Formations 02.19.2017: Tension and Resolution

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-16

Samuel Barber, the composer of “Adagio for Strings”

In the first few months of my freshman year, the university orchestra played a concert at the opera house downtown. I went and somewhere between Brazilian samba, Argentinian tango, and Aaron Copeland, they played Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

When my dad was in college, he had it on a cassette that he would play and rewind over and over again. So when I was growing up, he and I would listen to it together, dissonant chords building on top of each other until the tension was so great that only silence could resolve it.

But at the performance my freshman year, the audience interrupted by applauding. They thought it was over, but the conductor continued, the orchestra began again, and we returned to listening.

David’s story as king begins with fighting, but this week we find him resting in the palace. In a reflective moment, he asks why he occupies a cedar palace while the ark of the covenant resides in a tent (vv. 1-2). This seems to come out of recognition of God’s power. But God comes to Nathan and issues a response that invites us to see that tension is still present.

First, God says “not yet” to David’s temple-building plan but promises that his children would build the temple. Then God promises that David’s line would reign over Israel forever, which seems fair enough, except that we know that there has been no Davidic king since Babylon destroyed Judah (v. 13). Finally, God affirms that Israel would be punished for its wrongdoing with a “human rod,” but we may also recognize that many of the people hurt by Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman oppression were innocent, that not everyone who suffers deserves it (v. 14).

David’s desire to build a temple may have come from a place of authentic religious concern. But it might also have arisen out of a desire to silence the tension between his new monarchy and Saul’s former one. We often do this too. In the same way David moved the ark to show divine support for his reign, we sometimes employ God’s name to support our own power and silence challenges to it.

Silence resolved what had seemed unresolvable. When I told my high school band director this after playing an arrangement of “Adagio for Strings,” he agreed. Then he told me to listen again and pay more attention—to hear that it isn’t just tension that builds. Each point of resolution grows as it moves closer to that climactic silence.

God corrects David; God tells him “not yet but soon”. God asks him to remember God’s provision, but assures him that punishment will come too. But God insists that after tension comes resolution, because God, the One who brings it, has been here all along.


• How have you used God to justify your own power and belief? How has God challenged you to more fully recognize the freedom of both God and others?
• How has the desire to be right amid disagreement cut you off from the love that comes in relationship with God and others?
• What sources of tension do you see around you? How can you work toward a truer resolution?

Reference Shelf

Tension Over the Temple

Virtually all scholars agree that there is a multi-stage literary history behind the pericope, but most will also concur that the final product possesses an impressive unity. It is beyond the purview of this work to compare and contrast these often conflicting studies. We will, however, sketch an outline of the text’s present form and suggest some general ideas that may have played a role in its development.

One plausible suggestion of the story’s history is that the earliest core (probably including most of vv. 1-3, 11b-12, and 13b-15a) relates Yahweh’s positive promise in response to David’s pious desire to build a temple in Jerusalem. During the exile, when the temple lay in ruins, the idea arose in prophetic circles that Yahweh had never approved of an earthly house to begin with. At that time, vv. 4-9a and 15b might have been added to express Yahweh’s antipathy toward the temple, emphasizing that David’s success was due to Yahweh’s gracious favor alone. The final editing, at the hands of the Deuteronomists, transformed the negative attitude toward the temple into a positive one by insisting that Yahweh’s opposition was not to the temple itself, but to the timing of its construction. The addition of vv. 13a and 16 would accomplish that goal.

The final form of the narrative now includes an interweaving of attitudes with an overriding theme of divine blessing upon David and the eternal establishment of David’s house upon the throne of Israel. The key motif is built upon the dual use of the word “house” (bayit), and is introduced immediately: “Now when the king was settled in his house.”

Tony Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 447–49.

Who Holds the Power?

Once settled in his city, with the Ark ensconced in a tent, David decides that this is not a suitable place for housing the most important religious relic of Israel. He observes as much to the prophet, Nathan, who tells him to go ahead with whatever plans he may have. The phrasing is significant, for David never states outright that he intends to build a temple. Rather, he compares the two ways of residing, literally “sitting,” he in a house of cedar and the Ark in tent fabric, implying that this does not feel right and that he wants to upgrade the quarters of the Ark. David’s intentions and God’s reply, which comes unasked to Nathan, address notions of sitting or staying, always stated with the Hebrew verb yashav. The episode opens with a double reference to David sitting in his house (vv. 1 and 2), and God’s word to David begins with the rhetorical question, “Is it you who will build me a house for my seat (literally sitting)?” (v. 5).

God’s long speech points out essential truths about God’s presence and about who is in charge of establishing leadership and houses, and it contains a strong promise for the future. The first half (vv. 5-11) emphasizes the nature of God’s presence and who derives benefit from it. Staying/sitting in a house is not the way God has ever been present, and a house is not something God demanded as guide and shepherd of the people (vv. 6-7). God has now appointed David to be the shepherd of God’s people so that they may have a secure place (v. 10). Both God’s presence and David’s presence are shown to be in service of the well-being of God’s people. It is not David, however, who is responsible for establishing houses—not even his own—but God (v. 11).

Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos, Reading Samuel: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the Old Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011), 178–79.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.


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