Nathan Who?

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on July 2, 2003 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

A good friend to our church family writes: “In 2 Samuel 7, we read about Nathan the prophet. Could this be David’s son, the same Nathan we read about in Chapter 5?”

Dear friend,

There are certain names in the Bible that create a lot of confusion because there are so many people that share that same name. One of the much-used names I sometimes struggle to keep attached to the right owners is the name “Mary”. There are so many Marys in the New Testament that it’s sometimes quite a chore to keep track of which Mary is which. I think you’ve just introduced me to another such name. Thanks.

“Nathan” was a very popular name in Bible times; perhaps because it means “gifted”. There may possibly be as many as eight distinct Nathans mentioned in the Bible – although it’s awfully hard to tell exactly how many; and several of these Nathans are even more easy to confuse because they are associated with David. There was one man named Nathan whose son was one of David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:36). There was another Nathan who was the brother of Joel, another of David’s celebrated soldiers (1 Chron. 11:38). In the list of the advisors to King David’s son Solomon, we apparently find two more distinct Nathans mentioned in one verse. One Nathan was the father of an advisor named Azariah; and another Nathan was a priest, a friend to Solomon, and the father of another of his advisors named Zabud (1 Kings 4:5). There was a Nathan who was mentioned in the linage of Jerahmeel, the brother of Caleb (1 Chron. 2:36). Another Nathan was an important leader who returned to Jerusalem among the exiles with Ezra (8:16); and still another was mentioned as one among the leaders of these exiles who had sinned (10:39). Still another Nathan is mentioned as the head of one of the chief families in Israel that will mourn when Jesus returns (Zech. 12:12). One Nathan in the Bible has a great honor; because he was the ancestor in flesh of the Lord Jesus (Luke 3:31).

However many Nathans there are, there are certainly Nathans-a-plenty. And I haven’t even mentioned one of the most famous Nathans yet – the one you referred to in your question. He was a godly prophet who lived in the time of King David; and who served the king as an important advisor and spiritual leader. He was a brave man; because he was willing to confront the king in his sin, and rebuke him in the name of the Lord (2 Sam. 12:1-10). Much of what we know about David and of Solomon is to this Nathan’s credit, because he also served as their biographer (1 Sam. 29:29; 2 Sam. 9:29).

So, one of the Nathans you mention is this outstanding prophet (2 Sam. 7:2-17); and another is the son of David (2 Sam. 5:14). With all the confusion there is between the different Nathans, I’m more confident about the distinction between these two than I am about most of the others. The prophet Nathan was not among David’s “seed” who came from his body (2 Sam. 7:12); but was the one who announced that one from among David’s seed would be the Messiah. So they are not one and the same person, but two different individuals who just happened to share a very, very common name together.

When making mention of different people with common names, the Bible doesn’t always make the distinctions as clear to us as we may wish. And some of those people don’t stand out in the Bible’s narrative as quite as importantly as others. But you can identify them with as much clarity as is needed, if you carefully compare the contexts of the passages where they’re mentioned and think in terms of how they fit in with the main flow of the Bible’s story. Comparing one entry in a good Bible dictionary with another in another dictionary is sometimes helpful too; because you can see how different scholars have understood the different people associated with these names.

By the way; with all the multiple billions of names to keep track of in this world, doesn’t this make you very glad that God knows your name, and loves you as an individual so much that He even knows the number of hairs on your head?

Pastor Greg

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