Returning and Rebuilding after the Exile. Study 9.

Study Series Note: This study is the ninth in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  The previous study discussed the prophet Jeremiah’s warnings that empty ritual in the temple would bring about its destruction. This post discusses the rebuilding of the temple and the role of God’s Spirit presence in the restoration.

As the prophet Jeremiah predicted, the Babylonians destroyed the temple and deported the people of Jerusalem. This time in captivity was known as the “Exile.” The Exile had a profound effect on how the Jewish people viewed God’s presence and the temple. In particular, the concept of God’s Spirit gained greater prominence when describing God’s active presence among his people.flame Moreover, God’s Spirit would bring the needed heart restoration so that God’s glory could dwell closely with his people again.[i]

The Exile ended when the ascendant Persian empire allowed the Jewish people to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai describe this rebuilding. The rebuilt temple is often referred to as the “second temple.” The second temple was much more modest than Solomon’s temple and the Holy of Holies lacked the Ark of the Covenant. For this and other reasons, many Jews maintained an emphasis on the Spirit as God’s presence among his people, even though the temple (the traditional place of God’s special presence) was rebuilt.[ii]

God’s Presence among his People

The Exile culminated with the destruction of the temple, but even before this event some Jews like Ezekiel were exiled to Babylon. From exile, Ezekiel predicted that the temple would be destroyed and the remaining Jews also would be sent into exile. Ezekiel (like Jeremiah) also spoke against those in Jerusalem who thought that they had a superior status because of their closeness to God’s presence in the temple. Ezekiel (chapter 11) would proclaim that the Jerusalemites had nothing to boast over the exiles.[iii] In fact, Ezekiel was granted a vision of God’s glory leaving the temple in response to Israel’s apostasy. Whether in exile or in Jerusalem, God would choose to be near those who followed him and stayed true to the covenant.

Scripture study and Discussion:

Ezekiel 11:14-16: 14 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 15 “Son of man, your brothers, your relatives, your fellow exiles and the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the LORD; this land has been given us as a possession.’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.”‘

These verses describe how those living in Jerusalem felt that God had removed the exiles from his presence (in the temple) to give the land to those whom he allowed to remain. But God’s presence was not confined to the temple nor was God done judging the nation. Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory leaving the temple, and the temple’s eventual destruction, confirmed these truths.

How does the Lord respond in verse 16 to those who would say that the exiles were away from the sanctuary so that they were away from the Lord? (Suggested answer: By saying, “though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” the Lord confirms that his presence has been with the exiles. The Lord, therefore, has been a sanctuary for them because the temple is really about God’s presence. The Jerusalemites can’t boast that they have the temple, especially since the temple was about to be destroyed anyway. The Lord was not done judging the nation, nor was he done bringing about an eventual restoration.)

Ezekiel 11:17-21: 17 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”‘ 18 “When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. 21 “But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.

God’s plan is eventually to restore his people to the land. As these verses describe, however, the Lord is less concerned with the temple rituals and more concerned with a people that follow him from the heart.

What does God promise to do for his people in this restoration? (Suggested answer: He will give them a new spirit so that they live out covenant faithfulness from the heart. Note verses 19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”)

Despite God’s presence in the temple, his people are unfaithful to him and profane his holiness. Mere rituals in a temple do not honor God, but faithfulness from the heart is what God desires from his people. For true restoration to happen, God’s people need a heart transforming Spirit. God must work inside people and not merely inside the temple. This reality is highlighted in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the temple in the next verses.

Ezekiel 11:22-25: 22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. 23 The glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city. 24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me. 25 Then I told the exiles all the things that the LORD had shown me.

The cherubim are part of the great throne chariot that carries God’s glory. Before his vision ends, Ezekiel sees God’s glory presence depart from the temple and the city.

In verse 16 God is a sanctuary to his people in a far-away land, but in these verses God’s glory presence leaves the sanctuary in Jerusalem. What do these contrasting verses reveal about God? (Suggested answer: God can choose to manifest his presence wherever and however he wants. God is more concerned with faithfulness than ritual, so God can be with Ezekiel in Babylon while departing from the sacred sanctuary in Jerusalem.)

This passage in Ezekiel further demonstrates that Yahweh’s presence is connected to, but not dependent on, the temple. Yahweh’s presence is not confined to his house, especially in the midst of a sinful people. This thought also leads into the future promise that Yahweh would again gather the people and restore the covenant relationship. This promise includes an implicit assurance of the return of the glory and an explicit promise of a new spirit within God’s people. When God’s Spirit of holiness indwells his people, the glory presence of the Lord will return. Ezekiel 43 predicts the return of the glory presence to a future temple.

