David had become king over the whole nation of Israel and defeated Israel’s enemies. He had made Jerusalem the capital, built himself a royal palace, and brought the Ark to Jerusalem. Having reached a level of success and stability, David sought to build a house for God and Nathan concurred with this plan. Nevertheless, God had different thoughts on the matter and revealed to Nathan that David would not be the one to build this temple, but that his offspring would be (verse 12). Historically speaking, the “offspring” referred to Solomon, who eventually did build this temple.
Why did God not allow David to build this temple? In 1 Kings 5:3, Solomon gave the following reason—“You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet.” However, according to 1 Chronicles 22:8, David recounts an additional word of the Lord that came to him—“You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth.” Was it a matter of unavailability or of uncleanliness?
Another important question to consider is whether God wanted a temple at all. Our passage highlights the fact that God had never asked any of the past leaders to build a temple and that God had no need for such a dwelling place. All along God had been with the people and working amongst them without such a permanent dwelling. Could this be another case of Israel’s demand for a king to rule over them so that they “may be like other nations” (1 Samuel 8:20)? Like the role of a king, a temple helped to establish the stability and significance of a people; it evidenced their connection to and support from the divine in a way that all could physically see. While David’s motivations may have been at least partially pure, could it be that it was also about establishing Israel’s standing among the various nations.
In that case of Israel’s desire for a king, the prophet Samuel was livid, but God told him to grant their request saying, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). God did warn the people that this action would lead to a loss of freedom, family, and possessions, and ultimately to their own subjugation by this king. In David’s collecting of treasures and supplies for this Temple (1 Chronicles 21:28—29:9), and in Solomon’s building of the Temple, we see some of God’s prophecy coming true. In 1 Kings 5:13 we read: “King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men.” He also conscripted an additional 150,000 workers from the “hill country” (most like Canaanites). Along with the building of the Temple, Solomon also built his own house, and the combined project took 20 years. Some have estimated the cost in today’s dollars to be 3-6 billion. Solomon borrowed so much money from King Hiram of Tyre that he gave him twenty cities in the Galilee (1 Kings 9:11).
Again, we must ask ourselves, did God really want this Temple? Was God’s desire to see thousands enslaved into forced labor and countless supplies used up in this way?
Why did God allow Solomon to build this Temple? It may be best to speak about God’s accommodating permission. It may seem odd to refer to God as onewho accommodates. The act of accommodating includes an element of provision and mercy, but, moreover, it includes the adaptation or adjustment on God’s part to meet the people where they were, usually in the midst of their sinfulness and/or misaligned desires. Thus, this moniker is fitting, and reveals the extent of God’s patience towards Israel for the sake of ongoing relationship.
In the end, what stick out in 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, is not David’s desire to build a house for God, but God’s desire to build a house for David, and ultimately for the whole people of God. In the New Testament, Jesus reminded us that he was the true Temple (John 2:19-21, cf. 1:14), and Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us making us a Temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16). So, we can see that God has indeed kept the promises made to David and to us.
Our modern equivalent of this story is our desire to build churches. It is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, we must check and doublecheck our motivations. Are we motivated by our love for God and our desire to give God our best? Are we motived by a desire for others to see how God has blessed us? Are we motivated by a desire to have a beautiful and safe place to come together? Or maybe, are we might be motivated by a desire to control God? These are just a few of the possibilities and I am sure that for most it is a combination of motives. Nevertheless, we must remember God’s words to David and also remember that some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples were these: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In other words, our mission is lived out in the World and not in a building.
 All Scripture quoted from the NRSV.