Why the Temple Could not be Built by King David


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Each week I am invited to my dear friends for Shabbos dinner. I enjoy their company and our conversations. My close friend of 26 years, Tzvi, always has a profound question dealing with fundamental areas - a great way to start Shabbos. Ari makes me laugh, with his laugh, and always remembers last week’s discussion. His 7 year old imaginative sister always greets me, taking large bites out of my arm, pretending I am her dessert. Eli is simply a joy to be around, passionate and excited about everything, and growing in his thinking each week. He let’s me hug him for exactly 60 seconds…then he has to get back to his important business…I mean play. Tzvi’s wife creates the most luscious meals with a little help from the help, and spurs on more questions from her kids on the Parsha. Yitzy simply wants to read more issues of the JewishTimes, with increased pages. (I’ll gladly include your articles Yitzy!)


This past Shabbos, we made kiddush, sat down to eat, when Yosef asked an interesting question: “Why couldn’t King David build the Temple?” His question is strengthened by the fact that Nathan the Prophet supported the King’s wish to do so. But God said that David would not build the Temple, rather, his so Solomon will. Why couldn’t David build it? Was this a penalty? Talmud Shabbos 56a says, “Whoever says King David sinned is in error.” So if David did not sin, why could he not build the Temple? How is his son King Solomon better qualified for this task? Or, is it not that Solomon was better qualified, but there is another reason?


Rav Tzvi and I concurred: David was famous for his military victories, and such fame threatens God’s name: David ‘s victorious battles might overshadow the Temple’s true distinction - God’s sanctuary. This being so, David could not build the Temple, but not due to any sin. Rav Tzvi added why David was unfit whereas Solomon was fit: David was more associated with the military, an involvement that is celebrated with “monuments”, i.e., the Temple in this case might serve to celebrate David’s military history. And since the purpose of Temple is to focus on God, if one who builds this Temple is too popular, he dilutes the exclusive identity of the Temple being dedicated to God. In contrast, Solomon was not a war hero, so the Temple being built by him was not at risk to suffer from becoming a monument to man’s wars. Therefore, Solomon built the Temple, and David could not.


However, this explanation is not found in the very verses where God refuses David as the builder of the Temple. I feel the ideas that Tzvi ad I agreed on have merit, however, this does not mean there isn’t a more primary reason for God’s refusal of David’s Temple plans. Let us review the verses:


Samuel II, 7:1-17

[1] And it was as the king dwelled in his house, and God gave him respite from all around, from all of his enemies. [2] And the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See how I dwell and a house of cedar and the ark of God dwells inside of curtains.” [3] And Nathan said to the king, “All that is in your heart do, for God is with you.”


[4] And it was on that night, and it was that the word of God was to Nathan saying: [5] “Go and say to David saying, ‘So says God; Will you indeed build me a house that I will dwell? [6] For I have not dwelled in a house since the day I took the Children of Israel up from Egypt, and until this day, and I traveled in a tent and a Tabernacle. [7] In all that I traveled, in all the Children of Israel, was the matter ever spoken by Me to even one of the tribes of Israel, of whom I commanded (judges) to herd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’


[8] And now, so shall you say to my servant David, ‘So says the Lord of Hosts, I have take you from the shepherds’ huts, from following after sheep, to become a ruler over my people Israel. [9] And I was with you with all that you went and I cut off all your enemies from before you and I made for you a great name like the name of the great ones that are in the land. [10] And I shall yet establish a place for My people, for Israel, I shall plant it there and it shall dwell in its place so that it shall be disturbed no more; crooked people shall no longer afflict it as in earlier times. [11] And also from the day that I appointed judges over My people Israel, and I shall give you respite from all your enemies; and God informs you that God will make for you a house. [12] When your days will be complete and you will lie with your fathers and I will establish your seed after you that come from your loins and I shall make his kingdom firm. [13] He shall build a house to My name and I will establish his seat of kingdom eternally. [14] I will be to him a father, and he will be to Me a son so when he sins I will chastise him with the rod of men and with afflictions of human beings. [15] But my kindness will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed before you. [16] Your dynasty and your kingdom will remain steadfast before for all time; your throne will remain firm forever.” [17] In accordance with these words and in accord with this vision, so spoke Nathan to David.


