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While “good old reliable Nathan” (from Guys and Dolls) might be a phrase that pops into a few heads when they hear this Biblical name, Nathan was actually an important prophet who lived in the time of King David.

When Nathan first appears in II Samuel, King David expresses his concern: “See now, I am living in a house of cedar [an elaborate palace] while the ark of God dwells with the curtain [in a makeshift Tabernacle]” (II Samuel 7:2). Nathan tells him to go with his heart. But, that night, God speaks to Nathan and tells him that King David is not destined to build the Temple. This honor will go to David's son who will succeed him.

Nathan’s more dramatic appearance occurs several chapters later. King David had sent a man named Uriah to the fatal front line against the Ammonites and married the wife that Uriah had divorced for the sake of war (Bathsheba). After Bathsheba gave birth to a son with David, Nathan appeared in the court and presented the King with a legal case of a rich man who stole the beloved sheep of a poor family. When King David declared that such a man deserved to die and must pay fourfold for this ewe, Nathan dramatically declared, “You are that man!” He then announced God’s rebuke and punishment (“The sword shall not cease from your house forever.”).

The child born to Batsheva died. However, she and King David later had four sons, one of whom was Solomon, and another who was named Nathan.

Nathan the Prophet remained faithful to King David even in the most difficult of times. It was Nathan who informed Bathsheba that Adoniah (David’s son with another wife, Haggit) was fermenting a rebellion. King David was old and unaware of his son’s machinations. Together, Nathan and Bathsheba ensured that King David’s decision that Solomon inherit the throne was implemented.

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