1 Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. 6 He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.” 7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I also gave you your master’s house and 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! 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’
II Samuel 12:1-10 NASB
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. This infamous saying is extremely popular among grade school children who seek to defend themselves against verbal attacks from their peers. Even young and older adults still use this saying today as a defense mechanism. While this phrase sounds noble, it’s simply not true. Words can and do in fact hurt people of all ages! Consider a young son whose father constantly tells him that he is a hopeless case, or a struggling student who overhears her professor calling her a dimwit, or a dedicated employee whose supervisor calls him an idiot in front of the entire staff; these types of words don’t necessarily elicit joy or happiness from an individual. However, can words still hurt when they are used to communicate the truth to a person in a respectful yet stern manner? Absolutely! In fact, one of the things we often dread is hearing the truth about ourselves because that truth is not always easy to acknowledge or accept.
In today’s passage, the prophet Nathan is the carrier of truth and King David is the intended recipient. In II Samuel 11, King David commits adultery by consciously sleeping with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his most faithful soldiers. After receiving word from Bathsheba that she is pregnant following their sexual encounter, David desperately tries to convince Uriah to return home and sleep with his wife so that Bathsheba’s pregnancy would appear to be the product of her and Uriah’s intimacy, as opposed to himself. When Uriah continues to resist David’s urges to return home, David conspires to kill Uriah in an effort to permanently conceal his indiscretion with Bathsheba. He instructs his chief soldier Joab to intentionally place Uriah at the front line of their next battle and to withdraw all supporting troops from him. Ultimately, David’s deceitful plan works: Uriah the Hittite is killed in battle, and David takes a newly widowed Bathsheba as his wife.
David’s actions angered the Lord severely, so He sends the prophet Nathan to confront and rebuke David concerning his sin. As opposed to rebuking David immediately, Nathan begins his journey to reproof by giving an account of a rich man, a poor man, and a traveler. While the rich man possessed numerous flocks and herds, the poor man only possessed a little ewe lamb whom he loved like his own daughter. When a traveler appears in town to visit the rich man, the rich man takes the little ewe lamb from the poor man and prepares it as a meal for the traveler, as opposed to taking one of the many lambs from his numerous flocks and herds. As a shepherd himself, King David instantly becomes angry after hearing about the rich man’s actions. He declares that the rich man deserves to die, but not before he gives the poor man four lambs in restoration of the little ewe lamb that he stole from him. To David's surprise, the prophet Nathan emphatically declares to him, “You are the man!” Unbeknownst to David during Nathan’s narration, he was the rich man and Uriah was the poor man.
As the King of Israel, David possessed many great things! God had given him Saul’s house (“your master’s house”). He also had placed Saul’s wives, specifically his harem, into David’s care and protection after Saul died. Ultimately, God gave David the house, or the royal dynasty, of Israel and Judah. If that had not been enough, God tells David that He would have given him much more! In contrast, Uriah possessed very little; his most prized possession was his wife Bathsheba, whom he loved and took care of with everything in him. Identical to the rich man who stole the poor man’s only little ewe lamb for himself, David took Bathsheba from Uriah, not only when he slept with her but also after he intentionally set Uriah up to be killed in battle. Speaking through the prophet Nathan, the Lord tells David that he has despised, or dishonored, God’s commandment by committing adultery with Bathsheba and maliciously plotting to kill Uriah to cover up his adulterous affair and the resulting pregnancy.
David had been so consumed in his lust, malice, and deceit that it truly had not occurred to him just how evil and deplorable his acts were in the sight of God! Imagine David's immediate facial reaction when Nathan told him that he was the rich man in the account, the same man that David said was deserving of death! Nathan opened up David’s eyes to see his sinful actions through his lenses as a shepherd, which truly cut David to the core of his being! Yet and still, Nathan’s rebuke of David proved to be necessary and effective because David ultimately confessed his sin to the Lord (cf. II Samuel 12:13). And although he would suffer the consequences of his sinful actions through the death of the son he conceived with Bathsheba and the sword of division among his own sons, David did experience both the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy because according to Old Testament Law regarding adultery, both him and Bathsheba should have been executed (cf. Leviticus 20:10).
Just as the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke David for his sin, He does the same with His children today! As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we must remain open to sound correction and rebuke, understanding that God ushers both of these disciplining tools through other people, especially those whose are of the household of faith! Moreover, we should ensure that we intentionally submit ourselves under proper spiritual authority and leadership so that we prevent ourselves from escaping correction and accountability! Many believers who refuse to submit to any form of spiritual leadership or plant themselves within a community of other believers often do so because they do not want to be corrected or held accountable for their actions. As opposed to avoiding correction, we must embrace it, for it is through proper reproof that we become more spiritually mature! Even the Word of God itself corrects, reproves, instructs and discerns us wholly (cf. II Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).
Overall, we must recognize that the Lord’s discipline originates from a place of love, not hatred. Proverbs 3:12 states that “For those whom the Lord loves He corrects, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights”. God’s correction is proof of His love; it is His call to us to reject the way of the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. This is what we must remember when we feel accosted or attacked in the midst of sound correction and rebuke! When we begin to see His correction through the lenses of His unconditional love, we will be more open to receiving it, even when it hurts! Moreover, we as believers possess the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit; not only does He rebuke and correct us when we sin against God, but He also empowers us to obey Him! Show your gratitude to God for His correction and the correction He has dispensed through His servants through genuine repentance! A loving, holy God and Father who does not correct His own children wouldn't be considered much of a loving and holy Father, would He?