Lessons in Leadership: #8 God Makes A Covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Our story today is the most important story in the Old Testament. At least that is the opinion of many scholars today. It is the story of God’s Covenant or promise to King David. And while the story tells us something about David, it tells us a whole lot more about God, and who God is.
I hope that you have enjoyed hearing these stories about David. In many ways David’s story is our story. We can learn something about our life today with God. This summer we’ve covered a lot of ground in this David story. We first met him as a young shepherd boy who wasn’t at all afraid of giants. We saw David climb his way to power and how he became the ruler of a United Kingdom. David established a capital city in Jerusalem and then brought the ark of the covenant into the city. In our reading today, David was comfortably established in Jerusalem enjoying his new palace. But something troubled him. He shared his thoughts with the prophet Nathan. David lived in a beautiful palace. Shouldn’t God have a beautiful place to live? The Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, was in a tent. Perhaps David felt a little guilt. Maybe he should show a little more gratitude for all that God had done for him. Why not build a beautiful temple for the ark. It sounded like a good idea, an innocent suggestion? What could be wrong with that? David shared his plan with the Prophet Nathan who told David to go for it.
But that night, Nathan had second thoughts. In the morning he went back to David and withdrew the building permit. God, it seems, was suspicious of David’s motives. All these years God’s presence with his people had been symbolized in a tent and tabernacle. God could come and go wherever God wanted. It’s like the difference between an RV and a vacation home. With an RV you can go wherever you want. With a vacation home, you’re tied down to one place. So why did David want to build God a temple? Maybe David thought that God was a little too mobile. God had abandoned Saul. Would God do the same with David? Maybe David wanted to pin God down to one place, a place that would benefit and legitimate David’s rule? Maybe a temple was really an attempt to control and manipulate God for David’s own personal gain? “God, I’ll build you this big beautiful temple if you will bless me.” Whatever the reason, God said “no” to David’s plan to build a temple.
Has God ever said “no” to you? Have you ever tried to manipulate or control God? Let’s make a deal, God. You do this for me, and I’ll do that for you. Bless my career. Make me successful. Make me rich. You do this for me, God, and I’ll pay you back. I’ll serve you. I’ll do whatever. Have you ever tried to make a deal with God? And like David, has God ever said “no” to you?
When I lived in Sioux Falls, I sometimes played the lottery. If I won big, I had a plan. I was going to give a large gift to my college Alma Mater, Augustana University, so that they could build a 2,000-seat performing arts center. It would be called the Svanoe Performing Arts Center with a huge tracker Pipe Organ. I even planned out the opening dedication concert that the choir and orchestra would perform- J. S. Bach’s B Minor Mass. Sadly, God never saw the value of my plans. I didn’t win the lottery. We all know the danger faced by people who win big. Easy money makes for easy people. But when we work hard for our money, when we save and plan, over time, we develop character. No, I didn’t win the lottery, and I learned that we can’t control or manipulate God, we can only humbly submit to God in trust and obedience. At least, it’s nice to have fantasies.
David learned that lesson, too. God is not some fairy godmother, or some genie-in-a-lamp that will grant us three wishes. It was Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.” David told Nathan his plans, and God laughed. God said “no”. At some point, we have to learn to pray like Jesus: not my will be done, but thy will be done.
And what was God’s will for David? David was not going to build a house for God; God was going to build a house for David. God was going to establish a dynasty from David’s descendants, a dynasty that would last forever. Think about it. David wanted to control God so David would know that God loved him. God said to David, ‘No, you can’t control me. But I will make a covenant with you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be a Son to me. I will love you and your descendants forever.’ God made David a promise that addressed his underlying need to know that God loved him.
Think about it. Why do you love your children? Is it because they behave and immediately do the things you ask them to do without complaining? No! You love them because they are your children. Now imagine your kids thinking to themselves, “I can manipulate Dad by doing nice things for him. I’ll make him his favorite food. I’ll do this or that, and then Dad will love me and buy me that new bike I’ve been wanting.” Our children don’t make us love them by manipulating us with good deeds. We simply love them because they are our children. Period.
That is exactly what God promised David and his descendants. “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” Period. What we learn about God in this story is that God is a promise maker and a promise keeper. This is one of four major promises or covenants in the Old Testament. The first was with Noah. The second was with Abraham and Sarah. The third was with Moses and the children of Israel. The fourth was with King David. What we learn here is that God willingly chooses to enter into relationship with people and make promises to them. It is not something we can control or that we can earn or deserve. It is simply something God gives out of grace, not because of who we are or how we behave, but because of who God is. That was true for David and it is true for us.
God made a promise to David that his kingdom would last forever. But that promise came with an unexpected fulfillment. David’s dynasty did come to an end in 587 B.C. But this is where we Christians read the story with new understanding. The very first verse of the New Testament says this: “an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Jesus was a descendant of David, but not from the line of succession. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, a fulfillment David could never have imagined, not in his wildest dreams. For, Jesus came to be a different kind of king, a king who rules from a cross and gives his life for the sins of the world. Jesus will come again some day as King of kings, and Lord of lords, and he shall reign forever and ever.
God is a promise maker and a promise keeper. And God is still making promises today. God makes a promise every time someone is brought for baptism. God made a promise to you at your baptism. That promise goes with you throughout life and into death and the life to come. They are promises beyond our wildest imagination.
God didn’t give David what he asked for; God gave him what he needed. It is the same with us. We can’t control or manage God; we can only submit to God, trusting in God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus invites you today to follow him and trust his promises to you. Amen.