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JBL 131, no.

2 (2012): 209-220

The Condemnation of Davids Taking

in 2 Samuel 12:1-14
dj anzen@noctrl.edu
North Central College, Naperville, IL 60540

In the narrative of 2 Samuel 11-12, after David commits adultery with

Bathsheba and attempts to cover up this crime by murdering her husband, Uriah,
Nathan approaches him in 12:1-4 with a parable, the point of which would appear
to be to have David pass judgment on himself for these sins and so to acknowledge
the justice of the punishment that God and Nathan pronounce in 12:7b-12,13b-14.
The parable concerns a rich man who takes a poor mans beloved lamb, his only
possession, in order to provide for a traveler, because the rich man does not want
to kill one of the many animals that he owns. The prophets parable does seem to
accomplish the goal of auto-condemnation: David announces in 12:5-6 that the
rich man in Nathans story deserves to be punished, and when Nathan announces
the divine penalty for Davidi actions, David admits culpability in 12:13a. This, says
Uriel Simon, is the way a juridical parable is supposed to functionit is a real
istic story about a violation of law, related to someone who had committed a similar offence with the purpose of leading the unsuspecting hearer to pass judgment
on himself.11 will show here that, although 12:1-4 does function as such a parable, its point is to have David convict himself not primarily of murder and adultery
but simply of taking Bathsheba, a matter that God sees as an attempt by David to
usurp Gods role in their relationship. The key to seeing this as the point of the
parable is through a comparison of it with Gods announcement of Davids punishment in the oracle of 12:7b-12 and Nathans addendum to it in 12:13b-14, particularly the rationales that God and prophet supply there for this punishment. As
we shall see, it is Davids taking of Bathsheba that is central to the warrant that God

Simon, The Poor Mans Ewe Lamb: An Example of a Juridical Parable, Bib 48 (1967):
207-42, esp. 220-21.



Journal of Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2012)

provides for the punishment; the murder and adultery are not ignored in 12:7b- 14,
.but they are tangential to the charge that David has taken when he should not have
When scholars assume that Nathans goal with the parable of 12:1-4 is to try
to get David to convict himself on charges of murder and adultery, it is difficult to
avoid noticing that there are striking differences between Davids crimes in
Samuel 11 and that of the rich man in the parable, whose only actual criminal 2
offense is to steal a poor mans lamb. Simon and others argue that the parallels
between a juridical parable and the actual crimes that the hearer has committed
-cannot be too obvious, or else hearers will see through the ploy and so avoid mak
ing a harsh but fair judgment in regard to the parable, since they would realize that
this would bind them to the same judgment in their own case.2 There is certainly
a point to this as rhetorical strategy, but the parable must be similar enough to the
actual case for the hearer s condemnation of the fictional situation to apply to his
or her real actions. If this close connection between parable and real crimes does
not exist, then hearers will not see how their judgment in regard to the parable also
applies to their own wrongdoings. And the fact of the matter is that there are some
striking differences between Nathans story of a rich man who takes a poor mans
lamb and Davids murder and adultery in 2 Samuel 11, most notable among them
that 12:1-4 mentions no murder or adultery. Both of these are capital crimes in
-ancient Israel,3 while theft is not.4 As a result, argue some scholars, we really can
:So Simon, Poor Mans Ewe Lamb, 221; see also, e.g., D. M. Gunn, The Story of King David 2
Genre and Interpretation (JSOTSup 6; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978), 41-42; Claudia V. Camp, The
Wise Women of 2 Samuel: A Role Model for Women in Ancient Israel? CBQ 43 ) 1981(: 14-29 ,
;esp. 21-22; Hans W. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (trans. John S. Bowden; OTL
Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 312; J. Hoftijzer, David and the Tekoite Woman, VT 20 ) 1970(:
esp. 421,443-44 n. 2; and Gillian Keys, The Wages of Sin: A Reappraisal of the *Succession ,419-44
Narrative )JSOTSup 221; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996(, 130-31 .

