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After David sinned with Bethsheba the prophet Nathan was sent to him by God, in order that his sin might be exposed unto him. He did so by telling him the parable which we read in 2 Samuel 12:1-6.

Later Nathan tells David, that he (David) is the rich man from the parable. That's how we conclude that the poor man is Uriah the Hittite and the lamb is his wife Bethsheba.

Now my question is whether someone has thought on who the traveler / guest, referred to in the parable, is?

2 Samuel 12:4 (ESV)

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

7 Answers 7

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In a sense, the identity of this "traveller/guest" in the parable in 2 Samuel 12 is the same as that in Jesus' parable of the "friend at night":

‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me,...’ (Luke 11:5b-6a).

That is, this is simply a character recounted in the story: there is no identity beyond that.

This is very much part of the "parable" genre.1 It is very odd for there to be any semblance of "real" character in them -- which is why the parable of "Lazarus and Dives" is somewhat unusual: it's the only biblical parable in OT or NT that uses named characters (that I'm aware of! corrections welcome).

It should be clear, too, then, that David is not "the rich man" in the parable, nor is the "poor man" Uriah, nor the "ewe lamb" Bathsheba (she certainly didn't end up in the stew!). Rather, the story elicits a judgment from David that implicates his own behaviour as guilty.

That's how parables work.


Note

  1. There is a bit more general information on interpretation of parables in a previous Q&A. This popular guide to parable interpretation from Bible.org is also helpful.
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  • Yes, it is a parable indeed, thanks for pointing that out, I made a mistake with the naming. And I appreciate the lack of concrete characters in the "parable" genre in the Scriptures, and especially the ones that Jesus said. However this one is quite different from what I can see, even though it speaks in a symbolic language (Bethsheba is not a lamb), that it refers to specific characters from the event at hand, after all Nathan says: "you are that man". I was thinking as to whether we can consider the guest as temptation or something else, and if such a conclusion could be valid..? Oct 13, 2014 at 15:21
  • What makes you think it "is quite different"? AFAIK, 2 Sam 12 is thought to be almost an archetypal parable of the type Jesus also told. And I wouldn't think Nathan's evocative scenario is precisely "the event at hand" (David's adultery + murder) which Nathan so skillfully exposes. In fact, the lack of identity is what prompts David to make the judgement he does. To look for some further "identity" for the traveller/guest over-complicates, and runs against the normal mode in which a "parable" functions.
    – Dɑvïd
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:27
  • I am prompt to think that way, as Jesus told parables to the masses,the lack of exact characters is done, that the hearer might see himself (or others) in the parable told, and that he might take it to heart. In the case with David, he was told the parable with a very specific quest - exposing his sin. If Nathan had used names, that could have prevented an honest and unbiased judgement by David. Of course the parable is true in general of anyone, not only for that occasion. As with everything in the Scriptures it could have a deeper meaning than the obvious, so I ask if anyone has pondered on. Oct 13, 2014 at 15:39
  • ...the lack of exact characters is done, that the hearer might see himself (or others) in the parable told... - which is precisely the case in 2 Sam 12! | ...with a very specific quest - exposing his sin... - you'll find that something like that could also be said of the NT parables; the dynamic is "the same", not "quite different", even though one situation is "targetted", the other not. Compare, e.g., the famous Luke 10:24-37 told directly to the "lawyer" - not so very different after all! (And no names....)
    – Dɑvïd
    Oct 13, 2014 at 16:32
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I know this is WAY late, but I felt it necessary to respond anyway.

I have read many commentaries and heard a lot of preachers through the years talk about this. Many try to blame Satan and other demons, and I am not denying that there could be an application here, however I believe this is a quick laying of blame. Other commentators I have read draw a different picture.

In the account of David and Bathsheba, you have David making a series of wrong decisions. He should not have even been home, but should have been at war with his men. He had several wives already so why is he not going to one of them? Once he found out it was the wife of one of his mighty men and the granddaughter of his trusted advisor he should have dropped it. Just to name a few...

The traveler or visitor mentioned could be satan, but more likely in the parable it is the flesh. When we give way to temptations and give in to our lusts death follows (See James 1:15).

