The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now it came to pass, as David sat in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, Lo, I dwell in an house of cedars, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD remaineth under curtains.The Sanctification of Life
1 Chronicles 17
WHEN it is said that David "sat in his house," the literal meaning is that he "dwelt" there. To understand the whole action properly we must refer to the last verse of the preceding chapter, in which "David returned to bless his house." David then was dwelling in a sanctified house, and was under the influence of all the suggestions which are associated with such a habitation. We cannot sanctify any one point of life without the sanctifying influence going out to adjacent points and relations. Herein it is important to sanctify time, say the first day of the week; or money, say one tenth part of the income;—where time and money are so sanctified, the days and the amounts not included cannot wholly escape the influence of such a dedication. This extended action of sanctification is vividly illustrated in this verse: no sooner does David realise that he is dwelling in a sanctified house himself than he begins to think of the ark of the covenant, which occupies an unworthy habitation. Thus one good thought begets another, and thus one noble action prepares the way for a successor. David made the right use of a pure and happy home; he expanded the idea so as to include in it the very sanctuary and altar of God, and he reasoned that as his own house was so well cared for it became necessary that the ark of the covenant—by which we may understand in general terms the house of God—should also be an object of solicitude and generous care. When we contrast personal comfort with public conditions we are stirred into the practice of new and broader philanthropy. A man who sits at his own warm fireside, and does not think of the shivering and destitute poor outside, is unworthy of the comfort which he enjoys. Such a man degrades domestic blessings and makes them the instruments of selfishness, instead of reasoning from them that there are other lives that ought to be enjoying somewhat of the same advantages, and feeling that he who is in possession of domestic securities and enjoyments is a steward on behalf of others less fortunate or less successful than himself. Who can see his own children well clothed, well educated, and in every respect well cared for, without thinking of the innumerable destitute children who have no such opportunities of culture and advancement? Thus we learn from David how to proceed from one point to another in the sanctification of life: there is no stopping-point in all the line of progress: we should adopt the well-tested motto that nothing has been done whilst anything remains undone; and that nothing has been given whilst anything has been withheld. It is not enough to have comfortable spots in life, chosen and favourite localities, which are overloaded with benefits and advantages; all such spots and positions and localities should point to regions beyond themselves which need sedulous culture and much self-sacrifice. David appears before us as a man who has great thoughts for God. He cared for the ark of the covenant, and by so much he lifted himself beyond his merely earthly kingship into a broader and more enduring reality. No throne should be considered as complete in itself. Whatever we know of order ought to point us to the great work of subjugation which is yet to be done in moral regions. Whatever we know of law should incite the mind to consider how many anarchies and rebellions and tumults have to be subdued in the human heart all the world over.
"Then Nathan said unto David, Do all that is in thine heart; for God is with thee" (1Chronicles 17:2).
According to Hebrew ideas, the heart was the seat of the mind and will. When God said, "Son, give me thine heart," he asked for the whole man, in all his intellectual strength and all his emotional tenderness. The heart has always been considered as playing a most important part in the development and action of life. Aristotle did not hesitate to teach that the brain was inferior to the heart as to the functions which it performed. David's conception therefore in this particular was not a mere emotion or sentiment; it really expressed the entire consent of his intellectual and moral nature. He was adopting a course of reasoning as well as expressing a high religious sentiment. The answer which Nathan thus made to David looks like an inspiration. What could be happier than the instantaneous answer sent to the king's suggestion? That suggestion itself was a noble one, and would in all probability be adopted in days to come by other kings of Israel, if not by David himself. There are, however, extemporaneous inspirations in life, which have to be revised, amended, and in some instances discarded altogether. A judgment is not always right simply because it is sudden. There are instances in which second thoughts are best. The mind must be carefully on its guard against apparent and superficial inspirations—the whole series of suggestions which commend themselves by their obvious pertinence and utility. What could be better than that David should instantly proceed to answer his own prayer, or confirm in action the noble sentiment which sanctified his thoughts? Have we not come to similar points in life? There have been days upon which we have been perfectly sure that our duty lay along such and such lines; everything concurred to prove the providence of the situation; circumstances and impressions combined to show that a well-defined line of action had been actually described by the divine finger. It is precisely where duty appears to be so plain that vigilance should be most on the alert. Even in the simplest actions of life there are elements to be taken into account which do not immediately present themselves to the observation. Sometimes, in order to determine a very simple action, we may have to embrace a whole circle of metaphysical considerations. So subtle, so comprehensive, is human life; let us prove this by the next paragraph.
