Nathan—Loyal Advocate of Pure Worship
It is not easy to convince a powerful man that his ways are corrupt and that he needs to reform. Would you confront such an individual if you knew that he had killed a man in order to save face?
King David of ancient Israel had committed adultery with Bath-sheba, and she became pregnant. To hide their sin, David had her husband killed and then took Bath-sheba as his wife. Months passed while David lived a double life, no doubt continuing to perform his official functions. But Jehovah did not let the king’s sins pass unnoticed. He sent his prophet Nathan to confront David.
This was a difficult mission. Put yourself in Nathan’s place. Loyalty to Jehovah and firm adherence to divine standards undoubtedly motivated Nathan to remind David of his sins. How could the prophet do this and convince King David that he needed to repent?
Why not take a few minutes to read 2 Samuel 12:1-25? Imagine that you were standing in Nathan’s place as he told David this story: “There were two men that happened to be in one city, the one rich and the other of little means. The rich man happened to have very many sheep and cattle; but the man of little means had nothing but one female lamb, a small one, that he had bought. And he was preserving it alive, and it was growing up with him and with his sons, all together. From his morsel it would eat, and from his cup it would drink, and in his bosom it would lie, and it came to be as a daughter to him. After a while a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared taking some from his own sheep and his own cattle to get such ready for the traveler that had come in to him. So he took the female lamb of the man of little means and got it ready for the man that had come in to him.”—2 Sam. 12:1-4.
David—who had been a shepherd himself—evidently believed that this was a real situation. “Perhaps,” suggests one expositor, “Nathan had been accustomed to come to him to plead the cause of the injured who could obtain no redress otherwise, and David imagined this to be his errand now.” Even if that was the case, it took loyalty to God as well as courage in order for Nathan to speak to the king as he did. Nathan’s story made David furious. “As Jehovah is living, the man doing this deserves to die!” he exclaimed. Then came Nathan’s crushing declaration: “You yourself are the man!”—2 Sam. 12:5-7.
Consider why Nathan addressed the problem as he did. It is not easy for a person who has become emotionally entangled with someone to view his situation objectively. All of us tend to make excuses in an attempt to justify ourselves if our actions are questionable. But Nathan’s illustration moved David unwittingly to condemn his own actions. The king saw clearly that the conduct Nathan described was deplorable. Only after David himself had condemned it, however, did Nathan reveal that the illustration applied to the king. Then David could see the magnitude of his sin. This put him in the right frame of mind to accept reproof. He acknowledged that he had indeed “despised” Jehovah by his conduct in connection with Bath-sheba, and he accepted the deserved reproof.—2 Sam. 12:9-14; Ps. 51, superscription.
What can we learn from this? A Bible teacher’s objective is to help his listeners arrive at the right conclusion. Nathan respected David and therefore approached him tactfully. Nathan knew that at heart David loved righteousness and justice. With his illustration, the prophet appealed to these godly qualities. We too can help sincere individuals to understand Jehovah’s point of view. How? By appealing to their sense of what is right, doing so without assuming any air of moral or spiritual superiority. The Bible, not our personal opinion, is our authority regarding what is right and what is wrong.
More than anything else, loyalty to God enabled Nathan to reprove a powerful king. (2 Sam. 12:1) Similar loyalty will give us the courage to stand firm for Jehovah’s righteous principles.
PROMOTER OF PURE WORSHIP
Apparently, David and Nathan were good friends, for David named one of his sons Nathan. (1 Chron. 3:1, 5) The first time Nathan appears in the Biblical record, he is in David’s company. Both of them loved Jehovah. The king evidently trusted Nathan’s judgment, for he revealed to the prophet his desire to build a temple to Jehovah. “‘See, now,’” said David, “‘I am dwelling in a house of cedars while the ark of the true God is dwelling in the middle of tent cloths.’ Upon that Nathan said to the king: ‘Everything that is in your heart—go, do, because Jehovah is with you.’”—2 Sam. 7:2, 3.
As a faithful worshipper of Jehovah, Nathan enthusiastically endorsed David’s plan to construct the first permanent center of pure worship on earth. On that occasion, however, Nathan apparently expressed his own feelings instead of speaking in Jehovah’s name. That night, God instructed his prophet to take a different message to the king: David would not build Jehovah’s temple. The person to do so would be one of David’s sons. But Nathan announced that God was making a covenant with David to the effect that his throne would become “firmly established to time indefinite.”—2 Sam. 7:4-16.
God’s will did not harmonize with Nathan’s judgment with respect to temple construction. Without murmuring, however, this humble prophet acquiesced to Jehovah’s purpose and cooperated with it. What a fine example to follow if God should correct us in some way! Nathan’s subsequent acts as a prophet show that he did not lose God’s favor. In fact, it appears that Jehovah inspired Nathan, together with Gad the visionary, to direct David in organizing 4,000 musicians in temple service.—1 Chron. 23:1-5; 2 Chron. 29:25.
DEFENDER OF THE KINGSHIP
Nathan was aware that Solomon was to succeed elderly David as king. So Nathan acted decisively when Adonijah attempted to usurp the throne during David’s waning years. Tact and loyalty again characterized Nathan’s actions. First he urged Bath-sheba to remind David of his sworn intention to make their son Solomon king. Then Nathan himself entered the king’s presence to ask whether David had authorized Adonijah’s succession. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the aged king instructed Nathan and other loyal servants to have Solomon anointed and proclaimed king. Adonijah’s coup was thwarted.—1 Ki. 1:5-53.
Nathan and Gad are generally credited with writing 1 Samuel chapters 25 to 31 as well as all of 2 Samuel 1-24. With regard to the inspired histories recorded in those books, it is stated: “As for the affairs of David the king, the first ones and the last, there they are written among the words of Samuel the seer and among the words of Nathan the prophet and among the words of Gad the visionary.” (1 Chron. 29:29) Nathan is also identified with the composition of an account regarding “the affairs of Solomon.” (2 Chron. 9:29) Very likely, this means that Nathan continued to be active in affairs of the royal court even after David’s death.
Much of what we know about Nathan may have been written by the prophet himself. Yet, his silence regarding certain matters tells us much about him. Nathan evidently was an unassuming historian. He was not ambitious, wanting to make a name for himself. In the words of one Bible dictionary, he appears in the inspired record “with no introduction and no pedigree.” We know nothing about Nathan’s ancestry or personal life.
MOTIVATED BY LOYALTY TO JEHOVAH
From the few glimpses of Nathan given to us in the Scriptures, it is clear that he was a humble but vigorous defender of divine arrangements. Jehovah God assigned him weighty responsibilities. Meditate on Nathan’s qualities, such as loyalty to God and deep appreciation for divine requirements. Strive to imitate such qualities.
You are unlikely to be called upon to reprove adulterous kings or to thwart coups. With God’s help, however, you can be loyal to God and can uphold his righteous standards. You can also be a courageous, yet tactful, teacher of truth and a promoter of pure worship.
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As a defender of the kingship, Nathan tactfully spoke to Bath-sheba