David apparently goes for at least several months and possibly longer with no evidence of repentance for his sin with Bathsheba. How can this be possible for the “man after God’s own heart”? Was his conscience comfortable or troubled during this period? Matthew Henry cannot resist speculating: “What shall we think of David’s state all this while? Can we imagine that his heart never smote him for it, or that he never lamented it in secret before God?… During these … months, we may well suppose his comforts and the exercises of his graces suspended, and his communion with God interrupted; during all that time, it is certain, he penned no psalms, his harp was out of tune, and his soul like a tree in winter, that has life in the root only.”
God allowed David to stray into this spiritual wasteland and to sojourn there for a time. But David remains God’s child; his terrible sin strained but did not sever that relationship. So God, who gave David faith to believe in the first place, now acts to bring him to repentance. David’s sin will have grave consequences, as we will see. But instead of condemning David like a vengeful Judge, God comes after him like a tender Shepherd, to reclaim His lost sheep. “Though God may suffer his people to fall into sin, He will not suffer them to lie still in it,” Henry writes.
The prophet Nathan brings the word of God to David in the form of a parable. He tells of two men, one possessing great riches and one possessing almost nothing—except for a lamb that was as precious to him as a child. But it happened one day that a visitor came to the home of the rich man, and rather than slaughter one of his own beasts to feed his guest, the rich man took the poor man’s one lamb.
David reacts with anger, almost as if he thinks the story is real. Perhaps Nathan has been accustomed to bring actual cases of injustice to his attention. In any case, David quickly hands down his judgment, confirming it with an oath. He declares that the rich man must restore what he took from the poor man fourfold, as the Law decrees (Ex. 22:1). But he goes further, saying that the rich man deserves to die. The Law never sets this penalty for theft—but it is the prescribed sentence for adultery and murder (Lev. 20:10; 24:17). David thus condemns himself, and Nathan now will apply the parable to him.