Why did Solomon undertake the building of a Temple? Was it his idea? No, but rather, it was his father’s idea. In a communication to King Hiram of Tyre, whose assistance Solomon was going to enlist in obtaining the materials for the Temple, Solomon wrote, “You know that my father David was unable to build a temple to honor the Lord his God, for he was busy fighting battles on all fronts while the Lord subdued his enemies. But now the Lord my God has made me secure on all fronts; there is no adversary or dangerous threat. So I have decided to build a temple to honor the Lord my God, as the Lord instructed my father David, ‘Your son, whom I will put on your throne in your place, is the one who will build a temple to honor Me.’” (1 Kings 5:3-5). It was the security that was provided by God’s putting down of all of Israel’s enemies that provided the impetus to build the Temple.
The security provided by God, which would be seen as part and parcel of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, is only part of the answer as to why Solomon would build a Temple. The Temple was established after Israel had finally, after so many years within its promised land, been rescued from foreign subjugation. However, it was not an original idea. In fact, it wasn’t even the first Temple. Solomon was simply following a pattern that had already been established, and which had been established on what was essentially the same basis. The Temple, of course, was simply a more glorious version of the tabernacle, and it was constructed for the same reasons that we can find for the construction of the tabernacle.
The Temple, for all practical purposes, was a reiteration of the tabernacle. Though God was certainly pleased with the Temple, and though He would come to fill it with His presence, it never came about as the result of any demand on His part. We would probably be quite safe in saying that the desire to build a Temple was closely connected to the steps that Israel, primarily under David, had taken to gain control of their land. To reach such a conclusion, we need only look at the circumstances surrounding the first record of an expressed desire to build a Temple.
In the seventh chapter of the second book of Samuel, we read that “The king,” that being David, “settled into his palace, for the Lord gave him relief from all his enemies on all sides. The king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Look! I am living in a palace made from cedar, while the ark of God sits in the middle of a tent.’” (7:1-2) Now, we can examine this in one of two ways. We can take the approach that has us holding David up as some type of super-spiritual figure that is primarily concerned with honoring the God in which he trusted, and determine that such was the motivating factor behind his desire to build a Temple, or we can infuse our assessment with elements of the realistic portrayal of David that is provided to us within the Scriptures. We shall take the latter approach, which would seem to be altogether appropriate, bearing in mind that the Scriptures routinely lay bare before us, in quite unflattering ways, the lives of the men presented therein. There are only three men in Scripture that seemingly escape any and all criticism (Joseph, Daniel, Jesus), so we will not tread a path that has us holding King David in what might be an unwarranted ultra-high regard.
There are reasons why David is held in such high regard within the traditions and history of Israel, and given the history of Israel as a regularly oppressed people, David’s status as a conquering, warring, domineering and powerful king unlike any other ruler of Israel would be the primary reason for him to top the list of those that are so revered. Of all of the reasons why David is a revered figure for Israel, perceptions of his righteousness and his moral integrity do not exactly top the list. Yes, when Paul stands before the congregants of the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, in the process of recounting the history of Israel (beginning, of course, with the Egyptian exodus as that which always and primarily defined Israel as a people), he does say that “After removing” Saul, “God raised up David their king” (Acts 13:22a). He continues and says that God “testified about Him,” saying “I have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after My heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do” (13:22b). Later in the same speech Paul would add that David “served God’s purpose in his own generation” (13:36a).
So while these things are said of David, we need to put things in perspective. Firstly, Paul is not, by any means, attempting to here give praise to David. He is simply undertaking a common re-telling of the history of Israel, and doing so in a way that is going to be rather pleasing to and expected by his hearers. If he leaves out mention of their greatest king, which he would have no reason to do, he would not be faithful to the story with which the community will be quite familiar, he’ll find his words being parsed, and the greater point that he is making will go unheard. Secondly, he is moving to the climax of the “sermon,” (yes, it’s a sermon, which should inform us of the value of historical underpinnings within a grand narrative in all of our sermons), which is the Resurrection of Jesus, which proves the fact that He was the Messiah and therefore the inheritor of the promises made to David. Unfortunately, we tend to extract individual elements from Paul’s presentation and use those individual elements as a means to honor David. In all honesty, this is a rather odd practice. Thirdly, we need to remember that David is spoken of as being a man after God’s own heart before he is anointed as king. We do not find a repetition of such words after he takes the throne. This is not to say that he was not such a man, but that the words that Paul quotes were words spoken to Samuel by God before we ever meet David, so we do well to keep things in order. After we take in the full scope of the record of David that is provided to us by the Scriptures, we see a man, regularly broken, and completely reliant upon God. It is in that sense that we can refer to him as a man after God’s own heart.
Lastly, the fact that it is said that he served God’s purpose in his own generation should not necessarily be construed as a point of vindication that stands against his many failings. The history of Israel, in both the writings and the prophets, clearly present an understanding that God will even use Gentile nations, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, to carry out His purposes. In no way was there any intimation that serving God’s purpose at a given time in history was necessarily a badge of righteousness, apart from the fact that such things (being conquered by Assyria and Babylon) pointed to God’s righteousness (His faithfulness to His covenants). Again, these words by Paul were not meant to exalt David, but rather to honor David’s God; and Paul’s second mention of David in the course of his speech functions as a bridge that allows Paul to cross over to the fact of Jesus’ Resurrection. David served God’s purpose and is dead. Jesus served God’s purpose and is alive.