A sermon on 2 Samuel 7 by Richard Keith on Sunday 9 July 2023
In 2 Samuel chapter 7 we find David son of Jesse, king of all Israel, feeling like everything was right with the world. Like that perfect morning when the sun is shining, you’re feeling good and nothing’s gone wrong yet. And then you get out of bed. David had settled a nasty civil war and was king of a united Israel and Judah. He’d founded his new capital city Jerusalem. He’d defeated his neighbouring countries and brought peace to his land. And he’d built for himself a fine royal palace made of cedar.
Sure, it may not have been stone, but, hey, if you can only afford wood, then cedar was the best that money could buy.
Then David looked out the window and saw something that was not right. He saw the tent of the Lord’s tabernacle pitched in a field.
The tabernacle was the portable temple that Moses had built at Mt Sinai according to the Lord’s instruction. And then as the people of Israel had travelled from place to place in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the tabernacle had travelled with them. It would be pulled apart before they set out and carried and then reassembled once they’d reached their destination.
Now, I’m not suggesting that God lived in a tent. The creator of all things does not live in tents or temples or churches. The vastness of space is too small for our God. You can’t contain him in any man made box. But having this portable shrine symbolised the fact that God was with them on their journey. Even when the Israelites settled in their own land and their time of journeying had stopped, the tabernacle still represented the fact that the Lord could be wherever he needed to be for his people.
But to David’s eye, it just didn’t seem right. He in his fine new cedar palace and the ark of the covenant within the heart of the shrine camping out in the field in a tent. Like it was second rate.
David summoned the prophet Nathan and said,
Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.
David wasn’t just raising a problem. He was implying that he was going to do something about it. That he, with his money and power and influence and resources, was going to put things right. That he was going to build the Lord a house to live in. A better one than just a tent. A temple just as good as his own cedar palace.
Nathan, as God’s prophet and the king’s spiritual adviser, encouraged David’s good intention.
Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.
Now, I know what’s going to happen next. I know how the Lord will react to what David and Nathan planned between them. So with the benefit of hindsight I’d like to say that this was not good advice.
Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.
Because the message of the gospel is that God is with us. As our heavenly Father, he cares about us. In his Son, God took on our flesh and blood and lived our life. When we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus, he gives us his Spirit to be our companion and guide. In Jesus and through his Spirit God has pitched his tent with us and travels with us on life’s journey. The Lord is with us.
But that’s not a good enough reason to do whatever we have in mind. Maybe if my mind could focus better on what it should be doing and if I was always thinking of what God wanted and not what I wanted. But even then I hope I had the humility to realise that I’m not always right. We all make mistakes. As I like to remind our elders and our committee of management members at the start of a meeting. God does not exist to bless our decisions after we’ve already made them without consulting him. We exist to seek his kingdom first and his righteousness, to make the best, right decisions we can with the information we have and then to learn from the consequences. Trying to make each mistake only once and learning from them.
And if our best decisions are not according to his will, then may he bring them all to ruin and make them fail, that we may learn better. It is terrible advice to say to anyone, “The Lord is with you, so do whatever you want.”
What David and Nathan did was to presume that the Lord would just bless their plans because they knew best and had the best of intentions. Because the very next thing that happened was that both prophet and king received a rebuke from the Lord. And not just a gentle rebuke, like you might give to someone who made a mistake, but their heart was in the right place. But a blunt rebuke like you’d give to someone who should know better. A rebuke to Nathan because he had spoken for the Lord before the Lord had spoken to him. And a rebuke to David because he had presumed to believe that the Lord needed his help. That it was his place to feel sorry for God and to try to make things better.
Let us not make the mistake of feeling sorry for God. Let us not make the mistake of thinking that he needs our help. Because we need his help every day, every moment of every day.
That night the word of the Lord came to 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?’
It’s a question that expects the answer no. No, he’s not.
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.
Reminding David that that was exactly how he had planned it.
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 Lord meant, “If I wanted a temple, I would have asked for one.” For David and Nathan to decide between them to build one without asking was just plain wrong.
Now tell my servant David, “I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be 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.”
Meaning that the Lord doesn’t want David, doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him because his holy place is a tent. The Lord doesn’t need favours from anyone. He is the one who does favours for others. He doesn’t need anyone giving him better living quarters, for he, the Lord, is the one who makes people great. He raises them up and brings them down. He gives them power and influence and calls them to account for how they use them.
Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.
Meaning, you wanted to build a house, a temple, for me. If I wanted one I could build it myself. To prove it I will build a house for you instead. A family. A dynasty. A line of kings descended from you who will rule my people after you.
When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.
