Opening The Old Testament
Strange Relations: Advent Reflections on 2 Samuel 7
Ironically, the creators of the lectionary have not helped us to make this important connection, because they have left out of the reading some very important words that we need to hear, words of important warning in the midst of what seems to be simple propaganda. In 2 Samuel 7:14, omitted by the lectionary collectors, YHWH urges Nathan, the prophet, to announce to David concerning his son, clearly Solomon who will himself build YHWH the Jerusalem temple, "when he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings." This appears to mean that Solomon's life will be no bed of roses! The text clearly says "when he commits iniquity," not "if he does so." The results of Solomon's iniquity will be assaults from YHWH by means of human antagonists. One need only read 1 Kings 2:10-46 to see the terrible and bloody struggle Solomon wages to secure the kingship for himself after David's death. There is iniquity aplenty in those lines, and Solomon's accession is far from unambiguous. So again, just as his father before him, Solomon is still a man, weak and murderous; the eternal line of David is strewn with kings all too human.
And all this talk is reminiscent of Matthew's marvelous first chapter genealogy of Jesus, a most peculiar list of ancestors indeed. Not only are there women in the list, an odd enough thing on its own, but just have a gander at the women! There is Tamar of Genesis 38 who disguised herself as a prostitute in order to trick the reluctant Judah to do his levirate duty; there is Rahab the prostitute of Jericho (Josh. 5), whose profession (as we are often reminded, "the world's oldest") hides the goings and comings of many men, among whom are some Israelite spies; there is Ruth, the foreign woman of Moab who risked life and reputation to coerce Boaz into a marriage that would ensure life for her mother-in-law, Naomi, and final rest for herself in a strange land; there is Bathsheba (remember her?) who slept with the lusty David and later secured the throne for their son, Solomon with strength and no little cleverness (1 Kgs. 1); and last, of course, there is Mary, the pregnant teenage virgin, who is nearly shoved aside by her fiancé but was spared by a fortunate dream from God.
This Jesus has some decidedly peculiar forebears! But then again he has some decidedly peculiar disciples, and if I am any indication, some decidedly peculiar contemporary followers, too! This story we celebrate each Advent is so odd, so unexpected, that it is a wonder that we have such a story at all. But we do, thank God. Because it is a story about us, for we are David and Bathsheba and Solomon and Rahab and Peter and Paul and on and on. David's kingship really is eternal, because it includes the unchanging human race, all of whom, we Christians believe, have been gathered up in the arms of a God whose promise is never to take "steadfast love" from us, no matter what. Now, that is good Advent news indeed!
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.