David gives us some of our best children’s stories: the shepherd boy who used his slingshot to kill a lion and a bear when they attacked his flock; the pure hearted youth singing songs of praise and worship with his harp; the bold young man facing down a giant and taking him out with a single stone shot from his sling.
But David isn’t a children’s book character. As one of the pivotal figures of Israel, he is writ large in 1 and 2 Samuel and in the books of the Chronicles – he is complex and ambiguous. David is a legendary figure for Israel and the stories of his life are larger than life.
Walter Brueggemann says this little story is central to the Jewish texts because David is the pivot of Jewish history. At first they were “no people” and then they were a wandering, homeless people and then they were a loosely knit tribal people. But it is in David that a new vision emerges: Israel becomes a nation, a united kingdom with a king and a city and a land. It is with David that Israel finds respect among the nations and rest from their enemies. These were, indeed, the “golden years” that came together during the David years.
Once you start unpacking the little story in 2 Samuel 7, it’s surprising how many layers there are.
David lives in a “house of cedar” (a palace) and proposes to build for YHWH a “house” (a temple). Temple building is one of the things kings do; yes, surely to honor God but maybe also to try to control God, to use God to legitimate the king’s power.
And then Nathan the prophet receives an oracle from the Lord of hosts.
Thus says the Lord…. I have not asked for a house. I do not want a temple. I am God on the move, moving about among all the people of Israel.
I have tabernacled among you wherever you have gone.
I will not be confined in your box, no matter how beautiful it may be.
I will not be limited by geography or architecture or politics.
I am sovereign. I am free. I AM who I AM.
I am the One who took you from the pasture and made you to be a prince over my people Israel.
Do you think YOU can build ME a house? NO!
I AM the One who will build YOU a house, make YOU a dynasty, secure your kingdom forever.
AND I will not be One who will ever take my steadfast love away.
Thus says the Lord …
It’s a fascinating reversal. Instead of David building a temple that furthers his empire building, the LORD God promises to build David and his descendants into a house, a dwelling, a dynasty that will be forever. The house of David changed the course of Israel’s history. David is the pivot.
Second Layer: But there’s another reason why this text is so important to our Jewish cousins. Some 400 years after David, the last king of David’s line was executed by the Babylonians and many of the people of Israel were marched across the Fertile Crescent as captives and plunder. Jerusalem was leveled, the Temple destroyed. Once again they had no home, no land, no center. In this crisis, there was a very real possibility that they would once again become “no people.”
It was during this time of Exile that much of the stories and texts of our Old Testament were collected and compiled and edited into what eventually became Scripture. It was during this time of Exile that the biblical writers took the ancient stories that had been such an important part of their oral history and reflected on their meaning for a new time and a vastly changed circumstance. It was during the time of Exile that Israel began to hope in God’s Messiah, a son of David, to come and liberate them once again.
Even though the dynasty of David would never again look like it did in their golden years, people of faith and flexibility continued to dig into hope, hold on to faith, stand on the promises.
It was this perspective of Exile that created the hope for a messianic king but it was the perspective of the gospels that grounded that hope in Jesus – the One who is called “the Christ – the Messiah.”
Then thirdly, in the theological reflections of the early Christians: Jesus is the one whom God took from a stable, raised up from a cross and made to be lord and savior of God’s people in the kingdom of God.
Jesus is the one of whom the angel in Luke said: “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David…and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
In the gospels, God is understood to be doing a brand new thing in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David.
It is in Jesus that hope is embodied and the promises of a faithful God are enfleshed.
First, the house of David for a newly formed nation; and then in Exile, the line of David that would become a new thing in messiah; and then in the gospels. The Son of David whose kingdom is not marked by a scepter and a sword but rather revealed in broken bread, poured out wine and an old rugged cross.
And now one more perspective, the fourth layer.
There’s a little story in the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume written to continue the story of his gospel. In Acts, the Spirit of the Risen Christ keeps showing up in all kinds of unexpected places, intersecting the lives of all kinds of unlikely people (just as the earthly Jesus always seemed to do.)
A lame beggar, a eunuch from Ethiopia, a demon possessed slave girl, a Roman jailer.
And then there was the occupying soldier, the disdained Gentile: Cornelius.
In the story in Acts 8, the surprising Spirit of the Risen Christ made it very clear to Peter and the other Jews that Cornelius WAS wanted and invited by God and he was to be included with God’s people.
Peter was amazed. He stood there watching but he could hardly believe it. Gentiles? Fully included in the church? Anointed with Pentecost Spirit? Gentiles (of all people) counted among the baptized believers? What was God up to?
Not long after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, church leaders decided they needed to get together and talk about this unexpected new thing. Maybe this was the precursor of our denominational assemblies – church folks getting together and discussing, discerning, deciding what it means, what it looks like to be church in a new time and a vastly changed circumstance.
Everyone got to speak. Everyone got to listen.
And then James summarized the sense of the assembly. He cites the prophets envisioning a new future for the people of God.
After this I will return, (says the Lord)
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it,
and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.
There were plenty of other Scriptures that James and this early assembly knew of that clearly affirmed the exclusion of the Gentiles. But now – because of their experience with Jesus the Christ; now because of the wisdom and boldness brought to them by the Spirit of the Risen Christ – James and the new theologians could see within their own Scriptures hints of God’s ancient and ongoing work to enlarge God’s people Israel.
Once again, faithful people of God reflected on Scripture’s meaning for a new time and a vastly changed circumstance. And in so doing, they were able to recognize the good news that God has been all about including all kinds of unlikely people for a long, long time.
James and the early church recognized God’s work among them here and now, in their time and place. And they said: Yes!
The house of David, the legacy of David, the people of God, the community of belonging doesn’t look like it used to look – and that is exactly God’s plan. This is God’s doing. We don’t build God a house; God is building US into a house, a home, a people, a family.
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be stunning, startling. I find myself asking along with David long ago: “Who are we, oh God, that you have brought us this far?!” What is this people, oh God, that you have made your dwelling among us?! Who are we that you have made US to become a people where all can find a home, can become a family?
It is grace, pure and simple.
That God would dwell among us broken people in order to accomplish unity and reconciliation – is grace.
When we were children, we read the stories of David like children’s stories. But now when we let these sacred stories intersect our own stories, we recognize how The Story, God’s Story is rich with complexity and ambiguity. Now we can see how God’s Story has always been moving, growing, becoming more than we ever imagined.
We are not children anymore. And yet – of course – we are. We are all God’s children, growing together in God’s family, living together in God’s household, included in God’s heritage, continuing the legacy of God’s amazing grace.
And in God’s story all are welcome.
In The Story, “all means all.”
Amazigh shepherd playing the flute mountains of the High Atlas, Morocco Photo of Michel Teuler