1. We read that David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him. He says to Nathan, the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” Nathan replies to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying,
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
It takes enormous integrity to hear God say the opposite of what you assume to be true or expect to hear and then change your perspective. What could have been easier for Nathan to assume but that God would be pleased by David building a suitable house for the ark? After all, David was a man after God’s own heart and he had the means and the desire to do it. But, Nathan understands the responsibility of being trusted – not just a gadfly or a chaplain. He heard God speak and told the truth in a way that would be heard. He will be called on to do this again later in David’s life – and David will painfully listen.
2. David is settled. As we know, being settled is a dangerous place for David. Whenever he is not at war or in a conflict he tends to be open to trouble. David is a better warrior than a ruler and his is not a peaceable kingdom. Some people are not designed for being settlers, are they? They start to think about things that are either dangerous (Bathsheba) or grand distractions (building a palace for the ark). Earlier, God warned the people about the dangers of settling. “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down. And when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God..” Of course, I like the fact that David did not start thinking about building bigger barns for himself like the rich fool in Luke. He did not set out to increase his personal power like Gideon or to be corrupted by his strength and ego like Samson. No, his desire was to do something appropriate for God and not simply draw attention to himself or be significant. In fact, he probably spent years planning every detail so it was not spur of the moment or a spontaneous gesture. We can read in 1 Chronicles 28 that David gave Solomon the precise plans for the temple. “He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the devoted things…All this in writing, David said, because the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.” I can imagine David working on this in his tent on the battlefields or in whatever time he had to himself. His great desire was to build in every detail what the Spirit of God had put into his mind. It was to be the greatest accomplishment of his life.
I imagine Moses might have thought the same when God told him that he would lead the people up to the threshold of the land of Canaan but he would not cross the Jordan. In Deuteronomy we read, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people…Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
Neither of the greatest two men of the Bible were permitted to realize their lifelong dream – but they prepared those who did after them. Moses prepared a man of war to conquer the nations in the new land. David prepared a man of peace to rule. It is a good lesson for all of us who have built something. We should be prepared to hand it to someone else to finish. I like the quote from Reinhold Niebuhr:
”Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
3. How does God respond to David’s desire to build Him a temple?
First, He does not need what David thinks he does. Too often we confuse our desire for monuments with what we think would glorify or satisfy God. Our motives are mixed at best. Instead, God says, “Have I ever said I wanted this? I have been perfectly content with moving from place to place with a tent. When I want a different dwelling I will say something.”
Second, “Don’t get caught up in doing something great for me. I took you from the pasture and from following sheep to be the ruler over my people. I have protected you from your enemies. Your greatness comes from me. It is a gift.”
Third, “I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. As well, instead of your building a house for me, I will establish a house for you that will endure forever.”
4. How does David respond? I call this his acceptance speech.
“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?”
You may have heard of something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.
The term lends a scientific name and explanation to a problem that many people immediately recognize—that fools are blind to their own foolishness. As Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Incompetent people, the researchers found, are not only poor performers, they are also unable to accurately assess and recognize the quality of their own work. These low performers were also unable to recognize the skill and competence levels of other people, which is part of the reason why they consistently view themselves as better, more capable, and more knowledgeable than others.
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious,” wrote David Dunning in an article for Pacific Standard. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
A person with the Dunning-Kruger Effect would have responded to God’s promise by saying, “I am already great, but thank you for the offer.”
Instead, David’s response is similar to this research: “So if the incompetent tend to think they are experts, what do genuine experts think of their own abilities? Dunning and Kruger found that those at the high end of the competence spectrum did hold more realistic views of their own knowledge and capabilities. However, these experts actually tended to underestimate their own abilities relative to how others did.
Essentially, these top scoring individuals know that they are better than the average, but they are not convinced of just how superior their performance is compared to others. The problem in this case is not that experts don’t know how well-informed they are; it’s that they tend to believe that everyone else is knowledgeable as well.”
That is how David responds. “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord.” He is aware and grateful but does not see the greatness as belonging to him.
David did not confuse his greatness with God’s, did he? He did not suffer from false humility but enjoyed genuine confidence. He accepted the gift of greatness and fame God had given him. True greatness is a gift from God and not something we demand for ourselves. Greatness from the hand of God results in confidence but not pride. It’s mark is courage and not bravado or rudeness. It loves truth and not deception. I cannot help but remember what Alexis de Tocqueville said about America’s greatness. “American is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
I spent several days this week with young entrepreneurs who had come together in Los Angeles. One of the topics they wanted to discuss was the nature of ambition. When is it healthy and when does it lead to trouble? I shared this quote from C.S. Lewis with them:
”Ambition! We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means the desire to get ahead of other people . . . then it is bad. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. It isn’t wrong for an actor to want to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted, but the wish to have his name in bigger types than other actors is a bad one . . . What we call “ambition” usually means the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad. It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than the others — when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that would take all the fun out of it — then you are going the wrong way.
From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition (becoming a successful writer), from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognise myself as having unmistakably failed in it. I feel that I have some right to talk to you as a man in the same boat.
The side of me which longs, not to write, for no one can stop us doing that, but to be approved as a writer, is not the side of us that is really worth much. And depend upon it, unless God has abandoned us, he will find means to cauterise that side somehow or other. If we can take the pain well and truly now and by it forever the wish to be distinguished beyond our fellows.
I would have given almost anything—I shudder to think what I would have given if I had been allowed—to be a successful writer. I am writing as I do simply and solely because I think the only thing for you to do is absolutely to kill the part of you that wants success.”
5. But why would God deprive David of something He put into his mind? It was not just David’s desire, was it? God’s own Spirit had put every detail of the building in his mind.
We read the reason in 1 Chronicles 23:7. “David said to Solomon: My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: You have ahead much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name.”
Many of our greatest monuments are those which celebrate our victories in wars. They stir our pride in country. They remind us of the great price we have paid for freedom. They are symbols of courage and sacrifice.
But, blood and war are not to be the foundations of the temple of God. The temple is not a monument to our greatness and our military victories. Instead, he desires rest and peace to be what the Temple represents. Those two words are important. Rest is “nuach” and it means rest from enemies and those who look to destroy us. Peace is “shalom” and it means wholeness and completeness. My house will be a house of rest and a house of wholeness – not a monument to war and victory. Not a monument to patriotism or politics or the worship of our heroes but to the peace and completeness found only in God. It is easy to confuse them…but it was clear to God. Had David built the Temple it would have become a monument to the glory of his victories and the people but not God. It would have become a symbol of the pride of Israel – not rest and peace. It is easy to confuse – even now. My house will be a house of prayer – not pride.
6. Finally, even though David knows he will never see the realization of what he planned for years, he gives what is likely everything he has to the building of the temple. He is not resentful or angry or feeling jealous of Solomon. He does not undermine the project or Solomon’s leadership. Instead, he contributes tons of gold and silver and challenges others to do the same. Even though he is not the one to build it he makes it possible. That is greatness.
It’s worth asking ourselves a few questions:
Are we leaving anything to be completed by others beyond our lifetime? Are we leaving our children with a genuine inheritance? The word literally means “an assignment” or a task to accomplish. Or, are we just leaving them with a comfortable life?
Have we encouraged the church to become something other than a house of prayer and peace? Or, have we encouraged the church to become a political platform instead?
Does we need something bigger and better and want to pull God into our ambition?
How do we respond to major reversals in life? Like David and Moses or with anger, disappointment, blame and sulking?