God Calls David to Repentance
Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRC Christian School
II Samuel 12
David felt he had dealt with his sins of adultery and murder. He had covered his actions well enough that when his and Bathsheba’s baby was born, people would think the baby had come a little early. David could go about his life. However, God was displeased with him. God sent His prophet Nathan to call David to repentance.
Nathan does not directly confront David with his sin. God had given Nathan a parable to tell. Nathan tells about a rich man who had many sheep and a poor man who has but one, which was as a daughter to him. The rich man has a visitor but the rich man does not want to kill one of his own plentiful sheep to have a meal, so he kills the poor man’s only sheep and serves it for dinner.
Though living in unrepentant sin, David is still able to judge between right and wrong. “David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.” He does not yet see the parallels between himself and the guilty man in the parable. David had many wives yet, when his passion is stirred with adulterous desires, he does not go to one of his many wives but he takes the one wife of another man. If we think we can satisfy sinful desires by catering to them, we will find to our sorrow that our sinful desires cannot be satisfied. Our sinful flesh always desires more.
David pronounces a punishment against the rich man which was more than what the Old Testament law demanded. The law stated that the punishment for stealing a sheep was giving four sheep. David adds the penalty of death. How shocked David must have been to hear Nathan declare with divine revelation, “Thou art the man!” David realizes that if he pronounced the death penalty for taking a man’s sheep, the punishment for taking a man’s wife and having him killed should be worse.
David’s chastisements are severe. Since David thought the sword was a convenient way to solve problems, David would have the sword wielded against his family for the rest of his life. He had taken a man’s wife privately but his wives would be taken in a brazen fashion. David learns the child Bathsheba now bares will die since David’s actions gave the wicked a reason to blaspheme God and His people. The following scriptural narrative unfolds all of this to us.
One might question God’s justice. Why should the guilty David live and the innocent child die? The sovereign God shows His disapproval against David for his sin, and His love for him by sparing his life. Also God will provide for His church the perfect Lamb of sacrifice through Solomon, who is yet to be conceived by David and born of Bathsheba.
David fasts and prays for the child. He hopes God will yet spare him. David’s servants are shocked that, when David learns of the child’s death, he stops fasting, washes, anoints himself and goes to God’s house to worship. When David confesses, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,” David does not mean that some day he will join his son in the grave. There is no comfort in that. David speaks of being with his son in heaven. This passage has been a comfort to many of God’s people. Covenant parents have no reason to doubt the salvation of the children whom it pleases God to take in their infancy.
David comforts Bathsheba and she bares Solomon. The name means “peaceful.” David is at peace with God, Solomon would have a peaceful reign and Solomon pictures Christ, the Prince of Peace. God sent Nathan to David and Bathsheba, for He has another name for Solomon. The name is Jedidiah, “Beloved of the Lord.” We do not read of God naming any of David’s other sons. Here we see God’s choice to succeed David on Israel’s throne.
The chapter closes with the defeat of Rabbah, the royal city of Ammon. It is likely that the events related here occurred just after the death of Uriah and before David’s confession. Joab sends for David so David can finish the work and be given honour. Some commentators cite the severe punishment of the captives as an indication of the condition of David’s heart before repentance. Others point out the cruelty of the Ammonites, so they were justly served. They point out that being made to “pass through the brick kiln” was especially appropriate since the Ammonites sacrificed their children to their idols.
We need to note something about David’s call to repentance. There is no salvation outside of repentance. We must repent. However, we must be careful not to make repentance a work of ours on which our salvation depends. Our repentance is not an exercise of our free will as a condition we fulfil which subsequently allows God to be gracious to us. We did our part and now God is free to do His. This is not at all the idea.
David is an example here. He did not repent of his sin by his own powers. He dealt with his sin by covering it with subtilty. Psalm 32, which David wrote as his confession, states, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” David suffered from a plagued conscience yet he did not, and would not, go to God to repent. God graciously sent Nathan to bring David to repentance. Nathan brought the gospel of grace to David by saying, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Nathan brought the external preaching of the Word and God worked repentance in David’s heart.
The Canons of Dordt speak of this in the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine. Repentance is part of conversion. We cannot put off the old man of sin if we do not repent of the deeds of that old man. It is for His elect that God “confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son, that they may show forth the praises of Him, who hath called them out of darkness into His marvellous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord.” It is our Father who “opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable.” Finally, “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.”
Praise God for His sovereign, unmerited grace and His unconditional gift of salvation!