"A Prayer of Gratitude and More"

His tale is epic: chosen from shepherding his father’s flocks; brave enough to fight the Philistine giant Goliath; a gifted musician and warrior, he charms, serves, evades, and eventually defeats Saul; he unites all of Israel, defeats their enemies, and establishes Jerusalem as his capital..

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection
[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean

2 Samuel 7:18-29

July 10, 2022

Dr. Todd R. Wright The last time I preached, we looked at Hannah’s prayer, a prayer that ends “The Lord... will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” Scholars flag that as an odd reference, since there is no king, yet. Hannah’s son, Samuel, will eventually anoint Saul the first king over Israel. But Saul proves to be a flawed leader and David is chosen by God to take his place. His tale is epic: chosen from shepherding his father’s flocks; brave enough to fight the Philistine giant Goliath; a gifted musician and warrior, he charms, serves, evades, and eventually defeats Saul; he unites all of Israel, defeats their enemies, and establishes Jerusalem as his capital.

 

After all that fighting, David finally finds himself at peace. You might think that he would put his feet up, dabble in composing some new music for the harp, or play some golf, but, as Eugene Peterson observes, he is not ready for retirement.[2] By this point he has spent a lifetime taking on impossible projects and succeeding. You know the type. They are as busy at 65 as they were at 35. They still burn with energy, so they volunteer; dive into new hobbies; take on projects. They joke about “failing retirement”! David looks around. He has just settled into a new home and moved the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. There are still rooms full of cardboard boxes and everything still shines and smells of fresh cedar. It does not seem right to him that, after 400 years, all God has is a tent. The tabernacle has been God’s home since the years in the wilderness. Wherever Israel went, God was right there with them. But now, David thinks, it is time for something permanent. Her mentions the idea to his spiritual advisor, the prophet Nathan, and gets the green light! It is such an obvious idea, so pure and selfless, so right for the moment, that neither take the time to fast or pray about it.[3] David is so excited that he drifts off making lists of supplies needed and favors to call in, of locations and layouts, of new music to be composed and the sacrificial animal supply chain. But Nathan tossed and turned and sometime during the night, God spoke to him. Peterson puts it this way, “After a night of prayer, Nathan withdraws the building permit.”[4] God has other plans. Maybe God likes the freedom of living in a tent. Maybe there is something exciting, circus like, in the process of putting up the poles and stretching the “curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle” and setting up the “curtains of fine twisted linen and blue, purple, and crimson yarns”[5] inside and then filling it with the copper alter and the menorah, the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. Maybe the tent sparks memories (like my AT hammock). But Peterson raises another possibility. He believes God is warning that David’s building operation will confuse things. He imagines God saying, “If I let you fill Jerusalem with the sights and sounds of your building project – carpenters’ hammers, mason’ chisels, teamsters’ shouts – before long everyone will be caught up in what you are doing, and not attentive to what I am doing. This is a kingdom that we are dealing with here and I am the [ultimate] king … If there is any building to be done, I’m doing it ... There will be a time when it is appropriate to build something like you have in mind – your son, in fact, will do it – but this is not the time ... First, we have to get the concept of my sovereignty established in the people’s imagination and practice – your kingdom a witness to my kingship, not an obscuring of it. That is the house I am building.”[6]

 

Now David could have reacted in lots of ways: He could have ignored Nathan’s message from God and gone ahead with the project. He could have pouted or thrown a fit like a toddler who doesn’t get their way. He could have grown jealous of his son for getting an honor he thought he deserved. To his credit, he does none of those things. Instead, finally, he prays. Walter Brueggemann considers it a “great” prayer because “David’s prayer of doxology, deference, and demand may be taken as a model for prayer among those who rely on YHWH’s goodness.”[7] Let’s unpack that. Of course, it is doxological – a prayer of praise just like Hanna’s – God has blessed him! It feels like peace; it smells like cedar; it is a royal line that stretches out forever! And of course, he shows God deference – as he admits, he was once a shepherd with no chance of leapfrogging his older brothers for anything better. Now, to use Hannah’s words, the Lord has given him strength and exalted his power as king over Israel! But it is Brueggemann’s third adjective that makes this prayer interesting! David celebrates the promise God makes – to establish his house, his throne, his succession, forever – and demands, that God keep the promise. That’s both audacious and instructive! This prayer is recorded; it is remembered; it is repeated … by Israel.[8] When Solomon ascends to the throne and builds the Temple, this prayer is lifted up again. When generations of David’s descendants follow him to the throne, some good, most bad, Israel’s clings to the substance of this prayer as a talisman that all will be well. When enemies threaten, and the kingdom eventually falls, and Israel is hauled off into exile, their only hope is that God will keep covenant and not forget the promises made to David. In fact, they demand that God remember; and show steadfast love; and that forever means forever. That did not end when the ancient prophets went silent. The gospel genealogists make much of the fact that Jesus is descended from David! They celebrate that God kept the promise!

 

So when you pray, follow David’s example: Show gratitude for all the ways God has blessed you, even though none of us deserve any of it. Be differential. This is the King of kings, the Creator of all, the Redeemer of your soul. But know that you can be bold and demand God keep the promises God has made … to be our God; to show us mercy; to seek us when we wander and welcome us home even when we rebel; to be with us on sunny mountaintops and in darkest valleys; and to love us steadfastly, unconditionally, and forever. Amen

[1] “Prayer” by Graham Dean [2] From his commentary, First and Second Samuel, page 166 [3] I owe this observation to Eugene Peterson, in his commentary, First and Second Samuel, page 167 [4] Ibid, page 167 [5] See Exodus 26 [6] From his commentary, First and Second Samuel, page 167-168 [7] From Great Prayer of the Old Testament, page 42 [8] Again, thanks to Brueggemann for this insight, page 45-47
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