It is unambiguously clear in biblical law that intentional homicide receives the death 3
penalty; see, e.g., Exod 21:12; Num 35:31-34. The law codes also state unambiguously that both
partners involved in adultery are to be put to death (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). It is possible that in
actual practice in ancient Israel the husband had the right to mitigate the death penalty in such a
,.case; Prov 6:32-35 might suggest this, and this was the case in ancient Near Eastern law (e.g
-Code ofHammurapi 129; Middle Assyrian Laws 15). On this point, see Robert Gordis, On Adul
,tery in Biblical and Babylonian LawA Note, Judaism 33 (1984): 210-11; Henry McKeating
Sanctions against Adultery in Ancient Israelite Society, with Some Reflections on Methodology
,in the Study of Old Testament Ethics, JSOT 11 (1979): 57-72, esp. 62-65; Bernard S. Jackson
,Reflections on Biblical Criminal Law, JJS 24 (1973): 8-38, esp. 33-34. In Davids case, however
.this would be a moot point, since he killed the husband
Georg Christian Macholz argues that Davids first response in 12:5 to Nathans parable 4
the man who did this deserves to die (I will discuss this translation below)suggests that theft
-could in fact receive the death penalty in ancient Israel (Die Stellung des Knigs in der israeliti
sehen Gerichtsverfassung, ZAW 84 [1972]: 157-82, here 165). This is unlikely, however; there is
no other piece of biblical evidence that points in this direction, and so some scholars explain this
statement by seeing it as an eruption of anger on the kings part upon hearing the story, when he

Janzen: Davids Taking in 2 Samuel 12:1-14


not refer to 12:1-4 as a juridical parable at all, for if Nathan tells the story to David
in the hopes of getting the king to condemn a thief, what purpose would that serve?
David might, in this case, pass a judgment on the rich man (as he in fact does), but
not in a case that resembles his own murder and adultery.5 The cases of the rich
mans theft and Davids own murder and adultery are so different that by condemning the rich man for theft, David is hardly bound to apply the same judgment
to his own actions.
Nonetheless, we can still argue that Nathan delivers a juridical parable; we
must simply be clear about the crime for which he is trying to get David to condemn himself. If murder and adultery seem to be the most obvious answer in this
regard, we must return to the glaring difference between the rich mans theft and
David s adultery and murder. However, we see a close parallel between the act of the
rich man in the parable and the condemnation of David in Nathans oracle in
12:7b-12 and the prophets addendum to it in 12:13b-14, where the veil of the parables fiction is removed and God and prophet address Davids sin directly. If Nathan
is using the parable in the hopes of getting David to condemn himself, then we
should expect to see some parallel between the crime of the rich man in the parable and the crime with which God charges David in the oracle that follows. To begin
this comparison of parable and oracle, we can start by looking at the parable of
12:1-4,6 where Nathan presents David with the story of a poor man, whose pos-

expresses his wish that the rich man be executed. In this interpretation, David then calms down
and realizes that there is no such penalty for theft, which is why he goes on to impose a fourfold
repayment (according to most of the textual witnesses, at any rate) for the lamb. See, e.g., Horst
Seebass, Nathan und David in 2 Sam. 12, ZAW 86 (1974): 203-11, esp. 204-5; Anthony Phillips,
The Interpretation of 2 Samuel xii 5-6, VT 16 (1966): 242-44, esp. 243; Gwilym H. Jones, The
Nathan Narratives (JSOTSup 80; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 97-98; Gillis Gerleman, Schuld
und Shne: Erwgungen zu 2. Samuel 12, in Beitrge zur Alttestamentlichen Theologie: Festschrift
f r Walther Zimmerli zum 70. Geburtstag (ed. Herbert Donner et al.; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1977), 133. See also A. A. Anderson, 2 Samuel (WBC 11; Dallas: Word Books, 1989),
162; Peter R. Ackroyd, The Second Book of Samuel (CBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1977), 109.
5 For scholars who have pointed to important differences between 12:1-4 and Davids
crimes, some of whom argue that 12:1-4 cannot thus be termed a juridical parable, see Seebass,
Nathan und David, 203-11; Hermann Gunkel, The Folktale in the Old Testament (trans. Michael D.
Rutter; Sheffield: Almond, 1987), 55; Randall C. Bailey, David in Love and War: The Pursuit of
Power in 2 Samuel 10-12 (JSOTSup 75; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), 105-6; David
Daube, Nathans Parable, NovT 24 (1988): 275-88, esp. 276-77; Hugh S. Pyper, David as Reader:
2 Samuel 12:1-15 and the Poetics of Fatherhood (Biblical Interpretation Series 23; Leiden: Brill,
1996), 104-10; Keith W. Whitelam, The fust King: Monarchical Judicial Activity in Ancient Israel
(JSOTSup 12; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1979), 127-28; George W. Coats, Parable, Fable, and Anecdote: Storytelling in the Succession Narrative, Int 35 (1981): 368-82.
6 The Lucianic recension of the LXX (LXXl ) has Nathan say in 12:1, just as he begins the
parable, Judge this case for me. This is the only significant text-critical issue in 12:1-4. P. Kyle


Journal of Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2012)

sessions consist only of a lamb that he treats like a daughter, and a rich man who
owns very many sheep and cattle. When a traveler arrives, the rich man spared
taking from his own sheep and his own cattle, but he took the lamb of the poor
man. Upon hearing this story, David was very angry with the man, and he said to
Nathan, As Y h w h lives, the man who did this deserves to die,7 and he will repay
the lamb fourfold8 (12:5-6). Nathan then responds, You are the man (12:7).
Although not all scholars agree that the parable means to indicate David as corresponding to the rich man,9 the man to whom Nathan refers most obviously indi-

McCarter argues that it is original to the story, claiming that the other versions omitted it due to
haplography (II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary [AB 9;
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984], 294). We should read with the MT and the majority of the
versions, however. Not only does LXXLpresent us with the longer text here, but it functions to
-explain why David decides to treat this story as a judicial case that he must decide and not sim
ply as a sad or tragic story. Thus, LXXLis the easier reading. On this last point, see also Robert
.Alter, The D avid Story: A Translation with Commentary o f 1 and 2 Samuel (New York: W. W
Norton, 1999), 258; Chaya Halberstam, The Art of Biblical Law, Proofiexts 27 )2007(: 345-64 ,
here 351.
The words 7 in this phrase have the sense at least of one who deserves to die, if not
someone who is already under a death sentence. This is clearly the sense of , when Saul
uses it in reference to David in 1 Sam 20:31; Jonathan says to him in response, Why should he
die? (20:32). This is the sense also of -when David accuses Abner and others of not prop
erly guarding Y h w h s anointed in 1 Sam 26:16. The phrase in Pss 79:11 and 102:21
)also has the sense of )20 ones condemned to die. These are better comparisons than ,
which McCarter offers in his translation of n IDp here as fiend of hell (II Samuel 299) or
and , which refer to people responsible for crimes, that Pyper offers as comparisons
David as Reader(, 158-60 (.
.The MT and most of the versions read fourfold here, while the LXX reads sevenfold 8
I see no clear way to choose between these readings, and the issue is not overly important to my
argument, so I have presented the majority reading. See Pyper, David as Reader, 156 n. 1, for a brief
.summary of the alternative arguments
Lienhard Delekat argues that David is the traveler and that God is the rich man who took 9
the lamb (Uriah, in his reading) from the poor man (Bathsheba). This matches the lambs death
to Uriahs (although the parable does not explicitly say that the lamb dies), and it also makes God
the transgressor; after all, writes Delekat, God could have intervened to prevent Davids crimes
Tendenz und Theologie der David-Solomo-Erzhlung, in Das ferne und nahe Wort: Festschrifl(
;Leonhard Rost zu r Vollendung seines 70. Lebenjahres am 30. November 1966 [ed. Fritz Maass
-BZAW 105; Berlin: Tpelmann, 1967], 26-36 here 33). The difficulty with this argument, how
ever, is that it is David and not God who is condemned in 12:7-14 (see Keys, Wages o f Sin, 130;
Pyper, D avid as Reader, 99). Robert Polzin (David and the Deuteronomist: 2 Samuel [Indiana
Studies in Biblical Literature; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993], 122-26) and Larry
-Lyke (King D avid with the Wise Woman ofTekoa: The Resonance o f Tradition in Parabolic Narra
-tive [JSOTSup 255; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997], 155-56) see the parable as point
ing, in different ways, to David as rich man, poor man, and traveler. This, however, ignores the
clear indication of which David is speaking in 12:5-6, the man with whom Nathan identifies him
in 12:7a.

Janzen: David's Taking in 2 Samuel 12:1-14


cates the one about whom David has spoken, the man who did this, and this can
.only be the rich man
Let us now see if we can find a close parallel between Nathans parable and
the actions for which David is condemned in the oracle that Nathan delivers in
12:7b and Nathans further comment in 12:13b-14. We can begin by noting that 12
12:7b-12,13bmaybe divided into three sections, each announcing a separate 14
punishment of David, each punishment accompanied by an explanation for it. In
12:7b-10, which begins with thus says Y h w h , God says that the sword will never
-turn aside from your house (v. 10a) and provides an explanation for this punish
ment in w. 7b-9 and 10b. Verses 11-12 also begin with thus says Y h w h , and in
regard to the punishment that we find in this section, God states, I am raising up
against you evil from your own house, and I will take your wives from before your
eyes, and I will give them to your neighbor, and he will sleep with your wives before
the eyes of this sun (v. 11). For this punishment also God provides a rationale
v. 12). Nathan speaks in w. 13b( ,after David admits his sin in v. 13a and says 14
the child born to you will surely die (v. 14b), a third punishment that is also
.)accompanied by an explanation (v. 14a
The punishment in the first part of the oracle (12:7b-10) is sometimes seen
-as Gods retaliation for Davids murder of Uriah;10after all, the reference in the pun
ishment of v. 10a to the sword that will never turn aside from Davids house may
be meant to correspond to the twofold reference to the sword and Uriahs death
in v. 9, part of the explanation for this first punishment: Why did you despise
] [ Y h w h ,11 to do evil in his eyes? Uriah the Hittite you struck with the sword
and his wife you took for yourself as a wife, and you killed him with the sword of
the Ammonites. However, we need to examine the entirety of the explanation for
the punishment of v. 10a, not just v. 9, before we come to any conclusion about the
sin to which this punishment responds, and what we find is that the bulk of the
explanation of w. 7b-9, 10b is focused on the issues of giving and taking. Uriahs

,So, e.g., Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, 314; Lyke, King David with the Wise Woman ofTekoa 10
K. L. Noll, The Faces o f David (JSOTSup 242; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press ;154, 1997(, 66Shimon Bar-Efrat, Das Zweite Buch Samuel: Ein narratologisch-philologischer Kommentar ;67
& trans. Johannes Klein; BWANT 181; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2009), 114; Robert P. Gordon, I (
II Samuel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 258; John Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel
NCB; London: Oliphants(, 1971(, 254.
The MT and most versions of 12:9 have despise the word of Y h w h 11, but LXXl and
Theodotion have simply despise Y h w h . The has been inserted, however, in order to soften
the charge against David, and so LXXl and Theodotion have the more difficult and the shorter
,reading. See Dominique Barthlmy, Critique textuelle de VAncien Testament, vol. 1, Josu, Juges
& Ruth, Samuel Rois, Chroniques, Esdras, Nhmie, Esther (OBO 50; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck
Ruprecht, 1982), 262. The original form of Nathans question hereWhy did you despise
Y h w h ? thus corresponds to Gods explicit rationale in v. 10b for this first punishment, when
he says that David despised me.


Journal o f Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2012)

death is mentioned, but it is not where Gods emphasis lies. The explanation for
this first punishment begins in w. 7b-8 with God pointing out that he has given to
David kingship, rescue from Saul, Sauls house and wives, Israel and Judah, and is
willing to give even more. What is at stake here is neither murder nor adultery but
who has the right to take and give to David. When Nathan goes on to ask in v. 9,
Why did you despise Y h w h ?, he refers to the fact that David has taken
BathshebaGod has not given her to him, in other wordsand has done so by
killing Uriah. The majority of w. 7b-9, that is, focuses on Gods claim that he and
.not David is responsible for taking and providing David with power and women
David has taken Bathsheba as the rich man took the lamb; in doing so he has
.usurped Gods role and in this way has despised God
And just so readers are clear that the despising of God relates primarily to
Davids taking of Bathsheba, the punishment of 12:10a (the sword will never turn
aside from your house) is followed by one more piece of explanation in v. 10b:
, because you despised me
and then/so you took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be a wife for yourself. As is
usual, I am reading a verb in the perfect followed by one in the imperfect with the
ww consecutive ) ( as expressing a logical or temporal connection.12
-Davids act of despising God has resulted in the taking of Bathsheba; God is argu
ing that Davids despising of him is the mental attitude that triggers this taking. So
Nathans reference in v. 9 to despising Y h w h (Why did you despise Y h w h , to do
evil in his eyes? Uriah the Hittite you struck with the sword and his wife you took
for yourself as a wife, and you killed him with the sword of the Ammonites) is
clarified in v. 10b, which tells us that the despising has preceded and/or led to the
-taking. While one could read v. 9 in isolation as saying that the despising is equiv
aient to the killing of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba, v. 10b shows that the
despising was prior to the taking. We thus cannot equate the despising with Davids
killing of Uriah and/or with the taking of Bathsheba. Nonetheless, it is hard to miss
the fact that the way in which David has taken Bathshebakilling Uriah with the
.swordis reflected in the punishment in this first part of the oracle
Once we see that the explanation that accompanies the first punishment of
the oracle puts its emphasis on taking, we can see a correlation with the crime of
the rich man in the parable. Why does God emphasize this? The answer would
appear to be Davids act of despising God, the motivation for his crime. The verb
, along with and , stands at the center of Gods rationale for this pun -

