Uniform 03.02.2014: Making a House a Home

2 Samuel 7:4-16a

This time last year, my family and I were anxiously searching for a new house. We made the choice to relocate for various reasons, and though the move wasn’t far—just a few miles across town—it still involved high levels of stress, as all moves do. Questions poured through our minds as my husband and I considered the options: Which county is best for our needs? What neighborhood will be safe and comfortable? Where will our kids go to school, and how will the change affect them? Will they be able to make friends? How can we find a house that will last for decades and still live within our means? Could we afford a slightly higher monthly payment? How do things like commute, gas mileage, taxes, and utilities factor in?

Those questions involved the potential future. Of course they concerned me, but as we settled them one by one and the time drew nearer to say good-bye to our current home, I began to grieve. I walked through the different rooms, and each one pulled up a precious memory from the past ten years: my new husband and I bringing home two mixed border collie puppies, giving them full reign of the house; my chubby toddler daughters learning to walk on the hardwood floor in the den; the fun date nights with John, watching favorite shows while we ate takeout after putting the kids to bed; the long hours of play in our wonderful backyard, watching my girls make sand sculptures, chase the dogs, and invent games; the sickness and sadness we’d seen each other through over the years.

That house had a lot of memories. It had grown into a home. And it was very hard for me to leave it, even when we found another great place.

Houses are necessary, in one form or another. But it takes time for a house to become a home—a place where love is shared, memories are made, and people are allowed to grow. In our lesson text, David is weary of carting God’s presence in a tent from place to place. Sure, it was a dwelling, a physical spot where the people could take note of the constant presence of God. But it just didn’t feel like home. After all, King David himself was living in a “house of cedar” (2 Sam 7:2). It seemed wrong that God only got a tent. The prophet Nathan agreed and told David to go ahead with his plans for God (v. 3).

As is often the case, however, a person’s plans for God were so much less than God’s plans for that person. God informed Nathan that the possibilities for David were beyond the king’s wildest dreams (vv. 4-16). In fact, God redefined the entire idea of a house. Instead of a physical building that was made to contain, God’s home would grow into a kingdom that was made to open wider and wider as the centuries passed.

We are still working to make the house of God into a home. We still have physical buildings where we go to worship. Sometimes they are places of intense joy and connection with God, and other times they are places of exclusion, division, and hurt. But the wide kingdom, whose reign belongs to Jesus Christ, reaches farther than we can imagine and seeks to make everyone feel at home.

Our family has been settled into the new neighborhood for nearly nine months now. Over the days and weeks, it has gradually become a home, but not because of its walls, ceilings, or floors. It’s a home because my family lives there together, celebrating the joys of life and weathering its trials. As followers of Christ, we leave our physical house and go out into the world to try to share the true meaning of home—a wide, wide kingdom in which all are welcome.

Discussion

1. Have you ever gone through a move from one place to another? What was that like? What was easy about it? What was difficult?
2. How did you say good-bye to the place you were leaving? How did you welcome the new place?
3. What do the words “house” and “home” mean to you? Do you think there’s a difference?
4. Why do you think David was so concerned about God’s dwelling? What did it mean to David to have a physical place that would contain God’s presence? What does it mean to us to have a place like this?
5. Why is it sometimes so hard to go past the walls of church and venture into the much wider kingdom of God? Why is it important? How can we improve our interactions with others so that they understand what it means to feel at home with God?

Reference Shelf

David’s desire to build a permanent structure 
for Yahweh is not stated outright; it is implied
 by the raising of the issue, but seems clear from
 the context. Nathan’s initial response was positive (though also imprecise): “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you” (v. 3). The motif of Yahweh’s presence with David is an open secret in the Davidic stories (cf. 1 Sam 18:12, 14, 28; 2 Sam 5:10), reminding the reader of the source of David’s good fortune.

The pro-temple stance of vv. 1-3 is immediately counterbalanced by vv. 4-7. The reader is led to believe that Nathan first responded to David out of his own heart, without consulting Yahweh, who rectified the matter by appearing to Nathan that very night, presumably in a dream. “The word of the LORD came to” (v. 4) is a typical prophetic formula, as is the connected formula, “thus says Yahweh” (v. 5). Both appear frequently in the Hebrew Bible. The appearance of these standard prophetic phrases underscores Nathan’s status as a true prophet, to whom Yahweh speaks, as does the double commissioning phrase “Go, say” (cf. Isa 6:9; 38:5; Jer 1:7; 2:2; 3:12).

The divine question found in v. 5 can be read to imply that Yahweh does not oppose the idea of a house, only that David should build it: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (or “Is it you who will build me a house?”). This question seems at odds with vv. 6-7, which suggest that Yahweh has no desire for a house at all, no matter who the sponsor. If David is understood as a representative human, however, v. 5 can be read as entirely opposed to the idea that any mortal should build a house for Yahweh: “Are you [a human being] going to build a house for me [God] to dwell in?” If there is to be any temple-building, it should come in response to divine initiative, not human presumption.

. . .

Whether Yahweh’s ark had ever dwelt in a house is immaterial to v. 7, which emphasizes that Yahweh had never asked for a house from any previous leader of Israel. The question, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”, connects the 
oracle to David’s initial concern about living in 
a cedar house while Yahweh dwelt in a goatskin
 tent.

