It all started with a question. That a pastor gets asked a question about the Bible is not uncommon.
Reading through the Old Testament prompted a young lady to wrestle with the exchange between David and Nathan over David’s desire to build God a house. The narrators of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles recount the tale. In fact, reading the account in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 reveals nearly a word for word telling of the same story.
What stirred the question was the oft-told reason why David was not allowed to build the Temple – “you are a military man and you’ve shed blood.” You may recognize this from later in 1 Chronicles. But, let’s stay with the sequence.
Reading the conversation between Nathan and David indicates that the prophet told the king he should do what he desired, “the Lord is with you.” Kings do what kings do. Samuel told the people the same. They had asked for a king. Samuel told them they would receive a king. He also included the dark side of having a king – the king will do what kings do.
Troubled by the missing reason for denying David his desire to build a temple in the immediate text, the young lady asked, “I have heard this all my life, that David could not build the temple because he shed blood. But, it is not in the narrative where you would expect. What to make of that?” I told her I would revisit those two passages. Sure enough her concerns were legitimate. Nathan told the king – “You are not the one.” This is the same prophet who told him, “You are the one.”
Accompanying the words given Nathan to tell David was an aggrandizing of David, a lionizing of his name. “Your dynasty and your kingdom will be secured forever before me.” But, no reason was given for denying him his aim to build God a house. None.
The matter settled for a period. I have wrestled with this for some time. Time and circumstance let it lie. I concluded that we really do not know why. That is, until Sunday evening.
Several of us were having a conversation about the genealogy of our understanding of the Bible. We are working through Gordon Fee’s, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. We have explored context – historical and literary. We looked at how our understanding is enhanced when we get a better picture of the period in which the Text was written. Separation and lift damages the Sacred Text. 2013 is not the same as the period the Chronicler is covering. That we have the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles covering and overlapping the same time frames should give us pause to consider the way history is told and re-told. I digress.
We finished some very good discussion. My Dad, who is part of our church, approached me. I had used the illustration of my conversation with the young lady and how we do not always hear or read critically. He opened his Bible, a habit I have observed since I can remember. He said, “I think you will find your answer here.” He pointed to 1 Chronicles 28. Sure enough, there it was, “you are a military man, you’ve shed blood.” The narrator decided to hold in reserve the reason for the denial of David’s desire. He gave it to us in David’s speech. I called the young lady and suggested she take a look at 1 Chronicles 28. Case closed.
Not so fast. Kings do what kings do. And, kings say what kings say. Those who view David’s words as the words he was supposed to say, stay with me for a moment. That David’s words are here and have become inscripturated is not my concern. I believe what we have is intentional.
The questions the personal episode have generated turn on the matter of how the story functions. I am wondering about larger themes. Particularly whether or not it could be argued the story functions as the first tragic move to house God. If so, then our continued attempts to house God become a farce. Or in simpler terms, we have not learned anything from the past. Worse, our feverish attempts to keep God housed in institutional frameworks provide the energy for the ongoing support of an empty ideology – that we have God. God may not be housed.
Kings do what kings do. Samuel said they would. David wanted to build a house for God. He planned it and he led the fund raising campaign for it. Is it not a bit ironic? David gathers the leaders to tell them of this future, legacy-marking event. He tells them God denied him the joy of building the temple for his military lifestyle.
Have you ever considered the irony? At least I find it odd. God leads the charge in David’s kingdom expanding exploits. David references God who gave him victory. The people exclaim that David has “slain his ten-thousands” in euphoric hyperbole. Remember the refrain came after Goliath’s death.
In an admittedly odd sense, you have the temporal illustration of the Divine promise, “sit here while I make your enemies your footstool.” David simply works to eradicate Israel’s enemies from the Land of Promise. This is the land God gave them. God, according to David, sanctions his military exploits. The enemies of Israel are now under their footstool. Why would that be cause to keep him from building the Temple? Blood letting and sacrifice run deep in Israel’s history. Keeping a central location helps the community. Correct?
Reading David’s speech left me wondering. There seem to be other, better, reasons more fitting to keep David from building God a house. Was a house even necessary? Have we ever asked where the desire derived?
To Be Continued . . .