12 The imperfect with ww consecutive serves to express actions, events, or states, which
are to be regarded as the temporal or logical sequence of actions, events, or states mentioned
immediately before
As a rule the narrative is introduced by a perfect, and then continued by
means of imperfects with ww conscutives (GKC, 326; emphasis in original). For a more extensive explanation, see IBHS, 547-49.

Janzen: David's Taking in 2 Samuel12:1-14


ishment in 12:7b-10in these verses, these three verbs each appear two times, and
no other verb in this section appears more than once. When it appears in the pas
sive voice, the verb -can have the sense of being small and worthless; the suf
fering servant, for example, is described as in Isa 53:3.13 So when people
despise something or someone, it is because it is of little worth to them. Esau
despised his birthright ) ( because it was of no more value to
him than the meal for which he exchanged it (Gen 25:34(. in that verse really
.has the sense of to hold in low esteem, and elsewhere it has the sense of to ignore
In Ezek 17:16-19, for example, God condemns Zedekiah because he has despised
or broken his treaty with Babylon; the treaty, in short, meant so little to Zedekiah
that he ignored it entirely.14 So when passages state that a person or God has been
despised, it means that the one despised is seen as unworthy of honor or to be
obeyed (e.g., 1 Sam 2:30; 10:27; 17:42; 2 Chr 36:16),15 for one despises precisely
what one sees as of little worth. As 12:7b-9 emphasizes, it was Gods role to give and
Davids to receive; David, by taking, has not seen Gods superordinate position in
-their relationship as worthy of respect or honor, and has assumed Gods role him
self by taking Bathsheba. This act of taking, which manifests Davids despising of
-God, is what God primarily condemns (while not failing to overlook Uriahs mur
der as the means by which David has taken); and so far, then, the parables empha
.sis on taking mirrors the oracles
The second part of the oracle begins in 12:11 as God announces in the second
punishment that he will now take Davids wives and give them to his neighbor (in
readers will discover that this is Absalom). That someone else will have ,16:20-22
,sex with Davids wives seems a just retribution for Davids adultery with Bathsheba
and some scholars understand this punishment to be for that crime specifically.16
The fact that this neighbor will sleep with or commit adultery with Davids wives

In Jer 49:15, God says that he will make Edom despised 13 ] [among humanity in the
sense of being small among the nations (and see also Obad 2). As another example, the psalmist
of Ps 119:141 says , .I am insignificant and despised
On the other hand, passages that claim that God has not despised particular groups 14
.the afflicted (Ps 22:25 [24]) or the captives (Ps 69:34 [33])mean that God has not ignored them
In 1 Sam 10:27 the worthless do not see Saul as worthy of being king, and so they refuse 15
to honor him with gifts. In 1 Sam 17:42, Goliath despised David because he was a youth. In
Sam 2:29-30, God charges the Elides with despising him because they have not followed his 1
commands in regard to offering sacrificethe Elides refuse to recognize him, in short, as having
the position of authority in which his commands must be obeyed. Similarly, when 2 Chr 36:16 says
-that Judah despised God s words, it lists this with mocking Gods messengers and prophets, mak
ing the point that the nation saw Gods commands and messages as of little value and God as
.unworthy to be obeyed
E.g., Hertzberg, I & I I Sam uel 314; Jones, Nathan Narratives, 102; Lyke, D avid with the 16
Wise Woman ofTekoa , 154-55 .

Journal o f Biblical Literature 131, no

216. 2 )2012(

seems to mirror Davids own adultery, but the second punishment also refers to
the issue of taking, just like the rationale for the first punishment: I will take your
wives . .. and I will give them to your neighbor. The neighbor will sleep with
Davids wives, but neither the punishment of v. 11 nor its rationale in v. 12 ever
-directly refers to Davids act of adultery. Nothing in 12:1-14 does, and it seems dif
ficult to see how God could be indicting David for the crime of adultery if the crime
-itself is never mentioned. The explanation in v. 12 that God provides for this sec
ond punishment not only does not refer to adultery, but it also does not refer to
despising. God justifies the punishment of taking Davids wives instead by referring
to the manner in which David took Bathsheba: For you acted in secret ][,
-but I will do this thing before all of Israel and before the sun. If God does not men
tion Davids act of despising him here, God does explain why David thought he
-could despise Y h w h by taking Bathsheba: he thought he could act in secret, with
out Gods knowledge. When people act , it is because they think that they will
not be seen. When, for example, Jonathan warns David to hide from Saul, he tells
him to , -dwell in secret and be hidden (1 Sam 19:2). The hypo
thetical woman in the covenant curse of Deut 28:47-57 will eat her own child
)because she is starving and does not want to share her cannibal meal even )28:57
with her own family.17Further, when we look at the verbal forms of , we see that
some people believe that they can act without Gods knowledge (Isa 29:15; Amos
-So what God focuses on in the oracle of 12:7b-12 as a whole, then, is not mur
der and adulterythe adultery, in fact, is not even explicitly mentionedbut
Davids act of taking Bathsheba. What has led to this act, says God, is a rebellious
)attitude on Davids part (David feels that he can take Gods role in their relationship
and a false belief that he can act in this way without Gods knowledge. This attitude
and false belief about God are each singled out in the oracle and accompanied by
a punishment. The murder and adultery are not forgotten, however, for the first
punishment (v. 10a) alludes to the murder of Uriah and the second punishment
.v. 11) to the adultery with Bathsheba(
-The oracle, then, accuses David of doing what the rich man in Nathans para
ble does: he takes when he should not, a matter that God interprets as Davids
usurpation of Gods own role in their relationship. Now, in 12:13a, David admits his
guilthe says he has sinned against Y h w h , not against Uriah and Bathsheba,18for

For other passages in which 17 has this sense, see Deut 13:7; Isa 45:19; 48:16; Jer 37:17.
can also have the sense of refuge, hidden place, and in passages such as Pss 27:5; 31:21 ]20 [;
61:5 ]4 [; 91:1, appears as the shelter in which God hides the psalmist or the righteous, or
to which the psalmist goes for protection. This latter use of , however, is clearly not the one
God has in mind here in 12:12.
-On this point, see also Marti J. Steussy, David: Biblical Portraits o f Power (Studies on Per 18
sonalities of the Old Testament; Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999(, 63-64 .

Jamen: Davids Taking in 2 Samuel 12:1-14


God has focused on what David has done to God and not on Davids murder and
adulteryand Nathan responds in w. 13b-14 by saying, Y h w h has removed19
your sin; you will not die. However, because you utterly scorned Y h w h 20 in this
matter, the son born to you will surely die. In this third and final punishment, the
rationale that the prophet provides is the same one that God gave in regard to the
first punishment, for the verb ) scorn) functions much as ) .despise) does
-In Ps 74:18, people scorn Y h w h because they do not recognize his power as ere
ator that was just described in 74:12-17; in Ps 10:3-4, 13, the greedy and wicked
scorn God because they do not believe that God can or will seek out and punish
their wrongdoing. In Num 14:11,23, Israel scorns God in the sense that they do
not believe that God has the power to give them the land. If people despise )(
God because they see the divine authority and position as of little value, they scorn
God because they have no respect for divine power, do not believe that God can or

