This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
WOMEN OF EGYPT SAVING DEMOCRACY FROM THE BARBARIANS
2 Samuel 7:1-17
7Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ 3Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I 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 and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ 8Now 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 to be prince over my people Israel; 9and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from 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. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. 17In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Scholars differ on the date of this so-called “Nathan Prophecy”, many doubting that it belongs to the time of King David; but these considerations should not blind the modern reader to its astonishing content. The prophet represents God as refusing to have a temple built for him. He has been a travelling God who accompanied his people, and in particular has accompanied his servant David. This active God does not want to settle down in a house made by his people. Rather he will make them a “house”-the dynasty of David which will bear the steadfast love of God, and be in a sense, his dwelling place.
The modern reader may baulk at the everlasting power given to the Davidic monarchy, and may object that there is no evidence that this promise was ever fulfilled in history. Yet the stubborn hope that an anointed leader, a messiah, would come from the “house of David” continued to give hope to the people in dark times.
It’s also clear that the people of Israel decisively rejected this theology-indeed it is David’s successor, Solomon, who builds a temple-and saw their temple as the symbol of God’s enduring presence.
Both symbols, temple and Davidic descent, are used by New Testament authors in their understanding of Jesus: for them, He unites these symbols, being for his followers both the one in whom God is worshipped and the one in whom God shepherds his people.
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
For the atmosphere of Luke’s narrative, see my last blog 614. The fierce young women who await the Messiah, now meet each other, the one bearing the future John Baptist, the other bearing the messiah. By emphasising the social femininity of this meeting-the word womb is used three times- Luke points to the importance of women in God’s plans and to the physicality of God’s salvation: it comes in flesh and blood.
Luke models Mary’s song on Hannah’s song (see blog 614) which in turn was originally a royal psalm in which the king praised God for victory. In her own song Mary takes on the role of Israel, the humiliated slave-girl, who will be raised up by God’s topsy-turvy rule, which will also bring down the big battalions to the dust. It is a song for small people everywhere whom God promises to raise up, not by an act of abstract power but in Jesus his anointed, issue of a human womb, who fulfils the promises made to Abraham in the most revolutionary way: God’s promise to Abraham, that in his family all human families will be blessed, turns out to be even more important than the promise to the house of David, that it will shepherd Israel. In Jesus, all nations are invited into the one “house of God.”