Hey everyone! Below is my first exegesis paper. It was written for my OT Biblical Lit. class. The passage I exegeted is 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Hope you enjoy reading it!
A Temple for Yahweh
Exegesis of II Samuel 7:1-17
The text of 2 Samuel 7:1-17 has been labeled with several titles. To name a few – A Temple for Yahweh, The Dynastic Oracle, and The Dynastic Promise. Aside from whatever title this passage may be labeled with, there is no escaping the truth that it is one of the most important chapters in the Bible.
In this passage, David expresses his desire to the prophet Nathan to build a temple for God. David seems uneasy about the fact that he lives in a lavish palace while the ark of the Lord resides in a tent. Nathan originally approves of the plan. However, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan and the Lord instructs him to inform David that he is not the one to build a house for the Lord. Instead, the Lord promises to David that he will establish a house for him. This passage presented major theological ramifications not only for the people of Israel, but also for evangelical faith. God’s promise of David’s enduring dynasty in Jerusalem eternally stands alongside the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant as crucial points in the Bible’s story line of salvation.[i] The purpose of this paper will be to identify and examine some of the key themes and ideas of this very important text.
David is the Lord’s chosen and anointed king over Israel – the ideal leader. He was the son of Jesse and was the youngest of eight sons. We are first introduced to him in 1 Samuel 16 as the insignificant shepherd boy. However, as we read more of his story, we find that Yahweh has much more in store for him than just tending sheep. Following the rejection of Saul’s kingship (1 Sam 15), David is privately anointed by Samuel as God’s chosen, ideal leader (1 Sam 16). Subsequently, David is commissioned into the service of Saul as a court musician to minister to the king who is suffering from an “evil spirit from the Lord,” (1 Sam 16). In the story of his military victory over the Philistine giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, we see David as a faithful and trusting follower of the Lord. As the Lord continues to be with David, he succeeds in all he does and the people’s love for him continues to grow. Saul becomes bitter and despises him. His hatred for David spins out of control and repeated attempts by Saul to kill him causes David to flee from the king’s court and essentially become a fugitive. Following Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31, David eventually becomes king over all Israel and finds rest from his enemies.
With a unified kingdom, David takes up residence in Jerusalem and builds a lavish palace of cedar there. He also brings the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. It is at this time we arrive to our passage and discover David’s desire to build a house for Yahweh. Scholars suggest that one of the reasons that David wanted to build a house/temple for Yahweh, other than out of religious piety, would be to bring legitimacy to Israel’s god. In the ancient world, for a god to be considered legitimate, a proper temple would need to exist. Otherwise, the god of that people would have been considered inferior.[ii]
The prophet who delivers the oracle to David in this text is Nathan. Gordon identifies Nathan as a “court prophet,” because of his “semi-official status in David’s court.”[iii] Some scholars believe that Nathan was most likely a Jebusite and that he and David probably did not know each other prior to David’s move to Jerusalem. Nathan played a critical role in three events of David’s life. First, in this passage, he is the deliverer of the dynastic promise to David from Yahweh. Secondly, as he confronts David and rebukes him for his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 12). Finally, we find him intervening on the behalf of Solomon in the struggle for succession to David’s throne (1 Kings 1).[iv] Beyond his influence in the life of David, McCarter suggests that, “it is reasonable to suppose that he is the same Nathan whose sons held important positions in Solomon’s administration.”[v] He has also been described as a prophet who would speak with authority (2 Sam 7, 12), and must not be mistakenly compared to the court prophets that Ahab consulted, who would often tell Ahab whatever he wanted to hear (see 1 Kings 22).[vi]
