Being a wanderer of sorts, being rooted in one place has always been sort of a fantasy for me.
I’ve never stayed in one place for very long. The longest I’ve ever lived in one place was for six years. The places that were more stable though? That’s my grandparents houses. They stayed there almost all of my life. Up until a few years ago, my grandparents houses were solid foundations, pillars of my memory. My grandparents on my mom’s side sold their house a few years ago– for a great price, I might add– but now I drive by, and when I find the house demolished and replaced by another house… it makes me sad.
One day, DeSay and I will have a house. We will have a more stable place to live. That’s the dream. For now, we may move around every few years, but that’s not the way it will always be. That is a promise that I think we can manage. In the meantime, we read this passage about another covenant. A covenant that sounds very similar.
We are starting to come to the back end of our Summer of Samuel, in which we finally come to the meaty parts of David’s kingship. This passage that I just read is a bit of a breather in the action. Everything’s sort of slowed down, and David finally has a chance to think theologically about the location of the Ark. However, as with most things, God has different ideas about how we should go about doing things–especially when it comes to how we think of God, and what God has in store for us.
The Importance of Being Earnest
What I hope you are beginning to understand is the multifaceted nature of King David.
There are few people in scripture that have as much written about them as David, which means there’s a lot to draw upon. He has many virtues, but also many flaws. What stands out amongst them is a faith that transcends everything else. He earnestly and desperately wants to honor God in as much as he can, especially after last week’s episode with Uzzah.
Now, can someone who loves God also be kind of petty? Perhaps shortsighted? Even a little grandiose? Of course. We’re only human, and so was David. David was not above a little bit of political grandstanding in his effort to be religious, either. Which leads us to the construction of the temple.
David, in looking at his lot in life, came upon some striking conclusions. After a lifetime of sleeping in the fields, fighting wars, and generally roughing it, he had come to a place where he now lived nothing less than a palace. He was king! He had it all. He had a kingdom favored by God, a couple of wives, and a really swanky pad. He was living the high life.
But… something felt off to him. Something wasn’t right, especially after retrieving the ark. The ark wasn’t in a fancy house like he was. In fact, the ark was resting where it always had rested: in a tent. A tent! Not a bungalow, not a ranch house, not even a small white-frame church. A TENT. That, in David’s eyes, was not how God ought to be honored. God deserves the best, better than he has. David’s just a human, though he be a king. God was God, and deserved everything.
So he gets a great idea: I’m going to build a temple. And not just any temple! A great temple. A temple that would be the envy of all nations, all other religions. Not only would it honor God, it would improve the kingdom too! A temple is an economic asset in the ancient world. People would come on pilgrimages from everywhere to see this temple and trade in the city. The plan was foolproof.
A Fool’s Errand
That is, except for the fact that God had other plans. As God always seems to do.
God spoke to the prophet Nathan (who will factor heavily into the coming days) and told him to tell David NOT to build a temple. That’s not in God’s plans, nor does God need a temple for any particular reason at this time. God’s Ark has resided in tents since the very beginning. Do you think God needed a temple before this? No. And God doesn’t need a temple now.
Now then, this is a bit of a shock, especially to our modern ears. How many times have we heard of God calling someone to build a church? How many people have claimed God’s influence in the desire to build a huge edifice in order to better honor God and bring people to God? That’s a dang industry in this modern age. Building churches, planting churches, making newer, bigger, better temples–is this not the conventional wisdom of the church at large? Is it not also said that unless we are growing, we are dying?
Why would God then tell David not to build a temple to glorify him? To instead live his life to the fullest, build his own house, and only after David is dead will a temple be built? Why would God do this?
I can’t presume to know what God is thinking, or what God is planning for each and every one of us. There’s no way for the mind of a simple human being to be able to understand God’s motives for each and every little thing under the sun. However, I can see a little bit of meaning in this command, this agreement with David.
First of all, it’s a humbling agreement. Though we may strive to do everything we can to honor God, we don’t know exactly what God wants. However, if we do want to honor God, we need to make sure we separate our egos from our worship. David wanted to build a temple for God, but only after he had a temple to his own greatness. David was king, and only after that did he think about building a temple, something that would simultaneously honor God, but also bring more honor and glory to David.
God wants us, but on God’s own terms. If we bring our own egos into the mix, our own desires, our own selfish desires, it can be hard to separate what’s worship of God and worship of ourselves. I imagine God knew that David was prone to self-glorification, and so in that case it makes sense that God would deny David’s desire to build a temple. It would only serve to stoke the fires of his own narcissism, not bring people closer to God.
There’s a second part of all this, though. God promises to David that, through him, he would have a dynasty. His family, his children, his descendants would rule throughout the ages. Out of his house, greatness would come. God denies a gift to David, but instead gives a gift to him. However, it’s a gift he won’t be alive to really enjoy. His name will live forever, but David will eventually die. Now that’s a tradeoff that God would make.
We like to imagine that this agreement is solely for David’s benefit, and some scholars even believe that this is a bit of pro-David propaganda snuck into the scriptures. I’m not entirely sure about that. For me, this is David’s reminder that he is only a mortal, though he be a king. His glory, his legacy, will only come into fruition after he passes from this world.
We ought to be mindful of this is as well. Now, none of us are kings, but all of us are human. Each of us have a tendency to be selfish, and to put onto God our own desires and wishes. This should remind us that we are not God. Only God is God, thanks be to God. We are yet mortal. Our glory is not in this world.
It’s only in God do we find joy, life, and Glory. This life is not forever, but God offers us a life beyond death, if we but have faith in it. God calls us to see beyond the physical world, the material wealth and earthly fame we might seek. Instead, We need to look to God’s kingdom, and work for that kingdom to come.
God needs no fancy temple to have glory. A building is just a building. A church is a people, a gathering of faithful. God calls us not to build buildings, but to share in communion, to sing, to pray, and be faithful in our discipleship. That is the legacy we ought to build. How will people remember us? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? Hopefully we are known by our faith, not our building. Thanks be to God. Amen.