Who Builds? Whose House?
Safe from his enemies and finally secure in his own palace, King David desires to build the Lord a house of cedar. The Lord reminds David through His prophet Nathan that the ark of the Lord moves and dwells in a tent. The Lord has no need for a house. Furthermore, it is the Lord who establishes David and his house, and not the other way around. Taking him from the pasture, the Lord has established David as shepherd over His flock. The warning for His doulos is to attend to the business of caring for the people and not to be distracted with the business of buildings.
The story allows us to pause and ask, Who builds? Whose house? Whose glory?
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And with me today is co-host Fr. Timothy Lowe, retired priest and former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Hello, Fr. Timothy, good to see you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:31
Likewise, Hollie, hope you're doing well.
Hollie Benton 0:33
I am Father, thank you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:34
So I'd like to start with a story. And it's going to be sort of the mantra of the next few episodes that you and I do together. The story goes like this, I collaborate with another priest - distance on projects and whatnot over the internet. And one time, I complimented him, and he wrote back a couple of words, and said, "Only God is good," Mark 10:18. He said it to be funny, sometimes we're humoring each other. And so I wanted to compliment him again, maybe four or five weeks later. But since I couldn't call him good, or very good, referencing again, "No one is good, but God alone," I said, you know, you are the third best of the worst. There you go. You know, we're all bad. No one is good, but God alone, but you are not the worst of the worst, you are the third best. So he got my joke referencing the previous interchange, and we laughed. I want people to remember this phrase. Lent is beginning. Sunday of Last Judgment. End of Matthew, "No one is good, but God alone." In fact, I would even tell people during Lent, just repeat, "No one is good, but God alone." Amen. That is my introduction today to David. Because there's a lot of presumption.
Hollie Benton 2:02
Father, I'm guessing you've had the experience of sitting in your new car or your new house after years of working hard and putting away money for the big purchase or maybe even sitting at your desk, in your new office after a grueling process of certifications, and education, applications, testing and interviews. And that feeling of satisfaction. Life is good. I have arrived. All is right with the world and I am the king of my domain. Now imagine if someone were hired to do a job and feeling this self-satisfaction and confidence with this new position and pleased to associate himself with so reputable a company, took the company assets to build a great monument to the company founder. I think the gesture kind of makes us cringe thinking about it, we can see a little bit of ego tied up in the monument making. Plus this guy has a job to do to sustain the business that provides so many jobs in the community. If the assets get poured into the monument, what's going to happen to the people? Imagine the founder hears about this new guy who has been hired to do a job and the founder is outraged. Who does this guy think he is? He was hired to do a job. I don't need his monument. That's not what this company is about. We're about serving the people of this community. And that's exactly what I've done for this guy, giving him a job to do. So this is kind of the story that we'll hear in Second Samuel once we hear about King David ascending the throne. But before we hear the story of father Timothy, could you provide a little more context? We heard last week about the Lord dethroning King Saul and anointing instead, his shepherd, the shepherd boy, David. But David isn't anointed to build the Lord a house, because the Lord doesn't need a house. He doesn't need David's monument.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 4:02
So what has happened? Recount: David, the shepherd boy wasn't invited to the party. He is the one chosen, anointed by Samuel at the request of God, given the Spirit, but he doesn't immediately function as a king because Saul is king. It takes almost the whole book of Samuel to retrace all of this. Anyway, after Saul's suicide, David is accepted as king by the tribe of Judah. Now, the problem I have with our church, people too, because it's the same problem, is we glamorize and make something larger than it actually is. Judah is a rinky dinky small section of what we now call Israel Palestine. So to be the king of the tribe of Judah is nothing. He's just simply the king of the tribe of Judah. And then he gets anointed by them. It just means you are having oil poured over your head and being proclaimed. A King is not a savior. That's a different word. So when we say Messiah, mashiach in Hebrew or whatever, it's just someone who's been anointed set aside for a specific task. That's what I want people to keep in mind. Jesus the Messiah. After Saul commits suicide, which is, of course, a heinous sin, but again, to see the rise of David, you have to see the fall of Saul. And it's a hugely tragic story in the biblical texts, and takes a lot of text. And then you see the slow rise of David. David, if you will, he is the Teflon man. Nothing sticks to David. Wherever he goes, he comes out on top, even if he's sneaky, sly, whatever, he is Teflon, nothing sticks. And so you have this slow ascent. After the death of Saul, his generals proclaim his son King, and then civil war breaks out. It's an ugly situation of supposedly the 12 tribes, and now they've split apart after they've come into what was quote, unquote, the promised land, the land of promise from the stories of Genesis. Anyway, finally, David comes out on top, and they all meet in Hebron. Hebron is a very small village. Jerusalem isn't functional yet. So they're in Hebron, where David has been king of this small rinky dink little area, not important per se. And now of course, the Israelites come in, they have a consult, and then finally, the civil wars ended, David is proclaimed king of all of them. So he's king of all the tribes now unified. After that David goes and conquers a Jebusite city called Jerusalem. The key to this functionally is this is territory that does not belong to a tribe per se. It's like Washington, DC. It's federal, it doesn't belong to the north and south. It is independent, okay, which you know, even in the American history actually is quite important. David functions as a segue, he conquers them, creates his own city, and goes about building his own place, his palace, so things are progressing. And then that basically is the background which leads into today's reading. Again, realize David is always successful somehow, and even when he's sneaky, deceitful, manipulative, because if you read the text, you will see he's very manipulative at times, so that someone else takes the blame or someone else does the dirty work. Because again, you are not elected King. You're appointed secretly by God, Samuel, the story that we read last week. Remember these things as we begin the chapter we're reading today, which I want to say is the pinnacle of David's rise.
