A house for HaShem and the House of David

More notes from the Hirshleifer Tanakh Study Group at UCLA. Now we’re up to 2 Sam. 7.

The seventh chapter of the Second Book of Samuel carries “the David story” forward in two directions: it accounts for the fact (in history or legend) that Solomon, not David, built the Temple, and it establishes the claim (later to be of tremendous historical significance in a way that the authors could not have imagined) that the line of David will be established forever.

Verbally, the chapter turns on the dual meaning of bet (house): meaning both a dwelling and a lineage or dynasty. David will not build a bet for HaShem, but HaShem will establish bet David forever.

David, having brought the Ark to Jerusalem and built a royal palace, and enjoying a brief respite from warfare, says to Nathan the prophet (first introduced here) that while he, David, dwells in a cedar house, the ark has no permanent structure to hold it.

Nathan at first encourages David (“Whatever you say, boss”) but then has dream in which the “Word of HaShem” comes to him, saying (1) that HaShem has never asked for a cedar house for the Ark, (2) that HaShem has favored David, (3) that HaShem will give Israel a permanent territory so that the people no longer have to wander; (4) that HaShem will give David a successor of his own blood, who will build a house “for My name,” and (5) that while HaShem may rebuke David’s descendants, He will not take the kingdom from them as it was taken from the House of Saul.

The voice of HaShem in Nathan’s dream is strikingly anthropomorphic in its language. David had referred to the Ark being improperly housed, but HaShem speaks to Nathan as if HaShem were personally present: “I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle.”

David responds with a hymn of praise, which lays stress on his own humble origins and his advancement by HaShem, on the promise to establish his house forever (“Is this the manner of men?”), and on HaShem’s generosity to Israel.


2 Sam. 7:

And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and HaShem had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said unto Nathan the prophet: ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.’

And Nathan said to the king: ‘Go, do all that is in thy heart; for HaShem is with thee.’

And it came to pass the same night, that the word of HaShem came unto Nathan, saying:

‘Go and tell My servant David: Thus saith HaShem: Shalt thou build Me a house for Me to dwell in? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle.

In all places wherein I have walked among all the children of Israel, spoke I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed My people Israel, saying: Why have ye not built Me a house of cedar?

Now therefore thus shalt thou say unto My servant David: Thus saith HaShem of hosts: I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be prince over My people, over Israel.

And I have been with thee whithersoever thou didst go, and have cut off all thine enemies from before thee; and I will make thee a great name, like unto the name of the great ones that are in the earth.

And I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disquieted no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will cause thee to rest from all thine enemies.

Moreover HaShem telleth thee that HaShem will make thee a house.

When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy body, and I will establish his kingdom.

He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

I will be to him for a father, and he shall be to Me for a son; if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men; but My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever.’

According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.

Then David the king went in, and sat before HaShem; and he said: ‘Who am I, O HaShem Elohim, and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me thus far?

And this was yet a small thing in Thine eyes, O HaShem Elohim; but Thou hast spoken also of Thy servant’s house for a great while to come; and this too after the manner of great men, O HaShem Elohim.


And what can David say more unto Thee? for Thou knowest Thy servant, O HaShem Elohim.

For Thy word’s sake, and according to Thine own heart, hast Thou wrought all this greatness, to make Thy servant know it.

Therefore Thou art great, O HaShem Elohim; for there is none like Thee, neither is there any God beside Thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

And who is like Thy people, like Israel, a nation one in the earth, whom Elohim went to redeem unto Himself for a people, and to make Him a name, and to do for Thy land great things and tremendous, even for you, in driving out from before Thy people, whom Thou didst redeem to Thee out of Egypt, the nations and their gods?

And Thou didst establish to Thyself Thy people Israel to be a people unto Thee for ever; and Thou, HaShem, becamest their God.

And now, O HaShem Elohim, the word that Thou hast spoken concerning Thy servant, and concerning his house, confirm Thou it for ever, and do as Thou hast spoken.

And let Thy name be magnified for ever, that it may be said: HaShem of hosts is God over Israel; and the house of Thy servant David shall be established before Thee.

For Thou, O HaShem of hosts, the God of Israel, hast revealed to Thy servant, saying: I will build thee a house; therefore hath Thy servant taken heart to pray this prayer unto Thee.

And now, O HaShem Elohim, Thou alone art God, and Thy words are truth, and Thou hast promised this good thing unto Thy servant; now therefore let it please Thee to bless the house of Thy servant, that it may continue for ever before Thee; for Thou, O HaShem Elohim, hast spoken it; and through Thy blessing let the house of Thy servant be blessed for ever.’

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com