The point of vv. 6-7 focuses on the theme of
 divine freedom. Yahweh will be free, not bound
 to a permanent house. In the exodus traditions,
 not only was the ark housed in a portable sanc
tuary, but it went at the head of the caravan as
 well. “Wherever I have moved about” in v. 7a 
indicates movement at God’s initiative, not at
 the whims of humans. The ark had moved about at Yahweh’s bidding in such a way that it led the people, including the great leaders Moses and Joshua. For David to bring the ark into his own city and ensconce it in a permanent sanctuary implies an attitude that Yahweh could be restricted, controlled, or manipulated through the enclosure of the ark in Jerusalem. Yahweh, however, refused to be maneuvered or misused—by David or anyone else.

. . .

The second part of the oracle shifts from David’s proposed gift for Yahweh to a review of Yahweh’s past blessings on David and a promise of greater favors yet to come. Indeed, David’s very ability to offer Yahweh a house came about as a result of Yahweh’s history of gracious acts toward David. Verses 8-9 offer a brief reprise of David’s rise to power, clearly attributed to Yahweh’s initiative. David has come from the sheep’s pasture to the prince’s throne for one reason only: because the LORD desired it. The combination of personal pronouns and first-person verbs is emphatic: “I took you from the pasture [1 Sam 16:1-13] to become prince over my people. . . . I have been with you wherever you went [1 Sam 16:18; 17:37; 18:14, 28; 2 Sam 5:10]. . . . I have cut off your enemies from before you [2 Sam 5:6-9, 17-25]. . . . I will make for you a great name. . . . I will appoint a place for my people Israel. . . . I will plant them. . . . I will give you rest from all your enemies” (vv. 8-11a).

David owed his position of power to Yahweh’s constant presence and his prestigious reputation (great name) to Yahweh’s preferential treatment, even as his people owed their secure place to Yahweh’s willingness to fight for them. In David, Yahweh has brought a new day to Israel, a day in which they may dwell securely, for “evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel” (vv. 10-11a).

. . .

The narrator’s artistry becomes evident in the wordplay marking this new thing that God is doing. David had offered to build a house for God, but Yahweh instructed Nathan to say, “Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house” (v. 11b). Perhaps the dual use of “the LORD” (Yahweh) is intended to emphasize the unexpected extravagance of Yahweh’s promise to build a house for David.

In this context, the word “house” refers not to David’s home of wood and stone, but to his sons upon the throne. Yahweh promised to bestow his blessing upon an offspring of David (“who shall come forth from your body,” v. 12), so that the throne would pass from father to son and a strong dynasty would be born in Israel. Saul’s house had dissolved into weakness, but David’s house would go from strength to greater strength, extending into perpetuity: “And I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (v. 13b). The phrase “who shall come forth from your body” does not necessarily exclude the sons whom David had already conceived, but it seems to hint that the divinely favored scion is yet to be born.

As mentioned above, v. 13a (“He shall build a house for my name”) seems intrusive: the promise flows most naturally from v. 12 to v. 13b. It is likely that v. 13a was added by a later hand to soften Yahweh’s opposition to temple-building in vv. 6-7, suggesting only that the time was not right. The Chronicler voiced a later tradition that David was not allowed to build the temple because he had shed too much blood, and was thus too defiled to construct a holy temple (1 Chr 22:8). Solomon, however, was to be known as a man of peace (the name “Solomon” derives from the word salôm, which can mean “peace”). Thus, Solomon was allowed to build the temple (1 Chr 22:9).

Whether David’s son was allowed to build a house for Yahweh is beside the point for the present story, and the issue detracts attention from the central focus: Yahweh intends to build a dynastic house for David. As David had been a man after God’s own heart, David’s descendant would be like God’s own child: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (v. 14). This terminology offers a dim echo of the common ancient Near Eastern concept that kings achieve divinity with their position and are incorporated into the national pantheon.

In Israel, the concept was a step removed: The 
king did not become divine, but was adopted by 
the Deity as a son of the gods, the earthly representative of divine rule. Thus, 
Israel’s coronation hymns, such as Psalm 2, 
expressed the idea of divine adoption. In the
 litany of coronation, the king recited these 
words: “I will tell of the decree of the LORD: he
 said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession’” (Ps 2:7-8; cf. Ps 89:26-27 [MT vv. 27-28]).

The amazing aspect of this divine grant is that David’s dynasty is to rule “forever.” This and related words occur no less than eight times in chapter 7, three times in Nathan’s oracle (vv. 13, 16 [twice]), and five times in David’s prayer (7:24, 25, 26, 29 [twice]). The strong concern for permanence is unmistakable.

Yahweh had initially endorsed Saul’s rule, but gave the kingdom to another when Saul disobeyed. Would David’s descendants fare any better than Saul’s? To forestall fears of divine desertion, the promise is qualified by vv. 14b-15: David’s descendants might be punished for insubordination to Yahweh, but they would not be abandoned. Yahweh would not withdraw his steadfast love, as he had done with Saul. Later theologians interpreted Israel’s defeat and exile at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians as Yahweh’s well-deserved punishment “with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings” (v. 14).

Thus, the Davidic ideology lived on, even in exile, on the presumption that David’s descendants were down but not out, for Yahweh’s promised kingdom was perpetual (v. 16). It was this same concept that certain prophetic circles transformed into an eschatological hope of a new Davidic messiah who would arise to rule with justice and restore the glory of Israel (Isa 9:7; 16:5; 22:22; Jer 23:5; 33:15, 17, 26; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24). From the same oracular roots, the Christian community saw Jesus Christ as the final fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise, a descendant of David who had been granted the throne and who would rule in righteousness forever (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32; Acts 13:22-23; 2 Cor 6:16-18; Heb 1:5).

Resource

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008).

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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