Connections 07.22.2018: Preachers in High Places

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

King David wanted to build a house for the Lord, which means he wanted to build a temple. What could be wrong with that? After all, as David observed as he discussed the idea with the prophet Nathan, it hardly seemed right that David had a fine house to live in while the Lord had only a tent (fine tent though it was).

Nathan’s immediate response was positive: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you” (v. 3). But Nathan had to take it back the next day, because that night the Lord told the prophet that the Lord did not, in fact, want David to build a temple.

Good and decent prophets were in short supply around Israel’s throne rooms. One reason—and perhaps the main one—was that rulers surrounded themselves with court prophets. And court prophets weren’t on the king’s payroll to tell the king things he didn’t want to hear.

We don’t know how many court prophets David had, but a later king of Israel had a bunch of them. This was a few decades after David’s reign and after the nation had divided into two kingdoms. King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were thinking of forming a military alliance against Syria. But before they did so, Jehoshaphat wanted to hear from the Lord. So Ahab summoned his four hundred court prophets, and they all affirmed that God wanted Ahab to do what Ahab wanted to do. Jehoshaphat, who no doubt had his own court prophets and knew how the game was played, asked if there might not be at least one more prophet they could consult. Ahab’s response is classic and priceless: “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster” (1 Kings 22:8). And that is what Micaiah, after some verbal sparring, does.

It’s a compelling scene: one prophet who tells the truth against four hundred prophets who sell out to the ruler.

At first glance, it seems that Nathan would have been at home among those four hundred prophets—he sounds like he’s just a religious yes man for the king.

But Nathan seems actually to have been a good and decent prophet, even if he was of the court variety. He is certainly courageous enough to speak truth to power, as he does when he confronts David over the king’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah (2 Sam 12:1-15).

Still, Nathan may be guilty in this week’s story of presuming to speak for the Lord. After all, why wouldn’t the Lord want a temple built where the people could worship the Lord? Also, preachers should stay in regular communion with God, so they should have some sense of what the Lord wants. There’s not always time in a crisis to go spend time in prayer. But this wasn’t a crisis, and Nathan gave a quick answer in a situation that didn’t require one. Maybe he saw a temple as an opportunity to further what he assumed to be the Lord’s agenda in the nation.

Nathan got it right in the end because he listened to God’s corrective word. He offers us a valuable lesson about being too quick to speak for the Lord. He also offers a model for those preachers (and other Christians) who are in a position to influence those in power.

Discussion

1. What motives might a political leader have for building a temple other than a desire to honor God?
2. Why might Nathan have so readily agreed with David’s plan?
3. What dangers might have accompanied building God a permanent rather than a portable house of worship?
4. What can we make of the fact that God wouldn’t let David build God a house but promised to “make [David] a house” (v. 11)?
5. When David proposed building a temple, Nathan told him to go ahead “for the LORD is with you” (v. 3). When God tells Nathan to instruct David not to build the temple, God also affirms that God is with David (v. 9). How should we think about the relationship between God’s presence and our actions? How should we be bold? How should we be cautious?

Reference Shelf

We note that in the opening of the chapter, David does not ask for God’s advice, as he usually did in the past, nor does Nathan consult with God on the plans envisioned by the king. God’s intervention takes place as a corrective to the prophet’s insights, but it does so without reprimand. This is the first appearance of the prophet Nathan on the scene, at David’s side, where he will emerge twice more in the stories, always concerned in some way with the establishing of the dynasty (2 Sam 12 and 1 Kgs 1:22). Although Nathan initially utters approval of David’s implied plans, God corrects him and he brings the correction to David (v. 17). The prophet functions as God’s mouthpiece to the royal administration, speaking truth to power, a feature already discernible in Samuel, who still combined in his person the functions of prophet, priest, and political leader. From now on, the role of the prophet will be distinct and not bleed over into that of priest or administrative leadership.

Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos, Reading Samuel: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the Old Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 179-80.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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