Nathan: Battling Presumption
[ From The Editors: This article is the seventh in a series we will publish this year, calling attention to twelve people who though being dead, instruct us (Heb. 11:4). They speak to us through the testimony of their lives as written in Scripture. Over the next few months, we will develop a theme title. And, near the end of the year we are planning to publish these twelve articles in book form (Kindle, Nook and old fashioned print and ink). These passages and people can equip us and motivate us toward greater service to our Lord.]
We are first introduced to the prophet Nathan during the reign of King David. We last hear of his service to God in the last days of David, when Solomon is made king. In the three events of his life recorded in the history of Israel, we are impressed by his devotion to God and his wise counsel to the king. We see his faults, his courage and his willingness to take the path less traveled. We see no pride or personal interest in his own well-being, only a sincere desire to do the will of his God and to correct if possible the problems that arise when others do not.
Nathan’s battle was against the sin of presumption. He fought presumption wherever he found it; in his own heart, in the king’s heart and in the son of the king. David wrote concerning the Law of the Lord in Ps. 19. He described it as perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true and more desirable than gold (Ps. 19:7-10). David also made it clear that man needed to be warned about his own way, will and wish. David’s plea was, “…keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me” (Ps. 19:13). The sin of presumption is the sin of a proud heart that has quit listening to God and has come to believe that his own way is perfect, sure and right.
Carefully consider the way in which Nathan confronted the presumptuous heart in the following three examples.
The Presumption of David: Plans to Build a House for God (2 Samuel 7:1-17)
In the beginning of this account, two sincere men, who truly loved God, hatched a plan to build a temple for God. David was uncomfortable with the fact that he dwelt in a house made of cedar while the ark of God dwelt within curtains. Nathan told David, “Do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3). Since Nathan was a prophet we might “presume” that the Lord had spoken to him about this matter and that He approved, but not so. In the very same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan and said, “Go and say to my servant David, “Are you the one who should build me a house to live in?” (2 Sam. 7:4, 5)
No, David was not the “one.” Not only did David presume he was the “one” to build the house, the prophet Nathan presumed it as well. These godly, sincere men, who loved God made a mistake. The presumptive action was averted only when both of them gave up their plans at the word of the Lord. The text does not tell us why Nathan gave his stamp of approval without receiving word from the Lord, first.
Yes, it seemed like a good idea. David had not suggested it because of pride. And Nathan, no doubt saw it as a wonderful plan. But, it was not the Lord’s will. Good and honest men can make the same mistake today. Too often “good” works are proposed without a clear understanding of what is good. Inquiry is made of others with equally pure motives, who give their approval, but no appeal is made to the approval of God. Elders make plans to do the Lord’s work. Preachers are enlisted to sell the idea and promote it to the congregation. The congregation “submits” to the authority of the elders, but nobody thinks to find authority in the Word. The result is the implementation of plans, which are not authorized.
We are heartened by Nathan’s report to the king of the Lord’s disapproval (2 Sam. 7:4 5), and David’s willingness to shelve the project. It was not that the plan per se was wrong, since the temple was later built by Solomon with God’s approval. David and Nathan were wrong for presuming that the temple should be built without consulting God. God was silent and silence is not approval. He spoke later about the temple and then it was authorized.
In the same chapter Nathan reveals to David that God planned to build David a house (2 Sam. 7:8-17). God’s plan was far superior to David’s plan. God would establish his throne and eventually seat one of his descendants on that throne. Jesus Christ would be that man. Too often men are impressed by their own plans, but they pale in comparison to what God has in store. We must never presume that any unauthorized attempts to magnify God are superior to the glory we give to God when we simply obey Him.
The Presumption of David: Taking Another Man’s Wife (2 Sam. 12:1-15)
Nathan’s role in the incident of David’s sin with Bathsheba is another example of the battle against presumption. It is with true discomfort that we read this account. David, the champion of God, was overcome by the lust of his flesh. How did David, who so boldly stood against and defeated a giant who belittled God’s nation, come to the point where he saw, desired and took the wife of another man and then tried to cover his sin by sending that loyal and trustworthy man to his death? Why did David presume that he could commit this sin? Once he had committed the sin with Bathsheba what caused him to think that what he had done would go unnoticed?
