It is always hard to remember specific times growing up at church that did not have to do with food in some way. But I do remember once when I was about three or four and our teacher took her hand, interlocking her fingers and began to say “boys and girls, This is a church” she held the double fist in front, then pointed her index fingers skyward “and here is the steeple” we all giggled at the silliness as she opened her hand and finished “look inside and see all the people” she wiggled her fingers to more giggles.
I love that little poem, and over my life I’ve seen many variations and it always tickles me! But within that is a very important thing; not all churches have steeples and not all congregations have churches, but the people can always gather to worship, and what God wants is our worship. No passage highlights this more than this interchange between David and the prophet Nathan. David is king and as king he is slightly embarrassed that he is living in luxury while the precious scripture is kept in a temporary tent. So he devises a plan to build a proper temple and approaches Nathan. At first Nathan is onboard, but God comes to Nathan and helps Nathan to see that David is not the one to build the temple.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, for the Hebrew people David represents a political savior. For the briefest of times he is the only leader the Hebrew people have that will ever rule over a peaceful unified kingdom. This separation between the political savior and the Christ is very important since soon after David’s death this unified people begin to dissolve and the kingdoms eventually split and fall. David is someone that is looked up to, but there was also a reality that politics was and is never going to be a true salvation.
This goes to the foretelling of the Christ “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (2 Sam 7:12-14a)”
The second aspect of why David is not the one to build the temple is also fairly straightforward. God moves with his people. Even though they are stable at the moment, God knows that the people are not always going to be that way. As history tells us, time pulls the Hebrew people into Israel and away from Israel. If taking the passage for what it says, keeping the scriptures safe is not as important as keeping them close to the people.
This becomes very important for the Christian church since we understand that our purpose as faithful people is to worship and celebrate God, not build buildings. If we do build buildings, the minute they become sacred in themselves they lose their purpose for God and really are no better than the golden calf. If David were to have built a temple it would most certainly have been something more than just a place to hold the sacred text, even more than Solomon’s and the subsequent temples.
Thus, we are reminded that the church is merely the building. No matter how beautiful or simple it is merely a tool. What we do with it, now that is exceptional and the people that come together to be the body is where faith is found and can be built.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen