Chapter 9: David, Nathan and Gad
While the kings of the Bible are a fascinating lot, this book is about the prophets of the Bible (although even then and even more importantly, it is about the God of the Bible) and in general kings are only discussed when they interacted with the prophets, which they often did. Following the demise of Saul, Israel’s first king, David reigned as king in his place. While the prophet Samuel had a small, part to play, earlier in his life, in particular anointing David to be king to replace Saul, the prophets that played important parts in David’s reign and doing so at critical points, were Nathan and Gad, who we will get to. However, we make an exception to not discussing kings at length, when it comes to David, because:
- David was arguably Israel’s greatest king.
- It was under David the land was secured and prospered and was at peace.
- A significant chunk of the Bible is devoted to the life of David.
- While David sinned big time, he was as close as any to the heart of God.
- He is referred to, positively, by a number of the later prophets, often linked to a hope that a descendant of David would be its future Messiah.
- Unlike any other king, God made an everlasting covenant with David such that his descendants, notably the Messiah, would sit on the throne.
- The little we know about Nathan and Gad from the Bible was tied in with David’s story and were related to events at critical times in his reign.
- We learn from the Gospels, Jesus was referred to as the Son of David.
- The genealogy of Jesus listed in Matthew and Luke trace the line from David through several kings that we will encounter, to Jesus himself.
- While David is not usually regarded as a prophet, he did write Psalms (73 of them – half the Psalter) and some of these are messianic, i.e. prophetic.
Before discussing further David, we will mention two characters: Jehoiachin and his grandson Zerubbabel and explain why this is significant. We read at the very end of the Book of Kings, concerning the last then living king of Judah, Jehoiachin, while in Babylonian exile: “And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Eilmerodach king of Babylon in the year that he began to reign did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah out of prison; And he spake kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon; And changed his prison garments: and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life. And his allowance was a continual allowance given him of the king, a daily rate for every day, all the days of his life” 1Kings 26:27-30.
As for Zerubbabel he returned to Jerusalem following the Exile and was involved in the building of the Temple and was governor of the City. He is mentioned in the Books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel were descendants of David and mentioned in the New Testament genealogies concerning Jesus. We jump the gun 500 years and make this diversion to reinforce the point that the line of David is hugely significant as far as the Bible narrative is concerned and provides evidence God’s purposes matters, are not thwarted and He kept His promise to David.
There was a marked contrast between King Saul and King David. Saul was head and shoulders (literally) above his peers and outwardly looked the part and met the people’s expectations. David, on the other hand, did not look the part. When Samuel came to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as kings, none of those paraded before him were God’s choice. But there was one more son, the youngest, David, who was looking after the sheep and might have been overlooked. When David was brought before Samuel, he knew David was the man, having been told by God that while man looks on outward appearances, God looks upon the heart. While he was anointed and was to have many adventures, it was not until many years later that David began to reign, after Saul’s death. Evidence that David was a man after God’s own heart was borne out early on when he alone volunteered to fight Goliath, indignant he should be defying the armies of the living God and trusting God to bring him victory, which He did. It was then David was thrown into the limelight and remained so until his death. “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. And the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: seven years reigned he in Hebron, and thirty and three years reigned he in Jerusalem” 1Kings 2:10,11
It is nigh impossible to do justice to David’s colourful career. After his victory, Saul appointed him as his personal harpist and David struck up a friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. David was also enlisted in Saul’s army and led Saul’s troops, invariably to victory, with God’s help. Saul’s rejection by God took its toll and he became jealous of David and tried to kill him. David escapes and becomes an outlaw and also a mercenary, drawing a motley band of followers, a band of fellow outlaws and discontents yet including mighty warriors. David shows his mettle when on two occasions he could have killed Saul and saved himself but did not do so out of honour of Saul and fear of God. When Saul, along with Jonathan, dies in battle, David laments their loss. He takes over as king, wins more battles and establishes the kingdom. The one thing he wanted but was not allowed was to build a temple for the Lord. A critical point comes when he commits adultery with Bathsheba and kills her husband, Uriah, and while he repents the seeds of Israel’s future demise had been sown. This can be seen in his sons. One rapes his sister; another murders the rapist and he then tries to humiliate and steal the throne from his father; and yet another, toward the end of David’s life, tries to take the Throne away from the appointed heir, his brother Solomon, by stealth and intrigue and trying to effect a coup.
