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Lessons from the Life of Nathan the Prophet

There is great benefit in studying the lives of key figures in the Bible. While the greater lessons of the passages below involve the greater themes of promise of the Davidic covenant and continuing the Davidic line, and while Christ is our greatest example, we find many practical lessons from men of old as well (cf. Heb 11; 1 Cor 10:6, 11; Phil 3:17), including Nathan the prophet. There is certainly more to be learned from the life of Nathan than what is found below, but these practical lessons were beneficial to me and hopefully are to you as well.

If you have time, I would encourage you to read each passage along with the points that follow―2 Samuel 7:1–17, 2 Samuel 12:1–25, and 1 Kings 1:5–30.

Be ready to be confronted with God’s Word (2 Samuel 7:1–17; cf. 1 Chron 17:1–15). 

In 2 Sam 7:1–3, David consulted Nathan about with a grand plan—to replace the mobile tabernacle with a permanent temple. As was true (cf. 1 Sam 16:18; 18:12; 2 Sam 7:9), the Lord was with David, blessing him in his efforts as a king. So, on that basis, Nathan told David to “God, do all that is in your heart” (2 Sam 7:3). After all, David was a man after God’s own heart and would seem to carry out God’s desires (1 Sam 13:14; 16:7; Acts 13:22)

However, that very night God spoke to Nathan in a vision and commanded him to tell David of a greater house that God would build for him, an eternal dynasty (2 Sam 7:17).

We also find out later that the reason God did not let David build the temple is because he was a man of blood, war, and unrest (1 Chron 22:7–9; 28:3; 1 Kgs 5:3). Though God was with David to win these wars, God wanted a man of peace to build His house. Nathan either did not think through or was simply ignorant of God’s thinking on the matter. That “the word of the Lord came” (1 Chron 22:8) and “God said” (1 Chron 28:3) to David to not build the temple likely assumes Nathan as the means of bringing God’s Word to David.

Nobody wants to tell somebody not to carry out his dreams, especially when one has just done so. But, when God leads us to change our minds on significant matters, we must be willing to follow His leading and even lead others in doing the same.

Be ready to confront with God’s Word (2 Samuel 12:1–23).

In response to God’s bidding to confront David for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Uriah, Nathan artfully told the shepherd-king about a story involving family’s pet lamb, slain by a rich man who selfishly chose not to kill his own (2 Sam 12:1–4). Arousing David’s anger, Nathan showed how David had aroused God’s anger just the same and forcefully stated, “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:5–7).

Nathan did not give a broad accusation. He specified the details of what David did and gave specific consequences by the Lord’s Word as to what would befall David, some of which took place right away (2 Sam 12:8–23).

Psalm 51, David’s psalm of repentance for his sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah shows how God can do a mighty work in one of His own that leads to repentance, in part through the confrontation by another one of His people.

Be ready to comfort with God’s Word (2 Sam 12:24–25).

After the first child of Bathsheba died, Solomon was born. By Nathan’s message, David gave him an additional name as the Lord commanded, Jedidiah, “beloved of the Lord” (2 Sam 12:24–25).

Sometimes faithfully confronting a another’s sin may allow you to be the one to minister to him later as he recovers and walks again with the Lord.

Be ready to ask others questions about God’s Word (1 Kings 1:5–30).

As commanded by God, Solomon was expected to be king (1 Chron 22:9). Adonijah, however, attempted to take advantage of his father David’s lack of declaration on the matter and exalted himself as king before the people (1 Kgs 1:5–10; cf. 1:17, 30). Nathan was assumed to be loyal to David and not even invited to be part of this process.

Nathan moved David to action by instructing Bathsheba to ask questions about the matter and followed her in doing the same (1 Kings 1:15–31). David had not sinned yet in this matter, and Nathan’s wisdom in asking questions allowed the Spirit to prompt David to actions that were based upon God’s earlier promises in the Davidic Covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7:12–13 with 1 Chron 22:8–9).

Sometimes all one needs to do is be quick to listen by asking some questions and be slow to speak before casting any accusations (cf. James 1:19). Sometimes all one needs is a question from a friend that the Spirit can use to prompt a person to action.

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.