(2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)
Home is that place where you feel comfortable, right? Where you can kick off your shoes, maybe (or maybe not, depending on who’s in your house) put your feet up on the coffee table (again, maybe not), and be your whole and full and entire self. But sometimes the emotional place of home can be elusive. Home can be that mythical land, like in dreams and fairy tales. Thinking about this elusive definition of a full concept of physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological home makes me think of the people who have formed and shaped us to be who we are today.
As I have mentioned many times, Advent is not only a time to remember when Jesus, the Lord of all creation, made His home among us, but also a time of looking forward to His return and longing for that place where we can fully and wholly and truly be who God has created you and me to be. This is also the time of year where many of us plan to return to the places and people that have formed us, where we can simply be, without having to fully explain ourselves. Or at least we did plan, until a global pandemic got in the way. So, perhaps, we are thinking even more of home.
Apparently, so was David in today’s text from 2 Samuel. Not about his home, rather about God’s home. Because, really, where does God live?
King David – who has many wars and battles yet ahead of him, who has yet to commit adultery with Bathsheba, who has yet to engineer the death of Bathsheba’s husband, who has yet to do anything to avenge the rape of his daughter Tamar by Amnon his son, who has yet to deal with the rebellion of another son Absalom – is convinced that God needs a better home than a tent.
It would seem to be a sweet gesture. But as with many parents who resist or resent their children telling them what to do, and don’t like it when they connive to reduce their independence, God pushes back, and basically tells David to forget it. God doesn’t want to live in a house in David’s backyard.
The context for this kerfuffle is that the king had just moved the ark of the covenant. The previous chapter tells the story of this move, which includes two well-known “made for television” events. The first is the death of Uzzah, who had touched the ark to steady it when he thought it was about to topple over. David was so upset by God’s behavior that he called a halt to the move, and moved God into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite (6:10). The ark was there for three months during which Obed-Edom and his family prospered.
When David saw this, he decided that the Lord was no longer angry, and so he took steps to move the ark to the “City of David” — that part of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem he claimed as his own. And now, the second noteworthy event occurs: his wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, mocks his dancing skills, his vulgarity and his general public demeanor. But David doesn’t care. The ark is now close to home.
David meanwhile has built himself a house of cedar (v. 2) and thinks that it is not enough that he has brought the ark of the covenant from Baale-judah, where it had resided in the house of Abinadab (6:1). He says to his prophet pal, Nathan: “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (v. 2). The inference is clear: He lives in a sumptuous and stable structure in relative ease, while God has been shunted to a flimsy, impermanent warehouse of canvas and twine.
The situation would make any self-respecting child a bit guilty – treating his parent this way. Yet, why did David really want to build a house or temple for the Lord?
It’s hard to know the king’s motives. One can speculate, however. Perhaps there’s a quid pro quo idea lurking in David’s heart. If he does something for God, God will do something for him. Such an attitude is hardly uncommon. People have always bargained with God.
Abraham bargained with God about Sodom and his nephew Lot (Genesis 18).
Jacob bargained during his wrestling match (Genesis 22).
Moses struck a deal with God to save the Israelites in the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 32).
Jephthah made a bargain that cost his daughter’s life (Judges 11).
Hannah bargained for a son (1 Samuel 1).
When he was on his deathbed, Hezekiah argued for 15 more years (2 Kings 20).
Soldiers offer up foxhole prayers during a firestorm that often have something to do with never fornicating again or going into the priesthood. Many people with a terminal illness understandably try to strike a deal with God – perhaps offering to tithe faithfully if God will heal them. People in financial distress often make desperate promises to God.
All of these situations are sort of like pagan attempts to appeal to a wrathful deity. People around the world, in jungles, on the desert or in the mountains, pray to their gods, bringing offerings of fruit and slain beasts. They burn incense, light candles and ask their patron deity to help them pass examinations, heal a dying mother, increase their prosperity and give them health and long life. Perhaps David, too, is seeking a little quid quo pro.
Or maybe his motive is more benign. Perhaps he simply wanted to express his gratitude. God’s hand had been on him since Samuel anointed him in the presence of his brothers and his father Jesse (1 Samuel 16). In fact, in our text today, God reminds David of this very thing: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you” (vv. 8-9).
Expressing gratitude to God is a good thing. Like most parents, God tries to teach His children to say “please” and “thank you.” Later, David himself will write: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name” (Psalm 100:4). Yes, it is a good thing to say “thank you.”
But perhaps God senses that David is attempting more than a thank-you note. Maybe he’s also trying to pay God back, to settle a debt. Powerful men like David don’t like being indebted to anyone, not even to their God. Is this what is happening here?
Honestly, don’t we tend to think this way? If we’ve done no harm, been faithful to our spouse, volunteered for various nonprofits, been generous with our financial resources, never once kicked the cat, never once evaded the IRS, never once used profanity – well, what could God possibly say? It’s like we present an invoice to God and say, “I think we’re good. We’re done here.” Now we can walk away.
Whatever David’s motives, God doesn’t see it his way. God confronts David and tells him, “Excuse me, all this time you’ve been carting me around in this tent, have I demanded that you make me a house of cedar? No!” It seems that God’s all right with where He is, being among His people. God delights to be among His people; God tells David, “I have been with you wherever you went.”
David was treating God as a client. The one who builds the house is greater than the tenant of the house. God sees through David. There’s David, the man of action and mighty deeds. He’s going to make decisions for God. He’s going to keep God in His place. He is going to take care of God. He is going to put God somewhere so that he’ll always know where God is and what God is doing. He is going to manage God. He is going to please God as any child wishes to please a parent by showing the parent that he has outstripped the parent, has advanced and gone beyond the parent.
God will have none of it, and brings the housebuilding plans to an abrupt halt. And although God will later approve plans for a temple built by David’s sons, right now He has a lesson or two to teach the king.
God doesn’t need to be sheltered. Perhaps this is why the tabernacle never had a roof. To put a roof on the structure would suggest that God needs protection, that God is not much more than an idol made of wood or stone. No, we don’t need to protect God in any way, shape or form. We are not going to cage God.
God doesn’t need to be assisted with his living arrangements. God reminds David that He has never uttered a complaint about the tabernacle. God has never expressed dissatisfaction with His “house.” God doesn’t need His children telling Him what to do. He is fine, thank you very much. God will not permit David the satisfaction of feeling like He’s helping God, giving God a hand, lending assistance for someone who can no longer help Himself. God reminds David that He, God, is firmly in control of His powers and faculties.
Of course, God is a God of reversals and surprises, so He turns the tables. God tells David that although David cannot and will not build a house of God, God will build a house for him: “Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house” (v. 11).
The house that God will build for David is not a house of cedar, marble and/or precious stones. Such a house, no matter how well-built, is still subject to decay and destruction. No, God is going to build a dynasty! It’s a house that will last eternally. Notice that God uses the word “forever” three times when describing this new “house” (2 Samuel 7:13, 16). God says, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (v. 16).
This brings us to Advent. We’re only a few days from the day we celebrate the advent of the final ruler, the last and eternal sovereign, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the One who is of the royal house of David. The angel Gabriel says to Mary: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33, emphasis added).
And now, God, who rejected David’s plans for a house, settles into a “house” of an entirely different order, a house of flesh and bone. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” (10:5).
Here in the manger, God is in His house. This human house, this child – all for us. Everything in the name of this child suggests that God has amazing and saving plans for us: Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Jesus, Savior, Messiah.
And, as God tells David in our text, this throne is now established forever.
O come let us adore him.
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord.