An engraving depicting the biblical story of King David being scolded by Nathan, the court prophet. Dated 19th century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s one thing to speak the truth to people in power when you have nothing to lose. It’s quite another to speak the truth when you have everything to lose. The Old Testament prophet Nathan faced the prospect of losing everything, including his life, if he spoke the truth to the most powerful man in Israel. Yet that was exactly what God called him to do.

Nathan served as the court prophet of King David. He relayed messages from the Lord and acted as a spiritual adviser to the king. Nothing in his experience, however, prepared him for the assignment God gave him in 2 Samuel 12.

God sent Nathan to confront David about his adulterous affair with a woman named Bathsheba. Nathan had no way of knowing how David would react to such a confrontation. After all, David was not just the king; he was also a skilled warrior. He had a warrior’s mentality. He also had legions of dangerous men ready to do whatever he asked. One word from him could mean death to anyone who displeased him.

Uriah discovered that truth the hard way. Uriah was Bathsheba’s soldier husband, who was away at war when the king began his affair with Bathsheba. When Bathsheba’s pregnancy threatened to reveal the affair, David desperately looked for a way to avoid a public scandal.

The plan he eventually settled on required that he arrange to have Uriah killed in battle. That way, David could quickly marry the widowed Bathsheba and establish a plausible-and acceptable-timeline for her pregnancy. No one would be the wiser.

Except Nathan.

Surely the thought crossed Nathan’s mind that if David had been willing to kill one of his most loyal soldiers in order to cover up his transgression, he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to a nosy prophet.

But Nathan would not be dissuaded from his task. His concern wasn’t for his safety but for the effectiveness of his presentation. He had one chance to speak God’s truth to someone who desperately needed to hear it, and he was determined to give his best to the effort.

Nathan didn’t barge in to the king’s palace, shouting accusations and demanding repentance. He didn’t publicly shame or embarrass David. He didn’t antagonize him by listing the many ways he’d failed his people.

Instead, Nathan told David a parable about a rich man who owned many sheep and cattle and a poor man who owned only one ewe lamb. The poor man loved the lamb dearly and treated it as a family member. He shared his food with the lamb and let it drink from his cup and sleep in his arms.

One day a traveler arrived at the rich man’s house. As was the custom of the day, the rich man entertained his guest by preparing a lavish meal. But he couldn’t bring himself to use one of his own sheep or cattle for the feast. So he took the poor man’s lamb, killed it, and served it to his guest.

To say that Nathan’s story had its intended effect would be an understatement. Second Samuel 12:5-10 picks up the account from there.

David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.”

Nathan replied to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD God of Israel says: “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that was not enough, I would have given you even more. Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife-you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword. Now therefore, the sword will never leave your house because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own wife.'”

Nathan’s boldness and creativity cause David to recognize the gravity of his sin and to repent. Nathan spoke the truth to a person in power without worrying about the repercussions-and he did so in a way that would have great impact. That’s why his story stands as an inspiration and an example to be followed by God’s people today.

2 Samuel 12:1“So the LORD sent Nathan to David.”

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