2 Samuel 7:1-14a

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2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Background to the Book of 2 Samuel. (What is happening in Judah at this time?)

The story contained in the books of Samuel tells of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is governed. Up to this time, there had been various tribes who on occasions had come together to combat a threat from other nations. In each instance in the book of Judges, we are told how a person was raised by God to lead the tribes on this particular occasion. The Spirit of God settles on the person and even when this is not overtly mentioned in the story we are clear by the way the story progresses that we know God's hand is directly involved in the successful consequences.

1 and 11 Samuel tell us about the immense political and new government structures, which take place around the end of the 10th century BCE. The centre of government during the time of the judges was at Shiloh and by the time we get to the end of 11 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem.

The voices for setting up a monarchy became stronger and it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the forthcoming tussle between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required.

The amount of material, which focuses on Samuel, Saul and David compared with the space given to the remainder of the Kings of Israel, is quite disproportionate. A total of fifty-five chapters are given to these three people and forty-seven chapters to all the remaining kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

We read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine, some encroaching from the south, others from the east and the north. It was clear there was fighting with other tribes and we become familiar with the names of the Edomites and the Moabites. However, the greatest threat became the Philistines who were settled in the west of Palestine along part of the coast. Because they had achieved the art of iron casting, they were able to make wheels and other tools which gave them a superiority in war. The settlement process took at least two hundred years from the time the tribes started to enter into Palestine

One of the ancient traditions tells of the conquest of Canaan by slow stages, with each tribe fighting alone or, at best, in coalition with other tribes. Another tradition tells about the invasion, which attacked first the southern hill country, where Judah and Simeon defeated Adonibezek, took Hebron, Debir, and Hormah, but could not gain control of the coastal plain. The house of Joseph invaded the central highlands and captured Bethel. To the north, the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled among the Canaanites, and, as they grew stronger, gradually forced them into slave labour. To the west, the tribe of Dan was hemmed in against the highlands and could not conquer the plains.

The books of Samuel tell us how first Saul became king and was commissioned to defeat the Philistines that were a very real threat to the survival of Israel. Second, we follow the narrative as it tells of the gradual disintegration of Saul's mental and physical health and the rise of David after his defeat of Goliath. David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
David is portrayed positively as he saves Saul's life and negatively as he betrays his own people and fights for the enemy, although never against Israel itself. The Philistines thought he was doing this, but David was fighting other tribes and killing everyone so there was no one alive to tell the Philistine commander what David was doing. Some of the negative qualities of David's actions and character are omitted in a later telling of his story (Books of Chronicles). It is well that we remember he was a person of mixed motives, great faith, courage, love, greed, need for power, who killed those in opposition to his desires, he was cruel and had fits of anger. His grief at the death of Saul and Jonathon is beautifully portrayed in the lament of 2 Sam 1:19ff.
In the second book of Samuel we read of the rise and fall of David's reign. There was quite a protracted war between Saul's son Ishbaal and David. The outcome was triggered by Ishbaal's stupid accusation against Abner and the consequence was that all the tribes of Israel accepted David as King at Hebron.

Dates of the first 3 Kings of the United Kingdom:x

Saul c.

1020-1004 BCE





Context of 2 Sam 7:1-14a

We are not so surprised at the depth of David’s grief expressed in the lament when we read about his relationship with Jonathon in 1 Sam 18-31 in which they covenant with each other three times.  1 Sam 31 tells of the death of Jonathon, two of his brothers and their father Saul at the hands of the Philistines.  The Philistines cut of their heads and hung their bodies from the walls of a town nearby.  This is a particularly abhorrent practice to the Israelites and some valiant men from a nearby town took the bodies down burned them and buried the remains under a Tamarisk tree at Jabesh.
This was the end of that section which concentrated on the rise of David and Saul’s decline. The new section goes from 2 Sam 2 - 2 Sam 8 often titled Kind David

The death of Saul did not stop the fighting between those who barracked for Saul and those who backed David.  2 Sam 2-5 tells the story of the ongoing fight between the two sides.  Saul’s commander Abner initially supported the sons of Saul and was instrumental in making Ishbaal King of Israel.  A protracted period of war ensued and might have carried on longer except Ishbaal accused Abner of seducing his concubine which resulted in Abner swearing an oath to God and stating he would accomplish for David the throne of Saul.  Very stupid accusation by Isbaal – it lost him the vital support of a very competent commander of his forces.  During this period of war David was busy on the home front by his six wives each giving birth to sons.  When Abner made his proposal that he would bring the house of Saul over to David, David insisted he bring him his wife Michal.  David accepted Abner and appeared to trust him, but when David’s commander, Joab heard of Abner’s transfer he secretly set up a meeting and killed Abner for revenge of his brother’s death.  David lamented the death of Abner.  Two captains of Ishbaal decide to kill him, take his head to David and expected a reward, but David is still consistent and condemns the manner in which Ishbaal is killed.

