Nathan’s Godly Narrative
Probably the most important person in the life of King David was the prophet Nathan. His very name means “gift,” and Nathan was certainly God’s generous gift to the king. Were it not for Nathan, in truth, we have no reason to believe that the Bible’s final word on David would be any more favorable than the Bible’s final word on King Saul.
David, himself a prophet (Acts 2:29,30), had lost his way, not only succumbing to an adulterous passion, but even initiating a cunning plot of murder, so it was Nathan’s divinely appointed task to call him back from sin to the path of repentance (2 Samuel 12). As was noted by St. John Chrysostom, “one prophet was sent to another” (Peri Metanoias 2.2.8). Nathan was assigned to do for David what the apostles were appointed to do for all mankind—to preach repentance and the remission of sins (Luke 24:47).
Among the various ways by which to preach repentance to sinners, Nathan’s inspired choice is that of the parable, a preference evidently favored also by a certain Prophet from Galilee at a later period. Nathan tells David the story of the ewe lamb, a narrative surely to be numbered among the Bible’s finest examples of what Eliot called “the moral imagination.” By means of storytelling Nathan successfully engages the king’s own sense of decency and justice. He skillfully stimulates David’s return to “the permanent things.”
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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