David thought it was a good idea. He wanted to build a dwelling place for God which was, at least, comparable with his own “house of cedar” (2 Samuel 7:2). After all, why should the Lord of the universe dwell in a tent while the ruler of such a small kingdom enjoyed such plush accommodations? David was embarrassed by this seeming inequity and wanted to correct it. His heart was in the right place.
God, however, saw things from a different perspective.
Through the prophet Nathan, the Lord said to David, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling” (2 Samuel 7:5-6). All those many years, God had never complained about his accommodations. By dwelling in a tent, he was able to move freely among his people. In the days of the tabernacle, the people did not have to come to God. Rather, God would come to his people. His true home was with them.
When Solomon succeeded David as king in Israel, he did build a house for God, a magnificent temple in Jerusalem which became the center of religious life for the nation. It only seemed right, for God had told David that Solomon would build the temple, hadn’t he?
Well, not really.
God said to David that “the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him” (2 Samuel 7:11b-15a).
The reference to David’s “offspring” encompasses far more than just Solomon, David’s immediate successor. It refers to the whole “house” which the LORD promises to “make,” that is, the house of David from whence will come the Messiah who will take upon himself the iniquity of all the people, endure the discipline required for it, and demonstrate through his suffering the steadfast love of God.
The true “offspring” of David, the one who will “build a house” for God’s name, is Jesus. In him is embodied the not only the true character and nature of God, but also the true heart of God which yearns for fellowship with his people. From the very beginning, God’s desire was to be “Emmanuel,” God with us.
When the temple was built, however, it dramatically changed the dynamic of the relationship between God and his people. Rather than God coming to the people, the people had to come to God. God’s presence was no longer symbolized by a tent, free to roam about. It was instead symbolized by a huge, ornate, stone structure in the heart of Jerusalem. Now, God’s presence was restricted and confined within the temple. In time, it was further restricted to the people who were most closely associated with the temple, namely the priests and other religious leaders who drew their livelihood from the religious cultus. As these elites became more and more important to the maintenance of temple life, they became enamored with, and inevitably corrupted by, its treasures. Meanwhile, the people on the outside were viewed as “outcasts” and “sinners,” unworthy of the bountiful favor of God which the elites thought was theirs to do with as they pleased.
With the best of intentions, the temple had been constructed to house the presence of God and stand forever as a symbol of that presence in the midst of God’s people. But, by Jesus’ day, it had become a symbol of elitism and corruption, a prime target for God’s wrath. To his disciples, who demonstrated a foolish admiration for the temple’s architecture, Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).
Thrown down the temple was, at the hands of the Romans, a mere forty years after Jesus uttered those words. It wasn’t the first time. The Babylonians had taken it down once before. But the fall of the second temple was decisive because there was an inextricable link between it and the true “house” which Jesus himself “raised up” through his death and resurrection. In his vision of New Jerusalem, John says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place [literally, “tabernacle”] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3) A few verses later, he says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22).
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus restored the original dynamic of God’s relationship with his people. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us” (John 1:14a). From the very beginning, God has desired to dwell not “in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48b), but in the midst of his people, finding in their hearts, cleansed from sin by the blood of the Lamb, his true and eternal home.