And the Lord sent Nathan to David. . . (2 Samuel 12:1a, esv).
Here’s an uncomfortable thought: A genuine friend will restrain or correct you at times. Not only does a biblical friend hold you up when you stumble, but that friend also holds you down when you stray. We stumble under the heavy pressures of life, but we’re led astray by our own, wicked, rebellious hearts—and then we really need a true friend.
In 2 Samuel 11 and 12, we read about the darkest days of David’s life, when he strayed far from God, though he had faithfully followed the Lord for years. David saw a married woman, Bathsheba, and lusted for her, sent for her, and slept with her. (As king, he got what he wanted.) Bathsheba conceived a child. David “covered up” and compounded this messy string of sins by arranging her husband’s murder and hiding his treachery for more than a year.
“In friendship, love is what we need when we stumble, and truth is what we need when we stray.”
As we read this story, we might wonder where David’s friends were during this debacle. Where were the truth-tellers who would boldly say, “What are you thinking? Why are you destroying your life?” Well, Jonathan had been killed in battle. General Joab was off fighting David’s war (and didn’t challenge the command to have Uriah killed). Any so-called friends who were left must have been arguing, “Wait, I’m not telling him. You tell him.” How tragic that David didn’t have any old friends who could have seen his decline and intervened before he crashed and burned.
After a whole year of this mess, God actually sent someone to David—a new friend, a prophet who would tell it like it is. “And the Lord sent Nathan to David” (2 Samuel 12:1a). Some hard things needed to be said, and God chose Nathan to say them.
Nathan made his point in the form of a brutal story told in love. The full story is found in 2 Samuel 12, but here’s the summary of Nathan’s words: “Hey David, let me tell you a story. Once there was a guy who had sheep and more sheep and herds of sheep and barns full of sheep and sheep stacked upon sheep. And there was another guy who had one little lamb, and he loved that lamb and treated it like a child and fed it from his own table. And the guy who had all the sheep was out cruising one day and saw the little lamb and decided, ‘I want that one too.’ So instead of being satisfied with all he had, he took the poor man’s lamb.” Here comes the savvy set-up. Nathan asked, “So David, what do you think of that?”
And as we often do when we’re covering our own sin, David felt very self-righteous and said, in paraphrase, “That thief deserves to die! Execute him!”
Nathan looked right into David’s eyes and said, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7)!
At that moment you could have heard a pin drop in the palace. All those who had winked at David’s sin for a whole year were standing there in the public court. No doubt they were thinking, I can’t believe he said that. The king will explode. Watch out!
Nathan wasn’t even finished. The prophet went on to pronounce a heavy judgment on David for his wickedness. He detailed the consequences David should expect—starting with the death of the son born from adultery (12:10–12, 14).
How did David respond? “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die’” (12:13–14).
Then Nathan went home. Mission accomplished, message delivered.
That is biblical friendship—a friend who tells you the truth for your own good. Too often we come up with a variety of excuses for not speaking the truth. Nathan could have said,
Instead, Nathan said, “Even if this is the last conversation we ever have, I’m going to tell you the truth.” Nathan cared enough about David to speak the truth in love. He was willing to risk the whole relationship to help David get to a better place with God and with others. In friendship, love is what we need when we stumble, and truth is what we need when we stray.
If you have a Nathan in your life: Father God, thank You for a biblical friend who loves me enough to tell me the truth. Even though I don’t always like the message, I see that the messenger is a gift from You. Help us to cultivate honesty in our relationship and to commit to “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Teach us to gently, lovingly point out our blind spots to each other and together to grow closer to You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), amen.
If you need a Nathan in your life: Father God, as I read the story of David, I realize how blind to my own sin I can be. Please forgive me for holding my friends at arms’ length or for settling for shallow friendships. I want more, and I want to be more for others. Help me to listen with an open mind to my friends’ insights, and help me to get over my lame excuses for not “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Make me more like Your Son, Jesus, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), in whose name I pray, amen.