King David of Israel
The story of Israel's most famous king
9 - Desire for a Temple
King David was at rest in his palace. The Lord had given him victory over all his enemies and Israel was at peace and secure. That is what the chronicler of 2. Sam. 7 declared, and the outward facts appear to establish the justice of his claim. The traditional enemies of Israel, the Philistines, had been effectually overcome and expelled from the land. They were now back over the border and confined to their own land. There had probably not been such a happy state of affairs since the early days of Samuel and the reason is not far to seek. Once again, as in those early days of Samuel, the ruler of the land was God-fearing and righteously inclined and the people in general followed his lead. "Happy is that people whose God is the Lord" was David's own testimony (Psa. 144.15) uttered perhaps at just about this time. If the rulers of the nations today would but take God as their Lord, ruling by principle rather than expediency, dealing justly without fear or favour, the peoples of earth would be far happier than they are. But that desirable condition of things cannot be until the One whom David foreshadowed comes in the fulness of Divine power to rule with righteousness and wisdom, establishing justice and equity in the earth, in the days of his promised Messianic reign. Meanwhile the world must wait.
During this period David built himself a magnificent palace at Jerusalem. His alliance with Hiram, king of the Phoenicians at Tyre, gave him access to all the materials he needed, costly stones and timbers, precious metals for ornamentation, and luxurious furniture. He probably travelled to Tyre to see these things for himself. It is likely that the friendship that is known to have grown up between these two men involved a succession of visits to each others' capitals. When David saw with his own eyes the richness and luxuriance of all which this world had to offer he straightway, it would seem, fell in with the idea of a palace befitting the Jerusalem he intended to create out of the old Jebusite fortress. So Hiram named his price, for the Tyrians were traders and merchants first and last, and David became a willing customer. Before long Phoenician ships were sailing down the coast from Tyre to Joppa, there to have their cargoes unloaded and transported by Israelite labourers forty miles up the steep ascent to Jerusalem, and soon the dream palace had become reality. King David the monarch, with his many wives and concubines and numerous progeny, had come a long way from the guileless shepherd boy of the Judean hillsides. But despite all this his heart was still towards God. He sat on his ornate throne and he thought. The fruit of his meditations began to take shape in the form of a dream, a dream of something grander and even more glorious than the splendid palace he had built for himself. So he sent for his spiritual counsellor, Nathan the prophet.
Not much is known about Nathan the prophet. He must have been a very young man at this time for he was still alive at the end of Solomon's reign seventy years later. According to 1 Chron. 27.29 he recorded the history of David's reign, and 2 Chron. 9.29 the history of Solomon's reign, in the "Book of Nathan the prophet". He was a historian and probably, like Isaiah, a statesman and an influence in the royal court. The Book of Nathan has not survived but would have covered much of the same ground as the existing second Book of Samuel, which was of course written long after Samuel's death. So the youthful prophet came into the presence of his king.
David came to the point. "I am dwelling in a luxury palace, he told Nathan, but the Ark of God, the sacred symbol of His presence with us, is still housed in a flimsy tent of curtains. I want to build a magnificent temple here in Jerusalem, one that will give glory to God and excite the wonder and admiration of the surrounding nations. The Tabernacle in the wilderness made by Moses at Sinai was adequate enough when the people made their way here from Egypt, and in the days when they were getting themselves established in this land. Now we are a great nation, looking forward to a glorious future, and I want to create a Temple that will be a fitting sanctuary for the God of all the earth, a building to which all men can come to worship." Nathan, listening, felt the same enthusiasm rising in his own heart, and impetuously he replied, "Go, do all that is in your heart; for the Lord is with you" (2 Sam.7.3 RSV).