"And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, Go and tell David my servant, Thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in: for I have not dwelt in an house since the day that I brought up Israel unto this day; but have gone from tent to tent, and from one tabernacle to another. Wheresoever I have walked with all Israel, spake I a word to any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people, saying, Why have ye not built me an house of cedars?" (1Chronicles 17:3-6).
How different is God's view from the view which the prophet Nathan adopted! Let us suppose that Nathan spoke in the morning, when everything appeared to be perfectly lucid, and the whole course of action lay open to the mind; then we read in contrast that that same night the Lord presented to the prophet's mind a totally different aspect of the case. When "the same night" is referred to there is a probable indication of a dream as the chosen medium of communication between God and Nathan. Thus the night amends the day; thus the night and the day constitute a complete circle; thus it is needful that some subjects should be viewed in the quietude of night, and not in the glare and bustle of day. The Bible never hesitates to point out the fallibility of its own prophets. Nathan having spoken extemporaneously and positively was not confirmed by heaven simply in order to preserve an outward and technical consistency. Nathan was to go back to David with a totally different lesson. Thus we come upon the line of truth in all the biblical narrative, showing that whatever rises or falls the Spirit of Truth is invariably and sacredly honoured. It is important to notice that the conversation which took place between David and Nathan was known in heaven. Hence the communication which was made to Nathan in his dream. God's view of any case is of necessity fuller and larger than the view which men can take. Here is the necessity for continual and anxious prayer. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Surely it would seem, when certain great impulses seize the heart, as if they brought with them their own divine confirmation—they are so large, so spontaneous, so pure, so unselfish, that they need no corroboration from above. At this very moment, once more vigilance must ascend the watch-tower, and look carefully at every point of the horizon. Nothing is left for us to do in our own wisdom and strength: we cannot even pray without being taught to pray. we live on daily bread from heaven, and if we propose to do anything in our own strength we are sure to be disappointed and mortified. Even when we propose to build a tabernacle for the ark, we should ask the God of the ark whether the movement of our heart is a divine inspiration or a merely human and selfish idea.
"Now therefore thus shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, even from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be ruler over my people Israel; and I have been with thee whithersoever thou hast walked, and have cut off all thine enemies from before thee, and have made thee a name like the name of the great men that are in the earth. Also I will ordain a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, and they shall dwell in their place, and. shall be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness waste them any more, as at the beginning, and since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel. Moreover I will subdue all thine enemies. Furthermore I tell thee that the Lord will build thee an house. And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son; and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee: but I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for evermore" (1Chronicles 17:7-14).
The Lord here talks over with David the wonderful life which the shepherd-king had lived. When the Lord says, "I took thee from the sheepcote," we are to understand that the pronoun is emphatic, and the reading must be—"I it was who took thee from the pasture." Thus in order to understand a particular duty we must have the advantage of the focalised light of the entire preceding life. All our yesterdays are needful to show us the course which we ought to take to-day. Continually God protests against the detachment of life into parts and parcels, and insists upon its continuity and solidarity. Thus continually God guards us against sudden thoughts and sudden actions which appear so simple as not to require investigation. We may be sure that our whole life is being planned and directed so as to constitute an argument in reference to the next thing that has to be done. Go back to the beginning of your career, and, by studying the seed, endeavour to ascertain somewhat of its quality and issue: see how you have never been left a single day alone, and how the divine presence has been needful to the illumination and elevation of the whole nature: remember the instances in which you would have gone wrong if you had followed the motions of your own mind and heart: remember, therefore, in the light of all that has transpired that you are in danger of making mistakes in view of the very next policy that has to be adopted. Instead of speaking out of the confidence of your own heart, saying you will do this or that, first go to him who began your life, and has continued and shaped and blessed it, and ask him if even your noblest impulse is worthy of being embodied in action. David would be surprised when he was told that he was not to execute so high and pure a sentiment as that which had moved his heart in reference to the ark of the covenant. God has his reasons for forbidding men to do certain things. Nor does God always state those reasons, and thus flatter human reason and human pride; by-and-by the reasons may be disclosed, and God's providence may be thus vindicated; but it is for him to consider the time and the measure under which the disclosure shall be made. There is a boundary to ambition, even of the holiest kind. It is beautiful, however, that a man should be moved to attempt the realisation of great ideals, or the conquest of difficult positions, and it is highly salutary that in many instances he should be denied the honour of carrying out the very finest impulses that have moved his religious ambition. Who would not wish to be himself the means of evangelising the whole world? Who would not be willing to accept the honour of being the first man to shed light from heaven upon all the inhabitants of a continent in which the name of Christ has hitherto been unknown? Yet we are driven back from our highest impulses and compelled to do other work of a lower and narrower kind, and so the mortification of our pride tends to the upbuilding of the strongest character. We are not driven back to idleness simply because our high and ambitious programme is discredited. There is plenty of work of a humbler kind to be done, and it is needful that it should be accomplished in all its exacting detail, rather than that we should give our strength to schemes notable for their ostentation and self-gratification.
