An eternal kingdom (March 2, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: 2 Samuel 7:4-16

It is not at all unusual for political leaders to have an “edifice com- plex.” Monumental buildings suggest that the ruler who arranged to have them built was also a monumental individual worthy of admiration and respect. The author of 2 Samuel certainly intends to present David in a very positive light.

In our passage, King David wants to build a very special building, not ostensibly for his own glory, but for the glory of Jahweh, Israel’s God. David proposes to build a house for God, and has already gotten approval for his plan from his confidant, God’s prophet Nathan, who appears here for the first but certainly not the last time in David’s life (2 Samuel 7:1-3).

2 Samuel 7:4-7 — God questions the appropriateness of David’s plan 

Even the plans approved by a prophet are subject to revision by God. And God has questions that make it clear that God does not approve of David’s plan. Very pointedly referring to David as “my servant” rather than the king, God asks “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (emphasis added) Then God reminds Nathan (and therefore David) that a tent as a tabernacle has been sufficient as a dwelling place for God throughout the wilderness wanderings since God had liberated the people from Egypt. Furthermore, God has never requested a fancy cedar wood house (like David’s)! David’s plan is clearly not God’s plan.

2 Samuel 7:8-16 — God makes a covenantal promise to David and his heirs 

God, through Nathan, reminds David that God has had a plan for David since he was called from herding sheep to become Israel’s king. Moreover, God has been with David and caused him to triumph over all of his enemies. God’s past deeds on David’s behalf are only the beginning.

Turning from the past to the future, God makes very broad and far-reaching promises to David and to all Israel as well. God promises David a world-class reputation. He will rank right up there with the world’s greatest leaders. The people of Israel, too, are promised their own place, a place to live in peace without enemies.

God’s plan reverses David’s plan: God will build a house for David. This is not a dwelling made of wood, however, but a house in the figurative sense of a dynasty of David’s heirs starting with Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba. God will adopt David’s son Solomon as God’s own son and Solomon will build the temple that will become God’s home. Acting as a parent, God will discipline David’s son when he sins, but God’s covenantal love will never abandon David’s heir like God had abandoned Israel’s first king, Saul. God promises that David’s kingdom will last forever. Eugene Peterson translates the concluding verse of this passage in this way: “And your royal throne will always be there, rock solid.”

Presbyterian scholar Walter Brueggemann considers this passage to be one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament. It defines the relationship between God and the people of Israel as a covenant, God’s unconditional commitment to be Israel’s God. Even when David and his heirs disobey God — and they will — God’s love will still uphold them. God’s persistent love cannot be cut off by human sinfulness.

David’s attempt to build a house for God is cited in the New Testament by Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Pointing out that Solomon and not David built the first temple in Jerusalem, Stephen boldly says, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands” (Acts 7:48). Any human attempt to put God in a box is folly, whether that box is a splendid temple or a political regime, a particular worship style or even a systematic theology.

The covenantal God promises to love David and David’s heirs forever, and that love comes to expression ultimately in God’s Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21.23).

For discussion 

Why did God reject David’s plan to build a house for God?

Does the existence of the state of Israel partially fulfill God’s promises in 2 Samuel 7?

Do you think the considerable amount of money and energy devoted to constructing and maintaining church buildings honors God? Why or why not?