Tag: Kingdom of God

A House for the Lord – A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9B (2 Samuel 7)

A House for the Lord – A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9B (2 Samuel 7)

2 Samuel7:1-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 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.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

 

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 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. 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?” 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; 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.

 

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                As we have moved through 2 Samuel, we have seen David consolidate power. He had mourned over Saul, but willingly took control of the nation, though that took time. Remember he reigned over Judah for seven years at Hebron, before making Jerusalem his capital. As we arrive at chapter 7, David has reached the peak of power. Now, he has time to ponder the future. He looks around, sees he has a palace made of cedar, but the Ark still resides in a tent.  It’s time to build something more permanent, something grander. He confesses his desire to build a home for God to the prophet Nathan, who initially gives the okay. But, as we will see as we read further, God has other ideas.
                Nathan thought that David was on to something. Now that the kingdom of Israel had stabilized under David’s leadership, with a permanent capital, allowing David to build a nice palace out of cedar, surely it was time for God to settle down and have a permanent domain. Israel’s days of being a nomadic people seemed to be over. Later, after Nathan returned home, God spoke to him and suggested that Nathan had been a little hasty in agreeing to David’s plans.
                The message God sent to David through Nathan wasn’t quite a rebuke, but a reminder that God was not bound by a particular place. God had been moving with the people, living in tents, since Israel left Egypt. In fact, Yahweh had never had a permanent shrine (God apparently forgot about the shrine at Shiloh, where Eli presided, and Samuel apprenticed). In this word given to David through Nathan, Yahweh wanted David to know that no request for a permanent home had ever been made by God. Yahweh was perfectly happy, living in the Tent, following the people wherever they went. In other words, God isn’t tied to a particular place. David’s successor might build a Temple, but the Temple is of less importance here. Instead, we have the establishment of a new covenant relationship. God promises to make David a house for God by establishing forever David’s lineage.
                This chapter marks an important sea change in the Deuteronomic history of Israel. Here we have the establishment of a Davidic theology, that will stand alongside the covenant theology that has provided a foundation for Israel’s life. Remember that earlier in 1 Samuel, God gave in to Israel’s demand for a king. Now, the promise is given to David that his lineage will go on forever. God doesn’t need a Temple to dwell in, if God is going to dwell within David and his line.
                The lectionary creators end the passage in verse 14, where God promises to be the father to David’s successor, and he will be a son to God. That has a certain messianic feel. For Christians Jesus is the son, and God is the father. That might be the reason why we stop here, but the passage goes on to say that God might punish David’s successor, but unlike God dealt with Saul, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (vs. 16).  If, as we suppose, the final form of this book was written during the exile, this promise would provide important encouragement to a people who lived without Temple and king. If God is faithful to God’s promises, then the nation will continue. There will be a lasting legacy built upon the promise made to David. A king will arise. Now, moving forward no Davidic king would emerge. After the exile ended, a Temple was built, but no Davidic king arose. This, of course, gave room for messianic theologies, including the one that Jesus took hold of, to emerge.
                For Christians reading this passage, which appears as well in the season of Advent (2 Sam. 1-11, 16 is designated for Advent 4B), this passage undergirds the promise of incarnation. It supports Mary’s song, where she declares that “He will be made great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31-33). Bruce Birch writes of this promise, “To read God’s enduring promise to David in this text today is to be reminded of the roots and challenge of our own messianic hope. To trust in God’s promise to David and to claim Jesus has having been born into the line of that promise is to understand God’s work as being endlessly engaged with the issues of justice and power that must be faced to establish God’s kingdom in every age. In the light of this biblical promise, the church must understand its own faith as being endlessly engaged with these same realities” [Bruce Birch, “1 & 2 Samuel,” NIB, 2:1259-12-60].
                We can read this passage with disinterest, seeing it as little more than annals of the history of a long dead kingdom, or we can read it as a promise of incarnation. God needs no building to achieve God’s promises, because God is present in the line of David, which for Christians leads to Jesus, the Christ (messiah).  As Joni Sanken notes, regarding the church, “as Christ’s body here and now, is called to be a dwelling place for God and to acknowledge all God’s people. Our congregations must work to be spaces where everyone can be ‘someone’ and all can feel at home—even those whom society renders invisible” [Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, p. 333]. In other words, the messianic movement is a continuation (not a replacement) of the promise made to David, that God would be with David forever.

Picture attribution: Leighton of Stretton, Frederic Leighton, Baron, 1830-1896. David, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55615 [retrieved July 16, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frederick_Leighton_-_David.jpg.

                 10646937_10204043191333252_4540780665023444969_n Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

 

So, you want a King! – Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 3B

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 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.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 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. 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. 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.”
10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 

  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.”  