The setting for this story is the ancient city of Jerusalem. In its early days it was under the control of the Egyptians and was most likely nothing more than a mountain fortress. When the Israelites entered Canaan after the exodus from Egypt and the period of wandering in the desert, they found the city under control of the Jebusites. The city, which at that time was named Jebus, remained in the control of the Jebusites, with the tribe of Judah dwelling outside the city walls. David would have found the city settled like this when he conquered it and took control of the city.[vii] He then renamed it the city of David. At a later period of time, the city was renamed again with its current name, Jerusalem.[viii] With the coming of the Davidic covenant, Jerusalem became the center of the messianic tradition and remains so to this day. Currently, Jerusalem remains an important city for three major world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The main event in this text is the prophecy (oracle) given to David by Nathan in response to David’s statement of his intention to build a house for Yahweh. Oracles were the most common tool used by God to communicate to his people in the Old Testament and were delivered by his prophets. There are two common terms used to describe prophets. The first is ‘man of God’ which usually illustrates how they appeared to others and was first used of Moses in Deuteronomy 33:1. The second general description was ‘servant of God’ and was also first used as a title of Moses in Joshua 1:1-2. Although a prophet had various functions, his primary function was to be a man of the word of the Lord. The inspiration for prophetic words came from two primary sources – the Lord himself, as in ‘the word of the Lord came …’ and through dreams and visions. The delivery of the oracle was presented in different forms as well. The spoken oracle was the most common delivery tool of a prophet. Sometimes the prophets would use parables and allegories. The most dramatic delivery was the ‘acted oracle,’ where the prophet would use visual aids to help drive home the message being presented.[ix]
The first verse of this passage introduces the theme word of this chapter – ‘house’ (ty!b^)), and is used a total of eight times (vv.1, 2, 5-7, 11, 13 and 16). The meaning of house in the first few verses of this passage refers to either a royal palace (as in v.1) or a temple (v.2). These two verses illustrate David’s complaint and serve to contrast the “house” he lives in with the tent the ark of God resides in.[x] As we enter the text of Nathan’s oracle, wordplay on ‘house’ is revealed through a contrast between Yahweh and David. In relation to Yahweh it is meant as ‘temple’, “I have not dwelt in a house …” (v.6). When referring to David it means dynasty as found in the phrase ‘I [Yahweh] will establish your house forever’. [xi]
A key phrase in this passage is “This is what the Lord says,” (vv.5, 8; ‘the Lord declares…’ in v. 11). This phrase is referred to as the “messenger formula,” a characteristic part of prophetic speech. In ancient times the messenger was responsible for the verbatim repetition of the message conveyed to him for transmission to its ultimate recipient. Therefore, upon delivering the message, the messenger would preface the message with the formula, “This is what PN has said.”[xii] I have identified this phrase as important to the text because it introduces the sender of the message as the Lord and immediately prompts the recipient to listen up because God is about to speak. Two key words that also refer to the oracle are ‘revelation’ in verse 17 (NIV – the NASB uses “vision”) and ‘night’. These words indicate that the transmission of the oracle from Yahweh to Nathan most likely came in the form of a dream. As stated above, dreams or visions were one of the tools that God used to inspire the prophets who were to deliver his message.
Although this text is widely accepted as Yahweh making a covenant with the house of David, the word ‘covenant’, surprisingly, does not actually appear here. Scholars point to the phrase ‘my love’ (v.15) as evidence that Yahweh is indeed making a covenant with David. Here it is translated as Yahweh’s ‘hesed’. Sakenfeld defines Yahweh’s ‘hesed’ in the text as, “the supportive power by which God maintains the family line on the throne.” [xiii] McCarter adds, “Yahweh’s hesed, therefore, is to be understood as the continuing divine favor that will maintain the grant of kingship in effect in perpetuity.”[xiv] Considering the interpretations presented by these scholars, it would be reasonable to conclude that Yahweh is indeed making covenant with David in this text.
Throughout the first six chapters of 2 Samuel, we do not find many speeches. However, 2 Samuel 7 is almost entirely comprised of speeches. Beyond this chapter we only see speeches in chapter 12, where we find Nathan rebuking David for his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah and in chapters 22 and 23 where we find David’s psalm of deliverance and his last words.
The Nathan oracle may or may not mark the end of the history of David’s rise, but we can be sure that it does represent the highest point of his rise to political power.[xv] It is at this point in 2 Sam 7 that we find that he has been given rest from his enemies (vv. 1, 11) and Yahweh’s people have been given their own land (v.10). These events seem to parallel Deuteronomy 12:10-11, where the instruction was given: Upon entering the Promised Land and finding “rest” from “all their enemies,” they were to worship at “the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.” In immediately following this text, chapter 8 serves as a summary of David’s past military triumphs, and therefore is not meant to serve as a chronological follow-up to 2 Samuel 7.[xvi]
The structure of this passage is reasonably simple. Verses 1-3 provide the setting for the rest of the chapter, especially the oracle in verses 4-16. In verses 5-7 the plan to build a temple for Yahweh is rejected and is introduced by the prophetic word formula in verse 4. David’s rise from insignificant shepherd boy to his current fame and power is briefly summarized in verses 8-11a. The dynastic promise itself is found in verses 11b-16. Along with its place here in 2 Samuel 7, it may be found in two other forms in the Old Testament – 1 Chronicles 17:7-14 and Psalm 89:21-38.[xvii] Psalm 89:19-38 seems to be an expanded poetic version of the dynastic promise.[xviii] Although the dynastic promise here in 2 Sam 7 displays some poetic features it is usually not considered strictly poetry. Anderson states, “Perhaps in its present form, it may not be strictly poetry but it has a poetic quality.”[xix] Finally, verse 17 is the author’s conclusion to this whole pericope.
Outline of 2 Samuel 7:1-17
- Setting Provided (vv. 1-3)
1. David is in his palace/house and the Lord has given him rest (v.1, also cf. v.10).
2. David expresses his desire to build a house for Yahweh to the prophet Nathan (v.2).
3. Nathan approves the plan to build the temple (v.3)
- The Oracle (vv. 4-16)
1. Prophetic word formula introduction (v.4)
2. David’s proposal to build the temple for Yahweh rejected (vv.5-7)
3. David’s rise to power summarized (vv.8-11a)
4. The dynastic promise (vv.11b-16; cf. 2 Chronicles17:7-14 and Ps 89:21-38)
- Conclusion to the Oracle (v.17)
Second Samuel 7 is widely considered to be the theological highlight of the Books of Samuel, and quite possibly of the Deuteronomistic History as a whole. It occupies the dramatic and theological center of the books of Samuel and serves as one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith.[xx] Chapter 7 serves to change the theological conversation in Israel because it shifts the discussion about how to secure the presence of Yahweh in the community to the solidarity with David and his family.[xxi] This passage also serves as the beginning of the messianic hope in Israel. Out of this oracle was birthed the hope that with every season there was to come another David who would set things straight and restore good governance.[xxii]
Our evangelical theology of “justification by grace” can be traced back to the statements in this passage. We can find evidence of this in verses 14-15, where Yahweh says that when David’s son does wrong he will punish him but will not remove his love from him as he had done with Saul. Furthermore, the theology is changing from a conditional “if” to an unconditional “but/nevertheless”. Essentially, God is saying that there are no acts of disobedience that would cause him to terminate this deep commitment. This extends to us as followers of Christ, as we have been adopted into the family of God. Romans 3:28 says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law,” (NIV). Galatians 2:16-21 and Romans 8 also illustrate this concept. Simply put, God loves unconditionally.
Finally, it is important to note that this text is not designed nor does it attempt to point to Jesus. Brueggemann states, “At the same time however, we may see how easy and natural it was for the community around Jesus to seize up this text as a way to understand the reality of Jesus.”[xxiii] Although the text of this passage is both theology and ideology, the evangelical theology we derive from it is mostly from royal ideology.
