Saturday, September 6, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel 7

In this chapter, God promises that he will establish David's dynasty forever.

This chapter begins with a fairly significant transition.  The ark of the covenant had been carried around by the Israelites through their long journey in the wilderness and it dwelt in the "tent of meeting", also known as the tabernacle (an archaic King James word for tent).  This is thematically significant because the Israelites themselves had no home, and the LORD himself, as their God, wandered through the journeys with them.  In a metaphorical sense, both Israel and the LORD were homeless because they did not have "a place".

Now that Israel has entered the promised land, they have "a place" where they are going to dwell and pass on to their children after them.  David is asking, "Since Israel has a permanent home, we should build a permanent home for the LORD," in the form of a "house" (i.e. temple).  David already built a "house" for himself in the form of a palace.  This changes a lot of the dynamics of both Israelite society as a whole and how they relate to God in particular.  We've been going through this transition for a while, ever since Joshua invaded Jericho, but now we are firmly entering the kingdom period of Israel's history, which will endure from David until Israel is cast out of the land during the Babylonian exile.  That's several hundred years in the future.

So David wants to build a temple for God to dwell in, mirroring the development of his own palace.  God replies through the prophet Nathan that instead of David building a house for God, God will build a house for David.  This chapter again has some wordplay in it.  This chapter has three distinct uses of the Hebrew word "beth", meaning "house".  David talks about his "house of cedar", referring to his royal palace, so he wants to build a "house" for God, referring to a temple.  God replies that "the LORD will make a house for you" (v. 11), referring this time to establishing David's dynastic rule over Israel which will endure forever.

Interestingly, this means that David is not permitted to build God's temple.  Eventually a temple will be built, but it will be built by his son Solomon.  We will read (a lot) more on this later.

Verses 12-16 are worth a bit more investigation.  First of all, verse 13 says that David's descendant will "build a house" for the LORD.  This seems like a reference to Solomon, who (as I said) builds the temple.  However, this passage is also commonly interpreted as foreshadowing a future messiah, which implies that the messiah will be a descendant of David.  Like many passages in the OT, this prophecy has multiple fulfillments, so while the reference to Solomon is the most obvious fulfillment, a reference to the messiah is probably intended.

David, for his part, is obviously thrilled by God's promise to build up his house and eternal dynasty.  I love David's prayer.  I don't think there is anything deep or theologically significant in David's prayer.  It's just a beautiful expression of his heart, just his awe at God's latest blessing over his life and how thankful he is for what God has done for him and for his nation.

There's two other things worth pointing out.  The first is that God's proclamation to David is another covenant.  Like the earlier covenants with Abraham and Noah, it is an unconditional covenant, which means that (in this instance) God is not asking David for anything in return.  The second thing is that many of the promises God is making to David are very consistent with the language of the Pentateuch.  In particular, verse 10 says that God will "plant them so that they can have a home of their own".  This is what the covenant with Moses is all about, and it's why God brought Israel to the promised land.  A large part of the OT is centered around Israel's transition from nomadism to a much more sedentary farming lifestyle.  Abraham wandered over the land, and Israel as a nation wandered 40 years in the desert, but now that they are in the promised land, God is swearing again that he shall "plant" Israel in this land and that David's house and his kingdom will endure forever in this same land.

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