Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

January 2003
The prophet's climbdown
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column NATHAN HAS GOT TO BE one of the best of the Old Testament prophets. I've always loved the way he confronted his king and master over the Bathsheba business (see 2 Samuel 12). But he was doing cool things even before then. In 2 Samuel 7, he and David have a slight disagreement over another matter.

David appears to having a pang of conscience about the fact that he lived in a fine palace while the Ark of the Covenant was still housed in a tent. It was only in the previous chapter that the Ark's location was under some scrutiny. It's not, apparently, a very safe thing to have around.

Nevertheless, David wants to build a palace for it. Why should he have more than the Ark?

His prophet Nathan instantly replies that this is a great idea and he should go ahead with it and that the Lord is behind him 100 per cent. There's something perverse in me that loves to see even the prophet get it wrong. That very night God tells Nathan that "100 per cent" might be a bit of an exaggeration – that in fact God doesn't want David, nice guy though he is (so far, anyway), to build any such thing.

It reminds me a bit of the exchange in the first book of Samuel (in 1 Samuel 8), in which Israel wants a king and God thinks it's not a very good idea. Here, too, Israel wants something tangible and God isn't really on board with their schemes at all.

But hey, what a test it must have been for the prophet. Overnight, you've got to completely reverse the stand you made in public the day before about a great and noble project. And not only is it a reversal of your own stand, it goes against what the king has decided to do. There is both public humiliation and personal danger in proclaiming the message of God.

If you're like me, you may face some times when you've got to do something similar: you've given a response to someone that seems right at the time, and that is just what they wanted to hear. But overnight, you know that the right thing to do is say no the next day.

Nathan climbed that mountain. Down. May God give us the strength and humility to do the same.

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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