At the end of the day, we are responsible for our actions. Jesus stated that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with ALL our being, and to love our neighbors next. When we neglect to love God and love others it is because we are loving the visitor...

I know this was a quick response, but I still hope this helps someone out there.

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In Nathan's parable (2 Samuel 12:1-6), only two persons were identified; that the rich man was king David, and the poor man was Uriah. The parable staged how a rich man who had power bullying the poor. As Nathan knew, David would surely condemn the rich man, then he could bring David to wake up from his righteousness.

The little ewe lamb was not Bethsheba. The parable staged both the poor and the rich loved their own flock. The poor afforded only one little ewe lamb who grew up with him and his children (vv12:3), but the rich had so many but reluctant to offer one as meal for the traveler (vv12:4). Instead he took the only one from the poor.

So the parable was to condemn David abused his power as king, that Nathan declared the Lord said:

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.

8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

Who is the traveler in the parable?

The answer is 'nobody'. This role staged the necessity the rich had to offer the traveler a meal, that developed into the rich took the poor man's sheep.

The rich man had to treat the traveler well as all Israelites will know the Lord reminded them again and again that they should not mistreat a foreigner/traveler, for they were once foreigners in Egypt (Exo 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:34; Deu 10:19). Abraham and Lot had received travelers without knowing they were angels (Gen 18:2-8; Gen 19:1-3). In the book of Hebrews, it wrote;

2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)

Job also saw it as his righteousness

32 but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler— (Job 31:32 NIV)

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  • I don't understand why you reject the idea that the female lamb represents Bathsheba. Granted, the parable doesn't describe her in every detail, but neither is Uriah described by a man so poor as to own only one lamb. Aug 16, 2023 at 17:43
  • @DanFefferman - the aim of the parable is to establish an unequal status, the rich vs poor, power vs powerless, king vs his soldier, David vs Uriah. Rich and poor displayed on the flock they owned, power vs powerless displayed on the poor cannot keep his flock. It is not necessary to cast the little ewe lamb as Bethsheba to make the parable more effective. vv3 said the poor man BOUGHT the lamb and RAISED with his children, and the lamb was taken by the rich to be killed. The lamb was a sacrifice. If it represent a person, the parable will be complicated. Aug 16, 2023 at 19:38
  • I can't escape the narrator's introduction to the parable in the final verse of the previous chapter and the opening verse of this one: " the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord. Then the Lord sent Nathan to David." What David had done was not to generally oppress the poor, it was to take Uriah's wife. In other words this is not a parable about a rich man and a poor man. It is a parable about David, Uriah and Bathsheba. Aug 17, 2023 at 0:29
  • another point in favor of the lamb being Bathsheba is that the poor man had only this one female lamb - meaning that Bathsheba was his only wife, in contrast to the rich man (David) who had many (both flocks and wives). Aug 17, 2023 at 0:39
  • @DanFefferman - This is not about rich vs poor, it is about David abused his power as king, used his dominant advantage to kill Uriah and took his wife. The biggest evil David did was not taking Bethsheba, but the shedding of Uriah's innocent blood, and this is unforgiveable by God. David should have known it, but subconsciously suppressed his guilt. Nathan's parable is to revive his mind, revive his righteousness against injustice. That is Psalm 23:3 "he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake." The parable was effective, David immediately admitted his sin. Aug 17, 2023 at 1:18
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I am more inclined to think the Traveller is a demonic spirit of lust (the Spirit of Immorality?) that had come to put temptation and sexual urge into David's heart. The purpose is to cause him to sin and fall. The Traveller comes to tempt and does not stay but goes away again after his (spirit's) lust is fulfulled and his target has fallen. David could have released his urge by going to one of his own wives or concubines, (easing the temptation without sinning) but instead, he chose to appease the spirit of lust by releasing this lust on Bethsheba, the wife of his loyal subject Uriah.

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    – agarza
    Jun 24, 2021 at 20:34
  • @YS Lee. Welcome to BH! The guest in the parable is just a fictitious person for the story.
    – Sam
    Jun 27, 2021 at 20:04
  • I am upvoting this answer because 1. we should be kind new users! and 2. I think it's on the right track... a good middle ground between the Christian answer (Satan) and the Jewish one (the evil inclination). I also agree that "a fictitious person" is a good answer but that is no reason to downvote this one. Aug 17, 2023 at 1:11
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Who is the traveler? Perhaps we do not need an answer, because the traveler is basically a literary device enabling the drama involving the main characters (the rich man, the poor man and the ewe lamb) to unfold. But to the OP's secondary question - "has someone has thought on who the traveler / guest, referred to in the parable, is?" - the answer is definitely yes.