Before we turn to Nathan and Gad who, unlike David, were referred to as prophets (or seers) (modern commentators see this as synonymous and it is not the purpose here to split hairs), we need to examine the biblical evidence that David prophesied, and this we can be seen in the Psalms. Several Psalms, including those attributed to David, referred to the future Messiah and this interpretation is attested to by New Testament writers when making reference. What the Psalms reveal is someone whose heart is for God and despite his many faults, which the biblical account does not gloss over, time and time again we find David seeking God’s honour and glory and is a key to understanding God’s favour toward David that remains so even in unfulfilled prophecy.
While we can refer to any number of David’s psalms of praise, by way of example, we refer to two David Messianic psalms and their NT references.
Psalm 22 may be seen as describing events relating to Jesus’ death on the cross.
Psalms 22:1 Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34
Psalms 22:7-8 Matthew 27:39,43, Luke 23:35
Psalms 22:18 Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24
Psalms 22:22 Hebrews 2:11-12
Psalm 110 refers to the Melchizedek priesthood, which applied to Jesus.
Psalms 110:1 Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42, Acts 2:34, Hebrews 1:13
Psalms 110:4 Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:17,21
From the Bible account, we know little about Nathan the prophet other than he prophesied in David’s reign and was associated with David’s court, although as we will see there is extra biblical material that concerns Nathan. What we learn about him is he faithfully discharged his office. He heard from God and passed on the message to who it was intended, namely David in the first two instances and the third, which we will get to, is more convoluted. He did so without fear or favour and showed extraordinary wisdom. Other than the three instances in which he plays a part, Nathan leaves the scene as unobtrusively as he entered it.
When we first read about Nathan we find: “And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies; That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the Lord is with thee” 2Samuel 7: 1-3. But that was not what God wanted “And it came to pass that night, that the word of the Lord came unto Nathan, saying …” 2Samuel 7:4. While it was not God’s intention for David to build the Temple (this task would be given to his son, Solomon), it was God’s intention to “stablish the throne of his (David’s) kingdom for ever” 2Samuel 7:13. This Nathan conveyed to David, who accepted this as the word of the Lord, without any dissent and indeed gave glory to God.
The second time Nathan appears is soon after David had lusted after a married woman named Bathsheba. When she became pregnant with his child, he had her husband killed and married her to cover up his sin. However, this sin wasn’t hidden from God. Thus, the Lord sent Nathan to David with a message. Nathan told David a story of two men, a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had a large number of sheep, while the poor man only had one little lamb that he loved dearly and treated like his own child. When a traveller came to the rich man, instead of slaughtering one of his own sheep, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the traveller to eat. David responded with great anger. “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6). To which Nathan replied, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). David had everything, but still took another man’s wife. David repented of this wrongdoing (which he writes of in Psalm 51), and Nathan passed along God’s message of forgiveness, even though the consequences of that sin were far reaching. Because of this sin, David’s son with Bathsheba died. Nathan later brings another message to David after the birth of Bathsheba’s second son, Solomon, telling of God’s love for the child (2 Samuel 12:24-25).
