Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nathan: The Conscience of The King: Part 2 of a series based on 2 Samuel 11 & 12

What did Nathan know and when did he know it?

Ever wonder how those Old Testament prophets got their information? Did they find it inscribed on golden tablets under a rock? Was it delivered to them by a messenger from heaven, an “angel of the Lord?” Did they hear a voice from heaven dictating the words they should deliver? Were they suddenly overcome by the Spirit as they spoke, and merely mouthed the words the Spirit brought to them? Had they dreamed the night before and, in their dream, saw what God was going to do? Did they get their message while in a trance, through deep meditation, by extreme fasting, through self-flagellation?  Did they ever get it wrong?

We know that God employed some of these methods to speak to his people. And we know there were prophets who “got it wrong,” false prophets, in the “business” as an ego trip, to make money, or because they were deceived into believing their message was true. But I am willing to believe that some prophets, whom we revere as true prophets of God, got it wrong too, from time to time. The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, recognized that prophecy in his day needed to be “judged” by others who presumably also sought to know the mind of God.

With the probable exception of Jesus himself – we assume his focus on the Father was unerring and unflagging– every other prophet was subject to error, capable of thinking he was hearing from God when some other impulse or some other voice was directing his thoughts and words.

I’m going to suggest a scenario, in the case of Nathan the prophet, as he confronts David’s sin, that involves none of the methods suggested above. Since we are not told the precise method of communication Yahweh employed in informing Nathan, it is possible that this may have been the way it happened. I believe it is the most common means of “prophetic inspiration” in our day.

Nathan had been a friend of David, apparently since the days when he was running from King Saul. He was part of a company of loyal and brave men who often risked their lives for David’s sake. Among them was one Uriah, a non-Hebrew, a Hittite who, for some reason, tied his fortune to David’s and is listed as one of David’s thirty mighty men. In that day armies such as David’s ragtag band were likely to be accompanied by their families since there was no system “back home” to support them while their husband/father was away at war. Families traveled with the army, sharing in its fortunes, supported by spoils in times of victory, suffering deprivation in times of defeat. Nathan may well have known Bathsheba in that early “barbaric” time. He most certainly would have known Uriah.

But times had changed since then. David’s kingdom was established. He lived in a palace in Jerusalem. His “mighty men” had settled homes where their families could reside while they went out to war. Nathan was a member of the court with ready access to the king. He was privy to the news that circulated through the palace, through the streets, and through the army’s ranks.

Slowly, in those days since the report had come of Uriah’s death, Nathan became aware of more details, more rumor and more facts. A sense of dis-ease grew upon him and drove him to seek more information. He learned that weeks before, David had invited Bathsheba to the palace while her husband – David’s friend . . . Nathan’s friend – had been at war; that she had spent the night with the king. He heard the rumors that Bathsheba was pregnant. He learned that Uriah had been brought to the Palace, feted, urged by David to go and lie with his wife, thus to give the appearance of legitimacy to the pregnancy, but he had refused. Nathan was told that, when Uriah refused to cooperate with the king’s scheme, a message had been sent, by David, to Joab, his front line commander, giving instructions for Uriah to be set up to be killed; that unsuspecting Uriah had been given the message to deliver to Joab. Nathan knew – all Jerusalem knew – that, upon the death of Uriah, the king had taken pregnant Bathsheba to be his wife.

All that knowledge burned in the prophet’s righteous soul. His former love for David, his respect for him, his years of service to him, made the sin more onerous, fanned the flame of betrayal to a white-hot state. Nathan saw that David’s sin represented a turning point in his kingship. Those who knew the truth could no longer trust, would no longer revere, the king. Factions would form, schemes would abound, insurrections would come. The kingdom would never be the same again.

Nathan had to prophecy – to speak the mind and heart of God. Everything he was, and everything he stood for demanded it: friendship, his position at court, his prophetic calling, justice, the welfare of the nation, the memory of Uriah’s loyalty. More than all, Yahweh demanded it.

Nathan did not need a voice from heaven to tell him what to do, what to say. He was a prophet of Yahweh. He knew the heart of Yahweh.

What did Nathan know and when did he know it?

He knew what everyone else knew. He knew the stories circulating at court, the rumors and gossip of the streets. Many others around the king knew, earlier than Nathan, the things he eventually learned, but they were not prophets, attuned to the Spirit of God. They were “yes men,” seeking to survive in their posh positions by ignoring the dangerous truth that the king was a sinner. Nathan could not do so. The Spirit of God was in him and would not let him remain silent.

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