Today’s text is about repentance. Repentance has been defined as “…a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”[1] But when it comes down to it…what does repentance looks like, does repentance cancel out sins consequences, and how does repentance come about? Our text today answers all of those questions and more.

I’d like to begin with Jonah. Specifically, Jonah 3:1. Remember the story? Jonah the prophet of Israel called by God to bring the message of God to the enemies of God, the Ninevites, calling them to repentance. Jonah thought this was appalling, to bring such a message to such a wicked people…‘NO WAY!’ he thought. So, he did what he thought was best and disobeyed God, going down to the port city of Joppa, he found a ship headed in the other direction toward Tarshish, and he ran from God and God’s call. God responds and chases Jonah down by sending high winds and a big storm, bringing Jonah not just back to his senses, but to a true sense of his sin, resulting in Jonah’s repentance. What we then find in Jonah 3:1 is as astounding as it is mind boggling. “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time…”

For Jonah, to hear God call him a second time to obey and go to Nineveh would’ve astounded him. Why? Because Jonah was disobedient, and now he has been restored and re-commissioned! This is a second chance! So we have here before our eyes in this text the glory of the grace and mercy of God. Jonah didn’t deserve a second chance. But God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. There is such a kind word for us here as we begin. God is the God of second chances. God is the God of new beginnings. So after the failure…after the fall…after you’ve done the deed…(perhaps some of you are there now?) what are you to do? Repent, rest, and rejoice in God’s grace.

Come back now to 2 Samuel and be similarly astounded and boggled. As the dreadful events of chapter 11 unfold we saw David do a lot of sending.[2] He sent Joab and the armies off to war (11:1), he sent messengers to inquire about Bathsheba (11:3), he sent these messengers again to bring her to him (11:4), he sent for Uriah the Hittite to return from war (11:6), after failing to trick Uriah he sent him back to war with his own death warrant (11:14-15), and then after all is done he sent for Bathsheba once again and she became his wife (11:27).

As this chapter ends we see these words, “…the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.” But then, grace upon grace, we see these words as chapter 12 begins, “And the LORD sent Nathan to David.” Lesson? God’s grace pursues, God’s grace exposes, and God’s grace relentlessly chases after us lest we settle down and get comfortable in our many sins.  You may succeed in sinning to your heart’s desire, but know this, God will come after you.[3] He will not let you settle for lesser pleasures. For the believer, this knowledge brings great comfort. He will not abandon us to our own folly, no, he’ll keep us till the end.

That is much of the glory we see here in 2 Samuel 12. So Church, here’s what’s before us: Nathan’s Tale (v1-6), David’s Repentance (v7-13), Remaining Consequences (v14-25), and A Chapter Ends (v26-31). Let’s dig in.

Nathan’s Tale (v1-6)

“And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan’s tale is about two men, one rich and the other poor. While it only takes 9 words to describe the rich man and his wealth and many flocks, Nathan takes 55 words to describe the poor man and his poverty and his one ewe lamb that he nursed and raised like his own child. Notice this? Nathan is already setting up David to feel for/pity the correct man in this story, which ironically sets him up to recognize his own sin. Once these two men are introduced to us, we hear of a traveler coming into town to visit the rich man. Rather than killing one of his own sheep for their dinner he took the poor mans lamb (just as David took Bathsheba).[4] Upon hearing this news David goes into a religious rage. I say his rage is ‘religious’ because David pronounces quick judgment in oath like form saying ‘As the LORD lives’ condemning this man to a fourfold restitution and death. David clearly felt more was in view because after pronouncing judgment he rightly calls out the rich man’s cruelty and lack of pity.

