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The Nathan Syndrome

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By Richard Blackaby

“Thou art the man!”

Those four words form one of the most devastating sentences uttered in the Bible. That simple sentence humbled the mightiest king of his generation and devastated a nation. It also marked the highpoint of a prophet’s ministry. Such is the power of God-inspired words.

Of course, the prophet Nathan spoke those words to King David after the king committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. Scripture tells us that God sent Nathan to King David (2 Sam. 11:1). The prophet told David a story about a poor man who owned nothing except a little ewe lamb. When a wealthy man had a visitor, he refused to serve an animal from his own flock. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and carved it up for dinner. When David heard how the wealthy man had so callously robbed the poor man, he was filled with anger (2 Sam. 11:5). Then Nathan pointed an accusing finger at David and thundered those devastating words: “Thou art the man!” Busted!

An interesting prequel to this event is found in 2 Samuel chapter seven. God had finally granted David rest from his numerous battles. The first thing the weary king did was tell Nathan he wanted to build a house for God. Nathan responded, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3). At first glance, this exchange seems entirely predictable. David, the man after God’s own heart, wanted to honor God by building a magnificent temple. Nathan assumed David’s plan was good. At long last, the God of Israel would have a prominent temple like the other gods of that day. Furthermore, God was clearly with David in all he did. If the king felt he should build God a temple, God would most assuredly bless his efforts. So Nathan endorsed David’s plan.

Then Nathan went home. That night, “The word of the Lord came to Nathan . . . .” The word of the Lord had not come to Nathan when he spoke the first time! Nathan made a cardinal prophetic mistake. Prophecy consists of delivering a divine message. Nathan had heard nothing from God before he told David to follow his heart. He misspoke. In fact, God said that He had never asked for a temple. Further, God intended to build a house for David that would last forever (2 Sam. 7:11-13).

We are not sure why Nathan made this mistake. Perhaps Nathan assumed that because God chose David, everything the king did must be divinely inspired. Nathan would soon learn that even God-appointed government leaders can sin. Or perhaps Nathan made the classic mistake of equating his thoughts with God’s (Is. 55:8-9). Maybe the vision of a spectacular temple honoring God seemed so desirable that Nathan presumed he didn’t even need to pray about the matter. One thing is clear. We never read of Nathan repeating the error.

Oh that we would learn from Nathan’s mistake! We often assume that some issues are so straightforward we can figure them out on our own. I confess I have frequently been far too quick to offer my opinion. When my children came to me as teenagers to ask advice, I routinely offered them my best thinking. But by giving them my opinion, I was robbing them of God’s (Is. 55:8-9). How I wish that when my children came to me seeking advice, I had told them that I loved them far too much to offer them a hasty opinion. How I wish I had taken the next few days to pray earnestly and seek God’s mind on the matter. How different it would have been had I then excitedly returned to tell my child what God told me!

I am currently reading a wonderful autobiography by John G. Paton, a missionary to the New Hebrides. When describing growing up in a small Scottish cottage with his godly father, Paton writes the following:

The ‘closet’ was a very small apartment betwixt the other two, having room only for a bed, a little table, and a chair, with a diminutive window shedding diminutive light on the scene. This was the Sanctuary of that cottage home. Thither daily, and oftentimes a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and ‘shut the door’; and we children got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing was too sacred to be talked about) that prayers were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice pleading as if for life, and we learned to slip out and in past the door on tiptoe, not to disturb the holy colloquy. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light as of a newborn smile that always was dawning on my father’s face: it was a reflection from the Divine Presence, in the consciousness of which he lived. Never, in temple or cathedral, on mountain or glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under that humble cottage roof of thatch and oaken wattles. Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, ‘He walked with God, why may not I?’ (Paton, 11-12).

Oh that we took time to hear from God! In today’s society, everyone shouts their opinions. Social media is flooded with various viewpoints. But the world needs a divine word. When offering counsel to our children, a colleague at work, or fellow believers at church, we must not tell them what we think, but what God thinks.

Scripture tells us that when God called Samuel to be His spokesman, “the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19). God made sure that every time Samuel spoke, his words proved true. As a result, Samuel’s words had an enormous influence on people!

How reliable are your statements? How valuable are your posts on Facebook or Twitter? How often do people ask your advice? If you want to ensure that your words exert the maximum impact, make sure they come from God.

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