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Passage: 2 Samuel 7:1-16

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).