Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 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.” 3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.” 4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 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. 7 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?” 8 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; 9 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. 10 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, 11 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. 12 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. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. – II Samuel 7:1-14
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”– a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands– 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. – Ephesians 2:11-22
A number of years ago a young couple I know decided they wanted to build their own house. They spent a lot of time and money drawing up plans, and when the plans were done it took another couple of years before the house was finally finished. But when it was done it suited them and their family to a tee. Every child had a room that was exactly what he or she wanted. The house had extra bathrooms on the first floor because the couple loved to entertain. The kitchen had nooks built specifically to hold the plants the lady of the house loved. The house was designed just for them.
My guess is most of us have never built a house, or hired someone to build a house we’ve planned. Most of us live in homes that were already built, and after we move in we decorate them to our taste. But when you move into a home built for someone else there’s always something about it you wish you could change. I love our house but I wish our basement steps weren’t so steep. I wish our laundry room was on the same floor as the kitchen. The list goes on. If I had designed it I would have designed things a bit differently!
In our reading from Samuel, King David has just finished building himself a house. It’s a house designed by a king and fit for a king. Verse 1 says, “the king was settled in his house…”
Picture King David, a man in the prime of his life, stepping out onto the balcony of his brand new palace looking out over the royal city of Jerusalem. He thinks back. Not so long ago he can remember a time when there was no king, and now he’s the king. He has wives and children. There is peace and prosperity all through his kingdom. Life is good!
What is David thinking and feeling as he looks out over his house and over the city?
A lesser man might say to himself, “Is this not [the] magnificent [city], which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” That’s what King Nebuchadnezzar said when he looked out over Babylon in the book of Daniel. God took exception to Nebuchadnezzar’s way of thinking and sent a madness on him until he acknowledged the king of heaven was greater than himself.
Luckily for Israel, David was a bit wiser. He looked around him from his palace balcony, and the first thought that came to his mind was: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (II Samuel 7:2)
David has not forgotten where he came from, or how he got where he was, or who deserved the greater honor. He wants to do something great for God. He wants to build God a house even greater than his own.
Those of us who love God can relate to what David is feeling. Haven’t we all felt, at some time or another, ‘I wish I could do something great for God’? David’s heart is in the right place – and our hearts are in the right place – when we feel that way.
But God turns David’s offer down. And God’s reasons tell us something about who God is. First God says to David, ‘are you the one to build me a house to live in?’ When we stop and think about it, that’s a reasonable question. I mean, how big is God? And how big is the biggest house a human being can build?
But there’s more. God says: “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving around in a tent… among all the people of Israel…” God never asked for a house. God chose to live among God’s people. As it says in the book of Revelation, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them…” (Rev. 21:3)
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God chooses to make a home among his people. God does not consider a house of cedar to be greater than a home with us. God does not see a house of cedar as being longer-lasting, or worth more, or more impressive. Just the opposite: God considers a home with us to be eternal, and costly, and something to find glory in.
Then God turns the tables on David. God says, “I will build you a house.” God goes on to descrbe God’s idea of what makes for a great house. God says, “I will make for you a great name… I will appoint a place for your people… I will give you rest from all your enemies… I will raise up your offspring after you… I will establish his kingdom forever…”
Some of those promises came true while David was still living. God did make for David a great name. He was famous during his lifetime, and David is still remembered more than 3000 years later. God did raise up David’s son Solomon to sit on his throne and to build the great temple in Jerusalem.
But some of God’s promises apply to the Messiah, and did not come true in David’s lifetime. When Jesus came, he was called the “Son of David”. Jesus was descended from David’s line, but the phrase ‘Son of David’ also came to mean ‘Messiah’. Jesus is the king, the son of David whose kingdom is established forever.
And some of what God promised David has yet to happen. God’s people do not yet have rest from all our enemies, but someday we will. God’s people do not have a place to call home in this world, but someday we will have an eternal home. God is still in the process of building us that house. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
So God is in the process of building David a house, and at the same time God is in the process of building us a house.
But where does that leave God’s house? The apostle Paul gives us the answer in our New Testament reading. Paul talks about the ‘household of God’ for which Jesus is the Cornerstone. This is a household in which God’s people are “built together into a dwelling place for God.”
Paul is writing to a group of people who are divided, where there has been prejudice and hatred between the factions, and the people can’t imagine being built together into one household. But Paul says Jesus is “our peace” who “in his flesh has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall”. Paul says we are reconciled “through the cross” which puts an end to hostility and makes peace between people who were once strangers. Verse 18 says through Jesus we have access to the Father through the Spirit – the whole Trinity is involved here, Father, Son and Spirit – to bring us into unity as “members of the household of God.”
God’s house rests on the completed work of Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone; Jesus is our access into the house; Jesus is peace and unity between people who were once strangers.
We are God’s dwelling place. We are God’s house. We, and all others around the world and throughout the course of history who have loved God and trusted God’s promises, together make up God’s house. We are the house David offered to build but could not.
What an awesome joy it is to know that God, in building David a house through Jesus, is building the very house David wanted to build for God! Talk about economy! In fact even the word ‘economy’ comes from a combination of two Greek words, oikos (house) and nomos (rule). The rule of the house. The rule of the house in God’s kingdom is: when God’s will is done, God also satisfies our deepest longings.
So what does this mean for us today?
- We receive by faith God’s word that we are being built into the household of God, by trusting in Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross.
- God’s amazing grace should inspire in us love, praise, and passionate worship.
- I think maybe the best we can do is respond the way David did. David prayed to God, and we can make David’s prayer our own. So pray with me in the words of David:
“Who are we, O Sovereign LORD, and who are our families, that you have brought us this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servants. Is this your usual way of dealing with people, O Sovereign LORD?
“What more can we say to you? For you know your servants, O Sovereign LORD. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servants. How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people — that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed…? You have established your people as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become our God.
“And now, LORD God, keep forever the promises you have made concerning your servants…. Do as you promised, so that your name will be great forever. Then all people will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God…!’ And the house of your servants will be established before you. O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servants, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servants have found courage to offer you this prayer.
“O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servants. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servants, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servants will be blessed forever.” AMEN. (II Samuel 7:18-29, paraphrased for congregational use)
Preached at Castle Shannon United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 7/19/15