The Annunciation, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1660, Hermitage
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16
December 20, 2020
Today’s reading from Samuel seems very pious. No doubt David is sincere in his desire to show respect, but the LORD is aware that there is another motive as well. This section is quite subtle and has much to teach us
Let us remember the situation, after Moses, about 1350 BC, the Hebrews were a loose coalition of tribes with similar religious beliefs and a shared dietary code. They desired to be as independent as possible but often needed to unite to fight a common enemy. At this time, they would determine a leader – a war chief – who world organize an army and lead it until they won or lost. This leader was called a judge. This system was like the confederations around them.
It allowed the tribes to remain independent but by 1050 BC was proving itself inefficient. Other groups had developed a more centralized administration which allowed them to secure better weapons and train a more professional army. The Hebrews were increasingly at a strategic disadvantaged and so they asked for a king. We have seen that this caused many difficulties, not the least of which was it would be difficult for the charismatic political military leaders as judges and the religious ones as prophets to make the change into institutional players.
Saul, the first king, was an effective war chief but had no idea how to develop the administration necessary to rule. Samuel, a great prophet, also was blind to institutional leadership. Saul is replaced by David and Samuel by Nathan. These are the leaders of the first Jewish establishment and very much committed to building solid and workable institutions. They got that point but forgot some important realities. The Lord today reminds them.
A good king creates a centralized administration, usually called a court. This David did by leaving the desert and moving to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was an unimportant town, which contained few Jews when he conquered it. None of the tribes would feel than another one had been preferred by this choice. It was along a trade route and could be easily defended. Its business was to be the kingdom, He built the appropriate palace and now looked to religion.
The center of religion was sacrifice and worship. The most important place for this was in the LORD’s sanctuary. This, however, was not a fixed abode but moved from place to place. We read today:
The king said to the prophet Nathan,(2 Sa 7:2)
“See now, I am living in a house of cedar,
but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
For David’s administration to be most effective, he would need to have the worship of the LORD under his “protection.” The Hebrews would need to go from tent to temple. Nathan, his religious advisor, who shared his vision agreed completely.
Nathan answered the king,(2 Sa 7:3)
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
The LORD, however, had different ideas.
First let us remember that it was not any human’s idea to build the sanctuary for the LORD not even Moses. It was the LORD’s himself:
This is what the LORD then said to Moses:(Ex 25:1-2 8-9)
“Tell the Israelites to take up a collection for me.
From every man you shall accept the contribution
that his heart prompts him to give me.
“They shall make a sanctuary for me,
that I may dwell in their midst.
This Dwelling and all its furnishings
you shall make exactly according to the pattern
that I will now show you
God designed the sanctuary and questions why he was not asked if he wished to change it:
I have not dwelt in a house from the day on which(2 Sa 7:6–7)
I led the Israelites out of Egypt to the present,
but I have been going about in a tent under cloth.
In all my wanderings everywhere among the Israelites,
did I ever utter a word to any one of the judges
whom I charged to tend my people Israel, to ask:
Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’
David has a few lessons to learn. The Lord is in charge and through Nathan speaks with David.
It was I who took you from the pasture and(2 Sa 7:8–9)
from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went, and
I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous
like the great ones of the earth.
The Lord made David, turning a simple shepherd into a King. Nor did David make the people:
I will fix a place for my people Israel;(2 Sa 7:10)
I will plant them so that they may dwell
in their place without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them
as they did of old,
Also, it is not David who will build a house – temple – for the LORD but the LORD will build a house – posterity – for David. Through Nathan he says:
The LORD also reveals to you(2 Sa 7:11–12)
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and
I will make his kingdom firm.
For the people to exist safely – firmly planted – there must be peace, and this requires viable institutions thus David’s heir Solomon “shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever.” ( 2 Sa 7:13). But there will always be a tension between the LORD and the King, and Kings were never able to completely suppress the energy and independence of the prophets who spoke for the LORD. Kingship might be necessary but not to the exclusion of God.
This speaks to our situation today very clearly in St Charles Borromeo. We are rebuilding our church physically so that worship may be enhanced. We cannot however forget that God is the object of worship, but we are the beneficiaries. Nothing we do makes God greater but the gift of ourselves to Him makes us truly human. We a building a house of brick and mortar for God, he is building a house of flesh and blood with us.