We are studying 1 Chronicles 17:16-27 for Sunday, December 29. After our glance at Mary’s prayer of praise last Sunday, we are coming back to 1 Chronicles and picking up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, with David’s response to YHWH’s announcement that YHWH is going to bless and establish David’s “house.” However, we might want to look for common themes in Mary’s and David’s speeches! [Some study questions on the text are here.] Here are my notes on our text:
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: We are still in 1 Chronicles, so all that we’ve uncovered about the context of Chronicles over the past several weeks continues to apply.
The immediate context is the word from God (1 Chronicles 17:4-14) that Nathan shares with David. In the larger context of the book of Chronicles, this episode cements God’s special designation of David as the figure around whom the history of Israel turns: David appears as the great king, the one with whom YHWH makes a special covenant, the one who plans and prepares the work of building the Temple, and the one whose son, Solomon, will complete the work of building that Temple.
The next three chapters will focus on David’s significant military successes, which will be another precondition for building the Temple. They establish the international peace needed to dedicate national resources to a big building project.
A parallel text, which commentators think is the Chronicler’s source for this prayer, is 2 Samuel 7:18-29.
CLOSER READING: David emphasizes his relationship of servant vis-á-vis YHWH, repeating the designation servant 10 times in the course of the prayer. Although David is King, as the Chronicler reminds the readers in v16, David adopts a profoundly humble stance in connection with God.
The name of God is equally prominent; the name YHWH occurs nine times in the prayer.
David emphasizes that everything God has done, God has done for God’s own reasons; not because David actually “is” anyone. The only reason David “is” anyone is because God regards, “sees,” David as “someone” (v17). This is God’s initiative; David sees it differently.
David seems to take the same attitude as Mary in v23, especially in saying “yes” to God’s word.
Finally, having this assurance of God’s generosity enables David to pray this way (v25) – this might mean he wouldn’t have asked for anything if he hadn’t already heard about this astonishing divine plan, or it might mean that he would have felt unworthy even to pray to God without God’s assurance of this relationship with David.
Overall, the big challenge in reading this passage is probably letting ourselves hear David’s self-effacing or humble words as sincere. In our culture, we often assume that speeches, especially speeches made by national leaders, mostly reflect what the speakers believe people want to hear or think they are supposed to say. They are always about image, and image management. I am not saying we’re wrong, either, at least for our own time.
But if we have that interpretative habit, we probably don’t hear David as speaking from the heart. The Chronicler, however, does seem to portray David as leveling with God, and as genuinely perceiving the only reason for God’s announcement as God’s entirely arbitrary and inexplicable decision to bless David and his house. The Chronicler views David positively. This means, I think, that we are meant to see David as a good example of right worship.
Indeed, David does say “yes” to all that YHWH proposes. In that way David is much like Mary in last week’s reading. It suggests that human agreement and willingness to cooperate with God’s plans matters a lot in these texts.