The third time Nathan appears is in 1 Kings 1, in David’s old age when David’s son Adonijah conspires to take the kingship. Nathan and Bathsheba confront David about the issue, and David declares that Solomon should be made king, as promised. Nathan teams up with among others, Zadok the priest and some of David’s mighty men. They are instrumental in putting down a coup, securing Solomon’s kingship, after which Adonijah’s cronies disperse. One wonders what might have been if it were not for Nathan’s prompt and wise action. The fourth son (third to live) of Bathsheba happened to be named Nathan. This Nathan is mentioned in Luke’s genealogy as an ancestor of Jesus in Luke 3:31. It can only be imagined that this son was named after the faithful court prophet.
Gad the seer (or prophet) is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:5. He appears suddenly as a consultant to David while on the run from Saul. Significantly, Gad counsels David to leave Moab and return to Judah (1 Samuel 22:5). Gad is not mentioned again until David took the throne as the king of Israel and Gad is named as his seer (2 Samuel 24:11). Unlike David’s other counsellors, including Nathan, Gad represented the Lord’s counsel and not merely a giver of good advice. He was a man of honor and faithfully spoke the Lord’s words to David. After David had sinned by numbering the troops, the Lord sent Gad to rebuke him and give three options of punishment (2 Samuel 24:11–14). Gad later went back to David to give him the Lord’s command about making his sin right through offering a sacrifice (2 Samuel 24:18). Gad remained loyal to David throughout his reign. Gad must have been a young man when he first joined David’s band, since he outlived David and wrote a history of his life.
Though rarely mentioned by name, Gad the seer must have played a crucial role in David’s success as king. His initial advice while David was on the run from Saul not only kept David safe, but it allowed David to build a reputation as a mighty warrior, making him popular with the people (1 Chronicles 12:1–22). But the secret of David’s success was not just that he had a heart for God but he was surrounded by wise people who understand God’s Word and communicated God’s message accurately, like Gad (and Nathan) and, moreover, he listened. Where David excelled, Gad’s counsel was right behind him. When David failed, Gad’s rebukes and advice quickly followed. Gad worked in harmony with God’s other influential prophet, Nathan (although there is no record of the two ever interacting), to keep David’s heart and life pleasing to God and worthy of the throne. It was a formidable partnership: Gad was faithful to his calling and David had the godly insights needed to fulfil the role God gave him.
Before moving on from David to the kings that succeeded him and the many prophets that played a part in their reigns it is worth reflecting on two texts in the Book of Chronicles and something we don’t read in the Bible concerning Nathan and Gad. Firstly, we are told “he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets” 2 Chronicles 29:25. The he in this case was another descendant of David, Hezekiah, some 300 years later. Clearly, Nathan and Gad, had impacts more far reaching that if we just read Samuel and Kings, written from a prophetic perspective, for Chronicles was written from a priestly perspective and emphasised the worship of YHWH, in His Temple.
While we are in Chronicles, which has quite different fixations than the Books of Samuel and Kings, we should reflect a little on David’s contribution to the public worship of YHWH, the importance he gave to the Ark of the Covenant, and even though God did not allow him to do this, his organising, to fine detail, the building of, and activities taking place in, the Temple. Besides what we read in Psalms, David was above all a worshipper of God, realising all he had was from God. He was merely returning to God what was His. We know this to be true because of Chronicles. “All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern. And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord” 1Chronicles 28: 19-20. And regarding the theme of this Book, while it is true the prophetic writers were pre-occupied with how the people should live their lives, it is just as true God is interested in right worship. Prophecy had many manifestations, yet important was God being worshipped.
The second example can almost be seen as an epitaph on the ministries of Nathan and Gad, and an encouragement to us to go and check out more. “Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer” 1 Chronicles 29:29. The point of this book is to focus on the Bible but because context and background are all important we must not neglect other sources. The author’s understanding is that both books are available and, while not part of the canon of scripture, provide a fascinating insight into the life of Nathan and Gad and of David, especially prophetic ones relating to the Messiah. And just to complete this section, we also read: “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?” 2 Chronicles 9:29, making the point the prophets provided a service to posterity of telling us what really went on, particularly in the reigns of the kings and what was important in God’s eyes.