Study 2: From Drapes to Walls, the Moving Tabernacle Becomes a Fixed Temple.

Although the tabernacle served Israel well as they wandered the desert and begantemple to establish a nation in the Promised Land, the eventual establishment of a territorial kingdom called for a more fixed sacred place. King David sought to build such a temple in Jerusalem, but the task was completed by his son Solomon.

Study Series Intro: Over the next several months I will be posting a series of group bible studies on the Bible’s sacred places. Each study focuses on what these sacred places reveal about the character of God and how these places point to God’s ultimate self revelation in Jesus Christ.

The importance of the tabernacle as the special place of God’s choosing was not always respected by the Israelites. However, the one true God chose one place for his “name” to dwell (a name in the ancient world carried with it a person’s reputation, history, and character) and for his covenant to be observed (Deuteronomy 12:8-11). The innermost room of the tabernacle housed the one and only Ark of the Covenant, an ornate chest that represented the “Mercy Seat” of Yahweh’s gracious judgments and contained the Ten Commandments of the covenant. The one true God caused his name to dwell in the tabernacle, and the tabernacle would also be the designated place he would manifest his merciful presence. Other non-sanctioned sacred places (often called high places) existed until the exile, but the Bible views these places as illegitimate (even though some may have been devoted to Yahweh). Yahweh holds the sole prerogative to choose where and how he is worshiped because he is the transcendent sovereign over all creation.

When King Solomon completed the temple, the Ark of the Covenant and other sacred objects from the tabernacle were moved into the temple.[1] In a manner reminiscent of the tabernacle’s completion, God filled the sacred place with his glory. The consecration of the temple with God’s presence was crucial since God ultimately chooses where his name dwells. Moreover, the temple is not God’s house unless Yahweh moves in.

Scripture study and Discussion:

 Read the account of Solomon’s completion and dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:1-13: “Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.  2 All the men of Israel came together to King Solomon at the time of the festival in the month of Ethanim, the seventh month.  3 When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the priests took up the ark,  4 and they brought up the ark of the LORD and the Tent of Meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The priests and Levites carried them up,  5 and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted.  6 The priests then brought the ark of the LORD’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.  7 The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles.  8 These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today.  9 There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.  10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD.  11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.  12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;  13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.

  1. What are similarities between the tabernacle (see Exodus 40:32-38) and temple dedications? What would be a difference between the tabernacle and temple? (Suggested Answers: Similarities: Both are filled with God’s glory cloud as a confirmation that this is God’s chosen place. Both places contain the Ark of the Covenant and are fulfillments of God’s promises to previous ancestors. Both places are designed for God to dwell with his people. Differences: The tabernacle was portable and appropriate for a wandering people. The temple was appropriate for an established kingdom.)
  2. The glory cloud was a manifestation of God’s presence that appears on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in the temple. If God is everywhere, how can he be “present” in the temple? (Suggested Answer: While God transcends the earth, he can choose to manifest his presence in particular locations. God is not limited to our space and time, he created it and stands above it, but he can also enter into it while maintaining his place and status over all the earth.)

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Like other ancient Near Eastern people, the Israelites believed that Yahweh’s true dwelling was in heaven. One of the basic functions of the temple was to bring the earth bound covenant people into contact with the transcendent Almighty God of heaven. Although the earthly temple was considered the sacred place of Yahweh’s presence, Yahweh was not limited to this sacred place. After God’s glory filled the newly built temple, King Solomon spoke a dedicatory prayer that acknowledged the “paradox” of the Creator of the universe having a home on earth.[2] This prayer contained a basic tenet of temple theology that was discussed in our previous study—the temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly habitation. God could manifest his presence through that gateway without relinquishing his presence over the entire universe.

 

Read 1 Kings 8:22-30:  Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven  23 and said: “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below– you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.  24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it– as it is today.  25 Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.’  26 And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.  27 But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!  28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.  29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.  30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” 

Solomon asks God to “hear in heaven your dwelling place,” prayers uttered in “this house.” As Bruce Waltke notes, this passage reflects the “subtle equilibrium between I AM’s absolute and immutable transcendence and his facile immanence.”[3] Humans are bound by space and time, but Yahweh is not. Solomon acknowledges this fact in his prayer.

  1. King Solomon seems to emphasize God’s transcendence of this “house” even though God’s glory was manifested in the temple. What is the danger in thinking of the temple as a house that contains Yahweh? (Suggested Answers: We can think of God as somehow contained or limited to a certain place. This thinking distorts God’s sovereignty and power OVER all creation. We can think of God as our particular god, not the God that transcends our space, time, culture, and thought. This concept tempts us to think that God is limited in what he can do, so we may need to take things into our own hands. I may think that God is “my” personal god, meaning that I can project my cultural limitations, assumptions, and worldview on to God because I don’t respect that he is above ALL.)
  2. What is the danger in over-emphasizing God’s transcendence of any place—how does the temple provide for God’s closeness? (Suggested Answers: We can think of God as aloof and not present. When God’s glory presence filled the temple, it demonstrated that God was close and available to his people. The temple was a concrete place that God set apart to help people connect with Him. When over-emphasizing God’s transcendence, we can think of God as not available/approachable/uncaring. We think, “I am on my own in life because God is not close.” God is so other and unknowable that we all just have to get a long as best we can because God doesn’t reveal himself. Over-emphasizing God’s transcendence of our knowledge and world can lead us to think that all religions are equal attempts at people striving to know an unknowable God.)

End Notes

[1] John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2003), 570.

[2] Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007),741.

[3] Friedman presents evidence that suggests that even the tabernacle itself was brought into the temple. Richard Elliot Friedman, “Tabernacle,” pages 292-300 in ABD 6 (New York: Double Day, 1992).

 

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