Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel)
Nathan's Reproof and David's Repentance. Conquest of Rabbah - 2 Samuel 12
The Lord left David almost a whole year in his sin, before sending a prophet to charge the haughty sinner with his misdeeds, and to announce the punishment that would follow. He did this at length through Nathan, but not till after the birth of Bathsheba's child, that had been begotten in adultery (compare Sa2 12:14, Sa2 12:15 with Sa2 11:27). Not only was the fruit of the sin to be first of all brought to light, and the hardened sinner to be deprived of the possibility of either denying or concealing his crimes, but God would first of all break his unbroken heart by the torture of his own conscience, and prepare it to feel the reproaches of His prophet. The reason for this delay on the part of God in the threatening of judgment is set forth very clearly in Psa 32:1-11, where David describes most vividly the state of his heart during this period, and the sufferings that he endured as long as he was trying to conceal his crime. And whilst in this Psalm he extols the blessedness of a pardoned sinner, and admonishes all who fear God, on the ground of his own inmost experience after his soul had tasted once more the joy and confidence arising from the full forgiveness of his iniquities; in the fifty-first Psalm, which was composed after Nathan had been to him, he shows clearly enough that the promise of divine forgiveness, which the prophet had given him in consequence of his confession of his guilt, did not take immediate possession of his soul, but simply kept him from despair at first, and gave him strength to attain to a thorough knowledge of the depth of his guilt through prayer and supplication, and to pray for its entire removal, that his heart might be renewed and fortified through the Holy Ghost. But Nathan's reproof could not possibly have borne this saving fruit, if David had still been living in utter blindness as to the character of his sin at the time when the prophet went to him.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:1
Nathan's Reproof. - Sa2 12:1. To ensure the success of his mission, viz., to charge the king with his crimes, Nathan resorted to a parable by which he led on the king to pronounce sentence of death upon himself. The parable is a very simple one, and drawn from life. Two men were living in a certain city: the one was rich, and had many sheep and oxen; the other was poor, and possessed nothing at all but one small lamb which he had bought and nourished (יחיּה, lit. kept alive), so that it grew up in his house along with his son, and was treated most tenderly and loved like a daughter. The custom of keeping pet-sheep in the house, as we keep lap-dogs, is still met with among the Arabs (vid., Bochart, Hieroz. i. p. 594). There came a traveller (הלך, a journey, for a traveller) to the rich man (לאישׁ without an article, the express definition being introduced afterwards in connection with the adjective העשׁיר; vid., Ewald, 293a, p. 741), and he grudged to take of his own sheep and oxen to prepare (sc., a meal) for the traveller who had come to his house; "and he took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that had come to him."
David was so enraged at this act of violence on the part of the rich man, that in the heat of his anger he pronounced this sentence at once: "As the Lord liveth, the man who did this deserves to die; and the lamb he shall restore fourfold." The fourfold restoration corresponds to the law in Exo 22:1. The culprit himself was also to be put to death, because the forcible robbery of a poor man's pet-lamb was almost as bad as man-stealing.
The parable was so selected that David could not suspect that it had reference to him and to his son. With all the greater shock therefore did the words of the prophet, "Thou art the man," come upon the king. Just as in the parable the sin is traced to its root - namely, insatiable covetousness - so now, in the words of Jehovah which follow, and in which the prophet charges the king directly with his crime, he brings out again in the most unsparing manner this hidden background of all sins, for the purpose of bringing thoroughly home to his heart the greatness of his iniquity, and the condemnation it deserved. "Jehovah the God of Israel hath said, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul, and I gave thee thy master's house and thy master's wives into thy bosom." These words refer to the fact that, according to the general custom in the East, when a king died, his successor upon the throne also succeeded to his harem, so that David was at liberty to take his predecessor's wives; though we cannot infer from this that he actually did so: in fact this is by no means probable, since, according to Sa1 14:50, Saul had but one wife, and according to Sa2 3:7 only one concubine, whom Abner appropriated to himself. "And gave thee the house of Israel and Judah;" i.e., I handed over the whole nation to thee as king, so that thou couldst have chosen young virgins as wives from all the daughters of Judah and Israel. מעט ואם, "and if (all this was) too little, I would have added to thee this and that."
