2 Samuel 10–14: Sin & Tragedy

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 19: Tuesday

Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they brought destruction on the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.
2 Samuel 11:1

Before you read today’s Bible reading of 2 Samuel 10–14, ask God to teach you from His Word. The sinful deeds found in Scripture are stark reminders of its destructive consequences. There are many very obvious examples of how not to live in these five chapters and stark reminders of the ripple effect of our sin in the lives of others. After you’ve read through 2 Samuel 12:15, stop and turn to Psalm 51 and read it before you continue in 2 Samuel.

These chapters record a war with the Ammonites precipitated by their humiliation of David’s messengers. David fights in some of the battles, but spring finds him in Jerusalem.

No matter how many times I’ve read the story of David and Bathsheba, it’s still shocking. After God chose him to be king and promised his throne would be established forever, David goes from humble gratitude to abusing the power and authority of his kingship in his sin, his attempt at a coverup, and finally in his sending Uriah to his death.

Then the Lord sent Nathan to David, and David reacts in fury to Nathan’s tale of the rich man who took and killed the one ewe lamb of a poor man.

Nathan then said to David, “You yourself are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘It is I who anointed you as king over Israel, and it is I who rescued you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and put your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the Lord, by doing evil in His sight? You have struck and killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, you have taken his wife as your wife, and you have slaughtered him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now then, the sword shall never leave your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Behold, I am going to raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed, you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and in open daylight.’”

David Kneeling in His Palace before the Prophet Nathan

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has allowed your sin to pass; you shall not die. However, since by this deed you have shown utter disrespect for the Lord, the child himself who is born to you shall certainly die.”

Then Nathan went to his house.
2 Samuel 12:7–15

David’s response is remarkable considering everything he had done to avoid responsibility for his sin. He hears the truth. He doesn’t argue with Nathan. He acknowledges his sin.

Psalm 51 is the psalm of David’s repentance. After evasion and coverup, he is fully convicted of his sin. After committing adultery and murder he faces what he has done, repents, confesses his sin to God, and casts himself upon God’s unfailing love and compassion. David gives us a picture of the width and depth of God’s forgiveness.

At the end of 2 Samuel 12, David begins to see the consequences of his sin as he and Bathsheba have to face the crippling loss of their child. Solomon is born to them. The war with the Ammonites continues.

In 2 Samuel 13, the consequences of David’s sin ripple out to his family, devastating their lives as lust and hate take root.

Sons were born to David in Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These sons were born to David in Hebron.
2 Samuel 3:2–5

Amnon, David’s oldest son, lusts after his half-sister Tamar, Absalom’s sister, raping her and then casting her off and hating her. Her brother, Absalom, is infuriated and is in a slow burn for two years as he plans and creates a scenario for Amnon to be killed. D. F. Payne comments:

“It is noteworthy that the whole episode of Absalom’s rebellion began with the same sins of which David had been guilty: sexual immorality leading to murder.”1

Payne notes the contrast of David’s reactions to Absalom’s:

“David’s anger led him to do nothing…Absalom too did nothing, but with very different feelings and intentions.”2

Matthew Henry makes this conjecture about David and Absalom’s reactions.

“But he [David] cannot bear the shame those must submit to who correct that in others which they are conscious of in themselves, and therefore his anger [against Amnon] must serve instead of his justice; and this hardens sinners, Eccl. viii.11. How Absalom resented it. He resolves already to do the part of a judge in Israel; and, since his father will not punish Amnon, he will, from a principle, not of justice or zeal for virtue, but of revenge, because he reckons himself affronted in the abuse done to his sister.”

After Amnon’s death, Absalom flees. Another three years goes by. David has lost one son to death, but lost another in exile.

These chapters are painful to read. I keep wondering what is going on in David’s head. Why didn’t he act decisively? He’s both their father and their king. Why didn’t he punish Amnon? Why didn’t he go after Absalom? Both sons also abused their power. He mourns for Amnon and he yearns for Absalom, yet he punished neither for their evil deeds.

Seeing that David is yearning after Absalom, Joab takes matter into his own hands and sends a woman with a story that will open David’s eyes and end Absalom’s banishment. Even after Absalom returns to Jerusalem he goes two years without seeing his father. Payne has this opinion:

“Joab’s intervention may well have been motivated by a desire to put both parties, David and Absalom in his debt…

“If it was Joab who engineered Absalom’s return to Israelite soil, it was the latter himself who contrived his readmission to the royal court. This he did in a very arrogant fashion. It is apparent in this passage that neither father nor son was a man to forgive and forget.”3

2 Samuel 14 closes with the scene set for Absalom’s rebellion and war against his father.

As I was thinking about David, I thought of how he goes from humility and gratitude to God when he becomes king to an attitude of arrogance as king and great sin, I asked, how can I, how can we, be kept from this? I thought of my friend Lisa and her story. And one of David’s psalms came to mind.

This translation of Psalm 19 is by Alec Motyer from his book, Psalms By The Day.4 I used it because this psalm is so familiar a different translation can help slow us down as we read help us think about the words. In his Introduction he writes:

“What I have set out to do in offering my own translation of Psalms is to bring you as near as I can to the Hebrew of the original. Very often this extends to following the word order of the Hebrew — even when it is awkward in English — because word-order reflects emphasis.”5

Psalm 19

Yahweh’s teaching is complete,
restoring the soul;
Yahweh’s testimony is trustworthy,
Giving wisdom to the teachable;
Yahweh’s precepts are straightforward,
giving joy to the heart;
Yahweh’s command is pure,
enlightening the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is clean,
standing for ever;
Yahweh’s judgments are true;
righteous altogether!
To be desired more than gold,
than abundant fine gold!
And sweeter than honey,
even overflowing honey!
Also, as regards your servant,
he is warned by them;
in keeping them there is an abundant outcome.
Mistakes — who can discern them?
From things kept hidden keep me innocent.
Also from presumptuousnesses restrain your servant;
may they not rule over me!
Then I will be perfect,
and innocent of great rebellion.
May the words of my mouth accord with your favour,
and the musings of my heart accord with your presence.
Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
David Kneeling in His Palace before the Prophet Nathan: Tobias van Nijmegen. Public domain.
1,2,3D. F. Payne, “1 and 2 Samuel,” 
The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 308, 308.
4,5Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 52, 9. On his use of Yahweh, in the Introduction on page 10, Motyer writes:
“The divine name ‘Yahweh’ well at first sound strange in your ears, being used to the established (but mistaken) English convention I’ve representing the name as ‘the Lord’. We who are of an older generation will remember the days when calling someone by their Christian name was a privilege granted not to be presumed upon. It meant something to us when a senior friend said, ‘Please call me by my Christian name’; the relationship had ripened into a new intimacy and privilege. So it was in Genesis 4:26 when people began to call their God by his personal name; so it was even more when the significance of that Name was revealed to Moses (Exod. 3:15). A totally false sense of reverence later said ‘The Name is too holy for us to use,’ and the custom was introduced of representing it as ‘the Lord’. No, no. He has granted us the privilege, and we should learn (belatedly) to live in the benefit of it. Hebrew has two main nouns for ‘God’. There is a plural elohim, God in the fullness of the divine attributes ― for simplicity I translate this as ‘God’ ― and the singular el which I translate as ‘transcendent God’. But there is only one ‘Name’. ‘God’ is what he is; Yahweh is who he is.”

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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