Friday, February 25, 2011
A friend! A friend! My kingdom for a friend!
King David stands tallest of all the kings of Israel, surpassing even Solomon his glorious son. He was a complex man, not a perfect one; capable of arrogance and humility, wisdom and rashness, faith and doubt, strength and weakness, success and failure, magnanimity and pettiness.
The causes of his greatness are the subject of many commentaries and books. One cause stands out to me above the others. David had a friend, a true friend.
Ah, I know, there was Jonathan. And that was a beautiful friendship, tragically one that could not come to full fruition and ultimately was severed by Jonathan’s death in battle.
But there was another, less obvious friend. He was never explicitly described as a friend of David (though one of his sons was) but all the evidence points to a long and enduring friendship. Nathan, a prophet, appears in the story of David’s life at about the time David consolidated his power over all the Tribes of Israel. He may have been with David through his years of hiding from Saul but we have no record of that.
Nathan will always be remembered as the brave prophet who confronted his errant friend, the King, about his double sins of adultery and murder in the famous affair with Bathsheba. It was a dangerous move on Nathan’s part, but as a true prophet of Yahweh and a true friend of the King he could do no other.
David, for his part, could have had his friend killed in an attempt to cover up the Bathsheba scandal. Instead he repented of the sin, and retained the friendship of Nathan. In fact, one of the sons later born to David and Bathsheba was named Nathan. (It is interesting to note that the son, Nathan, born to David and Bathsheba is listed in Luke’s Messianic genealogy rather than Solomon.) Many sons of the prophet Nathan served David in official capacities during his 40 year reign.
At the end of David’s life Nathan, the prophet was there to defend his Kingship from usurpation and assure that the favored son, Solomon, would be on the throne after David’s death.
Too often leaders surround themselves with yes-men, those who value their position of privilege too much to risk it by confronting the errors of their leader. Eventually the leader is betrayed by the narrow, distorted, and often dishonest perspective of his small, loyal coterie of “friends.”
Every Pastor, President, Prime Minister, Governor, Legislator, Mayor, or head of a corporation needs a prophet-friend like Nathan, someone who will bring them up short when they are straying from the path of righteousness. When we pray for our leaders, as we are instructed to do, we should pray that those who advise them are friends, capable of calling their sins, sin. Capable, too, of pointing them to wiser, productive, more righteous ways of doing their work.