The house God is building (2 Samuel 7.1-17) [sermon 10-23-2016]

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October 21, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, October 23, 2016. From our Fall series at Central Church of Christ in Stockton, CA, “The Faithfulness of God in the Hebrew Scriptures.”

The primary text is 2 Samuel 7.1-17.

The resources I used extensively for this sermon were:

Robert Barron, 2 Samuel, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 67-80; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004); Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990), 253-58; John R. Franke, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, general ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 349-52; Tremper Longman III, Immanuel In Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship, The Gospel According to the Old Testament, series ed. Iain M. Duguid (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001).

An audio link is embedded below for those who’d rather listen.


God gives David rest

Last time, we left with Hannah’s prayer ringing in our ears: May God give strength to his king and raise high the strength of his anointed one (1 Sam. 2.10). Israel was still struggling through the days of the judges. Like the old invitation song says, God’s people were living with fears within, and foes without. The book of Judges says it like this: In those days there was no king in Israel; each person did what they thought to be right (Judges 17.6). There was a leadership vacuum in Israel, and their enemies threatened to destroy them—if they didn’t destroy themselves first.

Hannah longed for a king to save her people. Her son Samuel anointed Israel’s first king, Saul. But Saul’s kingdom quickly unraveled, so God sent Samuel out to anoint a new king: a shepherd boy from the tribe of Judah named David. David was famously described as a man following the Lord’s own heart (1 Sam. 13.14). After much intrigue and a civil war within Israel, David takes the throne. Is he the answer to Hannah’s prayer?

Our story today seems to point in that direction. It begins after the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him. God had strengthened his anointed king; now God gives him rest.

And with that phrase, we’re taken all the way back to the beginning. After subduing the chaos to create a peaceful, orderly world, God rested. In the same way, after God had given David the strength to subdue his enemies and so provide a peaceful, orderly kingdom, God gives David rest.

And as God gives his king David a Sabbath rest, David’s thoughts turn to God. And rightfully so. Sabbath was a time when Israelites remembered God’s faithfulness to them. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, says Deut. 5.15. And I am sure that during David’s God-given rest, he remembered how God’s strong hand and outstretched arm had lifted him from being a shepherd boy to being the shepherd of God’s people.

And as David rested in his palace, remembering God’s faithfulness to him, he had an idea that he shared with his court prophet, Nathan. Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent. In the last chapter, David had rescued the ark of the covenant from Israel’s enemy, the Philistines, and brought it back to Jerusalem. The ark contained items that connected Israel to their history with God: the stone law tablets; Aaron’s rod through which God had worked miracles during the Exodus; and a few pieces of the manna God had fed Israel with in the wilderness. The ark in the center of the tabernacle, God’s tent-dwelling, told the story of God’s faithfulness to his people.

David decides that he wants to build a permanent house—like his own palace—for God and his ark to dwell in. Nathan agrees, and blesses the project. Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you, he says.

God says “no”

But that night, God came to Nathan with a different message. God sent Nathan to tell David: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? God said no to David’s plan. The scriptures offer two different reasons for God’s refusal to let David build the temple.

In a later telling of the story, David says God told him: You’ve shed much blood and waged great wars. You won’t build a temple for my name because you’ve spilled so much blood on the ground before me (1 Chron. 22.8). This passage should silence those who teach that God in the Old Testament was ruthless and bloodthirsty! Even though God had brought David through his wars, he doesn’t relish bloodshed. The temple was to be a place of peace-making, where God and humans were reconciled. So God didn’t want a warrior to build it.

But the reason God gave David for saying no in our lesson today is this:

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?