The verb here is 19 , which can be used in the sense of causing undesirable things to
be removed from a person, such as ) reproach; Ps 119:39(; ) evil; Qoh 11:10; Jer 11:15(;
and ) -iniquity; 2 Sam 24:10; Job 7:21). In cases like these and in 2 Sam 12:13, the verb sug
gests that God is overlooking or forgiving or removing the evil and sin for which persons are
responsible. So in 2 Sam 24:10//1 Chr 21:8, David tells God, I have sinned greatly because of
what I have done; and now, O Y h w h , remove the iniquity ] [ ,of your servant. Or
,in Job 7:20-21, Job admits at least the possibility that he has sinned but asks, even in that case
What have I done to you, O watcher of humanity? and adds, Why do you not lift my guilt and
remove my iniquity ] ?[ Given the context of 12:13b-14, where the childs death
is foretold, some scholars translate as transferred your sin, arguing that the child
will die because he now bears Davids sin. See, e.g., Hlne Nutkowicz, Propos autour de la mort
,dun enfant: 2 Samuel xi,2-xii,24, VT 54 (2004): 104-18; Noll, Faces o f David, 67; McCarter
.II Samuel, 301; Jones, Nathan Narratives, 103; Gerleman, Schuld und Shne, 132-39; R. A
Carlson, David, the Chosen King: A Traditio-Historical Approach to the Second Book o f Samuel
trans. Eric J. Sharpe and Stanley Rudman; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wicksell, 1964), 157. This is(
certainly a possibility, but the narrative does not directly say this; otherwise, we would expect
to be followed by plus the object to which transfer is being made, as is the case in Lev
Kgs 23:10; Jer 32:35; Ezek 2 ;18:21 16:21; 23:37.
The MT and most of the versions read you utterly scorned the enemies of Y h w h , but 20
4QSamahas you utterly scorned the word of Y h w h . It would seem that, as in 12:9, a euphemism
.has been introduced to the text, in this case to avoid having David show disrespect to God directly
We find a similar situation in the MT of 1 Sam 25:22, where enemies of has been inserted into
the text as a euphemism, while the LXX of that passage lacks it and is likely original. In the case
of 12:14, the difference between the versions suggests that the euphemism is not original. 4QSama
itself is likely expansionistic, and follows the lead of the expansionistic version of 12:9 by having
David scorn the word of Y h w h ; as in 12:9, this is a euphemism that avoids directly charging
David with having utterly scorned Y h w h , which is most likely the original reading. See
Barthlmy, Critique textuelle , 1:262-63; McCarter, II Samuel, 296; Carlson, David, the Chosen
King, 153. To try to preserve the MTs reading here by translating ,in the piel as cause to scorn
,in the sense of you have caused the enemies of Y h w h to utterly scorn/blaspheme (so Hertzberg
I & I I Samuel, 314-15), demands reading the verb with a causative sense that it has nowhere else.


Journal o f Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2012)

will enforce his authority. So given what Nathan has already said about Davids
wrongdoing, his use of this verb makes perfect sense. David has not recognized
God's power and authority, and he has acted in the belief that God will not see or
punish his deeds. In this sense he has acted as if he had no respect for Gods power
or as if he did not believe God could or would enforce his authority. In 12:13b- 14,
that is, Nathans use of simply returns David to the problem that his taking of
Bathsheba has manifestedthe despising of Y h w h or refusal to recognize Y h w h s
-authorityand to which God points in 12:7b-12. Thus, we see that the punish
ment of David and its explanation here simply return us to his act of taking, the act
.that he shares with the rich man in the parable
In addition, here in 12:13b-14 we see a parallel not only with the parable but
potentially also with Davids response to it in 12:5-6, for there David says that the
rich man deserves to die, but will at least have to pay the lesser penalty of fourfold
restitution. After Davids acknowledgment of sin in v. 13a, Nathans statement that
you will not die because Y h w h has removed your sin suggestsalthough does
not directly claimthat David deserves to die, but that his newborn son will die
-instead, assumedly a lesser penalty.21 Neither David nor the narrator informs read
-ers why David, who believes that the rich man deserves to die, charges the crimi
nal with only a fourfold repayment; similarly, Nathan does not explain why, having
suggested that David deserves to die because he sinned against Y h w h , will lose
,only the fruit of this sin rather than his own life. The unstated possibility, of course
.is that God is willing to be lenient because David was
So the juridical parable works: in 12:5-6 David condemns the rich mans act
of taking that Nathan described in 12:1-4; and in 12:7b 13b-14 God and ,12
prophet condemn David for the same crime. According to God, the taking matters
because of Davids attitude toward God that it manifests: David has despised and
scorned God by showing no respect for the role of the deity in their relationship and
manifesting no fear that God would punish him; has appropriated Gods role for
himself in taking Bathsheba; and has believed that he could despise God without
,God knowing. David says that the rich man deserves to die, and Nathan suggests
-although does not directly state, that the same could be said about David. It is per
haps not a coincidence, however, that Davids refusal to condemn the rich man to
,death is paralleled by Nathans insistence that God will not kill David, as if God is
to some degree, allowing Davids reaction to the parable to set the terms of his own
punishment. The act of taking has involved murder and adultery, but the focus of

One rabbinic tradition says that the deaths of this child, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah correspond to the fourfold penalty that David pronounces on the rich man in 12:6 (b. Yoma
22b). This is an intriguing idea, but not one that the narrative makes explicit. It is also possible that
the original text of 12:6 has David impose a sevenfold penalty (see n. 8 above), which would make
the number of Davids sons who die from the time of this incident until soon after his death unrelated (at least numerically) to his judgment in 12:6.

