Opening The Old Testament
An Eternal House for David: Reflections on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Thus, no great houses of cedar, please, not to mention no temples of stone. Instead, and here we come to the central bit, "Therefore YHWH declares to you that YHWH will make you a house" (v. 11). David will not make houses for YHWH; YHWH will make David himself a house. And what that means is made clear in the next two verses. "When your days are fulfilled, and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your seed after you who will come forth from your body and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father for him, and he will be a son for me" (vv. 12-14a).
With these verses the clear propaganda purpose of this text appears. After the death of David, who has been designated as the progenitor of a "house," his "seed" (a singular noun in Hebrew but with an obvious plural intent) will appear. And it is that seed who will build YHWH a house; that seed is plainly Solomon, the temple builder who followed his father David, along with queen mother Bathsheba, to the throne. It is that throne that will exist forever. It hardly takes a very bright person to guess who wrote this piece: a Solomonic scribe has been at work here to legitimate the throne of David and his direct ancestors after him. And so it happened. A direct descendant of David sat on the Judean throne continuously (save for the short interregnum of the terrible queen Athaliah) right up to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. Hence, this text established the idea of the eternal Davidic dynasty.
But for Christians much more occurred. Because the Gospels regularly connected Jesus with the house of David (see especially those accounts of Palm/Passion Sunday), the early Christians were convinced that the eternal promise to David's throne included an eternal promise for Jesus' kingship over all. Hence, vastly important theological ideas poured from this text both for Judaism and for Christianity.
That is the history of the text. But it is interesting that the lectionary stops at verse 14a. Listen to the rest of verse 14. "When he commits iniquity, I will strike him with a human rod, with mortal blows." Well, that is a promise of a different sort! Even in this obvious piece of pure propaganda for the house of David and his son Solomon, the author cannot fail to warn this would-be eternal kingdom that God remains vigilant and will not be mocked, no matter how powerful these would-be eternal kings fancy themselves to be. In short, this propaganda becomes more than propaganda. There is never in the sight of this God carte blanche for any kings, even if they claim a throne promised by God to be an eternal one.
Once again, as the Bible regularly does, we are warned not to get too comfortable with our gifts and privileges from God. Nowhere in the Scripture is one chosen by God for ease and comfort; responsibility for the world comes with God's choice. Simplistic readers, beware! Even here in 2 Samuel 7, "things are seldom what they seem." You have been warned!
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.