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2 Samuel 7:1-16 – Nathan’s Oracle

Summary

In this pivotal text, God promises that David will always have a son on the throne of Judah. God's promise of a Davidic dynasty holds sway over much of the theological message of the Old Testament and becomes the basis for the messianic expectations that arose following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.

Analysis

This text has been of crucial theological importance. Israel has seen this promise of a Davidic dynasty as central. During the exile, it formed the basis of Israel's messianic expectations. In the New Testament, God's promise to David is seen in the announcement that Jesus, as the son of David, is that promised Messiah, or the Christ. Understandably, such a crucial passage has been the object of a number of theological presentations, most notably 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89. There is some debate concerning whether this constitutes a "covenant" between God and David at all, since the word "covenant" (berit) does not occur, and the typical pattern based upon Hittite/Assyrian treaties, familiar from the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua 24, and similar passages is also absent. Arguments in favor of seeing 2 Samuel 7:4-17 as covenantal, however, include:

  • The so-called "adoption formula" ("I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me"), which is found commonly in the ancient Near East in political contexts, appears in verse 14.
  • The phrase "I will not take my steadfast love from him" (v. 15): "Steadfast love" is the Hebrew word hesed, the relational term of covenant loyalty.
  • Psalm 89:1-4; 132:11-18; and 2 Samuel 23:5 refer to God's promise in this text as a "covenant" (berit).

God's covenantal promise is developed through a delightful play on the ambiguous nature of the fifteen occurrences of the Hebrew word for "house," variously signifying the "palace" where David lives (vv. 1, 2), "the temple" he wishes to build for God (vv. 5, 6, 7, 13), his "family" (v. 18), or the "dynasty" of his descendants who will sit upon his throne (vv. 11, 16, 19, 25, 26, 27, and two times in v. 29). There, as here, though God will not permit David to build a house (temple) for God (v. 5), God will build a house (dynasty) for David (v. 11), and one of that house (dynasty) will build the house (temple) for God (v. 13).

The small differences between 2 Samuel 7 and the same passage in 1 Chronicles 17 are significant:

  • Mention of the exodus in 2 Samuel 7:6 is omitted by the Chronicler, possibly because the deliverance from Egypt has been eclipsed for his community by the activity of David and their own return from Babylon.
  • The reference to Solomon's expected sin and God's punishment (2 Samuel 7:14) is omitted in Chronicles, as are David's peccadilloes, either because the Chronicler is more concerned with telling the story of the temple than with the lives of David and Solomon or because he wishes to present an idealized picture of these kings.
  • Most important, in Samuel, God says that David, not Solomon, will be confirmed as king of the kingdom described as belonging to David, not the Lord (2 Samuel 7:16, contrast 1 Chronicles 17:14).

2 Samuel 7:1-16

God’s Covenant with David

7Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the 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.’ 3Nathan 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: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I 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. 7Wherever 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?’ 8Now 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; 9and 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. 10And 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, 11from 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. 12When 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. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15But I will not take* my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me;* your throne shall be established for ever.

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10 February 2011

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