The Book of II Shmuel
Rav Amnon Bazak
LECTURE 82: CHAPTER 12 (PART 11)
PUNISHMENT AND REPENTANCE
After David pronounces his verdict concerning the rich man, the time
arrives to expose the truth:
And Natan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of
Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of
Shaul; (2) and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your
and gave you the house of Israel and of Yehuda; and if that were too little,
then would I add unto you so much more. (9) Why have you despised the word of
the Lord, to do that which is evil in My sight? Uriya the Chitite you have
smitten with the sword, and his wife you have taken to be your wife, and him you
have slain with the sword of the children of Amon.”
In the previous shiur, we saw that the parable of the poor man's
lamb was meant to demonstrate the severity of David's conduct, over and beyond
the "ordinary" severity of taking a married woman and sending her husband to his
death. This parable prepared the groundwork for four punishments that are now
cast upon David:
1) "Now therefore,
the sword shall never depart from your house" (v. 10). This punishment seems to
be measure for measure for the killing of Uriya the Chitite "by the sword." It
was fulfilled, among other ways, in the deaths of three of David's sons: Amnon
(13:28-29), Avshalom (18:15), and Adoniya (I Melakhim 2:25).
2) "Thus says the
Lord: Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will
take your wives before your eyes, and give them unto your neighbor, and he shall
lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly; but I
will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun" (vv. 11-12). This
punishment, measure for measure for taking Bat-Sheva, was fulfilled through
Avshalom's rebellion (below, chapter 17).
3) Following David's
repentance, "And David said unto Natan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’" (v.
13), Scripture says: "And Natan said unto David, ‘The Lord also has put away
your sin; you shall not die’" – implying that had David not repented, a sentence
of death would have been decreed against him. This is self-evident, for this is
the "simple" punishment for taking a married woman and sending her husband to
his death. Furthermore, as we saw in the previous shiur, the whole
purpose of the parable of the poor man's lamb was to demonstrate the
particularly aggravating circumstances of the incident.
4) In the end, the
prophet adds: "Howbeit, because by this deed you have greatly blasphemed the
enemies of the Lord,
the child also that is born unto you shall surely die" (v. 14). The child to be
born from this sin falls into the category of "the crooked that cannot be made
straight" (Kohelet 1:15),
a permanent reminder of the desecration of God's name, and therefore his death
When David hears Natan's rebuke, he has only two words to say: "Chatati
la-Hashem" – I have sinned against the Lord." Without a doubt, these
words reflect enormous strength. Other kings who were the objects of a prophet's
rebuke responded in altogether different ways. Some kings seethed with rage and
ordered that harm should be brought to the prophet; this was the response, for
example, of Yerov'am ben Nevat (see I Melakhim 13:4) and Achazya (see II
Melakhim 1). Others tried to evade responsibility – this was highly
characteristic of King Shaul, who time and time again tried to justify his
actions (see I Shmuel 13, 15, and 28, and our shiurim there).
David, in contrast, recognizes his sin, is not angry with the prophet, and does
not try to excuse his actions. This response was appreciated on high, and
accordingly Natan informs David that his repentance was effective for the short
term and saved him from death: "The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not
What remains is a question that Chazal formulated in concise
fashion: "Shaul sinned once and it brought [calamity] upon him; David sinned twice and it did not bring evil upon him" (Yoma 23b). Why
did Shaul lose his kingdom for one sin, while David did not lose his kingdom for
an offense that seems far more serious by any standard?
seem that the difference lies in their respective reactions to the rebuke of the
prophet: Shaul was very hesitant and tried to free himself from responsibility
before he finally admitted his sin (in particular in the episode involving
Amalek; I Shmuel 15), whereas David, as mentioned above, immediately
confessed. But the problem remains, for even prior to David's repentance, there
is no mention of the fact that he was supposed to lose his kingdom. Scripture
explicitly states that David's repentance only canceled the death sentence that
awaited him; it says nothing about the continuation of the kingdom. Thus, we
come back to the question: Why didn't David lose his kingdom, just as Shaul lost
simple level, we may suggest that this was no longer possible, as God had
already made a promise to David in Natan's vision: "But My mercy shall not
depart from him, as I took it from Shaul, whom I put away before you.
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever
before you; your throne shall be established forever" (7:15-16). But this answer
is only possible if we assume that our chapter took place later chronologically
than chapter 7. In our study of chapter 8 (shiur no. 74), we argued that
it is reasonable to assume that the events of chapter 7, which opens with the
words, "and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies round about," took
place after the chapters describing the wars of David (8 and 10), and presumably
after the Bat-Sheva episode, which occurred at the height of the war fought
left then with only one possibility: The Bat-Sheva episode was indeed a serious
one-time fall of David, but it did not reflect his person as a whole. It is
possible that this evaluation is supported by what we emphasized in shiur
no. 80, that David's entanglement resulted from his sense of responsibility for
Bat-Sheva. Against this fall stands the greatness of David's person as it was
expressed on various occasions in the past, and it may be concluded that David
learned his lesson, and that the serious episode reflects the exception, rather
than the rule – unlike Shaul, whose fall reflected an essential flaw in his
leadership, and therefore led to his losing the kingdom.