Two things stand out here: David’s blindness and God’s wisdom. You think David would’ve been more tuned in to what was Nathan’s tale was all about. You’d have to be pretty thick to not recognize what’s going on, yet David seems up to the challenge. He’s got no idea what’s going on. Does this surprise you though? It shouldn’t. Since walking in obedience with God, walking in step with the Spirit enlivens, nourishes, and softens our souls making them sensitive to God, His Word, and His ways…walking in sin has the opposite effect. Walking in sin deadens, dulls, and hardens our souls making them insensitive to God, His Word, and His ways. A.W. Pink said it like this, “What a strange thing the heart of a believer is! What a medley dwells within it, often filled, with righteous indignation against the sins of others, while blind to its own!”[5] But be of good cheer sinners, God won’t allow His people to settle for lesser pleasures. Into David’s sinful, stony, callous, and cold heart God sends Nathan, His crafty prophet. And God is wise. He doesn’t send Nathan to David saying, ‘How on earth could you do such a thing?!’ He doesn’t even send him saying, ‘You’ve really made a mess of things, here’s a story to help you see that.’ No, God craftily sends Nathan to David with just a tale.[6] By simply telling his tale God goes around David’s defenses and leads him to pronounce his own judgment! Lesson? God is wise, His grace isn’t just amazing, His grace is sneakily smart.

David’s Repentance (v7-13)

“Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 

Let’s pause at v12 for the moment. The time for being sneaky was over, David must know his sin, so Nathan tells him straight. From v7-12 Nathan is incredibly direct. In v1-6 the word man was spoken six times, now as the seventh usage of it comes, the tale is complete.[7] After David had just pronounced judgment on the man in the tale and Nathan says his famous phrase ‘You are the man!’ God then follows that with reason after reason exposing the depths of David’s sinful actions. In v7-8 Nathan unfolds how greatly the Lord had blessed David: God not only saved David from Saul, God anointed David King over Israel, and gave him all the blessings that accompany so high a position. And if David thought this too little, he only needed to ask and God would’ve been delighted to give him even more on top of all this! The ugliness of David’s sin is seen as exceedingly sinful based on the backdrop of God’s kindness to him. In v9 the rebuke goes deeper. David did what he did not only because of sinful lust, David did great evil because he first despised the Word of the Lord. Long before the deed was done, David made a secret exchange. Instead of heeding God’s Word David heeded his own desires. David didn’t ‘fall’ into sin, he leapt. After a quick examination of what obedience would give him and what disobedience would give him he chose to sin because he wanted the quick fix rather than the long term satisfaction. Delayed gratification wasn’t on his mind, he saw what he wanted, and he wanted it then. The rebuke continues on. In v9b-12 sin is called sin: murder (“You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword…and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”) and adultery (“…and have taken his wife to be your wife…). Because of these things the sword David spoke so lightly of to Joab in chapter 11 and the sword he used against God’s people will now be turned on him and his family. David may have sinned in dark, but God will do this in the full light of day. Not only will all of his wives be taken and shamefully abused by another, David will experience the fourfold punishment he pronounced on the rich man as four of his own sons die: his son with Bathsheba, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah.[8] Do you think David would think the fleeting pleasures of sin were now worth it? Not in a million years.

Now we can come to v13. David had raged against the rich man in Nathan’s tale, now he feels the rage of his heavenly Father coming against him in loving discipline and says in v13a, “I have sinned against the LORD.” There is no denial here, he owns it, and agrees with the Lord’s assessment of himself. Some believe David’s confession is far too short to be authentic. It’s only six words in English, and only two words in Hebrew! Yet its brevity does not equal a lack of potency. Remember in Luke 18 the Publican’s confession of sin, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!” is much shorter than the Pharisee’s lengthy eloquent prayer. David’s confession isn’t too short at all. If you’ve been where David is you know what’s going on. The weight of the consequences of sin landing on you can be so crushing that all you can muster out in response is a few words. Or as Andrew Peterson says in his song The Silence of God, “It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith, it’s enough to make him wonder if he’ll ever be the same…it’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart, when he has to remember what broke him apart.” And yet, into David’s grief and guilt comes the God of all grace. v13b, “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’”

Church, God in His grace has broken David and God is His grace has comforted David. But do you see a problem in v13? God is the just Judge of all the universe is He not? How then can He just put away sin as if it were a small thing? If any judge in Pasco county did this he or she would be immediately fired. God’s own Law says any man who has done what David has done must be executed, how then can David go free and live? This is answered in the verses that follow in God’s provision of a substitute son.

Remaining Consequences (v14-25)

Nathan continues on saying, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the LORD loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.”

