Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-17
This key text of the “Davidic Covenant,” is similar to an airport or a train station insofar as one can go all kinds of places from here.
For example, this chapter gives the reason why the united kingdom of Israel is divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah in 1 Kings 11-12; because God promised David in 2 Samuel 7 that a Davidic king would always rule, one tribe is given to David’s descendants. One can also get to the Exile and Return from here, as in Psalm 89:38-51, when the people protest because it appears that God’s promises — in 2 Samuel 7 — have been made void. And of course, this text is the starting point for the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of the Jews whose kingdom will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
But rather than only using this text as a jumping-off-point, it is worth lingering in it for a while, similar to those train stations that have been renovated to show the lovely original woodwork, the intricate tiles, the decorative ceilings. The details of this chapter demonstrate important truths about the nature of a relationship with God, when grace — and not works — is the currency in the divine economy.
The preface to this chapter is the long and steady decline of the house of Saul as David’s kingship is finally made secure. As 2 Samuel 7:1 explains, David is finally settled in his house, experiencing God’s gift of rest from surrounding enemies. Note, however, that the narrator does not refer to David by name, instead always calling him “the king” (v. 1-3). This underscores that David — and not Saul — is now king, but the title also underscores his role, over and above any personal identity. When God speaks, starting in verse 5, God always refers to him as “my servant, David.” God knows him by name.
David’s statement in 2 Samuel 7:2 is a terse description: he lives in a house of cedar, while the ark of God lives in a tent. That is, David’s dwelling is stable, permanent and secure, while the ark — the symbol of God’s presence — is housed in an impermanent and relatively flimsy construction. Not until God speaks in verses 5-7 is David’s intent made clear: David wanted to build a “house,” or a temple, for God. What remains unclear is David’s motivation. Did he want to build God a house out of gratitude for what God had done for him? Would this be an attempt to pay God back for giving him rest and establishing him as king? Or did David want to build God a temple because he believed that if he did something for God, then God would do more for him? Whatever David’s motivation might be, apparently he does not fully understand the nature of God’s grace.
For God changes the equation from any sort of transaction into an unmerited gift. David need not build God a house in order for God to build David’s house. And David need not do something to pay God back before God does something more for David. God’s lavish graciousness is exemplified in this text, where God makes it abundantly clear that in addition to all that God has done for David, God will continue to do more.
In responding to David, the first thing God explains is that God never commanded any of Israel’s leaders to build a house. God seems to be just fine with the tabernacle. Second, in 2 Samuel 7:8-9 God reminds David of three things God has done for David in the past: taking David from being a shepherd to be prince over Israel, being with David wherever he went, and cutting off all enemies before him. Then, in 7:9-11, God gives three promises for the future, two for David, and one for Israel. God promises to “make for [David] a great name” (7:9) and give him “rest from all [his] enemies” (7:11). To Israel, God promises to “appoint a place” and “plant them, so that they may live in their own place,” where they will not be disturbed, nor afflicted by evildoers (7:10).
But the promises don’t stop there! Though David noted in 2 Samuel 7:1 that he has a house, in verse 11 God declares that God will make a new kind of house for David. This is not a dwelling of cedar, but a dynasty; God will establish a kingdom that will always be ruled by a descendant of David. Again, this is in no way dependent on David building God a temple. The temple will come later, and in fact will be built by David’s son Solomon, but at this point in the narrative Solomon has not yet been born. Solomon’s building projects in the future are neither a prerequisite nor a condition for what God promises David. This is an unconditional covenant. It is also an eternal one; God uses the word “forever” three times to describe David’s kingdom (2 Samuel 7:7:13, 16).
The unconditional nature of this covenant continues as God explains that it is not based on David’s descendants behaving perfectly. In fact, God says that when — not if! — the son commits iniquity, he will be punished, but God’s steadfast love will not depart from him as it did from Saul. The mention of Saul’s name in 2 Samuel 7:15 is a sobering reminder of what can happen to a kingdom and to a king, but it also heightens the graciousness of this promise God makes to David.
This lectionary text ends before David’s response, a grateful and humble prayer thanking God for what God promises to do, as well as a bold petition for God to “do what you have promised” (2 Samuel 7:25). As in so many ways, David is a model for many of us humans, but especially as he reminds us that God’s promises, gifts and grace cannot be understood as a formula or even a reward.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
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.
If thou but trust in God to guide thee, arr. Jody Lindh