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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Nathan (1)

nā´than ( נתן , nāthān , "gift"; Ναθάν , Nathán ): A court prophet in David's reign and a supporter of Solomon at his accession. There are three main incidents in his career as depicted in the Old Testament.

1. Nathan and David's Temple-Plans:

The two parallel narratives, 2 Samuel 7:1-17 = 1 Chronicles 17:1-15 , of which the former is the original, relate how David confided to Nathan his intention to build a house for Yahweh's ark. Nathan at first blesses the project, but that same night is given a Divine message, and returns to tell the king that instead of David building a house for Yahweh , Yahweh will build a house for David: "I will set up thy seed after thee,... and I will establish his kingdom.... I will be his father, and he shall be my son: if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men" (2 Samuel 7:12-14 ). 2 Samuel 7:13 says that "He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever," but this disturbs the one great thought of the passage,. which is that God will build a house for David, and which is also the thought in David's prayer ( 2 Samuel 7:18-29 ).

The word "seed" in 2 Samuel 7:12 is collective and so throughout the passage, so that the prophecy does not refer to any individual, but, like Deuteronomy 17:14-20; Deuteronomy 18:15-22 , belongs to the group of generic prophecies. Nor is it Messianic, for 2 Samuel 7:14 could not be reconciled with the sinlessness of Jesus. The message is rather a promise of the ever-merciful providence of God in dealing with David's family. (See, however, C.A. Briggs, Messianic Prophecy , 126 ff.) Budde, who says that the section belongs to the 7th century and is certainly pre-exilic in the leading thought of the passage, sees in the prophecy something of the idealism of Amos and Hosea, for the prophet teaches that Yahweh dwells, not in "a holy place made with hands" (Hebrews 9:11 , Hebrews 9:24 ), but rather in the life of the nation as represented by the direct succession of Davidic kings. This presents an extension of the teaching of Paul that the very body itself is a sanctuary unto God (1 Corinthians 6:19 ).

2. Nathan and David's Sin:

2 Samuel 12:1-25 narrates Nathan's rebuke of David for his adultery, and for causing the death of Uriah; and then comes an account of the death of Bathsheba's child. In 2 Samuel 12:1-15 , we have Nathan's parable of the rich man and the poor man's ewe lamb, and the application of it to David's conduct. But several difficulties arise when we ask exactly what Nathan's message to David was: 2 Samuel 12:13 f represent the prophet as saying that God has forgiven David but that the child will die, while 2 Samuel 12:10-12 speak of a heavy punishment that is to come upon David and his family, and 2 Samuel 12:16 does not show any indication of a prophecy as to the child's death. Commentators regard 2 Samuel 12:1-15 as later in origin than 2 Sam 11; 12 in the main, and hold 2 Samuel 12:10-12 to be still later than the rest of 2 Samuel 12:1-15 . Budde omits 2 Samuel 12:9 , 2 Samuel 12:10 , 2 Samuel 12:11 , 2 Samuel 12:12 , but regards even the rest of the story as interrupting the connection between 2 Samuel 11:27 and 2 Samuel 12:15 , and therefore of later date.

3. Nathan and Solomon's Accession:

1 Kings 1 is a part of "one of the best pieces of Hebrew narrative in our possession" (H.P. Smith, Old Testament History , 153, note 2). It narrates the part that Nathan played in the events that led to Solomon's accession. David was getting old and feeble, and the succession had not been settled. When Adonijah, who was probably the eldest son living, gave a banquet to some of his father's state officials, Nathan, who was one of those that had not been invited, incited Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to remind David of his promise to her that Solomon should succeed to the throne. This she did, and in the middle of her audience with David, Nathan appears with the news of Adonijah's feast and proclamation as king. Solomon is then anointed king by David's command, Nathan being one of his chief supporters. It has been suggested that it is only Nathan who interprets Adonijah's feast as a claim to the throne, but this contradicts 1 Kings 1:5 . Yet, whereas in the two sections treated above Nathan is the prophet of Yahweh , he is represented in 1 Kings as an intriguing court politician, planning very cleverly an opportune entrance into David's presence at the very time that Bathsheba has an audience with the king. The parallel narrative of 1 Ch 28 makes no mention of Nathan, Solomon being there represented as Divinely elected to succeed David.

1 Kings 4:5 mentions a Nathan as father of Azariah and Zabud, two of the chief officers of Solomon. He is probably the prophet.

1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29 refer to "the words" or rather "the acts of Nathan the prophet" as well as those of Samuel and Gad. "There can be no doubt that these are nothing more than references to the narratives in which Samuel, Nathan and Gad are mentioned in our Books of Samuel" (Curtis on 1 Chronicles 29:29 ). In 2 Chronicles 29:25 , sanction is claimed for Levitical temple-music as being commanded by God through Nathan and Gad.

Curtis (on 1 Chronicles 29:29 ) observes that Nathan is always called nābhi' ("prophet") in Samuel and Kings and not rō'eh or ḥōzeh , "seer."

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Nathan (1)'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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Nathan (2)