Wednesday of Week 3 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:4-17

David is now comfortably set up in his new palace in Jerusalem and there is relative peace as his enemies are, for the time being, lying low. It is in this situation that David begins to think of the Ark of the Lord. In a verse prior to the reading today, he approaches the prophet Nathan and says:

See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God stays in a tent. (2 Sam 7:2)

Nathan seems to agree and tells David:

Go, do all that you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.
(2 Sam 7:3)

In this, the prophet is not quite right because that very night the Lord had a prophetic message for Nathan to pass on to David.

The prophecy is built round a contrast – David is not to build a house (a temple) for God; rather he is to build a ‘house’, that is, a dynasty. The essence of the prophecy is the perpetuity of the Davidic house and this is how David understands it. And that is reflected in the Responsorial Psalm for today:

I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to my servant David:
I will establish your descendants forever
and build your throne for all generations…
Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
and my covenant with him will stand firm.
I will establish his line forever
and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

(Ps 88[89]:3-4, 28-29)

Up to this, every experience David has had points clearly to a special calling to be the shepherd of his people. He has led his people to victory over their enemies. All this is part of establishing David as head of a dynasty giving security to his people for generations to come.

The prophecy, then, stretches beyond Solomon, David’s immediate successor, to whom it is applied a little later in the passage and in other Old Testament texts. It also points to a very special descendant who will enjoy God’s special favour, namely, the Messiah Jesus. And the Acts of the Apostles explicitly applies the text to Jesus. Peter, when addressing the crowds on the day of Pentecost says:

Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. (Acts 2:29-30)

First, in his message to Nathan, God questions whether David should be the one to build a house for the Ark and second, since the days when the Israelites left Egypt the Lord has never had a house and has always lived in a tent. And never once in all those years did the Lord ever ask why his people had never built him a proper house. Of course, David’s intentions were commendable, but God had other tasks for him. His gift and his mission was to fight the Lord’s battles until Israel was securely at rest in its land.

David misunderstood the Lord’s priorities. He was reflecting the pagan notion that the gods were mainly interested in human beings only as builders and maintainers of their temples and as practitioners of their cult. Instead, the Lord had raised up rulers in Israel to shepherd his people, and that is why David the shepherd boy was brought from one kind of pasture to one of a much more important kind.

The Lord, through his prophet, implies that the main priority is to set up God’s people in security:

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…

And, instead of David making a house for the Lord, it is the Lord who is going to make a house for David. In fact, God has been building up Israel ever since the days of Abraham, and now he commits himself to build David’s royal house so that the promise to Israel may be fulfilled – secure rest in the promised land.

It is God’s work that brings about David’s kingdom. Like those made with Noah, Abram and Phinehas, this covenant with David is unconditional, grounded only in God’s firm and gracious will. It will find its ultimate fulfilment in the kingship of Christ, who was born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David.

After David’s death, a son (Solomon) will be his heir and the beginning of a secure dynasty that will last for ever. It is Solomon “who shall build a house for my name”. It is when Israel is at rest, and David’s dynasty in the person of his son is secure, that the Ark will find a deserving resting place, the great and magnificent Temple that Solomon built.

And God will act towards Solomon as a father to a son. If he does wrong, the son will be chastised, but unlike the case of Saul, God will never withdraw his favour from him or his successors. In Jesus Christ this promise will find its ultimate fulfilment.

And then there is the final promise:

Your [David’s] house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

The promise of an everlasting kingdom for the house of David became the focal point for many later prophecies and powerfully influenced the development of the Messianic hope in Israel. In the years following, there would be many ups and downs, much good and much evil down the centuries, but the promise held good with its culmination in the coming of Jesus, the Son of David. In fact, through Jesus, the descendant of David, the House of David continues and will continue to the end of time.

Looking at this reading, we can also reflect on the place of our church building in our Christian life. In the early Church there were, paradoxically no church buildings, but many churches – in the sense of Christ-centred communities.

We need always to remember that, although our church buildings have a very important symbolic and sacramental meaning, the real presence of Christ is in his Body, in his people. For us Christians, our Temple is the temple of our own bodies, individually and collectively.

As we mentioned earlier, if the city of Rome and all in it were to be obliterated by a massive earthquake, it would not made a jot of difference to the continuing existence of the Church. The same can be said for our own parishes. And, in fact, we see parishes being closed down and new ones being established all the time.

Another point for reflection might be our understanding of what God wants from us. David was sure that he should build a house as a dwelling place for God, but the Lord had very different ideas. Do I really know what God wants me to be doing? Are my plans the same as his? Maybe we should spend a little time today thinking about this.

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