The Courage to Dream Small (2 Samuel 8)

Most of us live more like peasants than like Kings.  Life’s daily rituals—however necessary—weigh us down with their lack of excitement.   Television and magazine ads seek to cultivate a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are, and if we buy enough SUV’s and skin creams than we can finally have it all together.

If you follow Jesus, you might feel the same, even if you spiritualize it.  You may have laid your burdens at the foot of the cross only to wonder: now what?  If we’re not careful, we can be tempted to compare ourselves to others—or worse, compare our own successes to those the world lauds as true “greatness.”  What gets me is the way the Christian community often places emphasis on “dreaming big” or “doing huge things for God,” which is all well and good and all but there’s still laundry to get done, right?

2 Samuel 8 picks up right where chapter 5 left off.  It’s not that the book is out of order—it’s that the promise God gave to David occurred during a time when David and his “transition team” were seeking to solidify power in Jerusalem:

After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.

2 And he defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.

3 David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. 4 And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots.5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. 6 Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. 7 And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. 8 And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.

9 When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer,10 Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him, for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze. 11 These also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, 12 from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

13 And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. 14 Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.

I highlighted two key verses for a reason: they emphasize who the true Victor was.  The puritans had an old saying: “God loveth adverbs.”  By that they meant that sometimes what we do isn’t as important as how we do it.

We see this reflected in the final verses of this chapter, which also serve as summary for this portion of David’s life:

15 So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. 16 Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, 17 and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary, 18 and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over  the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests.

So we see two extremes: military victory, and political administration.  At first blush, the first section seems far more exciting than the second.  After all, is David the warrior doing “bigger” things than David the administrator?   In his commentary on this section, Eugene Peterson writes:

“Administration is not as exciting as battle, but it is more important and the effects are more enduring….The flash of swords in battle catches most of the headlines, but the headlines do not last; the tedious decision making that takes place in meetings is largely unremarked, but the decisions enter the daily routines of people’s lives and affect the ways we love and care for our neighbors.” (Eugene H. Peterson, First and Second Samuel, p. 172)

Some of us have fairly uneventful lives—at least compared to the bear-wrestling, blues-musician King David.  Commuting to work, folding socks, taking care of the kids—not exactly the portrait of greatness that our culture tries to paint.

But the love of Christ—working in and through us—infuses our work with new nobility.  Whether teacher, astronaut, accountant, parent—each of our vocations becomes an opportunity for God to work through us in every detail.  And if God ennobles our every choice and every vocation (and yes, many Christian thinkers throughout the years include parenthood in the list of vocations), then if we insist on “dreaming big”—that is, thinking God is elsewhere—then we have put God inside of a box, tethering Him too tightly to some spiritualized version of the American Dream.   Both David and Jesus show us that strength can be revealed in patience—in victory as well as vulnerable devotion to life’s everyday details.  And God can ennoble and magnify Himself in the details of our lives if we give Him half a chance.  If we take our eyes off of some idolatrous “big” dream, and find instead the courage to dream small.