David comes up with the idea to build the temple and God does not seem initially to be too impressed with it, in fact He seems to say "I have already got my tabernacle and cannot be contained in a building." But God appears to let David go ahead with the idea. But later the temple becomes a stumbling block for the Israelites. Did God sanction the building of it or not?
No, God did not sanction the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, God told David in no uncertain terms in 1 Chronicles 17 and verse 4:
4Go and tell David my servant, Thus saith the LORD, Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in:
In chapter 17, God tells David that in all the time that the Tabernacle was moving with the Israelites in the wilderness, there was never a time that God ever asked anyone to build Him a permanent place to dwell in. In fact God, in that same chapter, stated that He would build David a “house” (1 Chron 17: 10) and that one of David’s offspring would be the one to build God a “house” (note quotation marks).
David, in his spiritual immaturity, thought God was referring to Solomon and a physical house but if you read the passage in 1 Chronicles 17:11-14, you find that God was clearly talking about Messiah and the family of God.
11 When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.' "
Clearly, Solomon’s throne was not established forever and there is no way that Solomon could be set over God’s house and kingdom forever. This is a clear reference to the Son of David, Jesus Christ. God was speaking of a “family” when he was speaking about a “house”. David just thought the term “house” was a physical house when the bible tells us that God does not dwell in a house made with hands (Acts 7:48-50 which quotes Isaiah 66:1)
Acts 7: 48-50: 48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things?
Why was Steven murdered in the Acts chapter 7? Look at Acts 7:44-47:
44 Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. 45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Joshua into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; 46 Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built him an house.
Moses built the tabernacle in the wilderness after a pattern that God gave to Moses. The tabernacle was designed to be temporary. It was just to last while the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness carrying God’s presence around with them. This was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament where God would ultimately dwell in the hearts of men. However, God never gave a pattern to David for the Temple in Jerusalem. The design was David’s after the imagination of his own heart.
Steven reminded the Sanhedrin about the truth that God did not want the temple built but David/Solomon disobeyed God and built it anyway. Steven placed David and Solomon together with all Israel’s ancestors who repeatedly rebelled and resisted the Holy Spirit. He placed the Temple squarely in the camp of disobedience to God.
Did God “use” the Temple for His purposes? Yes, absolutely, However, if you read the passage in 2 Chronicles 7:11-15, where God declares that He wants the Temple as a house of sacrifice, He goes on to define what types of sacrifice He’s talking about.
11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord, and the king's house: and all that came into Solomon's heart to make in the house of the Lord, and in his own house, he prosperously effected. 12 And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. 13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; 14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 15 Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attend unto the prayer that is made in this place.
God declared the Temple to be a house of prayer and not “animal” sacrifices. In 2 Chronicles 6, God was responding to Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple where, on the brazen scaffold, he prayed a prayer of MERCY; asking God to forgive Israel’s sin WHEN they sin in the future.
This is why Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple reminding the Pharisees in Matthew 21:13, that “my Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer” (ie prayers of mercy like Solomon's prayer of dedication) but you have made it a den of thieves”. This is a clear reference to God not wanting animal sacrifice but rather a contrite heart.
Isaiah 1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
Psalm 51:16-17 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
I guess, this riddle can be solved through an all-important theological distinction between a) divine will and b) divine letting/permission.
Let me elucidate it through the similar instance in the Old Testament, when people ask the prophet Samuel for a king, and the prophet warns them of the perils of the kingship, praising, thus, the kingless life of the chosen people (1 Samuel 8:10-22), however, since the people still insist, Samuel concedes to the frailty of their minds and appoints for them a king and henceforth kingship becomes a divine institution, albeit not through God's will, but through God's letting/permission due to His concession to human frailty.
Thus, similarly, the tabernacle is better than Temple, for temple-building was a part of religiosity of pagan nations, however, if Jews also insisted on having a temple, then, OK, let them have: in fact, it is not something radically evil and forbidden, given that still the one true God will be worshiped there also. It was far better if He would be worshiped without the temple, but let them have it, let them be permitted to introduce the temple in their worship, if it can aid their immature and shaken faith. For instance, if a loving father has a most beautiful and graceful, albeit a poor girl prepared for a marriage to his son, but the son chooses another girl, less beautiful, less graceful, yet rich, the father will lament, but still bless the beloved child nevertheless and admonish him to love his wife and rise children with a care.
By God's permission happens not only worse instead of the better, but also outright evil, for any theft, murder, calumny etc. happens through God's permitting people doing those iniquities, for He is not a policeman to stop us forcefully, waiting for our sincere and free repentance. However, God is not content with His permissions, wishing, in the course of history, to subjugate all His permissions to His will. Thus, the temple was permitted for a while, but this permission entailed also its abolition in the fullness of time (John 4:21), as the Law itself was permitted only as a concession of God to human weakness (for it is an insult even to say to a decent man "you shall not steal", does not he know already such a truism?!), but since it was just a permission, it entailed in itself also its abolition, for which reason Paul says "I have died for the Law, according to the Law" (Galatians 2:19), that is to say, the Law itself entailed its own abolition. Thus, God's will and permission are different things and even oppose each other, but He, in the course of the history, works that all His permissions may serve His ultimate will.
Therefore, to answer your question directly: no, David was not right in desiring to build the Temple from the absolute and ideal divine perspective; yet, since he could not bear this dimension of a freedom in worship of God, the Latter permitted him to introduce this novelty, conceding to David's and his subjects' week faith, like Jesus conceded to the week faith of His disciples and woke up from a sleep in a boat to calm the storm (Mark 4:35-41), while, ideally, his disciples should have had a stronger faith as to have stayed calm and confident that with Jesus on the boat, even if He slept, nothing would have happened to them.
Great question. I think you misunderstood Nathan the prophet's speech. Contrary to what you wrote "God does not seem initially to be too impressed with it", i think that Nathan was not unimpressed with the idea, in fact he tells him
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. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7 NIV)
So while Nathan (or if you prefer god) does acknowledge the need for a permanent dwelling, David does not seem to be the right person to do it. Maybe his kingdom is still in its infancy and the people not quite ready to take on such huge building project (Solomon recruited more than 100,000 men for his building project see chapter 5, and the people hated him for it as is evident from 1 kings 12:4). Maybe they are too busy waging war with their enemies, and are lacking the stability to undertake such a project. This seems to be the reason given in 1 kings 5:17. However see 1 chronicles 22:8 where a moral reason is given for David's inability to build the temple. So while its hard to pinpoint the main reason for Davids inactivity or inability to build the temple one thing is clear: the idea of building a house for god was not frowned upon by Nathan and neither was it completely discouraged but postponed for a later time when the king and the people will be ready to tackle it.
So when Nathan tells David
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?” (ibid)
I don't see this as a rebuke or a discouragement of the whole idea. Actually it is the other way around, David is feeling guilty for not building a house for god while he is sitting in his house of cedar (stated explicitly in verse 2)! Nathan is conciliating David and telling him that God has not rebuked the judges and rulers before him to build him a house, and he needn't feel guilty about it. David knows that the time is not yet ripe for buliding the temple and is relieved when Nathan designates his son as the future builder. Nathan's message is that David must not feel obligated to build it in his days and be rushed into it, but focus on his conquests and to rule his nation justly and eventually the time will come.
So if you ask does god sanction the building of the temple? The answer is yes! So why is David discouraged from building it? My answer is David was not ready to do it, he just feels guilty for sitting in his house of cedars while god dwells in a tent god, so Nathan tells him don't worry about god, he's fine! your not quite ready for it, your son will be.
Hope this helps clear up the confusion.
David was right to want to build a temple for the Lord, but the Lord did not want him to do it. David did the right thing by approaching Nathan, who held a prophetic and advisory role to David by mediating God's word to him and it was only through a new revelation that David discovered that it was against God's will.
Consider the similar event of the Israelites going to fight against Ai in Joshua 7, only to be routed because they did not inquire of the Lord whether they should go to fight against them. Generally speaking, the Israelites had been given the commission to go and conquer the Canaanites, but when they saw Ai and how weak they were, they trusted in their own strength and presumed to take it themselves without the Lord's blessing, and they did not inquire of the Lord so he caused them to fail. David avoided this folly by consulting Nathan since it was Nathan's job to give David the word of the Lord as a prophet with an established trustworthiness.
The main key to understanding the passage is understanding the purpose of a tent. There are two main themes associated with tents in the Bible: sojourning and war. Consider when the Northern Kingdom defected against Rehoboam (David's grandson through Solomon).
1 Kings 12:16
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents.
"To your tents" is an expression that means, "Get ready for war," in that case, a war of rebellion from Judah, the tribe of David.
In David's case, from the time of the Exodus through to David himself, the people had dwelled in tents because permanent settlements were not feasible in a land that had not been conquered. Moses promised that God would drive out the Canaanites "little by little" (Exodus 23:30) so that the land would not become desolate and inhabited by wild beasts. Even though Joshua substantially defeated the Canaanites enough to secure the tribal allotments of the land, the Canaanites were still a threat up through David's day. Until David, the people had to live in encampments.
The Lord so thoroughly identifies with his people that he chose to establish his covenantal presence, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, in an encampment along with them. It is never considered that the Tabernacle or Temple is literally the habitation of God.
2 Samuel 7 gets to the point where David finally feels comfortable establishing the capital city and building himself a palace, but he rightly recognizes that the incongruency of building himself a fine house of cedar while leaving the Ark of the Covenant in a tent.
In fact, in the post-exilic period, God makes exactly this argument for rebuilding the temple.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.
The message to David is not that a tent is sufficient, thank you very much, but that when God sets a permanent settlement it is going to be on his own terms.
God is actually so pleased with David that he flips his own words around on him. It is almost as if to say, "You want to build me a house? (my temple) I am going to build YOU a house (an eternal dynasty, first with Solomon and finally with Jesus Christ)."