The king sat and listened carefully, as was his wont. It was his responsibility to listen. As a king he must listen to the stories of his people so that he could lead them in the right way; for how can there be wise leadership without understanding? And as a man who sought to honour the Lord, and not fall away and reject God’s Spirit, as his predecessor Saul had done so miserably, he must give his full attention to the words of God’s prophet. But as he listened he felt indignation swell up inside him, making it harder to concentrate. This was a crime that should never have been committed in Israel! Yes, of course, sin was everywhere there were human beings; but this kind of sin flew directly in the face of how God’s covenant people were supposed to live and reflect his character. God’s people were called to be both just and generous, and the man who oppressed others because his wealth and power allowed him to get away with it – behaviour considered normal, and even admirable in the pagan nations around them – was absolutely, heinously wrong.
The story, in and of itself was ordinary enough. It could have happened anywhere in Israel. And, oddly, the prophet gave no indications of place or tribe or lineage. Instead, referring to “a certain town”, he spoke of a rich man who had abundant flocks and herds, yet when a traveller arrived at his house, he did not take a beast from his own plentiful possessions to feed his guest, but took from his neighbour instead. Now this neighbour was a very poor man, and all he owned was one little ewe lamb, which he loved as dearly as a daughter. And it was this ewe lamb which the rich man took from him, leaving him bereft, and without any payment or compensation.
The king was so angry. “The man who did this should be put to death, and he should have to pay back the value of the lamb four times over!” (as the Law declared for thieves) “He has done great wickedness and shown no pity!”
For a heartbeat there was silence in the room, and the king puzzled over the way the prophet looked at him so sadly. Then the prophet looked upward for a moment, like a man gathering strength from beyond himself, stepped forward, raised his arm and said, in ringing tones. “You are the man!”
The court was shocked into total silence. The king sat there looking completely bewildered. Then, as the prophet continued, the court saw the king’s face change from confusion to a bleak and terrible sorrow. For the prophet explained how the king, richly blessed with wives and concubines and wealth, honour and favour had set his desires on the wife of one of his own loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite and taken her to his bed, in very truth a rich man stealing from a poor man. Then, to compound matters, when Uriah’s wife became pregnant, he solved the potential scandal by plotting the man’s death! Everything the king had said about the rich man in the story was true of himself, and out of his own mouth he had condemned himself.
In great distress, King David exclaimed, “I have sinned before the Lord!”