And the Lord sent Nathan to David: and when he was come to him, he said to him: There were two men in one city, the one rich, and the other poor.  The rich man had exceeding many sheep and oxen.  But the poor man had nothing at all but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up, and which had grown up in his house together with his children, eating of his bread, and drinking of his cup, and sleeping in his bosom: and it was unto him as a daughter.  And when a certain stranger was come to the rich man, he spared to take of his own sheep and oxen, to make a feast for that stranger, who was come to him, but took the poor man’ s ewe, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.  And David’ s anger being exceedingly kindled against that man, he said to Nathan: As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this is a child of death.
 He shall restore the ewe fourfold, because he did this thing, and had no pity.  And Nathan said to David: Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord the God of Israel: I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee from the hand of Saul,  And gave thee thy master’ s house and thy master’ s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and Juda: and if these things be little, I shall add far greater things unto thee.  Why therefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in my sight? Thou hast killed Urias the Hethite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.  Therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Urias the Hethite to be thy wife.
 Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes I and give them to thy neighhour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.  For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing in the sight of all Israel, and in the sight of the sun.  And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die.  Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing, the child that is born to thee, shall surely die.  And Nathan returned to his house. The Lord also struck the child which the wife of Urias had borne to David, and his life was despaired of.
2 Kings 12: 1-15
We have a truncated version of the above reading at Mass today. It conveys the comforting message that King David admits his deeply cynical and evil sin in having Uriah the Hittite murdered in order to protect his partner in adultery Bathsheba and is forgiven by God. It stops right before Nathan goes on to state that the newborn son of David and Bathsheba would die. This is a deeply uncongenial message to we moderns, particularly in this Year of Mercy. An innocent dying because of the sin of someone else? How can this be just, let alone merciful? The passage reminds us, a reminder that, sadly, is always needed, that sins are not merely deadly for the person committing them, but often have dire consequences for purely innocent parties.
Note also the statement of Nathan that the sword would never depart from the House of David. We see this in the reign of the second son of Bathsheba and David, Solomon. It was he who married various foreign wives, who brought with them the cults of their gods, that set off endless strife for generations thereafter, and he who reared an idiot son, Rehoboam, whose intransigence upon him becoming King would cause the ten tribes of Israel to rebel, sparking frequent wars between the two nations, and transforming the strong state created by David into two squabbling petty kingdoms, always teetering on extinction from the strong states of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon. This passage is a strong statement of the Justice of God. Continue reading
In the Mass Readings last Sunday, for the reading from the Old Testament we had Nathan the Prophet denouncing King David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite after Bathsheba became pregnant with his child. It is a familiar tale for us, and the familiarity conceals from us just how remarkable it is and how important for us it is, not just in a religious sense but also in our secular lives.
A forgotten masterpiece from Hollywood, King David (1951), helps remind us of the importance of the two great sins of David and their aftermath. David is well-portrayed by Gregory Peck. No longer the shepherd boy, he is now an increasingly world-weary King. God who was close to him in his youth now seems distant. Rita Hayworth gives a solid performance as Bathsheba, David’s partner in sin. The best performance of the film is by Raymond Massey as Nathan. Each word he utters is with complete conviction as he reveals the word of God to those too deafened by sin to hear it. In the video clip above we see this when David attempts to argue that the soldier who died when he touched the Ark of the Covenant may have died of natural causes. “All causes are of God”, Nathan responds without hesitation. He warns David that he has been neglecting his duties and that the people are discontent.