Second Samuel 7 is one of the most significant chapters of Scripture in terms of its relationship to redemptive history. It is here that we find God’s covenant with David, which centers on the great divine promise that David’s throne will endure forever. This is a major revelation of God’s plans for the salvation of His people, for it tells the Israelites that God Himself will come one day as their Messiah, and that He will come in the line of David. This, of course, is great news for God’s people—and an incredible blessing for David.
Some time after the ark is brought to Jerusalem, an irony occurs to David—he is living in a fine house (courtesy of Hiram, king of Tyre, 5:11), while God “dwells” in a tent. In David’s mind, this is not as it should be, for he (the vicegerent) is living in greater finery than Israel’s supreme King. So he decides to build a house, a temple, for God. This certainly seems to be a worthy idea, but David wisely pauses to seek God’s direction by submitting his plan to Nathan the prophet, who is mentioned here for the first time. Nathan does not seek God on this matter because he does not think he needs to do so—based on what he knows of God’s revealed will, the idea of a temple seems good and worthy. So Nathan gives David his blessing, a general encouragement based on his awareness that God is “with” David in a special way.
But God intervenes before David can put his plans into motion. Later that very night, He speaks to Nathan a message for David—he is not to build a temple. God does not rebuke David for desiring to build a more permanent house for the ark. In fact, as Solomon later reveals, He actually praises David for mis aspiration (1 Kings 8:18). But David has been a man of war and has shed much blood (1 Chron. 22:8), and God wants this task to be carried out by “a man of rest” (1 Chron. 22:9), that is, by the one under whom Israel will enjoy the fruits of relief from the threats of its enemies. Until that day is finally achieved, God is content to dwell with His people just as they so long have lived—as an outcast and nomad, with no permanent home. “[God’s] presence was as surely with His people when the ark was in a tent as when it was in a temple. David was uneasy that the ark was in curtains (a mean and movable habitation), but God never complained of it as any uneasiness to Him,” Matthew Henry writes in his commentary.