Maybe it was the same kind of presumptions we make about our own sin and its cover-up. We may presume that we are so valuable to God that He will overlook sin in our case. We may presume that we have authority or position, which gives us the right to do as we please. We may presume that our deeds are hidden from God. None of these presumptions are of course correct, but unfortunately we allow Satan to convince us that God does not really mean what He says, or that we perhaps have some special privilege from God because of all the good we have accomplished.
When Nathan finally approached him, it looked really bad for David. In our judgment we might have said that it was too late. What could we possibly say that would cause someone so caught up in the web of sin to repent? However, Nathan’s careful account of the injustice of another, finds its way past the barrier of sin into the heart of David, where an almost dying ember of righteousness still glowed. Nathan fanned that ember with the outrageous story of a rich man who took the pet lamb of another and killed it, prepared it and served it as a meal to a friend. That rich man presumed he could just take what belonged to another because of his social position.
Upon hearing this, David cried out, “Surely the man who has done this deserves to die!” (2 Sam. 12:5)
Nathan responded, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7) Nathan revealed to David how his ungodly deeds made him like that contemptuous rich man in the story. David replied, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). No excuse was given, just unabated confession of guilt.
We are proud of Nathan for his clear revelation to a king, who could have taken Nathan’s life as easily as he had taken the life of Uriah. Nathan, the defender of justice in the battle against presumption, faced his giant and brought him low, with the word of the Lord, just as assuredly as David armed with his faith in God slew Goliath.
When we sin presumptively, may the Lord help us to recognize the reality of the sin perhaps through a “Nathan,” who will reveal the soul-destroying presumption.
The Presumption of Adonijah: The Man Who Would be King (1 Kings 1:11-53)
The final example of Nathan’s battle against the sin of presumption involves Adonijah, one of David’s sons. Who would replace David as king, when David died? Adonijah was a likely candidate, at least in his own thinking. He presumed that the right to the throne was his and he decided to grab it. He most likely was the rightful heir to the throne as man would judge it, but presuming this right did not make it so. Solomon, his brother was the rightful heir to the throne.
What did Adonijah have going for him? We are told that Adonijah was handsome (1 Kings 1:6) and that David, his father, did not cross him when he showed signs of self-importance (1 Kings 1:5, 6). Adonijah also had the backing of Joab, the commander of the army and Abiathar, the priest, having conferred with them (1 Kings 1:7). He even offered sacrifices of sheep and oxen (1 Kings 1:9). Thus he would presume to sit on his father’s throne, even though his father was still living. In spite of his presumption he was not God’s choice.
In 2 Sam. 7, when Nathan spoke to David about the house that God would build him he told him that God said, “I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you…” (2 Sam. 7:12). The two-fold fulfillment of this promise included Solomon who would receive the throne after David and Christ, another descendant of David, who would receive the heavenly throne in the future. When David spoke these words to David, Adonijah had already been born, Solomon had not. The promise was to one who would “come forth” (future tense) from David. Adonijah was not the heir of promise.
Nathan convinced David that Adonijah would steal the throne and that David needed to move quickly to appoint Solomon as king. At David’s command Solomon was anointed by Zadok, the priest and Nathan the prophet. Solomon became king and God’s promise was secure. Nathan served God by faithfully battling against the sin of presumption, once again.
The world recognizes a personality disorder called narcissism. It is a term used to describe one having an inflated idea of their importance. Whether this was Adonijah’s problem or not, we do know that “self-importance” is sinful presumption. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3,4). The kingdom is still troubled by men, who believe that they are “handpicked” for greatness by God. These men presume power and abuse it, resulting in trouble and tragic consequences in local churches, men like Diotrephes, who desire to be first (3 John 9).
We must constantly fight the battle against the sin of presumption: our own presumption and the presumption of others. We must say to God, “Your will not mine.” May God send us a “Nathan” to exhort and keep us from the sin of presumption.
By Karl Hennecke
From Expository Files 19.5; May 2012