God Himself did not plan for nor tell anyone to build Himself a temple.
It may sound like a dumb idea as the concept of a temple is so heavily interwoven into the fabric of Judaism and Christianity. Generations of people have fought, cried, prayed towards and otherwise thought about the small 37-acre plot of land were Solomon’s Temple once stood
Yet it stands that the building of a temple for God was David’s idea – something he came up with while relaxing in his palace (2 Samuel 7:1-2). Similar to the concept of a human king, this idea no doubt came about after noticing that neighboring nations build had beautiful temples for their gods.
The God of the Hebrews, on the other hand, had a simple tent that was to house the Ark of Covenant and other miscellaneous items of worship – granted, by this time, the Ark was hanging out in a separate tent pitched by David at Jerusalem [2 Sam 6:17] while the Tabernacle was miles away at Gibeon [1 Kings 8:4]. This tent, or Tabernacle, was a war-tent originally built during the wanders of the Hebrew people through the desert during the time of Moses and was to remind everyone that God dwelt among them as their Lord and King.
Unfortunately, David and his son Solomon were not content with such an arrangement so they decided to build God a temple that would wow the nations. For some reason, God decided to go along with this plan – probably because of the same reason He allowed the Hebrew people to have a human king, and most likely, because He understood the heart of these men to love and serve Him.
Whatever the reason, God heard their prayers and “consecrated” the temple and placed His Name “there forever” (1 Kings 9:3). However, at the same time God gave Solomon a warning that He would remove His presence and destroy the temple if Solomon or his sons ever turned their back on Him (1 Kings 9:6-9).
Before Solomon build the temple, sacrifices to God Almighty were made across the width and breadth of Israel as seen by the traveling ministry of Samuel. Within this system when a person wanted to offer a sacrifice to the Lord they would contact their local Levite priest and that priest would help them out at the local high place.
A couple times a year the entire male-population would gather together around the Tabernacle at Shiloh, Gibeath or Gibeon (depending that year one is talking about). This system allowed for God to guide each of the local tribes through judges while keeping the national identity of all 12 tribes.
When David moved the Ark to Jerusalem he was in effect starting an unhealthy trend in which the political leaders of the nation ruled the religious leaders (consolidation of power and all that). King Solomon even goes as far as to remove Abiathar as High Priest for supporting his brother during the transfer of the throne after David died and installs a High Priest faithful to him (1 Kings 2:35).
The concept that all worship of God must be done at the temple became so strong in the following years and centuries that the Hebrew people often turned towards local, more accessible idols. Finally God had enough and destroyed the temple and exiled the people for 70~ years.
Yet the concept of a central temple continued to draw and influence the Hebrew people. This is why they rebuild the temple after returning from exile. Granted, they also build synagogues across the land in attempt to keep people on track and from foreign gods.
After years of things, God Himself walked the land of Israel and told His followers of a day when they would no longer worship Him in Jerusalem (i.e. at the temple). Instead they would worship Him everywhere for His Spirit would dwell in them just like it did in the tabernacle of old (John 4:19-24).
The presence of God would indwell the hearts of those who follow of Jesus – as Paul told the Corinthians, out “bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16-19). Once again the worship of God was spread throughout the earth instead of being limited to one location.
So, did God really want a temple?
I don’t think so. I think He really wanted the people of Israel to worship Him throughout the land like He told them to do through Moses. However, He allowed them to build a temple to Him as He saw their heart.
It is a good reminder to us that sometimes the things we want to do to ‘honor’ God is not the things that His wants done. Instead of trying to do things for God, let us join with Him and do what He is doing.