We know David to be hero of the Old Testament. He is the man noted to be “after God’s own heart” (1st Samuel 13:14); he slew Goliath when everyone else was too scared to enter the battle field (1st Samuel 17); he grew to be a mighty warrior, a successful king, a consummate leader. To top it all off, it is of “David’s line” out of which the Messiah is to come. You can’t get much more of a compliment than that!
All that beings said, we cannot forget the David is also a man with flaws. In scanning David’s life, we see that David was a man who frequently lived out a sense of entitlement. David lived and acted with a great deal of hubris. This self-confidence served him in his tasks, but as he progressed from fabled hero, to military strategist, to mighty King, we see David’s confidence turning to pride. David begins acting out whatever desire or wish that enters his fancy.
One of the most intriguing examples of this is David’s desire to build the temple of the Lord. We read about this in 2nd Samuel 7. Having been named King and now residing in the palace, David reflects on a lack of a “house” for God. Here he is, in a palace of Cedar while the ark of God lies in a tent. Surely this shouldn’t be the case, David thinks. And so, resolved to rectify the situation, David sets out to construct the temple.
To be fair to David, I am sure that his desire to build God’s temple was born initially out of faith. Furthermore, he did go to the prophet Nathan and seek counsel (it was Nathan who spoke out of turn). Yet part of me wonders if something more is going on within David. Is David’s desire to build the temple entirely altruistic? I wonder if this is an instance of David being too big for his britches? I wonder if David believes that the Lord needs David to manage the LORD’s affairs in the world. After all, he was the one who slew Goliath; he was the one who brought the ark back to Jerusalem; he was the one who was the continually saved the nation, he was the glorious king of Israel. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe that David thought “now the LORD needs me to build the temple, because nobody else is able to.” The fact that building the temple would establish David as the head of the political and religious life of the nations probably didn’t hurt either! Such an action would have only served to strengthen David’s authority and garner allegiance from all of Israel. (As smart as savvy as he was, I can’t believe that this escaped his notice). The point is, instead of humility and humbleness, David moved to erect the temple out of a misplaced attempt to manage where God resided, and how God was approached.
Do I ever live out such hubris? Do I ever fall in to a mistaken belief that Jesus needs me to micromanage his affairs in this world? Instead of humility and acceptance, do I ever believe that I am the one who gets to call the shots, with the Lord dutifully falling in line behind me? Honestly, there are probably times when I do this. I probably do this when I believe that God’s presence and activity in church is contingent on my perfect sermon or the perfect execution of liturgy. I probably act like David a bit too much when I assume that God thinks about everything the exact same way I do; and when I assume that the head of the Church needs me to save his Church, am I not getting a little too big for my own britches?
David does not build the temple; he is told to cease-and-desist. Nathan comes to him with the divine word that he is not the one to build the temple. Yet, God’s response to David in this is beautifully instructive. David isn’t just told “no”, he is reminded of the LORD’s power and guidance in the establishment of the nation, and his own family. David is told how God has moved with the Israelite’s each day and how no ruler of the nation was ever tasked to build the LORD a house of cedar. I think there is a not-so-subtle reprimand here. God is, in effect, saying “Who do you think you are to assume that you are the one to do this?” David, with all the hubris flowing through him, is called to humility. He is reminded of his rightful place before the true and rightful King.
And then God says something profound. God takes David’s desire, stated in verse 2, and flips it on its head. In light of David’s desire to build God a house, the LORD affirms “I will provide a place for my people Israel, and plant them so they can have a home” (7:10). Furthermore “The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you” (7:11). Again, David is lovingly put in his place. The LORD does not need David to establish a house, because Israel’s future is in the LORD’s hands. God is in control. David’s task in life is not manage God’s presence and activity in the world, but to humbly receive the blessings that God bestows. David is asked to follow God’s lead; to do that which Gods him to do, and to not do what God does not call him to do. Instead of crafting a house for God, God will establish a house for David. Despite the great accomplishments and accolades David may have to his name, in the end, he is but a servant of the heavenly King.
It can be hard to be taken down a peg, to have God address our prideful hubris. But this is necessary if we want to live our lives faithfully before God. In love, God reminds us of our place as part of His creation. We are people formed of the earth, crafted in God’s image, redeemed by His love. As such, God calls us to the place of submission. We are called to receive, not create, the will of the Lord. Furthermore, in those times where we may not know what the next phase of our journey is, we are called to wait for the Lord. God does not need our management-strategies or our directions. God does not need us to create a path, construct a legacy, build a future. These things are in God’s hands, and despite our knowledge or insight, God’s plan will prevail. Instead of attempting to manage divine things, therefore, we should use our energy to be diligent in prayer and humble in spirit. After all, as David’s son once put it, “Unless the Lord build’s the house, we but labour in vain.”