1 Chronicles 17 (NIV)✞: God’s Promise to David, David’s Prayer
In the last passage, after having brought the Ark of the LORD to Jerusalem, David created a Psalm of praise to the LORD. At the time, I noted that part of the reason David was praising God was for His promise to Abraham—His covenant with him—and that God was about to make a covenant with David in the chapter we’re looking at here.
That covenant doesn’t happen right away; it starts with David feeling he should build a temple1 for God. After, all, he says to Nathan (the prophet), “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent” (v. 1✞). This seems like a good idea to Nathan, who tells David to go ahead and do it because “God is with you” (v. 2✞).
This is obviously Nathan’s own opinion, however, not a prophecy, because God has different ideas. His “word” comes to Nathan that night. (As is so often the case, the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how Nathan received this word, just that he received it.)
I’ll go through it bit by bit.
First, God informs David that, although a temple will be built, David won’t be the one to build it:
3 But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying:
4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in. 5 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up out of Egypt to this day. I have moved from one tent site to another, from one dwelling place to another. 6 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their leaders whom I commanded to shepherd my people, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
I think what interests me the most about this part of God’s message is that it almost sounds like a rebuke. I’m guessing it’s not intended that way, and maybe it sounds different in the original Hebrew than in English, but in looking at a few different English versions it always sounds like God is being a bit sarcastic with David; for example, click here to see a side-by-side comparison in a few versions (NIV,ESV,KJV,NKJV)✞. It sounds (to me) like God is rhetorically asking David, “In all of these years I’ve never asked any of Israel’s leaders to build me a ‘house,’ so why would you think you’d be any different?” But that harsh tone doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the passage, unless I’m missing something (which is always possible).
After telling David that he isn’t the one to build a temple for Him, God now tells him that he’s going to be blessed even more than he already has been:
7 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 8 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth. 9 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies.
For a king, this is fantastic news! God is going to subdue Israel’s enemies!
Not only that, however, but God is going to make David famous. Not that “fame” is something the people of David’s day thought of, but God promises David that his name will be like the names of the greatest men on earth.
As a side note, I’m especially fascinated by how this promise has been carried out, because it’s true – in religious circles. Ask a Christian, or probably a Jew, to name some of the most famous people from the Scriptures, and David’s name is probably going to be one of the top two or three; Moses and Jesus and Abraham are also going to be up there, as would Paul and Peter for Christians, but I’m betting that most Christians or Jews would have King David up in the top three – the top five at the very least. However, if you talk to someone who’s not religious, who doesn’t read the Bible or attend church or go to a synagogue, I’m guessing that King Solomon is a lot more famous than King David. Irreligious people would probably know the story of David and Goliath, but they’d definitely know that King Solomon was richer and wiser than anyone else in the known world of his day.
It’s a nice metaphor for biblical thinking vs. worldly thinking: the Bible promotes the kind of devotion to the LORD that David exhibited, while the world promotes the kind of riches and intelligence exhibited by Solomon.
Speaking of Solomon, he’s the one that will be building a temple for God:
“‘I declare to you that the LORD will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’”
In the closer context of this passage the emphasis is on the temple that Solomon will be building. David wanted to build a temple, but God is saying no, his son will build it instead.
However, there is a larger covenant being made here than just the Temple, despite the emphasis on the Temple in the book of Chronicles: God is also promising David that his line will rule forever. I’m not the first to point out that this started because David wanted to build a house for the LORD and God said no, I’m going to build a house for you instead.
This is a promise that has resonated down throughout the centuries; we should remember that the book of Chronicles was written after the nation of Israel was split into Israel and Judah; after Israel’s defeat to the Assyrians; even after Judah’s defeat to the Babylonians. In fact, it was written as a number of God’s people were returning to their Promised Land, but still under the thumb of an oppressor—I believe it was the Persians at this time but I might have my history wrong—and there wasn’t a Jewish king on any kind of throne. They needed reminding that God would keep His promises, and that even though they couldn’t see how it was working, God had made this covenant with His servant David.
The Christian, of course, takes this even further: we see this covenant cascading all the way down the line of David (and Solomon) to Jesus, who is reigning, now and forever.
Interestingly, history treats the David vs. Solomon question for this covenant exactly the opposite from the way we treat the point above on David’s name (vs. Solomon’s name):
|David’s name will become well known
|True in religious circles, while Solomon is arguably better known in the secular world
|Solomon’s throne will be established forever
|We never think of it as a covenant made with Solomon, or Solomon’s line ruling forever, we only think of it in terms of his father David
In verses 16–27✞ we see David’s response to God in prayer.
As we might expect, David starts his prayer sounding almost like he’s in shock:
16 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
“Who am I, LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 17 And as if this were not enough in your sight, my God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You, LORD God, have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men.
18 “What more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant, 19 LORD. For the sake of your servant and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made known all these great promises.
David is floored by these promises from God as anyone would be.
Whenever we’re floored by something that God has done for us, it should lead us back to thoughts of how amazing He is:
20 “There is no one like you, LORD, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 21 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth whose God went out to redeem a people for himself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 22 You made your people Israel your very own forever, and you, LORD, have become their God.
In this case, David points out that it’s not just God Himself, His people are also unlike any other – not because the Israelites are so amazing, but because their God has chosen them for Himself. In other words, David starts by talking about how amazing God is, and then uses His people, the nation of Israel, to show even more how amazing He is.
This is also directly related to the promise itself: God will have someone from the line of David/Solomon on the throne forever, which means that God will have a chosen people of His own forever. The Christian would say that the nature of God’s children has expanded, it’s no longer just Israelites who are God’s children, but in essence this is still true.
He ends his prayer by recognising that even these promises to himself are really for God’s glory:
23 “And now, LORD, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be established forever. Do as you promised, 24 so that it will be established and that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The LORD Almighty, the God over Israel, is Israel’s God!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.
25 “You, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. So your servant has found courage to pray to you. 26 You, LORD, are God! You have promised these good things to your servant. 27 Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, LORD, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever.”
It sounds odd for David to be praying that God would do what God had just finished promising to do, but that’s not the point David is trying to make here. The important part is the “so that” part of this request: “Do what You have said You will do so that Your name will be great forever.” David recognises that these promises from God will ultimately lead to people praising God; they will look at David’s life and, instead of thinking about what a great man David was, will think about what a great God the LORD is, Who accomplished all this.
Which… isn’t always how things work out. We don’t always think like that, and there have been countless sermons preached on exactly the opposite lines. (i.e. “David was a great man, so we should try to be more like him.”)
When we have our heads on straight we look at David’s life, at God’s promises to him (which are true to this day and have been fulfilled in Jesus), and see God’s hand, not David’s righteousness.
- In the spirit of greatly overthinking every grammatical decision I make on this blog, I’ll point out that I usually capitalise “Temple” when talking about the Temple, whereas I wouldn’t capitalise the word when talking about a temple. So here, when God is telling David that “a temple” will be built, but David is not the one to build “that temple,” I decided not to capitalise it because it’s not yet the Temple, it’s just a concept. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who is hard core about capilisation of certain terms when referring to the Scripture, if they feel I should have done so here as well. ↩