The No and Yes of God
We’re going to be reflecting on 2 Samuel 7 this evening, so I invite you to turn there:
(7.1f) After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it,
for the Lord is with you.”
But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
“Go and tell my servant David,
‘This is what the Lord says:
‘Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?
‘I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.
‘Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
“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.
‘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 great,
like the names of the greatest men on earth.
‘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
and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel.
‘I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:
‘When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood,
and I will establish his kingdom.
‘He is the one who will build a house for my Name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
‘I will be his father, and he will be my son.
When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men,
with floggings inflicted by human hands.
‘But my love will never be taken away from him,
as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me;
your throne will be established forever.’”
So let’s set the scene.
Here, according to verse 1, we find David—the quintessential king of ancient Israel
whose heart belongs to Yahweh, the God of Israel—and he’s finally settling into his palace, finally sitting down on his throne and finally ruling over his kingdom.
Two chapters ago (in chapter 5) he’s just finished conquering the city of a group called the Jebusites—a city called Jerusalem.
And then last chapter (in chapter six) he had just brought one of the most ancient symbols of Yahweh’s presence to this city:
The ark of Yahweh.
That golden chest containing the stone tablets
carved by the finger of Yahweh himself
and brought down Mount Sinai by Moses.
This is the ancient box that had long assured David’s ancestors
and that God would never forget his promises,
that God is with them, that God is among them.
So when verse 1 says that the king is settling in to his palace,
this is what it’s talking about.
The ancient kingdom of Israel finally has a king after Yahweh’s heart.
And this king has just brought that symbol,
that chest, that box, that hope
to the freshly-conquered city of the Jebusites.
David has brought the ark of Yahweh to Jerusalem.
And David is immediately concerned.
He’s not thinking about how great his view is from the fortress of Zion,
he’s not reveling in his growing popularity and reputation,
he’s not deluding himself to think that somehow he’s earned all of this.
Instead, he’s saying, “Why am I in a palace while God’s box is in a tent?”
David wants to build build Yahweh a temple.
He seems to be saying:
“All the neighboring tribes and people groups
have temples and shrines to all of their gods.
“But here we are, with the marvelous and dangerous
and real and living God of the Universe among us!
And we don’t have a legitimate, permanent place to honor him.
“This ark just kinda floats around wherever. We need a temple to celebrate the grandeur and glory and magnificence of THE ONE TRUE GOD.”
“Let’s get to work. Let’s build God a house.”
David seems to have the best of motives.
He’s got a great agenda. He has wonderful intentions.
He’s wanting a good thing.
He’s got God-centered, God-honoring plans.
And God says No.
In verses 4-7, Yahweh speaks to David through a prophet.
God says he hasn’t had a temple up until now and he’s not asking for one (v7).
And then he says:
(5b) Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?
It’s not explicitly stated here—I mean, it’s just a question floating there—
but the implied and quiet answer is No.
Like our lives, the No could be stated more firmly
(it could be recognized more clearly)
with the passage of time.
In the book of 1 Kings, David’s son Solomon is speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony when the temple is finally built, and he says:
(8.17f) My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’
“You are not the one.”
Wow—those are hard words aren’t they?
David is desiring, longing, planning to do
something good, holy and God-honoring.
Yet when he finally hears from God about these plans,
God says No.
Not that. Not now.
Which effectively means, not ever.
You’re not going to get to do it.
It’s gonna play out differently, David.
I think we’re all familiar with this No, aren’t we?
We hear this No all from God all the time.
“God, I’d like to do THAT.
To pursue that dream.
To follow that plan.
To have that relationship.
To experience that kind of thing.”
Or maybe even to serve people in that way.
…and especially that’s when it gets hard.
Because a lot of times, we’re not asking God
for a Porsche in the driveway,
ungodly amounts of cash
and a modest island in south Pacific.
Most of us can probably make guesses about
why God says No to those kinds of things.
But it gets especially hard (sick-to-your-stomach-hard!)
when we’re asking for the right things—
when we’ve got the best of motives,
when we’ve got a good agenda,
when we have wonderful intentions,
when we’re wanting the right things,
when we’ve got God-centered, God-honoring plans,
when God says No to things that God absolutely MUST ultimately want.
