You. Yes, You.

1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David . . . 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’”

2 Samuel 12:1-9 (ESV)

One of the worst blows the modern age has inflicted on Christian ministry is the demise of the second-person singular—“You.” The prophetic declaration “You have sinned” has lately given way to a softer “we” or even “everyone,” because our therapeutic age simply will not tolerate the embarrassing directness of “You.”

Nearly a year passed before the Lord confronted David for his sin. It had been “in the spring” (11:1) when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, but by the time Nathan came to the palace the baby had already been born (cf. 11:27 and 12:1).

Standing before the king, Nathan told of a poor man’s pet lamb which had been slaughtered to indulge the desires of a rich man (vv. 1-4). Not realizing the prophet’s parable was the story of his own sin, David was enraged and pronounced the death sentence upon the man who would commit such evil (v. 5). Nathan’s swift and unsparing response exposed David’s hypocrisy; his voice reverberated through the throne room: “You are the man!” Speaking the very words of God, he charged David directly with his sin. Despite God’s personal favor to him (vv. 7-8), the king was guilty of high contempt toward the Lord’s Law: “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” Nathan demanded (v. 9). In the most exact and specific manner, the prophet drove home to David the greatness of his sin and the condemnation it deserved.

People have an uncanny ability to exempt themselves from abstractions. Preaching generalities will seldom bring anyone to genuine repentance. Nathan’s message drove David to repent at least in part because it condemned his sin with laser-like precision. There were no airy statements like “How many of us have done such-and-such,” or “We are so quick to do so-and-so” in which David could hide. Instead, Nathan looked the king square in the eyes and declared, “You committed adultery. You murdered. You despised the Lord. You sinned. You are the man!” And as is so often not the case in Christian churches today, David felt the sting of the rebuke and repented: “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13).

The minister of God’s Word must confront the sins of his people and that requires specificity, including the use of the word “You.” Vague abstractions will rarely drive anyone to repentance, but the Word of God, well-aimed and particularly applied, will pierce to the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.