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                The prophetic call came to Samuel when he was a child. It was during the priesthood of Eli, and according to the narrative, Eli was old, ineffective, and his sons were untrustworthy (1 Samuel 3). Now, we move decades into the future. Samuel is now the one who is old. He’s still considered wise and trustworthy, but the same cannot be said for his sons.  Facing the prospect of the instability of an unknown future, to people decide it’s time for a change in political systems. What existed was the leadership of Judges, those charismatic leaders who emerged during times of trouble to lead the people. Samuel is but the most recent of these figures. That system which waits for God to provide a leader at the right time didn’t provide the stability that the people craved. The world around them was dangerous. They felt the need for a stronger leader; a military leader who could defend them and their lands against the encroachments of neighboring peoples. Since their neighbors had kings, why couldn’t they have a king? After all, the neighbors seemed to be in a better position militarily than was true for them. Why get beat up, when you could have a king to fight your battles for you.
The request made of Samuel, that he provide them with a king, didn’t sit well with him. Perhaps there was a bit of sour grapes here, but he felt the need to bring his concerns to God. He seems to feel as if his leadership was being rejected, but then maybe he should have seen it coming. After all, his predecessor was rejected because own sons weren’t prepared to lead the nation. The same seems to be true of Samuel. The question raised here, however, concerns whether monarchy is the course of action? More specifically, what does this request say about the people’s view of the covenant relationship that Yahweh had established with them?
                When Samuel takes his concerns to God, Yahweh tells Samuel that the people aren’t really rejecting Samuel as their leader, what they’re rejecting is God’s kingship. This doesn’t mean they were opting for a separation of church and state. The ancient peoples didn’t separate secular from sacred. Kingship was just as sacred as priesthood. Often these ancient monarchs were understood to have their own sense of divinity. Asking for a king could be seen as a transfer of loyalty from one God to another, with the king being a rival deity. Thus, by rejecting Samuel, the people were perhaps looking for a new deity. While Samuel isn’t happy, nor apparently God either, God tells Samuel to do as the people request. They want a king, then give them a king. However, let them know what this means. Warn them and witness against them. They think this will make things better, but it’s not true. The people will essentially place themselves in a position of slavery, something that Yahweh had rescued them from. In other words, by asking for a king, they were asking for Pharaoh.
                God sends Samuel to the people with a lengthy warning. It is clear that the point of having a king is to have a military form of government. Watch out, Samuel informs the people. The king will build a standing army by drafting your young men to drive the king’s chariots and horses. There will be commanders of troops established. Not only will there be soldiers in the service of the king, but the king will need people to tend his fields and make instruments of war. Not only will the king require the services of the young men, but the women as well who will serve as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. As Mel Brooks’ character declares in History of the World Part One, “it’s good to be the king.” You can also hear echoes of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning about the “military industrial complex.” As we know, the “Defense” budget is the largest component of our nation’s governmental expenditures.
                Turning back to 1 Samuel, it is good to remember that it was written after the Exile. It was written from the perspective of a people who had experienced monarchy. While some of the kings were good, like Hezekiah and Josiah, but most were not wise or good. While we often think of Solomon as a great and wise king, it’s good to remember that the kingdom broke into two parts after his death, in large part due to the excesses of his rule. Perhaps he was not as wise as has been advertised. Stephen Chapman makes this point:

Here again it is likely that Samuel’s speech reflects Israel’s experience in later history. Not only were the excesses described by Samuel typical of subsequent Israelite kings, the same royal offenses were later viewed as responsible for the eventual downfall of both the monarchy and the Israelite nation. After the Exile, even after they had returned to their land, the Israelites continued to perceive themselves as “slaves” (Ezra 9:8-9; Neh. 9:36), a situation attributed to the errant leadership of the kings and other leaders within pre-exilic, society: “Even when they were in their own kingdom . . . they did not serve you” (Neh. 9:34-35). [Stephen Chapman, 1Samuel as Christian Scripture, 99].

The message to the returning Exiles is simple. Having a king isn’t all that it was cracked up to be. In exchange for protection you gave up your freedom. Was it worth it?
                Ultimately, as Chapman notes, Scripture doesn’t demonize monarchy, but it does point out the challenges. There are always trade offs when it comes to government. The charismatic leadership of the period of the Judges was not without its challenges. At least with the monarchy there was a sense of stability. Yet, there is also the reminder that this arrangement is not God’s best. It is simply the reality we live with.
                Living as we do in a time of political instability in the United States and elsewhere; at a time when authoritarianism is raising its head in our midst, what lesson do we glean? There are those in our midst—religious folk—who have put their hopes in the hands of a man who has demonstrated few qualities one would deem Christian. In the past, a person like the current President would have been rejected by those who now hail him as their protector. As we consider this passage, what might 1 Samuel tell us about putting our hopes in authoritarian leaders?
                A passage like this could serve as a reminder that as the people of God we are called upon to put our allegiance not in a human leader, whether monarch or president, but in God. The request for a king will lead to the call of Saul, a man who looks good on the outside, but who ultimately fails to fulfill his potential. While not demonizing the monarchy, or any governmental system, the passage does remind us that privilege often comes with office, and that privilege often comes at a cost, even in a democracy. Nonetheless, after Samuel bears witness to the dangers of monarchy, the people remain unswayed. They’re quite clear as to what they want, and they let Samuel what it is they want: “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 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.” People want to get on with their lives. They want a ruler to tell them what to do and then go out and fight their battles. It would seem to me that little has changed over the millennia.
                As we consider this reading, what might it say to us about our current situation and the realm of God. What does it say about allegiance?

10646937_10204043191333252_4540780665023444969_nRobert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey