2017 December Issue
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Sermon Briefs: 2 Samuel 7:1-16

On the 4th of July weekend in 1988 Mark Trotter preached under the title The Almighty Has His Own Purposes.1 These words come from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, and they signify Trotter's intent to see the American experience in the light of this text.

There are interesting parallels between Israel and America: (1) The 4th of July celebrates the birth of the United States, while this text describes the establishment of David as the first king of a new nation.

(2) The signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution used the language of Israel to describe the meaning of what was happening in their midst: "A city set upon a hill," a "covenant," a "pilgrim people," "a light unto the nations," "this nation under God," etc.

(3) In early Israel and early America there was a sense of being "chosen" and living in a "promised land."

(4) David was much like George Washington. He took the 12 tribes of Israel and united them into one nation while Washington united the 13 colonies into a new nation.

(5) Israel and America were made up of the humble and the poor. Known as "the Shepherd King," David was the least likely son of an undistinguished family, a member of the least of the tribes of Israel. Israel was the same: Chosen by God from the least of all of the nations. As Emma Lazarus' immortal poem declares, America is made up of the humble and the poor, the flotsam and the jetsam from the world's oceans. We, like Israel, are the least of the nations.

Trotter sees this text as expressing what it means to live as a nation under God. The application of the story is universal since "every story, including yours and mine, is a reliving of the history of Israel." All of our lives begin in grace with God's "choosing" us; and we Americans, like David and Israel, are always dependent on that grace. David's humble origins are pointed out in the text as a reminder that God, not David, is responsible for his success.

The response that David receives from God is that God can't be confined or domesticated or possessed. God is free and unpredictable. God doesn't live in national shrines and belongs to no nation. God's decision to make David a house, rather than the other way around, is a sovereign decision.

When we read down into verses 12 and 13, we encounter a big problem. God has a reversal of decision, saying that David's offspring will build a house for God. Trotter moves quickly to address the problem, declaring, "I smell an editor!" Solomon, whose great project was to build the temple even if it bankrupted the nation, may have had a hand in this attempt to justify his actions and rewrite history.

God's original message to David is surely the legitimate one. In his Second In augural Address, Lincoln portrays a God over America, just like the God over Israelža sovereign God whom we do not own and who does not live in a national shrine.

Harold C. Perdue addressed this text under the title Who Is in Charge Here?2 He concentrates on the psychology and self-understanding that are revealed in this text and that his hearers might embrace in response to his sermon.

Perdue sets the stage by imagining what David's frame of mind must have been at this point. After a busy time of accomplishment David finally had time to reflect on what he had done and what his next step should be.

A key theme throughout this simple story is the interplay between the house of Yahweh and the house of David. The central issue is which is primary and how each understands the other. God leaves no doubt in the matter. God will establish the "house of David." It is not David who will establish the "house of God."

God does not do a bad job! The house of David endures through history, culminating in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the final heir of David, and extending out into history through Jesus' followers.

There is here a lesson of human self-understanding in relationship to God. It is expressed by William James: "We and God have business with each other; and in opening ourselves to His influence, our deepest destiny is fulfilled. The universe... takes a turn genuinely for the worse or the better in proportion as each one of us fulfills or evades God's demands."

In the closing section of his sermon Do You Really Want to Grow?, John Claypool discusses this text. Claypool has been discussing the cruciality of human desire, which is the vital opening that gives or denies God access to our potential.

The important aspect of David's offer to build a house for God is that David wanted to do it. He wanted to serve God in this way. We know David well enough to know that he, like all of us, frequently acted out of mixed motives. Self-interest was an ingredient in most of the things he did, and we can be sure that he coveted the honor of being the builder of the temple. But even in our cynicism we recognize that the desire to grow and do God's will was sufficiently present in David to give God an opening into his heart. May it be so for all of us!

Sandy Wylie

Notes

1. Preached at First United Methodist Church in San Diego, CA, on July 3, 1988. 2. Preaching, May-June '91 pp. 53-54.