2 Samuel 7’s David has been busy battling both Israel’s internal and external enemies. He’s also just finished “battling” his wife, Michal. So some who proclaim and hear 2 Samuel 7 feel a little like David. We come from dealing with, sometimes even “battling” people in our neighborhoods, families (and even churches).
So we some come to worship and learn, to lead and teach in part because we’re looking for rest from our various “battles.” If, however, we’re to find that rest, we’ll need to find it in someone other than ourselves. We’ll need God’s gift of rest.
As 2 Samuel 7’s David “rests” in his own home, perhaps with his feet up on a footstool and a cool drink in his hand, he notices that something is awry. He sits in his lavish palace made of imported materials. Yet while, for example the king’s home’s walls are made of rich, foreign cedar, God’s “home’s” walls are made of canvas.
To David it just doesn’t seem fair that while he lives in a palace, God must “live” in a tent. 2 Samuel 7’s David wants to stop resting and do something about that discrepancy. He wants to build God’s ark a permanent home.
Of course, just as David once made the ark a unifying force in Israel, he may want to give the temple a similar role. If, after all, he builds a temple in Jerusalem, everyone in Israel will have to come to there to worship God. That will in turn help solidify David’s sometimes-tenuous reign over Israel.
To David’s pastor this idea seems like what one preacher calls a “no-brainer.” Nathan sees no contradiction between God’s holiness and David’s political needs. Samuel anointed David to be Israel’s king in the confidence that God was with him. Now Nathan promises that God will also be with him as he builds a house for the Lord.
As it turns out, however, Nathan issues the building permit too hastily. God rejects David’s plans. God, in fact, suggests that God rather likes living in a tent. That kind of “mobile home” is, after all, a visible reminder that God travels with the Israelites wherever they go. Since Israel has not yet found her rest, God refuses to “rest” in a temple.
God, as Jesus told his disciples before he returned to heaven, is with God’s people “always, to the very end of the age.” After all, while God gives us short rests, God hasn’t yet given us our eternal rest. You and I won’t rest completely until we rest eternally in the glory of the new earth and heaven.
But is God’s rejection of David’s temple plans an ominous sign? Can David still king rely on God to continue to be with his family and him? Or should Israel’s king now fret that his rule will be as fragile as his predecessor’s was?
God’s answer through Nathan to David is quick and unmistakable. God insists God’s refusal to let Israel’s king build a house for the Lord is not a sign of God’s anger. In fact, almost as if to reinforce that message, the God who has been with David explicitly promises to stay with both his family and him.
The God who took David out of the pasture and into the palace now promises to also make his name “great.” The God who has been with David now promises to also create a safe space for him. The God who has protected David from his enemies now promises to also give rest to Israel’s king.
Yet God really doesn’t get to the heart of God’s promises until verse 11b: “The Lord himself will establish a house for you.”
We can’t see this promise’s full beauty until we understand that the word that God uses for “house” has three meanings in Hebrew. It can mean “house,” or “temple,” or “dynasty.”
While David wants to build one kind of “house” for the Lord, God won’t let him do so. Instead, in a stunning reversal of roles, God promises to build a “house” for David. God rejects “temple,” but promises David a “dynasty.”
Few citizens of the 21st century are accustomed to thinking about political dynasties. Virtually no one, for instance, talks about the “house of Kennedy” or “the Trudeau dynasty.” For a dynasty you have to go to a place like the Netherlands where all of its monarchs must be descendants of William of Orange.
Originally Israel had no such “house.” None of Saul’s sons, after all, succeeded their royal father. In fact, all of those potential heirs to Israel’s throne had died in battle with their dad. God, however, promises to create a kind of lasting “house” for the David who wanted to build God a house. When David’s family buries him with his ancestors, his son, Solomon, succeeds him on Israel’s throne.
What’s more, though Solomon will sin no less than Saul did, God will treat him differently than God did David’s predecessor. Saul voluntarily surrendered God’s faithfulness by being so unfaithful to God. Yet though David’s son Solomon will be little more faithful, God will remain faithful to his family and him.
God, in fact, promises to treat David’s son Solomon much like God would God’s own son. When Solomon does wrong, God won’t disown or reject him. God will simply punish him, much like any good father punishes his child. Even when Solomon is unfaithful to God, God remains faithful to him, for David’s sake.
As a father of sons and grandfather of children, I can begin to imagine how much these promises meant to David. After all, there’s nothing I long for more than for our children and grandchildren to experience God’s gracious love and faithfulness throughout their lives. I long for them to remember that God is their God and that they are, by God’s grace, God’s children.
I sometimes think God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7 would have really choked up David had he realized just what kind of sons he’d have. While he probably had great hopes and dreams for them, the reality was, in fact, very different. For instance, Solomon uses his immense wisdom to collect wives and follow other gods and Absalom steals David’s wives and try to steal his throne.
Yet these are two of David’s sons on whom 2 Samuel 7’s God promises to set God’s love. In fact, God vows to allow one of them to build the house God that David wanted to build. David’s son will build a house for God’s “Name,” for the symbol of God’s presence among God’s people.
These promises give the Israelites hope that someone even greater than David will eventually become their king. They plant hope that one of David’s ancestors will bring the shalom that proved to be so elusive, even during David’s reign.
Some of God’s Jewish children, of course, become convinced that Jesus, one of David’s descendants, is this great Son of David whom God has promised. This, however, comes to cause deep division within what’s left of Israel.
Until David it almost seems as if some of God’s promises to Israel were conditional. Some seemed to hinge somewhat on Israel’s faithful response to God’s grace. So when, for instance, Israel sins against God in the wilderness, God punishes her. When Saul is unfaithful to God, God gives his throne to David. When even David’s son Solomon is unfaithful to God, God punishes him.
In 2 Samuel 7, however, God graciously turns that “if” into a “nevertheless.” God insists that nothing David or his descendants can do will end God’s love for them. So God, says one scholar, essentially gives David and his family a “blank check.” While God will sanction them for sinning, God won’t do so forever.
David’s descendants will be creative in their unfaithfulness to God and each other. In fact, only one of those descendants, Jesus, whom Christians call the Christ, will be faithful to God. Yet God will remain persistently faithful to David’s family.
Jehoiachin will be sinful Israel’s last king. Yet even then God remains stubbornly faithful to David’s family, eventually giving them King Jesus. So the uneven faith of David and his family will not have the last word. God’s unconditional love, in Jesus Christ, God’s new “tent” among us, is decisive.
In Jesus Christ God’s adopted sons and daughters find the rest for which people have longed since God chased our first parents out of their garden home. God promised Israel through Moses that Israel would find rest in the land of promise. God gave rest to David in this evening’s text. God also promises rest to David, his family and his people in the future.
In Christ, David’s greatest Son, we find that rest from our sins and from our work to somehow save ourselves. The God whom Jesus says never stops working has done all the work we need to find our rest in God alone.
Neal Plantinga notes that Augustine sometimes introduced himself to other Christians by letting them eavesdrop on his extended prayers to God. Some of his confessions take the form of praise in which he confesses God’s greatness and goodness. And sometimes he confesses his sins of self-deception, lust, and conformity to the evil of peers. Sometimes Augustine even sounds anxious, as if his prayer is what Plantinga calls “therapeutic self-examination.”
Very often Augustine’s prayers exhibit real beauty: “Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being ‘bearing his mortality with him,’ carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that ‘you resist the proud.’ Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation” (Confessions).
Then comes what Plantinga calls one of the most famous sentences in all patristic literature. It speaks to both David’s longing for rest and God’s promise of it. Augustine prays: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (italics added).”
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Commentary