God’s Promise to David

God does not live in houses

“The Most High does not live in houses made by men,” declared Stephen (Acts 7:48).  And even though these words infuriated his accusers, he was only echoing the consistent message of their own Scriptures (see, esp. 2 Sam 7:5f).

To this day, Christians seem to doubt Stephen’s words.  True, they may pay lip-service to the idea that the church is a ‘people’, not a ‘place’.  But ‘holy’ buildings still feature far more prominently than they ought, given the consistent teaching of both Old and New Testaments.

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that, in the words of John Havlik

The church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a believing assembly.  The church is you who pray, not where you pray.  A structure of brick or marble can no more be a church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you. (People-Centred Evangelism).

It is true that every human activity needs to happen in some kind of space, and it is also true that that space (be it kitchen, garden or factory) needs to be appropriate to the activity.  Christians need to meet, and their meeting-places need to be suitable.  But that is a far cry from saying that the places where Christians meet are ‘sacred’ in themselves, and that design, decoration, furniture, and ritual should reflect that ‘sacredness’.

Howard Snyder has made a rather devastating critique of church buildings.  They witness, he says, to our

  1. immobility.  The gospel says, ‘Go’, but our church buildings say, ‘stay’.  the gospel says, ‘seek the lost’, but our buildings say, ‘let the lost seek the church’.
  2. inflexibility.  The layout of the sanctuary allows for active participation only by a few.  The architecture and the amplification system determine that communication is largely one-way.
  3. lack of fellowship.  Church building may feel worshipful, but they are not usually friendly places.  They are uncomfortable and impersonal.  They are not designed for fellowship: homes are (cf. Acts 2:42).
  4. pride.  We want our church structures to be beautiful and well-appointed.  We do so on the basis that ‘God deserves the best’.  But this may well be a rationalising of our own pride.  For a fine church building may well be more attractive to the Pharisee than to the ‘sinner’.
  5. class divisions.  The church is intended to comprise rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, educated and illiterate, black and white.  But modern church buildings announce that the education, interests, income, occupations, and social status of their members are far more restricted that should be the case.

Snyder closes his case by suggesting that any church which

  • ‘spends more on buildings than on outreach
  • holds all its gatherings only in ‘the church’
  • puts construction before missions and evangelism
  • refuses to use its building for anything other than ‘sacred’ functions
  • measures spirituality by the number of human bodies present within the four walls

has an “edifice complex” and is almost totally ignorant of what the Bible means by “the church”.’

New Wineskins, quoted by David Watson in I Believe in the Church, 119f.

Now, it seems to me that many churches have tried hard in recent years to take all this to heart.  But the point was well made back in 1902 when a red brick and terracotta chapel was erected in the Norfolk coastal town of Cromer, which bore (and still bears) the following words over the entrance:-

“The Meeting House of the Baptist Church”

That, I think defines it pretty well.


As David Payne (NBC) remarks, this chapter is one of the most important in the whole of the OT, for it discusses the building of the temple and the future of David’s dynasty.

2 Sam 7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

v1 indicates that the events recorded in this chapter took place quite late in David’s life.

Nathan the prophet – This is the first mention of a prophet who would play a significant role during the remainder of David’s life.  See 2 Sam 12:1–25; 1 Kgs 1:11–45; also 1 Chr 29:29; 2 Chr 9:29.

2 Sam 7:3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”

David’s logic and motivation seem sound: Nathan’s first response is: “Yes, go for it.”

2 Sam 7:4 That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:

What follows is the longest speech attributed to the Lord since the days of Moses.  For Brueggemann it is ‘the dramatic and theological center of the entire Samuel corpus’ and ‘the most crucial theological statement in the Old Testament.’

2 Sam 7:5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 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. 7 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?” ’

A change of mind.  ‘Nathan was not afraid to change his position. Jeremiah 28 offers some parallels to this story, but in that instance Hananiah’s refusal to change his position resulted in his being branded as a false prophet.’ (Evans)

2 Sam 7:8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. 9 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 of the earth. 10 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 11 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: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’ ”

The Lord’s reply plays on the different meanings of the word ‘house’, for it can mean not only an ordinary house, but a palace, a temple, and also a dynasty (just as in English we speak of ‘the house of Windsor’).  While refusing David’s plan to build a temple, the Lord promises him a lasting dynasty.  ‘David is not to build a house (building) for the Lord, but the Lord will establish a house (dynasty) for David.’ (Evans)

In the event, the temple was guilt (not by David, but by his son Solomon).  It was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians.  David’s family continued, but never regained the throne.

David was not to build a house (temple) for the Lord; but the Lord would build one (a dynasty) for him.  This would be a new direction: for ‘for the history of Israel’s leadership to this point has been one dissociated from dynasty. Again and again sons have proven unworthy successors and leadership has had to devolve elsewhere (e.g., Samuel and his sons, 1 Sam. 8:1-3; Eli and his sons, 1 Sam. 2:22-36; Gideon and his son, Abimelech, Judg. 8:22-9:57).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

That God does not desire a temple was stressed by Stephen, Acts 44-50 (although it infuriated his accusers).  But his promise concerning the continuance of David’s line was permanent, and was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, ‘great David’s greater Son’.  This messianic hope is picked up in, e.g., Amos 9:11; Isa. 9:6–7; Isa. 11:1–9, cf. Jer. 23:5; Zech. 3:8.

Bergen (NAC) suggests that no statement in the OT is more crucial for shaping the NT understanding of Jesus.  He is:-

  1. the son of David (cf. Matt 1:1; Acts 13:22–23; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16, etc.);
  2. one who would rise from the dead (cf. Acts 2:30; 13:23);
  3. the builder of the house for God (cf. John 2:19–22; Heb 3:3–4, etc.);
  4. the possessor of a throne (cf. Heb 1:8; Rev 3:21, etc.);
  5. the possessor of an eternal kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 15:24–25; Eph 5:5; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:11, etc.);
  6. the son of God (cf. Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Acts 9:20; Heb 4:14;   p 338  Rev 2:18, etc.);
  7. the product of an immaculate conception, since he had God as his father (cf. Luke 1:32–35).

2 Sam 7:17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

David’s Prayer

2 Sam 7:18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:

“Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 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?

2 Sam 7:20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

2 Sam 7:22 “How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, O LORD, have become their God.

2 Sam 7:25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.

2 Sam 7:27 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer. 28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.”