After a fairly routine rest of the week, Lord Lipton and his household came into the parish church for morning service and sat in the pew in the front. He could feel the eyes of the parish on him, having seen their new landlord in services for the first time, though he had seen many of them during his rides around the neighborhood and his own visits to their cottages. After the initial service, the rector, Mr. Riley, stood up to give a sermon, and it went something like the following.
“Today I would like to take as my text 2 Samuel 12:1-15. Let us read: “And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, 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, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. ”
Most of the time when we discuss this passage, we think about how bad the sin of David was. We talk about adultery and how David murdered Uriah with the sword of the people of Ammon. All of these things the prophet Nathan mentions to David in bringing his sin to his attention, and we do well to think about how it is that David fell far short of the law of God in committing these sins. I would like to talk about something different today, a perspective that we do not always view. I would like you all to stop and think for a moment about how it would be like for you to tell a king about his sins. What do you think would happen to you?
It takes no great imagination to see how it would probably go. At best you would end up in prison for your troubles. The king would see you as an enemy, and you may be driven into exile, imprisoned for decades in a dark dungeon, or even put to death as a traitor. None of these things happened to the prophet Nathan. Why? Why did a prophet who had just told Nathan that he was the wicked wealthy man in the parable, laid out his sins in detail that David had hidden from the world’s knowledge as a whole, except for all of those people involved in sending messages back and forth and Joab, walk home in safety after telling David the judgment that would come to his family? Could any of us walk into a palace and have the same blessed faith? I think not. What made it possible for Nathan to return to his home safely was the fact that David, even at his worse, remained a king after God’s own heart. This is not common for kings. When we read the books of 1 and 2 Kings, which we will go through for those who do not remember these stories, we can find many melancholy examples of prophets who suffered terribly for the words that they brought to kings. Nathan suffered none of these things, because the king he served was a godly one, if not a perfect one. We should all be so fortunate as to serve a Most Christian monarch in the way that the prophet Nathan did.
It is worth considering how it was that David viewed his prophet. Do we have a record of the great esteem and respect this prophet of bold truthtelling was held in? Indeed we do. Let us turn in our Bible to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3. If we look at the passage starting in verse 23 and read down, we will eventually come to verse 31, which tells us that Jesus was descended from Nathan, the son of David. Let us consider briefly the implications of that. David named a son of his after a prophet who had pointed out his sins and brought him the record of divine judgment. How remarkable and strange is this? If someone brought you news that a son of yours would die and that you would be humiliated in front of the entire neighborhood, much less the entire nation, would you name a son after him? Most of us would not. If we were people with great power and influence, would we have the same warm and friendly feelings for such a person that we would have with someone who brought us flattering words and a great deal of obvious honor? Most of us would not. How are we to account for this? We must account for it in the fact that David never fell so low that he rejected the honest rebuke that came from a godly man that kept him on the path of obedience. We can sing the penitential psalm, Psalm 51, that he wrote during this time as he earnestly prayed for God to create in Him a new heart. Let us turn to this passage read what David’s response was to being brought to remember how he had fallen short of the way that a godly king should behave.
Psalm 51 reads: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.”
There is much that we could say about this passage, and much that we will say about it when it comes time to discuss this passage as our daily reading. This psalm is a moving reminder of David’s repentant heart. He remembers the circumstances of his own birth, the sin into which he was born, and asks God to deliver Him from the sin of bloodguilt. We know that David was a man of many wars, and he was sensitive to the guilt that came as a result of having sent to many people to the grave in his conflicts. Let us note, though, what we do not see here. We do not see any anger or resentment against anyone, least of all Nathan the prophet. We see honest repentance, repentance that we would do well to show in our lives when we have fallen short of God’s ways and have this fact brought to our attention. This is especially important where we have the power to bring harm to those who offend us, even by telling us unpleasant and unwelcome truths.
Let us examine one more passage before we close. We have seen the content and nature of David’s repentance in both the historical and in the poetic literature. We have seen how David named a son after a prophet who had brought attention to him of his sins. Let us now return to the poetic books and see how it was that David viewed the criticism of the righteous, in Psalm 141:5: Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.” Now, if most of us said what David said, it would be mere puffery. Our claims that we would let the righteous say what they wanted to us would not be borne out by our response to their efforts at rebuke and correction. As we have seen, though, this is precisely what David did live up to. He said that he would gladly accept the reproof of the righteous, like the prophet Nathan, and so he did. His words were not mere hot air, but were confirmed by his deeds. Let it be the same for us, especially those of us who have great power to harm those whose words may offend us.”
With that the rector ended his sermon. The sermon was followed by a hymn where the audience sang from Psalm 51, and with that the crowd quickly dispersed, the audience not wanting to see how it was that their Lord, whom they took to be a somewhat imperious man, would view a sermon that seemed to actively encourage them to reprove and correct him and for him to take it gently and even praise it. They were savvy enough judges of human character to wonder if their Lord was such a mild man as to take that gently, and were not inclined at this time to try it. That said, it is not as if they went far, and they looked forward to having the chance to see what would result from such a daring message. It was not every Sunday, after all, that a minister spoke about a matter that directly involved the politics of high places. They wondered, not without reason, whether there would be any consequences of what was said, and thus while they scattered from the church so as to not be close witnesses of what happened, they certainly stayed close by to observe safely from afar what may be a much more exciting conversation between their rector and their Lord than would otherwise have been the case. And they were not to be disappointed, it must be admitted.