David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), but even a heart that sincerely desires to serve can lead us astray. We see David betrayed by his own good intentions in 2 Samuel 7. There, he decides that, now that he has constructed his own palace, he ought to build a permanent temple for God.
Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” (2 Sam 7:1-3)
To human wisdom, this sounds like a great idea. It’s only fair to give God a dwelling place equal to David’s, right? Even the prophet Nathan endorses it. However, God disagrees.
That same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’” (2 Sam 7:4-7)
Notice how God points out to David that He had never instructed His people to build Him a house of cedar (the implication of His silence here is, “Don’t do it.”). In fact, David has it backwards. David isn’t going to build God a house. God is going to build David a house, an enduring line of kingly descendants. This promise culminates in the Christ being born of the lineage of David.
The message is plain. It’s not up to David to decide how God needs to be helped and glorified. God can take care of those things just fine on His own. In fact, because He is in control and David isn’t, He is much better placed to do those things than David is. Instead, God will help and glorify David.
Even now, this a text that calls us to humility. God didn’t need David’s help, and He doesn’t need our help either. It’s easy for us to decide that He does. We feel that the gospel isn’t as successful as we would like it to be. We are surrounded by cultural critics who exclaim that Christianity is outdated. In these circumstances, from the best of intentions, we can presume as David presumed. We can decide that God simply won’t be able to glorify Himself without our help and act accordingly.
This is nonsense. Yes, obviously we should serve God and seek to glorify Him. That’s what we promised to do. However, even if any of us had never existed, God would be served and glorified just fine. We have work that we are called to do, but if we refuse to do it, in the words of Esther 4:14, deliverance will rise from another place. The kingdom of God cannot be defeated because the King cannot be defeated.
Particularly, we must beware of substituting our house of cedar for God’s tent. There’s all sorts of surgery we could do on the Bible to make it more culturally acceptable. We could do anything from importing instrumental music into our worship services to endorsing the practice of homosexuality “in a loving, committed relationship.” We know from experience that people will flock—for a time—to a church where their particular stumbling block has been removed.
However, we must remember that God’s word does not return to Him void. It always accomplishes the work that He has intended it to do (Isa 55:10-11). The condemnation of the wicked as they reject it might not look like success to us, but God sees things differently. Failure can only occur when we adulterate the message. Even then, it is not failure for God. It is failure for us.