Forming Faith Blog

A House or a Tent? (October 25, 2020)

David wanted to create a permanent house for God in Jerusalem, but God was fine in a tent. What are permanent are God’s promises.

A large, luxurious house. David wanted to build a permanent home for God.
From Judges to Kings

A major political shift took place during the ministry of Samuel, son of Hannah. The people of Israel were jealous of the neighboring peoples for having kings, not the judges God appointed for them. So, they demanded that God give them a king. After warning them that this was a bad idea, God relented and called on Samuel to anoint Saul as king. That didn’t work out well, so God sent Samuel to anoint David as king. While Saul was still king. Awkward.

As of 2 Samuel 7, David had been king and a successful military leader for some time. He captured Jerusalem and turned it into his capital city, with fancy buildings and everything. Things were going well.

A Transitory Tabernacle

A thought occurred to David, probably while he was appreciating how nice his palace was. He has such a beautiful house, and God still dwells among the people in a little tent. He decided that he needed to change that. Perhaps his motives were completely pure: he wanted to honor God. Perhaps his motives were political: he wanted Jerusalem—the City of David—to be both the political and religious center of the nation. As with most humans, his motives were probably mixed. But, regardless of his motives, he wanted God to settle down (near him).

The word “house” appears in 2 Samuel 7:1-17 seven times, signifying a theme. David notes that he has a house. He implies that God should have a house. God challenges David for taking on the idea of a house for God without God’s command or instructions. Then God promises a house for David and his descendants.

Transient versus Permanent

David could be looking at a contrast of style. God is currently dwelling in relative simplicity. David thinks God should have a place with more “wow” factor. But God’s response to David hints that another contrast is in focus: transience versus permanence. God specifically designed the tabernacle as a sacred space that the people could take down, pack up, and carry to a new location. As the people of God were on the move, so was God. God was not tied to a geographical location.

In David’s time, the people of Israel no longer lived in tents; they had settled down and built houses. God didn’t have a house but still dwelt in a tent. God’s “home” was designed to be transient. David didn’t want God to be able to move away. He wanted God to stay in one place. He valued permanence over transience.

Is a Tent a Home?

In our modern societies, we value permanence over transience. Part of reaching maturity involves “settling down” and “putting down roots.” On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t like to be called (or be) a transient, by which we would mean a homeless person. Aside from the main, critical point that homelessness is the terrible result of the injustice in our society, we also see a prejudice against “transients” in our laws and society. Even nomadic cultures are often seen as “primitive.” To vastly oversimplify, we often see transience as immature, primitive, or a negative. Permanence is mature, modern, and positive. We agree with David.

God’s response begins with a defense of the transient tabernacle. There’s nothing wrong with it. God could have commanded the people to build God a house at any time (including in this story.) God didn’t. It wasn’t important and it wasn’t the right time. A tent was all the home God needed.

A Permanent Promise

God did, however, make a permanent promise. In God’s own time (which was the next generation), a temple will be built. God will “put down roots” in one place. And God promised that it would be a descendant of David who would build it. More importantly, God promises to be in relationship with David’s descendants, make them a royal lineage, and therefore be connected to the people of Israel.

A Home in Exile

It is significant here to remember that this story was written down by and for God’s people who were living in exile, far from home. The “permanent” dwelling place of God had been destroyed. They were far from God’s city and God’s land. Was God even still present with the people? Yes. God’s presence never left the people. God is not tied to geography. God’s tent traveled with the people before, and God travels with the people in the exile.

God is permanent. God’s promises are permanent. Everything else is ultimately transitory.

In God’s permanent love,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

God is not limited to geography, but we are. It is important for us to set aside both time and space for prayer and worship. This week’s free activity encourages participants to create a special worship space for themselves or others to use. This activity comes from our Living the Word: Youth (Narrative Lectionary) curriculum, but it has been adapted for intergenerational, home use.

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