When David, 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. 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, 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. 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. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. 2 Samuel 7:1-14a.
Today’s Lectionary reading from the Old Testament provides us with a pivotal and grace-filled passage. David has bested the Philistines, conquered Jerusalem, and established his royal court. Having overcome his enemies, David seems posed to work on his legacy. He seeks to consolidate political power and religious authority in this new capital city. To further that goal, David wants to raise a temple, and within its Holy of Holies, to create a repository for the ark of the covenant. He wants to ensure the availability of God and divine power in the midst of the people of Israel.
David turns for approval to the prophet Nathan, who initially agrees that this would be a grand idea. (Nathan does so, however, without consulting the Almighty.) That night, however, Nathan receives “the word of the Lord”: God doesn’t think much of this idea. Since the beginning of time, God has accompanied his people freely, without being subjected to a location of human choosing.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy that she will see Aslan again. When she asks when, Mr. Tummus replies: “In time. One day he’ll be here and the next he won’t. But you must not press him. After all, he’s not a tame lion.” Like Lucy, David would discover that God would not be domesticated. Perhaps we, and our churches, should remember that lesson.
God’s refusal to be contained, however, does not suggest that He is abandoning David (nor us). Rather, the Lord notes, “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.” I wonder if we can hear God saying that to us today?
Rather than David erecting a house for the Lord, God promises that He will build a house for David. From David’s offspring, the Lord will raise up a kingdom. And speaking of this offspring, God offers David a rich abundance of good news: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” We Christians read this to speak of the one we call Savior, and boldly claim that we are His body. While David was concerned with architecture, God was concerned with His people and raising up their Redeemer. Holiness cannot and will not be contained; despite our efforts, we cannot tame the Spirit.
I think the message remains the same for us today. Despite our reductionist impulses, God will not fit into the benign structures we create. The more important question, is will we make room for God among His people? Will we structure our lives so as to accommodate God’s immense capacity to create and recreate? I pray we will. And I also pray we may have the wisdom to recognize that God’s “No” usually contains a hidden blessing beyond our imagination. We call that “grace.”
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis