God’s Modus Operandi
Mark Peterson is the Music Minister at Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide
Do you enjoy vision-setting meetings? Perhaps brainstorming, or presentations of vision, mission and key values? Sometimes these events invigorate me; other times they bore me.
If King David was casting a vision for Israel, 2 Samuel 7 describes a stunning and sudden overturning of the strategy.
He was settled in a palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies. It was time for some development on the domestic front. Admirably, God’s chosen king chooses to honour God. He will build him a house that would be more appropriate than the travelling tent. The king is established in Jerusalem: now the Lord needs a temple.
The Lord, however, wipes the whiteboard. Actually, this is not the plan. I will tell you the plan. You will not build me a house; I will build you a house, and it will never be destroyed.
God draws David’s focus away from best intentions to a plan that would turn his world upside-down. And not only his. The one who acts and the one who is acted upon are switched. The scale of the plan goes from measurable to immeasurable, from temporal to eternal.
What is interesting about the manner in which God lays out these plans to David is that he highlights some details about himself that the familiar reader should already know, and yet more reflection on the implications might be necessary.
For example, God says that he has never dwelt in a house. He has dwelt in the midst of his people, who he led out of Egypt and through the desert. Like them, he dwelt in a tent: the Tabernacle, assembled according to the intricate detail provided by God himself.
Likewise, he took David from being a shepherd of the flock to being ruler over his chosen nation. He did not simply recruit David, give him staff orientation and then track his performance against articulated goals. He went with him, the shepherd boy, and cut off all his enemies.
We are indeed to be amazed that the true God of all should be content to dwell in a tent and that he would call a shepherd to be the victorious king. But through this turning of tables, God reveals his modus operandi, or method of operation. He reveals to David more than a plan: he reveals himself.
Let us briefly point out three aspects of this modus operandi, and then consider their implications for our own life and ministry.
First, God’s work is people-oriented. God’s counter-proposal was to build David a house, but this was to be understood as a dynasty, not a temple. We are teased by the mention of David’s offspring building the house: is Solomon’s temple on view? The focus rather is the kingdom that would be built for God’s name, rather than the building. God would establish the throne of David’s offspring, and provide a place for his people Israel to dwell in security, safe from the oppression of wicked people. The kingdom of God would do this, not the temple.
God’s concern for the well-being of his people Israel is writ large in this prophecy, as well as in the prayer that follows. God dwelt amongst his people, he raised up a leader for them, and cares for their future, he redeems them for himself, and drives out nations and gods before them, establishing them as his very own forever. The centrality of David to these promises should not cause us to miss the deep concern God demonstrates for his people.
Second, God’s work is persevering. David is promised an eternal throne, a kingdom to endure forever. As we read of David’s offspring in the chapters that follow, and in 1 and 2 Kings, we might well wonder how the promises stack up against the repeated failures and disappointments of Israel’s kings in the lead up to the Exile. And yet nothing will thwart God’s strategy; not David’s death, nor even the disobedience of his descendants.
Centuries of silence from God on the slightly awkward matter of the apparent disappearance of David’s throne from Israel would be suddenly broken with the blast of truth from the mouth of an angel of God to a virgin in Nazareth. “You… will give birth to a son, and … He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
The promise to David is a binding vision of the future that is hard for us to grasp, since life is so fleeting. But when the eternal, unwavering God establishes a throne forever, it amounts to a guaranteed outcome.
Third, God’s work is prayer-worthy. David’s response is near disbelief at the exquisite privilege of being chosen for this honour. But he displays great confidence in God through his exuberant prayer of praise and petition, accented by “O Sovereign Lord” seven times. He knows that it is through God’s overarching knowledge and power that this will indeed be brought to reality.
His praise has an appropriateness that we could do well to reflect upon. He not only expresses the words and ideas of God’s greatness, he also has a tone of almost speechless wonder at the extraordinary significance of what he has heard. It is as if this should be sung. This is the nature of an encounter with the true God: we not only exalt his incomparable greatness, we exalt his astounding grace.
In addition to praise, David’s prayer contains a petition. Perhaps surprisingly, he calls on the Lord to keep his promise. Is this necessary? Would it not be dishonouring to God’s promise to suggest that God needs a reminder to be a promise keeper?
Indeed yes it would! Yet for some reason the strange thought enters our mind that this petition is for God’s benefit. David’s prayer is the expression of his bold trust in God’s words. And it is his acceptance of the reality of God’s promises for himself and for Israel.
So God’s modus operandi points us to God himself. As we reflect on life and ministry, and the fulfilment of David’s promise through Jesus, should we use vision and strategy? Only if the meetings are not boring.
Far more important is the fundamental recollection that God is the one at work. David’s kingdom is still being built today as people put their faith in David’s greater son. It is no longer a political state established with weapons of war, but rather a global fellowship in the Spirit. It is far bigger than David (or we) could ever imagine, and yet God still uses the lowly to build it.
Nothing will stop this. Perhaps our best strategy is, like David, to praise God and continually ask him to turn his plans into reality around us.