"Why hast thou despised the word of Jehovah, to do evil in His eyes? Thou hast slain Uriah the Hethite with the sword, and taken his wife to be thy wife, and slain him with the sword of the Ammonites." The last clause does not contain any tautology, but serves to strengthen the thought by defining more sharply the manner in which David destroyed Uriah. הרג, to murder, is stronger than הכּה; and the fact that it was by the sword of the Ammonites, the enemies of the people of God, that the deed was done, added to the wickedness.
The punishment answers to the sin. There is first of all (Sa2 12:10) the punishment for the murder of Uriah: "The sword shall not depart from thy house for ever, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife," etc. "For ever" must not be toned down to the indefinite idea of a long period, but must be held firmly in its literal signification. the expression "thy house," however, does not refer to the house of David as continued in his descendants, but simply as existing under David himself until it was broken up by his death. The fulfilment of this threat commenced with the murder of Amnon by Absalom (Sa2 13:29); it was continued in the death of Absalom the rebel (Sa2 18:14), and was consummated in the execution of Adonijah (Kg1 2:24-25).
But David had also sinned in committing adultery. It was therefore announced to him by Jehovah, "Behold, I raise up mischief over thee out of thine own house, and will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them to thy neighbour, that he may lie with thy wives before the eyes of this sun (for the fulfilment of this by Absalom, see Sa2 16:21-22). "For thou hast done it in secret; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before (in the face of) the sun." David's twofold sin was to be followed by a twofold punishment. For his murder he would have to witness the commission of murder in his own family, and for his adultery the violation of his wives, and both of them in an intensified form. As his sin began with adultery, and was consummated in murder, so the law of just retribution was also carried out in the punishment, in the fact that the judgments which fell upon his house commenced with Amnon's incest, whilst Absalom's rebellion culminated in the open violation of his father's concubines, and even Adonijah lost his life, simply because he asked for Abishag the Shunammite, who had lain in David's bosom to warm and cherish him in his old age (Kg1 2:23-24).
These words went to David's heart, and removed the ban of hardening which pressed upon it. He confessed to the prophet, "I have sinned against the Lord." "The words are very few, just as in the case of the publican in the Gospel of Luke (Luk 18:13). But that is a good sign of a thoroughly broken spirit ... There is no excuse, no cloaking, no palliation of the sin. There is no searching for a loophole, ... no pretext put forward, no human weakness pleaded. He acknowledges his guilt openly, candidly, and without prevarication" (Berleb. Bible). In response to this candid confession of his sin, Nathan announced to him, "The Lord also hath let thy sin pass by (i.e., forgiven it). Thou wilt not die. Only because by this deed thou hast given the enemies of the Lord occasion to blaspheme, the son that is born unto thee shall die." נאץ, inf. abs. Piel, with chirek, because of its similarity in sound to the following perfect (see Ewald, 240, c.). גּם, with which the apodosis commences, belongs to the הבּן which follows, and serves to give emphasis to the expression: "Nevertheless the son" (vid., Ges. 155, 2, a.). David himself had deserved to die as an adulterer and murderer. The Lord remitted the punishment of death, not so much because of his heartfelt repentance, as from His own fatherly grace and compassion, and because of the promise that He had given to David (Sa2 7:11-12), - a promise which rested upon the assumption that David would not altogether fall away from a state of grace, or commit a mortal sin, but that even in the worst cases he would turn to the Lord again and seek forgiveness. The Lord therefore punished him for this sin with the judgments announced in Sa2 12:10-12, as about to break upon him and his house. But as his sin had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord - i.e., not only to the heathen, but also to the unbelieving among the Israelites themselves - to blaspheme or ridicule his religion and that of all other believers also, the child that was begotten in adultery and had just been born should die; in order, on the one hand, that the father should atone for his adultery in the death of the son, and, on the other hand, that the visible occasion for any further blasphemy should be taken away: so that David was not only to feel the pain of punishment in the death of his son, but was also to discern in it a distinct token of the grace of God.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:15
David's Penitential Grief, and the Birth of Solomon. - Sa2 12:15. The last-mentioned punishment was inflicted without delay. When Nathan had gone home, the Lord smote the child, so that it became very ill.
