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QUESTION

After David established himself in Jerusalem, Nathan prophesied:

“The Lord declares to you that He, the Lord, will establish a house for you. When your days are done and you lie with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own issue, and I will establish his kingship. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to Me. When he does wrong, I will chastise him with the rod of men and the affliction of mortals; but I will never withdraw My favor from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed to make room for you. Your house and your kingship shall ever be secure before you; your throne shall be established forever.”—2nd Samuel 7:11b-16 (NJPS)

Now during David's life, the prophesy was touch and go at times, but Solomon did fulfill all but the last sentence. However, by the end of the book of Kings, it seems difficult to say that David's "throne shall be established forever." Was Nathan a false prophet? Or more charitably, did he or whoever recorded and edited his words embellish them by including the word "forever"?


For clarity, I'm well aware of the Christian interpretation of the prophesy, but for the purposes of this question, I'm more interested in how the compilers of the books of Samuel and Kings viewed Nathan's words.

{ asked by Jon Ericson }

ANSWER

There is nothing in the text in 2 Samuel 7 or in subsequent writings within the Tanakh that hints that the Davidic covenant spoken through Nathan was spoken falsely by him or embellished. 1 Kings 4:31 esteems the wisdom of Ethan the Ezrahite pretty highly; his wisdom is the bar by which the author compares Solomon's own wisdom. I mention this because Ethan is seemingly the author of Psalm 89, which wrestles over this very issue. In that Psalm, Ethan reflects on the promises given to David:

Once you spoke in a vision,
   to your faithful people you said:...
I will maintain my love to him forever,
   and my covenant with him will never fail.

Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—
   and I will not lie to David—
that his line will continue forever
   and his throne endure before me like the sun;

However, when Ethan considers the realities around him, he concludes:

But you have rejected, you have spurned,
   you have been very angry with your anointed one.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant
   and have defiled his crown in the dust.

Finally he asks:

Lord, where is your former great love,
   which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

Since the compiler of Samuel/Kings seems to esteem Ethan the Ezrahite so highly, there is good reason to think he was aware also of this Psalm. If so, he obviously didn't think Nathan overstated or lied about the Lord's decree, but saw wisdom in wrestling over the idea that God is faithful in all his promises and that yet this promise has all the appearance of a failure.

{ answered by Soldarnal }
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