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Occasional Letters - A Faithful Messenger

D Newell, Glasgow

You only have to open your New Testament to discover it is indissolubly linked with the Old: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Mt 1.1). Messiah is both David’s son and Abraham’s. His descent from the former ties us into the language of that great covenant announced for the first time in 2 Samuel 7, where God graciously promised David a house, a kingdom, and a throne: "The Lord telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam 7.11-16).

This fascinating chapter involves three names: the king, the Lord, and Nathan the prophet. Although its prime focus is upon God’s irrevocable promises about David’s seed, we should not overlook the role of the go-between. Nathan’s first appearance on the pages of the Word is worth more than a passing glance. What can we learn from him? Let’s try a simple acrostic based on his name.

First we might note the meaning of his Name, which is "gift". And that he certainly was – a gift to David as a good friend, and a gift to Israel as a whole in his role of prophet. The risen Lord has today provided various gifted saints for the service and upbuilding of His church (Eph 4.8-12), making the point that no believer can manage spiritually without the ministry of others. It is the great lesson of interdependence. Nathan was after all not the only prophet in Israel – David himself had prophetic ability (Acts 2.29-30), and yet the Lord did not reveal His message directly to the king. Rather, like Saul of Tarsus after him, David had to learn that God often uses saints to serve saints (Acts 9.6; 22.12-16). Even the king of Israel needed a prophet to instruct him in Jehovah’s ways. Let us be grateful for all who have taught us the truth of God.

Next we should consider his Activity. He was called "Nathan the prophet" (2 Sam 7.2), but this was no token description. In the chapter Nathan shows himself to be a man vigorous in the service of God, for he acts as the Lord’s mouthpiece (v.17), faithfully bringing the king the divine message. What God has equipped us to do for Him, we should do. Gift in a local church is not meant to be hidden away like a hoarded treasure, but exercised for the glory of God and the practical benefit of the saints (2 Tim 1.6). There are, we know, no prophets now (save false ones), in the sense that nobody today is revealing new truth from heaven. Everything the Lord wishes to say He has already said in His Word. Hence the language of finality in Hebrews 1.1-2 ("God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son"), Ephesians 2.20 ("built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets"), and Jude v.3 ("the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints", ASV). But although we cannot reveal extra truth we can faithfully open up what has been disclosed in the written Word. And that Word has its own inbuilt power. I am currently reading a fascinating book called Churchill and the Jews. It includes the testimony of a Jewish woman who survived the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto in the 1940s, drawing her encouragement from BBC radio broadcasts. "I could not understand English, but I knew that if I and my family had any hope of coming through this war alive, it depended upon that one strong, unseen voice." What an electrifying description! Well, in the Scriptures we have the very voice of God Himself, infinitely powerful and immutably reliable. Further, Nathan not only spoke but wrote, compiling a history of the reigns of David and Solomon (1 Chr 29.29; 2 Chr 9.29). You don’t have to write a book to be a help. There is a valuable behind-the-scenes ministry in letter writing which should not be overlooked – many believers who live alone might be cheered by an uplifting letter that directs them to the comforts of the Word.

Third, we should note Nathan’s Trustworthiness. "The king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains" (v.2). David found in Nathan a reliable, like-minded confidant, one who shared his zeal for God, one to whom he could open up his inmost soul. And how quickly from those few words Nathan accurately read the king’s mind! We ought never to undervalue those spiritual friendships the Lord provides to comfort us on the pathway, for as "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Prov 27.17). Spiritual companionship is a stimulus and a strength on the journey.

Fourth – his one slip in this chapter – comes Nathan’s Haste. Eagerly warming to David’s desire to honour God with a magnificent temple he spoke impulsively, without pausing to consult the Lord. I suppose it seemed only right to him that the God of Israel should be glorified with architectural grandeur now His people were established in their land. And we learn later that the Lord was indeed delighted with David’s desire, even though it was not His will that David fulfil it (1 Kings 8.17-19). So Nathan jumped the gun. It is important to remember that just as New Testament apostles were not flawless in their actions (Gal 2.11), so prophets were only infallible when declaring God’s mind. Even Moses stepped out of line when he struck the rock (Num 20.11,24). Neither the possession nor the exercise of spiritual gift of itself guarantees correctness. We are all prone to precipitate decision or speech. But Scripture counsels against haste: "Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him" (Prov 29.20); "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure" (1 Tim 5.22); "he that believeth shall not make haste" (Is 28.16). May the Lord give us grace to resist the tendency to rush, for "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Is 40.31).

But once alerted to God’s will in the matter Nathan’s conduct was beyond reproach. His Acknowledgment of error is seen in his prompt obedience: "According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David" (v.17). Perhaps he even hurried back to the palace that same night to inform David of his mistake. It cannot have been easy to confess that he had blundered – but Nathan was more concerned about God’s word than about saving face. That takes courage. His is the right response to correction.

Finally, might we note what I shall call his Nobility? By this I mean that one blip in his record did not cause him to abandon his service out of pique or mock humility. He carried on for God undeterred. The next time we see him he is bravely exposing David’s sin in the matter of Bathsheba (2 Sam 12.7), announcing God’s delight in the birth of Solomon (2 Sam 12.25), and anointing that very son as David’s successor (1 Kings 1.45). Like us Nathan was but human, which perhaps makes him the more endearing. Nevertheless, he was God’s faithful messenger, passing on a word which, while forbidding the fulfillment of David’s pet project, announced promises of unlooked-for blessing and privilege. Truly, "a faithful ambassador is health" (Prov 13.17).

To be continued.


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