This is a two-part series adapted from a recent sermon based on 2 Samuel 7:1-17.
When the king was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Look! I’m living in a cedar palace, but God’s chest is housed in a tent!” – 2 Samuel 7:1-2 (CEB)
This summer, my family and I took a trip to Europe. We saw a lot of amazing things: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d’ Triomphe, Stonehenge, the London Eye…and a lot of churches. Some of the most notable were Notre Dame, Mont St. Michael, the Bayeux Cathedral, the Salisbury Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. Combined, these churches are older than Abraham. They are magnificent.
Each was built to gather the Church and glorify God. Generations labored and sacrificed to build each one. While worship still takes place within them, today these churches gather more tourists than worshippers. For the most part, their best days as a house of God are in the past.
The house that David wanted to build for God no longer stands. It was completely destroyed within 500 years of when it was built. Even the second temple that was rebuilt on its foundations was destroyed in the first century – a few levels of its foundations are still with us today.
What was the house David wanted to build for God and why did David want to build it?
David’s intentions seem to be good. He realizes he is settled in the land – and in a palace. Israel is no longer the immigrant wandering in the wilderness but has claimed the land that God promised Abraham long ago. Israel has rest from its enemies. The Tabernacle built by Moses in the wilderness was gone by this time. In 2 Samuel 6, David had brought the Ark from Baal-ah into Jerusalem, the City of David. Everything was in place. It was time to make a place for God.
This is the story we know, but I believe the Scriptures are also telling us another story. Remember how this story begins:
When the king was settled in his palace…
This isn’t the story of David and his God; this is the story of a king and his kingdom.
Years before, Israel had come to the prophet Samuel asking for a king. They wanted someone to lead them and go before them into battle. They wanted a king like the nations around them. Samuel tried to convince the people they needed no other king but God but to no avail. The people wanted a king.
And so God gave them a king.
The first king, Saul, didn’t work out so well. He forgot pretty quickly that his kingship was subject to God’s sovereignty. Hoping the people learned a lesson, God chose someone after God’s own heart to be Israel’s next king: David.
David was a good military leader. David was enthusiastic for God. But even David succumbed to the lure of kingship and kingdom. We see this:
- in David’s disregard for his daughter Tamar, Bathsheba, and Uriah;
- in the census David took and the problems with his sons; and
- in the house David wanted to build for God.
In the midst of a successful kingship and a mighty kingdom, certainly the God of this kingdom shouldn’t be living in a tent! So the king comes to the prophet to announce what God needs. Thus sayeth the King. Maybe David and Nathan were buddies, but in Scripture there’s a problem when the king comes with a word for the prophet.
I think David was looking for permission to build this Temple. He certainly didn’t build it after Nathan comes back and tells him God says no – but I don’t think it entered David’s head that God shouldn’t have a palace (like the king) and that the king should be the one to build it.
King David had a palace, a city and a kingdom –
God should at least have a house.
But this wasn’t just about equal housing: David was the one who brought the Ark to Jerusalem. But it wasn’t his first attempt. David’s first attempt to bring it to Jerusalem resulted in the death of Uzzah, so David left the Ark at the house of Obed-Edom. In the months the Ark there, Obed-Edom’s house had been abundantly blessed. While I’m sure David had a faithful desire to have the presence of God near him in Jerusalem (the City of David), I think he also wanted this blessing close by.
And David wanted to make sure it stayed there.
While Scripture is silent as to whether God wanted the Ark brought to Jerusalem, God did not remain silent about this house the king wanted to build for him. And that’s where we will pick up next time.
But that very night the LORD’s word came to Nathan: Go to my servant David and tell him: This is what the LORD says: You are not the one to build the temple for me to live in. – 2 Samuel 7:4-5 (CEB)