Scratchpad: Exegesis of the Greek 2 Samuel 7.1-17

Solomon's Wealth and Wisdom, as in 1 Kings 3:1...
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Yep, the gift of Seminary. Personally, and don’t tell my wife I said this, but I am thinking that the only real reason that I am in Seminary is because it helps with blogging. Shhhhhh……

It is my position that the use of the Temple story has been contextualized by different authors during Israel’s history, and most notably by the authors/translators of the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. While it may not always be safe to call a translator an author, the fact remains that the Old Greek differs greatly in place from the Hebrew vorlage so much so that we may place upon the translators the title of author, or at least a reauthor of sorts. In 2nd Samuel 7.1-17 in the Septuagint, we find a contextualization of the passage to allow for the imminent ‘Great David’s greater Son’ (Mark 12.35-37; Luke 1.32) as well as the negatively to be placed not on the intended Saul but perhaps all of Israelite royal history. In doing so, the Greek translators allowed, as they did for Isaiah 7.14, for continued recontextualization of the passage to be made by New Testament authors and later writers. In his essay on this passage which was delivered to the 2008 annual meeting of the SBL, Omer Sergi argues that the Hebrew passage underwent at least three different redactions according to the worldview of the authors. Along this same vein, the Greek translators are, according to their own worldview, reauthoring this passage.

Second Samuel 7.4-17 has long been used in connection to Messianic Expectation in connection with Jesus Christ, rather, the periscope of verse 14-16 which speaks specifically to the future King. Ideally, however, the passage (both the Temple and the Dynastic Promise) should be taken as a whole given that promises once made to David by YHWH are now being removed from him and given to another, namely to that of Solomon. To blindly allow the passage to speak only in regards to Christ would be violently destructive to the text itself, to the intentions of the original author, and to the original application. No doubt that the original author(s) was writing in hope of something while attempting to misalign David as the ideal king, but it is doubtful that a future event some five centuries later was expected. While the text is prophetic, note that it is given from God to the Prophet Nathan and then to David in response to David’s prayer, prophecy was not about some long expected future event, but about the almost immediate present, although in this case, it would have been some decades later before Solomon was given the promises fully.

Two things are taken from David on this night, namely his goal of centralizing the cult via his service to God in building the Temple and the fact that his son’s throne will be the established Throne, or restored throne as the LXX has it. What is interesting is that in 2nd Samuel, God refuses David’s offer of building the House of the Lord while in 1st Chronicles 22.9, David recounts a prophecy which as part of his punishment, God has removed from David the right to build the Temple while promising that in the future, Solomon would be given the honor and duty. Added to this is Solomon’s words in 1st Kings 8.14-21 which has God praising David’s desire to build the house, couching the refusal into a prophetic statement that Jerusalem, named by Solomon, would be chosen and that Solomon would build the Temple. I note the differences as well in where, and perhaps when, the son of David will come from, as given in the various statements mentioned above. In 2nd Samuel, the son comes from the belly (7.12, LXX), in 1st Kings 8.19, the son comes from the King’s side, while only in 1st Chronicles 22.9 is the son said to be born unto the King. While the language may all mean the same thing, I find it difficult to see it as such, especially given the translation, and oftentimes interpretation via translation, of the Septuagint. The Hebrew, at least preliminary, seems to all contain the same thought, that the son of David which will have the established throne will be an immediate descendent of David.

The Actors in 2nd Samuel 7.1-17

God is absent as David’s genesis of though in building the Temple, only to intervene later after God’s prophet had given what should have been divine permission for the construction of the Temple. What is of note here is that the God in this passage, at first a passive actor, does not live up to the God of Ezekiel 14.6-11, in which a prophet who speaks without divine permission and the inquirer will be punished and ‘annihilated’ (Eze 14.9 NETS). The Deuteronomist was equally clear in Deuteronomy 18.20 when YHWH says that ‘the prophet who acts impiously by speaking a word in my name that I have not ordered to speak…that prophet shall die (NETS).’ Here, God allows David to inquire of Nathan and Nathan simply gives David the answer, speaking, as Prophets were known to do, for God but without permission. God, at least in v1-3 is a passive actor who goes on to never admonish either David or Nathan for their wrong speech.

