Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 22, 2018
2 Samuel 7:1-14a Commentary
Some of the people to whom we proclaim 2 Samuel 7 feel a little like David. After all, Israel’s king has been very busy battling both Israel’s internal and external enemies. He has also just finished fighting a domestic “battle” with his wife, Michal.
Some people will come to our churches from “battling” neighbors, co-workers and family members. Even Sunday’s “day of rest” with its church and family demands sometimes feels like a battle. So some will come to us looking for renewal in preparation for tomorrow’s “battles.” Even those who proclaim 2 Samuel may be searching for some rest. If, however, we are, with David, to find that rest, we’ll need God to give it to us.
Even as our text’s David “rests” in his home, perhaps with his feet up and a cool drink in his hand, he notices that something is awry. There’s a sharp contrast between his home’s luxury and God’s “home’s” austerity. While, for example, the king’s home’s walls are made of cedar, God’s “home’s” walls are made of canvas.
It just doesn’t seem fair to David that while he lives in a palace, God’s ark lives in a tent. 2 Samuel implies that, as a result, David wants to stop resting and do something about that discrepancy. He wants to give God’s ark a permanent home that is a temple that matches God’s centrality in Israel’s life.
Of course, David may also have a political motive. Just as he’d once tried to make God’s ark a unifying force in Israel, he apparently wants to give a temple a similar role. If, after all, David builds a temple in Jerusalem, everyone in Israel will have to come to “his” city to worship God.
The Nathan who appears first appears in 2 Samuel 7 initially agrees. To him David’s building plan seems like what one preacher calls a “no-brainer.” “Go ahead and do it,” David’s pastor basically tells his parishioner. After all, Nathan sees no conflict between religious and political expediencies.
God, however, almost immediately revokes David’s building permit. God, after all, doesn’t need fancy digs. God, in fact, seems to suggest that God enjoys living in a tent. That kind of “mobile home” is, after all, a visible reminder that God travels with the Israelites wherever they go.
This same God still goes with the “travelers” that are God’s 21st century adopted sons and daughters. Yet while God gives God’s people 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.
While David wants to make all the arrangements for God, God seizes control of temple building plans. The God who has already done so much for Israel and her new king insists on being the central actor in this drama. God alone will move David and Israel’s story ahead.
Yet this may have felt like an ominous development for David. Could he, he must almost certainly have wondered, still count on this God who has just turned down his offer to build a temple? Or should Israel’s king fret that his rule will be as fragile as his predecessor’s was?
God’s reassurance is quick and clear. God insists that God’s refusal to let David build a house for the Lord is not a sign of God’s anger with him. In fact, almost as if to reinforce that message, the God who has been with David explicitly promises to continue 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” (9). The God who has been with David now also promises to create a safe space for his people and him (10). The God who has protected David from his enemies now promises to also give rest to both Israel’s king and his subjects.
This God is the same, the Scriptures insist, “yesterday, today and forever.” This God has provided everything God’s beloved children need, and more, in the past. This God also promises to provide everything we need in the future.
Yet even after God promises David fame, safety and rest, God’s not done making remarkable promises. In fact, God really doesn’t get to the heart of God’s promises until God insists that God will establish a “house” for the king (11).
Biblical scholars note that the full beauty of this promise doesn’t really shine through until we understand that the word that God uses for “house” (bayit) has three meanings in Hebrew. It can mean “house,” “temple” or even “dynasty.” David had wanted to build a house that is a temple for the Lord. God, however, stunningly reverses roles by promising to build the “house” that is a dynasty for David. God rejects “temple,” but promises “dynasty.”
Virtually no North Americans talk about the “house of Bush” or “the Trudeau dynasty.” For a dynasty you have to go to a place like the Netherlands. The Dutch refer to the “House of Orange,” meaning that all their monarchs must be descendants of William of Orange.
2 Samuel 7’s Israel, however, has had no such “house.” None of Saul’s sons, after all, succeeded their royal father. In fact, all of those heirs to Israel’s throne have died. God, however, promises to create a kind of lasting “house” for Saul’s successor David who’d wanted to build God a house.
So when David’s family buries him with his ancestors, God insists that his son Solomon will succeed him on Israel’s throne. What’s more, though Solomon will sin nearly as much as Saul did, God promises to treat him differently than God did David’s predecessor. God, in fact, promises to treat David’s son Solomon much like God would God’s own son.
So when Solomon does wrong, God won’t reject him. God will simply punish him much like any loving parent punishes his or her child. So even when Solomon is unfaithful to God, God promises to remain faithful to him, for David’s sake.
As a father of three sons, I can imagine how much these promises meant to David. After all, there’s little I long for more than for our sons to experience God’s gracious love and faithfulness throughout their lives. I long for them to continue to always remember that God is their Father and that they are, by God’s grace, God’s adopted sons.
Yet I sometimes think God’s promise about David’s sons would have choked the king up had he realized just what kind of people they’d turn out to be. Think, for instance, of his two of his oldest sons. Solomon will use his immense wisdom to collect wives and follow other gods. Absalom will die for stealing David’s wives and throne. Yet God unconditionally loves these sons of David anyway. In fact, God even allows one of them to build the house God that David wanted to build.
Until David it almost seems as if some of God’s promises to Israel are relatively conditional. Many of them seem to hinge on Israel’s faithful response to God’s grace. It’s what one biblical scholar calls “the ominous ‘if’ of ethical requirement.” 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.
In 2 Samuel 7, however, God graciously turns that “if” into a “nevertheless.” God insists that nothing David or his descendants can do will cancel 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.
2 Samuel 7’s promises give the Israelites hope that someone even greater than David will eventually become their king. They plant hope in Israel that one of David’s ancestors will even bring about the shalom that proved to be so elusive, even during David’s reign.
Some Jews, of course, became convinced that one of David’s descendants is this great Son of David whom God has promised. So, for instance, two men who are blind refer to Jesus as a “Son of David” and the crowds that welcome Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday greet him as “the Son of David.”
David’s descendants show sad creativity in being unfaithful to God. In fact, only one of them, Jesus, will be completely faithful to God. Yet God will remain stubbornly faithful to David’s family. The uneven works and 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 we’ve longed ever 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 2 Samuel 7. God also promises rest to David, his family and his people in the future.
However, in Jesus Christ, David’s greatest Son, we finally find that rest from both our sins and our work to somehow save ourselves. After all, the God whom Jesus says never stops working has done everything we need to find our rest in God alone.
I have always found the term “worship wars” to be bitterly ironic. In Jesus Christ, after all, God has given God’s adopted sons and daughters both peace with himself and rest from our sometimes-frantic scramble to save ourselves. God has also graciously equipped God’s adopted sons and daughters to live in peace with each other.
Yet we sometimes wage war with our fellow Christians over things like worship styles and content. We contest every square inch of ground that is music, liturgy and even the proclamation of God’s Word. Sometimes those battles even seem most pitched on the Sunday that is the day of rest for many Christians.
Is it any wonder, then, that not just Sunday’s activities but also its tensions sometimes leave us more exhausted at 8:00 p.m. than we were at 8:00 a.m.? Yet this exhaustion might present those who proclaim 2 Samuel 7 with an chance to explore how we might open ourselves to God’s gift “rest” from those worship battles.
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