Nathan was a prophet of God.
He was a trusted prophet, on the king’s payroll no less, or so it appears. King David’s payroll, to be exact. Yes, the David who was a “man after [God’s] heart” and secretly (and especially) anointed by God to be king. Yeah, that one.
Nathan is known as a good prophet, one who speaks accurately the message from God to the king. And that is a correct assessment, but not exactly the whole story.
David, this shepherd-boy who is especially anointed to be King of the Jews, consults Nathan in II Samuel 7, just as soon as he has conquered all the nation’s enemies and God has given him rest. It is David’s first order of domestic business. His first action item as king, barring only establishing his crown.
What is this important business?
(Glad you asked.)
David, the especially anointed one of God, wants to build a HOUSE for God. You see David, this king “after [God’s] heart”, finally gets a chance to actually sit a minute on his throne and catch his breath. And as he assesses things, the first thing he sees is how that he, the anointed one, lives in a fancy palace, but God lives in tent city! Something just seems amiss here. This isn’t rocket surgery, not a complicated notion at all – at least not for one with a humble heart in the presence of Almighty God. David, it seems, feels that he has overstepped his place, and he wants, now that he is in charge, to build a HOUSE for God. And that just SEEMS appropriate!
So David runs this idea by Nathan his prophet. And Nathan too sees it just like that as well. The idea is just too obvious, and so at first Nathan gives it the prophetic nod.
I find this interesting, because Nathan, the prophet who speaks so trustworthily for God, signs off on this project just willy-nilly, but then later that night, he hears a different message from God about it.
There is a whole lot of very important theological STUFF packed up in the message Nathan later takes to David, STUFF I wouldn’t want you to miss. (If you are not already familiar with this story, please read it.) But all that important STUFF is the usual focus of any study of that passage and of the relationship between Nathan, David, and God. I want us, just this once, to consider the road less traveled in the meaning of this story just a moment. Not that my take is more important, it’s not, but it will help me make an important point.
Nathan, a trustworthy prophet, misspeaks for God.
He is on the king’s payroll, so endorsing anything the king desires is an ever present temptation, but the king, in this case, is desiring to humbly honor the God Nathan speaks for, so it’s all a bit complex at this level, and we may never really iron all of that out.
I don’t mean to smear Nathan’s reputation one bit with this. This is all biblical fact, raw data already provided in the Holy Scriptures. I am not actually convinced that Nathan was particularly dubious even in this one instance, but we cannot deny the fact that he speaks for God a word favorable to the king before he himself hears from God on the matter. He jumps the gun. He could make mistakes (or at least he did one time).
It is quite clear that Nathan is only too eager to rectify the thing the next day after he actually hears from God.
It probably makes matters easier for Nathan that the message from God to David will ultimately be quite flattering for the king – even though it turns the plans of this Lord’s anointed one around in a 180 degree repentance. But there is nothing in the text which highlights this as Nathan’s motivation, and so it appears that he comes at last with a pure message and a pure heart. And in fact, there is nothing made of the fact that the trustworthy prophet seems to have rushed to publication of God’s Word ahead of time and thus misspeaks. This page-one, headline-retraction seems in no way to besmirch Nathan’s record or reputation. On the contrary, if it has any impact on Nathan’s credibility at all, it is only to cement his trustworthiness all the more.
Thus we have a prophet who is on record as having made a prophetic mistake with regard to this anointed one “after [God’s] own heart”. So when we find, just four and five chapters later, that this specially anointed one, this king “after [God’s] own heart”, also has flaws (to put it mildly – after all he not only cheat’s on his own marriage, he plots and executes the murder of the other partner in the other marriage behind whose back he does the cheating! (Making Bill Clinton look angelic…)), we might do well to ask how a “man after [God’s] own heart”, one so specially anointed as this, could possibly entertain ideas of such sin and coverup, much less commit them. Let’s face it; David, this Lord’s anointed one really blows it!
And how will God handle this problem? The king of his own people, the “man after his own heart”, the anointed one God designates for a dynasty that will endure for all time, has just engaged in some of the most despicable evil a man ever can. So God does what he always does in this situation. (I am being facetious! This is not a common occurrence.) Yes, God sends Nathan with a no-miss message for the king, the king he works for and by whom he gets paid.
How’s this for a bind???
And Nathan is faithful with the message! He doesn’t miss. Not this time!
And so in a parable, (much like a preview of the kind Jesus will preach against the temple elites to crowds of Israelites many generations later when the prophecy Nathan first botched, retracted, and re-foretold about David’s Son comes true), is preached against the king! Against the king who signs the paychecks. Against, no less, God’s specially anointed one.
This is no easy message to deliver. If the king chooses to reject the message, he may well “shoot the messenger” as we like to say. Nathan’s very life may be on the line for uncovering the royal coverup. We certainly see Herod do this to John the Baptist much later, and John is not on Herod’s payroll.
Nathan is in a conflict of interest: serve God and possibly lose his life or not serve God and definitely lose his LIFE. (At the very least, he stands to lose his job, all his friends, and be banished or shunned for the service into which God calls him.)
And so this prophet with a less-than-perfect record goes to speak with God’s anointed on behalf of the God who anoints him with a very spicy parable for the “man after [God’s] own heart” who has stumbled into sin and coverup … a parable that lures him into a matrix of conviction and justice.
The parable itself is quite clever. It seems perfectly designed to rile up the king in order to ensure conviction of the wrongs committed, only the punchline is that the king is the criminal on trial here in his own court! I encourage you to read the oracle this prophet Nathan brings. It is quite a story!
And then the truly amazing thing happens…
This one especially anointed by God, this one embued with power and authority over the nation of God’s people, this same Lord’s anointed who fretted about how he lives in a palace while God lives in tent city, ignores the prophet as best he can, marginalizes him, rallies his court together, and bans the prophet from every coming back to “church”.
Well, if you have read this blog very much, then I am sure it does.
Think about it.