SHALL GO TO HIM, BUT HE WILL NOT RETURN TO ME”
The fourth and final punishment begins immediately:
And Natan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that
Uriya's wife bore unto David, and it was very sick.
However, the main point of the story of the child is not the unsurprising
fulfillment of the prophecy, but rather David's surprising reactions at various
stages of the events:
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and as often as he
went in, he lay all night upon the earth. (17) And the elders of his
house arose, and stood beside him to raise him up from the earth; but he would
not, neither did he eat bread with them. (18) And it came to pass on the
seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him
that the child was dead; for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive,
we spoke unto him, and he hearkened not unto our voice; how then shall we tell
him that the child is dead, so that he do himself some harm?” (19)
But when David saw that his servants whispered together, David perceived
that the child was dead; and David said unto his servants, “Is the child dead?”
And they said, “He is dead.” (20) Then David arose from the earth, and
washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel; and he came into the
house of the Lord, and bowed; then he came to his own house; and when he
required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. (21) Then said his
servants unto him, “What thing is this that you have done? You did fast and weep
for the child while it was alive; but when the child was dead, you did rise and
eat bread.” (22) And he said, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted
and wept, for I said, Who knows whether the Lord will not be gracious to me,
that the child may live? (23) But now that 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.”
The question raised by David's servants was a logical one that should be
raised by the reader himself: How are we to understand David's conduct? Usually,
when a person prays for something, and all the more so for the life of his son,
and his prayer goes unanswered, he is then in a much more difficult emotional
state, for he has already lost all hope and he suffers the pain of bitter
reality. The servants' concern that David would "do himself some harm" is then
very understandable. Against the difficulty of the question, David’s answer
stands out in its weakness. Did, in fact, David maintain a philosophical
approach, detached from all emotions, that one should not grieve over the
deceased because "I shall go to him, but he will not return to me"? Surely he
himself did not conduct himself in this manner following the deaths of his other
sons, Amnon (13:31, 36) and Avshalom (19:1-5).
Furthermore, the wording of the verses suggests that we are not dealing
merely with a return to routine. The verses emphasize a variety of activities
that David undertook: "Then David arose from the earth, and washed,
and anointed himself, and changed his apparel; and he came
into the house of the Lord, and bowed; then he came to his own
house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat."
Nine successive verbs in a single sentence demand explanation, and the general
impression that one gets from the verse is that David experienced relief: he
washes and changes his clothing, as Yosef had done in his time (Bereishit
41:14), and then he goes to the house of God and bows there – a clear expression
of thanksgiving to God.
What is the meaning of this behavior?
It seems that from a natural human point of view, David did not really
want the child to live. Had he lived, he would have been, as mentioned earlier,
a constant reminder of the serious sin that he had committed. When the bastard
child died, at the tender age of seven days, a heavy stone was lifted from
David's heart, and he thanked God that no trace of his sin would remain.
However, it is precisely this that emphasizes David's earlier virtue and the
message lying in the account of the child's death: Even though it ran counter to
his own personal interests, David nevertheless prayed to God and made every
effort to cancel the decree. He thereby proved that his repentance was complete.
When David sent Uriya to his death, he ignored the value of human life in order
to further his own personal interest. Now he mends his ways: he gives expression
to the value of human life and prays for the survival of the child, even though
this runs counter to his interests.
If our explanation is correct, we can add another layer to it. If indeed
David experienced relief at the death of the child born out of his sin, it is
possible that David also had reservations regarding Bat-Sheva, whom he had taken
into his house because of a sense of responsibility (see shiur no. 80).
Indeed, we do not encounter her anymore from here until the end of the book.
Moreover, this may be the reason that he had reservations, if only subconscious
ones, regarding Bat-Sheva's son, Shlomo, as may be inferred from a careful
reading of the following verses:
And David comforted Bat-Sheva his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her;
and she bore a son, [va-tikra; and she called (the way the word is
read)] [va-yikra; and he called (the way the word is written)] his name
Shlomo. And the Lord loved him; (25) And He sent by the hand of Natan the
prophet, and he called his name Yedidya, for the Lord's sake.
It is Bat-Sheva who calls the child by the name of Shlomo (according to
the way the verse is read); God also gives him a name, but David is missing from
the picture. Moreover, the verse states: "And the Lord loved him," and it is
difficult not to remember another verse with a similar ending: "We have a
father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is
dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him." The
contrast between the two verses is striking: Scripture makes no mention of
David's love for his son Shlomo.
Bat-Sheva and her son, with their very presence, serve as a reminder of the
circumstances that brought them into David's house, and it is understandable
that David did not feel comfortable around them.
Nevertheless, the end of the story proves that David's repentance was
accepted by God, and for this reason it was precisely Shlomo, the son of David
and Bat-Sheva, who was chosen to be David's successor, and God loved him. This
teaches us the power of repentance.
(Translated by David
9b: "R. Shimon ben Menasya said: Who is it 'that is crooked' who 'cannot be made
straight'? He that has a connection with a forbidden relation and begets by her