To Build a House

When we left off last week, Hannah had brought her young child Samuel to Shiloh, where he would serve alongside the prophet Eli in the temple. Unfortunately, Eli’s sons were corrupt and unfit to follow their father as spiritual leaders, and God spoke rarely in those days. Except to Samuel.

So when Eli died, Samuel found himself leading the Israelites as prophet, judge, and priest. He was respected and known as a prophet of great faith. As an old man, Samuel tried to hand off that leadership to his own sons, but they too, were also unable to remain faithful to God.

This is when the elders of the tribes of  4 …Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”  (from 1 Samuel 8, NRSV)

And so he did. Samuel told them. He delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king.

He said, “This is how the kind of king you’re talking about operates.  He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them— chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury.

He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage

to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer [those cries]”  (from 1 Samuel 8 The Message)

19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord.

22 The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” ( 1 Sam 8 NRSV)

Honestly, this has got to be one of those moments face-palming, head-shaking moments for God. Samuel had warned them.  But the people were just as stiff-necked as their ancestors were in the days of Moses.

As God spoke, Samuel first anointed Saul, and then later David.  The transition from one rule to the next was chaotic, but eventually David’s position was solidified.  We begin our reading for today very close to the beginning of David’s time as King…

7 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”  3 Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.

Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod  such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.  17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.  (2 Samuel 7:1-17, NRSV)

David is finally settled in his house, experiencing God’s gift of rest from surrounding enemies. Did you notice, though, that the narrator did not call David by his name?

The King is settled…  The King spoke to Nathan… Nathan spoke to the King…

This certainly helps reinforce the idea that David is King, not Saul. It also reminds us that the way people see us is not the way that God sees us. And, in fact, that we can get more attached to our identity as described by our work – our roles – Than our personal identity in relation to God.  

When God speaks, starting in verse 5, God always refers to David not as the King, But as as “my servant, David.”

God knows David by name.
God created and claimed David
God called and anointed David.
God had work for David to do, but the work was not David’s identity,
Nor was that work David’s righteousness. That is all about grace.

The promises made and kept by God are always undergirded by Grace…

God’s promises are never contingent upon our human works. including the promise of personal and communal relationships with God…

Otherwise, David, well, he would certainly never be known as a man’s after God’s own heart.
Those stiff-necked Israelites would never be God’s chosen people.
And we gentiles would never have been on God’s radar, much less adopted into the family as sisters and brothers of Christ.  

Grace abounds, friends.  

Like the air that we need to survive and do nothing to create or earn we are surrounded by the very grace our hearts crave…

But our human nature, our imperfect image-bearing, our not-quite-living-up-to-the-promise-of-the-garden reality keeps us from just being with God, rather than tracking how much we or others are doing for God.

Let’s look more closely at this conversation between God and David (by way of Nathan) starting at verse 2:

David is basically stating that he lives in a house of cedar, while the ark of God lives in a tent. David’s dwelling is stable, permanent and secure, while the ark — the symbol of God’s presence — is housed in something impermanent, flimsy by comparison.

What David wants is to build a “house,” or a temple, for God.  What isn’t entirely clear is David’s motivation.

Was David thinking this would be a tangible way to show gratitude? Kind of like the stories of pro football and basketball players who get multi-million dollar contracts and then build a new house for their parents  or grands or aunties or other family members who raised them…as a show of gratitude for their support in the early years…

Was David thinking this would “pay God back” for giving him rest and establishing him as king? Not so much an act of gratitude as settling a debt and clearing up his account with God.

Or maybe David wanted to build God a temple because he believed that if he did something for God, then God would do even more for him…

I could see any of these being true about David…
just as I can imagine these thoughts going through 
my own mind and heart.
OK… Just as I can remember similar ideas going through my own mind and heart, for smaller blessings than David experienced.

Because like David, even after decades of experiencing the enduring nature of God’s faithfulness, trusting in the saving work of Jesus and learning about the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the world, I still don’t  fully understand the nature of God’s grace. Over and over again, God changes the equation from any sort of transaction into an unmerited gift.