"For thou, O my God, hast told thy servant that thou wilt build him an house: therefore thy servant hath found in his heart to pray before thee. And now, Lord, thou art God, and hast promised this goodness unto thy servant: now therefore let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may be before thee for ever: for thou blessest, O Lord, and it shall be blessed for ever" (1Chronicles 17:25-27).
The Lord assured David that the house should be built, though by other hands than his. The Lord is thus continually showing himself to be independent even of the greatest men. Observe here that the Lord declines, so to say, the cooperation of the king. There are other men who are coming who will continue and complete divine purposes. David acquiesces in the divine arrangement, but he desires that the future promise should be made into a present blessing:
"Now therefore let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may be before thee for ever: for thou blessest, O Lord, and it shall be blessed for ever" (1Chronicles 17:27).
David was comforted by the fact that the blessing which was denied to him was promised to his house. David's life was thus enlarged, and made to include the generations that were yet to come. By anticipating the divine benediction in this way our souls become encouraged and stimulated by an immediate realisation of the divine presence. The meaning would seem to be that what is yet to come upon the Church in the way of enrichment and enlargement is already a source of comfort to ourselves. So we may even now live in the millennium. We read of a time when Satan shall be bound, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, when there shall be day instead of night, and when summer shall enrich all the fields of winter with blooming flowers, and the desert shall blossom like the rose: we are not to think of these things as absolutely future; we are rather to realise them as immediate possessions of our own, because they are promised for Christ, and we ourselves are hidden in Christ, and Christ is hidden in us, so that already the joy which is before him gleams upon our vision and satisfies our expectation. Thus we live in the future, and thus we are indebted to posterity. If the day were bounded by the night, our thoughts might well sink in gloom, and go down without hope of ever reappearing above the horizon. But beyond the night is the broader day; the larger, brighter, kindlier day; the day eternal on which no night should cast its discouraging shadow. Thus we are enabled to bring the power of an endless life to bear upon the present moment. David was blessed by Solomon, and was enriched by all the blessings promised to Solomon: and so the Church is blessed by One who is greater than Solomon, and already she sees herself in possession of the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth as a territory delivered to her by the mighty hand of God. Abraham rejoiced to see Christ's day afar off, and he saw it: we now rejoice to see the millennial morning, and even in "the winter of our discontent" we may see and feel the fore-gleamings of the world's abiding summer.
Almighty God, thy word is with us, it is within us; it is the man of our counsel, it is the guide of our heart; other word there is none that is true. Blessed is the man that studieth thy law, meditating therein day and night; he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, he shall bring forth his fruit in his season. We thank thee for thy book; we bless thee that it is written in our mother tongue, and that so much of it is plain to the understanding of the simple; wherein we cannot comprehend its meaning we will await the issue, diligently obeying thy commandments as we may be assisted by thy grace, knowing that whosoever doeth the will shall know the doctrine. Enable us to take up thy book where we can, to begin at any accessible point, and to work with all carefulness, simplicity, and piety, that we may thus advance into the more mysterious and solemn parts of thy temple, and there see thee with pure heart, as it were face to face. Thy word is a light, a lamp, a tender comfort, a standard by which our shortcomings may be rebuked, and yet an encouragement by which all our efforts may be inspired and stimulated to grow up into fulness of fruition. May thy book dwell within us richly, an answer to every temptation, a refuge in every storm, a place of confidence amid the tumult and uproar of life. When we open the Scriptures may Jesus himself draw near, and beginning at Moses, and the prophets may he in all the Scriptures expound unto us the things concerning himself; then shall our hearts burn even whilst we peruse the ancient history of thy Church, and all the way our love shall glow, our vision shall brighten, all the outlook shall be full of charm and sacred allurement, and we shall be drawn on day by day even until we ascend the high hills of heaven and see what is meant by eternal day. This will be the miracle of the cross, this will be the triumph of the Holy Ghost; and as we stand there, above the cloud and storm, above all sin and night and death, we will praise the Three in One, the One in Three, the Triune God. Amen.