The ancient tribal kings dwelled in tents in the center of their people. So God—the true king of Israel—also dwelt in a tent among his people. The tabernacle was a sign of God’s kingdom. It was designed to reflect the heavens and the earth—the temple God had made for himself.  When God told David that he’d been moving from place to place in the tabernacle, it’s the same verb that’s used in Gen. 3.8, for God walking in the garden. That was when God and humans dwelled together in the garden. But even as the tabernacle looked back to Eden, it also looked forward to a time when God promised: I will place my dwelling among you, and … I will walk around among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people (Lev. 26.11-12). That phrase walk around among you once again uses the same verb from God walking around the garden with humans. So the tabernacle looks ahead to the final visions of scripture, when there is a new heaven and a new earth; and God’s dwelling is here with humankind (Rev. 21.1-5). The tabernacle was God’s dwelling among the people on-the-move; the temple was God’s resting place once his people were settled in the land.

Building a temple for God isn’t something David gets to decide for himself. The same kind of thing happens to us, sometimes. We hatch big ideas and present bold agendas for how we’re going to serve God. We launch some ambitious program. But then we find that God has said no to our plans. Although God always welcomes our cooperation, our best and most brilliant ideas don’t always always line up with God’s plans. That means that sometimes, like David, we must surrender our own plans to God’s greater purposes. But we can do so trusting that God’s plans and purposes are bigger and greater and more beautiful than ours. As God reminds us through the prophet: Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans (Isa. 55.9).

God’s word to David

God said no to David’s plan to build a temple. But no was not God’s final word to David. Not hardly. God sent the prophet Nathan back to David with a hopeful word of promise and new possibilities. God wanted David to know what role he and his descendants would play in God’s future plans.

God wanted David to know that he played an essential part in God’s unfolding story of salvation—a story that had begun long before David, and would continue on long after him. First, God reminds David of God’s faithfulness to him up to that point:

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.

God has raised David up from shepherding his father’s flocks to shepherding his entire nation. Now God promises David: I will make your name great. God made this same promise to David’s ancestor, Abraham: I will make your name great … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12.2-3). With that one little phrase—I will make your name great—God assures David that God is including him in a plan that goes all the way back to Abraham. A plan that involves not only blessings for Israel, but all the nations.

After reminding David of his ongoing faithfulness from Abraham to David, God reveals the role David’s offspring will play in God’s faithfulness to his promises:

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 …Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.

God tells David: No, you will not build a house for me; but I will build a house for you. That word house cuts a couple of different directions. First, it means a legacy and a dynasty. God will give David offspring who will rule a kingdom that endures forever. Second, David’s son will build a house for God. David’s vision for a temple will be fulfilled by his son, Solomon.

And it was Solomon who wrote these words: Unless it is the Lord who builds the house, the builders’ work is pointless (Ps. 127.1). However glorious David’s plan to build a house for God must have been, the house God will build for David will be even more glorious, and will endure forever.

When God says no to our best dreams and desires, it may very well be because God has a faithful and enduring yes planned for us. And God’s faithful yes most often moves beyond us, to bless others—even future generations.

God promised David a house—a son who would reign after him, and who would build God’s temple. But the promises of a house and a son go much deeper than even David could have known. Those promises reach out across the generations to embrace us today.

God’s Son—and David’s

God promised David that after he died, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood … and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Ps. 132.11 reaffirms God’s faithfulness to David: The Lord swore to David a true promise that God won’t take back: “I will put one of your own children on your throne.”

But what’s even more breathtaking is that God promises to make David’s son his own: I will be his father, and he will be my son, God says.

Psalm 2 is one of the royal psalms. In this psalm, we hear God’s word to David’s royal line:

You are my son,

        today I have become your father.

Just ask me,

    and I will make the nations your possession;

    the far corners of the earth will be your property.

God had Solomon in mind when he made this promise to David; but God was also looking beyond Solomon. He promised David a dynasty, a royal legacy that would go on forever.

Now, here’s where things get downright awkward. By the time our lesson for today from 2 Samuel was being written down, the nation had already been defeated by the Babylonians. Zedekiah, the last of the kings descended from David, had been blinded and deported to Babylon, where he died. In other words, the scripture that records God’s promise to David about always having a royal heir was written after David’s royal dynasty had come to an end.

