“The Conversation” Arnold Lakhovsky (1935)
- I apologize, there was a problem with the recorder this week.
Scripture Reading • Psalm 89.1-8 (NIV)
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations.’”
The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
We have been reading through 1 and 2 Samuel and watching David’s rise to power. David’s story is unlikely … he was an underdog … a nobody, who became the center of power in ancient Israel.
It has been a long and difficult stretch, but things are finally settling down for King David.
2 Samuel 7 tells us:
7.1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
It sounds reasonable.
David has experienced success and wants to pay it forward.
He has a beautiful house and the ark of the covenant, this symbol that represented God’s presence with Israel is sitting in a tent. It doesn’t seem fair. David tells the prophet Nathan his idea, and Nathan gives the project a green light. “Go for it. Build it. The Lord is with you.”
Prophets were God’s spokespeople. They were supposed to deliver God’s word to God’s people. Often their messages were hard to hear. Some of Israel’s kings cringed when they saw the prophet coming … prophets had a knack for raining on parades. Here, Nathan seems more agreeable to the king … maybe too agreeable?
That night something changed Nathan’s mind.
Have you ever said yes too soon?
Maybe you agreed to something and later realized there was no way it could work? Those conversations can be so hard. Telling someone things have changed, or I made a mistake and the plans we made just won’t work … those are some of my least favorite conversations. But for me, they are usually pretty low stakes … I can’t imagine Nathan would be all that eager to tell King David the temple plan wasn’t going to work out.
7.4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.
The temple plan was a no go, at least for David.
The Hebrew word for “house” shows up something like 15 times in this chapter and is used to point toward a number of ideas. Home. Palace. Temple. Family. Dynasty. God uses the full range of meanings in this message to David. The core message is that David is not the one who will build God a house (in the sense of a temple), God is going to build David a house (in the sense of a dynasty).
Like all of the passages we have been looking at from 1 and 2 Samuel, there are a lot of layers to this story.
Politically, David is recognized as the king who will establish a dynasty. The story is pretty much finished with Saul and his family. David has established a political capital, a religious capital, and now his family will hold power in Israel for a long time.
On another layer, we see some of the seeds that plant the hope for a Messiah … when ancient Israel would get into a bad place, like when they were in exile, after their nation had been defeated, their most important things had been destroyed, and people had been drug far away from their land, they held on to this hope that a king from the line of David would come to rescue them and make things right. As Christians, our understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, the one God has sent to the world to save us and set things right, has its roots deep in this promise God made to his people about a king from the family of David. Some people suggest that the messianic claims in this passage make it one of the most important Old Testament passages there is for Christians.
Another layer, the one that most caught my attention this week, is the way David’s relationship with God seems to change as we follow his story.
Before this, David had been so prayerful. He wouldn’t do much without first “inquiring of God.” But here, now that he is powerful and successful, it seems like David is following his whims more than he is seeking out God’s guidance and direction. It also seems like Nathan is missing an essential part of his job as a prophet … Nathan seems more like an accomplice, than God’s spokesperson.
There are these breakdowns here … David doesn’t seem to be seeking out God’s guidance … the prophet, the one who’s job is to seek out God’s word and communicate God’s message, doesn’t bother to ask what God thinks before he attempts to speak for God.
(If you wanted to build a house for someone, would’t it be a good idea to ask if that might be something they wanted before making plans for them?)
This isn’t a total breakdown though.
God encounters Nathan and sends word to David through him.
The temple isn’t part of the plan for David.
There are other plans for the temple and there is a promise to David and his family.
If you continue reading 2 Samuel 7, you will see not building the temple doesn’t upset David as much as we might imagine. David responds to God with a prayer, offering thanks for God’s faithfulness and for the promise that his dynasty will be established forever in God’s sight.
David and Nathan move closer to right relationships with God and with each other.
We see a picture of the prophet and king relationship at its best – listening to each other … discerning and turning toward God together. After a little readjustment, the prophet/king relationship works, but if you have read much of the bible, you know that is not always the case.
Here, we see that it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have people around who disagree with you. When we are pursuing God and faithfulness, it can actually be helpful.
In his commentary on this passage, John Goldingay, one of my favorite Old Testament teachers, points this out. He writes:
The best-known prophets, people such as Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, are pretty independent of the kings they are involved with, and that is a major reason for their existence. They are there to stand up to the king.
Like other Middle Eastern societies, however, Israel also had prophets who were on the king’s staff, to provide him with the guidance he needs. The trouble is, once you are on the payroll, it’s very hard to bite the hand that feeds you, especially when it may not merely bite you back but order your execution. You get sucked into the institution. This is why it is virtually impossible for a pastor to be a prophet (my students hate me for telling them that, too). Pastors therefore have to cultivate prophets who will stand up to them, and so do kings. I have just listened to an inaugural lecture by one of my colleagues in which he commented on how important it is to see people who disagree with you as a gift rather than a nuisance or threat. They are the people who help you find out that you are wrong. We will discover that Nathan developed that capacity, but on his first appearance he is just the king’s yes-man. He takes God’s name in vain, assuring David that God is with him without asking whether this is so (John Goldingay, 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone, pp. 133-134).
That is a challenging question – “do you see people who disagree with you as a gift rather than a nuisance or threat?”
So often we feel threatened by disagreement and don’t see it as anything like a gift. Maybe we avoid people who disagree with us … maybe we tune them out … maybe we take every chance we can to discredit them. Here, with Nathan and David, disagreement (and openness) get them on the right tack … they move closer to God and God’s intentions for them.
This all seems to take a lot of courage and grace.
Speaking up … listening … changing directions … admitting I am wrong … I don’t think that could happen without courage and grace …
As the church, as Christ’s disciples who are seeking to live faithfully, do we have that kind of courage and grace built into our community? Can we be Nathan’s? Can we be David’s? Can we listen, learn, and grow together, can we encourage each other toward God and God’s desires for our lives and for our world? Can we see disagreements as gifts, as holy conversations that can actually help us grow as disciples?