See, David doesn’t need to build God a house in order for God to build David’s house. And David doesn’t need not do something to pay God back before God can or will do something more for David.

In fact, God makes it abundantly clear in this exchange that in addition to all that God has already done for David, there is more to come.

First, God reminds David that there is a reason none of Israel’s leaders never built a house for God.  God never asked them to. It was never on the list.  God’s got way more than 99 problems with the Children of Abraham, and living in a tabernacle ain’t one.

Second,  God reminds David of three things from David’s own experience with God: taking David from being a shepherd to be prince over Israel, being with David wherever he went, and cutting off all enemies before him.

Then, God gives three promises for the future:

In verse 10, God promises to “appoint a place” for Israel, to “plant them, so that they may live in their own place,” where they will not be disturbed, nor afflicted by evildoers. This seems very much tied to God’s promises in verses 9 and 11 to “make for [David] a great name” and give him “rest from all [his] enemies”.

Then God makes a promise that seems to be in direct response to David’s concerns about housing.

In verse 11, God promises to make a new kind of house for David. This is not a dwelling of cedar, or even of stone. This house will be a dynasty; God will establish a kingdom that will always be ruled by a descendant of David.

Now, let’s be super clear on something important…  this promise is in no way dependent on David and certainly not on David’s building God a temple. The temple will come later. In fact, it will be built by David’s son Solomon, and at this point in the narrative, Solomon may not even be a twinkle in David’s eye. And so, Solomon’s future building projects cannot be considered a prerequisite nor a condition for what God promises David. This is an unconditional covenant.

It is also an eternal one; God uses the word “forever” three times to describe David’s kingdom (2 Samuel 7:7:13, 16).

Verse 13:  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

And Verse 16: Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Now you try and tell  that grace does not abound … this eternal covenant with the God who was and is and ever will be is unconditional. No strings attached.

The longevity of this dynasty isn’t even dependent upon David’s descendants behaving perfectly. In fact, God says that when — not if!  When! — the son commits iniquity, he will be punished, but God’s steadfast love will not depart from him as it did from Saul.

The consequences of sin will be real… for David, for all of this family.
Just as they are real for all of the tribes of Israel as time goes on.
Just as they are real for you and for me, for the church universal.
Just as they are for this particular gathering of saints in this time and place.

But remember friends, grace abounds.  

Sin brings consequences, but never ever ever will that consequence be a withdrawal of God’s steadfast love for us.

In fact, the mention of Saul toward the end of our passage is meant as a sobering reminder of what can happen to a kingdom and to a king, but it also heightens the graciousness of this promise God makes to David.

There’s really no logical reason why God would make this promise to David and David’s heirs…
God knows the human heart.
God has seen the ways that the power to judge, much less the power to rule as king, when mixed with our human messiness, is a recipe for corruption and manipulation by leaders.  

But God’s plans go far beyond the horizon that David could see.  

And so we will hear echoes of God’s promise to David in the words of Isaiah and other prophets especially as we approach advent and recount the story of God’s people awaiting their messiah.

We will hear echoes of God’s promise to David when Jesus says to Simon, the disciple who first claimed  him as Messiah, the Son of the Living God, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

We will hear echoes of God’s promise to David as Paul describes Jesus as the cornerstone, the one that the builders rejected but became to foundation on which the kingdom of God would be built..

God’s greatest desire is to see the world blessed through the people God blesses.
To see the world loved through those who experience God’s love
To see the world reconciled through those who have experienced the grace that abounds beyond anything we can imagine.

Grace that cannot be housed
Grace that cannot be contained or constrained by transaction

Dear ones… Grace. Abounds.

Even in our 21st century quid-pro-quo meritocracy
Grace. Abounds.

Even as we choose not a King, but a president.
Grace. Abounds.

We are surrounded by grace.  Swimming in it.
We are redeemed by grace.  Saved by it.

Our stories of survival and redemption and being welcomed home are dripping with grace. 

And those stories need to be told, over and over, out in the wide world, warts and all…
so that  every person we see and hear and touch and smell in this world,
no matter where we go, knows they are welcome in God’s house, too.


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