Janzen: David's Taking in 2 Samuel 12:1-14


the case that God and prophet make against David in 12:7b-12,13b-14 parallels
the parable fairly closely. The parable focuses on the same sintakingthat God
and prophet condemn in the oracle, but the parable itself is different enough from
Davids actions in 2 Samuel 11 that the king does not see through the trap of selfcondemnation that Nathan sets for him.
If God charges David with taking when he should not, however, why does the
oracle refer to Uriahs death in v. 9 and allude to Davids adultery in v. 11? When
Nathan tells David in v. 13b, you will not die, does he mean to suggest that David
deserves death because he has committed the capital crimes of murder and adultery? 2 Samuel 12:1-14 as a whole makes this appear highly unlikely. First, the adultery is never referred to explicitly anywhere in w. 1-14. Second, God nowhere
demands that David should die, even though murder and adultery were capital
crimes, as we have seen, and this suggests that he is not directly charging David
with these crimes. Third, even if we could say with certainty that Nathans statement
in v. 13b means to suggest that Davids crime deserves deathand he does not in
fact say thishe makes no attempt to link it to the murder to which he has explicitly referred in v. 9 or to the adultery to which he has alluded in v. 11. He tells David
that you will not die immediately after David admits that he has sinned against
Y h w h rather than against Bathsheba and Uriah. If Nathan wanted to make the
point that David deserves to die because he murdered Uriah, we would expect this
statement to be placed next to v. 9, the single point in the oracle where Nathan
refers to the murder. Finally, as we have seen, by condemning Davids taking, God
and Nathan have charged him with a crime that closely parallels that of the rich
man in the parable. If the oracle were interested in indicting David on charges of
murder and/or adultery, we would expect a different parable. The oracle, in sum,
presents the murder and adultery as tangential to Davids taking and usurpation of
Gods place in their relationship.
Nonetheless, the fact that the oracle of 12:7b-14 does not entirely neglect the
murder and adultery suggests that the matter of how David has treated his subjects
is not something that God is willing to overlook completely. This too is reflected in
the parable, for it is not only about taking but about a rich man who is so egotisti
cal that he is greedy,22has no regard for his neighbor or family life in general,23 and
22 The rich mans greed is clear enough in the fact that he stole a lamb regardless of the fact
that he had many animals of his own that he could have used. Daubes (Nathans Parable, 27677) and Baileys argument (David in Love and War, 105-6) that David takes out of desire rather
than greed misses the point. The parable does not explain why the rich man took; it notes merely
that the rich man had plenty of animals of his own, just as the oracle points out that God had
already given David women. For that matter, 2 Samuel 11 does not provide any rationale for
Davids taking of Bathsheba. Sexual desire is assumedly one motivating factor, but so is the desire
to take when one already has more than one needsgreed, in other words.
23 The parable discusses the lamb with verbs normally used for humans (see Coats, Parable, Fable, and Anecdote, 371-72), and the fact that the lamb is like a daughter to the poor man


Journal of Biblical Literature 131, no. 2 (2012)

abuses his power.24 While 12:7b-14 follows the parable in foregrounding Davids
taking, it does not neglect to refer to the murder and adultery that tangentially
accompany this sin. David has despised God by taking when he had no right to do
so, but he has also hurt his own subjects through his greed, lack of regard for Uriah
and his family, and abuse of power. If the main emphasis in the parable and the
oracle is on Davids taking and (at least in the oracle) how this shows that he has
usurped Gods position and thus demonstrated no regard for the proper relationship he should have with Y h w h , the parable and the oracle also refer tangentially
to the effect this has had on his relationship with his subjects. As a result, Davids
punishment for taking does reflect the murder and adultery he has committed,
even if these sins are not the behavior that is directly condemned by the parable and
the oracle.
and slept in his bosom suggests that she is like a member of the family. The rich man more or
less rips apart a family unit without any regard for it (so Jeremy Schipper, Parables and Conflict
in the Hebrew Bible [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009], 52-53; see also Bar-Efrat, Das
Zweite Buch Samuel, 114).
So Seebass, Nathan und David, 205-6; Wolfgang Roth, You are the Man! Structural
Interaction in 2 Samuel 10-12, Semeia 8 (1977): 1-13, esp. 9-10; Whitelam, Just King, 126; Jones,
Nathan Narratives , 100.

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