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King David of Israel

10 ‑ Retribution for sin

The guard appeared in the doorway and strode noiselessly across the floor. He bowed low before the throne.

"The prophet Nathan seeks audience with you, O king", he said. David stared at him morosely. "Let him be admitted" he said at last. His eyes betrayed a slight apprehension. The guard bowed again and retired. David waited, chin on hand. The curtains parted to reveal a tall, commanding figure, flowing locks and beard belying apparent youthfulness, piercing eyes and firm mouth giving evidence of a maturity of character beyond his evident thirty or so years of life. He moved with deliberate steps across the room and stood still, inclining his head slightly in acknowledgement.

"And what, O man of God, have I done wrong now" asked David sarcastically. The prophet regarded him impassively. "I come, O king, that you give judgment on a matter of wrongdoing".

"Give judgment" echoed David a little blankly. The apprehension faded from his eyes. "Are there no judges in Jerusalem who can hear the case?"

"This is a matter which only the king can judge."

David settled himself more comfortably in his seat. He regarded Nathan more amiably. "Proceed then".

"There were two men in the city" Nathan began, "one rich, one poor. The rich man possessed great wealth in flocks and herds, the poor man only one ewe lamb that he had nurtured. The rich man had a guest. Instead of taking from his own flocks for his needs he sent and deprived the poor man of his one ewe lamb to provide the feast." He stopped and looked straight at the king. David's quick temper flared out. He rose from his seat. "As the Lord lives" he declared hotly "the man that has done this thing shall surely die". He stopped abruptly. Nathan had raised his arm; his accusing finger pointed directly at the king. "You are the man!"

David sank slowly back to his seat, face paling. "Thus says the Lord God of Israel" declared the other "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house, the houses of Israel and Judah; wherefore then have you despised the commandment of the Lord to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife." He paused a moment. David had shrunk back in his seat and buried his face in his hands to avoid those accusing eyes. The remorseless voice went on. "Hear therefore the word of the Lord. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house. Because you have despised me, and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife, and have slain him, I will raise up evil against you out of your house, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbour. You did this thing secretly, but I will do it before all Israel." He ceased and waited. There was a long silence. David lifted his head at last. His countenance was stricken; his voice broken. "I have sinned against the Lord!"

There was no softening of the austere features confronting him. "The Lord has spoken. You will not die, but the child your wife has given you shall surely die!

"No, no, not that" cried the distraught man. He received no answer. Nathan had gone.

How long David sat there he never knew. His mind was in turmoil. The transgression was some two years in the past now and he had virtually forgotten it; his passion for Bath-sheba had continued and he dearly loved their year-old child. The war with the Ammonites, that had given opportunity for the death of Uriah, was in its closing stages with Joab permanently at the battlefront and David making periodic visits to the scene of operations. He knew that a few more months would see the end of the conflict and with that victory he had been looking forward to a period of peace and ease such as he had enjoyed during most of his past thirteen years in Jerusalem. Now all that was changed; his sin had been brought up before his face and he knew, now, that nothing could ever be the same again. Wearily he got up and went out of the throne-room.

Through the open door of the vestibule he could see, across the palace gardens, a small crowd around the entrance to the house of the women. At first he regarded the scene disinterestedly, and then something caught his attention. He beckoned an attendant. "Is not that Malachi the physician going in there" he exclaimed, "What is going on?" The man looked confused. "I will go and find out, sire" he replied, and promptly disappeared. David waited awhile, then crossed the garden himself towards the crowd. It melted as he approached and he stopped before the guard at the doorway. "What is happening here?" he demanded. The guard looked at him with a troubled expression; he spoke reluctantly. "The child of the lady Bath-sheba is sick". The words were hardly out of his mouth before David had pushed past him and was taking long hasty steps to his wife's apartment. The Levite, bending low over the child's couch, straightened up as the king approached and bowed before him. David had time to discern the little form, pale and still, stretched out upon the couch, and Bath-sheba's tearful face. "Tell me" demanded the king of the other, "can you cure him? Will the child live?" He waited an eternity for the answer. Malachi looked down again at the infant, next at the mother, and then at the anxious face of the king.