Maybe an easy example: food poisoning.
Food poisoning after we’ve said grace.
“God, you’re the God of life who wants people to be healthy,
and I asked you to ‘bless this food to the nourishment of my body’
so what’s up with the food poisoning?”
And yet an hour after I’ve eaten, I’ve gotten a quiet No from God.
That may be a little silly, but the Nos we get from God,
get unbearably loud as we ask for other things—
as we ask for more significant things.
We pray for healing for loved one.
Or the rescue of a marriage.
Or for relief from chronic pain.
Or for greater opportunities to serve others.
Or peace within a family.
Or world peace (I mean, while we’re praying for things).
The No of God is hardest to hear
when we’re praying for and longing for what is good and right—
when we’re wanting to build God a temple.
Like it or not, the No comes
and it seems to come often.
No to a sure thing.
By all accounts David should have been the guy building the temple.
No to a good thing.
The plans are holy and good.
No to something God actually plans to do.
He’s just going to do it through someone else.
God says No.
And it’s hard. It’s confusing. It’s maddening.
And (if we get honest) sometimes it feels like too much.
And a lot times it appears like God’s No
is much more frequent than his Yes.
But I am here, my brothers and sisters to proclaim the good news.
Despite all appearances,
despite all of what we think,
despite all of what we feel,
despite all evidence to the contrary,
that is not true.
God is the God of Yes.
I know. I know.
It’s hysterically good news.
It’s hard to believe.
It appears to go against all the evidence sometimes—against all the odds.
But I tell you the truth—I tell you the gospel—God is the God of Yes.
David still doesn’t get to build the temple,
but listen again to the sort of things that Yahweh says to David:
(v8) I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. (v9) 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 great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. (v10) 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. (v11) I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
It’s like David’s entire life, his entire kingdom, his entire kingship,
his reputation, his victories, his past, his present, his future—
all of it has been by the hand of God.
It’s all gift. It’s all grace. It’s all Yes.
If we want to go beyond God’s words here in chapter seven, if we wanted,
and we could include other things.
You know, little things like:
breath in David’s lungs,
food on David’s table,
his family, his friends,
the sunset, the sunrise,
the cool breeze, the warm sun,
the taste of warm bread and cool water and fresh fruit
naps and pets and music and grass and trees and mountains and stars,
fish leaping, birds singing, children laughing.
All from God.
Gift, gift, gift.
Grace, grace, grace.
Yes, Yes, Yes.
It’s like we’re so surrounded by the Yes of God that we’ve stopped hearing it.
And there’s even more.
Yahweh finishes by making a grand promise—
by giving a Yes to a question that David wasn’t even asking.
The reason the David’s kingdom existed in the first place—the reason why God made a nation out of a man named Abraham way back in Genesis—was because God wanted bring blessing to the entire world (Gen 12).
God wanted to bring light to the world
that humanity plunged into darkness.
God wanted to speak Yes into the world
that we fill with No.
And so God begins to show his plan:
(7.11f) “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. ’”
Well how do you do?
The dynasty of David will go on forever.
David wasn’t expecting this at all.
God is up to something.
The world in Hebrew for house in Hebrew
can have a couple of different meanings.
We’ve got something similar in English.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called
“The Fall of the House of Usher”
that captures both meanings of the word.
House can be a building,
and house can be a family.
If I say I want to build “the house of Davis,”
I could be talking about building a physical house for Joy and me to live in,
or I could be talking about having children.
One is building the house of Davis,
the other is building the house of Davis.
So David is planning to build “a building” for Yahweh,
but Yahweh is planning to build “a family” for David:
And through the centuries, the Jewish community wrestled with what this promise means.
How can it be that the line of David would rule forever?
What could that look like?
I mean, the most immediate and obvious reference here is to Solomon.
After all, Solomon, son of David,
is the king who succeeds his father
and actually builds “a house” (“a temple”) for Yahweh.
But then subsequent generations of David—
grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on—
were successors to the throne.
They were all Sons of David—all anointed kings.
The anointed ones.
In Hebrew you would call them Massiachim or Messiahs.
In Greek, you would call them Xristoi or Christs.
And these christs, these messiahs, these anointed ones, these kings—
they all experienced quite a bit of punishment during the centuries following David.
