A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/07/00

I Chronicles 17:1-27

A Tale of Two Houses

We are familiar with the biblical principle that "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." This chapter is an interesting commentary on that principle which shows in a series of houses the grace of God.


The whole book so far has been about establishing David on the throne. Verse 7 reminds us that when he was anointed, he was the least likely prospect for the job. And he should have died a thousand times, but God has always delivered him. So in every way his new "cedar home" is to him a sign of God's grace in his life. Hence, out of gratitude, he wanted to respond in kind by building a house for God. He felt it intolerable that he should be dwelling in a new palace while the Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent. And he was right. But God would have a few things to say first.


David's plans to build a house for God were put on hold. Why? Many assume from 1 Chron. 28:3 that his warlike career somehow disqualified him for the job. But this passage suggests a different slant. All the wars he had fought were at God's behest and with God's blessing. And look at vss. 4-9. Such a project could not be undertaken until all the enemies of the Land had been subdued. The reasons given here for the delay are more tactical and logistic than moral. And they reveal in their own way the grace of God. How? First, by revealing that merit has nothing to do with who got to build the temple. If we look to worthiness, David was in many ways a more fitting person than Solomon, who, in spite of his great wisdom, would allow idolatry to gain a foothold in the land through his lust for foreign wives. David's warlike career did not make Solomon more worthy; it just had to be finished before building could begin. But, more interestingly, the ultimate reason is God's identification with his people. He will not accept a permanent dwelling as long as his people are unsettled, still subject to raids by the Philistines in which their own homes were subject to seasonal destruction. Rather than demanding a temple, he stoops to dwell with his people where they are, to share their conditions. And that is a picture of grace that foreshadows the Incarnation of our Lord, even before the promises to David begin. For God promises to him a house that will never end. In the meantime, David must prepare for the Solomonic golden age by finishing his own more warlike career.


In fact, God did purpose to build his own house--by building David's! David recognizes God's unfathomable grace to him in vs. 16 and following. But he probably could not have imagined what was really meant by these promises: not ultimately Solomon but the Lord of Glory himself in human flesh; not ultimately Solomon's temple but the Church, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ himself as the cornerstone. There is not only a promise here that is being fulfilled in us, but there is also a pattern of God's working for us to take to heart.

What then are the lessons for us? First, that we must begin where David did, with zeal for God's house. Without this vision, we are only striving after wind. But then we must remain flexible--often the incarnation of the vision God has in mind is something very different from what we first thought. To cling to our own version of the vision instead of serving his would be rebellion. So also we must not get discouraged but remember that not all those who sow and water get to reap. David spent the rest of his life pacifying the land and collecting material so Solomon could build the temple--he did not live to see its completion. If we are not careful, we will think that only those present for the harvest share in its blessing--but this is to think in a secular, i.e. timebound, manner. David was just as much a part of the temple as Solomon was from God's perspective--and from David's, once he was no longer time-bound but able to see "sub specie aeternitatis" (from the perspective of eternity). Finally, we should learn to see in all these struggles the grace of God, who builds his house by building ours first.

The principle is this: if we respond to God's blessing with zeal for his house, then he will build his house by blessing ours. If we respond to his blessing by spending it upon our lusts, then that blessing will run off into the sand and count for nothing either in our house or in his. This view is corroborated by the NT in 2 Cor. 9:6-11, where God's blessing produces surplus seed, not for consumption, but for spiritual sowing. What then do we want to build? God's house through his building ours, or a house just for ourselves?

I met a travellor from an antique land Who said, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies Whose wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which still survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on pedestal these words appear: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. 'Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Let's build like David, not like Ozymandias.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams