He swore an oath to the Lord,
he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“I will not enter my house
or go to my bed,
I will allow no sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
till I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
We heard it in Ephrathah,
we came upon it in the fields of Jaar:
“Let us go to his dwelling place,
let us worship at his footstool, saying,
‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
May your priests be clothed with your righteousness;
may your faithful people sing for joy.’”
For the sake of your servant David,
do not reject your anointed one.
The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit
on your throne for ever and ever.”
For the Lord has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
“This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.
I will bless her with abundant provisions;
her poor I will satisfy with food.
I will clothe her priests with salvation,
and her faithful people will ever sing for joy.
“Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown.”
Over the past couple of months we have been working our way through the Psalms of Ascents. These psalms were probably used by ancient worshipers as they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the temple to celebrate special religious festivals. These songs and prayers have been part of the people of God’s worship and spiritual formation for a really, really, long time.
Some of the psalms we have looked at have given us just enough detail to spark our imaginations and memory – they talk about God’s action on behalf of his people and invite us to remember all the ways God has helped Israel and they invite us to think of our own lives and experiences and to remember the ways God has been present and active in our lives.
Today’s psalm, Psalm 132, is more specific. It invites us to remember events and people from Israel’s history …the ark of the covenant … the temple … the promises God made to David and his family – some bible scholars call this a “poetic compression of events.”
It reminds us of the time David, ancient Israel’s most beloved king, decided he needed to build God a temple (up until that point God’s people used a very fancy tent as a symbol and reminder of God’s presence with them).
The psalm points us back to 2 Samuel chapters 5 through 7.
David had been anointed king of all of Israel … he had united Israel’s 12 tribes into one kingdom. David conquered Jerusalem, a mountain town many people thought was unconquerable, and made it the capital of his kingdom. He brought the Ark of the Covenant, ancient Israel’s symbol of God’s presence with them, to Jerusalem, making the city the political and religious center of his kingdom.
(Here is how 2 Samuel 7 remember’s David’s desire to build a temple:)
7.1 After [king David] 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.”
David had done so much – he had consolidated power in Israel … he had brought unity … established a capital city … he was incredibly successful … his people loved him … he had the power and resources he needed to build a temple that would honor and celebrate God. It seemed like a logical next step. The prophet Nathan gave him the go-ahead. Surely all he had to do now was pull permits, round-up building supplies, and gather the labor … soon there would be a temple in Jerusalem … but that isn’t how the story goes.
4 … 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 … 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 …
17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.
Nathan couldn’t have been all that enthusiastic about delivering this message.
“Yeah, David, you remember how I gave you that prophetic seal of approval yesterday for your Jerusalem temple project? Well, something happened last night … the big guy gave me a message. So, you are not the one God wants to build the temple. God said it would be a perfect project for your son. God said he will build you a house … God will make you a dynasty … your kingdom will be established forever … it’s just that you are not the one who will build that temple.
How would King David respond to Nathan’s message?
If I was Nathan, I would have been imaging so many angry and ticked off ways the king could have responded … I’m curious if David’s response surprised Nathan?
18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!
20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant … 25 “And now, Lord God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever.
Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.
Scripture claims David was a man after God’s heart … maybe this picture of David’s willingness to set aside his plans and embrace God’s direction helps shape that claim. David showed obedience here … it is hard to imagine anyone telling David no … but here God says no and David changes gears. God didn’t need David to build the ark a permanent home … God had something else in mind. From what we know about the ark this makes sense. The ark wasn’t like a genie that people could manipulate to get their desires or to inflict their will on others … God doesn’t seem to have much patience for that, and if we follow the ark’s story, the ark, Israel’s symbol of God’s presence with them, seems to have a mind of its own … God won’t be manipulated or exploited. David obeyed God’s instructions … even though it meant doing something very different from he had originally planned to do.
This wasn’t a resigned, bitter, sulky, guilt motivated, anxious or annoyed obedience … David’s prayer is full of humility, gratitude, and awe … David’s obedience flows from his relationship with God.
Obedience is a driving force for Christian life.
As Jesus’ disciples we are people who are seeking to grow in obedience to Jesus.
We are people who are trying to live our lives in way that honor and point toward Jesus.
We are people who are seeking to be obedient to Christ’s command to love others as we have been loved by Christ.
We are people who are seeking for God’s will to be done in our lives … we are people who are longing for God’s heart and desires to shape us. Our obedience is shaped by gratitude.
Sometimes, as we seek to put God first, God tells us not now, or even no. We seek through our spiritual lives, through prayer … through studying the bible … through spiritual practices to deepen our relationship with God … to know God and hear God.
And we hope to grow as people who say yes to God.
One of the resources God gives us for growing in obedience is the Christian community. The church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ can be like Nathans to us … our church can help us to put God’s calling first … our church can help, encourage us, remind us, and support us as we seek in our words and actions to say yes to Christ’s greatest commandment to love God and to love neighbors and to live in grateful and joyful obedience.