This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on December 21, 2014.
Have you ever tried to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? In the 7th Chapter of 2 Samuel, David says to Nathan the prophet “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent” (2 Samuel 7:2). David, now comfortably settled in a palace in his newly conquered capitol of Jerusalem, realizes that he is living in a place far grander than the God whom he worships. So, setting out to address the imbalance, he has in mind to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, so that God too may have a permanent home in Jerusalem.
But God says no thanks. Nathan had already given his blessing to David’s idea, but in a vision later that night, God redirects Nathan. “Go and tell my servant David, ‘this is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” (2 Samuel 7:5).
Why? What is God trying to tell David (and us)? What does this text suggest about God and the way God works? And for the lectonary preacher, what does it mean to read this passage in the context of Advent? How might we think about God’s words to David through the lens of advent expectations? The answers to these questions are fertile ground for both faith exploration and preaching.
Perhaps God wants to remind David that he cannot be tied down. God tells David “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” (2 Samuel 7:6). It is easy, perhaps too easy, to equate religious dedication with stability and constancy. God never changes, His truth never changes, and so we want to set things in stone when it comes to our faith. Ironically, however, while David wanted to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, the ark was designed to move. God commanded the people to add four rings of gold to the Ark that would be the place where gold covered rods of acacia wood would remain permanently (Exodus 25:10-16). God’s truth might have been written in stone, but He expected that same truth to be on the move.
Jesus’ arrival in the world is perhaps the clearest example of this truth. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace made of gold but in the last place his earthly parents could find on their road trip to Bethlehem. His birth was celebrated first by wandering shepherds and traveling magi. And when launched his ministry, the way Jesus called his disciples wasn’t by saying “believe in me,” but “follow me.”
It is also possible, that God wanted David to understand that He was in charge not David. God tells David “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” (2 Samuel 7:8-9). This story follows closely on the heels of one of the more startling texts in all of scripture. David is in the process of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem when an accident takes places. The Ark had been placed on cart pulled by oxen, but along the way one of the oxen stumbled, and a man named Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark. And the text reads that “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down” (2 Samuel 6:7). As strange as it sounds to those of us who grew up on a steady diet of individual freedom and unlimited possibilities, we will not come to experience eternal, abundant life until we internalize this most foundational truth, there is a God, and I’m not Him. Occasionally we need to be reminded of that truth, especially perhaps, if we are people of power, possibility, or means.
If you’re preaching this text during advent, however, it’s probably safe to assume that the title of your sermon isn’t going to be “I’m in Charge, Not You.” And yet if we keep reading, this text reminds how wonderful a truth that is. David sets out wanting to do something for God, but unlike the moment a chapter earlier where Gods anger burns over the idea that human beings might control God, in this text God’s assertion of control opens up possibilities that David himself hadn’t even dreamed up. David set out to bless God, but God says in essence “No David, I am the one who will do the blessing here.” And so God makes a covenant with David. “I will make your name great…I will also give you rest from all your enemies…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me” (2 Samuel 7:9-16). Most of these promises are about Solomon, David’s son, who will follow David on the throne. But God gives a gift here that will keep on giving throughout eternity, for another boy from Bethlehem, of the line of David, will come who will bless the people even more. If Advent is a season of expectation, just like David we need to learn to have God-sized expectations. A temple wasn’t a bad wish, and God would end up fulfilling that wish only a few years later, but God wanted David to think even bigger. But that can only happen, when we let God be in charge of everything, even our hopes.
Dr. Matt Cook
Pastor, First Baptist Church