Sunday School Lessons

The Setup of a Good Story

Ever heard a good story?  I’m not talking about a novel or anything that long, but just a good story from a friend about something that happened to them (or maybe a good joke).

Now, some speakers will say, “stop me if you’ve heard this one”.  If you’ve attended church or listened to Bible teachers much, I suspect that you’ve heard about the story we’re studying today.  Having said that, we serve an infinite God, and I’m pretty sure that there’s more that we can learn from His Word today, even if we’ve read the words before.

Whether or not we know the story, a good storyteller will usually set up some context.  After all, it’s difficult to understand what is going on if we don’t know who (or where) the participants are.  Let’s take a look at a story told by Nathan the prophet to King David of Israel:

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
2 Samuel 12:1‭-‬3 NIV

https://bible.com/bible/111/2sa.12.1-3.NIV

A lot of stories like this have contrast, and this one is no exception.  It seems that, for as poor as the poor man is, the rich man is that much richer.

Like a lot of good narratives, there’s a surprise here at the end of Nathan’s story.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
2 Samuel 12:4 NIV

https://2samuel.bible/2-samuel-12-4

It almost doesn’t make sense (and that’s probably the point).  Why would someone with more than enough resources go out and take someone’s last lamb?  What kind of lout would take from the poor when he had an abundance of his own?  (Unfortunately, we can probably think of other examples where this does occur, but that is a reminder that we live in a fallen world, where sin runs rampant.)

Still, knowing the context, here, we can pretty quickly line up the characters in this story with what has been happening:

  • Uriah the Hittite (who David had killed, in order to cover up David getting Uriah’s wife pregnant) is the poor man.
  • His beloved lamb is Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife, who David had taken).
  • David is the rich man.

If we think about it, this story is like a parable or an allegory: It has meaning to the hearers, regardless of whether or not it also happened literally.

Side note: The Hebrew word for daughter in verse 3 is the first part of the name, “Bathsheba” (as noted in a couple of the commentaries referenced at the end of this article).  We may recognize this term: when a Jewish girl reaches a certain age, we celebrate a “bat” mitzvah.

In 2 Samuel 5-6, David’s reaction is probably what we would expect.  He perceives this as a literal story, and his response is swift and severe.  This might just be an outburst, but his judgment is harsh and immediate.  (Remember, there are no jury deliberations in a monarchy.)

The NIV translation almost makes it sound like David is saying that the rich man must pay for the lamb, and also be executed, and this might have been the case.  Other translations suggest that David is saying that this man “deserves to die”, and then – maybe feeling merciful – he sorts out how the offense must be repaid.  Regardless, four-fold repayment was appropriate in the law (Exodus 22:1).  However, four (or even seven) sheep wouldn’t inconvenience someone as rich as this man, and – since this was pointless and wanton sin – maybe capital punishment would get the point across.

Regardless, it’s pretty clear that David was burning with anger at Nathan’s story.  Still, like some of those who heard Jesus’ parables, either David didn’t see the comparison to his own actions, or he didn’t let on.

Let’s continue with this account in our next study…


From Sunday School Lesson for June 6, 2021

References:

  • The Lookout, June 2021, © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • ESV Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul, editor, © 2015 Ligonier Ministries, via BibleGateway.com
  • Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation, via BibleGateway.com.
  • Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.
  • The College Press Commentary, 1 & 2 Samuel, by James E. Smith.  College Press Publishing Company, © 2000, p.427-430.

2 thoughts on “The Setup of a Good Story”

  1. I recently finished teaching a session on the importance of friendship in gospel-centered relationships. One of the things I listened to was a two-part series by J.D. Greear that discussed friendship. He said King David really had three good friends. Nathan was one of them.
    King David’s Friends
    Who were David’s top three friends and how did he benefit from them?
    Samuel: The crown bestower; God says you are to be a king. Friends give you vision for what God has for your life. The gospel. You need to think about yourself correctly.
    Jonathan: The faithful companion: it is remarkable that he was the son of the king and normally that son would be the next king. He risked his life for David’s good.
    Nathan: Loyal wounder: He did not let David take the path of sin and destruction.
    So much like Jesus, who also called his disciples “friends.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing these good insights. I appreciate that David’s friends weren’t just “yes-men”: their friendship was mature enough that they could confront him with the truth, for his own good.

      Like

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