Kings Do What Kings Do: Temple, Church, People and Housing God (Pt.2)

When I think of other reasons to consider choosing someone else to build God a house I think, “Why no mention of his indiscretion with Bathsheba? Why no reference to the murder of Uriah? No inner turmoil for ignoring the rape of his daughter?”

You may need to pick this up by reading, or re-reading Part 1.

It sure seems a case could be made, and in modern times by Christians is regularly made, that killing in war is justifiable. We still get incensed at the killing of innocents, the mistreatment of the powerless, and the abuse of others. At least that is our claim. Telling the leaders it was because of his military service and the accompanying shedding of blood that kept him from constructing the temple sounded better than admitting his own egregious actions. But, kings do what kings do.

And, kings say what kings say. When David concludes his speech to the leaders about the future, legacy-marking event in the temple, the leaders pledge their money. I do not mean to be crass, but this sure sounds like a good fund raising campaign. “Here is what I am setting aside for the building.” Implied, at least in how we practice it, is the expectation that those under the king would follow the king’s lead. And they did.

How does the story function? Why did the narrator not give us Nathan’s words as to why David was denied the privilege to build the temple? Please engage in something more than, “because it is there in black and white.” Doing so ignores the complexity of the story. A reason coming from the prophet would give the reason more credence. Maybe this is David’s version. Invoking the language of Divine sanction continues to this day. Sometimes it has been used to justify a position or an action that is really exposed to be our position or an action resulting from our agency, not God’s. That the Scriptures may include illustrations of this sort of thing for us to be wary of should not be surprising.

Dare I suggest that during my conversation with Guy yesterday he pointed out that we might miss some levity in the story? That is, knowing there would be readers of the story, the details may be intended for us to find humor in David being the one to offer the reason for his denial and that it was his military background not his moral fiascos. This should not be lost on us as a possibility lest we make the same mistakes. Can you think of a few?

What lies beneath? Consider the conversation between Samuel and YHWH. The pattern is established. The people observe the way others order and structure themselves and believe the material reality of a king is more to their liking than a spiritual reality only heard from via a prophet/priest. It is not that they really want to shun God’s presence. But, to gain standing among all nations they believe, or so it seems, a comparable order must be established for them to be taken seriously. “Give us a king.”

Follow that pattern and re-read God’s response to Nathan when the matter of a temple, a house, comes up. YHWH needs no house. How do you house a presence so ubiquitous as to be everywhere? God replays his interactions with his people. It is as if to say, “I need no house. It is you who think I need a house.” And, in similar fashion, God gave them instructions for a temple as he did in giving a king. What if God gives us what we want even if what we say we want we already have? Is that not Israel’s dilemma? They wanted a king – they had one. They wanted a temple – they had one.

Where would David have gotten the idea to house God? He saw them in the places he conquered. What would happen when the people determined to house God? Presence is consolidated and controlled. By the time Jesus stands in Luke 4, preserving the house and its accompanying ritual and rigor become the means of honoring God rather than what Jesus would propose and later Paul would radicalize. Déjà vu?

“But the time is coming – and is here! – when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth.” Not on this mountain or that. Not in this house or that. Paul extends the thought. People are the house of God’s dwelling. “Don’t you know your body is the temple of God?”

Nevermind that Jesus talks of the destruction of the temple, the building or his body, we miss that we cannot house God in a temple or in a church. We say we know this but then fight tooth and nail to keep the constituency happy enough to contribute and maintain our own structures and systems.

These attempts to house God miss that the language of the Sacred Text. People house God’s presence. The implication is two-fold, at least. First, the mission of God then becomes incumbent on the person(s) who lay claim to being Christian. By mission I do not mean the narrow vision of personal evangelism. I mean participation in the multi-faceted mission that at its core is the agenda of Jesus to reconcile the world to himself. Second, if Christians ever hope to offer a hopeful call to the Nones, the de-churched, or post-churched, the skeptic and the cynic, it will come when we discontinue our efforts to take back perceived places of Christian privilege wherein we house God in our structures and institutions and instead illustrate how God is housed in us.

For, even to Jesus’ critics he says, “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

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Kings Do What Kings Do: Temple, Church, People and Housing God (Pt.1)

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 . . .

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Reflections from Sunday – Jesus Critiques the Church Cultus?

Monday often leave me thinking about the Sunday sermon. I imagine it is normal. Did I communicate well? What could I have said better? What do I wish I would have included? How will the experience with the text inform, influence, the communities interaction with the text this coming Sunday?

I cannot help but think that Mark 12 assaults the way the religious world worked for those growing up under the shadow of the Temple. We may not be surprised by the questions Jesus faces in the Controversy Narratives if we look forward to Jesus announcement about the end of the Temple in Mark 13.

Our reading sometimes privileges our relationship to the text. What were they thinking?, often betrays that were we living in Jesus’ day the thinking of the people might be our own. Just look at how hard it is for the disciples to extricate themselves from the same thinking habits. Surely they need ongoing repentance. Read More