In his sermon that ultimately led to his martyrdom, Stephen knew he was speaking to a hostile crowd, and just before his death he called into question the construction of the temple:
46 David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: (Acts 7:46-48 NASV)
Stephen said the Temple was made of human hands and it was not where God dwells.
Was Stephen referring to the fact, that the Temple in Jesus’s day was paid for and constructed by the reprobate King Herod? Or was Stephen talking about the fact the Ark of the Covenant on which the presence of God dwelt had disappeared centuries earlier and the Holy of Holies in Herod’s temple was empty?
Or was he talking about something else?
There were three religious structures that ancient Israel built to house the Ark of the Covenant. The two main structures involved the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. But for a brief period stuck between Moses’s Tabernacle and the Temple was the Tabernacle of David.
It was created when King David moved the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle of Moses to a tent he set up in Jerusalem.
Though it doesn’t receive a lot of Biblical press, it was probably the most significant of the three structures as the prophets began talking of a future day when the Tabernacle of David would be restored (Amos 9:11-12). They also spoke of the day when the Messiah would rule from David’s tent, a reference to the Tabernacle of David (Isaiah 16:5).
David’s tabernacle differed from the other two structures in that it provided access for everyone to the presence of God. There were no divisions separating the men and the women and gentiles as there was in the Temple. There were no restrictions due to disabilities or illegitimacy .
There were no animal sacrifices at the Tabernacle of David other than sacrifices of praise as it generated a new form of praise and worship involving instruments, singing and dancing (Psalm 150 ).
People were also free to enter the tent and stand before the Ark of the Covenant and offer “sacrifices” of praise to God.
And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. (Psalm 27:6 NASV)
In both the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden from site and then only after he made sacrifices.
Of course the most imposing of the structures was the Temple constructed by King David’s son Solomon. Though David wanted to build a Temple for God, there are serious questions about whether God wanted a temple.
The idea for the Temple started when David compared his massive palace with the simple, little tent that he had set up to house the Ark of the Covenant. Playing in the background of all this were the elaborate temples that kings of other nations built to worship their pagan gods.
Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, 2 that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2 NASV)
So David consulted with the prophet Nathan to see if he should build a temple. Initially, Nathan told David to build whatever was on his heart (verse 3). But at this point, Nathan was delivering his opinion on the matter and not the Lord’s.
That same night Nathan received a dream where God said that David was not to build a temple. God had dwelt in Moses’s Tabernacle and David’s tent and never asked any of the tribes to build a temple and God did not want David to build one either (2 Samuel 7:4-7).
But the dream didn’t stop there. The Lord says that instead of David building a house for God, God was going to build a house for David through one of his descendants:
11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. 12 When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, 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.
16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” (2 Sam 7: 11-13, 16 NASV).
But notice that his descendant’s throne would reign forever.
This was clearly a reference to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The church that was Christ’s body would be God’s temple (John 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 3:16) and the believers would be the living stones of that temple (1 Peter 2:5). God was going to dwell in the hearts of His people like He did on the Ark of the Covenant (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
God wanted believers to be His temple, not some structure made of stone and wood.
But notice David’s reaction. He misconstrued that prophecy and thought it meant that his immediate son Solomon was supposed to build the temple (1 Chronicles 22:7-10).
Though God told David not to build the Temple, he purchased all the materials, designed it, selected the place where to build it and even arranged the labor force (1 Chronicles 22:2-5; 1 Chronicles 21:24-26).
David did all the work and all Solomon had to do was give the order to build. Though technically it was Solomon who built the temple, it was actually David who told his son to “arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the Lord God” (1 Chronicles 22:18-19).
Once Solomon completed construction, he moved the Ark of the Covenant from David’s tabernacle into the Temple and the glory of God fell so heavy the priests could not stand to minister (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).
Of course this begs the question: if David was not supposed to build a temple, why did God’s glory fall?
I think the reason is this. Though we desire to do God’s will, we are not doing it perfectly every time we minister.
Is your pastor always preaching the message that God wants every Sunday? Obviously not. No one has a perfect track record. Nevertheless, God will still anoint and bless the message even though it’s not the word God desired that Sunday morning.
I know this may sound like heresy, but I believe God will bless and anoint us even when we make mistakes. Romans 8:28 says that God turns everything (even our mistakes) to good for those who love Him.
Some have also suggested that Solomon’s temple was a foretaste of what was to come through Jesus and the church. I tend to disagree with this view because God said He was going to build the house and this is exactly what happened in the early church after the Holy Spirit fell and begin residing in the hearts of man because of Christ’s redemption.
God’s promise of a temple was to be fulfilled in Christ, not Solomon.
I don’t believe God wanted a physical temple, but still worked with it once Solomon built it.
We learn a couple of things from this story:
- We see how easy it is to misinterpret prophecy. When God referred to David’s descendant, he immediately presumed it was Solomon. More wishful interpretation than an actual one. Prophecy is not always fulfilled in the way you think it will be.
- God will still bless the work of our hands, even if we don’t get God’s will perfectly right. The key here is motivation. David’s heart was right. He loved God and was not building his own Kingdom, but God’s.
- David’s Magnificent Temple built in the flesh: Shawn Nelson
More in the Tabernacle of David series: