The Lord came to Nathan in the same night as a response to the expressed desire of King David. This response is the Davidic Covenant. God starts off with a reminder of His history with Israel and David.
History with Israel
In the short 3 verses of 2 Sam 7:5-7, God made it clear about His view on a house on earth that was consistent. God started with a rhetorical question, which in closer examination made David’s proposal sounded ridiculous in the grand schema of things. Let us compare the greatest splendour on earth to heaven, God’s dwelling. Of course, most of us have never seen heaven. Yet it is heaven because it is nothing like earth. A perfect place that cannot be found here on earth. This explains why God has never once commanded the Israelites to build Him a house. A dwelling on earth cannot match up to heaven.
God commanded the Israelites to build the Tabernacle of the Lord through Moses with detailed specifications. He moved from place to place with the Israelites in the Ark of the Covenant carried by the priests and rested in the Tabernacle. He even went into battles with the Israelites. Yet there was no demand of a temple or a permanent house. This is in great contrast to the other pagan gods in the region where the gods require extravagant temples. Just check out the structures left standing in Karnak of Egypt and we can see how grand those temples stood and the building were required of their worshippers. This love of God went beyond Himself to dwell among Israel in a tent, forgoing heaven. How can anyone forgo heaven? Only God who is completely secure in Himself.
It blows my mind to consider the God of heaven and earth would choose to confine Himself in the Ark of the Covenant in a tent to journey with Israel. How humbling can this be? He could have demanded a more extravagant set up and Israel will have to build it. Yet, no matter how extravagant, it still pales in comparison to His heavenly abode with angelic host giving Him full worship day and night, where everything is what it is meant to be. Here on earth, He had to deal with complains, grumblings and disobedience from the very people He was pouring out His love on. It is acceptable for the kings on earth to have extravagant setup, advance security, protocol and honour, even in our current times. For the God of Heaven, the Tabernacle of The Lord, together with His Laws, which also covered the well-being of the Israelites, should receive the honour that is due even though we have the New Testament.
The expectation of His love was not in physical return of a physical dwelling, but the heart of obedience. As deep as this Love runs, the expectation of return is one that runs deep, beyond the physical. The reincarnation of Christ in human form was an extension of this self-giving love that was exhibited right from the time with God in Old Testament. This is the heart of God that has never changed.
History with David (2 Sam 7:8-9a)
God reminded David of his humble beginnings as a young shepherd boy. I love the phrase “from following the sheep” used in NKJV & NASB versions in verse 8. In some other versions, the word “tending” was used but the richness of the role of a shepherd is lost. The phrase “leading from behind”, a leadership concept in the marketplace that is rather revolutionary or even debatable, is derived from the how shepherd’s the lead the sheep from the rear. Thought this blog post is a great read about leading from behind: https://saffold.com/blog/2016/12/15/leading-from-behind-the-shepherds-way/. Shepherd walks at the back of their sheep to help them navigate and allow the sheep to run ahead. Yet when danger comes, the shepherd will move to the front to protect. For someone who does not understand the workings of a shepherd, it will look as though the shepherd is following the sheep as he is at the back.
In a single sentence, God included both leadership of the sheep and the nation of Israel. It is no dispute that God moved David from insignificance to significance, from sheep to nation. Perhaps deeper than this, God is saying the principle of leading for both is the same. Moreover, the nation of Israel is often times alluded as sheep in the Bible. The nation of Israel needed protection and someone to fight for them at the forefront to secure a land that is safe for their dwelling. David fulfilled the role in the years of war as king of Judah, and then king over all Israel. Now that Israel is at rest, it is time for the shepherd to move to the rear to allow the sheep to roam and enjoy. The ability to know when to be at the back and in the front is crucial in leadership and also for the leader. As we read on in chapter 11, we realised David stayed in the rear when he was supposed to go out for battle, leading to adultery with and murder.
The training David received as a young man in the fields with his sheep was the exact transferable skills he needed as a king. This brings to mind how God orchestrated and planned every single detail in David’s life. I believe this is true for each one of us as well. God equips the called, even before the call.
God did not stop there. God showed David how He was the Shepherd to him in verse 9a, “I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you.” Such a beautiful image here that God is the lead Shepherd. The abiding presence of God was His way of leading in an unassuming way, working behind the scene. This brings a different perspective to understand John 20:27 where the sheep responds to the voice of the shepherd from behind, without the shepherd having to be right up in front. God never fails to show up when dangers come because He is near even though not always visible in the front. So let’s rest in our Shepherd’s leading and protection.