David wishes to build a temple-house, but instead, God builds a greater dynasty-house.

October 21, 2012

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Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-17

David wishes to build a temple-house, but instead, God builds a greater dynasty-house.

One of most frequented destinations in Israel is the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the remaining extant portion of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount, and the actual temple during the time of Jesus. The wall stands at the end of a large plaza, set aside for prayer, and it runs roughly 57 meters long and 19 meters high.

Herod constructed the Temple Mount in about 19 BC as a strategic project to win the favor of Jews during the Roman occupation. Since the destruction of this temple in 70 AD, the sacred status of Jerusalem among different religions has brought a disproportionately large amount of violence to this sacred space. The survival of the Western Wall is truly remarkable. It is no wonder that it remains a religious treasure for Jewish faith.

My own experiences at the Western Wall often evoke thoughts of David in 2 Samuel 7. The Bible describes the unlikely ascension of the son of Jesse as Israel’s second king. After moving the royal residence to Jerusalem and transporting the Ark of the Covenant to this new royal capital, David seeks to build a temple for God. Of course, building the temple is an appropriate response for the early years of a monarchy.

In the ancient Near East, kings built extravagant residences for deities at the highest points of the royal city that would reflect the gods’ splendor and majesty. In this sense, David’s request was not completely self-promoting, but the suitable action for a new king looking to honor his God. David presumably reasons that with a new social reality for Israel as a unified country, he logically develops a burden to create a national temple.

But as we know, God is a surprising God. Rather than respond with approval, God gives a rather sharp reply, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (2 Samuel 7:5, emphasis mine)? God explains that he has never had a temple for his entire history with Israel’s ancestors, from the Egyptian captivity and the ensuing exodus (2 Samuel 7:6). God reminds David that the divine presence is with them in tents (verse 6), in the pasture (verse 8), among their sheep (verse 8), and in battle (verse 9). God is not contained within a building. His presence and his providence have been active for generations without a temple.

The divine plans for a house is magnificently more complex than David could have ever imagined. David will not build a temple (Hebrew bayt: = “house”) for God. Rather, God promises to build a lasting dynasty (also Hebrew bayt) for David and his progeny. God will give David and the children of Israel long-awaited rest from enemies. Most significantly, God invokes the promise to the patriarchs, and augments it: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:12b-14).

The temple-house will be built in time, but only through David’s son. But the dynasty-house is already built and is established for the ages. God assures David that this dynasty-house will never fade: “But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul…Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:15-16).

God reminded David that physical houses are not the core of God. More than a building, God is a divine transcendent being who is faithful to the promise. And this promise to David brings hope to future generations. The promise eventually culminates in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, when the angel declares “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32b).

I absolutely love visiting the Western Wall and entering the courtyard for prayer. But it saddens me when I must pass through the security requirements at the entry. The ubiquitous presence of police is a blatant reminder of the ephemeralness of this last vestige to the biblical temple-house. But as I consider the vast legions of Christians throughout the world, I can see the greater glories of the dynasty-house as mediated through Christ:

  • The Liberian economist seeks to stabilize his country’s currency to alleviate poverty.
  • The North Korean prays in secret in hopes that free worship may triumph oppression.
  • The Peruvian farmer works the field while teaching his children about provision from God.

All are descendants of the Davidic line through Christ. We are witnesses to this dynasty-house, created as God’s promise to David. Indeed, this house is much greater, much larger, more glorious than David could have ever imagined.

God of hope,
You promised to make David’s household great among the nations. Then you sent your son, Jesus, to transform this world so that all people are one in the great household of God. Show us how to live as your children, as sisters and brothers in your holy and blessed realm, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, who will one day welcome us all home. Amen.

Unexpected and mysterious   ELW 258
The angel Gabriel from heaven came   ELW 265, H82 265
Hail to the Lord’s anointed   ELW 311, H82 616, UMH 203

If thou but trust in God to guide thee, arr. Jody Lindh