high, that “the sword will never depart from your house”, that his family, his wives, would be visited with the same infidelity he had shown regarding Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:7­12).

David immediately admitted his wrong (2 Samuel 12:13, and in Psalm 51), but Nathan answered that while God had taken his sin away, and David would not die, the consequences remained. David had strengthened the hand of the enemies of God by his “secret” sin, and so the first very public display of the sword striking David’s house would be the death of the infant son conceived in his adultery with Uriah’s wife (2 Samuel 12:14ff). David pleaded with God for the child’s life, but the boy died soon after.

The story of David’s life and reign after that seems to flow from crisis to crisis, events that affected the whole nation but arose within his own family. The next story in 2 Samuel 13 tells of David’s son Amnon becoming infatuated with David’s daughter Tamar, and then carrying out a plan to force himself on her.  After raping his half sister Amnon’s infatuation turned to hatred and he humiliated her even further by having her thrown out of his house. The Bible says that “When King David heard all this, he was furious,” (2 Samuel 13:21) but he apparently did nothing about it, perhaps in part because with his own sin he felt morally compromised in dealing with his son’s sin. However, David’s son Absalom, half brother to Amnon and brother to Tamar, quietly waited two years and then murdered Amnon for what he had done to Tamar. Afterward, Absalom fled to his grandparents’ kingdom in Gerar for three years, until David was manipulated into bringing this son that he loved very much back to Jerusalem.

Once Absalom was back in Jerusalem he put a plan into motion to secure the kingdom of Israel as his own, sooner rather than later. He patiently plotted and maneuvered for several years before openly moving to declare himself king and raise an army against his father David (2 Samuel 14­-15). David initially avoided conflict with Absalom and the Israelites who followed him, abandoning Jerusalem to Absalom (and thus fulfilling a portion of Nathan’s prophecy years earlier about the public defilement of some of David’s wives). Conflict was inevitable though, and when it came to open war between the forces of Absalom and those loyal to David, David’s one desire was to save his son’s life. Despite his wishes, Absalom was killed, breaking David’s heart but saving the kingdom (2 Samuel 18:1­19:7). By this time, David had seen three of his sons die.

After the kingdom was again settled firmly in David’s control, as he aged and grew infirmed, he made it plain that his son Solomon, one of his younger sons, born of Bathsheba, was to be his heir (1 Chronicles 22:5ff). However, David’s older son Adonijah wanted to be king and began to make preparations to crown himself with the support of several leading men who had previously served David (1 Kings 1). When David was made aware of the plot and the dangers involved he ordered the immediate coronation of Solomon, and then instructed Solomon to deal firmly with the divisive elements in his kingdom. One consequence was the condemnation and death of David’s ambitious son Adonijah, Solomon’s older brother, a short while later (1 Kings 2:13­25).

Years before, Nathan the prophet had told David that the sword would never leave his house. As a result of his sins against God and Uriah the Hittite, David’s house was violently divided. King David himself had set the judgment. The rich man who selfishly took the other man’s lamb must pay fourfold because he had no pity. Nathan answered, “You are the man.” Pay fourfold he did, in the death’s of his own sons, the infant son of Uriah’s wife, Amnon the rapist, Absalom the usurper, and the ambitious Adonijah. It was the King’s own justice, the penalty he himself declared.

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

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