Bible Tuesday for Advent IV, 2014
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
7 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.
There are a few topics to examine in this text:
Hubris-David has the gall to presume to build GOD a house! So David and his builders figure out how to build a wooden house and move from a tent into an immovable structure. Good for them, but how that qualifies David to house the creator of all that is, I do not know. David assumes that because he can be honored with a wooden house, God should certainly have the same, otherwise David looks greater than God. It is as if David has become so great, that now he wants to bring God up to his level. Hubris!
House-This whole text plays puns on “house”. The word for house is “bayit” which has been anglicized to “beth”. David comes from Bethlehem, which in Hebrew is “bayit lechem” or “House of Bread”. The Hebrew is playing on the fact that David comes from a “house” and now lives in a “house” and wants to build God a “house,” but God wants to make of David a dynasty, which God is calling a “house.” As a “house” is a permanent structure, as opposed to a moveable tent or the Ark of the Covenant, David’s desire to build God is house is also an effort to confine and domesticate God.
From the Pasture-David was a shepherd of sheep until God called him to be shepherd of Israel, by a very circuitous route, calling David out of the pastures of Bethlehem and into the pastures of all Israel.
Many scholars speculate that the scrolls of Samuel were originally written to prove the Divinely Chosen Status of the Davidic line (which was greatly disputed immediately after David’s death.)
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
1 I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. 2 For I said, "Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness." 3 You have said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’" Selah 19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: "I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, 21 so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.22 The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. 26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
This psalm reinforces the establishment of the Davidic line, but makes it clear that God has done this. Despite the fact that through the prophets of Samuel and Nathan, God calls David “after my own heart”, nevertheless, rarely do the scrolls of Samuel every mention David praying. David seems to make some very shrewd maneuvers to solidify his monarchy and then proceeds to enlarge the kingdom, but he does these things without consulting the prophets or God through prayer, for the most part. In this psalm, God speaks and states that God has accomplished all these marvelous works through David. David is not a partner, or an independent actor, but a envoy, a tool, an agent.
25 Now to God, who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
The writings of Paul are the most difficult to translate and interpret in the New Testament. The above text is a perfect example. As the Greek of the New Testament was written in all capital letters with no spaces between words and no punctuation, discerning writing like the above is open to many interpretations. In addition, while the gospel of John is written in very simply written, straight forward Greek (it is the book Greek learners start on), the writings of Paul are all in complex Greek, with many dependent clauses, asides, and other oratory tools. So, if you read the above sentence (yes, that is one sentence) and say to yourself, “Wait, what?” you are not alone. There are even comments in the later epistles of the New Testament that Paul’s writings are very hard to understand.
This text is the final sentence of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, his doxology. In it Paul invokes God’s ability to work through him and the good news of God that he brings, through Jesus, through history, through the prophets, and even through the Gentiles, to save all by His power displayed and culminated in Jesus.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
When we read texts like this, ones we think we almost know by heart, it is very difficult to hear exactly what the text says. We tend to blend the gospels, to harmonize them as if they all say the same thing. That is especially true of the Christmas story. But remember, only two of the gospels have anything of the Christmas story. Only one gospel has shepherd and only one has the wise men. Not one has a drummer boy! Or lowing cattle! Or a donkey, long eared or not, on which Mary rides. When we read the Bible, most especially these familiar stories, it is important that we try to clear our heads of our familiarity of the story and hear what this gospel writer has to tell us of God.
If we read this text very cleanly and strictly, we know nothing of Mary except the following: Mary is an unwed woman. We are told this by the word that is here translated “virgin”. This word in both Greek and Hebrew means “unwed woman” and implies “young” and in both Old and New Testament culture, a Hebrew woman stayed a virgin until her marriage or she was a prostitute. This culture stoned Romeos and Juliets.
Mary is almost married to a man named Joseph, who was of King David’s line. Engagement in that culture meant that families had already made a covenant that the two people were going to be married. The only thing stopping the marriage at that moment were the various wedding plans coming to fruition and the synagogue official had to be present. To end this engagement required a decree of divorce, same as a marriage.
At the time of this visitation, Mary is still living in her family’s home. The only way an unwed woman left home was if she was orphaned and no relative took her in. In that case she became a prostitute or died of exposure. As Mary is alive and well and still a virgin, we know she lives in the home of a relative.
When the angel visits Mary, she is alarmed and confused. “Much perplexed” and “fear not” convey this. Also, notice how the angel tells Mary about the child she will bear, how he will be the Son of God and will fill a truly remarkable role in all history and all she says is, “But I am a virgin!?”
Mary and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, are relatives. No other gospel tells us this. No other gospel even includes the birth of John the Baptist.