The Davidic Monarchy in Jerusalem (III):Why Can't David Build the House of God (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

sHIUR #05

THe Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem (III)

Why can't David build the House of GOd (part II)

Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In our previous shiur, we discussed several reasons why David is barred from building the house of God: the absence of a permanent monarchy, the lack of respite from the surrounding enemy nations and David's personality traits.  In this shiur, we will examine additional reasons brought in Scripture, the writings of Chazal, and the Rishonim.




The word of the Lord came to me saying, "You have shed blood abundantly, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed much blood upon the earth before Me."

(I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8)


            This important reason for David's being barred from building God's Temple appears twice in this formulation in Divrei Ha-yamim (22:7-10; 28:3-10), but not once in the Book of Shemuel.  Furthermore, whereas in Shemuel (II Shemuel 7) we are told about a prophecy that the prophet Natan delivers to David, here we are told that God Himself appears to David and gives him this reason.  The Radak comments on this point (on I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8): "We do not find that God said this to him; rather David said, in his heart, that this is the reason that God barred him from building the Temple."  This reason has been interpreted in many different ways.




The simple understanding is that bloodshed itself precludes the construction of the Temple.  These two things cannot coexist, as is stated in the Mekhilta cited by Rashi on the verse, "And if you will make Me an altar of stone, you may not build it of hewn stone; for if you lift up your tool upon it, you will have defiled it" (Shemot 20:22):


For the Altar is created to lengthen the days of man, whereas the iron tool was created to shorten them, [and] it is inappropriate for that which shortens [life] to be lifted up over that which lengthens [it].  Furthermore, since the Altar makes peace between Yisrael and their Father in heaven, that which cuts down and destroys should not come upon it.


According to this understanding, this explanation contains no argument against or criticism of David.  It merely notes a fundamental fact: the essential contradiction between the Temple and war bars a king who is heavily involved in bloodshed—justified though it may be, as necessary for the establishment of the state—from engaging in the construction of the Temple.  In contrast, Scripture states:


Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be man of tranquility; and I will give him rest from all his enemies around about: for his name shall be Shelomo, and I will give peace and quiet in Yisrael in his days.  He shall build a house for My name; and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Yisrael forever. 

(I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:9-10)[1]


            It is Shelomo—the man at rest from his enemies, whose very name expresses the idea of peace—who will build the Temple. [2]




There are, however, other ways to understand what is meant in our context by bloodshed.  The Radak (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8) writes: "And when He says: 'You have shed much blood upon the earth' — for there was innocent blood among the blood that you shed."




            The first example of "innocent blood" that the Radak offers is the blood of Uriya the Chitti.[3]


            This is a totally different understanding, which embraces a harsh personal critique of David: it was David's causing the death of Uriya the Chitti that prevented him from building the Temple.


            This understanding connects with a famous passage in Shabbat 30a:


What is meant by: "Show me a token for good, that they who hate me may see it, and be ashamed" (Tehillim 86:17)?

David prayed before the Holy One, blessed be He: "Master of the Universe! Forgive me for that sin." 

He said to him: "It is forgiven you."

He entreated: "Show me a token in my lifetime."

He answered: "In your lifetime I will not make it known, but I will make it known in the lifetime of your son Shelomo." 


            For when Shelomo built the Temple, he desired to take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whereupon the gates cleaved to each other.  Shelomo uttered twenty-four prayers, yet he was not answered.  He opened his mouth and said: "Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be you lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of Glory will come in" (ibid. 24:7)… Yet he was not answered.  However, as soon as he said: "O Lord God, turn not away the face of Your anointed; remember the good deeds of David your servant" (II Divrei Ha-Yamim 6:42), he was immediately answered.  At that time, the faces of all of David's enemies turned [black] like the bottom of a pot, and all Yisrael knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, had forgiven him that sin.


