The Gift of Truth

Read: 2 Samuel 11:27 – 12:15

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5-7a, NRSV).

My favorite moment of King Charles III’s coronation was when the Right Reverend Dr. Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, presented the as yet uncrowned king with an open Bible. “Sir,” he said, as if he were talking to just another person he’d met on the street, this is “to keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.”

King David could have used a reminder like that. Like so many people with power, he had forgotten that God’s laws applied to him. God had not forgotten, however. Just when we had begun to wonder if David was going to get away with it, this story’s omniscient narrator lets us know that “the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (11:27).

Enter the prophet, Nathan, who is probably the Bible’s best example of “the lively oracles of God.” Without so much as a “Good morning, your Majesty,” he launches into a story about a rich man who turns a poor man’s “little ewe lamb” into lamb chops. Never mind that the rich man had an entire flock of his own; only the poor man’s lamb would do—the lamb who grew up with him and his children and who would “eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.”

David is incensed at this injustice, and immediately pronounces judgment on the rich man. “As the LORD lives,” he says to Nathan, “the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Snap goes the prophet’s trap. The king has walked right into it. Nathan now delivers the best one-liner in the Bible: “You are the man.”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, David must realize the deeper meaning of the prophet’s parable. Bathsheba is the poor man’s “little ewe lamb.” (By the way, if there were any lingering doubts about Bathsheba’s innocence, this surely puts them to rest. Blaming Bathsheba makes no more sense than blaming the lamb!) And while David has tried to put some distance between himself and Uriah’s death on the battlefield, Nathan makes it clear that God recognizes both the murderer and the murder weapon. “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?” Nathan demands on God’s behalf. “You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”

To David’s credit, he does not try to dodge this indictment. “I have sinned against the LORD,” he admits. No excuses. No appeals. Just “I have sinned against the LORD.” David may be guilty of many things, but self-deception isn’t one of them.

There’s a proverb that says, “Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). David may not have been able to recognize it at the time, but the prophet Nathan was a true friend to him that day. Maybe that’s why God sent him a prophet whose name means “gift.”

Ponder: In the 1992 film, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character utters the now famous line, “You can’t handle the truth.” Can you handle the truth? Why do you think David could in this story? What were his options?

Pray: Send us people who will speak truth to us, O God. Then give us the courage to admit our sin. In your mercy, forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.