In conclusion, I would like to indentify three key ideas from this passage that can be used for personal application. These key ideas are: 1) God’s plans are bigger than our plans, 2) We should follow the example of David, and 3) We are in covenant relationship with God.
One of the major lessons we can learn from this passage is that God’s plans are bigger than our plans. David had aspirations to build a house for Yahweh, but God had bigger plans for him. Instead, God wanted to build David a ‘house’ by establishing his dynastic line forever. Often time this is the case in our own lives. If I may, I would like to illustrate this from personal perspective. In the fall of 2003, I moved from Massachusetts to Kansas with a plan of furthering my education here at MNU and then upon graduation to move back home. I began that process in January of 2004, but little did I know that God had more in store for me. Later, that year I began to date a beautiful and wonderful woman, who in September 2006 would become my wife. My plans in moving to Kansas were not find a wife. If that happened, great! However, it was not my principal goal. God knew that the woman I will be spending the rest of my life with was out here and he inspired me to move out to Kansas, not only to pursue my degree but to bring the two of us together.
This illustration leads to my second point. It would be wise of us to follow the example of David in this story. Upon hearing the oracle, David does not argue with either Nathan or, more importantly, Yahweh. Instead he acquiesces to the will of God and prays a prayer of thanksgiving and supplication (vv. 18-29). Although, meeting my wife and settling down in Kansas was not a major shift from my original plan, there are times when we will need to change course dramatically. It is here where we may draw on the example of David’s faithfulness and his trust in Yahweh. Some may view David’s acquiescence here as a ‘no brainer’. After all, who would pass on the promise of an enduring dynasty! However, this view misses two of the points of this passage, which are to illustrate David’s faithfulness to Yahweh and to contrast him with Saul. David is the faithful king, the ideal ruler. Conversely, Saul most likely would not have listened to Nathan as he did not listen to Samuel. It’s very possible that he would have gone ahead and built the temple anyway. Therefore, with this contrast in mind, we should be careful that we follow the example of David.
Finally, we are reminded by the preservation of the Davidic covenant in this passage that we too are in covenant relationship with God. Through the Davidic line, the true Son of David – Jesus – was born. As followers of Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Through this relationship the Davidic covenant is extended to us. This knowledge should serve as encouragement for us in whatever situations in life we may face; through the good times and the bad times. No matter what we are facing we can rest in the assurance of God’s hesed-love. Romans 8:38-39 sums it up best:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (NIV).
[i] Arnold, Bill T. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003.
[ii] Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.
[iv] Freedman, David Noel, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, and J. David Pleins. Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
[v] McCarter Jr., P. Kyle. II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.
[vi] Freedman, David Noel, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, and J. David Pleins. Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
[vii] Marshall, I. Howard, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. New Bible Dictionary: Third Edition. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1996.
[viii] Branson, Robert D., Jim Edlin, and Tim M. Green. Alex Varughese, Editor. Discovering the Old Testament: Story and Faith. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2003.
[ix] Freedman, David Noel, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, and J. David Pleins. Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
[x] Arnold, Bill T. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003.
[xi] McCarter Jr., P. Kyle. II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.
[xiii] Sakenfeld, Katherine Doob. The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry. Harvard Semitic Monographs 17, p.144. Missoula, Montana: Scholars. 1978. Quoted in McCarter Jr., P. Kyle. II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984.
[xiv] McCarter Jr., P. Kyle. II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary. Garden City: Doubleday, 1984
[xv] Anderson, A.A. Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel. Waco: Word Books, 1989.
[xvii] McKenzie, John L. . “The Dynastic Oracle: II Samuel 7.” Theological Studies, no. 8 (1947): 187-218.
[xviii] Anderson, A.A. Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel. Waco: Word Books, 1989.
[xx] Brueggemann, Walter. I & II Samuel – Interpretation: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.
[xxii] Brueggemann, Walter. I & II Samuel – Interpretation: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.