Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 18, 2021
2 Samuel 7:1-14a Commentary
This is arguably the most important text in the books of Samuel, indeed, in what scholars call the Deuteronomistic history from the Pentateuch through Chronicles. So, although I’ve written on it just 7 months ago at the height of Advent, I will attempt to offer some fresh preaching ideas for this Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
This is the climax of the David story. He has risen from being a shepherd in the little town of Bethlehem to being the undisputed King of Israel. He has conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. In the last chapters, he has defeated the Philistines in two decisive battles. Consequently, he brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, thus making it both the political and religious center of Israel.
Verse one of our chapter sums up the state of things with David. “After the king was settled in his (recently built cedar) palace and the Lord had given him from all his enemies,” David had a great idea. Which led to God’s even greater idea. The covenant Yahweh made with David here was the most important event in David’s life, and in the history of Israel, and in the history of the world. As I said in my December 20 piece, it all centers around the idea of house. I won’t say as much about that now because you can easily reference that piece. Here I’ll suggest 4 preaching ideas for Ordinary Time.
First, sometimes your great idea to do something for God is not such a good idea. David’s great idea was to build God a house. David had one, a splendid one, but God had only a tent. And that didn’t seem right or fair or just to David. “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark (symbolizing God’s presence) remains in a tent.” Anyone can see what’s wrong with this picture. Nathan the prophet certainly could, so he said, “Go for it! The Lord is with you.”
The Lord was with David, for a long time and in all kinds of situations. But God wasn’t in favor of David’s great idea, perhaps because it reeked of mixed motives. On one level, it was an outgrowth of David’s idea of justice and fairness. But on another level, it grew out of David’s rapidly growing sense of his own importance. After all these years of depending on the gracious favor of Yahweh, it was his turn to do God a big favor. That was a bad idea.
Ancient Near Eastern potentates regularly built temples for their gods to honor them, but also to gain honor for themselves as the builders of the temple. And by building the temple, the King brought the god to one place, the king’s place, where the god could be regularly accessed. Making temples was part of domesticating the gods. Rather than serving the gods by obedience and faith, the kings served the gods food and drink, thus making themselves the hosts and the gods the guests.
Whether David had these pagan ideas in mind is uncertain, but God definitely thought that David’s great idea was a bad one. At the very least, it represented a reversal of roles, where David was the one doing something for God, rather than the way it had always been. As God said throughout his covenantal relationship with Israel, obedience is better than anything, certainly better than building monuments that tempted Israel to depend on their own efforts more than God’s grace. So, God shut down David’s effort to make God greater by building him a better dwelling place.
That leads us to the second preachable point. It is God who builds houses, kingships, dynasties, not human beings. That is the point of God’s speech to David through the mouth of Nathan in verses 8-11. Note that the subject of all the verbs is “I,” Yahweh Almighty. Past, present and future, it is Yahweh who makes Israel and David what they are. You won’t build me a house, says the Lord. I will build you a house.
That emphasis on God’s role in the anointing of kings, the building of kingdoms and the establishment of dynasties is a constant refrain in Scripture. Psalm 75:7 says, “But it is God who judges; he brings down one, he exalts another.” Psalm 146:3-4 continue the theme. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” In Exile, Daniel said the same thing in chapter 2:21. “God changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.”
Later in the book of Daniel we see a crashing example of God’s sovereignty over the sovereigns of the earth. Mighty Nebuchadnezzar brags about his accomplishments in Daniel 4:30. “Is not this great Babylon I have built as the royal residence by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Daniel reports that the words were still on the Emperors’ lips when the God of the people he had conquered sent him crashing into the depths of humiliation, as Nebuchadnezzar became little more than a beast wandering dewy fields eating grass like a cow. That humbling lasted until the beast raised his eyes to heaven (verse 34), received his sanity back, and praised the Most High whose kingdom is forever. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth (verse 35).”
In our story, God’s intent is not to humble David, but to exalt him for all time by establishing his house forever. It is God alone who builds houses, kingships and dynasties. It is God alone who can give his people peace and rest (verses 1 and 11).
Third, and closely related point two, through all the houses of history, there is one that will last ‘til Kingdom come, the house of David. That is the great promise at the heart of this text, at the heart of the Old Testament, and at the heart of the Christian faith. The “Lord himself will establish a house for you. When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
That was a reference to Solomon in the near future. But ultimately it is a prophecy about the greatest Offspring of David, Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Luke 1:32,33). As God said about the merely human offspring of David, they would be sons of God. Jesus was literally that. And whereas their reigns all came to an end, often ignobly, Jesus’ reign is eternal and universal. Philippians 2 puts it this way. After the Son of God emptied himself and became a servant, even an alleged criminal who died on a cursed cross, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
In our day of national and international conflict, where all the attention is on this leader or that, here is a lesson all believers need to take to heart. There is one house, one leader, one kingdom that will outlast and overrule them all. It is the promise of God that determines history, not the power of kings. It is grace that ultimately wins, not human performance. So, put not your trust in princes. Put your trust in the King of Kings, the Son of David.
Fourth, God’s promise to David was unconditional; literally nothing can break it. This is crucial, because there will be times when it seems that God has broken his covenant with David, times of great suffering for the people of God. But God speaks to that in our text, when he refers to flogging his children when they do wrong.
Now, that sort to talk is much out of favor in a day that sees “sparing the rod” as the right thing to do. There must be better ways to train up our children! Well, we’ll see; the jury is out on that. But quite apart from our modern sensibilities about how to discipline children, God’s point here is that even when we are disciplined severely by our God, our suffering doesn’t mean God has stopped loving us. The promise is unconditional. Even when I punish you with the “rod of men” like the Babylonians, “my love will never be taken away from him (David’s sons), as I took it away from Saul….” Adoption by God through Jesus is irrevocable. You can’t be kicked out of the house of David, if you trust in the Son of David. Even if you sin terribly and find yourself suffering, God will bring you back home. He sent his Son “to seek and save the lost.”
Hebrews 12 speaks to this directly in Christian terms. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons and daughters. For what child is not disciplined by their father. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
Now, that doesn’t mean we should trace every experience of suffering to some sin we have committed and for which God is disciplining us. Both Job and Jesus remind us that suffering s not always chastisement for our own sin. What we should take from this is that even if we are suffering, God is somehow involved as our loving Father. We may not be able find the find the reason, but we know where to look when we suffer. Hebrews 12 begins with this exhortation. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So, when we get a bit big for our britches and forget who’s in charge of the house, let us remember that God’s promise is secure and let us walk by faith in Jesus, Son of David, Son of God. Only then will we find the peace and rest God promises his children.
Sometimes a rousing hymn after a sermon will do as much as a great story to drive the message home. As I worked my way through this powerful passage, two hymns began to echo in my mind, one about the present fulfillment of God’s promise to David and the other about the future fulfillment.
Rejoice, the Lord is king! Your Lord and King adore.
Rejoice, give thanks and sing and triumph evermore.
Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
His kingdom cannot fail; he rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell to Christ the Lord are given.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
He sits at God’s right hand till all his foes submit,
Bow down at his command, and fall beneath his feet.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.
People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.
Let every creature rise and bring the highest honors to our King,
Angels descend with songs again, and earth repeat the loud amen.
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