“And they told the king, saying, Behold Nathan the prophet. And when he was come in before the king, he bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground” (1 Kings 1:23). When Nathan bowed himself before the king, he was performing an act of worship. It was probably not typical for Nathan to bow before the king the way he did in this instance. The notation that he bowed with his face to the ground indicates that Nathan was lying prostrate, flat on the ground facing downward.
Nathan was most likely experiencing great distress because David’s son Adonijah had placed himself on the throne and the leaders of Israel were acknowledging him as their king. David had not yet appointed Solomon to be his successor. The transition of authority from David to Solomon was important because a gap in leadership could have led to chaos in the kingdom or instability in the region surrounding Israel.
Nathan’s act of worship emphasized David’s sovereignty as king and his position of authority as God’s representative on earth. At that time, there was no one more powerful than David in all the world. He was the closest to being equal with God that any man has ever come.
After Solomon was placed on the throne of the kingdom, it says in 1 Kings 1:47-48, “the king’s servants came to bless our lord king David, saying, God make the name of Solomon better than thy name, and make his throne greater than thy throne. And the king bowed himself upon the bed. And also thus said the king, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which hath given one to sit on my throne this day, mine eyes even seeing it.”
What I believe David thought he was seeing was the beginning of the Messiah’s reign. When Adonijah attempted to take the throne, it says in 1 Kings 1:5 that he “exalted” himself. The word translated exalted, “nacah is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation” (5375). Recorded in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 is a promise from God to David that he would establish his kingdom for ever. Speaking of David’s successor, God said, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men.” Solomon committed iniquity and yet he was never chastened as described in this passage. On the other hand, Jesus never committed iniquity, but he was chastened because he was our substitute. Although he may have been unaware of it, Jesus was the one David was bowing himself to upon his bed.