After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”
2 Samuel 7:1-3
Life could not be better for David. He had brought the ark of covenant back, his enemies had been squashed and he built for himself a magnificent palace. It was a time of rest and luxury after all his accomplishments. As he admires his work, he looked at the tent that housed the ark of covenant – representing the place where God dwells. Compared to his huge palace made of the best wood, God’s tent looked insignificant, plain, unworthy of the glory and splendour of God. It was almost pitiful!
Then it struck David, he should build a glorious house for God! A temple that reflects God’s splendour! He spoke to Nathan the prophet about it. As we know, Nathan and David had a close relationship. You could say that Nathan was a close friend. Nathan sees that David has a good idea and agrees. Afterall, it can’t be a bad thing to build a temple for the Lord.
But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
2 Samuel 7:4-7
Nathan couldn’t be more wrong. David’s idea was a good idea, just not a God idea. God’s reply reveals not just His heart, but David’s heart. A few things to note:
- David is addressed as “the king” 3 times (v1-3) at the beginning, until God addresses him as “my servant”. This is no coincidence. Basking in his accomplishments, David thought that he could do a favour for God. Afterall, he was the king. But once God steps in, He puts David in place right at the start.
- When God asks a question, it is often rhetorical. It causes the listener to self-examine and think. It brings our attention to a significant point. God asks David “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” or in another translation “Do you really intend to build a house for me to live in?”, He seems to say “Who are you to build me a house? Think about it carefully.”
Stephen got it right when he said that God simply does not dwell in a temple. God never asked for a temple in the first place. Whats more, a temple is made of things which God himself made! The wood, stone, metals and jewels in the temple are God’s creation (Acts 7:45-50, Isaiah 66:1-2). Who are we to say that we built something (or anything at all) for Him?
This is God’s rationale. He has not asked for a house. From the beginning of Israel’s journey coming out of Egypt, their wandering, their conquests, all the way to David, He has never asked for a house. If God didn’t ask for it to be changed, then the current setup is good enough. If God had wanted to have a house rather than a tent, He would have said something to one of the leaders in the past. God was asking David, “when did my tent become not good enough?” When did God’s timelessly perfect plan become outdated and imperfect?
David has fallen into the trap of seeing the things of God from worldly eyes – palace of cedar versus tent of leather. David thought that he could improve on God’s tent! It is too easy to fall into that trap, it is in our nature to seek advancement and improvement. When have we measured the things of God by worldy eyes? When have we tried to improve on what God has instituted? When have we thought that we could do God a favour in our service?
Have we looked at a sluggish congregation on a Sunday morning and thought that worship was bad? Have we looked at a guitarist playing the wrong chords and thought that it wasn’t pleasing to God? Have we looked at a God thing and said that we can make it better? Have we approached service as a favour to God? Do we lead with humble hearts?
Ever so often I need to get off my little pedestal, think about it and get it right again.