One of the most brilliant acts by David was immediately after his enthronement as King of all the tribes he marched on Jerusalem and took this amazing city.  Strategically it straddled the geographic line between the tribes of Judah and Israel and it had no prior importance in either of their traditions.  The city of David was its name and here was born eleven more children to David from various wives and concubines.  The children are named but not those who gave birth to them, as was the case in 2 Sam 3.

After the defeat of the Philistines (2 Sam 5:17-25), David turns his attention to the transportation of the ark up to Jerusalem, which is the text for today.  This is followed by David’s suggestion that he build the temple and the story of God speaking to Nathan, which contradicts David’s desire.  2 Sam 8 acts as the closure for this section with a summary which tells us about David’s victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Arameans, Edomites, Ammonnites and Amalekites.  The chapter can stand by itself and has no obvious connections with 2 Sam 7.  The next section 2 Sam 9-20 picks up a number of issues, which occur in the reign of David including the various rebellions against David.

Insights/Message of 2 Sam 7:1-14a

Literary: I think the section ought to be vv.1-17 which is a couple of verses more than in the Lectionary reading.  It is divided vv.1-3 (Introduction), vv.4-16 (oracle), v.17 (editorial conclusion to vv.1-16).Verses 1-3 give a sense of peace and tranquillity.  The promise of rest from all his enemies has come true at least until you get to chapter eight.  At David’s suggestion that he should build something better for the Ark because he, David, is in a house of cedar brings forth an unequivocal assent from Nathan.  He even says that God is with David.  We have not been privileged to know how Nathan can make this sort of statement and indeed it becomes clear later that this is diametrically opposed to what God wants.   However, if we read the prophet Haggai we find the reason David gives is the one the prophet Haggai uses to condemn the people and shame them into building the temple after the exile.  It demonstrates that each story must be taken within its own context.  What is right in one situation is wrong in another.

The message from God to Nathan that night makes clear that David is not the one to build the temple.  God gives a profound theological truth as the reason against David’s desire to build a temple, which is that God has been present with them in all their wanderings “to this day”.  If a tent has been good enough why is a house needed now.  Not once in this time did God ask the question “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”   This is a lovely rhetorical device because one knows the answer - God has never asked it.  Of course there is some contradiction with this statement because the Ark was going to be housed permanently at Shiloh according 1 Sam 3:3.  This conversation would have been a very positive reminder at a later time to the people in exile that God was always with them as he had been in the wilderness so he was with them also in Babylon.

We have no record of Nathan’s call, which is often seen to give authority to the word of the prophet.  However, the oracle begins with usual prophetic saying - “Thus says the Lord” so making the point that the following words come from God.  The people are expected to hear and obey what is said.  In the Hebrew the preposition You which is put occasionally as a separate word is used here to emphasise what Nathan will say to David.  A similar theological purpose is made when the separate first personal pronoun is used in v.8 to emphasise that it was God who did the action.  The actions are described as those, which God has undertaken to bring David to this point.  Again the theological issue emphasised in these verses is that all of David’s success is due to God and not to David’s effort alone.  God has accomplished the following for David: he is prince, God has been present with him always in every situation, God has defeated his enemies, and then what appears as a future action in which God will make David a great name.  The rhetorical question in v.5 (Are you the one to build me a house to live in?) makes use of the emphatic pronouns again to stress the point that God decides when and where things will happen.

We continue with a number of literary emphases on name, place, house and ancestors.  Each of the promises in relation to the above is named as something “I will do …” – God will do these things.  The promise of a great name (v.9) has reminiscence of the promise to Abraham (Gen 12:2), which automatically links David with the father of the nation, and the promises given to Abraham.

Instead of a house that David will build God promises that David’s line will be the house and his throne will be established forever.  From v.1 we have the house mentioned and the play on house, ancestors and temple goes back and forward in this chapter.  David’s house will be his progeny of whom one will build the house of worship, which in turn is called initially the House of David.

The high point of these verses is the promise by God that that his steadfast love (hesed) will never be removed from David as it was removed from Saul.  House, kingdom and throne will be established forever.

Ps 89:20-37 has preserved what appears to be an expanded version of the promise in 2 Sam 7:4-16.  Debates abound about which is original, but we accept that the oracle is in its earliest form in vv.11-16.