Hollie Benton 7:39
So here's that passage now from Second Samuel chapter seven. "Now when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies round about, 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. And Nathan said to the king, go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you. But that same night, the word of the Lord came to Nathan, Go and tell my servant David, Thus says the Lord, Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt 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. 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? 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 present over my people Israel." So the Lord is basically reminding David of his position. It is the Lord who establishes David, he doesn't need David to establish him with a building a temple, a monument. In fact, it says later on, moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. It's the Lord who provides for David and not the other way around. King David has a job to do in shepherding the people. And the Lord wants him to focus on that. So Fr. Timothy, why is this story important? And what bearing does it have in critiquing even our own motivations to build grandiose church buildings and cupolas to glorify and honor God?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:30
This passage reminds us of who the biblical God is, as the wandering God of the tent that's movable and not located in the city, which sets him over and against all the other images of gods with their temples, located in the spot of the ancient Near East. In this sense, this is a corrective. Now, the problem is the biblical God. I want you to think about this when you're hearing it. The biblical God is an iconoclastic God. No images, no graven, no statues, no buildings per se. He's happy being the wandering God going in front of his people and guiding them. Now, generally, the human being is not an iconoclastic person. Nor is religion iconoclastic. Islam comes the closest, but they still build their buildings, instead of having images, they have their magnificent calligraphy with quotes of the Quran. But the idea is, we are reminded that the biblical God does not need a building to dwell, a place where then he is confined, a place where people think they can just go straight to him as they would any other place, a place of pilgrimage where that you have holy, No, no, no, this is not the biblical God. And my point is, is that David is told this from the very beginning, David has risen from a shepherd boy, now he's king of all the 12 tribes. He has conquered his own area, he has built the city, has built his palace, and then oh, by the way, now why should I have all of this luxury and prominence? Let's build a house for this God, a temple. This is a systematic rejection of the temple. And so in this rejection, there's a message. Should we be building churches? Should we be adorning them with icons? If you talk this way, people are going to call me a heretic and go crazy, because you cannot think of the Orthodox Church without its magnificent buildings, without its beautiful iconography, which is incomparable to the others. But again, to the glory of whom? You have an iconoclastic God, we are icon, the technical words iconodule, icon lovers. Okay. That is in our very nature. And this is why in fact, the message of Scripture is so hard to swallow, when you look at it carefully. Technically, when you look at it, see, because part of us wants to share in this glory. I mean, how many of our churches, O to the glory of God, to the glory of God? I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure. Earthquake, Turkey, destruction of sanctuaries, mosques, churches and whatnot, should we rebuild them? It's a question. The God of chapter seven will say, No. Attend to the people, shepherd the people, care for the people. Yeah, but we need a place to gather, we need a point of identity, okay, this is a Russian Orthodox Church, this is a Greek Orthodox Church, whatever. But we are naturally inclined, by definition, to build our houses, to build our sanctuaries, to secure them. Last time I was in the Middle East, which was actually about a year ago at Pascha. I specifically wanted to go to Mar Saba Monastery, which is the oldest functioning monastery along with St. Catharines in the Sinai. It's a walled city, because you have to protect the monks. And it's huge, built on the side of a hill going down to the Kidron Valley. When I was there earlier, there were only seven or eight monks in a place that could hold hundreds. Next to it, next to it, I swear to God next to it, because I purposely went on the other side, so I had an overview of the whole thing, the other side of the valley. Next to it is a Bedouin tent. A Bedouin tent. You know, it's like the size of my pinky toe compared to the rest of my body. I wanted this picture simply to contrast the two. You have the monument, the fortress of the monastery with only a handful of monks, maybe now there may be 10 or 12. Then you have the Bedouin tent functioning. Where does God dwell? Now, to further make the point of just the progression of the human being because we're talking about David and his progression from a shepherd boy from being nothing in significance to coming to the point of now being the king, the conqueror of all, has rest from all of his enemies, all, thanks be to God. And now he wants to somehow confine this God who has given, in a building. Now, back to the image of Mar Saba. Opposite the huge monastery on the side of a hill is a cave. In the cave there is a sealed door with initials ICXC. That is the original cave of Mar Saba, the humble monk who entered the desert lived by himself in a cave. And now you