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Q. What was David’s Role in the Building of the Temple?

QUESTION: Generally, it is understood that Solomon built the Temple, and so he did. But even though God would not allow David to build the temple (see 2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 22:7-8; 28:1-3), he seems to have had a significant (sometimes dominant) role in its creation, along with other men like Hiram, King of Tyre. How do you explain this?


Let’s begin by recalling that the building of a temple was David’s idea, not God’s. Also, a significant part of David’s motivation was that he had built an extravagant palace for himself, and this was in great contrast to the tent where the ark of the Covenant was kept.

1 The king settled into his palace, for the LORD gave him relief from all his enemies on all sides. 2 The king said to Nathan the prophet, “Look! I am living in a palace made from cedar, while the ark of God sits in the middle of a tent” (2 Samuel 7:1-2, NET).

God made it very clear that this temple was not His idea, and that it was not really necessary:

4 That night the LORD told Nathan, 5 “Go, tell my servant David: ‘This is what the LORD says: Do you really intend to build a house for me to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house from the time I brought the Israelites up from Egypt to the present day. Instead, I was traveling with them and living in a tent. 7 Wherever I moved among all the Israelites, I did not say to any of the leaders whom I appointed to care for my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house made from cedar?”‘ (2 Samuel 7:4-7)

In the following verses of 2 Samuel 7 God turned the tables on David. Did David wish to build a house for God? He didn’t need one. No, but God would build a “house” (a dynasty) for David, an eternal house:

8 “So now, say this to my servant David: ‘This is what the LORD of hosts says: I took you from the pasture and from your work as a shepherd to make you leader of my people Israel. 9 I was with you wherever you went, and I defeated all your enemies before you. Now I will make you as famous as the great men of the earth. 10 I will establish a place for my people Israel and settle them there; they will live there and not be disturbed any more. Violent men will not oppress them again, as they did in the beginning 11 and during the time when I appointed judges to lead my people Israel. Instead, I will give you relief from all your enemies. The LORD declares to you that he himself will build a dynastic house for you. 12 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. 14 I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. 15 But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent’” (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

God would allow David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple, but David could not do so because he was a “man of war,” who had shed much blood:

3 But God said to me, ‘You must not build a temple to honor me, for you are a warrior and have spilled blood’ (1 Chronicles 28:3).

Besides Solomon, who was in charge of the construction and dedication of the temple, there were men like “Hiram,” king of Tyre, who provided David and then Solomon with raw materials and skilled workmen, first to construct his palatial home (2 Samuel 5:11-12), and later on the temple (1 Kings 5; 9:11).

What is surprising is the degree to which David was involved in the building of the temple, in spite of the fact that God would not let him build it, but designated Solomon for this task:

11 David gave to his son Solomon the blueprints for the temple porch, its buildings, its treasuries, its upper areas, its inner rooms, and the room for atonement. 12 He gave him the blueprints of all he envisioned for the courts of the LORD’s temple, all the surrounding rooms, the storehouses of God’s temple, and the storehouses for the holy items. 13 He gave him the regulations for the divisions of priests and Levites, for all the assigned responsibilities within the LORD’s temple, and for all the items used in the service of the LORD’s temple. 14 He gave him the prescribed weight for all the gold items to be used in various types of service in the LORD’s temple, for all the silver items to be used in various types of service, 15 for the gold lampstands and their gold lamps, including the weight of each lampstand and its lamps, for the silver lampstands, including the weight of each lampstand and its lamps, according to the prescribed use of each lampstand, 16 for the gold used in the display tables, including the amount to be used in each table, for the silver to be used in the silver tables, 17 for the pure gold used for the meat forks, bowls, and jars, for the small gold bowls, including the weight for each bowl, for the small silver bowls, including the weight for each bowl, 18 and for the refined gold of the incense altar. He gave him the blueprint for the seat of the gold cherubim that spread their wings and provide shelter for the ark of the LORD’s covenant. 19 David said, “All of this I put in writing as the LORD directed me and gave me insight regarding the details of the blueprints” (1 Chronicles 28:11-19).

Think of all the things (mentioned above) that David did in advance of his death, to prepare for the building of the temple. He provided the plans, and the materials needed to build the temple. If God did not prompt David to do all these things, He at least allowed David to make these preparations. (Perhaps this is something like God allowing Moses to see the Promised Land, without entering it (Deuteronomy 32:48-52).

What I find interesting is David’s explanation for why he took so much initiative in making preparations for the temple:

1 King David said to the entire assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is just an inexperienced young man, and the task is great, for this palace is not for man, but for the LORD God. 2 So I have made every effort to provide what is needed for the temple of my God, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, as well as a large amount of onyx, settings of antimony and other stones, all kinds of precious stones, and alabaster (1 Chronicles 29:1-2, emphasis mine).

Citing Solomon’s youthfulness, David expressed doubt in his ability to bear the full weight of constructing the temple. This was no insignificant project; this was to build a “palace” for God. David doubted Solomon’s ability to do it right – Solomon, who would become the wisest man in the world, who would expand the nation Israel beyond anything David had achieved. The Solomon whom God said would build the temple.

Here is where I see the humanity (and imperfection) of David, like every other Old or New Testament hero. David was reluctant to “let go” and “let others” because he felt his successor could not do the job as well as he could. This flies in the face of what we see when Joshua succeeded Moses, or when Elisha succeeded Elijah (he did twice as well – 2 Kings 2:9-10).

The folly of David’s refusal to step aside is clearly revealed in Scripture. While 1 Chronicles 23 seems to report that the transition from David to Solomon went smoothly, a reading of 1 Kings chapter 1 suggests otherwise. Here we find that David postponed appointing Solomon as king in his place, even though he was God’s choice, and the one which David himself had acknowledged as his successor (1 Kings 1:13, 17, 29-30). He just couldn’t seem to let go of his position as king, even though he was at that time incapable of ruling (as 1 Kings 1 clearly indicates).

I see a couple of areas of application as I read all the accounts of the construction of the temple. First, I see the biblical principle of plurality, which we observe in both the Old Testament and the New. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, pointed out that Moses was taking on too much responsibility, rather than spreading out the work among others (Exodus 18). Elijah was ready to throw in the towel because he wrongly believed he was the only faithful man left, and the work was too great for him (1 Kings 19). In the New Testament book of Corinthians there were those who set Paul, Apollos, and Cephas in opposition to each other (1 Corinthians 1:11-16). But Paul saw their ministry (and indeed all ministry) as a team effort, each one with his own role to play, so that it was Paul plus Apollos plus Cephas (1 Corinthians 3:4-9). Their ministry was complementary, not competitive. This is why most of Paul’s epistles begin with “Paul, and . . .” It is why Paul almost never engages in a ministry without a team of men accompanying him. One reason that Paul gives is that each believer has his or her spiritual gift, sphere of ministry where that gift is employed, and degree of apparent success from that ministry (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Because God has diversified and divided up roles of ministry among the saints, ministry must be done collectively, not individually, and certainly not competitively (see Ephesians 4:7-16).

Second, I see a lesson for every Christian leader, who should be actively preparing others to succeed them in their ministry roles.

And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well (2 Timothy 2:2).

Rather than to prepare Solomon for ministry, and to share his leadership with Solomon in order to accomplish this, David kept as much control as he could, convinced that he could do it better. Barnabas, one of the great heroes of the New Testament, is a man who devoted himself to promoting others, so that men like Paul, once his helper, could become his leader (see Acts 9-13).

I know of too few pastors and church leaders who are purposefully devoting time and energy to preparing and equipping younger men to take their place in time, and to work with them in the mean time to develop their ability to do so. Sadly, I see far too many Christian leaders who are unwilling to relinquish control, even when age or some form of incapacity should dictate that.

I believe this is one of the reasons why we are failing at discipleship in the church. I am aware of situations in which a prominent leader makes it very clear to younger men that they are not to encroach on his territory, or to diminish his prominence in any way. If you don’t want anyone to take your place, you most certainly will not train them to do their job so well that they can replace you. Like pagan dictators, they find it easier to kill off potential leaders rather than to train and equip them. Making disciples means equipping younger believers to assume leadership roles – our leadership role!

David was a great man, a man after God’s own heart. But was not a perfect man. He held on to his position and power even when he had lost the capacity to lead. While God allowed David to pursue his passion of building a temple by making plans and preparing the materials, he was wrong to doubt Solomon’s ability to accomplish this, and this by means of the wisdom God would grant him to do so (see 1 Kings 3). Let us learn from David’s passion and devotion for God. But let us also learn from David’s failures, as a father, and leader (using his power to take another man’s wife, along with his life), and failing to step aside when the time came.

Related Topics: Leadership

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