Advent 4 • 2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16 • December 18, 2011
by Jeffrey A. Gibbs
The reading offers, in its OT context, a strong example of the truth that “God’s ways are higher and greater than our ways.” Specifically, the reading presents a powerful contrast between David’s (and Nathan’s) understanding of what the God of Israel planned to do for his people and their king on the one hand, and the intention of the Lord of Hosts for his people on the other hand. In addition to the truths that applied to the historical OT context of King David’s reign over Israel, the lesson leaps out into the future of the people of God. In even greater ways than David, we are invited to see the contrast between human plans and expectations, and the Creator God’s design for the entire world as it has been fulfilled—and will be fulfilled—in the one whom we know to be the greater Son of David.
The reading begins (vv.1–3) with King David living in his own royal palace, at peace and at rest from all his enemies. In an apparently pious and positive way, David perceives a serious inequity; the God of Israel has done much for him, but the king is allowing the Ark of the Covenant to be housed in the temporary structure of the tabernacle. David thinks that he sees the scope of God’s deliverance and favor, and now he wants to give something back to the Lord God. He tells Nathan, and the prophet agrees. “The Lord is with you,” says the prophet. Neither the prophet nor the king, however, has any real understanding of how greatly the Lord intends to bless.
The “higher and greater” of God’s response comes in three parts. First (vv. 4–7), the Lord speaks to Nathan and through him, and the message is a “no” to David’s plan. David is not to build a house. Such a thing has neither happened nor been desired by God, not during the salvation in the exodus nor during the period of the judges. Second (vv. 8–9a), God reminds David of all that he has already done for him and, through him, for Israel. In grace, God took the shepherd-boy and made him prince over Israel. God has been with David, and, as verse 1 of the text has said, given rest and victory over all his enemies.
Third (vv. 9b–11), there will be more than David ever dreamed. David will have a name and a reputation as great as any on earth. Israel will finally have a place of security in which she can live, free from opposition and enemy. And greatest of all, the Lord will establish David’s rule and line in perpetuity; David’s house and David’s reign will endure before God, and for the sake of God’s people Israel, forever (v. 16).
Thus far the promise of this reading is in its OT, historical context. Although the appointed lection does not include verses 12–15, these verses are key to the way that the reading shoots out into the future. In the first place, as 1 Chronicles 22:6–10 and 27:6–7 make clear, Solomon is the son of David who begins to enact God’s great plans for God’s people through David’s rule. Yet, as even a cursory knowledge of the history of Israel instantly reveals, Solomon and all of the other Davidic rulers that follow in his flawed and sinful train only highlight the essential truth that this reading is proclaiming: God’s ways are higher and greater than anything mere mortals can imagine, desire, or achieve. God’s people need a prince, a king, one who can shepherd them and protect them from their enemies in a place that God himself has appointed for them. Neither Solomon nor any other mere mortal can be such a prince.
So in the fullness of time, the greater Son of David comes, and while David has a name with the great ones of the earth, Jesus receives the name that is above every other name. Jesus shares the divine name with the Father and the Spirit. As Israel for a time, in God’s economy, dwelt safely in the land, now wherever Jesus is found on this earth, there God’s people gather and are rooted and centered in him—even as they look forward to the day when the new heavens and earth become their place of safety forever. Now, the Son of David shepherds us, and, with the authority he has from God because he died for our sins and rose from the dead, he protects us from our enemies, from fear, and from anything that could separate us from the love of God that he has brought into the world. One day, the house of David and the Son of David will be established in all the creation, without remainder. On that day, God’s people will still, perhaps, be unable to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, unable to understand that love that surpasses knowledge.
So what is this reading supposed to do for us? For David, the promises of God evoked praise and confidence (vv. 18–29). “Who am I? . . . And your name will be magnified forever!” (vv. 18, 26). Such a response would be a worthy result of a sermon preached on this text. God’s ways are higher and greater than our ways. “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”