Focus on God’s Purposes
Lesson Focus: This lesson will help you keep your life focused on God’s purposes, not on selfish interests.
Good Intentions: 2 Samuel 7:1-7.
 Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies,  the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent."  And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart, 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: Would you build me a house to dwell 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 for my dwelling.  In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"’ [ESV]
[1-2] The encounter between David and the prophet Nathan that is described in chapter 7 could be seen as one of the most significant meetings recorded within the royal history. The account sets out the beginnings of the temple and of the Davidic covenant, both of which had a profound effect on Israel’s religious and national life for many centuries. It also contains deep theological insights into God’s purposes within history and the way He relates to human beings. The timing is somewhat vague. David was settled in his palace and the surrounding enemies were no longer an immediate threat. Presumably the battles described in chapter 8 had already taken place. It does seem to be the case that when the Davidic covenant was instituted, David had been a successful king for some time. It is not David’s kingship as such that is being affirmed here but the validation of the Davidic dynasty. David, unlike Eli or Samuel or Saul, was going to be succeeded by his son and his son’s son. The chapter centers on a word-play: David is not to build a house (building) for God, but God will build a house (dynasty) for David. The story is simple. David has another good idea about the ark. It is now housed safely in a special tent in Jerusalem, but surely it would be better placed in a beautifully constructed permanent building. Perhaps made wary by the results of his previous ‘good idea’ [see 2 Samuel 6], David’s first action is to consult the prophet. Nathan plays a major role at a number of stages in David’s life and appears to be a national prophet, able to be consulted by and to challenge the monarch. Nevertheless, he enters the narrative without any formal introduction. We know nothing of his family or his background, we know only that he is a prophet apparently well-known to and perhaps well used by David. He may have been permanently based at the court, but each of his appearances seem to be unexpected and it may be that he was based elsewhere and visited occasionally. The lack of information about Nathan may be a deliberate way of indicating that it is the message rather than the bearer of the message that matters. There has always been a tendency among God’s people to make celebrities of those who speak for God. It is a tendency that should be resisted! There is no further mention of the ephod being used as a method of ascertaining God’s will. It seems that if a prophet was available to mediate God’s word, that took precedence over the more mechanical procedure involved in using the ephod.
[3-5] The idea also seems good to Nathan and he has no hesitation in reassuring David: Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you. The words bring a reminder of the initial commission to Saul where he also was told to do whatever came to hand, confident of God’s presence with him [1 Sam. 10:7]. It seems that for both king and prophet, and by implication for ordinary believers too, the normal procedure was to act and to speak on the basis of human thought and decisions made in the light of the knowledge of God and of His previously revealed will. The exception to this came when God gave a direct and specific revelation. There is no clear distinction between the word of the prophet and the word of God. An oracle was assumed to have God’s authority and to be God’s word whether it was revealed directly to the prophet or not. However, this incident makes it very clear that when a direct word did come it overrode Nathan’s own professional prophetic judgment. In most cases the ideas that seem good are good – but that does not mean that they are always to be acted upon immediately. It was vital that God’s prophets be ready to listen and take heed if exceptions were revealed to them. There is no indication that Nathan, in reassuring David, was acting as a false prophet. It is interesting that he shows no hesitation in returning to David with the information that God had given a direct revelation and his initial conclusion had not in fact been adequate. Only foolish leaders stick to an entrenched view or refuse to change a position out of fear that their credentials might be doubted. Even a true prophet like Nathan sometimes got it wrong and needed to be corrected.
[6-7] The first part of God’s message to David given via Nathan informs him that he is not to build a temple and sets out some of the reasons for this. First, it could cause theological misunderstanding. God does not and never has been limited to a particular site. The tent in which the ark was placed provided a useful symbol that God was present with the people, but its portability also symbolized that God was with the people wherever they were. The temple could and eventually did provide equivalent ways of maintaining the same truths, but it could also lead people to a false trust in the building itself. It was important that before the temple was built the people understood exactly what it did and did not symbolize and signify. It was a place where they could meet with God, but not the only place that God could be found. They had clearly not yet reached the stage where they could understand fully what was involved. The use of any and all religious objects and symbols must be undertaken carefully with serious thinking about what kind of understanding or misunderstanding might stem from that use. Secondly, God had not asked for a temple. David had made the mistake in the past of assuming that he knew what it was that God wanted. Human values do not always reflect God’s values and the implication must be avoided that God possessed less glory because His ark was placed in a tent rather than a beautiful and expensive modern building. God’s glory is not contingent upon the type of meeting place where His people gather to worship Him.
God’s Intentions: 2 Samuel 7:11-16.
