Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 20, 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Commentary
It would be very difficult to pick a more fitting text for this last Sunday of Advent. After focusing with ever growing intensity on the coming of God’s salvation, we are just 5 days away from our celebration of the birth of the long-promised Messiah. This text is “the mother of all Messianic prophecies,” “the fountainhead of all messianic hopes,” the lynchpin text for the rest of the Old Testament and for Advent. It is the hope of all exilic and post exilic Israel, and it is the promise at the heart of Gabriel’s Advent message to the Virgin Mary.
This promise was given in the best of times when it didn’t seem necessary, and it was fulfilled in the worst of times when it didn’t seem possible. And it all centers around the idea of “house.”
The text opens with David safely and successfully ensconced in his own house, his palace of cedar. After battling enemies for years, both internal and external, David is at peace, because “the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him.” As subsequent chapters will show, that rest would not last. But for now, at least, David is settled in his house, feet up on a footstool with a good cigar in one hand and a cold drink in the other. Aaahhh!
But David is not a lazy man, or an ungrateful one. He knows that his success comes from the Lord and he intends to express his gratitude, if not pay back his faithful heavenly King. It only seemed right. “Here I am living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of the Lord (recently returned from Philistine country) remains in a tent.” God has done so much for me. Now I’m going to do something for God.
The prophet Nathan (who appears here for the first time) intuits what David is contemplating. Wanting to please the king and assuming that the king’s plans will succeed (because “the Lord is with you”), Nathan gives blanket approval to “whatever David has in mind.” “Go ahead and do it.” I mean, how can building a house for God be a bad idea?! Who could oppose that?
Well, God could! Verses 5-7 reveal God’s “no” to David’s plan. Some take these words as God’s complete disapproval of a temple. I’m not like those pagan gods around you, who simply hole up in a temple to be served food and drink day and night with elaborate festivals. That’s not what I’m about. I want to be with my people wherever they go. So, don’t ever build me a temple.
That’s not what God says. He says, “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” You? That’s not the mission I have given you. Your work is to conquer and settle the land. In verse 13, God says, I will give your son the task of building “a house for my name….” That can be done later. It’s not my priority now. Indeed, have I ever asked for a house until now. No, I’ve been content with my tent (the Tabernacle). Once you are completely settled in the land, your son can build me a house. Indeed, I will give him strict instruction for its construction and its operation.
But God isn’t content to stop the building project; he must also stop the would-be builder. After years of depending completely on God, David has gotten a big head, imagining that for a moment it will be a good idea to do a little role reversal. He will now take care of God. And God isn’t having it. In verses 8-10a, God reminds David that God is the King-maker and David is merely his servant.
God conveys this with the frequent repetition of “I.” “I took you from the pasture… to be ruler. I have been with you… I have cut off all your enemies… I will make your name great… I will provide a place for my people… and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own…I will give you rest from all your enemies….” Never forget, David and Israel and Christians, that I am your Savior and Lord. Never think or speak or act as though you can reverse reality and take care of me.
In verses 10b-16 God completes the reversal when he promises David that he (God) will build David a house. “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you….” This will not be a physical house like David wanted to build for God. It will be a familial house, a dynasty, a guaranteed succession of Davidic kings.
At first it sounds like God is promising one “offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body…, a son who will build a house for my Name….” But then God extends that house down through the ages. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
This is an unconditional promise, as indicated by the intervening verses (14-15). Yes, I will severely discipline any son of yours who does wrong. And God did that, especially with the Exile. “But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul.”
The problem for the Jews and for us as preachers is that the Davidic line of kings did, indeed, die out with the Exile. For 400 years there was no son of David on the throne of Israel. And the people who had been set free from Babylon and Persia were then taken captive by Rome. Once again God’s people were ruled by pagans, not by Davidic kings. They didn’t take it well, remaining a stubbornly, sometimes violently rebellious nation under Rome. But they remained under Rome for a long time.
But as I said at the beginning of this piece, the promise given in the best of times when it didn’t seem necessary was fulfilled in the worst of times when it didn’t seem possible. In a time when only a few were still looking for the redemption of Israel (notably Simeon and Anna), the angel Gabriel came to a humble virgin named Mary. His Advent promise to her was the exact promise made to David. “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “You are to give him the name Jesus.”
Even as God reversed the reversal David had in mind when he decided to do something for God, God will reverse the reversal that has overtaken the world which has decided that we humans are God. I’m referring here to Mary’s song of praise in response to the Good News of the coming Messiah. The Magnificat is full of reversals. From this “humble servant” the Mighty One has done great things: scattered those who are proud in their own thoughts (imagining that they can act as their own Lord and Savior), bringing down rulers from their thrones and lifting up the humble, filling the hungry with good things but sending the rich away empty.
The message of this text for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is crucial for this time of unrest and turmoil. Even when you think that all is lost because the world has been turned upside down, even when it seems as though God hasn’t kept his promises, he will send his Messiah, son of David and Son of God, to reverse things and restore shalom. He is only 5 days away, as God measures time.
This text about “houses” is particularly relevant for those of us who have just lived through the troublesome times surrounding the succession of the United States presidency. Who would be the next king? Who would decide? With deep suspicions on both sides, there was high fear throughout the country. In our text, the word of the Lord settled the issue of succession once and for all time. Jesus will be King, no matter who sits on the throne of any nation. And that gives his servants deep comfort and high hope, even if the “wrong” candidate ascends the throne of any country. Remember, God’s word does not fail, even when it seems as though it has. The King is coming!
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