Friday

15 July 2016

"Nathan said to David, 'You are the man!' ... David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.'" (vv. 7, 13)

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-48


Background

It says a lot for the respect in which the Israelite prophets were held that Nathan was able to challenge the king about his evil behaviour - first in seducing Bathsheba and then having her husband killed when she inconveniently became pregnant. It also says a lot for Nathan's courage, and it is not surprising that he used a roundabout method to get David to see what he had done. He uses a parable - an innocent sounding story with a challenging meaning. Wisely, he engages David's own compassion before he points out that the king himself has acted without mercy.

It is to David's credit that he makes a full confession of his wrongdoing rather than taking it out on the messenger.

The story outlines two forms of punishment for David. One is that his reign will be beset by continuing violence - "the sword shall never depart from your house". This may seem to us a reasonable commentary on David's life so far, and how he is likely to act in the future, given the enemies he has always made along with his loyal supporters. But the other punishment is a lot harder for the contemporary reader to stomach - the child of David and Bathsheba is struck with illness and eventually dies.

It is problematic for us to think of a god who really strikes a child to punish its father, and perhaps it is easier to read this as an association that could have been made by a guilty mind after the event. Of course, in the ancient world infant mortality was a very common occurrence and perhaps some fathers took it in their stride. David however is shown fasting and praying for his doomed child's life, a poignant story that engages our sympathy once again for this very mixed character.


To Ponder

  • Have you ever needed to, or felt you should, challenge the behaviour of someone who had more power than you? What happened?
  • Do you think that God punishes us with suffering, or through the suffering of other people? If not, how do you make sense of personal suffering?


Bible notes author: Janet Morley

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