It seems from this passage that the son born to David and Bathsheba had already been born by the time Nathan comes to confront David. David repents, praise God! Yes, God’s Law says David should die, but God told David he will not die. But a death will still occur. David now faces one of the many great consequences of his sin: his son must die. It’s as if the child will be David’s substitute. Now we don’t want to read a New Testament meaning onto this Old Testament text, but I do want you to notice a pattern. Throughout the Old Testament we find patterns and previews of what’s to come in the New. God put away David’s sin and his son dies instead of him. Sound familiar? Those who’ve been similarly forgiven by God know this pattern because into our own grief and guilt God in His grace sent another yet greater Son of David to be our substitute.[9] This is how God here with David as well as at the cross with us can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus! All of that is in v14.

In v15-25 we see what happens afterwards. Nathan leaves, the child becomes sick, and David’s actions scare and confuse his servants. He fasts, prays, and seeks the Lord for seven days thinking God might reverse this and gracious to him, as v22 shows. But once the child dies on the seventh day, the servants are scared to tell David, and as they’re discussing this, David sees them whispering, understands what has happened, stops fasting, washes, worships, and eats in v20. The servants are confused about this, thinking it unusual so they ask him about it in v21. David answers in v22-23, and for them his explanation is adequate. David’s reasons for fasting we’ve seen in v22, look now at his reasons for stopping in v23, “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David didn’t receive any special revelation from God about the eternal destiny of his son, no.[10] He knows he has died, he knows he can’t change that. But he also knows that God is a covenant God and that covenant children are safe in God’s arms. This was true in the Old Testament, God was God to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants after him. And this is true in the New Testament, which is why Peter says in Acts 2:39, “For the promise (of the gospel) is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”[11] So I’d say to you who’ve suffered the loss of an infant child or a miscarriage: grieve truly but grieve in great hope. For these children spend all of their existence away from this fallen world with the Lord in glory. We will see them again, and our reunion with them will be sweet indeed.

With this reality David comforts his wife (first time it’s stated that Bathsheba is David’s) in v24, they conceive, and have another son they name Solomon. But see the detail. The Lord loves him and through the prophet Nathan gives him the name Jedidiah, likely to tell David and Bathsheba that this child won’t die like before, and even though David messed up royally, God will establish his royal throne.[12]

Conclusion: A Chapter Ends (v26-31)

“Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah and fought against it and took it. And he took the crown of their king from his head. The weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”

Not only is this chapter now over, but David’s grand disobedience that began at the beginning of chapter 11 is now over. Why do I say that? Because the war that began in chapter 11:1 concludes here at the end of chapter 12. These form a kind of bookend around David’s sin and repentance. I think we’re to learn here that despite the sinfulness of their king God is still faithful to His people.

So Church, everyone ok? This is a hard chapter. How goes it with your soul? Did the Lord send you here today to hear this word from Him? We believe He did. Is it custom fit for your own sins today? We believe it is. Do you need to repent today? Or are you about to do something you know is beyond the bounds? Know this.[13] Even the King of Israel cannot get out from under Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” David’s unconfessed sin, Psalm 32 tells us, weighed heavily on him. But God, in His Fatherly discipline, penetrated David’s defenses, chased him down, and brought him back home. It is never an easy thing to be confronted about our sin. But O’ the joy of knowing Christ. Yes, He is David’s long-awaited Son as well as David’s Lord. But He is also our substitute who bore the penalty we deserved, died in our place, and rose that we’d go free. All who believe in Him can begin again, all who come to Him need fear no more. Why?

Our sins they are many, but His mercy is more!


[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 87.

[2] Robert Alter, ed., The David Story: A Translation With Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, Stated 1st Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 1999), 351.

[3] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Revised edition (Fearn, Ross-Shire Scotland: Christian Focus, 2013), 150.

[4] Davis, 150.

[5] A.W. Pink, quoted in Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2018), 228.

[6] Davis, 151–52.

[7] Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 244.

[8] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 230–31.

[9] Davis, 2 Samuel, 157.

[10] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 243.

[11] David isn’t merely speaking of the place of the dead, reunion seems to be in view here. This verse does contain elements within it that have led me to the reformed paedobaptist position.

[12] Phillips, 2 Samuel, 245.

[13] John L. Mackay and J. Gary Millar, ESV Expository Commentary: 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2019), 376.

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