Why go through all of this analysis of Paul’s sermon in Acts? We did so because we needed to be able to have some perspective on David, and the fact that David is not there held up as a model for emulation, as we examine his desire to build the Temple. After expressing his desire to the prophet Nathan, David hears it said to him by that same prophet: “You should go and do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3). However, it so happens that “That night the Lord told Nathan, ‘Go, tell My servant David: “This is what the Lord says: Do you really intend to build a house for me to live in? I have not lived in a house from the time I brought the Israelites up from Egypt to the present day. Instead, I was traveling with them and living in a tent. Wherever I moved among all the Israelites, I did not say to any of the leaders whom I appointed to care for My people Israel, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’”’” (7:4-7)
This now allows us to return to the issue of motivation, as it is incumbent upon us not to place men like David on a super-spiritual level, but to remember that they were people like us, with fears and insecurities, prone to mistakes, and subject to the corrupting forces that shape any and all interaction with this world. What’s more is that it is perfectly okay and legitimate to do this, as in the end it gives us an even more amazing picture of a faithful God---which seems to be one of the points of the Bible.
So what was the motivation to build a Temple? Through Nathan, God asks David as much, when He says, “Do you really intend to build a house for Me to live in?” It’s almost as if God was saying, “Is this for Me or for you?” To answer that, we cannot separate David’s desire to build a Temple from the relief from enemies that the Lord had given to His people and their king, and it is unlikely that the God of Israel separated these things from each other. What was it that was signified by the temple of a god? Power. Prestige. Authority. Domination. This was what Israel now had in their land. They claimed that their God had given them these things. However, if other nations and other peoples were to begin to look to Israel and to Israel’s God, which is precisely what the Lord desired, where would they find Him? In a temple? No. They would find Him (in a manner of speaking) in a lowly tent. This, of course, was not troubling for God. However, in contact with many nations, Israel knew that such was not the house of a powerful god. So not only would this invite scorn upon Israel, but with the lack of a glorious display of their God by a beautifully adorned temple, Israel’s position in the land could come to be looked upon as something of a fluke. This would invite attack. The tabernacle alone as the place of God’s dwelling could be understood as a source of embarrassment for Israel, as well as an undermining of their security.
Apart from all of this, one had to consider the items that were to be found in the tabernacle. There were a number of precious articles that were composed of gold and bronze, and yet, here they were housed in a simple tent. This position, for a number of reasons, could be understood as untenable, and we can sympathize with David thinking that it needed to be addressed. Therefore, to rectify the shortcomings of the house of their God, David proposed the construction of a Temple that would more adequately convey, at least in His mind, the power of Israel’s God. It would seem that the prophet Nathan even succumbed to this idea for a brief period of time before God intervened to dissuade him, and David through him, of what he had encouraged David to do.
As an aside, we here note that in the ancient world, the temple of a god was understood to be the resting place of that god. The God of Israel, the Creator of all things, did not need to dwell in an elaborate temple, for the whole of creation was His Temple; and that was the Temple in which He rested on the seventh day, according to the record of Genesis. Ultimately, God would take up His dwelling in human flesh, and call that His Temple.
When Solomon would take up the task of building the Temple, it was not strictly because of a stated desire to do so. He was simply following the instructions given to him by his father, as we find in the first book of the Chronicles (22:7-10). There, we find David informing Solomon about his desire to build a temple, God’s denial of that desire, the reasons provided for that denial (David was a man of blood and war), and God’s insistence that it would be Solomon himself that would build the Temple to honor God (though this is never explicitly communicated in 2 Samuel---only that David’s son would build a “house” for the name of the Lord). It is still of great interest to note that, even there in the Chronicles, it is not God that is demanding a temple to be built, but still only David.
The Scriptural record is clear, in that it is David’s wish to build the Temple in Jerusalem, and this is probably due in large part to David’s desire to consolidate power and increase Israel’s relative security in its land, with an elaborate temple also serving as a witness of the divine sanction of his rule before the people. So though this was not necessarily God’s doing, God made sure that when His Temple was built---even though David provided much of the supply, the building process would be carried out by a man of peace, wisdom, understanding, and justice (though this last term may be a pit problematic for Solomon in some cases). These are epithets that are not given to David. We cannot help but elaborate on this point, and say that the Temple of God that would come to be called the Church of Christ is built by the one known as the Prince of Peace. It is in such a Temple that God will dwell.