Several Christian commentators see the traveler as Satan, who provides David (the rich man) with a temptation to sin with Bathsheba. But Satan was not yet a main character in OT theology when this takes place. The more likely explanation would be that the traveler represented what the Jews call the yetzer harah -- the evil inclination. Rashi, the great medieval Jewish sage, says this explicitly and goes on to explain another mystery in this parable: the prediction of the rich man's "four-fold" payment for the lamb. (12:6)

The evil inclination is first compared to a traveler who stops by on his way, then to a guest who lodges, and finally to a man, who is master of the household... He shall repay fourfold: This [actually] happened to him, that he was smitten through four children; the child (born to Bathsheba See v. 18.), Amnon (below 13:19), Tamar (below 13:14), and Absalom (18:15).

I conclude that the traveler, if he is not simply a literary device designed to enable the drama to play out, is a symbol of the yetzer harah. David fell victim to this inclination and paid a very heavy price.

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Could have been the son who died. Like a wayfarer he was not there very long. -- Could be Bathsheba who needed David's protection against a charge of adultery. Similarly, a wayfarer needs protection. -- Could be both. The parable achieves its objective by giving David a framework with which to work out his own sin. He probably looked carefully at all roles and their possibilities.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other SEs. Our community looks for answers to reflect a good degree of research and references, so "showing your work" is recommended. You may wish to refine your answer by expanding on the framework you referenced and by showing definitively if the guest is a wayfarer, the son or both - we usually like answers that are a bit more definitive. Jun 18, 2016 at 4:31
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As a man of God I believe, a traveller (Strong's Concordance #1982 Hebrew-'helek' a flowing, dropped, a visitor ) in context- came to the rich man. i.e. the traveller was a spirit of knowledge of knowing/flowing of understanding/knowledge dropped from the heavenliest and processed by David's mind/right brain in this case. David received a revelation of the fact he harmed another there-by committing a sin. David was put on the spot by the wayfarer (Nathan also a traveller/wayfarer albeit a man in this instance and not the Holy Spirit perse) after committing the sin of taking the family pet/lamb often regarded as part of the family from the poor man while David himself had plenty. (a simple example of greed and exploitation) The traveller was the 'spirit of conviction' as David realised conscientiously (by spiritual activation of the righteous mind and not the carnal) what he had done, he could no longer hide from, or the judgement of doing such a thing. David's son died as Nathan stated would happen because David had no concern for the poor man.(note; references to David killing with the sword was not in the same context as Nathan used when speaking the Word/sword of God to David) The same Word that brings life to those faithful will smite those who practice injustice. All one need do is speak the Word of God and the spirit fights the battle on our behalf cutting through even bone and marrow. Oh the irony! David's position of authority granted by YHWH was abused by David there-for bringing about his judgement. The death of his own son!(equating to tit for tat) Question; Did God allow David's son to die or did David simply fail to repent before God?

Note: the brain processes thought, it does not create the thought. (something for people to ponder)The left lobe is regarded as the carnal mind and the right lobe as the righteous mind. The world trains/brainwashes the carnal processes (left lobe function to act first) while the Holy Spirit nurtures activation of the righteous processes (the right lobe) Nathan was obviously a righteous spirit filled man of God/YHWH while David had backslidden at that time and neglected his responsibility to all the people of his kingdom! Could write a book on this subject alone. If I am mistaken it is not my intention and any truthful correction will be graciously accepted.

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  • Brian - thank you for your comment. Can you help us to correlate what you said with passages from the Biblical Text? For example, you mention the two lobes of the brain and how the relate to our experience. Can you provide us Biblical references? This approach forces us to ask questions of ourselves as to why we believe what we believe in the Bible. If you can articulate and show how you arrived at your conclusions, then you will help us to understand. Otherwise if you do not, then we do not know where or how you came to your views. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Oct 13, 2014 at 14:56

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