            The connection made here between the pardon granted for the sin involving Bat Sheva and the Ark's entry into the Holy of Holies may perhaps be better understood in light of the Radak's view that David did not build the Temple because of the blood of Uriya the Chitti.[4]


            In this connection, we find an interesting derasha of Chazal regarding the proximity of the mention of Uriya the Chitti at the end of the list of David's warriors (II Shemuel 23:39) to the story of the census and plague that immediately follows it:


"And again the anger of the Lord burned against Yisrael [and He incited David against them, saying, Go, number Yisrael and Yehuda']" (ibid. 24:1)—what is written above it?  When David came to count his soldiers, he proceeded to count them.  When he came to Uriya the Chitti, it says: "thirty seven in all" (ibid. 23:39).  Yet you find that David did not count another seventeen warriors, though in Divrei Ha-yamim you find another seventeen sacrifices.  Rather, as soon as he reached Uriya, immediately, "And again the anger of the Lord burned."  This may be likened to a king who was sitting and reading through the records of his warriors, mentioning each by name, and when he reached a certain name, he was told that he died.  [The king] immediately threw down the records and became angry.  So too here since it mentions Uriya, immediately, "And again the anger [of the Lord burned]." [5]


            According to this midrash, the sin involving Uriya had additional ramifications: God's anger and the terrible plague that it brought (in which 70,000 people died), and the revelation of the site of the Temple following David's readiness to accept responsibility and die of the plague.




The next example of "innocent blood" mentioned by Radak is as follows:


He was also the reason for the [shedding of the] blood of the priests, as it is stated: "I have occasioned the deaths of all the persons of your father's house" (I Shemuel 22:22).


            As the Radak notes, David himself accepted responsibility for the death of the priests of Nov, which he had indirectly caused when he went to Achimelekh. [6] This is an exceedingly harsh ramification of what was merely indirect responsibility on the part of David, who certainly harbored no intentions whatsoever of doing evil.




            The Radak continues:


Also among the blood of the non-Jews that he shed who had not been fighting against him, there may have been good and pious people.  Nevertheless, he was not punished for them, for it was his intention to destroy the wicked so that they not attack Yisrael or to save himself when he was in the land of the Pelishtim, when he spared not a man or a woman.  However, since he was involved in a great deal of bloodshed, he was barred from building the Temple, which was for peace and atonement of sin and the glory of prayer, just as we are barred from lifting up an iron tool over the altar or in the Temple, because iron which is used to fashion instruments of killing should not be used for utensils of peace.


            In other words, the bloodshed of innocent non-Jews in and of itself, even if performed in the context of a just war, sufficed to prevent David from building the Temple.




Yehuda Kil explains (in the Da'at Mikra commentary to I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:8) that the blood shed by David includes also the blood of the people killed in the two camps over the course of the long civil war between the House of Sha'ul and the House of David (II Shemuel 3:1). 




            Rav Goren, zt"l, [7] argues that David was barred from building the Temple, because he had conquered Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova prior to his conquest of Yerushalayim.  This is in line with the criticism of David found in the Sifrei to Devarim 11:24 (Sifrei Devarim 51):


David acted against the Torah: the Torah says that only after the conquest of the land may one embark on extraterritorial campaigns, but he did not do this.  Rather he conquered Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova, whereas the Yevusi near Yerushalayim he did not conquer.  God said to him: "Next to your palace you have not conquered; how then can you go off and conquer Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova?"


            This criticism is particularly understandable in light of Chazal's view of this territory (modern-day Syria) as the "conquest of an individual," [8] that is, conquest for David's personal sake (see I Shemuel 8:13 and I Divrei Ha-yamim 18:12).


            Psalm 60 in Tehillim testifies to the great number of casualties suffered by David's army during that war:


…of David, to teach. When he strove with Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova, and Yoav returned, and smote twelve thousand of Edom in the Valley of Salt. 

O God, You have cast us off, You have shattered us, You have been angry; O turn Yourself to us again…

You have shown Your people hard things; you have made us drink the wine of staggering. 

(Tehillim 60:1-3, 5)


            The Targum renders v. 2 in the following way:


And afterwards Yoav returned, and smote Edom in the plain of salt; and those who fell of the soldiers of David and Yoav were twelve thousand…


            According to the Targum, the twelve thousand deaths were among David's soldiers in this personal campaign, and it was because of their deaths, argues Rav Goren, that David was denied permission to build the Temple.  This punishment exemplifies the idea of "measure for measure": forsaking the conquest of Yerushalayim and the site of the Temple and going out to conquer foreign lands involves an insult to the honor of the Temple, and therefore David was barred from building the Temple.




