Free to Move from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
Sermon on II Samuel 7. It was delivered at the Presbyterian Church of Lowell on 7/26/2015.
“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands, as the prophet says,
49’Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build
for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
50Did not my hand make all these things?’”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
2 Samuel 7:4-17
4But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I 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. 7Wherever 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?”
8Now 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; 9and 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. 10And 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, 11from 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.
12When 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 the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I 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. 15But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
In the chapters leading up to 2nd Samuel 7, David takes his place as king, establishes his capital in Jerusalem, and brings the ark of the covenant into the royal city with joy and dancing. David's enemies are defeated, God's people are prosperous, and for the moment everything seems right with the world.
So David looks around his grand palace, and announces that it’s time for God to have a house too. So he goes to the prophet Nathan, and essentially asks for a building permit. Nathan thinks it’s a good idea, so he gives his king the go-ahead.
That evening, the LORD pulls Nathan aside for a little chat: “…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?”
A house gives stability, comfort, and shows wealth, power, and permanence. But it also comes with obligations and upkeep and can hold its owners in place, as anyone who’s waited hours for a repair person can attest.
A tent, on the other hand, is less secure. It's vulnerable to weather and you can't exactly lock a tent. It does, however, frees you to move. One can set up and tear down a tent in as many different places as needed. God remains in a tent because he’s not done growing his people. God will not be kept out of the fields where his people work and live just to stay closed up in a royal temple. God’s not interested in a house at this point. “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?’” In the tent, God is free to move about among all the people of Israel, not just the wealthy and powerful who can afford to visit a temple in the capital.
The LORD is free to move, and is not going to let the temple happen until God is ready for it to happen. But his “no” to the building project is not a “no” to his servant David. God also reminds David that the LORD is with him, and has been his whole life. “Thus say 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.” As King, ”David is the creation of [the LORD's] powerful, relentless graciousness. That is true in the past; it will be true in the future.” God is going to hold on to David and build him up.
Moreover, God is building up all of his people. This is not a “rising tide lifts all ships” kind of wisdom, this is a special relationship between God’s people and the one who is free to move about among all the people. As God moves about, he "will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them.”
Then God chooses to move in a different way. He commits not only to his people Israel and to his servant David, but also to those who come after. “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 the throne of his kingdom forever.” God is declaring a new covenant with David and his house, one that is not dependent of human ability, but is dependent on the free gift of God’s steadfast love. This is a new thing.
When I was in high school, one of my teachers was known for moving around the room while he lectured. His lectures were brilliant and compelling. He wandered around the room sharing information and interpreting it in a way that kept the classes attention, which is no small feat for a room full of sleepy eleventh graders. I picked up a good bit of my presenting style from watching him. Especially, in his words, “not being a potted plant.” The way he moved around the room enhanced his energetic lectures, and had the bonus side effect of scanning the room for anyone who wasn’t on task.
So throughout high school and college, when I gave a presentation, I made sure that I wasn’t a potted plant either, that I could wander back and forth across the room, glancing at an outline on the lectern but not being bound by it.
Then, my senior year at Presbyterian College, I took a Southern Literature course. The professor was a man name Dean Thompson, and he’s one of the kindest, most gracious people I’ve met. He was also deaf. If you ever hear me talk about playing something by "hearing aid" instead of by ear, I picked that up from him.
One day, I was giving a presentation in his class, wandering back and forth, as was my custom, when he caught my eye, and made a very clear planting motion. He needed me to stay in one spot as I presented because he could not read my lips while I was moving around the room. The technique that was effective in many contexts was unhelpful in others.
In 2nd Samuel 7, God announces to Nathan, to David, to the people Israel, and to the world, that he is not a potted plant. However, God is also announcing that things are going to be different going forward. David wanted to make things different by building a temple. "In principle a temple lives in tension with the ark. Whereas the ark articulations God's freedom and mobility, the temple removes the danger and possibility that God might depart.” God says “no” to the temple, but affirms David both as a king and as a servant of God. A human-built temple will not bind God’s freedom to move, but God makes a covenantal promise to remain, and to love those whom he has chosen forever.
God will be with David and his family and will not abandon them as he had Saul. Saul’s kingship had caught the bad end of God’s “if.” As in, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall my treasured possession out of all the nations.” Saul had wandered off away from the covenant. But God’s covenant with David does not have an “if.” It’s more promise than contract. “This core statement of royal faith is a bold departure from the conditional character of the Mosaic 'if'... Therefore, interpretation must struggle with the tension of 'if' and 'nevertheless' that is present in the Bible, in our own lives, and in the very heart of God.” The LORD tells Nathan, and therefore David, that God will not be locked away from moving around with his people, but that he will also not leave the house of David. If God so desires, God is free to move wherever, and among whomever, he chooses. He has chosen, nevertheless, to plant his steadfast love with the house of David.
We see the blending of God’s freedom to move and the dependability of God’s steadfast love most clearly in Christ. In Jesus Christ, we have a king from the house of David who "has no place to lay his head." He is free to move throughout Judea and among all of God’s people. Even when we tried to bind him in death, Christ did not stay entombed. He broke through the power of sin and death and rules from God's right hand. He is of the house and lineage of David, and he is God-with-us. In the tents and tabernacles and temples, in the triumphs and troubles and travels, God is with us. God is free to move among his people, and neither our sins, nor David's failings, not Solomon's arrogance, nor the armies of Babylon, will remove us from God's steadfast love. Seems like I read somewhere that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
This love is assured not out of our deserving, but as a free gift of God's sovereign love. God can do what he wants, even rescuing slaves and making them a great nation. God can do what he wants, including making a shepherd into a king. God can do what he wants, even saying "no" to a king. God can do what he wants, including stand behind the imperfect King David. God can do what he wants, even becoming a human being for the sake of our redemption. God can do what he wants, and that includes loving us beyond all merit. God can do what he wants, and I believe that includes doing amazing things through this church.
Those amazing things God is already doing through us free us to move through this world and with joy, with hope, and with love. God is building the kingdom through us, in tents and tabernacles and in testimony and truth. God is free to move, and bound by the steadfast love we have in Christ Jesus, we are free to follow.