Nathan and the Prophet/King Relationship

After David raped Bathsheba and got her husband killed so he could cover it up, God is not pleased (2 Sam 11:27b). The prophet Nathan is sent to help David see his sin. Note again as per the last post that there is no indication that Bathsheba wanted anything to do with David’s actions. She is never said to have wanted to have sex with him, or for him to kill her husband, or for him to marry her. It is far more likely to assume that this was all done against her will using his power as King.

Nathan’s Parable

Artist’s representation of Nathan rebuking David who then repents

Nathan told this parable to David:

A rich man and a poor man lived in the same town. The rich man owned a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought and raised. The lamb became a pet for him and his children. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. The lamb was like one of his own children.

One day someone came to visit the rich man, but the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own sheep or cattle and serve it to the visitor. So he stole the poor man’s little lamb and served it instead. (2 Sam 12:1b-4 CEV)

Quick note: we might take objection to women being compared to sheep here, valuable property deserving of protection but property nonetheless. In one sense, it is a good comparison for the time because sheep can’t choose their owner. That kind of comparison would be unhelpful today, though, as it still presupposes women as property, defined in relation to the men who exercise authority over them, but in that context it made complete sense.

David gets upset that the rich man would do such a terrible thing and calls for him to be punished. He has plenty of his own sheep, and it’s right there in the Law that you don’t steal another man’s property. Then Nathan brings David crashing down when he says that it is David who is the rich man, stealing Bathsheba away from Uriah.

Prophets and Kings

Moving away from this particular story, I want to use it as an example of a general principle. Prophecy is not about telling the future, in case you were under that misconception. In the theological sense, prophecy is about being the voice of God to others on Earth. In the sociological sense, as we’ll see with more prophets going forward, the role of the prophet was to fight for radical justice against the powers that wish to maintain the status quo. While those two definitions are not the same, they are definitely complementary.

In these earlier times of Kings and prophets (non-writing prophets like Nathan), the prophets were generally staff of the King. They were there to help the King stay on track with God’s will for them as rulers. David clearly trusted Nathan to do this job and responded in repentance.

What we see later in the story is that the prophets become the enemies of the King (or Queen). They are often persecuted by the King when the King does not take as well to the reprimands given by the prophets as David did to the reprimand of Nathan. Many of these prophets are killed and others were put through various trials. The Kings did surround themselves with people they called prophets, but those “prophets” simply supported whatever the King did, even when that hurt everyone involved.

This says something valuable for us. We all will make mistakes. We all will carry out acts of injustice. Sometimes they will be deliberate, others times without even realizing that we’re doing something to hurt others. It may hurt one person, it may feed into a system that hurts millions, it may only hurt ourselves.

If we’re smart, we’ll seek to have prophets we trust who will step into our lives and help us identify when these things happen. Like those Kings, we are left with a choice: do we reject criticism, only surround ourselves with those who won’t question us, and use our power (however much you have) to keep any disagreement far away? Or do we stop and listen, prepared for the possibility that they may be able to help us live in a way that aligns our lives close with that of Jesus?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.