Friday, October 20, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: A Promise You Can Trust

Purpose: To grasp the ways that God’s covenant blesses us by replacing human presumption with divine promise.

Scripture: 2 Samuel 7

How do you define promise?

The word promise has different meanings in different situations. In nearly all definitions, promise is something not yet realized. A promising young athlete is one in whom there is obvious potential. One who will become stronger or faster or more skilled in the future. A promising musician is one who shows skill but whose skill is expected to increase and grow and mature.

When we marry we promise to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward.

The promise is not yet realized. It is for the future.

When we make loans, we sign a promissory note. We promise to pay back the loan, plus interest, at some point in the future.

When I tell this class that I will teach on the second Sunday of every month, I am promising a future action. Until 10 AM on the second Sunday the promise is unfulfilled.

What ultimately determines the value of a promise?

The fulfillment of a promise is the ultimate determinant of the value of the promise. But what about during the interim? Prior to its fulfillment what determines the value of a promise?

Promises are only as good as the one who makes them. When I forgot that the second Sunday fell during my vacation and failed to secure someone to provide the lesson in my place, my promise became worthless. So what value do you place on my promise to be here to teach you on the second Sunday next month? Probably not as much as you did before last week.

There are three components to our definitions of promise:

1. Potential. A promising athlete or musician demonstrates potential success or even stardom. A signature on a loan note demonstrates a potential payback for the loan institution. An "I do" to a spouse shows a potential life of support and happiness.

2. Obligation. When a promise is made, there is a certain obligation involved in the fulfillment of the promise. How many promising athletes or musicians fail to meet their potential because they fail to meet their obligation to train and practice and study? How many marriage vows are tossed away because one or both parties fail to meet the obligations of being a good husband or wife? How many loans are defaulted because the person who signed the note failed make the obligatory payments?

3. Expectation. All promises contain an element of expectation. We expect those with a promising talent to pursue that talent. We expect our spouse to have and hold, love and cherish, even when times are hard. We expect a person who signs a loan to pay it back. Our children expect us to follow through when we say that we will do certain things. How often we hear the plaintive cry, "But you promised!"

A promise is only as good as the one who makes it. Nothing is so disheartening as a broken promise. Today’s scripture lesson contains a promise that God made to David. Our human notions and components of promise are not adequate when we speak of the promises of God.

What are the differences between a human promise and God’s promises?

God’s promises are much more than potential. God’s promises are an assurance of what will surely and certainly come to pass. God always keeps His promises.

God’s promises are not simple obligations. God’s promises are an indicator of God’s commitment.

God’s promises are far beyond our expectations. God’s promises are declarations of God’s intentions.

God’s promises to David not only blessed David and his descendants, but hold promise for all Christians. Bible scholar Walter Brueggamann has said of today’s passage, "...this is one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith." The New Interpreter’s Bible says, "This chapter is the most important theological text in the books of Samuel and perhaps in the entire Deuteronomic History."

Background to today’s lesson:

In previous lessons, we learned of Israel’s loose tribal confederation under the leadership of judges. This confederation proved inadequate in face of the superior forces and technology of the Philistines. The Philistines were ruled by kings and boasted a powerful military with advanced weapons of iron.

The Israeli conflict with the Philistines was an on-again, off-again struggle from the first days that the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The people of Israel became so discouraged at repeated conflicts and defeats at the hands of the Philistines that they demanded the last judge, Samuel, to give them a king "like other nations." Samuel did not support the people and assured them that God would not be very happy at their lack of faith. Despite Samuel’s doubts, the people were convinced that if they were to secure a defeat of the Philistines that they must be "like other nations" and have a king. The first problem was that having a king was not the only way that the people followed in the way of the other nations. The Israelites repeatedly slipped into the idolatrous beliefs of the surrounding kingdoms. The second problem was the first king, Saul, himself. Saul was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel, but was not given absolute authority to do whatever he pleased. He was to lead the people, but was still called to abide by all the laws of the covenant God had made with Moses and the people. Saul did not live up to the responsibility of making Israel into a godly kingdom. Eventually God rejected Saul. While Saul was still reigning, God had Samuel anoint a successor.

What characteristics did God see in David that qualified David to be king?

David was a courageous military leader, who was largely responsible for the defeat of the Philistines. David served in the military under Saul and was so successful that Saul became jealous. David was a talented musician. It was his musical ability that caused Saul to recruit him. David was the author of many of the Psalms.

The most important quality that God saw in David was his faith.

1Sa 13:14 ESV
(14) .......The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people............

A man that would fulfill all the desires of God’s heart, not oppose them as Saul did.

David was not perfect. David was a sinful man as was Saul. The difference between David and Saul was their response. Saul responded like most of us with arrogance, stubbornness, and rationalizing. David when confronted with his sins, came to God in humility and repentance. When convicted in his heart for his deplorable actions with Bathsheeba and Uriah, David cried out to God for forgiveness and in repentance with Psalm 51 which contains one of my favorite verses:

Psa 51:10 ESV
(10) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

What characteristics that made David a good king do we still look for in political leaders today?

Do we very often find those characteristics in today’s political leaders?

At the time of today’s scripture passage David had consolidated his kingdom to include Israel and Judah with Jerusalem as their capital. The ark of the covenant had been recovered from the Philistines and moved to Jerusalem. A fabulous cedar palace had been constructed for David.

As David considered the contrast of his palace and the tent which housed the ark, he called on Nathan the prophet to speak to God for permission to construct a temple that would permanently house the ark of God. David wanted to provide God with a royal house where the people could come and worship. The idea of building a temple sounded so good to Nathan that, without further consultation, he gave his blessing to David’s idea.

Do things sometimes feel so right that we do not feel the need to stop and pray about them?

That’s the way it was with David and Nathan. That very night God came to Nathan and offered His opinion of the proposed building project.

2Sa 7:5-7 ESV
(5) "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell 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 for my dwelling.
(7) In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'

David and Nathan may have thought that building a temple to house the ark was a good idea, but God had other ideas.

2Sa 7:8-9 ESV
(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, that you should 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. .....

God here reminded David of all that He had done, that David was king only because God had made him king. In fact, God had been guiding David since he was a young shepherd. God’s point was to the point: David’s success was due to God’s guidance, not to the ideas that David had dreamed up.

2Sa 7:9-17 ESV
(9) ... 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 dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men 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.
(12) When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
(13) He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
(14) I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,
(15) but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
(16) And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'"
(17) In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

Here God reveals His plans for David. What promises does God make to David?

What conditions are there to these promises?

How many of these promises have already become a reality?

This is one of the great examples of the Old Testament reflecting the major theme of the New Testament: unconditional grace. The free promise of the good news available to all.

Does God’s promises to David relieve him from the moral demands of God’s Law?

The passage explicitly states that when discipline is necessary, it will be given.

Does the gospel promise relieve us from the moral demands of the Law?

I previously cited quotes concerning this passage from Walter Brueggemann and from the New Interpreter’s Bible.

Why do you think Brueggemann called this text "one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith" and why did the New Interpreter’s Bible declare this passage "the most important theological text in the books of Samuel and perhaps in the entire Deuteronomic History"?

This covenant with David contains no "ifs". The Mosaic covenant contained "ifs". "If" you keep my laws you will be my people. The Davidic covenant is unconditional. This unconditional grace is the basis of Christian belief. Theologians regard this grace as the example of how God always deals with us. This text and the New Testament tell us about the amazing unconditional grace of God. This passage and the New Testament also tell us that this covenant does not in any way nullify the moral laws of the Mosaic covenant.

The Davidic covenant also played the key role in the creation of the messianic hope of the Jews and the Christian understanding that Jesus is that Messiah. Historically the Davidic dynasty ended in 586 BC when Jerusalem was conquered, the temple destroyed and the people of Judah taken away by the Babylonians. Because of the unconditional nature of this promise, the prophets encouraged the people to expect that God would restore them through a descendant of David.

In what ways do we connect Jesus with David?

The messianic hope of the Jewish people was that a human agent of Davidic descent would be God’s "annointed one". The messiah would not represent the end of the world but would save God’s people within the course of history. The early Christians saw the fulfillment of this divine promise in Jesus. Christ is Greek for "messiah". Jesus announced the coming kingdom of God, which would bring about a transformation of human history.

What kind of "house" did God promise He would make for David?

In a clever play on words, God says that He will not allow David to build Him a house but that He would build David a house, referring to a dynasty.

2Sa 7:11-14 ESV
(11)...the LORD will make you a house.
(12) When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
(13) He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
(14) I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. ...

Has God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom been fulfilled?