Pentecost XXIII (O. T. 30); October 23, 2016
II Samuel 7:1-17
Before talking about this story, I want to say something about why you should care about it. Two reasons I can think of (you can probably think of others). First, it is a promise to David that is central to how we understand his role in the Bible, and David is a key figure in the story of our experience of God. Second, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a key event in understanding Jesus, people acclaimed him as "son of David." But before we leap too quickly to Jesus, let's talk about David.
One of my favorite things to do with a Bible group is to read together and discuss the whole story of David. He is a fascinating and complex figure; at the same time, he is sort of an everyman, in that there is something about his life that we can identify with. I would like to say that "we all" can identify with, but I'm not certain of that. I am sure that every man here can find something about David, but I won't presume to say that is true of the women. One of Madeleine L'Engle's novels is called Certain Women, and the story incorporates the stories of David's wives. Anyway, every man and probably most women can find something in David's story that gives you an "Aha!" moment.
David was a shepherd – so, a working man – and a warrior. He was a poet and a composer and a lover. He was a politician and an administrator. He was deeply religious and very strong-willed. He was a father and a husband and a loyal friend. And he was deeply flawed. He excelled at things, but he also failed miserably. I remember a wonderful lady being very bent out of shape that God should take such a shine to David, since he was a horrible sinner. Yes, he was; although he was brave and true and loyal and kind and loving, he was also a murderer and an adulterer. He was a brilliant leader who was unable to manage his own family. He was deeply flawed. And God loved him and used him to build the people of God.
Can anyone identify with that? Can you think of anyone else who is imperfect, but a leader? David was an indulgent father, which resulted in turmoil and bloodshed in his family, as a husband he could be vindictive as well as passionate, and though he was a brilliant politician his other failings embroiled his country in civil war. Yet the star on the flag of the State of Israel is called the Star of David; the dynasty that governed Judah for 400 years was the House of David; Jesus Christ is called the Son of David.
So, to this story. David had united the country, expanded its borders, and established the capital city of Jerusalem. He had built himself an elegant palace, so he wanted to build a Temple, a "house" for the Lord God Almighty. And here God shows the divine talent for creative use of language, in that God says, "You're not going to build me a house; I am going to make of you a house." And God is referring to a royal house, a lineage. Factoid: although there is, of yet, no independent archeological evidence of David himself, an inscription discovered in 1993 refers to the royal "House of David." David usurped the house of his predecessor; David became King of Judah and he captured Israel from the son of Saul who tried to rule it. Then God promised David that his lineage would be secure, and that his son would rule in Jerusalem, and his descendants forever after.
There are many good lessons about governance that we could talk about from the David story, including David's own thoughts about what good government is (II Samuel 23:1-7) and the interplay between faith and politics (cf. II Samuel 15:24-29), and on the orderly transfer of power (I Kings 1).
The House of David ruled Judah for four hundred years. And then the Babylonians swooped in, deposed the last King, and their rule ended. The House of David never ruled again. When the Maccabees won their revolution (remember the story of Hanukkah?) the new King was a Hasmonean, not Davidic. And King Herod, whom you know from the Christmas story, was also not a descendant of David. God's promise that the throne of the House of David would be established forever (II Samuel 7:13) seems to be no good. As a Jewish lady once said to me (though in another context), "What part of the word 'forever' don't you understand?"
So, the people of God were forced to think about this. Much of their identity was wrapped up in this promise of God to David: because secure, consistent leadership is a component of national identity and security. God said the House of David would reign forever; but the reign has come to an end. Is God's promise no good? Or do we misunderstand?
There were already hints in the prophets that the House of David would be cut off: Isaiah referred to David's line as the stump of a tree that had been cut down (Isaiah 11:1) and so maybe he was hinting that God already had in mind that the House of David would fall. But Isaiah's promise was that a new shoot would grow from that stump. You've probably seen that happen: you cut down a tree, but left the stump intact, and then a new shoot started to grow from the stump. Isaiah suggested that's what the House of David would be like, and he said this more than a century before it happened.
So the people of God began to figure: the promise has been cut down, but the promise is still there. So God must mean to restore the House of David, to raise up a new King from David's line who will rule God's people. They began to refer to this shoot from the stump, this new King, as "Messiah," the anointed one. The same word in Greek is "Christ." So whenever you say "Jesus Christ," you are saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the shoot that grew from the stump of the tree that was cut down. You are saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to David. And you are saying that God keeps God's promises.
God does not always keep them in the way you and I would expect, nor on our timeline, but God keeps God's promises. God made a promise to David, and in keeping it, God has given us Jesus Christ. See why this story is important to us?
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church
Omaha, Nebraska http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/artifacts-and-the-bible/the-tel-dan-inscription-the-first-historical-evidence-of-the-king-david-bible-story/