"O my king", he said, "I know not what this malady is. Only the Lord God of Israel can save him now." He bowed low again and left the room.

"And the Lord God of Israel has decreed that he must die, because of my sin" groaned David. He went slowly back to his own apartments.

It was a week later. David had remained all that time in close seclusion, seeing no one. Affairs of state were neglected and forgotten. His ministers came for audience and went away as they came. He refused all food and drink. Prostrate on the ground, he besought the Lord to rescind the sentence and spare the life of his infant son. The entreaties of his ministers and his servants alike were ignored. All else was abandoned in his frantic pleas to the Lord to spare the life of his child. On the seventh day the child died.

The palace servants were afraid to tell David. "If he behaved like this while there was yet some hope that the child would live" they told each other "what is he going to do when he knows he is dead". So for a while there was a conspiracy of silence, until David perceived by whisperings and glances, when they thought he was not looking, that there was something amiss.

"Therefore David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead? And they said,' he is dead!'" And thereupon David rose from the ground, washed himself and donned fresh garments, and went to 'the house of the Lord', the tent he had erected in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant, and there he worshipped". Returning to the palace, he called for food, and began to eat.

Greatly daring, his servants asked the reason for this sudden change of demeanour. Apparently quite affably, he told them that while the child lived, there was always the chance that God would heed his distress and listen to his plea. Now the child was dead and God had not listened; there was no longer any point in keeping up the supplications; he might as well return to normal life. "I shall go to him" he said, "but he shall not return to me". And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife, and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon".

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To what extent David felt sincere remorse for his crime it is impossible to say. The only indication in the narrative is his frank avowal to Nathan "I have sinned against the Lord". It has often been suggested that Psalms 32 and 51 were composed by David to express his feelings after realization of his sin came to him, or was forced upon him by Nathan. The language of both Psalms is very fitting, especially his heartfelt plea in Psa. 51.14. "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God". In the light of those two Psalms it is probably right to conclude that he was indeed remorseful and repentant, and sincerely regretted the momentary weakness which had led him astray and involved him in so grievous a calamity. It is likely that for the rest of his life he was haunted by the memory of the valiant soldier who had served him so faithfully, and whom he had so basely betrayed and murdered. If he was indeed thus sincerely repentant, then of course the Lord did extend him forgiveness; but even so, the consequences remained. The Divine law "what a man sows, that shall he also reap" cannot be avoided or set aside. The death of his child was not the only penalty David was destined to suffer. The rest of his reign was filled with a long succession of disasters, characterized by outrage and murder, all stemming in some degree from the implications of his crime against Uriah.

For the present, David picked up the threads of life again. There is no doubt that Bath-sheba became his favourite wife; there is no mention again of any of the others, and she was almost certainly a much younger woman, as is evidenced by other Scriptural deductions. For the present he was still occupied with the war against Ammon. At about this time Joab had virtually ended the campaign by capturing the capital city of Rabbah. He called David to come down and receive the people's submission in person, which David lost no time in doing and it must be said with regret, treating the defeated citizens with atrocious cruelty, if 2 Sam. 13.31 and 32 are accepted as a true record. His justification probably was the fact that the Ammonites were probably some of the cruelest of the ancient nations and had treated Israel in much the same way in times gone past. David probably reflected that the Mosaic Law demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and he was only doing what Moses commanded.

Less than a year later Bath-sheba presented David with a second son, whom he named Solomon. From him came the kings of Israel, the royal line. In later years there was a third son, Nathan, who became the blood ancestor of both Joseph and Mary, and through Mary, of Christ. Then there was a fourth son of whom no further mention is made. David at fifty years of age had what was virtually a second family; there were probably some girls as well as boys. His earlier sons were by now grown up and the eldest was twenty-one years of age. In the ordinary way he would be the prospective heir to the throne but David was now manifestly showing his preference for Solomon, the child of Bathsheba, and obviously Amnon would be looking a little askance at this interloper. He was not the only one. Others of the older sons of David had their eyes on the throne and here were all the seeds of the conflict that led eventually to the murder of at least three of David's sons. From that casual glance from the roof of his palace on that fateful afternoon David was to reap a bitter harvest.

(To be continued). AOH

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