Translation of 1 Kings 1:22-27 (MT)

22. But, dude! Still she was speaking with the king, and Nathan the prophet entered.

23. And they declared to the king, saying, “dude! Nathan the prophet.” And he entered before the king and prostrated to the king, upon his nose, to the ground.

24. And Nathan said, “my lord, o king, you, you have said, ‘Adonijahu will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne’?!

25. “For he went down today and sacrificed steer and fattened calves and sheep for the many, and he called to all of the king’s sons and to the military officers and to Abiathar the priest. And, dude! They are eating and drinking before him, and they said, ‘long live Adonijahu, the king!’

26. “But to me (I am your servant) and to Zadok the priest and to Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and to Solomon, your servant, he did not call.

27. “If [this is] from my lord, the king, [then] let this thing be done. But you have not let your servants know who should sit upon the throne of my lord, the king, after him.”

Commentary on the Text

From a narrative perspective, v. 22 ends Bathsheba’s speech to the king without mentioning that she is done talking. In fact, the verse’s opening suggests that the prophet interrupts her speech, fulfilling precisely that which he proposed (v. 14). The mention of Nathan’s office places him on a distinct footing when contrasted with Bathsheba, whose identity the text does not further elucidate in v. 15, as is done here with Nathan.

The distinction between these two characters becomes yet more marked in v. 23. Three matters seem to elevate Nathan above Bathsheba in this verse. First, Nathan is announced by some unnamed group of people, presumably a court or something. Nothing similar is reported for Bathsheba. Second, his title is again reiterated in the announcement of his arrival, again in contradistinction to Bathsheba. Third, there is strong emphasis placed on his obeisance to the king. It reiterates that he not only prostrated, as Bathsheba had while kneeling, but even put his nose to the ground. The prophet appears to be laying it on thick, and this verse certainly lends him a more political air than that afforded the (hopefully) more personally relevant Bathsheba.

However, vis-à-vis the king, Nathan takes a more forward approach than Bathsheba had. Whereas the king inquires what Bathsheba wants (v. 16), Nathan simply interjects his issue. I presume that this implies social bias against Bathsheba in the text: the woman should only speak when addressed and it merits no comment when her speech is interrupted first by the court and then by the announced guest. David has thus far not reacted to her concern, whether legitimate or not. Perhaps the text is making a statement about Nathan’s power-relation to the king as well. Nathan more or less exclaims what the king has previously said. It could be understood as a question, but the Hebrew by no means makes it explicit. For this reason, I have chosen to translate it here as a surprised interjection. He asks not what the king has said; he states that the king said such while simultaneously expressing his surprise and dissatisfaction. It’s an effective rhetorical strategy for the subsequent speech: the prophet lists some facts that led him to the conclusion he states in his speech’s opening. At the same time, Nathan’s manner of addressing the king here could be understood as reinforcing the narrator’s intimation from v. 4 that the king has become and is impotent.

Verse 25 presents Nathan’s nuanced version of the same information Bathsheba recounted in v. 19. The language is quite similar, but the distinctions are perhaps noteworthy in that they make the scenario appear somewhat more dangerous for David than Bathsheba. Nathan’s versions moves the military to the second position in the list of persons affiliated with Adonijahu and expands their number from merely “Joab” to “the officers.” Only then does he add “the priest Abiathar.” Finally, he notes that they are banqueting with Adonijahu and have proclaimed him king. While Bathsheba suggests that Adonijahu is already starting to rule without the king’s knowledge (v. 18), she then notes that this will only have real consequences once the king has died (v. 21). Nathan intimates that these people already regard Adonijahu as king. That puts, certainly implicitly at least, the current occupant of the throne in precarious circumstances.

Again in v. 26 Nathan provides details more in line with his station than those emphasized by Bathsheba in vv. 19 and 21. He mentions, while reiterating his loyalty to the king, that he and Zadok the priest and one particular officer (presumably loyal and certainly without Joab’s baggage) were not invited. And this, in addition to Solomon. Bathsheba, understandably and in line with her personal relationship to the king, only noted the lack of an invitation for her son.

Nathan’s speech concludes with a few excellent rhetorical features. His first phrase in this verse shows him now, for this first time in this passage, deferent to the king. That makes his position perhaps more appealing to the sitting monarch. And rather than conclude that the king must demonstrate his plan for succession to “all Israel,” as Bathsheba suggests (v. 20), Nathan states that the king must only inform his “servants” who will succeed him. Allowing for an appropriate amount of suspicion, what the conclusion of this speech really demands is that the king tell Nathan and Solomon, the two people who are described as the king’s servants in this speech, who should reign after him and sit on his throne. This anticipates the answer they hope the king will provide, perhaps again implying the king’s impotence. Again, it should be noted here that the narrator has nowhere suggested this is the divine will that the prophet is espousing. Yet, tellingly, the king does almost exactly what the prophet demands, showing that Nathan’s plan worked. And the king suspects nothing.

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