Nathan’s Messianic Prophecy
In spite of the fact that he appears in only three scenes in Holy Scripture, it would be hard to overestimate the importance of the prophet Nathan in biblical history, for it was through Nathan that God revealed his special covenant with David’s royal family.
In this respect Nathan’s role in the unfolding of biblical revelation is analogous to that of the prophet Moses. Just as Israel was aware of its covenantal relationship to God only through the prophetic mediation of Moses, so the house of David knew of its more particular covenantal relationship to God only through the prophetic mediation of Nathan. The latter is thus at the root of that whole dimension of the biblical theology that goes by the name “messianic.”
In this respect it is useful to contrast Nathan with the prophet Samuel, who regarded Israel’s establishment of the kingship as, at root, an act of infidelity. For Samuel, the monarchy, if it was a necessary evil, was still an evil. The last of Israel’s pre-monarchical Judges, Samuel foresaw the many misfortunes that would enter Israel’s history through its kings, and he warned the people of the abuses that they would suffer from the institution of royalty (1 Samuel 8). Finally obliged by a special revelation to accept the royal institution (8:22), he did so reluctantly, suggesting his reservations even at the coronation of King Saul.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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