Then David sought God (in prayer) for the boy, and fasted, and went and lay all night upon the earth. וּבא, "he came," not into the sanctuary of the Lord (Sa2 12:20 is proof to the contrary), but into his house, or into his chamber, to pour out his heart before God, and bend beneath His chastising hand, and refused the appeal of his most confidential servants, who tried to raise him up, and strengthen him with food. "The elders of his house," judging from Gen 24:2, were the oldest and most confidential servants, "the most highly honoured of his servants, and those who had the greatest influence with him" (Clericus).
On the seventh day, when the child died, the servants of David were afraid to tell him of its death; for they said (to one another), "Behold, while the child was still living, we spoke to him, and he did not hearken to our voice; how should we say to him, now the child is dead, that he should do harm?" (i.e., do himself an injury in the depth of his anguish.)
David saw at once what had happened from their whispering conversation, and asked whether the child was dead. When they answered in the affirmative, he rose up from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; that is to say, he laid aside all the signs of penitential grief and mourning, went into the house of the Lord (the holy tent upon Mount Zion) and worshipped, and then returned to his house, and had food set before him.
When his servants expressed their astonishment at all this, David replied, "As long as the boy lived, I fasted and wept: for I thought (said), Perhaps (who knows) the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may remain alive. 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." On this O. v. Gerlach has the following admirable remarks: "In the case of a man whose penitence was so earnest and so deep, the prayer for the preservation of his child must have sprung from some other source than excessive love of any created object. His great desire was to avert the stroke, as a sign of the wrath of God, in the hope that he might be able to discern, in the preservation of the child, a proof of divine favour consequent upon the restoration of his fellowship with God. But when the child was dead, he humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and rested satisfied with His grace, without giving himself up to fruitless pain." This state of mind is fully explained in Ps 51, though his servants could not comprehend it. The form יחנּני is the imperfect Kal, יחנּני according to the Chethibh, though the Masoretes have substituted as the Keri וחנּני, the perfect with vav consec.
Sa2 12:23 is paraphrased very correctly by Clericus: "I shall go to the dead, the dead will not come to me." - Sa2 12:24. David then comforted his wife Bathsheba, and lived with her again; and she bare a son, whom he called Solomon, the man of peace (cf. Ch1 22:9). David gave the child this name, because he regarded his birth as a pledge that he should now become a partaker again of peace with God, and not from any reference to the fact that the war with the Ammonites was over, and peace prevailed when he was born; although in all probability Solomon was not born till after the capture of Rabbah and the termination of the Ammonitish war. His birth is mentioned here simply because of its connection with what immediately precedes. The writer adds (in Sa2 12:24, Sa2 12:25), "And Jehovah loved him, and sent by the hand (through the medium) of Nathan the prophet; and he called his son Jedidiah (i.e., beloved of Jehovah), for Jehovah's sake." The subject to ויּשׁלח (he sent) cannot be David, because this would not yield any appropriate sense, but must be Jehovah, the subject of the clause immediately preceding. "To send by the hand," i.e., to make a mission by a person (vid., Exo 4:13, etc.), is equivalent to having a commission performed by a person, or entrusting a person with a commission to another. We learn from what follows, in what the commission with which Jehovah entrusted Nathan consisted: "And he (Nathan, not Jehovah) called his (the boy's) name Jedidiah." And if Nathan is the subject to "called," there is nothing to astonish in the expression "because of the Lord." The idea is this: Nathan came to David according to Jehovah's instructions, and gave Solomon the name Jedidiah for Jehovah's sake, i.e., because Jehovah loved him. The giving of such a name was a practical declaration on the part of Jehovah that He loved Solomon, from which David could and was intended to discern that the Lord had blessed his marriage with Bathsheba. Jedidiah, therefore, was not actually adopted as Solomon's name.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:26
