The Nathan-David Confrontation (2 Sam 12:1-15a)

A slap in the face of the Deuteronomistic hero?

by James Donkor Afoakwah (Author)
©2015 Thesis XVI, 308 Pages


The study discusses the Old Testament's parable of Nathan and the subsequent condemnation of King David. The intriguing episode of the Prophet Nathan pronouncing judgment on the erring King David has always attracted the interest of the exegete and various researchers have used different methods to separate the condemnation of King David from the ancient author. This study presents a synchronic reading of the canonical text that reveals the episode as the mirror image of the oracle of eternal dynasty pronounced to David by the same prophet in the Second Book of Samuel 7. It is indeed the work of the deuteronomistic writer who has adapted an oracle against the dynasty of David and trimmed it to the advantage of his hero in the unfolding of history.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Text and Translation of 2 Samuel 12:1-15a
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Panoramic view of 2 Sam 12:1-15a
  • 1.1 The mediate context
  • 1.2 The immediate context
  • Chapter 2. Status Questionis
  • 2.1 The Literal Critical Approach (diachronic) to 2 Sam 12:1-15a
  • 2.2 The Succession Narrative; an anti-monarchical document?
  • 2.3 The parable of Nathan as part of the DtrH
  • Chapter 3. The Deuteronomistic History (DtrH)
  • 3.1 The Succession Narrative and the Deuteronomist (Dtr)
  • 3.2 2 Sam 12:1-15a and the dtr
  • 3.2.1 Samuel and Saul
  • 3.2.2 Ahijah and Jeroboam
  • 3.2.3 The unnamed prophet and Ahab
  • 3.2.4 Nathan and David
  • Chapter 4. The text of the narrative
  • 4.1 Structure; 2 Sam 12:1-15a
  • 4.1.1 The story: vv. 1-4
  • 4.1.2 Analysis
  • 4.1.3 Interpretation
  • 4.2 The judgment: vv. 5-6
  • 4.2.1 Analysis
  • 4.2.2 Interpretation
  • 4.3 The prophetic word: vv. 7-12
  • 4.3.1 The Prologue: vv. 7-9
  • 4.3.2 Analysis
  • 4.3.3 Interpretation
  • 4.3.4 The oracle of doom: v. 10-12
  • 4.3.5 Analysis
  • 4.3.6 Interpretation
  • 4.4 The concluding words: vv. 13-14
  • 4.4.1 Analysis
  • 4.4.2 Interpretation
  • 4.5 Summary
  • Chapter 5. The David of the Dtr and the parable of Nathan
  • 5.1 The Kingship of David in the OT Tradition
  • 5.2 The kingship of David in the light of Nathan’s oracle
  • 5.2.1 The rise of David; 1 Sam 16-2 Sam
  • 5.2.2 The anointing of David and entry into the court of Saul
  • 5.2.3 Divine protection of David against Saul
  • 5.2.4 The elimination of Rivals to the Throne
  • 5.2.5 The Promise of an Everlasting Kingdom: 2 Sam
  • 5.2.6 David at the height of his reign – 2 Sam 8-20
  • 5.2.7 The last days of David: 1 Kings 1-2
  • 5.3 The image of David that emerges from the narrative
  • Chapter 6. The prophet Nathan in the dtr corpus
  • 6.1 2 Sam 7; an overview
  • 6.1.1 2 Sam 7; description and interpretation
  • 6.2 2 Sam
  • 6.2.1 2 Sam 12; description and interpretation
  • 6.3 1 Kings
  • 6.3.1 1 Kings 1: an overview
  • 6.3.2 1 Kings 1; description and interpretation
  • 6.3.3 The Exposition: v. 1-4
  • 6.3.4 Adonijah’s presumption: v. 5-10
  • 6.3.5 The counter plot: v. 11-14
  • 6.3.6 The successor is named: v. 15-37
  • 6.3.7 Solomon is King: v. 38-40
  • 6.3.8 Report by Jonathan Ben Abiathar: v. 41-49
  • 6.3.9 Adonijah’s capitulation: v. 50-53
  • 6.4 Synthesis
  • 6.5 The Nathan narratives seen together
  • Chapter 7. Conclusion: The parable of Nathan; a slap in the face of the dtr image of David?
  • Bibliography

