2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Someone Like Nathan In Your Life

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2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Someone Like Nathan In Your Life

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

We heard in today’s first reading
how the prophet Nathan confronted King David.
It can be helpful on occasion
to have someone like Nathan in your life.
Let us consider why this is so.
In the name of God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Scripture tells us that
regarding Uriah and his widow,
“the thing David had done displeased the Lord,
and the Lord sent Nathan to David.”
What thing was it
that the Lord found displeasing?

The whole sordid story is set forth
in the Second Book of Samuel
just before today’s selection.

David remains in Jerusalem
when he should be out on the battlefield
leading his troops as their king.

He awakens late one day
and sees his next door neighbor,
a very beautiful woman,
taking her bath.
She’s the wife of an elite soldier,
Uriah the Hittite,
who’s been on active duty for some time.

David summons her, they have intercourse,
he has her go back home.
Repeatedly in this story she is not mentioned by name,
but simply as Uriah’s wife,
as if to underline the crime
that the king initiates.

Some time later
the woman sends David a message.
It is her only line in the story.
“I am pregnant” is what she says.

David decides to cover his tracks.
He summons Uriah home from the battle line,
asks him how the war is going,
and send him home to his wife.
If Uriah sleeps with her,
everyone will assume
that the child she will deliver
is his.

David later learns that Uriah did not go home,
but camped out on the palace doorstep
along with various royal retainers.
When questioned, Uriah says
that he could not in good conscience
enjoy the comforts of home
when his buddies and the entire army
were out risking their lives
in service to king and country.

David tries again.
He invites Uriah to the palace for dinner,
gets him drunk, sends him home.
But still Uriah camps out
on the palace doorstep.

Now the king tries a more desperate ploy.
He sends Uriah back to the battle line
with a sealed message for his commander Joab.
Joab reads the note and obeys David
by putting Uriah
in a dangerous combat situation
and withdrawing the troops around him.
Uriah is killed by the enemy,
and the news reaches the king.

David believes that the death of Uriah
covers his own tracks
in regard to his adultery with Uriah’s wife.
Once the prescribed mourning period is over,
David marries the beautiful widow,
who bears him a son.

Uriah had been a loyal soldier.
His king was the one who robbed him–
of his wife and his future.
David was convinced
that this treachery would remain
a deep, dark secret.

Now hear again what scripture tells us:
“the thing David had done displeased the Lord,
and the Lord send Nathan to David.”

Nathan is the chief prophet
in the royal court.
He has ready access to the king.
Still, we can imagine him filled with trepidation
as he brings his earthly master
a rebuke from on high.

Nathan tells David a story
about manifest injustice.
A rich man with abundant resources
takes a poor man’s one and only lamb
and roasts it as dinner
for a traveler who turns up at his door.
This little lamb had been beloved
by the poor man and his family;
indeed, it was like a daughter to him.

David follows Nathan’s story intently.
As monarch
he is there to guarantee justice
and protect the rights of his people.
Enraged by the merciless rich man
in the prophet’s story,
David rises suddenly from his throne
and swears an oath in God’s name:
“The man who has done this deserves to die;
he shall restore the lamb fourfold,
because he did this thing,
and because he had no pity.”

What happens next?
I picture Nathan pointing his finger
directly at David
as he announces,
“You are the man!”
David is the criminal in Nathan’s story.
God has blessed him abundantly–
made him Israel’s king
and would have done
even more for him.

“So why,”
Nathan cries out on the Lord’s behalf,
“why, David,
have you despised the word of the Lord,
to do what is evil in his sight?
You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword,
taken his wife to be your wife,
killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”

Nathan goes on to pronounce
a curse on David and his descendants,
a promise that rebellion and disgrace
will erupt within his family.

David denies nothing.
He says to Nathan,
“I have sinned before the Lord.”
A conniving sinner,
David becomes an honest penitent.
Nathan is the midwife
at the second birth of this king.


I said earlier
that it can be helpful on occasion
to have someone like Nathan in your life.

How is this so?

One way to consider it
is that Nathan,
acting as the agent of the Lord,
reveals to David his shadow side.

David the hero, the king,
favored by the Lord
and adored by his subjects!
All this is true,
but there’s more to David than that.
Another part of him is his shadow.
His shadow is the other in him,
a splinter personality,
the sum of all those unpleasant realities
he would like to hide.

