Advent 4 - 2 Samuel
For thousands of years, tents have been an important part of the lives of the people of the Holy Land, who have a long tradition of nomadic life—herding sheep, hauling goods for trade, or seeking out more fertile land. Our ancient ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, lived in tents. The Hebrews fleeing Pharoah lived in tents for forty years while they waited to enter the promised land.
Jews today have their meals in tents during the week of Sukkot, the fall harvest festival. Sukkot is a pilgrimage holiday, when Jews travel to Jerusalem. When we were in the Old City in October, there were temporary shelters everywhere in the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter, the sukkahs—“tents” made of plant material (and some plastic for shade). The city was crowded with people who had come to celebrate the harvest with delicious food and remember the time when they lived in those temporary homes in the Sinai, waiting for God’s gift of a homeland.
Today in the Holy Land, there are also people who are trying to maintain this ancient nomadic life—the Bedouin, whose lives revolve around herding sheep and make a living from the desert lands east of Jerusalem and south in the Negev.
Many times, riding between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, I have looked out the window at the Bedouin camps and thought, “Surely, if these people had a choice, they would want to live in houses in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Jericho.” The life in the desert looks very hard—no trees, no water, no shade, and a relentless sun. I was wrong.
For years, the Israeli government has been trying to get the Bedouin in the Negev to move into towns. They have built them houses and tried to make them move. The bulldozers come and destroy the Bedouin camps, but the Bedouin like their way of life and resent the Israelis for taking their grazing land to build new Israeli towns. When the soldiers with their bulldozers leave, the Bedouin put up new tents and rebuild their camps. For a short history of Israeli efforts to destroy one Bedouin town, see a Palestine News Network article.
Just two weeks ago, Israel announced that they will remove 2300 Bedouin from the area east of Jerusalem, the Bedouin communities I see when I have traveled on the tour bus from Jerusalem down to Jericho and the Dead Sea. The Guardian newspaper reports that the Palestinians say this is part of a larger plan to obtain more land for the Israeli settlements that stretch from East Jerusalem, now almost to Jericho, dividing the West Bank in two—north and south (picture is of these Bedouin, sorting through their belongings after their homes have been destroyed).
This portion of 2 Samuel questions, “Who is in charge here?” Both David and Nathan have gotten it wrong. God’s message is clear—God dwells where God choses, not where David wants God to be. And God does not choose the sturdy protection of the house of cedar; God chooses the precarious and temporary tent.
Wanderer God, as we ponder your words to Nathan, we, too, are reminded of our own endless quest for security and safety. Help us learn the lesson you tried to teach David, to trust in your plans for us and to remember that you, not we, are God. In the name of your son, whose advent we await. Amen.