| XIII →


AB Anchor Bible Series or Commentary
BBB Bonner Biblische Beiträge
BETL Bibliotheca Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis
BH Biblical Hebrew
BTS Biblisch-Theologische Studien
BZAW Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
CBET Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CH Court History
Dtr Deuteronomist or the Deuteronomistic author or writer
DtrH Deuteronomistic History
FAT Forschung zur Alten Testament
FCB The Feminist Companion to the Bible
FRLANT Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments
HS Heiligenkreuzer Studien
HThKAT Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament
JSOT Journal for the Study of Old Testament
JSOTSup Journal for the Study of Old Testament Supplement Series
KAA Kölner Anglistische Arbeiten
LXX The Septuagint – Ralf’s Edition
ÖBS Österreichische Biblische Studien
PdÄ Probleme der Ägyptologie
SBA Stuttgarter Biblische Aufsatzbände
SBL Society of Biblical Literature
SBT Studies in Biblical Theology
SBTS Sources for Biblical and Theological Study
SFEG Schriften der Finnischen Exegetischen Gessellschaft
SJOT Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testment ← XIII | XIV →
SN Succession Narrative
STTAASF Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian Toimituksia Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae
ThR Theologische Rundschau
VT Vetus Testamentum
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
TS Theologische Studien (Zürich)
ZAR Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte

All other abbreviations follow the list in the Abkurzungen Theologie und Religionswissenschaften nach RGG4 (UTB 2868), hg. von der Redaktion der RGG4, Tübingen 2007.

| XV →

Text and Translation of 2 Samuel 12:1-15a

| 1 →


The story of David occupies a very prominent position in the history of Israel, and the unity of the Biblical narrative, where it constitutes the core and reference point for both the Old and the New Testaments. From this perspective the person and image of David never lack admiration or critique. The more one gets immersed into the narrative about the royal family of David the more one gets inundated by a rich minefield of exegetical literature. The recent work of Walter Dietrich, Forschung an den Samuelbüchern im neuen Jahrtausend, has shown that there are more than thirty-seven major exegetical research works on the first and second books of Samuel in the last decade alone. This interest does not in any way dwindle with the passage of time; it rather grows in leaps and bounds. In line with this growth in interest, I have also chosen to enter into the exegete’s favourite text – the story of David’s family or succession,1 but my interest lies in only a very small portion of that great story. It is the intriguing manner in which the Deuteronomist (dtr) author uses the prophet Nathan in his development of the character and story of David and, in so doing, in his complex ideology and theology that captivates my attention. The author paints the picture of a man who is worthy of emulation, the yardstick with which he measures all the kings of Israel and Judah, but at the same time allows the prophet to denigrate him in a manner befitting only the worst kings in the history of Israel (Ahab and Manasseh). The story in question is the parable of Nathan and its subsequent oracle or prophecy of doom against David and his house (2 Sam 12:1-15a). A confrontation between a prophet and a king is in no way unusual in the history of Israel, but when that king involved is no other than David, then that event becomes unusual if not extraordinary. The characterization of David in Biblical tradition is the ideal that one can aspire towards; the faithful king who walked before Yhwh “with integrity of heart and uprightness” (1 Kings 9:4), the bearer of the promise of an eternal dynasty (2 Sam 7) and the yardstick with which all other kings before and after him are judged. It is in 2 Sam 12 and only here does David stand accused ← 1 | 2 → of adultery and murder and faces a condemnation that endangers his life and that of his dynasty.

The typical exegetical attitude towards this pericope has been to follow the literal critical method that considers the parable a later addition to the history or the redactional critical approach which sees different levels of redaction in the pericope. Modern thought does not very much wean itself from the traditional historico-critical approaches, for it cannot do otherwise, because there is no method that is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.2 It is the results of the various methods put together that provide the reader with the necessary foundation upon which to decipher the sense of the Biblical text. The most radical approach of our day towards the parable of Nathan has been that of John Van Seters, who proposes a late exilic writer (the Court Historian), who has forced the parable into the completed work of the DtrH to sabotage the otherwise perfect image of David; the just and righteous king, created and defended by the dtr author, with the ultimate aim of undermining the development of the promise of an eternal dynasty to the house of David in 2 Sam 7 into the expectation of the Messianic rule of that royal house.3 This mind-tickling hypothesis naturally arrests the attention of the reader and widens the horizon of interest in the pericope.

