A Whimsical Dictionary: N is for Nathan the Prophet

A Whimsical Dictionary: N is for Nathan the Prophet

A Whimsical Dictionary of Surprising Influences.

N is for Nathan the Prophet –

If you’re trying to get ahead in the world, or climb some golden ladder to success, don’t choose “prophet” at the next Career Development workshop. A prophet has the job of speaking the word of the Lord, no matter the consequences, come hell or high water. It is not an enviable job description. God’s mouthpieces often look like fools, or hotheads, or misfits, or even half-loony, but not all the time.

Prophets are known to speak truth to power, and are a pain in the neck to religious charlatans, hypocritical authority figures, oppressive powerbrokers, or smirking CEO’s. Einstein once referred to the prophetic voice as having an “almost fanatical love of justice.” Or, as Jeremiah once said, the prophetic word is like “a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” (Jer. 23:39). Sometimes they say “woe upon you,” other times “woe is me,” since they run the risk of retribution, of getting in harm’s way. Just ask Jeremiah how he was feeling sitting at the bottom of a well; or John the Baptist (the last of the old-time prophets) shouting judgment from his prison cell; or you could look at Jesus on the cross, the ultimate prophet.

Sometimes prophets were living object lessons, held up to ridicule. Other times they were highly respected, and even put on a pedestal. Sometimes they spoke a hard word to backsliders, other times words of comfort to the discouraged. But through all this, “You cannot be a prophet unless you love, and show that you love, the people whom you are criticizing. The prophets often said harsh things to their contemporaries, but they identified with them, and always carried an underlying message of hope… The prophet has emotional intelligence, sympathy, and empathy, and feels the plight of the lonely and oppressed.” (Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Conversation and Covenant: Leviticus).

Prophets had to be superior listeners, ready to clearly hear the word straight from the Source in order to speak it. Prophets had to be open ears before they were loose cannons. They had to be observant of conditions before they let judgment flow, careful to see injustice, oppression, hypocrisy, or any breakdown between God and His people.

Nathan (c. 880-790 B.C.), was a classic prophet, and one of the luckiest. He was tutored by the prophet Samuel in an elite academy for mystics, and Jewish tradition holds that he wrote the conclusion to the book of Samuel. Held in high esteem throughout his life as prophet and historian, the announcer of David’s covenant in 2 Samuel 7, and the official conscience of the King, in his case the King was David himself. And thankfully for Nathan, David responded to Nathan’s confrontation with humility and contrition. For it was Nathan who had the dicey task of confronting David about his affair with Bathsheba and his having her husband killed on the front lines. 2 Samuel 12:1 reports that “the Lord sent Nathan to David.” We don’t know if Nathan was shaking in his boots or not. He didn’t know how David would respond. Nathan seems to be quite confident at this command performance, though. He boldly approaches the King, creatively tells David a parable that goes straight to the heart, and concluded by laying down the law, God’s law, pointing directly at David and challenging him, saying, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12).

That word of judgment from Nathan was one thing. But what came next had to be painful for Nathan to¬†utter. Nathan told David that Bathsheba’s pregnancy will result in the child’s death as punishment for David’s evil deeds. After that difficult word, Scripture simply says that Nathan walked out of the palace and returned home. Just like that. Mission accomplished.

Nathan must have lived a long, full life… Many years later, in David’s old age, Nathan had the privilege of anointing Solomon as King. It’s nice to be rewarded after a lifetime of¬†difficult work. Would that all of God’s prophets had such favor and success.