However, vv.38-52 express the people’s anger because God has not keep his promise that David’s “throne shall be established forever”.  I make the point that we need to read the whole Psalm and not just the bits, which agree with the main OT reading (it is clear that whoever chooses the lectionary readings omits the nasty and contradictory parts).   Like the people of the exile we know that David’s line and throne disappeared some time during the exile.  We can spiritualise it by saying that Jesus is of the line of David and therefore it has continued, but for the people who went into exile the promise was broken.  It raises the theological question about how one deals with broken promises that have had such a high profile.  The psalmist has not problem speaking of his anger and we would be more helpful to people if we allowed others to express their anger when they feel God has let them down without the need to rationalize that God never breaks his word.

What is demonstrated in this Psalm is both the honesty and clarity in which the psalmist can relate to God and affirm in the start and finish their faith in God no matter what has happened, even when it appears that God has broken promises.

Message: 2 Sam 7 is one of the high points of the author’s theology and there is so much that is compressed into this chapter.

*  God has given rest, which we know is not the case in the following chapters, and yet is stated twice in these verses.  God is the one who brings this state about.
*  God is not contained in one place but is free to travel with his people as he has done from time immemorial
*  although David’s motives are righteous in his desire to build the temple it is not he who will build the temple, but his son
*  God has been with David specifically, as the one who has made it all happen
*  God will provide a place for them and give them rest
*  God will make it happen in the future that David’s offspring will rule forever and David will be a great name
*  the personal relationship is spoken of in terms of father/son, a parent who will chastise when wrong is done but never permanent removal as in the case of Saul
*  God’s steadfast  love (hesed) will never be removed
*  David’s line and his kingdom will last forever

Such a theology gives hope to a people to assure them in several ways.  No matter what has happened to them God will be with them as he was in the time of the wilderness.  The throne of David will continue forever and God will provide rest for the people of Israel.   The oracle finishes as it begins with its authority testified to by the prophet that this is the word of God, and furthermore includes a vision.

If we were in the generations following these promises we could see the truth in them for roughly four hundred years.  However, we are a people of the 21st century and know these promises were broken and David’s throne failed to continue.

To include the Psalm and the theology expressed there in the verses (vv.38-52) after the ones, which simply repeat the promise (vv.20-37) and deal with the context could be helpful to those people who might want to consider that God did break his promise.

God is acknowledged as the creator and Lord of all and within this context God is big enough to cope with the people’s anger and disappointment at what they perceive as broken promises.  It is one of the most pastorally helpful roles of the Old Testament in that it models honesty before God.  However, after all the questions and complaints the final line is able to acknowledge their relationship to the Lord (v.52) is one which is still intact on both sides.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading:Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 - the phrase 'like sheep without a shepherd' is used by Moses addressing Yahweh in Num 27:15. Moses has been told that he will die shortly and he seeks from the Lord assurance that a leader will be appointed in order that the people are not like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus as the new Moses has compassion because the people appear to be without guidance and he then teaches them. The verses (vv.35-52) between this observation of Jesus and the disciples going across the Lake (in fact landing further down the shoreline), show Jesus providing the crowd with bread as God did in the wilderness. Jesus is clearly shown to be in line with the great figures of Moses, David and the servant and as God was present then so is present in this new era. Ephesians 2:11-22 - Paul is claiming that the new humanity in Christ includes both Jews and Gentiles. He uses two texts from Isaiah: Isa 52:7 and Isa 57:19, both of which speak of peace. He has skillfully combined the wording in order to show that those far and near include Gentiles not just a message of hope to the exiles in Babylon. Although the writer of Isa 40-55 wants to include Gentiles who will come to Jerusalem and learn of Yahweh's teaching, they will not be on equal parity with the returned Israelites. This is not the case for Paul.

Resources/Worship for 2 Sam 7:1-14a

Worship: If there is a person who can read well you could have David seated with Nathan addressing him, which could bring oracle it alive. the reading of the Psalm could be quite dramatic with 2 people on opposite sides reading select verses from vv.20-37 and vv.38-52.  Both voices begin together with a joint acclamation eg. vv.1-2 and finish with both voices saying v.52.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the books of Samuel, eg. If you want to know more about the Philistines there are details given of several articles/chapters in books that can help with this topic.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, A.A. 2 Samuel. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1989
Birch, B. The First and second Samuel. NIB. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Brueggemann,W. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox
Press, 1990
Gordon, R.P. 1 & 2 Samuel. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1984
Gunn, D.M. The Story of King David. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978
Hertzberg, H.W. 1 & 11 Samuel. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964.
Klein, R. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco., Texas: Word Books, 1983.
Mauchline, J. 1 and 2 Samuel. NCB. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1971.
Schniedewind,W.M. Society and the Promise to David: The Reception History of 2
Samuel 7:1-17. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: http://nat.uca.org.au/TD/worship/Orders_of_Service/index.html