 And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come 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 to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,  but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’" [ESV]
David was not to build the temple. It is always disappointing when a dreamed-for project, something that we assumed was visionary, is shown, at least as far as our own participation is concerned, to be just a dream and not God’s purpose for us after all. It is not an uncommon reaction to such a disappointment to feel rejected or even let down by God and to refuse to hear or accept any alternative future scenarios. But David did not react like this, rather he heard Nathan through to the end. As he listened on, he learned that not being appointed to a particular job was in no sense a rejection. God had by no means finished with him or with his family. On the contrary, he was presented with a clear affirmation of his leadership and of its ongoing results within both his own family and the whole nation of Israel. The term ‘covenant’ is not used here, but God’s words were clearly understood in those terms by David. Psalm 89, which is closely linked to this chapter, also uses explicit covenant terminology. Almighty God was setting up a specific relationship with David and his descendants. This was not a replacement for the Abrahamic covenant with all of Abraham’s descendants. Indeed the promises to Abraham of a secured land and worldwide influence come to the fore during David’s reign, as Psalm 89 makes clear. In the end, the Davidic covenant failed at the point where either David’s family or the people of Israel assumed that God’s relationship with the king was a replacement for His relationship with the people or that the responsibilities of the people could be taken over by the king. Within God’s message given via Nathan there is a five-fold focus. First, God has already chosen and blessed David, using him in the context of the ongoing choosing and blessing of Israel. Secondly, the choice of David to lead Israel involved also the choice of his descendants. Thirdly, David’s vision of a magnificent temple to be built for God would be fulfilled, but by David’s son rather than by David himself. Fourthly, no individual descendant of David could take their position for granted; those who failed in their responsibilities would certainly be punished. The father-son element of the relationship with God that was involved in the Davidic covenant also includes discipline. Fifthly, in spite of the possibility of individual failure there was an eternal element to God’s promise. David, through his descendants, would have a permanently significant place in God’s kingdom. The messianic implications of this passage are obvious to Christians but they are picked up elsewhere in the Old Testament too, notably by Jeremiah in chapter 33:14-17.
Humble Submission: 2 Samuel 7:18-22.
 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.  Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?  And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord GOD!  Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.  Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. [ESV]
David’s response to the Lord’s magnificent declarations was awestruck humility, solemnity, and bold faith. After hearing the Lord’s words, David entered the sacred tent that housed the ark and sat down before the Lord. His faith-filled response serves as a model for all who receive unmerited blessing from the living God. Like David, all believers are implicitly encouraged to be humbled, pensive, and emboldened by the perception of God’s incredible goodness expressed within their lives. David’s prayerful monologue begins with a note of wonder, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? David’s question implicitly recognized that the Lord, not David, was the source of the transformation of the lowly shepherd of Bethlehem into Israel’s king. David’s employment of the phrase “Lord Yahweh” (or Sovereign Lord) here is the first of seven occasions in this monologue. This phrase appears for the first time in the Old Testament in a conversation between the Lord and Abram in which the Lord revealed the blessed future of Abram’s family [Gen. 15]. Coming out of Abram’s experience with God was the promise of land for Israel; out of David’s experience came the promise of a leader for Israel within that land. In spite of the magnitude of God’s blessings already bestowed on the house of David, they were insignificant in comparison to those that would ultimately accrue. The Lord’s blessings for David would not cease at that point in time; God had spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. In David’s acknowledgment of God’s concern for the king’s descendants, he referred to himself as the Lord’s servant/slave, the first of ten times he would do so during this prayer to God. Although David did not profess to understand why he had received the Lord’s wonderful promises, he recognized that these promises had been given for a reason: not as a reward for David’s righteousness but because of your promise, and according to your own heart. David’s failure to completely understand the Lord’s gracious activity in no way minimized his recognition that it was a great thing. It was made even greater by the fact that God had made it known to David. God’s gift of this prophetic revelation added an additional reason to marvel at God’s gracious activities on Israel’s behalf. In light of all this, David could only marvel at how great the Lord is; no being is or could be His equal. Only a divine being could possibly do or be all that David attributed to the Lord, but there is no God but Yahweh. Israel’s God – One who makes promises in the Torah and then acts for their sake so as to fulfill them and who can speak of their fulfillment even before the events themselves – is without peer. Thus David was not to build the temple, but it is not surprising that he was overwhelmed by the brightness of the future that was laid out before him. The awe that David expresses as he ponders on God’s involvement in his life and reflects on the nature of this great God should surely be reflected in the hearts of all those who have been conscious of God’s presence and action in their own lives.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What are some reasons why God refuses to allow David to build a house for the ark? Essentially we learn here that it is not enough to have a “good idea,” something we think will bring God honor and glory. Proper timing is also essential. Both in the life of the believer and in the life of the church, much time must be spent in study and prayer in order to receive God’s wisdom and guidance concerning the proper timing for the implementation of the “good idea.”
2. List the promises that God makes to David. Think about how these promises are fulfilled in Christ as the Messiah.
3. In facing the disappointment of God’s different plans for building a house, how did David’s reverence for God, his remembrance of God’s faithfulness, and his reliance on God’s Word help him? Identify a time in your life when you were disappointed by plans that were not confirmed. How could the model of David’s response to God have helped you at that time?
4. With what attitudes do you sometimes come before God in prayer? How can your attitudes toward God and toward yourself influence the entire effect of your prayer? In what ways can you recall God’s faithfulness to you as you pray?
1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.
The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.