2 SAMUEL 7 and 8
The next chapter in 2 Samuel is simple, yet profound! The Ark had been safely returned to Jerusalem without anyone else dying and David was now established fully as king over all Israel. He had had a cedar palace built and moved in with his wives, concubines, children, and servants. Everything was wonderful! And then, David was troubled: “My house is better than God’s house”, he thought to himself, “That cannot be right!”. He shared it with Nathan, one of his new appointments as prophet to the King. Nathan, new to the role and probably eager to please, knew what David was getting at and assumed that such a great man as David must be thinking along the right lines… but he was wrong!
It is easy to think that a very wise and famous believer is almost infallible; we go to hear an international Christian speaker and swallow his message ‘undiluted’. But no-one is perfect; no-one hears from God totally clearly and without error or distortion. Even the great apostle Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 13): “For we know in part and we prophesy in part”. We do far better to test what we hear preached, taught, or prophesied, just as the noble Bereans did in Acts 17:11, checking through the scriptures to satisfy themselves that any new teaching was compatible with the revealed Word of God.
David asked Nathan because he wanted to know what God was saying – rather than just Nathan’s opinion. David, a man after God’s heart, demonstrated this characteristic by seeking the Lord’s will on every occasion, big or small, and by then following that heavenly command to the letter. That is why David was such a successful king. Failure to seek the will of the Spirit of God is one of the main reasons that we stumble in life, and in our spiritual journey. If only we would consult the Lord day-to-day, and hour-to-hour! This both informs us and honours him.
Suitably rebuked by the Lord, Nathan finally hears his true will and conveys that to David: God does not want or need a house built for Him, but he will build a household for the king. God promised that, just as he had raised David from the job of a lowly shepherd, so he would continue to exalt him and make him one of the greatest shepherd-kings ever! David’s offspring would benefit from the blessing that was David’s reward, and God himself would be a father to David’s children. Fatherhood includes “Punishing the son with the rod of correction” – a literal physical punishment that all children need from time to time, when administered fairly and lovingly by a father with a servant heart. The book of Proverbs is full of the benefits of disciplining children properly, of including corporal punishment sparingly, and of not being afraid to make yourself unpopular with your children in order to raise them to be upright and godly citizens. We parents need the Word of God here as a counterweight to overblown sentimentality and an irrational fear of upsetting our children. As Hebrews 12 tells us:
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Having heard the revelation, David prayed it all back to the Lord. Much prophecy is implicitly conditional and needs its conditions fulfilled and its promises prayed. So David thanks God for being so gracious to him in the past and asks for the complete fulfilment of God’s promises in the future. That is the way to deal with prophecy!
Just because David was a man after God’s heart did not prevent him from being utterly ruthless in battle. He first came to Israel’s attention by killing Goliath, and he now maintained his reputation by delivering crushing defeats on all his enemies. Even the way he dealt with his defeated enemies was merciless – taking the Roman concept of ‘Decimation’ and racking up the severity level by nearly seven. (See 2 Samuel 8:2.) He slaughtered the Philistines, the Moabites, various groups of Arameans, and Edomites. God had commanded that any Israelite king must not acquire great numbers of horses (Deuteronomy 17:16), so David had them hamstrung instead.
If all this shows David’s ruthless sense of justice and his great power against the evil forces, then it shows that the man after God’s heart must be like God himself in this regard. We are fond of proclaiming the love, the mercy, and the grace of the Lord, but we must not overlook that he is the God of Justice, of righteousness, and of majesty too. He does punish his enemies and reject those who reject him. His mercy is incomprehensible unless it is seen through the lens of his justice.
A great leader needs great men around him, and David filled the key roles of Army Commander, Recorder (or maybe Chief Administrator), the Joint High Priests, Secretary, and chief officials. Many leaders are insecure and will only appoint people under them who are unthreatening ‘yes men’; it is far better to appoint people who are better than you (in your view) as long as they are willing to acknowledge your authority and to serve your vision.
David had a spirit of generosity and actively sought out those he could bless. He felt an obligation to the household of Saul and remembered his friendship, and his covenant, with Jonathan. So he found a surviving son of Jonathan – crippled in both feet – and raised him up to the status of honoured guest for life. Mephibosheth was a man of great honour and graciously received David’s ongoing hospitality and income for life. He would feature a little later on as a true and loyal supporter of the King, even when David was a refugee in his own kingdom and out of favour with the people. True friends stay loyal and uphold you when you are not ‘flavour of the month’, so choose them wisely!