And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. 2 Samuel 7:16
2 Samuel 7:1-17
This may be the climax of the David cycle of stories. The Lord has given David rest from his enemies. The kingdom is (temporarily) secure. David has consolidated his power in Jerusalem. He’s living in a palace these days and not in a cave. If there is a Golden Age in Israel’s history, this is it. This bright, shining moment is, alas, briefer than Camelot.
Soon, the troubles will come. The Bathsheba incident sits just over the horizon. Civil war with David’s own kin soon will follow. The stage will be set for the tragedy of Israel’s royal history.
At this moment in the narrative, however, none of that has happened yet. David sits enthroned, fat and happy, and he has an admirable thought. “Now that I’ve made it to the top, and now that I’m living the high life in a cedar palace, I ought to build God a nice house, too.” We can see dual motives in David’s thought, one political and one religious. The political motive is this: big, important kingdoms had big, important gods with big, important temples. Who would respect and fear Israel if its god lived in a tent? One aspect of the religious motive is easier for most modern people to grasp: it is good and right to give thanks to God. We often express that thankfulness with some sort of tangible monument. David’s religious motive, however, went beyond thankfulness. The LORD sat enthroned between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. In one sense, Israel’s throne sat in David’s house. In another, it sat in the tent that housed the ark. In David’s mind, the two throne rooms should be commensurate.
Through the prophet Nathan, God answers David. “You don’t need to build me a house. I don’t need one. I, however, will build you a house.” The house that God promises David is an eternal dynasty.
This, then, is the climax of David’s story, not because it is the highpoint of David’s career but because it is the watershed of God’s promises to David concerning the throne of Israel. David’s story is clear enough: personally, he is a mixed bag of admirable and not-so-admirable traits. His kingdom experiences both triumph and tragedy because of his actions. Through Nathan, God reveals that the outcome of this royal experiment depends completely on God’s actions, not those of David or his descendants. They will all fail God in some way – some dramatically so – but God will still achieve his purposes.
Thousands of years ago, neither David nor Nathan fully understood what God was promising that day. We Christians believe that God’s promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth – great David’s greater son – the prophet king born in David’s town. The apostle Paul characterized the promised one this way:
… concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead … Jesus Christ our Lord . (Rom 1:3-4)
We know the promised son of David reigns at God’s right hand, and we have an idea of what his kingdom will be like when it comes in all its fullness. But even we wait for its unveiling.
Like David, we are a mixed bag of admirable and not-so-admirable qualities. We, too, create both triumphs and tragedies through our actions. The triumphs don’t usher in the kingdom, and the tragedies can’t stop it. Thank God, his promises depend more on his faithfulness than ours.