2 Samuel 7:1-17
This fall we are exploring together the significance of the idea of covenant in the Old Testament. There are five major covenants in the Old Testament. Actually there are probably more and Bible scholars love to argue about that kind of stuff. So I should probably say there are five that I think we should definitely know about. The first one is with all creation after the flood where God promises to never again destroy the earth. The second is with Abraham and Sarah where God promises that God will be with them, that they will be blessed to be a blessing, and that all the world will be blessed through them. The third one is with the ancient Hebrew people at Mount Sinai when God gives them the 10 Commandments. This morning we are going to consider the fourth one, which is a covenant with King David and his descendants. We’ll consider the final covenant on November 13.
These covenants are important for us because we Christians see in them glimmers of Jesus, who he is and what he means for the world. It’s really clear in the covenant with Abraham and Sarah where God promises that all the world will be blessed through their family line. And it’s really clear in the covenant we will explore this morning, the covenant with King David.
Last week we read about the renewal of the covenant that happened as the people came into the Promised Land. This week’s story takes place several hundred years later. The 12 tribes are united for the first time under one monarch. The first king Saul was tall and good looking and strong, but did not follow God’s direction. The second king is David, a small and weak shepherd, the youngest in his family, chosen by God, who looks not at our outward appearances, but at our hearts. And David, despite his many failings, is known as a person after God’s own heart. We enter his story in 2 Samuel chapter 7, page 480 in your pew Bibles, after he has gained political power and brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, consolidating the political and religious power in one place. There was literally no separation of church and state in ancient Israel. David is finally settled into his kingship and that’s where we pick up the story.
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.
From strength to strength, may we be strengthened. Thanks be to God.
This story sets the stage for everything that comes after it, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The idea of David’s dynasty, David’s lineage, lasting forever is talked about more than anything else is in the Bible. In fact as we will see in a couple months, the gospel writers go out of their way to claim that Jesus was a descendant of David.
What I invite you to notice this week and the next couple weeks is how the people’s understanding of God and our understanding of God is progressive. Revelation happens over time. (By revelation I mean God revealing Godself to humanity, not the book of revelation. How God shows God’s character and God’s plan, that’s what I mean by revelation.) Revelation happens over time. This is true in our own lives. We never get the whole story at one time, even as much as we may sometimes want to. We can only understand so much of God as children, and as we grow and have more experiences of life, we understand more. God doesn’t change, but our ability to understand God, to recognize where God is at work and what God’s intentions may be, that changes because we change.
This is true in the covenants. They build on each other. Old things are repeated and new things are added, things that make sense for this people for this time and this place. If God had revealed the whole plan to Noah, it would have made no sense to him. Noah got his piece of it, his understanding of God. Abraham and Sarah got Noah’s understanding and their own. The ancient Hebrews at Mount Sinai got Abraham and Sarah’s understanding and added to it their own understanding based on their own experiences with God. We have what has been revealed to our ancestors through the Bible, the wisdom of following generations, and because God is still speaking, our understanding of God continues to expand based on our own experiences with God. God doesn’t change, but we do, and we need to understand God’s intentions for our own time and our own place. We should feel differently about God than we did 10 years ago. We should understand God differently than we did when we were children. In C.S. Lewis’s brilliant children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the lion looks bigger to the children as they get older.
In this morning’s story, King David has what he thinks is a good idea. He’s going to build God a house. Based on his understanding of the world around him, this seems like a good plan. He checks it with his prophet Nathan, who says, “By all means go ahead.” Except that it seems Nathan didn’t check with God first. Because what God says to David is, “I don’t need a house.” I love this. God doesn’t need a particular place to dwell. God has always been a God on the move. Why? Because the people are on the move and God is with them wherever they go. Now that the people feel settled, now that David feels settled, he assumes God needs to be settled as well. But God is not interested in that. Instead of David building a house for God, God is going to make a house for David. And by “house” God means “lineage, descendants, dynasty,” eventually leading all the way to Jesus.
Some of you already know, I did not grow up in the United Church of Christ. I’m a Protestant mutt; I’ve been lots of types of Christian, including strongly conservative evangelical. And in this story, David wants to do something for God. That’s language that resonates with me. Have you heard that before? Do something for God? I think that’s a beautiful idea. But I also think we need to be careful with it because often when we think we want to do something for God, if we dig a little deeper it’s that we want to do something not because we think God really needs it but because we need it. I think David’s intentions here are mostly genuine. He wants to do something for God. But the thing David wants to do for God is actually something David needs. David needs stability. David needs continuity. David needs God to settle down. David wants to do something for God, but God wants to do something through David. David wants to do something for God, but God wants to use David to do something for others.
The kings of Israel, both David and all the ones who come after him, 400 years of kings after him, the job of the kings is to represent in his own personal self what covenant faithfulness to God looks like. The king should be the ultimate blesser of others. The king is called to live firmly and freely within the healthy boundaries of the covenant relationship. And when he does that, it provides a kind of protection for the rest of the people. Not in any kind of spiritually magical way but just in the way of “as the leader goes, so go the people.” We know that’s true. The people aren’t going to do something good that the leader isn’t doing, and they will do plenty of bad if the leader does it. The king’s job is to represent what an intimate relationship of trust and, yes, obedience to God looks like, and when the king fulfills that calling, things go better for the people. You see how beautifully that fits in with the way we think about Jesus?
Here’s what’s crazy about this covenant: God promises that the throne, the kingship, will always belong to David’s descendants. Period. In this version of the story, there’s no “If you’re good boys and follow my rules, you get to be king.” It’s simply God promising never to turn the throne over to anyone who isn’t a descendant of David. In fact, God makes the covenant knowing for sure that the kings are going to fail and sometimes badly. Verse 14 says “When the king commits iniquity, when he does wrong, I will punish him, but I will not take my steadfast love from him.” God makes covenants with humanity knowing that we are going to screw up, accidentally and intentionally, in small ways and in really big ways. Do you see that we don’t earn God’s love? Do you see that the relationship comes first? God already loves us and keeps loving us even when we do the worst things we can think of.
Does that mean that there aren’t consequences? Nope. There are certainly consequences. Our choices have consequences. Natural consequences. And perhaps sometimes consequences devised by God to bring us back in line. Being loved and accepted by God doesn’t mean we get away with doing whatever we want. But it does mean that God doesn’t reject us. Ever. We said several weeks ago: it is possible for really bad things to happen to us, sometimes as a result of our own choices, and God is still with us. God never abandons us. In Deuteronomy 31:8 and in Joshua 1:5 God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Every night Sam and I say to Sammy, “You are a beloved child of God. You are made in God’s image. You are a sinner saved by grace. And there is nothing you could ever do that would change how much God loves you, how much Daddy loves you, and how much Mommy loves you. We love you forever.”
God makes covenants with us, a sacred commitment to relationship, knowing that we are going to fail, sometimes miserably. God commits to us knowing that we will change for the better and for the worse. First and foremost because God loves us. Not because we’ve earned it but just because that’s how God is. But we are not chosen just for our own sake. We are called according to God’s purpose because God wants to do something through us. God wants to use us to do something for others. God calls us to demonstrate what faithfulness to God’s way of love looks like in the world. Jesus shows us the way. May we follow in it. Amen.