2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Commentary: 2 Samuel 7:1-16


As this text opens, King David has accomplished almost everything needed to establish his monarchy over Israel. He is now king over all twelve tribes (2 Sam 5:1-5a). He has a royal line of six sons (3:1-5). On the one hand, he has married Michal, Saul's daughter, to unite his house with that of the first king. On the other hand, he seems to have made sure that he will not have a child through her which could muddy the lines of royal succession (6:20-23). He has created a new capital in Jerusalem and made it his own city (5:5b-10). He dwells in a royal house built for him by the king of Tyre (5:11). He has routed the Philistines who were forced to attack him as his power over Israel was being solidified (5:17-25). He has brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, to the city of David, so that the central symbol of worship is on his turf and under his control (6:1-15). He has achieved an unprecedented centralization and control in his rule over Israel. God has given him rest from all his enemies, be they domestic or foreign (7:1). Everything is falling into place for David. It is just about perfect for him.

David's Housing Project

But David's strategy has one more vital component to it. He proposes to build a house for the Ark of God (7:2). Why is this a final, key strategic maneuver on David's part? In the royal mind set throughout the Ancient Near East, it was common for a royal house to legitimize itself and to assure a favorable legacy by erecting a temple to its particular god(s). In a sense, the king who did this would make himself the benefactor of his god. Since such a temple would be regarded as the deity's local residence and since that temple would be a gift of the king (and, of course, controlled by the king), such housing projects assured the deity's presence and blessing for the particular king and his successors. Hence David's proposed housing plan is a smart political move. It is not simply an act of personal piety. It is an act which has major political and religious benefits for him. Throughout his rise to power David has demonstrated his adroit political savvy. This is a final maneuver. It is a proven political solution of the times. The housing project also makes good sense to Nathan, the prophet who tells him to go full steam ahead with construction (7:3).

God's Housing Project

David's plan is not, however, a good or workable idea to God. Nathan is going to be sent back to David to deliver God's own word on this matter (7:4). David is not God's benefactor. God is David's benefactor. God's rhetorical question in 7:5b is best translated, "You will build for me a house for no dwelling?!?" The implication is clear: A human (not even the great and powerful King David) does not provide a residence to guarantee divine presence or protection. 7:6-7 elaborates on this by reminding David that God's presence in the past has been free and mobile as God has continuously been Israel's benefactor. There is also a none too subtle reminder that God's presence is with all of Israel and not a restricted upper echelon. Hence, David's housing project is simply impossible. God's presence and actions cannot be restricted for the benefit or control of the monarchy.

To drive this home God recites to David the divine presence and activity in his own life. God chose David from the humblest of origins to make him prince of God's people (7:8). God has been with David continuously and has removed his enemies (7:9a; cf. 5:10; 1 Sam 16:18; 17:37; 18:14,28). David's world-wide fame rests not on his own heroic achievements but on God's activity in his life (7:9b). In all of this God has been at work not just for David's benefit but for the ultimate benefit of Israel, the people of God (7:10-11a; note the use of "my people Israel" in 7:7,8,10,11a). Again, in a not too subtle way David is being reminded that is he is not God's benefactor but also that Israel does not belong to him. Israel belongs to God, and David's royal position and triumphs are for Israel's benefits.

The climax of God's message comes in 7:11b which harkens back to the theme of housing projects expressed in 7:2,5, but it introduces a very surprising element: God will be the one to build a house for David, not vice versa. The house God has in mind is the Davidic dynasty, and here it comes as a pure, gracious promise. David cannot possibly legitimize himself or his successors. Rather, God has promised a dynasty forever (7:16). David's housing project fades into the far background. God's housing project is at center stage. It is an unconditional, undeserved, unending promise from God.

The Completion of the Housing Project

The text of 2 Samuel 7 has in mind a successive royal rule over Israel by an unending line of David's descendants. It does not envision an eternal rule by one final descendant of David. That, however, is exactly how God has decided to fulfill the unconditional Promise made to David. God can be full of surprises when accomplishing divine plans. Just as 7:11b, the announcement of God's housing project, comes as a surprise to David (cf. 7:18-29), so, too, does the announcement of the completion of this housing project come as a surprise to Mary in the companion gospel story from Luke: 1. First, the angelic greeting itself catches her completely off-guard (1:26-30), but then the content of that angelic announcement is almost beyond belief. God's promise to David will find its ultimate fulfillment in a child she shall bear. Her son, Jesus, shall be the Son of God, shall have the throne of David, shall reign over Israel forever, and shall have an eternal kingdom (1:31-33). What David could not possibly build, God gave to him as a housing project of pure promise. What no human being can possibly accomplish, God now announces. It will come to pass in the birth of Mary's child: The kingdom of God is being built through and upon its eternal monarch, Jesus.

Richard Carlson