In this chapter, we have a brief interlude in which David frets that he hasn’t done enough for God. Ever the humble (or, perhaps, cautious) king, David is concerned that his cedar house (I assume this is the one built for him by King Hiram of Tyre in 2 Sam. 5:11) might upstage God’s little tent.

He decides to check in with God, this time using a prophet named Nathan instead of his normal liaison, Abiathar. Nathan agrees with David, or at least seems to recognize that David can apparently do not wrong (SPOILERS: So far!) in God’s eyes. “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the Lord is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3).

Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits, 1671

Nathan advises King David, by Matthias Scheits, 1671

Either God changes his mind, or Nathan spoke in his name without actually consulting him. Since Nathan is never really rebuked for advising David falsely, either he is as unimpeachable as David, or God changed his mind. Either explanation is troubling, and there’s no discernible reason to have included Nathan’s bad advice in the first place.

The first night after Nathan tells David to go ahead and build a temple, God speaks to him (probably through a dream) saying that no, he doesn’t actually want a temple, thank you very much. He has always lived in a tent, he says, and never has he wanted more. Rather, he has a plan: when David is dead, an offspring of his will be raised up to build God a house (SPOILERS: He’s talking about Solomon).

Even though God claims here that he’s always lived in a tent, that was not the impression I got of the ark’s digs in Shiloh, where Eli is able to sit “by the doorposts of the Lord’s house” (1 Sam. 1:9) and where Samuel is able to “[lie] down in the temple of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:3).

God goes on a bit about covenants and establishing thrones and all that usual stuff, which Nathan dutifully reports back to David.

David then fills up the rest of the chapter with a speech of his own about all the wonderful stuff God is doing for him and how wonderful he is for condescending to reveal part of his Plan. There’s loads of “forevers,” which is rather ironic as I read this over two thousand years after the “forever” monarchy was destroyed.

A land of many houses

The word “house” is used over and over again throughout the chapter, and it’s obviously intentional, a play on words. David is concerned that his house (palace) is too shower, but God tells him to focus on building his house (dynasty) rather than God’s house (temple), but David is humble and asks “what is my house” (family status) in 2 Sam. 8:18.

What’s going on?

So what is this chapter doing here?

It could be an attempt to explain history. In the last chapter, I wondered if the stories about Michal were meant to defend David against the charge that his marriage had been an act of political manoeuvring. Here, it could be that the exchange with Nathan is meant to explain why David – who is portrayed as being so devout – never got around to building God a temple.

There also seems to be some speculation that the Deuteronomist editor has had a hand in this chapter. According to Collins:

But 7:13a, “He shall build a house for my name,” is widely recognized as a secondary addition. That the house will be build “for my name” is a trademark of Deuteronomistic theology. Presumably, then, the reference to Solomon was added by a Deuteronomistic editor, and the basic oracle was older.

[…]

In Deuteronomistic theology, covenants are conditional. The fortunes of the king depend on his observance of the law. The idea that God had promised David an everlasting dynasty by the oracle of Nathan was probably an established tradition in Jerusalem. The present formulation of the promise has been edited by the Deuteronomists, to emphasized that the king was still subject to punishment. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.125)

As Collins points out, however, much of the oracle has a more unconditional feel to it, more Genesis 15 than Deuteronomy. Still, the evidence for a Deuteronomist edit is, apparently, controversial.