So there was this massive question mark hanging over God’s plans for the future of his people: How will God be faithful to his promises without a son of David on the throne?

Sometimes God’s faithfulness isn’t obvious. It creeps into the world, into our lives, in ways we don’t expect. Most everyone in Jesus’ day believed that God would raise up a mighty warrior-king like David to rescue the remnant of his people. Instead, God sent his Son—and David’s—as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9.6). A poor child who like David was born in the blue-collar town of Bethlehem. And who did, in fact, carry some of David’s DNA in his body. Solomon’s name means man of peace, which suggested that he would be a prince of peace, but Jesus was who God ultimately had in mind when he made that promise to David.

The third-century Christian author Tertullian summed it up rather well when he wrote this: “Christ rather than David’s son Solomon was to be looked for as the Son of God … [T]he throne forever with the kingdom forever is more suited to Christ than to Solomon.”

Jesus, the Son of God, was also one of David’s descendants. In our reading from Luke’s Gospel today, we heard an angel tell Jesus’ mother Mary: The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and there will be no end to his kingdom. Rev. 11.15 announces: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will rule forever and always.

Jesus is God’s faithfulness to David, to all humanity, and to all creation. God is always faithful to his promises, even when his dreams for us don’t match our dreams. No, God’s faithfulness exceeds what we can ever imagine, just like it did for David. That’s why the prophet said: From ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any god but you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him! (Isa. 64.4)

God’s temple

God promised David a son who will build a house for my Name. And David’s son Solomon built the temple as a house for God.

The traveling tabernacle had been God’s presence from the time of the Exodus. The place where God and humans came together. Now the temple would be a permanent dwelling for God among his people. The place where God and humans come together. After Solomon built and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, 1 Kings 8.11 tells us that the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple. But the prophet Ezekiel looked on many generations later as the glory of the Lord departed from … the temple; and then went up from within the city and stopped above the Mount of Olives (Ezek. 10.18, 11.23). The Babylonians completely destroyed Solomon’s temple. And even though a Second Temple was built under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s glory doesn’t seem to have filled that temple like Solomon’s.

We have seen that Jesus is the son of David with a forever kingdom. But does God still have a plan for the temple?

Indeed, he does. Jesus is now the place where heaven and earth, God and humanity, are joined. Jesus is the temple. John’s Gospel makes this clear. In the opening chapter of John’s Gospel, we learn that:

In the beginning was the Word

    and the Word was with God

    and the Word was God …

The Word became flesh

    and made his home among us.

We have seen his glory. (John 1.1, 14)

Heaven and earth, God and humanity, dwell together in this one man, Jesus. Moreover, when John says that God’s living and active Word became flesh and made his home among us, he literally says that the Word tabernacled in our midst. And just like the tabernacle and the temple, the man Jesus is full of God’s glory.

In the next chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus chases the sacrificial animals and the merchants out of the Jerusalem temple. When the temple authorities demand to know what this is all about, Jesus answers: Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up. John tells us that the temple Jesus was talking about was his body (John 2.13-22). Just like Solomon’s temple, Jesus would be destroyed and raised again. But this time the glory of the Lord will return to the temple. Because the resurrected and glorified Jesus, seated at the Father’s right hand, is how humans come to God.

And so we see that God is faithful to his promises to David. God’s temple indeed came through David’s son, Jesus. But God’s faithfulness is not only for David. Because Jesus, who is the promised Son and temple, is also for us. Jesus is God’s presence with us, and our presence with God.

And God’s faithfulness is not only for David and for us, but for all creation. Scripture’s final vision shows us a new heaven and a new earth, with a new Jerusalem. And in that new Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Rev. 21.1-3). Again, that word dwelling means tabernacle. Everything the tabernacle and the temple meant—God dwelling with his people—will be fully realized in the life to come. In the new Jerusalem, in a new Eden. World without end.

And we can trust that God will bring us all there. Because we have seen over and over again that God is faithful.

[1] Against Marcion, 3.20.


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