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.

6 Answers 6


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.

  • 1
    Thank you for directing me to Psalm 89. It's difficult to imagine the anguish he must have felt to see Israel split into two kingdoms so quickly after David's son died. Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 22:22
  • 2
    @JonEricson I always appreciate the connections other people make between texts, so I'm glad this one could help.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 16:29

Heb 11.13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

We err if we presume that the NT authors gave us enumerations rather than examples. Though the compilers are not listed in the roll call of the faithful, there is no reason to not presume that they also saw the promise as being futuristic, and Solomon merely as a shadow of the good things to come.


The falseness of the prophet's words are not determined by its outcome, if that would be the case almost all the prophets can be considered false prophets, as numerous prophesies in isaiah, Amos, Zachariah and Haggai did not come true. See for example the prophecy of Amos 7:11, we dont have any reference in the old testament to the prophecy ever coming to fruition. See also Haggai 2:21. and there is many many more. A prophet is considered a true prophet if he prophesies in the name of Yahweh and he encourages the people to walk in his ways and worship only him. As for the passage in Deuteronomy 18:21, it has its own difficulties and we don't have the time to discuss it. But it is clear that it is not such a simple test as the author of Deuteronomy has it.


The entire second half of the prophecy I do not see applicable to Salomon. E.g. Salomon actively violated the first commandment and God let it happen.

Suggest, Nathan addresses the foundation of Zion, that might have taken place through Salomon, where in the visible world, we see a disastrous end of Salomon's kingdom, the secession of Judah from the rest of Israel, his son and successor the loser in person ...

Zion is just an idea, an option, that allows Nathan to have prophesied truth. The point is, as we cannot traceably exclude this, there is no base for calling Nathan a false prophet.

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    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 4:15

The OP question states: "I'm more interested in how the compilers of the books of Samuel and Kings viewed Nathan's words." Since the Books of Kings include an account of the fall of Judah and the end of the Davidic dynasty, the compilers surely knew that God's promise to David would apparently fail. Nevertheless, the idea is repeated several times in these books that the throne of David and Solomon would be eternal.

  • 1 Kings 2:33 - to David, and to his descendants, and to his house, and to his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore

  • 1 Kings 2:45 - King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.

  • 1 Kings 9:5 - then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David

The reason these prophecies are not false is that they were conditional. This is made explicit in 1 Kings 9 and elsewhere:

You shall never lack a successor on the throne of Israel. If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples.

In those cases where the conditionality of these prophecies is not explicit, the compilers of the Books of Kings and Samuel thought of it as implied. So Nathan's prophecy was not false, and the editors of Kings did not think that his prophecy had failed.


"I will establish his royal throne forever" means that a new criterion is being created for royal legitimacy.

Before now, any born Israelite (presumably male) was qualified. From now, only direct male descendants of David are qualified. This new decree does not preclude the possibility of non-Davidic kings ruling Israel; however, if they do not descend from David, they are henceforth illegitimate through and through.

[Which is why of course the Gospels take such pains to show Jesus's descent from David (although they have to change the rules once again in order to solve the problem of Joseph not being Jesus's biological father.)]

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics StackExchange! Be sure to take the tour of this site. Due to the nature of this site, references may be required in order to support your conclusions. Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 6:24
  • On ancestry: Michael Brown showed, that there is a path from David to Mary, which in absence of a father would carry the royal heritage. Commented May 14, 2022 at 8:18

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