Conquest of Rabbah, and Punishment of the Ammonites (comp. Ch1 20:1-3). - "Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and took the king's city." המּלוּכה עיר, the capital of the kingdom, is the city with the exception of the acropolis, as Sa2 12:27 clearly shows, where the captured city is called "the water-city." Rabbah was situated, as the ruins of Ammn show, on both banks of the river (Moiet) Ammn (the upper Jabbok), in a valley which is shut in upon the north and south by two bare ranges of hills of moderate height, and is not more than 200 paces in breadth. "The northern height is crowned by the castle, the ancient acropolis, which stands on the north-western side of the city, and commands the whole city" (see Burckhardt, Syria ii. pp. 612ff., and Ritter, Erdkunde xv. pp. 1145ff.). After taking the water-city, Joab sent messengers to David, to inform him of the result of the siege, and say to him, "Gather the rest of the people together, and besiege the city (i.e., the acropolis, which may have been peculiarly strong), and take it, that I may not take the city (also), and my name be named upon it," i.e., the glory of the conquest be ascribed to me. Luther adopts this explanation in his free rendering, "and I have a name from it."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:29
Accordingly David "gathered together all the people," - i.e., all the men of war who had remained behind in the land; from which we may see that Joab's besieging army had been considerably weakened during the long siege, and at the capture of the water-city, - "and fought against the acropolis, and took it."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:30
He then took their king's crown ("their king," viz., the king of the Ammonites) from off his (the king's) head; so that he had either been taken prisoner or slain at the capture of the city. The weight of the crown was "a talent of gold, and precious stones" (sc., were upon it): as the writer of the Chronicles has correctly explained it by supplying בּהּ. The Hebrew talent (equal to 3000 shekels) was 83 1/2 Dresden pounds. But the strongest man could hardly have borne a crown of this weight upon his head for however short a time; and David could scarcely have placed it upon his own head. We must therefore assume that the account of the weight is not founded upon actual weighing, but simply upon an approximative estimate, which is somewhat too high. David also took a great quantity of booty out of the city.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 12:31
He also had the inhabitants executed, and that with cruel tortures. "He sawed them in pieces with the saw and with iron harrows." בּמּגרה ויּשׂם, "he put them into the saw," does not give any appropriate sense; and there can be no doubt, that instead of וישׂם we should read ויּשׂר (from שׂוּר): "he cut (sawed) them in pieces." הבּרזל וּבמגזרות, "and with iron cutting tools." The meaning of the ἁπ. λεγ. מגזרות cannot be more precisely determined. The current rendering, "axes or hatchets," is simply founded upon the circumstance that גּזר, to cut, is applied in Kg2 6:4 to the felling of trees. The reading in the Chronicles, וּבמּגרות, is evidently a copyist's error, as we have already had בּמּגרה, "with the saw." The meaning of the next clause is a disputed point, as the reading itself varies, and the Masoretes read בּמּלבּן instead of the Chethibh במלכן, "he made them go through brick-kilns," i.e., burnt them in brick-kilns, as the lxx and Vulgate render it. On the other hand, Thenius takes the Chethibh under his protection, and adopts Kimchi's explanation: "he led them through Malchan, i.e., through the place where the Ammonites burned their children in honour of their idol." Thenius would therefore alter בּמלכּם into בּמלכּם or בּמּלכּם: "he offered them as sacrifices in their image of Moloch. " But this explanation cannot be even grammatically sustained, to say nothing of the arbitrary character of the alteration proposed; for the technical expression למּלך בּאשׁ חעביר, "to cause to go through the fire for Moloch" (Lev 18:21), is essentially different from בּמּלך חעביר, to cause to pass through Moloch, an expression that we never meet with. Moreover, it is impossible to see how burning the Ammonites in the image of Moloch could possibly be "an obvious mode of punishing idolatry," since the idolatry itself consisted in the fact that the Ammonites burned their children to Moloch. So far as the circumstances themselves are concerned, the cruelties inflicted upon the prisoners are not to be softened down, as Daaz and others propose, by an arbitrary perversion of the words into a mere sentence to hard labour, such as sawing wood, burning bricks, etc. At the same time, the words of the text do not affirm that all the inhabitants of Rabbah were put to death in this cruel manner. בּהּ אשׁר העם (without כּל) refers no doubt simply to the fighting men that were taken prisoners, or at the most to the male population of the acropolis of Rabbah, who probably consisted of fighting men only. In doing this, David merely retaliated upon the Ammonites the cruelties with which they had treated their foes; since according to Amo 1:13 they ripped up women who were with child, and according to Sa1 11:2 their king Nahash would only make peace with the inhabitants of Jabesh upon the condition that the right eye of every one of them should be put out. It is sufficiently evident from this, that the Ammonites had aimed at the most shameful extermination of the Israelites. "Thus did he unto all the cities of the Ammonites," i.e., to all the fortified cities that resisted the Israelites. After the close of this war, David returned to Jerusalem with all the men of war. The war with the Syrians and Ammonites, including as it did the Edomitish war as well, was the fiercest in which David was ever engaged, and was also the last great war of his life.