It’s an old, somewhat ridiculous hypothetical situation: a father and his son are on an airplane that is about to crash, and there is only one parachute—who gets it? I don’t know anyone who would give the parachute to the father, so there’s not much to work with there. That’s kind of the premise behind today’s Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 7:1-17). In the story, we find David in a place of comfort and security. Israel’s enemies have been subdued, and God’s people have established their homes in the land that had been promised to their ancestors. God had taken care of his sons and daughters. They got the parachute. But now what?
David says to Nathan, his friend and prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent…maybe we should fix that.” Perhaps a better hypothetical situation would be this: a father gives up every spare minute of his life to help his son become a talented basketball player, and, when that son signs his first multi-million-dollar contract, he looks back at his father and says, “What should I do for him now?” That’s the way David’s concern sounds to me. He and his people have been given so much by God that they want to respond by giving God a permanent place to dwell. But sometimes good intentions don’t work out as we expect them to.
Nathan initially responds to David, “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. Go ahead and do what you’re thinking. I like where this is going.” But that night, God surprises Nathan in a dream and says, “Wait just a minute. Would you build me a house? I’ve been living in a tent this whole time. What’s wrong with that?” And then the story gets really strange.
God says to David (through Nathan), “You want to build me a house, but instead I am going to build you a house—not a house made of wood but a house…an heritage that I will establish forever. I will establish you on the throne and make sure the house of your ancestors reigns on that throne forever.” It’s as if David looked at his life and in a moment of gratitude tried to figure out what he could do for God to repay him for his generosity, but God replied with even more generosity—not as a reward but out of his loving nature.
Often, when I come up against the magnitude of what God has done for me, I feel the need to pay God back. It’s kind of like when a neighbor surprises you with a home-baked loaf of bread—it’s hard not to want to give something back to them. But God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t take turns. God never accepts the only parachute. He continues to save and deliver and bless his people. And it’s not a reciprocal relationship.
Yes, we are called to give back to God, but we don’t do so in order to repay him for his goodness—that debt can never even approach repayment. We give back to God (stewardship) so that we can appreciate just how limitless God’s mercies truly are. Just as David’s effort to build God a house only led him to discover how much God would continue to bless him, our gifts are designed to show us the one who cannot be repaid is always eager to give even more. That’s the remarkable thing about our God. He doesn’t wait for us to honor him with sacrifices or offering before bestowing his blessings upon us. His gifts never cease, and my fragile, limited attempts to pay him back only reveal how rich his blessings really are.