Nathan (c. 880-790 BCE ) was a prominent prophet during the reign of King David and King Solomon. According to tradition, Nathan studied in an elite academy of mystics under the tutelage of the prophet Samuel. Although no book in the Biblical Canon is associated with his name, the Talmud tells us that Nathan concluded the writing of the book of Samuel.
Nathan first gains fame in the Biblical account, in the heat of the great debacle of David and Batsheba. King David had cohabited with Bathsheba after observing her beauty from the palace rooftop and was severely reprimanded by G‑d for doing so.
Nathan delivered G‑d’s rebuke by opening the conversation with a parallel. “There were two men,” said Nathan, “one rich and one poor. The rich man had very many sheep and cattle, and the poor man had nothing but one small ewe which he had bought. He cared for it, and it grew up [under his care] along with his children. It ate from his bread, drank from his cup, and slept in his bosom. It was a daughter to him.”
Nathan continued. “Then a guest came to the rich man. The wealthy host was too miserly to take any of his own sheep or cattle to prepare for the guest who had come to him. [Instead,] he took the poor man’s ewe and prepared it for the guest who had come to him.”
King David was outraged by the arrogance and impudence of the rich man, and declared, “As G‑d lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay fourfold for the ewe, since he did this and had no pity!”
By issuing a verdict in the case set before him, David had unwittingly set the rules for his own prosecution and conviction.
Nathan responded and said, “You are the man! . . . Why have you treated G‑d’s word with contempt, doing evil in My sight? You cut down Uriah (Bathsheba's husband) with a sword and took his wife as your wife! . . . I will raise evil against you from your own house . . . I will do this in the sight of Israel, in the open!”
When David recognized the scope of his sin, admitted his guilt and repented for his actions, Nathan conveyed G‑d’s message that He had accepted his atonement.
Nathan was thus instrumental in restoring King David’s dignity (allowing him to “raise his head”) in the aftermath of this sin. Having been informed of G‑d’s forgiveness by Nathan, David remarked, “Instead of my beheading, you have raised my head.”
When quiet finally reigned in the land of Israel, after King David subdued the enemies of Jews through many bloody battles, he sought the counsel of Nathan with respect to building a sanctuary for G‑d, a Holy Temple. Despite his initial nod, Nathan was informed by prophecy that King David was ineligible to erect the House of G‑d, which was to be a house of peace. King David, he was told, whose sword smote the enemies of the Jewish people, would be unsuitable to construct the Temple. Instead, his son, King Solomon will build the Temple.
Through his prophetic vision, Nathan helped design the configuration of the Temple’s floorplan as well as develop the appropriate activities performed therein. The verse states:
“[King Hizkiyah] also stationed the Levites in G‑d’s Temple with cymbals, and harps and Iyres, as commanded by David, Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet, for this was the commandment of G‑d through his prophets.”
The Appointment of King Solomon
As the reign of King David was winding down and David took ill, the race was on for a successor to the throne. David’s son, Adoniyahu put forward his candidacy and as the prospect of his nomination appeared to gain traction, a growing number of royal dignitaries declared him king.
But David had already sworn to Bathsheba that her son Solomon would inherit the throne.
Nathan proceeded to inform Bathsheba of the development and together they coordinated their appearance before the king. When David heard the news he swore, saying: “By the Living G‑d . . . I swore to you by G‑d, L‑rd of Israel: ‘Your son Solomon will reign after me and he will sit on my throne after me,’ and I will fulfill [my vow] today!”
David then proceeded to have Solomon coronated in public view, by the agency of Nathan, Zadok the high priest, Benayahu ben Yehoyada and many other dignitaries.
Nathan remained one of the closest confidants of King Solomon. The Midrash teaches that two honorary seats flanked the throne of King Solomon, one for Gad the Seer and the other for Nathan the prophet.