But that night the Lord came to Nathan and shattered the rosy dream. "Go and tell my servant David,…You shall not build me a house for me to dwell in". (1 Chron.17.4 and is the correct translation of 2 Sam. 7.5 also). He went on to tell the prophet that He had been content to dwell with His people in a tent of curtains and never at any time had sought anything more ambitious. Far more important than the erection of a material edifice in the city that would inevitably suffer the ravages of time and be no more, was the creation of an enduring kingdom that would last for all time as the means of Divine blessing to the whole world. That is what the Lord purposed to do. He would establish the descendants of David to be a royal dynasty that would endure forever. A son of David, yet unborn, would finish the work begun by David and build the house and royalty of David so that it would eventually be for the glory of God's Name. We know now that in His foreknowledge God was speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His humanity of the royal line of David, in His Divinity the only-begotten Son of God. In the fulness of time He will establish that earthly kingdom which will abolish evil and bring about universal righteousness. David could hardly be expected to understand all that in his time. However his later utterances show that he did appreciate in measure the purpose of the Lord and realised that in later times there would be One who would be both his son and his Lord. Through Him the ancient Abrahamic promise "in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed" would at last have its fulfilment. Here, at this time, as recorded in 2. Sam. 7 the Messianic hope had its birth and its first proclamation. From now on the true aim and hope of Israel was to be the coming of the Messiah. There was another reason why David was not permitted by the Lord to build the Temple which was so much upon his heart, a reason which was not so much to David's credit. That reason is stated in 1 Chron. 22.8. It was because David had been a man of war and had "shed blood abundantly" in God's sight. The Temple of the city of peace must be built by a man of peace, and David had not been a man of peace. His warlike propensities led him into many a course of action that exceeded by far the commissions given him by the Lord. The honour he coveted would, therefore, be gained by his more peaceable son, Solomon. David seems to have accepted the Lord's decision with submissiveness and loyalty. In later years he began to get together the materials for the construction of the Temple but he abode by the Lord's decision that Solomon should build it. So, for the present, he put the dream aside and continued with his task of governing Israel in the reverence and service of God.
But not for long for his restless spirit yearned for the field of battle and soon he was out in the field with his men against his old foes the Philistines. The accounts of his wars at this period of his life are a little disjointed and difficult to fit into a consecutive framework. However, it appears that he reigned peacefully in Jerusalem only about six years before he embarked again upon a series of campaigns against neighbouring peoples which was to occupy his time more or less for another seven years. First it was the Philistines (2 Sam. 8.1) whom he defeated yet again. They were probably the aggressors and he treated them as he had done before. Next it was the turn of Moab, east of Jordan. His brutality to them would seem to be quite indefensible. As the NEB has it (2 Sam. 8.2) "he made them lie along the ground and measured them with a length of cord" (a measuring line) "for every two lengths that were to be put to death, one full length was spared". In other words, two-thirds of the fighting men taken prisoners were massacred in cold blood. "So the Moabites became his servants, and brought gifts', i.e. tribute. The land of Moab was, in effect, added to David's dominions. Next he turned his attention to the north of Israel, where existed a number of petty Aramean states of which Syria with its capital at Damascus was chief. David conquered them all and extended his borders to the Euphrates, slaying many thousands and exacting tribute of precious metals and articles of value, all of which he brought to Jerusalem. Then it was the turn, successively, of Amalek and Edom, and finally Ammon. Every one of the surrounding nations was compelled to submit to the conqueror. From the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates, David ruled supreme and none dared to challenge him. It might well be that, intoxicated by success, he began to partake more and more of the character of a ruthless Eastern despot rather than a benevolent and justice-loving man of God. His loyalty to the God of Israel was unquestioned: his passionate conviction that he had been called of God and empowered by God to lead Israel into a position of supremacy over the nations was fixed and unshakeable. But the God he worshipped was the God of battles, benevolent to his own people but a terrible destroyer of his enemies. David was in the line of Moses and Joshua and Gideon and Samson, men who interpreted the Spirit that was in them as a spirit of destruction, beating down the enemies of God in the power of their own right arms. It could hardly have been otherwise, in the then state of Israel's development. It was an early stage of human history and mankind was still very immature. They could only visualize the promised kingdom of righteousness of the future in terms of the kingdoms around them, the only ones they had known, organized and maintained by brute force and the shedding of much blood. The promised eternal kingdom of David and his seed was necessarily pictured in such terms, with the proviso that it was to be David and his kingdom which was to be on top, and the other nations sternly repressed. A kingdom of love and peace was still far from their comprehension and the idea of the brotherhood of man and universal fatherhood of God quite absent from their thoughts. It was Solomon, the man of peace, the son of David, who first glimpsed the sublime majesty of One who could not be contained even in the heaven of heavens and yet could bend down to hear, and heed, the cry of the most insignificant of his creatures. It was Solomon who first spoke of love, and mercy, and judgment, and peace, in the dealings of the Most High with erring men, and of His readiness to forgive. David never reached that height. He was the last of an old school of stalwarts for God who took their inspiration from Sinai. After him came men, kings and prophets, who began to see God and the ways of God in a different and softer light, taking one more step on the road which was eventually to lead to Christ. "He has showed you, 0 man, what is good," cried Micah two centuries later "and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6.8).
(to be continued)