19 January 20222 Samuel 12:1-6
… and the Lord sent Nathan to David. (v. 1)
We are not told who Nathan was, where he had come from or how he knew what David had been up to. Neither are we told how God communicated to Nathan that he wanted him to speak to David. We can assume two possible explanations – one being that Nathan heard the story about David and, being filled with righteous anger, went to challenge David. The other being that Nathan learnt of David’s actions and heard his instructions to go to David directly from God. It seems reasonable that God is involved in either explanation. What is certain is that such a task required great courage from Nathan as he went about speaking truth to power, for if David had had Uriah the Hittite killed, he could have done the same to Nathan.
But Nathan is clever. Rather than simply condemning David, he draws him in with a story about sheep. Of course we know that David was once a shepherd himself and so the subject would have been familiar to him. The story is also appropriate for a king because the image of a shepherd would become that associated with kings of Israel. Many of the Hebrew prophets such as Ezekiel would speak of the kings and leaders of Israel as being shepherds.
Nathan’s story combines the simple injustice of a rich man with many sheep stealing the only sheep of a poor man with the added pathos of describing the stolen sheep as being like a daughter to the poor man. Having been a shepherd himself, David reacts strongly to the story and his anger is provoked.
David’s judgement is that the rich man should pay fourfold in recompense for the loss and he also condemns the man to die. His response seems over the top in condemning the man to die, but crucially he recognises both the economic injustice of having sheep stolen alongside the emotional impact demonstrated by the rich man’s lack of pity.
- Nathan’s story uses a story of practical justice alongside the human impact of a story to highlight wrongdoing. What stories of injustice provoke you to anger?
- Whilst you may not be directly responsible, what, if any, responsibility do you have for these stories that make you angry?
First published 23 January 2019.