NATHAN


NATHAN (Heb. נָתָן), prophet in the days of David and Solomon). Nathan, together with Zadok the priest, anointed Solomon as king after encouraging and activating the people of the royal court to proclaim him king. Two of his prophecies are known: one about the postponement of the building of the Temple from David's time to the time of his son (II Sam. 7; I Chron. 17) and the election of David's dynasty; the second is the prophecy of rebuke to David about Bath-Sheba and the killing of Uriah (II Sam. 12: 1–15). From his involvement in the life of the court and the clear connection of his prophecy to the king and the monarchy, Nathan, like the prophet Gad, may be designated as a court prophet. From the contents of his prophecies, however – not only his sharp rebuke in connection with Bath-Sheba but also his advice regarding the Temple, which was not in any way subject to the king's approval or control – there is justification for placing Nathan in the category of prophets who rebuke and advise, such as Elijah and Elisha (see *Prophets and Prophecy).

In his prophecy about the postponement of the building of the Temple to the time of Solomon, Nathan promises the House of David unconditionally that his dynasty will endure forever, and that the relationship between the Lord and each of David's successors will be like that between father and son. The reason for the postponement of the building of the Temple is not clarified. (The explanation of bloodshed in I Chron. 22:7–10 seems to have been inserted later.) On the basis of the wanderings in the wilderness, where God was present in the Tent and the Tabernacle, it would appear, however, that the monarchy was not yet firmly established and that the time had not yet come for removing the symbols of tribal tradition – the Tent and the Tabernacle and replacing them with a permanent house (temple) of the Lord, similar to the house (palace) of the king. The view of the monarchy in Nathan's prophecy – in which it is seen as granted to David by an act of divine grace (no reference is made to the monarchy of Saul) and as a complete and unbroken continuation of the Lord's providence and governance from the time of the Exodus from Egypt to the time of the judges – differs essentially from that of I Samuel 8–12, according to which Samuel opposed monarchy as such. The antiquity of the prophecy attributed to Nathan is attested by the description of the monarchy as a calm and secure period of respite, without any intimation of the division of the kingdom. The punishment of a king's son who transgresses will be a rebuke only "with the rod of men, and with the stripes of human beings" (II Sam. 7:14). In the rebuke over the affair of Bath-Sheba, Nathan, by means of the parable of the poor man's lamb, traps David (even with his privilege as king) into passing judgment upon himself. This prophecy contains a harsh vision of the future of the house of David: "the sword shall never depart from your house" (II Sam. 12:10). This prediction, which is not recalled in this way in any other passage in the Bible, and which probably does not allude to any actual event such as the division of the kingdom, stamps the rebuke with the seal of authenticity. Nathan appears not only as warning against evil and demanding expiation for murder but also as commanding the king to establish law and justice, which is his duty as judge and is embodied in the monarchy itself, as explicitly stated in the chronicles of David's reign (II Sam. 8:15; see *David, *Solomon). The "book of Nathan the prophet," which relates the histories of David and Solomon, is mentioned in Chronicles (I Chron. 29:9; II Chron. 9:29), in keeping with the theory of the author of Chronicles who also represents other prophets as chroniclers of the events of their days.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J.A. Montgomery, The Book of Kings (ICC, 1951), 67–79; G. Widengren, Sakrales Koenigtum im Alten Testament (1955), 59–61; K.H. Bernhardt, in: VT Supplement, 8 (1961), 161–3; H.W. Hertzberg, Samuel (1964), 282–7, 312–5.

[Samuel Abramsky]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.