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Nathan's parable to David

8 October, 2023

Our reading this week gives us the exchange between Nathan and David after the incidents with Bathsheba and Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11) and is probably among the most well-known in 2 Samuel.


We are not told what God knows, or how God knows, only that God sends the prophet Nathan to David who tells the king a story. The parable is memorable and rhetorically shrewd: A rich man had everything, but a poor man had nothing, save a little ewe lamb that he had raised as a member of his house, so much so that it would eat from his table and sleep in his arms. “It was like a daughter to him,” verse 3 says, precious, that is, and irreplaceable. But one day when a traveller came to the rich man (the visitor isn’t even named, so we ought not think of someone important, just some individual who happened along), the rich man wasn’t willing to take one of his own animals for the meal but took the poor man’s lamb as the dinner entrée for his guest.


We need to pause here in our reading because this turn of events is shocking. This isn’t just any old lamb for dinner. This is a daughter (v. 3), taken by force and power, killed and cooked, then offered up for another’s culinary pleasure! And not only a daughter, but the only daughter (of this kind, at least) that the poor man had (v. 2). He has nothing else to his name and certainly no replacement for this particular child.


The bait is set and David seizes it, as we all should: what the rich man has done is unconscionable. David is incensed and swears a rather elaborate oath in the Lord’s name that the rich man must restore the poor man’s lamb many times over (v. 6). At the very least, the rich man will pay dearly.


But then the blow is struck by Nathan, he tells David - “You are that man!” Instantly David’s eyes are open to what he has done. David’s actions regarding Bathsheba and her husband Uriah have shown no compassion, are not merciful and lack any care or pity for the one who has been wronged here. These are all things that David accuses the rich man of doing and now he realises that he himself has done these things.


What do we do when we realised that we are in the wrong?  Do we have friends or colleagues who might take the time and effort to show us what we cannot see ourselves in our behaviours?  How easy is it to apologise and move on to restoration?  Do you ever get rid of remembering what it was that was done?


Let’s explore this some more!


Jay Robinson

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