At that point the Lord’s word to Nathan for David stopped being a rebuke and became instead a promise and a warning. David’s son will rule in his place when he is gone. Plus:
He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
David’s intention of building a temple for God will be fulfilled. But not at David’s initiative, and not at David’s timing, but at the Lord’s. David won’t get to do it, but David’s son will and his house, his dynasty, his kingdom will last forever.
Any way you look at it, that is a huge promise. Because forever is a long time. Forever is like the longest time you can imagine and then a little bit more. When I was a kid it felt like Christmas would never come. But forever is even longer. When the empires of Greece and Rome have come and gone, when the last king or queen of England reigns over us, still the line of David will stretch on.
The Lord’s extraordinary promise to David now starts to sound familiar.
I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
This is starting to sound a lot like a covenant.
We’ve been talking about covenants over the last few weeks. These solemn agreements between God and human beings. They are more than just contracts between strangers, but they are agreements that create relationships of belonging with commitments and responsibilities and obligations. Like between a husband and wife. Like between a parent and their child.
When you become a parent, you don’t just get to create a new human being and then do whatever you want with it. You have obligations to care for it and to teach it to take care of itself. David’s heir will not just be his son, but the Lord says, “I will be his father and he will be my son. I will take responsibility for him. I will look after him. I will teach him. And I will discipline him.”
The relationship will also go the other way. David’s son as Israel’s king will not be allowed to just do as he pleases. He too has responsibilities and obligations, to lead and guide his people according to the Lord’s values and principles. And so when he does what is wrong, he must not be spared the consequences. For the Lord’s love for him will not be conditional. “My love,” the Lord says, “will never be taken away from him.” But David’s son’s experience of the Lord’s blessing will be conditional.
“To be punished with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men,” means that when David’s son sins against the Lord he will experience defeat in battle. No one is going to take the king over their knee and spank him the old wooden spoon. Instead, the Lord will hold him to account for his choices and actions and will use foreign armies to discipline him for his evil.
As Psalm 89 describes it this was the Lord’s covenant with David, this solemn agreement leading to commitments and obligations to establish David’s line forever. But it was conditional on David’s son, on David’s heir’s obedience. Otherwise he will face failure in battle.
And this is what we see in the Old Testament. As the king trusted in the Lord and ruled in accordance with his will, Israel enjoyed peace and harmony. But when the king turned away from the Lord and gave his heart to other gods, they experienced defeat and failure.
David’s son king Solomon married foreign wives and worshiped their gods. His kingdom was divided in half between north and south and there was civil war for 300 years that was never resolved.
Manasseh built idols to Baal and Asherah and set them up in the temple itself and he was made subject to the king of Assyria.
Zedekiah, the last of David’s line to sit on the throne, persisted in his rebellion against the Lord and Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was pillaged. David’s kingdom lay in ruins.
The writer of Psalm 89 lived after those events and he appealed to the Lord with heart breaking words.
You have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust.
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?
As I like to say, the Psalms teach us how to pray and they teach us that we can always ask God the hard questions, when reality does not seem to match his promises. “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? Where is your former great love?” This is how you are allowed to talk to God.
It fell to the prophets to explain that the end of David’s kingdom with the fall of Jerusalem did not mean the end of God’s promise. Prophets like Isaiah who in chapter 11 says,
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
David’s kingdom may have been cut down like a tree, but there was life in its stump from the roots fed by the promises of God. The stump would regrow a Branch, a descendant of David, who would rise up to establish the kingdom of God, and to bring peace to his people. God would send the Messiah, born from the line of David. And his kingdom would last forever.
The Jews today still look for the Messiah, but Christians believe that he has already come. Born from the line of David. Born in Bethlehem, David’s own hometown. And who gave his life in Jerusalem, David’s own capital city, and rose to life to become heir to David’s kingdom, and ascended to the right hand of God and lives forever as king of kings.
To believe that he is the Messiah the heir of David’s kingdom is to confess that Jesus is Lord. As Peter said on the Day of Pentecost,
Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.
Or as Peter again said in Acts chapter 10,
God announced the good news of peace through Jesus the Messiah, who is Lord of all.
Or as Paul said in Philippians chapter 2
At the name of Jesus every knew should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord.
Or as the book of Revelation says,
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.
All I’ve done in all those passages is to replace the word Christ with the word that means the same thing, Messiah. God’s anointed and chosen king.
David wanted to build a house for God. And God said, No. I will build a house for you. A family. A kingdom. A dynasty. A son of yours will rule as king forever. And that promise has come true only in Jesus. While the Jews wait for their Messiah to come, we wait for ours to come back again.
Come, Lord Jesus, and rule in our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus, and put an end to the kingdom of darkness. Gather us into your eternal kingdom so that every knee may bow to you and every tongue confess that you are Lord.