Rebuilding the Temple

After 70 years the exile ended, but the people were still weak and discouraged when they returned to a ruined capital and temple. The concept that God could be present with his people apart from the temple actually encouraged the people to finish rebuilding. God was not impotent and absent without the temple; he was with them and continuing to work out his sovereign plan.

Haggai 2:1-9 On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 4 ‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 5 ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ 6 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7 ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. 8 ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 9 ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

How is Haggai encouraging the people? (Suggested answer: He tells them that God is with them and that although things look bad now, greater things are yet to come.)

Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord encourages the exiles that he is with them. God doesn’t need a fully refurbished house to do his work, so the exiles are not separated from God during this difficult rebuild. Instead God has providentially set the stage for their return and he calls his people to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple knowing that God has a plan for a brilliant future where his glory will be manifested in an unprecedented manner. Notice the association in these verses between God’s presence, his Spirit, and his glory. God can be present with his people by way of his Spirit, and it is by his Spirit (remember Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that the inner heart restoration will take place. God’s glory presence in the temple and his Spirit presence among his people were both manifestations of the one true God. These concepts would develop in the following years and find full flowering in the teachings of Jesus.

Through the Exile, the Jewish people were reminded that God was not confined to a holy place. In fact, even in the midst of a prisoner of war camp or a ruined city, God could be a sanctuary for the exiles. How could this fact help you in a time of trouble? How could this spur you on to live all of life in God’s presence? (Possible answers: God is accessible to his people even in the midst of trouble, not just in sacred places. Because God is not confined to his house, we should not confine him to certain compartments of our lives. God desires a heart faithfulness that affects all of life. His Spirit is meant to permeate all that we do.)

 Epilogue and Christ Connection

Did God’s glory presence return to the second temple? Some later Jewish writings show that many had their doubts.[iv] What is certain is that inasmuch as the temple was the central sacred place of God’s people, God was there. In the centuries following the temple’s rebuilding, the priesthood became entangled in political intrigue and foreign influence. The corruption of the priesthood caused some Jewish sects (like those in Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls) to withdraw from temple worship. Other Jews never returned from exile. They remained dispersed throughout the world and distance prevented them from worshiping at the temple. Because of prophets like Ezekiel, these groups knew that God’s Spirit would dwell with those who were faithful. They chose, therefore, to follow Torah and seek God’s Spirit to bring the long awaited restoration for their community.

A couple decades before the birth of Jesus Christ, King Herod led a massive rebuilding project that increased the size and splendor of the temple so that it was even greater than the first temple. Nevertheless, the Holy of Holies remained empty and the ruling priests were largely puppets of the ruling Roman authorities. For these reasons many Jews still awaited the restoration of God’s people. Many believed that a Spirit-anointed Messiah would begin this restoration. In the midst of these hopes, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived (Mark 1:15).

End Notes

[i] A more thorough examination of the Spirit in the Old Testament can be found in Hildebrandt, Wilf. An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995. An enlightening (even more academic) work on the Spirit in the OT is  Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Eds. David Firth and Paul Wegner; Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011).

[ii] For an in-depth examination of how God’s presence both in the temple and with his people became associated with the Holy Spirit, see Joseph R. Greene “The Spirit in the Temple: Bridging the Gap between Old Testament Absence and New Testament Assumption,” JETS 55 (2012): 717-742.

[iii] Daniel L Block, The Book of Ezekiel; Chapters 124 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 350.

[iv] The second temple  literature is divided with some passages suggesting that Yahweh’s presence was no longer in the second temple (1 Macc 2:7–8; Sib. Or. 4:6–31; 2 Bar. 8:2; 64:7;  Josephus J.W. 6:300, Tacitus Hist. 5.13; CD 1:3; b. Yoma 21b) and other passages suggesting that he was present (2 Macc 2:5–8; 14:35–36; Sir 50:1; 3 Macc 2:16; Jub. 1:17). Davies gives further evidence of both in, G. I. Davies, “The Presence of God in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Doctrine” in Templum Amicitiae (ed. William Horbury; JSNTSup 48; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991): 32–36.

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Empty Ritual in the Temple Full of God’s Glory.

Study Series Note: This study is the eighth in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). Previous studies focused on the tabernacle, as well as creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple.

Previous posts discussed how the tabernacle and temple mediated the presence of the holy God to his covenant people. The temple and its service allowed Yahweh to dwell in the midst of his people and allowed the people to maintain an exclusive covenant relationship with the God of the universe. Solomon built the Jerusalem temple at the height of Israelite national power around 960 b.c.e. For the next few centuries, the temple and its service continued. As time passed, the prophets increasingly warned Judah’s kings, priests, and people that true faithfulness to the Lord was more than a matter of following temple rituals. Solomon's_Temple_JerusalemThe Lord dwelt in the temple, but the temple did not contain him like some genie’s lamp. Yet, some Israelites treated the temple as a charm. They reasoned that if the Lord dwelt in the temple, then he would thwart any enemies that threatened his house and the city that surrounded it. The covenant relationship between God and his people (a relationship cultivated by Moses and King David) had given way to pagan superstition and a magical mindset that sought to manipulate God for human purposes. The temple rituals remained, but the true covenant faithfulness for which the temple existed was largely abandoned. Continue reading

Study 7: Temple Sacrifice

The previous study examined how the tabernacle and its priesthood mediated God’s holiness to a sinful people. Today’s study focuses on one important part of that mediation—sacrifice. Offering sacrifices was perhaps the most important religious observance at the tabernacle/temple.