Both David and Nathan, however, are almost not existent in this scene, besides the initial dialogue. David, however, in the rest of the chapter, issues a Psalm in response to God’s new covenant with his house. The prompting of the request, however, is important. 7.1 tells us that David had been given a gift by YHWH. In the Hebrew, the word is nuach while the Greek, κατεκληρονόμησεν, means inheritance. The meaning is different in that with the Hebrew, I believe that it points to the immediacy of the situation. David was given rest from his enemies, although at the start of chapter 8 David can hardly to be said to be at rest, and wanted then to give God a place of rest. The Greek speaks to the inheritance, perhaps the future dynastic house which the Greek translators saw in the passage. Further, we see that David was at ease in his own house, and only after that, began to think about the things of God. Nathan, otherwise only hinted at being heard (v17), makes only one statement in this passage, and that of speaking for YHWH without authorization, which as I discussed earlier, should have been both David and his death sentence.

Perhaps the only remaining actor to discuss is the one which is not mentioned but implied by later interpreters, the Son of David. This son, mentioned in v12-16, is the once future king. For David, it was Solomon, but for the Greek translators, it would have been the expected Messiah, the Greater Son. In the Hebrew, a son is called for after the death of David and will be given the throne of David while in the Greek, a seed (cf Romans 1.3) which is planted will be the new king. The future aspect of the Kingdom is found when God is said to ‘ἀνορθώσω his throne forever (v13, cf v16, LXX).’ Further, in the Hebrew, God says that he will become a father, while the Greek seems to imply a pre-existing parental relationship. Further, what is telling is in the Greek, the Son of David is the one given the dynasty unlike the Hebrew which explicitly states that it will be David’s dynasty which is made permanent (NET).

Significant Differences:

As I have mentioned earlier, the Greek translators were almost reauthoring this passage from the Hebrew vorlage. Further, I have briefly mentioned some of the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek. As is evident with the Temple Scroll and Deuteronomy, communities during this time were not above taking the Sacred Text and contextualizing it to fit their current needs, even rewriting sections to make it address their present needs. In this next section, I will explore more of those differences and what they might mean to the newly minted section of 2 Samuel 7.1-17. What comes about is not the soon-to-inaugurated Solomon as we see in the Hebrew, but an expectation of a restored Kingdom ripe for the Messianic contender.

In 7.5, God is asking a rhetorical question, where the Greek has YHWH firmly stating that David will not be the builder of God’s house. The idea of ‘house’ is here meaning the Temple, but as we will see, comes to mean the dynasty of David. In verse 6, the Greek Translators, showing that their Sitz im Leben is far removed from that of the original Hebrew authors, implied that the Wilderness Tabernacle was only supposed to be temporary. This is contrary to the Hebrew which has imagined a more permanent perspective. This may be a result of the time period in which the Greek translators were writing in that they had had time for theological reflection.

7.9-11 seems to imply that YHWH is speaking before Israel entering the Promised Land, with a future tense being applied to a future security in a future place. The Greek verse 9 solidifies the tenses. Whereas in the Hebrew, YHWY tells David that He has been with him in battle already and that He will make David a great name, in the Greek, David already has the great name, again, implying the date of the LXX translation. The tenth verse may, in fact, be the lead in understanding the ability of the Greek Translators to force of a future tense upon the text. This verse, rife with Deuteronomic thought, places this ideal relationship between Israel and God in the future. If this is so, then the Greek Translators, noting that a place of security (Israel) had already been established when 2 Samuel was written may have seen this as an indication of a ‘now, but not yet’ futuristic view of this passage, which further allowed them to see the passage as speaking of a Son of David beyond that of Solomon. 7.11 (Gr)  implies that there is hope for David making a house for God, whereas the Hebrew in the NASB has YHWH making a house (dynasty) God and the NRSV turns this a bit with YHWH making David into a dynasty. What is further interesting in verse 11 is that here, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, YHWH promises ‘rest’ to Israel. The Hebrew in verse 1 and verse 11 is unchanged, but the Greek in verse 11 (ἀναπαύσω) reflects the idea of rest, whereas the first verse speaks to an inheritance.

7.12 (Gr) has the future son coming from David’s belly (NETS; womb, my translation) whereas the Hebrew notes that the future son will come from David’s body. It may be that the Greek is looking forward to a yet unfulfilled expectation or is relying upon Psalm 131 (132 Eng) in which, having been written on David’s behalf, attempts to remind God of the promise made to David while the author sits in exile of some sort. Further, the same Greek word is used in 2nd Samuel 16.11 in which David laments after Absalom, the ‘son who came out of my belly’ (NETS) in what may an author’s trick and getting the audience to think that Absalom was the future son from chapter 7.

7.13-16 (Gr) has YHWH promising to ‘restore’ the throne of the future son, or perhaps restore the throne for the future son whereas the Hebrew have God establishing the throne for the future son, as I have briefly detailed earlier. In the Hebrew, Saul’s name is expressly mentioned in verse 15, whereas in the Greek, the singular becomes the plural, again revealing the Translator’s place in life. It may be that the Translator has in mind not only the kinds which God has removed (Saul, Ahab, Manassah) but also the exile of Israel. In 2nd Kings 23.27, we read,

The LORD said, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.'” (2Ki 23:27 NAU)

This passage calls to mind 2 Samuel 7.13 and verse 15, both with the mention of the Temple being for the name of YHWH and the remembrance of all those who God had removed. For the writer of the Kings, however, both Israel and Judah were removed as well. This is followed in verse 16 which again has YHWH promising to restore (build in the Hebrew) the House and the Throne of the Greater Son, whereas in the Hebrew, it is the David’s House.

Summary:

Regardless of the text used, Hebrew or Greek, the passage has played a part in the development of the Davidic theology present not just in the Jewish Canon, but so too the Christian canon. Sergi notes (Sergi, 2010, 262) that the Davidic monarchy  occupies a ‘major role in biblical historiography’, but even beyond canonical sources, such as the Psalms of Solomon, we find the idea that the promised Throne and House which is to last forever provides a hope for Jewish believers, regardless of their sect. It is this Covenant which many sought to see restored as they were weighted down under the boot of the Greeks and, later, the Romans (See 1st and 2nd Maccabees and the above mentioned work) and was the covenant which allowed the Messianic Expectation which Christians believe was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The Greek Translators were able to urge this suggestion along with their reauthoring of the text to reflect their present day hope of the soon coming King, the Greater Son of the Great David.

For the Greek translators, and thus readers, what was already once fulfilled may have just been a shadow of things to come. The Jews in Palestine were technically in exile, with no government of their own, the Temple was less than the first one, and the Land itself wasn’t secure. The ‘permanent’ dynasty was simply no more, and yet, the translators were able to show a ‘not yet, but soon’ mentality in their translation. While we have no evidence of the passage being used at Qumran, there is plenty of evidence of it being used in the Messianic Community which surrounded the followers of Jesus. It gave them verification of their own understanding of who Jesus was.


Sergi Omer, “The Composition of Nathan’s Oracle to David (2 Samuel 7.1-17) as a Reflection of Royal Judahite Ideology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (2010): 261-279.

Although, the connection is rather weak in the New Testament. Paul uses it in 2nd Corinthians 6.18, not for Christ in particular, but for the Church corporately.

I will be using the NETS: Pietersma, Albert, & Wright, Benjamin G. (2007). A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Oxford University Press, USA.

I note Matthews, et al, who writes, ‘Here it is indicated that God has given David rest from his enemies, and throughout the Old Testament the Lord speaks of giving rest to his people. This is especially significant in this context where David wants to build a temple, because in the ancient Near East the temple of the deity was supposed to offer rest to the deity. Some of the temple names even suggest that as a primary function of the temple. This divine rest then often results in rest for the people in their land. In contrast the Bible says little about divine rest, and it is never the prerequisite for human rest except for the Sabbath. (Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : Old Testament, electronic ed., 2 Sa 7:1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).)

P. Kyle McCarter II Samuel (Garden City, 1984), 202-3 argues that the future tense refers to the Temple, although latter scholars note flaws in his argument.

D.F. Murray (Vestus Testamentum XL, 3), in his 1990 essay, however, argues against this future as temple, and instead turns the meaning of the ‘place’ as land. I understand it to mean place, in regards to land, following David Qimhi’s lead. See David Vanderhoot (JBL 118.4 (1999( 625-633) for further discussion of Temple v. Land.

Sergi notes that ‘setting the royal dynasty and the temple at the heart of royal ideaology was common practice in the ancient Near Eastern Kingdoms.’

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