It takes David a long time to become King after he is chosen for that position. The previous King, Saul, lingers and clings to leadership but eventually fades away. David steps forward and the promise is made that he will be a much better king than Saul. A further promise is made that David’s son will be an even better king than David and a true sense of hopefulness develops in the people of Israel. They have been through so much up to now. Wandering around through the wilderness, warring with various neighbors, life has been hard for Israel as the monarchy begins. Everything seems so temporary but there is a promise of more permanence ahead. The early chapters of 2 Samuel make a good read.
As things begin to settle down King David builds himself a house. For too long he has lived a tenuous lifestyle, hiding in caves as enemies hunt him, camping out as the wars are waged. Now things have calmed down enough so that David can settle in one spot. He chooses Jerusalem and begins to build the city around his new home.
As construction goes on, David realizes that the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel in which his people have housed the writings of the law, resides in a tent. The people have faithfully carried the ark around with them, hiding it here and there when necessary, and covering it with a tent for some protection from the elements. David looks at his new house of cedar and gets the idea that the Ark of the Covenant should have a better home than a tent. He proposes a more respectable home for that which represents the presence of the Lord among them. And so the idea of the Temple begins. Those of us who enjoy worshiping in a beautiful setting which is more permanent than we are would probably agree that building a temple seems like a grand idea.
God isn’t quite ready for that yet though and tells David the temple won’t be built until after David dies. As God speaks through the prophet Nathan, he says that leaving the ark in a tent is what is best for now. The tent, we are told, will properly remind the people that life is precarious. A great big permanent temple just might lead the people to think more highly of themselves than is proper. It’s been hard going to bring the people of Israel to this place of security. It’s best that they remember that only God’s hand has brought them here. So, for now, no temple. A tent will do.
In the 18th chapter of Acts, we read about Paul leaving Athens and settling in Corinth for about a year and a half. He takes up with Aquila and they share a business with each other. They are tent makers. Tents, at the time, were more the norm for many than houses. We can imagine, as Paul traveled around so much during his ministry, that he may even have used some of the tents he made.
Tents aren’t much protection but they’ll do in a pinch. They’re portable and provide an adequate dwelling for a short period of time. But they send a clear message: movement. You don’t stay in a tent in one place for very long. You move on. Tents remind dwellers that this setting is temporary.
St. John’s sure seems permanent. It’s been here longer than any of us and hopefully will be here for generations to come. The homes we live in are meant to be pretty permanent too. We build them for security and comfort, sometimes even for beauty and grandeur.
But we all know things in this life are temporary. Well, maybe we don’t really know that but there sure are reminders of that fact. We try to avoid facing it but we’re temporary and so are the things of the world that we build. Eventually it all crumbles.
God doesn’t care too much about all that. It doesn’t affect him. A tent really suits God’s personality more. God is on the move too. God is so permanent and unchanging that he embodies even change. God is all that has been, all that is, all that will be. God can’t be tied down to one place. He is beyond all things.
God is on the move. Maybe we should follow.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.