Study Series Note: This study is one in a series of studies on the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). Previous studies focused on the tabernacle as well as creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple.

While sacrificing animals may seem strange to modern westerners, the reality is that sacrificing animAltar-of-Sacrificeals to our own appetites is accepted and common. We don’t think about eating meat as a “sacrifice” to our stomachs because we are so detached from our food sources. Nevertheless, the process of an animal giving its life by becoming food for us is basically the same as an animal giving its life to God for us. Those who hunt or raise their own animals generally have respect and a realistic idea of what meat eating entails—for themselves and for the animals.

What is Sacrifice?

In the most general sense, sacrifice is giving up something for another. For instance, a mother sacrifices (gives up) sleep to feed her newborn in the middle of the night. Worshipers in many religions give up/dedicate/sacrifice something from their possessions in service to their god. Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible also included this idea of giving up something to honor or worship the Lord, but many types of sacrifices emphasized what the Lord was doing for the worshiper through the offering. When accepting a prescribed sacrifice, God was transferring the sin, and the justice due for that sin, from the sinner and onto a designated substitute. This transference was symbolized by placing the hands on the head of the animal to be killed. The blood of that animal represented its life, a life sacrificed on behalf of the giver. These sacrifices showed that sin brings death, but they also showed grace in that God allowed a substitute.

Scripture study and Discussion:

Leviticus 1:1-5: Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock. 3 If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. 4 He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. 5 He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” 

This passage in Leviticus specifically describes the “Burnt offering,” and Leviticus goes on to describe many other sacrifices and how they are to be performed. Some sacrifices atoned for sin, some were thanksgiving or celebratory, and others were community/fellowship oriented.[i]

In Leviticus 1:1-5, note some important aspects of the burnt offering: the phrase in verse 3, “without defect . . . that he may be accepted,” suggests there is a proper and acceptable way to approach God. Verse 4, “He lays his hands on its head so it will make atonement on his behalf” communicates the idea of sacrifice as a substitution. Verse 5 gives instructions for the blood to be sprinkled on the altar—blood represents life and the altar is the means of giving something to God. The life of the animal is given to God on behalf of the giver.

The important connection between blood and life informed how many of the sacrifices were actually performed. The pouring out of blood, or the sprinkling of the blood, on the altar represented the offering up of life. The blood–life connection is spoken about in the next passage.

Leviticus 17:10-14: 10 And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. 12 Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, “No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.” 13 So when any man from the sons of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, in hunting catches a beast or a bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, “You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

The Israelites were to treat blood with a special reverence—why? Blood represented life. Blood, therefore, is set apart as the atoning agent in the sacrificial system since that life blood is given on behalf of the one offering it. Because of blood’s special significance in life and atonement, it can’t be treated like other parts of the animal (consumed).

If sinning requires a goat to be killed and its blood splashed on the alter, then sin is graphically and concretely pictured as more serious, more costly. People of modern western cultures may feel bad for the animals involved in sacrifice, but that animal would have been eaten anyway; it’s simply being given to God instead of a human stomach.

Sacrifice for Covenant Relationship.

The sacrificial system was part of the covenant that God gave to Moses. Israel was set apart as God’s special people and maintaining that relationship meant that sin against a holy God had to be dealt with. By offering a sacrifice for sins, the Israelites acknowledged their sin and desire to remain in God’s covenant grace. They would go to the place of God’s presence, the tabernacle or temple, to re-enact and uphold the covenant. The placement of the Ten Commandments in the Ark of the Covenant spoke to the close connection between the law covenant and the temple.[ii] While we may think of the Ten Commandments as the primary moral code of the covenant, Israelites considered the whole Torah, including the stipulations for sacrifice in Leviticus, as a part of the covenant code. Sacrifice was a way for the holy God to maintain covenant relationship despite human frailty and sin.

How does the sacrificial system shed light on sin? On God’s character? What does it communicate about how humans relate to God? (Suggested answers: Sin causes death. As an affront to the holy infinite creator, sin requires an infinite penalty. The largest penalty one can pay is their life. But God is loving in addition to being just, so in his grace he allows a substitution. Nevertheless, humans should relate to God with a humility and awe because our lives belong to God—both because he gave life and because in his justice life is the required payment for sin.)

