There may be many times when we ask God for something irredeemably selfish. An unscheduled—and unnecessary—pay raise. The honor and respect of others. For our neighbor to “change his attitude.” In those moments, we’re not terribly surprised to hear God say “no.” But what about when we pray for good things? When we pray for God to address our singleness, or a season of infertility. When we pray for someone with a prolonged illness. Are these not worthy items of prayer? And yet many times God still says “no.”
David would experience this. Having now centralized his power in Jerusalem, he desired to honor God through the building of a temple. What was a temple? Nearly every major religion—past and present—uses a temple as the physical means of connecting to God. It was sort of a cosmic crossroads, a place where heaven and earth are thought to intersect. For years, Israel’s portable structure—the Tabernacle—served this purpose. But now that David occupied a palace, he rightly grew concerned that the Lord would occupy a lesser place:
Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 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.” 3 And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Samuel 7:1-3)
But the Lord would later speak through Nathan, and give David a resounding “no.”
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 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. 7 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?”’ 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
Why “no?” First of all, there was no pressing need—the tabernacle had sufficed since the time of the Exodus, so why not wait a generation or so? Second, during the time of the judges, God had dealt with his people through these leaders in various regions—that is, without the need for a centralized temple. And finally, David had been a man of battle. Necessary though this may have been, God would not permit his blood-stained hands from being the one to build the temple.
But, God’s “no” came with a greater “yes.” His “no” to David would establish a greater legacy through David. Sometimes, God chooses to bless His children. Other times, He chooses to bless others through His children. This was among the latter.
We call this the Davidic covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is a promise made between two parties. When such a promise occurs between God and man, it refers to a promise God makes to His people. Therefore a covenant, in the Biblical sense, asks and answers the question: How do I experience the presence of God in my life? For instance, in the covenant with Abraham, God’s presence was experienced through the promise to bless the nation of Israel through God’s dealings with Abraham. The covenant with Moses was an extension of this—wherein God said that the promise given to Abraham came with no strings attached, but, in order to fully experience the joy of this promise, man would now obey God through a codified series of laws. Now, God is telling His people that they would experience God through His reigning representative—the King.
We can notice five specific features to this king:
- David’s heir would occupy the throne
- David’s heir would build God’s temple
- David’s heir would have a unique relationship with God
- David’s heir would receive punishment for sin—but not be cast off like Saul
- God promises a kingdom that lasts forever
While some of these features have an immediate, obvious fulfillment in David’s immediate descendants, others won’t find fulfillment until the arrival of a true, better King in the person of Jesus. This is why Isaiah would later prophesy:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:7-8a)
Jesus fulfills all the promises spoken of here to David. And, what’s more, Jesus would not merely build a temple—Jesus would be the true temple. How? By being the person who connects heaven to earth. Do you want to experience the presence of God? Then you find God’s presence through Jesus.
David, of course, didn’t understand the half of this. But still he responded to God with gratitude and admiration:
18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! 20 And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! 21 Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. 22 Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? 24 And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God. 25 And now, O Lord God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. 26 And your name will be magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you.27 For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. 29 Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”
Too often God says “no,” and we sigh with rehearsed contentment, assuaging our disappointment with trite sayings about how “God must have something better for us.” But the gospel tells us that Jesus is better. Our greatest hope is not that if we’re good, if we’re patient, God will someday offer us His blessings. Our greatest hope is that God is a blessing, offering us connection to Himself through His Spirit, and through the provision of His Son’s righteousness.
Is that enough? When you don’t get that promotion you’d been daydreaming about—is God enough? When you remain single longer than you’d expected—is God enough? What if you fail that test, what if you suffer from ongoing depression, what if your kids don’t come home with a happy report card? What if your kids don’t come home at all? Is God enough? All our life we live with a dream that says “My life would be better if_______________.” The gospel comes along and says that your life is better because of Jesus.
Don’t waste God’s “no.”