God Speaks Through The Prophet:
The other two instances of God speaking in 2 Samuel occur unsolicitedly, and through a person as opposed to an artifact, and as will be seen, both times his speaking alters the plot of the Samuel narrative.
The first is when David seeks Nathan the prophet’s blessing to build a temple for God, without actually mentioning the temple (7:1-3). The prophet, if he knows that David is referring to a temple, does not use the word in his response, but says that David is free to do as he sees fit. It is interesting that this is the first time that is recorded that David seeks out the guidance of a prophet. Craig, for example, asks why David is now going to Nathan rather than to the ephod.(1) Perhaps in this moment David is not playing to an audience, as he was in 2:1 and 5:19. Or perhaps he is indeed playing to audience, the audience being Nathan. If, as has been theorized, Nathan is a prophet from the northern tribes,(2) then perhaps David is attempting to see how loyal this northern prophet would be to a southern king. Nevertheless, it is striking the difference between Saul and David. Saul was more often seeking advice from prophets (1 Samuel 9:9-10; 28:6, 15) than David.(3)
David, having the prophet’s blessing, is set to build the temple. However, unannounced and unexpected, God dramatically reappears, and his speech not only alters the plot of 2 Samuel, but of the entire future narrative of Israel. God proclaims and calls out David’s plans for a temple. If 5:23 was a gentle rebuke reminding David of his position in relation to God, then this speech in chapter 7 is more pronounced. Five times God uses the word “I” in describing all that he has done, and Fokkelman suggests that God’s tone is at times indignant.(4) God is rebuking David because David has forgotten God’s authority and that ultimately God is the king of Israel.
In the short time of God’s silence between 5:23 and 7:4, David’s relationship with God had changed. In attempting to move the ark improperly and seeing the wrath of God, David is no longer eager, but reluctant to confide in and seek the will of God.(5) At question is David’s motivation for building the temple. Matthews has suggested that because of the powerful imagery and authority of the ark, it was in David’s best interest to house the ark away from the public’s immediate view so that it not “compete with his public role as the sole leader of the Israelites…so that from now on they will focus only on the person of the king.”(6)
God will have none of that, and in reappearing in the narrative, God’s speech demonstrates that God is neither acquiescent or complacent to David’s plans. God will not be tucked away in a temple away from his people, or in the shadow of a king he placed in power. Indeed God wishes to dwell in the presence of his people (7:7). But God does not end his speech with rebuke. Instead, he extends his promise that he made to David in such a way that unconditionally God will continue David’s line into eternity. God will not withdraw his favour forever, as he did with Saul (7:15).
It is significant that scholars see this chapter as the theological centre of the Samuel narrative.(7) It is God’s speech and his covenantal promise with David that is the dramatic turning point of the narrative, as well as the ultimate hope for the nation of Israel in the centuries following, ultimately being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In a narrative where God rarely speaks, it is ironic that his speech is that focal point.
To Be Continued…
(1) Kenneth Craig, “The Character(ization) of God in 2 Samuel 7:1-17” Semeia 63 (1993), 164
(2) Anderson, 117.
(3) Craig, “Characterization”, 164.
(4) Fokkelman, 84.
(5) Murray, 129.
(6) Victor Matthews, Old Testament Turning Points: The Narratives That Shaped a Nation. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 90.
(7) Anderson, 112