A Refusal and a Promise

And it came to pass that night, that the word of the LORD came unto Nathan, saying, 

Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the LORD, Shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in? . . . . 

When thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. 

He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 

II Samuel 7:4, 5, 12, 13

Having taken the ark of God out of oblivion and restoring it to a position of central attention within the royal city of Jerusalem, David was ready to set forth upon his life’s calling—that of clearing the land of Israel from all heathen influence and of expanding its ideal boundaries as far as God had always promised and intended. It was a work that should have been performed long before this when the children of Israel had first entered the land of Canaan. In fact, it was in a very real sense their failure to clear the heathen from their land which had led the children of Israel into all of the lawlessness and confusion that obtained during the period of the judges. But now at last there was a leader in Israel who was both dedicated enough and qualified to see the spiritual needs of that great nation before anything else. Partly no doubt because he was aware of the command of God regarding the heathen, but even more because he felt within his own heart that there was a spiritual antipathy between Israel and the heathen which made it impossible for them to live in harmony together, David set out immediately to battle with these heathen in the name of Israel and of Israel’s God. We are not given a great many details about exactly how and how rapidly and how extensively David engaged in all of these various battles; but it is evident that he fought in awareness of and obedience to the command of God given already through Moses in Deuteronomy 20:10-17, “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace, unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shall besiege it: and when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which care not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: but thou shalt utterly destroy them.” Step by step David led the children of Israel to put these commands into practice perfectly and completely for the first time: and the result was that in a very short time wealth and strength began to pour into their nation such as had never been seen before. All of the great blessings which God had promised through Moses were realized in their very sight. 

It was not long after David began to receive all of this tribute from the nations surrounding Israel in an ever broadening circle that he became a very wealthy man, and accordingly built himself a very magnificent palace from beautiful cedar logs imported from the land of Tyre. No sooner had David done this, however, than he began to feel himself smitten with a very guilty conscience. From the beginning of his reign he had looked upon the city of Jerusalem as an ideal site for the tabernacle of God where He might dwell in the midst of His people. To be sure, he had taken the ark of God into Jerusalem. It was one of the first things that he had done after the city was captured. But nevertheless, its dwelling place was only in a tent, and a rather makeshift tent at that, not even in the one which had been made for it by Moses in the wilderness. To David it simply did not seem right that this should be so while he was living in a most beautiful house made of cedar. Thus it was that after long and careful consideration David finally called the prophet Nathan to him and laid the problem before him, saying, “See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.” 

Nathan the prophet was a man who had long watched the development of David very closely. Here was a man whose heart was completely dedicated to God before everything else, and to whom the Lord returned His blessing with the utmost of grace and of favor. That he should continue in this way so completely even after he had become king and very wealthy moved Nathan to astonishment. When David, therefore, called him into his presence to consult with him concerning his wishes and desires, Nathan came with a feeling of awe and astonishment. Even more, once he grasped the fact that David was asking him as to the desirability of building a house or temple as an abiding place for the ark of God, it seemed to him beyond question that such a noble plan proceeding from one so greatly favored of God could not but meet with God’s approval. So confident was he of this that he immediately responded by saying, “Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the LORD is with thee.” 

The response was that which David had wanted to hear and he was very apparently pleased with it as Nathan could see. But Nathan had spoken presumptuously upon the basis of his own opinion rather than seeking the will of God first. This became apparent that very night, for, when Nathan had returned to his own home, God appeared unto him and spoke. This is what He said, “Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the LORD, Shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me an house of cedar? Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcot, from following the sheep, to be a ruler over my people, over Israel: and I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great even that are in the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime, and as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when the days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.” 

Surely it was not an easy thing for Nathan to return to David the next day to tell him of what the Lord had said. If we may take Psalm 132 at its full value, David had gone far beyond just expressing a desire to build a temple for God; he had vowed, perhaps after obtaining Nathan’s consent, Psalm 132:3-5, “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.” And now there was nothing left for Nathan to do but to go back and inform David that this could never be. 

Nevertheless, there was in the message with which Nathan was sent to David a wealth of deep spiritual truth which Nathan may well not have fully understood or appreciated that morning. Spelled out very carefully for David, we may find three very basic and important truths. In the first place, God assured David that He was in no need and had never asked for an elaborate earthly house. The greatness and glory of God does not in any way depend upon such earthly richness. In the second place, He reminded David that he, David, was His creation from beginning to end. God had chosen him and God had established him, and God had done this so that through him His people might be established in the land of promise. But finally, and most importantly, God assured David that this was not in any sense a temporary venture on His part. He had established His covenant with David and his seed forever. Thus there would be given to David a promised son who would do what David could not do himself, a son who would provide an house and a kingdom for God that would endure for ever. This son was in the first place and in the typical sense, Solomon; but in the final analysis it was Christ. 

David, although he surely did not grasp the full meaning of this rich revelation of God immediately, nevertheless felt much of its greatness. In response to the words of Nathan, he broke forth into a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and appreciation. Immediately he went down to the tabernacle of God, and standing before the ark of God’s presence said, “Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord God; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord God? And what can David say unto thee? for thou, Lord God, knowest thy servant. For thy word’s sake, and according to thine own heart, hast thou done all these great things, to make thy servant know them. Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for thy land, before thy people, which thou redeemest to thee from Egypt, from the nations, and their gods? For thou hast confirmed to thyself thy people Israel to be a people unto thee for ever: and thou, LORD, art become their God. And now, O LORD God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said. And let thy name be magnified for ever, saying, The LORD of hosts is the God over Israel: and let the house of thy servant David be established before thee. For thou O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee. And now, O LORD God, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant: therefore now let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee: for thou, O LORD God, hast spoken it: and with thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed for ever.” 

As disappointed as David surely was that he might not build the temple which he desired, he very evidently realized that far more important were the promises given to him by God which centered in the coming of his promised seed.