Tenantless Temples, Pt. 4

Before long, King David made himself at home, and God gave him peace from all his enemies.


Then one day, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Look at this: Here I am, comfortable in a luxurious house of cedar, and the Chest of God sits in a plain tent.”


Nathan told the king, “Whatever is on your heart, go and do it. God is with you.” But that same night, God spoke to Nathan saying,


“Go and tell my servant David this message is from the Eternal: Are you the person who will build a house for Me to live in? I have not lived in a house since I brought My people Israel up from Egypt but have moved around all this time with nothing but a tent. And in all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders who shepherded Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’


I took you from the pasture, tagging along after sheep, and made you prince over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you journeyed and have given you victory over your enemies; and I will make you highly respected, with a name as great as any who live on earth.


And I will select a place for My people Israel and plant them firmly in that place, a land they can call their own, a land of peace. Evildoers will not bother them anymore as they did during the days when I set judges over my people Israel. Finally, I will give you rest from fighting your enemies.


More importantly, I, the Eternal will build you a house."


2 Samuel 1:11

Friends, we’re not passively related to the temples we build. The control that temple-building seems to offer gets inside of us. We get attached to our temples—and once they’re built, there’s not much we won’t do to keep them up. Theologian and scholar Alexander John Shaia wrote, “Each of us has beliefs, aspects of our lives we regard as fundamental, on which we rely for stability. We think and we hope that these 'temples' will never change. Sometimes our 'temples' are inherited, easily becoming family traditions. Sometimes we build them. We count on them. No matter what they are, we consider them central, solid, and sacred. We yearn to make them secure and expend great effort in attempts to make them so.” In the 7th chapter of the biblical book of Acts, Stephen—an early leader among the first-century Jesus-followers—is accused of heresy and dragged before the council on charges of defaming the temple in Jerusalem. His accusers state: “This man says things against this holy place and the law. We have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this temple and change the customs that Moses handed to us.” Stephen responds to these accusations with an epic testimony of the story of God. He begins with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, travels through the Exodus with Moses and the Israelites, traces the entrance into the Promised Land, details the rise of King David, and lands his testimony on Solomon’s temple with these words: “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” By the time Stephen finishes his testimony, the council is so enraged that they drag him out of the city and stone him to death.

We’re not passively related to the temples we build. Our whole lives get caught up in them.

We convince ourselves that it’s who we are or how we’re supposed to be. We believe the lie that our identity somehow exists in what we can do for God and if a few lizards have to die, then so be it. But here’s the thing: The inherited interpretations and assigned meanings we are handed sometimes lose the plot line and end up warping the stories we tell ourselves. We end up telling ourselves that we have to earn God's favor when the truth is we're born into it. We believe the lie that the Source of All Things could be contained by our temples and give our lives to defending divinely vacant structures—tenantless temples. We exhaust ourselves in the meaningless and loveless pursuit of controlling others when we can’t even control ourselves. Like our forebearers before us—from Enmerkar to Solomon to the murderous council of Acts 7—we become so invested in our temples and building projects that we will destroy lives, even our own, to preserve them. Eric Hoffer, the migratory worker, longshoreman, and self-taught philosopher who eventually received the Presidential Medal of Freedom once wrote, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” I hope and pray that he’s right—and that the worst thing the temples I’ve built become is a racket. The truth is, I fear that they’re capable of becoming much worse. Perhaps that’s why we have these stories. Perhaps the reason that King David’s short-lived building campaign has been preserved and passed down to us is to direct us away from temple-building—away from trying to earn God’s favor, contain the Creator, and control others. Writing to his friends in Corinth, the apostle Paul says, “My brothers and sisters…you realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God is present in you? God’s temple is sacred—and remember, you are the temple.” The God of All Things never asked for a building project.

The Eternal has a dwelling place.

The Source of the Cosmos dwells in us—within you and me and our neighbors and our enemies. It is the very breath in our lungs, the whisper on our lips, and the still small voice that echoes in the words of every prophet, the tears of all people, and the groans of creation. We don’t have to earn God’s favor. We have it. We’re not called to contain God. The free and wild God is with us and for us—all of us. And God does not ask nor expect us to control people. Instead, we’re called to rest, listen, and love. May we all surrender our building projects, abandon our temples, and be changed by that love. Who knows?


We may even save some lizards in the process.


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