This article is about the prophet. You may be looking for David's son.
Nathan (Heb: "gift"), son of Attai, was a prophet and advisor to King David of Israel. One of his closest advisors, he is most notable for his masterful rebuke of David after his adultery with Bathsheba.
Before that, he had approved of David's plans to build the Temple to replace the Tabernacle, only to be corrected by the Lord. He then told David he would not build the temple, but that his successor would.
When Solomon was born, David entrusted Nathan to be his mentor. Nathan's nickname for the young prince was "Jedidiah," meaning "beloved by the Lord." Years later, near the end of David's life, Nathan conferred with Bathsheba to get him to install Solomon to be the next king. This was in a response to the plans of Adonijah, the oldest of his surviving sons, who wanted to be the next king.
The nation of Israel had finally gotten a king. In some ways Saul was not as bad as Samuel had warned. The worst part of building the young nation had been the continuous wars with the Canaanites that remained in the land west of the Jordan. Because of this, most able-bodied men were members of the military for the best years of their lives. Landowners were always called on to give of there crops and livestock to keep the war machine running.
The tribe of Judah, with Benjamin to the north and Philistia to the west, was often a battleground upon which many of Israel's finest soldiers bled and died in attempts to keep back the Philistine invasion. Border towns like Bethlehem, only about twenty miles from Saul's capitol Gibeah. Between the two towns was the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem. Landowners such as Jesse of the house of Obed often would seek guidance from the priests at nearby Kirjath-Jearim, where the ark of the covenant had been since the days of Eli the high priest. Sometimes, though, a prophet would come to town.
Such was the case after Saul had been king for about thirty years. Samuel the prophet had come to town to announce that David, Jesse's youngest son, would be the next king of Israel. The news traveled throughout the region, and David soon made a name for himself. But then, Samuel had died after a long and fruitful ministry. When David needed guidance as a fugitive, he had to look for a new prophet.
Nathan, son of Attai of Judah, was the grandson of Jarha the Egyptian. Jarha had been a slave of Sheshan, a man of some means, who had no son as an heir. As the custom was, however, slaves were required to be circumcised as were all members of one's household. As such Jarha was a proper member of the tribe. Sheshan had given him his freedom and his daughter Ahlai. To this couple had been born Attai.
Nathan fathered two sons, Azariah and Zabad (also spelled Zabud) who became officers in the court of King David. Zabad is said to have been a friend of David's, indicating that the two had grown up together. This would have made Nathan at least 20 years older than David. Judging from this, Nathan was born in the days of Samuel's long tenure as traveling judge of Israel.
Born in the days of Samuel, Nathan had been a boy in peaceful times. As he grew up, he may have met the prophet himself. With a name like "Given" he may have even been born to be a prophet. Whatever the case, he was not heard from in the Biblical record until David approaches him with the idea that the ark of the covenant, the "footstool" of God, rested in a tent. The king suggested that the LORD deserved a house at least as grand as the palace he had made in Jerusalem.
At first, Nathan immediately gave his blessings without giving it a second thought. It was only later, after he had gone to bed, that he had a vision from the Lord. In this visitation, Nathan was asked why anyone would want to build a house for God, since the Law had been written specifically to provide a place of worship ideally designed to house the ark. The tabernacle, the Lord pointed out, was to be in the midst of the people, where He wished to reside. That house, He continued, would not be made of cedar, or even of stone, but rather it would consist of an everlasting kingdom with a descendant of David on a throne that would last forever.
After this time, David would seek to build the kingdom that was promised to come through his son. Battles against neighboring kingdoms continued, enlarging the boarders of Israel and bringing relative peace through strength. The next message he heard from Lord revealed a dark secret that few had suspected: David's friend Uriah had died as a result of orders from the king himself. David's wedding of the widow Bathsheba had been to hide an adulterous affair.
Nathan went to David, bringing him a tale of two men, one rich and one poor. The rich man had taken the poor man's pet lamb to feed to a visitor. He asked David what should be done to the rich man. David was very angry and demanded that the man be executed for crime, after giving the poor man four sheep to replace the one stolen. This judgment was harsh, going beyond what the Law required, but Nathan had put David on the spot. He looked right at the king and said: "You are that man." Furthermore, Nathan told him, four sons of David would be required for the life of Uriah. David's life would never be the same after that. The first son to die was Bathsheba's firstborn son. Years later, David's first three sons, at the time young princes of Israel, would die violent deaths.
Nathan did not have much to do with David after that, but he was in and around the palace as David's life unraveled in the second half of his reign. However, David did entrust his son Solomon, the child that would be his successor, into the instruction of the older man. Nathan's sons held important roles in the administration of the kingdom. And when it came time for Solomon to become king, Nathan worked with Bathsheba to assure that the chosen son would be declared king by David himself. When Nathan joined the high priest Zadok in anointing Solomon, the plans of David's son Adonijah, the heir apparent by regular rules of succession, were thwarted.
Nathan would remain on in the court after David's death, assisting Solomon in setting up the worship in the new Temple that was built according to the plans that David had received from the Lord Himself. It is reasonable to assume that since David was not a prophet or a priest, these plans had come through the instrumentality of Nathan himself. In his later days, Nathan would write of what he had known -- or was shown by the Lord -- in a book that became source material for the inspired author of the books of the Chronicles of the Kings.
Nathan lived a long life, seeing parts of the lives of all the kings of the united Kingdom known as Israel. He was counselor to David, serving as the conscience of a man moved by passion that lead to gross sin. He was the mentor to Solomon, serving as an anchor for a humble young king that went astray once Nathan had died.
During the reign of David, Nathan's sons served prominent roles in running the kingdom. With the help of such friends as these, David was able to moderate his passions and walk closer to God. These times of trouble provided the background for many of the psalms that David wrote.
As an observer of the times (a "seer"), Nathan recorded David's career and even some of that of Solomon. These records are mentioned as a source by the inspired author of the Chronicles. These observations, used by writers four centuries later, would become part of the collection of books we know as the Old Testament.