Evidently the initial question that a narrative arouses in its audience is about what determines the direction of the ensuing research. If the intriguing question is: Which author could have inserted such a negative material into an otherwise predominantly positive narrative? Then one is very likely to seek answers outside the text since one postulates the existence of two separate narratives, a positive and a negative, and, therefore, two separate authors. My aim and interest in the parable is not the question of who may have written it, the subject of source criticism, but what role the pericope plays in the over-all history of the Dtr from the point of view of the position where it has been placed by that particular author in his work. My initial premise is that the dtr author or school of thought has adopted the parable from the many sources that were available to him at the moment of compiling the history and has reworked it in such a manner that it fits very well into the composite whole that is termed “the deuteronomistic ← 2 | 3 → history” (DtrH). Thus, I am looking at the parable from the End Text Perspective; as an integral part of the DtrH of Deuteronomy – 2 Kings, keeping in mind the historical process that may have influenced its formation. The direction of my work is the examination of the purpose that this apparently negative text serves in the work of the Dtr so that the author did not find it too odious, detrimental or even counter-productive to the goals of his project. This position is very much influenced by the fact that 2 Sam 12:1-15a can neatly be lifted out of its context without any noticeable break in the flow of the narrative except that the homicides committed in the house of David and Absalom’s revolt will be stripped of their theological interpretation and 1 Kings 1-2 will hang in mid-air with the protagonist and heir to the throne of David rising out of the blue. With the position and content of 2 Sam 12, the narrator perfectly fills in the gaps that may have arisen and propels the account into the future when succession to the throne of David takes centre stage.

One will have to agree that the presentation of David as a character in the narrative and as a father and king who is the hero of the complex history, is in many instances very ambivalent. It is, however, in this ambivalence that the author succeeds in creating an enigmatic character of the perfect hero in his imperfection as a human being borne only on the wings of divine grace and mercy. He is, in fact, like a mirage; it is all the farther away when you think that you have gotten to it. This characteristic style in the presentation of the central figure of the epoch so much endears the narrative to the exegete that it is at the very moment when one thinks that one has discovered a new key to the understanding of the story that one realizes that someone else has been there before, and yet the interest does not die out.

This book is composed of six chapters with an introduction and a general conclusion. The first chapter seeks to situate the David-Nathan confrontation in its mediate and immediate narrative contexts with the purpose of focusing attention on its unique stylistic position that gives rise to the discussion of whether it fits into its environs or not. This question leads the reader automatically to the second chapter, which deals with the state of the issue or the nature of the discussion surrounding 2 Sam 12:1-15a; the Status Questionis. Chapter three takes an excursion into the Deuteronomistic History, the major work to which the parable of Nathan and its ← 3 | 4 → resultant oracle belong, while the fourth chapter zooms into the narrative text of 2 Sam 12:1-15a, subjecting it to critical observations and analyses based upon the historical and literal critical methods in a synchronic manner, without losing sight of the fact that the pericope belongs to a larger narrative block. The fifth chapter takes up the theme of the image of David presented in the larger work of the Dtr in order to facilitate a comparison with the presentation of that same character in 2 Sam 12 with the prophet Nathan playing the role of the judge; the agent who pronounces the prophecy of doom against the otherwise perfect hero of the narrative. Reasoning along the same wavelength, the sixth chapter seeks to find out the missing link in the narrative; what David and Nathan have in common or the inseparable force that binds the two characters so firmly together as to warrant not only the audacity of Nathan to stand out against David, but also the king’s humility in succumbing to the prophetic authority. This, invariably, demands an analysis of the three Nathan pericopae which are all enacted at the palace of David, with the king as the object of all three prophetic addresses. The work emphasizes the multifaceted role of Nathan at the royal palace as a messenger of Yhwh, a trusted personality at the court, a spiritual guide and a faithful defender of the dynasty. It is in the complexity of these roles that his prophetic rebuke of David reveals its corrective quality of bringing the erring king back to his God. This strong and corrective word of the prophet does not in any way imply an outright rejection and if it is to be assumed that a late writer has sought to purport this, then that writer may only have succeeded in shooting himself in the heels.

1 L. Rost, The Succession to the Throne of David, Sheffield, 1982, p. 65.


XVI, 308
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (June)
parable of Nathan oracle of doom oracle of salvation Deuteronomistic History
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVI, 308 pp., 2 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

James Donkor Afoakwah (Author)

James Donkor Afoakwah is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, Ghana. He studied Philosophy in Accra, Theology in Cape Coast, holds a Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a PhD from the Eberhard Karl’s University in Tübingen, Germany.


Title: The Nathan-David Confrontation (2 Sam 12:1-15a)
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326 pages