The first thing that strikes me is God’s use of a rhetorical question, “Will you indeed build me a house that I will dwell? And again in the next verse, “was the matter ever spoken by Me…why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” This is to say that God denounces David’s sentiment. God says that He never requested a house of cedar to replace the Tabernacle, making David’s sentiment to build a house to God, somehow a wrong idea. When God uses a rhetorical question, He means to indicate that He never requested this Temple, i.e., it is clearly man’s wish and not Mine. However, God says David’s son Solomon will build that house. So which is it, wrong or right to build a house? One may simply answer that it was David who could not build the house – the Temple – but Solomon could. So the idea of Temple per se is acceptable, but it is with the ‘builder’ that God takes issue. We must understand why.


But God goes on in verses 8 and 9, describing how He made David king, and how He made his name great like those famous in the land. Why does God mention this here? What does God’s elevation of David have to do with His disagreement that David build a Temple? We also must understand why David must die, and only then his son will build a Temple. Additionally, what purpose is there in the relationship God describes that He will be a “father” to Solomon, and Solomon will be as His “son”. Was this relationship absent with regards to David? If so, why?


God clearly states that He never requested a house. Simultaneously, He says Solomon will build it. Therefore, the house, or Temple, is not an evil…but simply something God “never requested.” Therefore, we cannot understand God to be rebuking David, that Temple is an evil. What then is the rebuke, and I do not mean rebuke in the sense that David sinned, as the Talmud states, David did not sin. I mean rebuke, in the sense that David’s proposed building cannot take place for good reason, but not that the reason implies sin. So what is this reason that David cannot build the Temple, but Solomon can? Where do we look for the answer? We look right here…God continued with His response to David through Nathan, describing how He made David a king, and made his name great. Think for a moment…what may this have to do with David building the Temple?



The Temple’s Purpose

There is a most primary question, which must be asked before answering our other questions: What is the purpose of the Temple? What did David say? He was bothered that God’s ark was housed in simple curtains while he dwelled in a strong, cedar wood home. What was his sentiment? His words are, “See how I dwell and a house of cedar and the ark of God dwells inside of curtains.” David equates his dwelling with God’s dwelling. Here is another clue.


David meant to say that greater honor was due to God, over himself. He wished to give God’s ark greater honor than the simple curtain in which is currently dwelled. But for some reason, God did not approve, at least not that ‘David’ build this Temple. God says, “Will you indeed build me a house that I will dwell? For I have not dwelled in a house since the day I took the Children of Israel up from Egypt…” God’s response focuses on the concept of “dwelling”. With His rhetorical words, “Will you indeed build me a house that I will dwell?” I believe God is indicating that David’s offer exemplified two errors.


The first error (not sin) is David’s attempt to beautify the ark’s dwelling. God said, “Was the matter ever spoken by Me to even one of the tribes of Israel…why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” Meaning, God never asked for something, so man should not attempt any enhancement. God goes on, reminding David of the real truth, “God does good for man” as he cites how He made David so great. Now, just as God bestowed good on David making him so great, this Temple too is “for man”, not for God. This is precisely why God reminds David of all the good He bestowed on David; to call to David’s mind the real relationship is that God benefits man, and not the reverse.