David’s shadow takes over
when he abuses authority and opportunity
to covet his neighbor’s wife
and commit adultery with her.

David’s shadow desperately schemes
to cover up the misdeed
by bringing Uriah home
and getting him drunk.

David’s shadow arranges Uriah’s death in battle
and drags down his general Joab in the bargain.

Nathan’s story and his confrontation with David
makes the king’s shadow visible to him,
his darkness apparent in all its ugliness.

Only then can the king
see the horror of what he has done
and admit his sin.
He offers no excuse.
He recognizes himself as not only hero and king,
the favorite of the Lord, beloved by his people,
but also
as an adulterer, a schemer, a killer
whose crimes will cause his family
and his kingdom to suffer.

Each of us has a shadow,
and that shadow must be brought to light.
We are not the people we want to be.
It does no good to deny or repress our dark side;
that only makes it more powerful.
We must recognize the wholeness of who we are,
the shadow as well as the light.

• The poet Robert Bly talks about the shadow;
he calls it the “long bag we drag behind us.”

He says that as infants we expressed
the full breadth of our human nature,
but as we grew up,
we learned that certain aspects of ourselves
were unacceptable to the people around us.
So we learned to repress those aspects;
we wanted and needed
to get along with others.
It is as though
we stuffed those unacceptable aspects of ourselves
into a bag,
and have been dragging that bag
behind us ever since,
and the bag keeps getting bigger and bigger.

• The psychologist Carl Jung talked about the shadow.

He was insistent
that the shadow was not trash,
but needed to be reclaimed,
that most of it was pure gold.
Jung’s approach to psychotherapy
involves healing the split
between the conscious sense of self
and everything else we are.

• I believe that Jesus talked about
what we call the shadow;
he did so in the Sermon on the Mount.

There he tells us:
“The eye is the lamp of the body.
So if your eye is healthy,
your whole body will be full of light.” 1
A more literal translation
speaks here of the eye as single or sound.
Such an eye is not divided and so is healthy.
In similar fashion,
to the degree we accept our shadow,
our ability to see ourselves and the world
is single and sound.
Because our perspective
does not deny the shadow,
it is a true and healthy perspective.

What we do not acknowledge in ourselves
cannot be redeemed;
instead, it remains hidden.

So elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus admonishes us
“Come to terms quickly with your accuser
while you are on the way to court with him”  2
lest terrible things befall you.

That accuser may be the shadow,
who must be acknowledged
and as part of who we are
redeemed together with the rest.


And so it can be helpful on occasion
to have someone like Nathan in your life.
Someone who points out your shadow side.

That person may be a wise parent or spouse
or child or friend.
Your Nathan may be a therapist or a spiritual director.
Or maybe someone you encounter only briefly,
a superficial acquaintance, a passing stranger,
delivers to you a word from the Lord
about the darkness that is part of you.
Even an enemy can perform this service;
thus your enemy proves to be your friend.

Some people encounter this shadow
when they pay attention to their dreams
and work with them,
perhaps with another person’s help.
Thus a dream can be our Nathan,
upsetting our lives for our benefit
like a prophet sent from God.

The Nathan in your life
is the person, the force,
that points to your darkness, announces your blind spot,
helps you become less complacent and more whole.
Nathan refuses to let you rest easy
that you may achieve true peace.

Do you have a Nathan in your life
who helps you claim your shadow?

If you do, give thanks.

If you do not,
then you may wish to pray
that Nathan will walk down the corridor
and challenge you as you sit on your throne.

One name for such a challenge
is shadow work.
Here’s what Jeremiah Abrams
has to say about it:
“Shadow work can yield dramatic results,
a new humility
accompanied by an increase in an energetic aliveness,
a new-found compassion for oneself and others,
and, for some, an initiation and rebirth.” 3

Christianity has a term
for developments such as this.
When people become aware of their shadow,
no longer reject it,
but regard their entire being as subject
to some great and rich mercy,
the name for this is grace.

Give thanks if you have experienced such grace,
and ask for more.

If you have not experienced this,
ask for it,
and keep asking.

That longing is a prayer.


1. Matthew 6:22.

2. Matthew 5:25.

3.  Jeremiah Abrams, ed., The Shadow in America: Reclaiming the Soul of a Nation (Nataraj, 1994), 42.

Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.