God Has Bigger Plans
Haftarah for Shemini, 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17
Dr. Vered Hillel, Netanya, Israel
The haftarah for Parashat Shemini contains two crucial events in the development of ancient Israel, whose ramifications affected the entire world.
After David was crowned king in Hebron (2 Sam 5:1–5), he conquered Jerusalem (vv. 6–10) and defeated the Philistines (vv. 17–25). Our haftarah picks up just following these events, when King David decides to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from the home of Abinadav, where it had remained since being returned to the Land of Israel by the Philistines in the time of Samuel (1 Sam 6:21–7:2).
The haftarah can be divided into three or four distinct parts. Part one (2 Sam 6:1–15), the story of David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, has two sub-parts: 1) the aborted attempt to bring the Ark from the house of Abinadav when Uzzah was killed for touching the Ark, and 2) the successful attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem from the House of Obed-Edom where it had rested for three months. Part three (7:1–17) includes the conversations between David and Nathan about building the Temple as a permanent dwelling place for the Ark, and the promise of a perpetual house (dynasty) for David’s lineage. Sandwiched between these two monumental events is a snippet of David’s domestic life (6:16–23): his interactions with his wife, Michal, who brusquely rebukes him for acting in a manner that was unbefitting a king during the celebration.
Thus, our haftarah begins with the Ark at rest in the home of Abinadav and ends with the promise of its future home in the Temple.
The death of Uzzah for grasping the Ark clearly connects the haftarah with the parasha, which records the deaths of Nadav and Avihu for offering “strange fire” in the Tabernacle on the day of its dedication (Lev 9). These episodes are puzzling. Why did Hashem kill these three men for their actions? Was there sin, or were there character flaws, to justify such drastic punishment? Were wrong motives the cause? We can speculate much, but the Bible tells us nothing explicitly. We do, however, get the impression that they were serving God, but were they acting according to his instructions, or from their own experience? Once again, we cannot definitively answer this question, but it does challenge us to look at our own lives. We need to ask ourselves whether we are serving God out of specific directions from him and his word, or assuming that our own reasoning and experience can properly guide us in serving God properly.
David’s request to build a permanent home for the Ark and Hashem’s response emphasize seeking direction from God. Three months after the death of Uzzah, the Ark is brought to Jerusalem and set in a tent that David provides (2 Sam 6:17). However, David desires a more permanent building for the Ark. At first, Nathan the prophet encourages David to do what he desires, but later that night, Nathan receives a prophecy to the contrary. In the morning Nathan returns to David and tells him what Hashem has said. Initially Hashem deflects David’s request. Since the Exodus he has been dwelling in the Tabernacle, which was a suitable dwelling place, and moved about with Israel.
In a twist of irony, it is not David who will build a house for Hashem, but Hashem who will build one for David.
Hashem promises that he will provide a safe place for the people of Israel where they will have relief from all their enemies, and that he will build a permanent dynastic house for David. The promise that divine favor will never be withdrawn from David’s family, as it was from Saul’s descendants, provides the basis for the Davidic Dynasty and the Davidic covenant that eventually was understood as a divine promise of the Davidic messiah.
Early in the prophecy, Hashem asks David, “Are you the one to build a house for me?” (2 Sam 7:5). This question leaves room for someone else to build the Temple. Hashem promised that one of David’s descendants would be the one to build a house for him (2 Sam 7:13). Physically this is fulfilled by Solomon, who at the dedication of the Temple presents himself as the legitimate heir of the dynasty. But both the question and the promise that a descendant of David would build the house for Hashem refer to a greater messianic hope. The kingship and renewed Temple have been two pillars of messianic hope in Judaism ever since then. Yeshua is the promised son of David who fulfills these prophecies made so long ago and provides us with the hope for a greater, permanent restoration and dwelling place with Hashem.
David desired to build a house for God; this was his own reasoning and way of serving Hashem. His desire came from being a man after God’s own heart. Yet Hashem had different plans, the results of which were way beyond the desire of David’s heart.
He desired to provide a permanent place for Hashem to dwell on earth in the midst of Israel. God’s plans were bigger and broader than David imagined. He desired a permanent dwelling among men through the enfleshment of Messiah Yeshua. The same is true for us today. Hashem’s plans are bigger and greater than our hearts’ desires. We serve God through Yeshua with all of hearts. We learn to walk after him and in his ways. Still we need to remember and to be aware to seek his direction and counsel.
As we walk out our relationship with God and work out our salvation (Phil 2:12), may we all be like David, whose heart’s desires led to Hashem’s greater plans, and like Moshe who chose to know God’s ways and not just the things he does (cf. Ps 103:7), and like Yeshua who was willing to follow his father’s directions even unto death, which led to his resurrection and ascension, and provided redemption for the world.