transfer what has emerged from a humble beginning to now this fortress. And you have to understand that every church in the desert is built as a fortress for protection. Now, what's even more questionable is the body of Mar Saba, St. Saba, in a church built at the very center with its nice now refurbished gold, brass dome and incorrupt. It just sees the natural progression. I'm just talking about the human being and what we do, and is this the God whom we worship, or is this the God that we have slowly fixed him into these sorts of circumstances? I think at some point, the natural progression is, we get it wrong. David, he's getting it wrong. God corrects him. Now it goes on that Solomon then will have the task of building the temple. And David is just the emerging image of kingship. Solomon will be the pinnacle. But we'll save that for a different podcast because we're talking about progression. Talking about progression, where one begins and finally, is it of God? Or is it just another human monument that ultimately rejects the idea of who the biblical God is? So the question is, what is the business since we live in the 21st century? This summer, you know, God willing, I have plans to go to Barcelona, family vacation, five or six of us will go and we're going to start in Barcelona, because some of the kids haven't seen Barcelona yet. There's a very famous, the most spectacular building called the Sagrada Familia. Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. It's still being built. They had hoped to finish it by the 150th anniversary, they've been building it for almost 150 years. There is nothing like it, the guy was brilliant. But the interesting thing about this is he was an ascetic. He lived simply. They can't even figure out the complete complexity of the design. There it is. I will cringe the whole time, my wife will be in an architectural heaven, because she can separate the facts. But this is designed to be a church with more symbolism than any Orthodox Church could even imagine with all of its iconography. And I'll just be thinking, is this a church? This is a church, oh, shoot me now. I can't separate it, because it's built as a church. Now, what is the story of Gaudi? How did he die? He dressed very poorly, this brilliant, unique architectural genius was poor, he lived an ascetic life in the basement of the building. He got hit by a tram, just a poor guy, people didn't notice who he was, because they didn't recognize him. And so they were late in getting him to the hospital and ultimately he died, which is just such an iconoclastic clash. Now, let's go back to the reading. The points about iconoclasm versus the iconographic nature of the human being, wanting to erect something, but to whose glory? The reason this is the pinnacle with the story of David is the prophet Nathan, first says, speaks out of his own words, O go do as your heart desires. And then God tells Nathan, no, there's a message here, that it is God who has established David, not David establishing God by building a house. And God tells him what kind of God he is from the beginning. And he never needed this, never wanted it. He didn't even want kingship, but it's all being allowed. This is a theological conundrum, if you want to talk about it, but no reason to, it's a waste of time. God promises David, that He will establish a house for David, which was a dynastic promise. In other words, one of your sons is going to sit on your throne. In other words, it's going to be dynastic, there's going to be a Davidic line, and that is what David then has reached the pinnacle. Okay, it's not like he's going to be booted, and someone else, you know, like Saul is booted, and it moves to a whole different clan, a whole different tribe. No, it's going to be the Davidic, and therefore David thinks his legacy, will now be in his dynasty. So people will understand how, in the coming of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the same corrective that we have happening now about who God is what is well pleasing to Him, and it will continue. And that same corrective will happen again in the New Testament, which is why the stories are not just merely linked, but deeply connected, both in movement and understanding. So when we get to Holy Week, and we get to the cross, and we get to the celebration of the resurrection, we will have that context. Otherwise, it's just going to be again, people just enjoying the moment and eating and drinking and being merry, and then wait till next year, and we begin again. No, it's the message. It's the nature of who this God is, who we are called to follow, and how that is supposed to be lived out, which is what we've been talking about, and will continue to talk about, because it's just one message. And since you have to do this weekly, we'll keep repeating ourselves, and hope at some point, we will get it. So two things I want people to remember today. No one is good, but God alone. You don't have to believe it. But you have to say it, you have to confess it. Just say it and sooner or later, it might begin to imprint and the message might stick. And the other one is this is an iconoclastic tent-dwelling God who lives amongst His people, guides and leads them as the Shepherd does his flock and not a God who lives in a magnificent temple where we go and choose to have a chat with him once in a while.
Hollie Benton 19:52
Thank you, Fr. Timothy. No one is good but God alone, and you can't pin Him down. You don't establish Him. And only by his mercy may He remember us.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 20:01
Hollie Benton 20:03
Alright, thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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