Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Within David’s checkered story (a patchwork of triumph and downfall) comes a pivotal glimpse into the Lord’s relationship with David, Israel, and ultimately all of history by way of the promise of an eternal “house.”1
A snapshot of the events in the narrative leading up to this point of this periscope: after David was anointed King of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5), he consolidated political power in Jerusalem culminating in the construction of a royal palace of Lebanon cedar and the sowing of more royal “seed” (5:6-16), fought and emerged victorious over the enemies of Israel (5:17-25), and with great drama and liturgical fanfare brought the ark of the Lord to rest in a tent in Jerusalem (6:1-23).
The pericope begins with a bit that could massage the imagination—an interchange between the king and a heretofore unknown prophet, Nathan:
“Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.'” (2 Samuel 7:1-3)
David is clearly feeling comfortable in his digs and presumably desires that the ark of the Lord—the very presence of the Lord—have a house as well. Nathan appears to want the king to remain that way, and plays the yes-man to David’s desires. In short, David alludes to a desire to build a temple in Jerusalem for the ark of the Lord.
That night, however, the Lord intervenes by way of Nathan with an everlasting promise, a theological statement about the ‘house’ of David.
The promise, anchored in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt (2 Samuel 7:6), plays with the Hebrew word bayit, meaning house. David sits in his palatial house contemplating building a house for the Lord. The divine promise, however, is of a house not of stone or cedar, but a royal dynasty that the Lord establishes forever (7:16). Unlike the Lord’s blessing of Saul, which was revoked (1 Samuel 15.26), the blessing of the Davidic house (even with the failings of David’s successors) will remain forever (2 Samuel 7:14-15).
This dynastic house is intimately connected with David, though it is clear that the building and blessing of the dynasty is the Lord’s doing. “I took you from the pasture…” begins the Lord’s first-person recollections and promises (2 Samuel 7:8b-16) regarding David’s call, appointment, and in the verses omitted from the lectionary portion the succession of David’s house after his death. This is the Lord’s doing.
An important piece of this is the centrality of the people of Israel (7:10). The royal house is not established solely for the monarch of the day but for the Lord’s people.
In the end, the pericope climaxes with the promise of an everlasting house and kingdom: the line of David. As such, David’s initial desire to build a house of cedar for the ark of the Lord is put off to David’s son, Solomon (2 Samuel 7:13).
The Advent setting may draw one to focus on the incarnational and eschatological trajectory of the concluding verse of the pericope: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Recall the announcement that will echo though sanctuaries with the Gospel reading of the day: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27). 2 Samuel 7:1-11 provides a footing for understanding the idea of the royal Davidic house and the promise in 2 Samuel 7:16, that this house and throne are established forever. In light of the historical fall of the Davidic dynasty upon the demise of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and in line with the Gospel writers, Christians traditionally and theologically understand Jesus as taking up this royal line.
In light of the incarnation, life and ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, the Davidic line is reinterpreted in terms of the incarnation and of servant kingship. Abuses of monarchical power and authority that mark the reign of David, Solomon, and those that follow them, while not provoking a revocation of this divine promise, do mark the reign of Davidic kings with episodes of amnesia about the fact that the house was established by the Lord and for the Lord’s people. The Lord remains faithful, the dynasty not so much.
The crucifixion and resurrection of the incarnate Word—Christ’s enthronement—when read in the light of his adopted Davidic heritage marks the advent of a new, everlasting servant reign.
1 Commentary first published on this site on Dec. 21, 2008.