A House for God
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Bible Passage: 2 Samuel 7
Perhaps the most famous one liner from any speech given by an American president is this one: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Who said that? John F. Kennedy said that during his inaugural address. The idea is simple. He’s asking, How will you contribute to the public good?
It’s a great line – but we are going to turn it on its head today. I’m going to give you the main point of 2 Samuel 7 in a memorable way before we even read it, because this chapter is the most important in the book and one of the most important in the Bible. Here’s the main point:
“Ask not what you can do for God, but what will God do for you.” (repeat) That’s not the emphasis of modern American Christianity, but it is the emphasis of Biblical Christianity. God is far less interested in what we are going to do for Him and far more interested in our trusting Him to do something for us. There is no quid pro quo in the kingdom of God.
7:1 Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 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.” 3 And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”
David is talking about building a temple. And you can see the good intentions here and even God’s prophet thinks this is a good idea.
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in?
The key words in that question are you and me. Read it with emphasis. Would YOU build ME a house to dwell in? Are you talking to me?! In other words, God questions their plan and their motives.
If we have learned anything about God in our study of Samuel, we know for sure that God is not leaving his kingdom in human hands. Do you remember when the ark was captured by the Philistines? How did it get back to Israel? God brought it back on a cart pulled by two milk cows. There were no humans involved.
There’s a very important lesson coming up for David and for us.
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 for my dwelling. 7 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?”’
God says, “Have you ever heard me say anything about building a house? No. And do you know why you haven’t? Because my people have been on the move. And I’m determined to be with my people. I care about my people, not a temple.”
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, that you should 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 dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men 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 fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come 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 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, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
This is the longest speech by God since He spoke to Moses on Sanai. That alone is enough to demand our attention. But what does God say?
He makes a lot of promises, right? He reinforces some old promises and makes some new ones. In some ways, these promises will be fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. But this is bigger than David and Solomon.
Tertullian said, “If you tell me this chapter is only about Solomon, you will send me into a fit of laughter.” Who is it really about? Jesus.
And what’s the message? God is not leaving his kingdom in human hands. God is not leaving his people behind. And God is not leaving his plan to chance. One day, the Son of God will come – a descendent of David – and He will establish a kingdom, He will dwell with His people, and He will get the glory for it all.
God never uses the word “covenant” here, but most commentaries highlight the similarities between this text and other covenants God makes in the Old Testament. It certainly sounds like a covenant. Specifically, it reminds me of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17.
In both places, God says over and over again – “I will”. Let ME tell YOU what I WILL do. Fifteen times in eight verses God tells David something He did or will do. It reads like a jackhammer on David’s self-reliance. “You’re going to build me a house? Sit down, shepherd boy, and let me tell you what I’m going to do for you.”
18 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? 19 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!
Obviously, David is humbled. And notice that phrase at the end – “instruction for mankind”. David makes an important connection here that we might easily miss. That phrase in Hebrew is “torah ha-adam” – “law for Adam”. In other words, David is saying to God, “I see the way you deal with mankind. Your plans have not changed. Your character has not changed. Your covenant has not changed.”
That’s a win for covenant theology and a mark against dispensationalism. God is not changing his plan. He’s only revealing more of the same plan. God is moving our focus, but the plan remains unchanged. Adam was our representative. Abraham was our representative. Moses… David… all of them standing in for our greater representative to come – the Lord Jesus.
20 And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! 21 Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.
David knows his place. He sees God as the Giver and understand himself to be the receiver.
22 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.
David’s understanding of God’s grace leads directly to worship.
23 And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? 24 And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God.
David rehearses the story of God’s salvation, which is what we do in worship, right?
25 And now, O Lord God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. 26 And your name will be magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you.
27 For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.
29 Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”
Notice that David’s prayer began with praise and ended with petition – which is a great pattern for our own prayers and mirrors the prayer Jesus taught His disciples.
Also notice the content of David’s prayer requests. David doesn’t ask for anything new. All he does is repeat back to God the promises God just made!
Why does David do that? Why is He asking God for the things God just promised him? Is it because David doesn’t trust God? I don’t think that’s why. I think it’s actually a demonstration of David’s trust in God.
We see this a lot in Scripture. When Moses interceded for Israel in Numbers 14, he repeated God’s promises back to Him. When Hezekiah interceded for Jerusalem in Isaiah 37, he repeated God’s promises back to Him. When Daniel interceded for the exiles in Daniel 9, he repeated God’s promises back to Him. The Apostle Paul’s prayers for the church are dominated by God’s promises. Why? Are they afraid God forgot? Are they concerned God won’t follow through?
Parents – if you tell your kids you’re going to do something fun, but you don’t tell them when it is going to happen, what are they going to do? They are going to ask you about it constantly. Dad, you said we would get ice cream. Dad, you said we would go to the park. And hopefully, they know you to be faithful – that eventually you will follow through. But they keep asking anyway? And when we do this as parents, we do it on purpose. Why? To build anticipation.
I want to suggest that God is a good and faithful Father who loves building anticipation in His children. He’s building an audience.
God has always intended to save His people from sin and death, but He wanted His people to know it. He wanted them to recognize His salvation when it came. He wanted them to witness it. And those prayers indicate hearts and minds prepared to witness God’s salvation.
David says to God, “I’m bringing nothing to the table. This is all you, God. I see you. Do what you said you’re going to do. I’m watching. I’m waiting. I’m ready. Let’s go!”
We are the spectators. It is possibly our most important job in the kingdom. We sit in the stadium of God watching Him win the game and our job is to cheer. And because He is so amazing, we want to tell as many people as possible so they will come watch the game with us.
I can’t summarize the message of our text better than this. This comes from the ESV Transformation Study Bible:
“How easily our imaginations can be captured by, and our energies exhausted by what we want to build for God, when what he really wants is for us to sit attentively, witnessing what he is building so that we may marvel and give him thanks!”
And all I might add is that we also tell other people about it.
In John 2, after Jesus cleared the temple, the people asked him a question:
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
In other words, Jesus is the temple. He is the place where God dwells with man. His death and resurrection accomplished the work necessary to bring us back into fellowship with God.
In Acts 17, when the Apostle Paul visited Athens – a pagan city – he used their elaborate temples to share the Gospel.
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Is your religion about what you will do for God, or what God will do for you?
What does your worship tell you about your faith? What do your prayers tell you about your faith? Are you fascinated and humbled by the grace of God? Are you obsessed with His promises? Or are you too busy trying to build a religion?
God would rather have your heart and live in a tent.
“Ask not what you can do for God, but what will God do for you.”