The sacrificial system of the tabernacle/temple provides important background for understanding the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the “Lamb of God.” The next study will look into how the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as the fulfillment and pinnacle of the sacrificial system.

 

End Notes

[i] D. G. Reid, “Sacrifice and Temple Service,” pages 1037-1050 in Dictionary of New Testament Background, edited by Craig Evans and Stanley Porter (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2000).

[ii] As Lunquist notes, the close connection between the law, sacrifice, and the temple was assumed throughout the ancient Near East. , John M. Lunquist, “What is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology” pages 205-219 in The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall. Edited by H. B. Huffmon, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983.

A father’s faith: “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

Father’s Day always falls on a Sunday, and over the years I have discovered that in any given church Father’s Day brings mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is gratefulness and a desire to give thanks and honor dads because fathers have a tremendous impact on their children, on families, and on the nation. Not to mention “Honor your father and mother” made Moses’ top ten list of commandments. On the other hand, observing Father’s Day can be very difficult for those who are mourning a father’s death or for those who are dealing with an abusive or absent father. The pain of those experiences highlights the significance of fathers. For me, being a father has been one of the mostIsaiah, me, fish difficult and spiritually enlightening tasks I have ever been given. Integrating my faith with fatherhood has been both rewarding and heart wrenching. Whether as a father or relating to our fathers, fatherhood affects our faith journeys. Fatherhood can lead us into a better understanding of faith, of God, and ourselves.

To see how fatherhood can lead us into a deeper understanding of faith, we will examine one father’s journey described in Mark 9:17-27. This unnamed father was struggling. He was dealing with a son who was very troubled and no one had been able to help him. This situation, of course, also raised many faith questions for the father. With raw emotion and real faith struggles, this father sought out someone who made bold claims and performed miraculous deeds. This father sought out Jesus. Continue reading

Study 6, part 2: Christ Enters the Heavenly Tabernacle

Study Series Note: This study is one in a series of studies on the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). Previous studies focused on the Creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple.

The last study was devoted to the tabernacle, the portable tent temple, which the Lord established as a place to dwell with the people of Israel. (If you haven’t already, you can read the first part of study six here: https://throughandto.com/2017/02/15/study-6the-tabernacle-in-tents-holiness/#more-752) Understanding the concept of holiness was shown to be crucial for understanding the function of the tabernacle. The tabernacle (along with the later temple) and its priesthood mediated the holiness of God to his wayward people.

Although priests were intermediaries, they still had to go through many rituals to be able to move across the buffers to holiness. They still needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins, and certain actions rendered them unfit for the priesthood. The Book of Hebrews presents Jesus as the perfect high priest who is able to enter the true heavenly tabernacle. Continue reading

Review of “Going Deeper with New Testament Greek.”

Review of Going Deeper with New Testament Greek by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle, and Robert Plummer. Published by B&H Academic, 2016.going deeper

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek (a.k.a Going Deeper) is a collaborative work of Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle, and Robert Plummer. All three are professors of New Testament in Southern Baptist seminaries, and Köstenberger is widely published in the fields of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology.[1] Plummer and Merkle are not as prolific as Köstenberger in terms of published works (few are), but they have collaborated further on the forthcoming Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving New Testament Greek. Plummer is also well-known to students and teachers of Biblical Greek through his production of the “Daily Dose of Greek,” a daily, two-minute video that examines a verse in the Greek New Testament (My wife gets really annoyed when Plummer sounds the “subjunctive alarm” during these videos).    Continue reading

Study 6:The Tabernacle: “In-tents” Holiness.

The previous two studies were devoted to the sacred places before the tabernacle. The next two studies return to the tabernacle, the portable tent temple, which the Lord established as a place to dwell with the people of Israel. We will discuss how the tabernacle (along with the temple) and its priesthood mediated the holiness of God to his wayward people.

Study Series Note: This study is one in a series of studies on the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). Previous studies focused on the Creation and the Garden of Eden as a Temple.

Continue reading

Jesus as the new Bethel. Study 5, part 2 in the “Where Heaven and Earth Meet” series.

This study looks at how the Gospel of John appropriated Jacob’s encounter at Bethel to show Jesus as the typological fulfillment of that event. If you have not read it already, I suggest reading the first part of Study 5’s post from December 27, 2016. That post examines Jacob’s vision as it appears in the book of Genesis. jacob

Bethel was a place where heaven and earth met. This connection was vividly portrayed in Jacob’s dream with angels going up and down a ladder that stretched to the Lord in heaven. In the Gospel of John, Jacob’s ladder finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself makes this claim to Nathanael, one of the several men who are deciding to become Jesus’ disciples. We read about this encounter in John 1:43-51. Continue reading