            Thus far we have discussed several understandings of the disqualification that "You have shed much blood upon the earth before Me."  We shall now relate to additional reasons appearing in the words of Chazal and the Rishonim.




Devarim Rabba (5, 10) states as follows:


            Rabbi Yehuda bar Rabbi Ila'i said: "Yisrael was commanded about three things when they entered the land.  They were: to wipe out the memory of Amalek, to appoint a king and to build a Temple.  They appointed a king, and wiped out the memory of Amalek, but why did they not build a Temple?  There were informers among them."

            Know that this is true, for Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachman said: "The generation of Achav was composed of idol-worshippers, but they would go out to war and emerge victorious.  Why so? Because there were no informers among them; therefore, they would go out to war and emerge victorious…" However, the generation of Sha'ul was composed of informers. 

            Know that this true, for when Shaul pursued David, everyone slandered him to Shaul, as it is stated: "when Do'eg the Adomi came" (Tehillim 52:2); "when the Zifim came and said to Shaul" (ibid. 54:2).  Therefore, they would fall in war.

            Another explanation: Rav Muna said, "Whoever speaks evil speech [causes] the Shekhina to be removed from below to up above."  Know that this true, for David said: "My soul is among lions, and I lie down among those who are aflame: the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (ibid. 57:5); and afterwards is written: "Be You exalted, O God, above the heavens" (ibid. v. 6).  David said: "Master of the Universe, what is the Shekhina doing down here?  Remove the Shekhina to heaven…"

            See how great the power of evil speech is!  They were commanded to build the Temple, but because the generation spoke evil speech, it was not built in their days.


            The Midrash (which relates to the period of Shaul's pursuit of David, that is, prior to Shaul's death and the beginning of David's actual reign) points to an important reason for David being barred from building the Temple: the prevalence of evil speech. [9] This reason corresponds to the words of the Rambam in his Guide of the Perplexed (III, 45), that one of the main reasons why the Torah does not clearly indicate the site of the Temple, but rather uses the vague expression, "the place that the Lord will choose" (e.g., Devarim 12:5), is to prevent controversy among the tribes as to which one will receive that site in his portion.




            Midrash Tehillim states as follows (Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalm 62): [10]


Rabbi Nechemya states: "'When You render to every man according to his work' (Tehillim 62:13)—what is 'according to his work'?  There is a person who considers committing a sin, but fails to do so; the Holy One, blessed be He, does not ascribe it to him unless he [actually] does it.  If, however, he intended to perform a mitzva, but because of circumstances beyond his control he fails to perform it, the Holy One, blessed be He, ascribes it to him as if he had done it. 

"From where do you learn this? You learn from David, who painfully wished to build the Temple…  Immediately, the Holy One, blessed be He, appeared to him through Natan, as it is stated: 'And it came to pass that night that the word of the Lord came to Natan, saying… "You shall build Me a house"' (II Shemuel 7:4-5), and another verse states: 'You shall not build Me a house wherein to dwell' (I Divrei Ha-yamim 17:4).  How can these two verses be reconciled? Rather, even though your son Shelomo will build it, it will be called by your name." 

Indeed, David was worthy to build it, but the prophet Natan came and said to him: "You shall not build a house to My name, because You have shed much blood upon the earth before Me" (ibid. 22:7).  When David heard this, he was frightened and said: "Surely, I have been disqualified from building the Temple!"  Rabbi Yehuda bar Ila'i said: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'Fear not, David, by your life, all the blood that you shed is before Me like that of a gazelle or a deer.'  Thus it is stated: 'The unclean and the clean may eat of it as they do of the gazelle and the deer.  Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it upon the earth like water' (Devarim 12:15-16). [11]

"He said to Him: 'If so, why can't I build it?' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Him: 'If you build it, it will stand forever and never be destroyed.'  He said before Him: 'Surely that is good!'  The Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'It is revealed and known to Me, that in the future Yisrael will sin, and I will diffuse My anger by destroying [the Temple], and Yisrael will be spared.'  This is what is written: 'He has bent His bow like an enemy… He has poured out His fury like fire' (Eikha 2:4).  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'Even though you will not build it, since you wanted to build it, I will ascribe it to your name.'  As it is stated: 'A psalm and song at the dedication of the house; of David' (Tehillim 30:1).  It does not say 'of Shelomo,' but rather 'of David;' why?  This is because he desired to build it.  Thus we learn that whoever intends to perform a mitzva, even if, on account of circumstances beyond his control, he fails to do it, the Holy One, blessed be He, regards him as if he had performed it." [12]