While in other areas, the Torah’s injunction “Zek Aylee v’Anvayhu” (“This is my God and I will adorn Him”) allows man to beautify the commands, God’s message here is that one who attempts “enhancement” in relation to Temple alone, is overstepping the line: he misinterprets Temple. Temple is the one area in Torah where God must initiate change. Perhaps the reason being, that regarding Temple, man may err, feeling he is “offering to God” somehow. Sacrifice, incense and the like are subject to misinterpretation of this kind. However, the opposite is true: Temple is God’s gift to man, not man’s glorification of God. When we glorify God in Temple, it is for our own good that we concentrate on the proper ideals, and we offer God absolutely nothing. However, David’s sentiment was that he should not “dwell” in beautiful cedar wood, while the ark dwells in curtains. He felt that he would be improving the idea of Tabernacle with a Temple, when Temple is in fact for man, and not for God. God reiterates this theme by reminding David that He made David who he is today. It is God who benefited David in the past making him great, and it is God who benefits man in Temple. Perhaps David erred in this matter. We also note that at the very beginning David says to Nathan, “See how I dwell and a house of cedar and the ark of God dwells inside of curtains.” It appears David is unsure about building a Temple, and seeks Nathan’s counsel. This may teach that David was not certain of his idea at the very outset.



Allowing Error to Surface

Perhaps we may go one step further and suggest that this was the precise sentiment God desired to draw out from David into the open, for David to recognize, and come to terms with. Surely Temple is a good, provided God initiates its activities and enhancements, but God refrained from requesting it of man, until after David had this opportunity to express his thought, and God could respond. Now, that David was corrected, Temple may be built, and by David’s son. Why his son? Perhaps, since David heard the correct idea that Temple should exist, he would impart this to his son who could build it with the proper ideas. And, there was no longer any need to delay its building.



“Structure for God”: An Oxymoron

But there is a more profound error and lesson here. Improving the Tabernacle into a Temple acceptable to God does not occur structurally alone. Rather, the Temple’s very definition as a ‘good’ depends on it being initiated by God, and not man. What is lacking in Temple when man initiates it, or what is added to Temple when God requests it of man?


It is impossible that man should suggest a structure, without casting the frailties of humans onto that structure. Meaning, once David suggested making a Temple from a more ‘durable’ cedar and not curtains, for God’s “dwelling”, he was using “human terms” for a building that is exclusively identified with God. This may very well explain why the original Tabernacle had no ceiling, as it is not a “dwelling”, but a location on which to focus on God. This being the case, such a structure would be marred, had it any semblance of a shelter, which a roof indicates by its very definition. God needs no shelter, He needs no roof, and a structure man envisions, even dedicated to God is inherently flawed. Thus, the original Tabernacle could not possibly have a roof; only curtains covered it. Now, David suggests creating a more permanent “building” of cedar?! This violated the very concept of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was to remind man of ideas about God. Had the Tabernacle a roof, it would convey an incorrect and heretical idea, that God shares the frail, human need for protection from the elements. Thus, Tabernacle can have no roof. Additionally, if man initiates the idea to create a structure to God, this is equal to suggesting a roof be placed on the Tabernacle. For what difference is there, if I place a roof on the Tabernacle, or create a new structure to God with a roof, now replacing the Tabernacle? There is no difference. Therefore, God refused David’s offer to create the Temple. In such a Temple, there would be no way to remove the identity that man conceived it. Thereby, it would eternally reflect man’s concept of a “shelter”, not true ideas.


It is contrary to the true ideas of God that a building is made to Him, as “building” carries with it the notion that it is for man’s purposes; a building is a human structure. However, if God initiates such a structure, as he did with the Tabernacle, then it is no longer “man’s” idea of building. In that case, it may look like a shelter, but it is more akin to a museum, which contains prized objects, and does not function to provide a haven for inner dwellers.  And when God initiates such a structure, man is then building the structure due to a command, and not any other source in him, traceable to the human frailty requiring shelters. Therefore, Solomon was able to build the Temple, as it was now God’s wish, and not David’s.


I thank Yosef for his question, as it opened new doors for me, and others. I look forward to your questions this week Yosef, and to yours too Ari.


A good Shabbos to everyone.