They endured floggings and punishment because (more often than not)
they were bringing darkness to the world instead of light.
They weren’t blessing the world.
They were part of the problem.
Rebellious, hardhearted, idolatrous,
corrupt, self-righteousness, hypocritical—
you name it.
And yet God made this promise.
He gave a deeper Yes to a question David never asked:
“The dynasty of David will endure forever.”
Turn to Matthew 22 with me.
Fast forward ten centuries with me. The excitement and speculation about a coming a coming king (or messiah or christ), was near fever-pitch in Jesus’ day under the rule of the Roman empire—and a lot of people began claiming that title for themselves.
It was a good way to start a war.
It was a good way to get yourself killed.
Near the end of Jesus’ life, Jesus poses a question
to some of the devout religious leaders about this coming Messiah:
(22.41f) While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”
No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Jesus is asking questions about one of David’s psalms:
If David was writing a song about one of his future descendants—about a future king—then why did he call him “Master”? Why did he call him “Lord”?
David wouldn’t have called Solomon or his grandchildren “Lord.”
He would have called him “Junior” or “Buddy”
But he wouldn’t call him “Master,”
he wouldn’t have called him “Lord.”
And no dares ask Jesus any questions
because he’s implying something incredible about the Messiah.
He’s saying that the long-awaited king isn’t just the son of David.
He’s saying, “I’m a different kind of Messiah than you’ve been expecting.”
The early church caught on to this,
because the earliest proclamation of the Christian movement
was not that Jesus merely was the son of David,
but Jesus was God the Son.
That the utterly unique embodiment of the Creator of the universe
became a flesh-and-blood, living, breathing, eating, sleeping, talking human being.
That the God of Israel became an Israelite.
The God of Abraham became the offspring of Abraham.
The God of David became a son of David.
“I’ll become the blessing to the world promised to Abraham.
I’ll become the Davidic king who would rule forever.”
God speaks a deeper Yes
than David (or anyone) was ever dreaming.
David is preoccupied with building a temple while God is saying:
“I’m about to bring the deepest kind of restoration possible to the world.”
And God accomplishes this restoration,
God speaks the deepest kind of Yes into the world and into our lives
by suffering the deep No that rightfully belonged to the rest of the world.
All four gospels share a common climax to their stories—
they all include the sign above the cross—
the sign that reads “King of Jews.”
The early Christians understood
that this was a different kind of king,
a different kind of messiah, a different kind of Son of David.
This Son of David is also the Son of God,
who takes floggings onto himself are not his,
who is beaten by a rod that he does not deserve,
who endures something that was not his to endure.
And in unspeakable horror of the cross,
our good God was channeling all of the No
that he absolutely must speak
against all the rebellion and corruption and decay and darkness in the world
and he channels that thundering No into himself.
God has to speak No to evil,
but he chooses to have that No pierce his own heart—
and hands and feet and side.
Because Jesus really is human,
he could be humanity’s representative.
And because Jesus really is God,
he could endure it.
And the good news is that he still lives… today.
That he rules the universe… today.
And he speaks the deepest Yes imaginable over us—
a Yes that even shatters death itself—
and he wants to give us ears to hear it.
So David never got to build the temple.
But he was reminded of million quiet Yeses that somewhere he’d stopped hearing.
And then received a deeper Yes than he could ever imagined.
His God would become is descendant.
His Lord would become his Son.
We’re all like David.
We can’t see the how the big picture come together.
And I don’t really don’t how all of this works,
but the biblical witness is insisting that under the reign of Jesus,
God is working all things for good.
And so as we confess Jesus as Lord, we can trust that:
God’s Nos are deeper Yeses to better questions.
Yeses to the requests that we didn’t request.
Answers to the prayers that we couldn’t pray.
Yeses for ultimate good,
even when we’re insisting,
“No, I want to build the temple.”
So may we be driven to our knees
by the “No” endured by Jesus on the cross.
May we be lifted to the heavens
by the “Yes” spoken by Jesus from the cross.
May our eyes be open
to the untold, uncountable, unimaginable “Yeses”
that God surrounds us with and speaks over us every day.
And may we be given ears to hear God’s deeper Yes
especially when we’re not allowed to build the temple.