            This midrash interprets the bloodshed in question not in accordance with the plain sense of the verses; it sees it as a neutral act (like the slaughter of "a gazelle or a deer") or perhaps even as a positive act (similar to sacrificial offerings—according to the reading of the Pesikta Rabbati, see note 11).  Why then was David barred from building the Temple?  The Midrash answers that had David built the Temple, it would never have been destroyed, but rather it would have stood eternally and forever.


            The level of eternity will be attained in actual fact only in the future Temple, described in the Book of Yechezkel (e.g., 43:9), but not in the two Temples that will precede it.  During the earlier stages, the Temple reflects the spiritual level of Yisrael, and therefore its existence is conditional upon their state: if their spiritual level is worthy, it will stand, but if not, it will be destroyed.  Had David built the Temple, it would not have been able to give expression to this idea, and therefore, according to these midrashim, David was barred from building it.  Furthermore, the potential gap between the level of Yisrael and the eternity of the Temple raises the danger that God will expend His anger on the nation of Yisrael directly, whereas a Temple that is not eternal can be destroyed, thereby sparing Yisrael.




            In his commentary to the end of Parashat Balak (Bamidbar 25:5), the Meshekh Chokhma writes:


This is the answer that God, blessed be He, gave to David: "'I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep… And I have made for you a great name, like the name of the great men that are on the earth' (II Shemuel 7:8-9).  Therefore, if you build the Temple, people will say that it is to strengthen your kingdom and enhance your reputation with the title of saint or defender of the faith, and not for the sake of Heaven.  However, 'Your seed after you… I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name' (ibid. vv. 12-13).  Everyone will say that it is for the sake of heaven, for he does not have to strengthen the office [already] in his hand, since for him it is an inheritance."


            In other words, had David built the Temple, it might have been interpreted as an act for the purpose of strengthening his rule and glorifying his name, and not for the sake of heaven.




            An examination of the various reasons for which David was barred from building the Temple teaches us that there are several essential conditions for its construction:


*    A permanent and stable [13] royal dynasty, on the one hand, and peace and respite from enemies, on the other.


*    Distance from that which contradicts in its very essence the Shekhina's resting in the Temple: bloodshed (of Jew or non-Jew) even when fundamentally justified, and all the more so, when unjustified; the trait of cruelty and hard-heartedness; evil speech and social division—the opposite of the unity which is a condition for building the Temple.


The resting of the Shekhina in the Temple requires external and internal peace and absolute unity.  Therefore, David — with all his great merits in establishing the kingdom of Yisrael, while confronting enemies from within and from without—was not permitted to build the Temple.  And it was only about his son Shelomo, the first king to rule in place of his father, that it was said: "A man of tranquility… for his name shall be Shelomo, and I will give peace (shalom) and quietness to Yisrael in his days.  He shall build a house for My name" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:9-10).


In the next shiur, we will deal with the census conducted by David and the revelation of the site of the Temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.




[1] The formulations are very reminiscent of the chapter in Shemuel and appear to be sort of a homiletic interpretation of the verses found there.


[2] The positive aspect of this principle finds expression in the idea that connects the Temple to peace: conditioning the building on respite from enemies (Devarim 12:10-11; Sanhedrin 20b; Rambam, Hilkhot Melakhim 1:1-2); the prohibition of raising a sword over the altar (Shemot 20:22, I Melakhim 6:7, Midot 3:4); the special status of the Levites, who do not take part in wars and do not receive an inheritance in the land of Yisrael (Bamidbar 3:5-13, 18:21-24; Devarim 18:1-2; Guide of the Perplexed, III, 45); the juxtaposition of justice and the Temple (Devarim 17:8-13); the vision of the end of days that connects justice, cessation of war, and pilgrimage to Yerushalayim (Yeshayahu 2:2-4, Mikha 4:1-5).


[3] According to this possibility, the incident involving Uriya took place prior to David's request to build the Temple.  Clarifying this issue requires an examination of the chronology of David's life in its entirety, which is beyond the scope of this shiur.


[4] Another midrash that draws a connection between the sin involving Uriya and the building of the Temple appears in Aggadat Bereishit 38:

"King David was old, advanced in years" (I Melakhim 1:1)—this is what Scripture refers to when it says: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Yeshayahu 40:31).

Our Rabbis said: "David was sick and bedridden for thirteen years.  They would change his mattress seven times a day, because of wetness, as it is stated: 'I am weary with my groaning; all the night I make my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears' (Tehillim 6:7).  These are the thirteen years during which he suffered affliction, because of that act that he had committed, and all his enemies would say: 'When will he die [already]?'  As it is stated: 'My enemies speak evil of me: "When shall he die, and his name perish?"' (ibid. 41:6).  Finally, he asked for mercy from the Holy One, blessed be He; he said to him: 'Master of the Universe, raise me up for the sake of the Temple that the prophet Shemuel passed down to me.  Please raise me up from this bed, so that I may complete the blueprints of the Temple.'  As it is stated: 'O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may complete it for them' (ibid.  v. 11)—'Raise me up from this illness and I will complete for them the blueprints of the Temple.'  Immediately, the Holy One, blessed be He, heard his prayer and he stood up from the bed.  As it is stated: 'Then David the king stood up upon his feet' (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2).  Now, where does a man stand if not upon his feet?  What is 'upon his feet'?  Rather, he was cured and became healthy, and he stood on his feet after all those years, and he handed over to them the blueprints of the Temple; 'All this is put in writing by the hand of the Lord who instructed me' (ibid. 19).   Furthermore, it says: 'Then David gave to Shelomo his son the pattern of the porch,' and it says: 'and the pattern of all that he had by the spirit' (ibid. vv. 11-12)." 

Therefore it says: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."


According to the Midrash, David's desire to complete the Temple plans was the reason for his recovery, while the illness itself had come upon him in the wake of his sin.


[5] The citation here is from Yalkut Shimoni 165.  A parallel is found in Pesikta Rabbati 11.


[6] There is room to discuss David's responsibility in the incident, but this is not the forum for that discussion.


[7] Rav Shelomo Goren, Meishiv Milchama, I, pp. 15-25.


[8] Tosafot Gittin 8b s.v. Kibbush; Rambam, Hilkhot Terumot 1:3.


[9] In his amazing commentary to Shemot 14, the Meshekh Chokhma deals at length with the effect of communal sins on the removal of the Shekhina, distinguishing between corruption in the realms of idolatry and incest, and corruption of morals in interpersonal relationships:


If the community becomes corrupt in idolatry or incest, about this it is stated: "[Hashem] Who remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness" (Vayikra 16:16).  However, regarding matters of interpersonal traits, evil speech and controversy, it is written: "Be You exalted, O God, above the heavens" (Tehillim 57:6)—remove Your Shekhina, as it were, from them… If the community is corrupt in their interpersonal traits, it is worse than if they are corrupt in mitzvot. 


See there at length.


[10] A parallel Midrash is found in Pesikta Rabbati 2:5.


[11] In the parallel in Pesikta Rabbati, an additional line is found:


Another explanation: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, "By your life, all the blood that you spilled is before me like sacrificial offerings.  For it is written: 'You have shed much blood upon the earth before Me,'" and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: "'Before Me' refers to sacrifices, as it is stated: 'And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord' (Vayikra 1:5)."


[12] As for the central theme of this Midrash, that God ascribed the construction of the Temple to David because of his good intentions to build it, we will expand upon it in a shiur on David's practical preparations for the building of the Temple.


[13] There is no need to expand upon the supreme importance of a permanent regime for the stability of rule and service of God.  The closing chapters of the book of Shofetim (like the entire book of Shofetim), with its leitmotif, "In those days there was no king in Yisrael; every man did that which was right in his eyes" (Shofetim 21:25), is a clear example of instability in all areas.  On the other hand, it is absolutely clear that even the permanent regime of a single royal dynasty does not guarantee a permanent resting of the Shekhina, as proven by what happened at the end of the First Temple period.


(Translated by David Strauss)