House of cedar and gold.
By Debbie Blue
Old Testament Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-16
For Sunday, October 18, 2011: Year B—Advent 4
“Now when the king was settled in his house…” Seems like an archetypal opening line. Now, of course, something will come to unsettle him—trolls or witches, a bathing woman, possibly God.
We Love Kings
David is the figure that represents the shift from dynamic prophet leaders of a nomadic faith to sedentary monarchs, imperial reality. The people begin to long for something a little more refined than 12 tribes. They want to be like other nations with a powerful man to lead them. God had been explicit; in choosing a king they reject God. God warns them that the king will take their freedom, make them slaves.
They don’t care. They want one anyway. So, the text says, they pick a “tall and handsome man” to rule over them. It’s so typical. Though there is hardly a Biblical figure with more grandeur surrounding him than David, beneath the royal narrative is a constant critique of the will to power.
The shift from a nomadic faith to an imperial reality leads the nation to exile. The people (the narrative) almost get lost in the haze of palace intrigue, armies and battles, but God keeps calling the people out of the slavery empire brings. This is kind of a running theme.
David settles down in his big ol’ house puts up his feet on his royal footstool and thinks, “let me see now, I should build God a house.”
Is God indignant or just amused? God’s response seems mixed. I like hearing God say “I have not lived in a house, did I ever say build me a house? I’ve been roaming about with you all along, taking care of you. You think I need a house?”
The people may have wanted a king, but God is not going to be confined by royal structures. God remains outside in a tent rather than settling into bastions of power.
On the other hand, God concedes that David’s son will build God a house. The royal narratives are messy and mixed up and you get caught up in the palace intrigues because they’re interesting.
David’s an interesting character—sometimes beautifully vulnerable. He’s also a violent mercenary, adulterer, power hungry manipulator. The narratives draw on our sympathy at the same time that they invite our critique.
Clear Cutting and Slave Labor
Solomon does end up building a temple. He uses slave labor. It sounds like he clear cuts the forests of Lebanon to do the floors. He overlays everything with gold.
At his dedication speech he says to God, “I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell forever.” It almost seems like a threat—like with Rapunzel, like some evil stepmother threatening to keep God (the God who roams) locked up in the palace forever.
To further the sort of sinister image, Solomon has so much blood shed at the dedication (“sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered”). Jerusalem must have been flooded with blood. The project is fraught, to say the least.
Again, I’m not sure what the lectionariers were up to, but this seems like a meaningful juxtaposition of texts. In the gospel text, God is housed in Mary’s womb temporarily and then is born into the world clothed in flesh (not gold or cedar).
The story of God being born into the world through the womb of a female, like all humans, most animals, is an emphatic statement of something. Talk about trying to lead the people again in a new way, out of slavery to imperial reality: a womb, a barn, a child.
The Hardest Question
There’s something steadfast about God in the text, but there’s also something cagey. Why did God take away God’s steadfast love from Saul and promise it to Solomon (a character much more entangled with money and power and empire)? Is there some reason the writers needed to tilt the narrative in Solomon’s favor?