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Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 4): The Temple

Israel’s history progresses and time and time again they prove to be an unholy people unworthy to have the Holy One, the Lord of Glory dwell in their midst. Nevertheless, the Lord brings them into the land of Canaan as he goes before them on the seat of the ark. Following Saul’s stint on the throne, David ascends to the kingship and brings the ark into his recently captured city, Jerusalem (see Ps. 78). Previously the ark had resided in Shiloh, but now the throne of God and the throne of David will come together in the same city. The significance of this geographical movement is expressed well by T. Desmond Alexander,

The divine rejection of Ephraim and Shiloh is matched by the selection of David and Jerusalem (Zion). God’s choice of David as king is confirmed by his choice of dwelling place; the thrones of the Israelite king and the divine king are now located side by side in the same city. This convergence represents an important development in the biblical meta-story, especially when the building of a temple on Mount Zion follows it.[1]

David, however, recognizes the disparity between the Lord’s dwelling place in a tent and his own cedar palace (2 Sam. 7:2), and so determines to build the Lord a house. But the Lord prohibits David’s desire and promises instead to build David a house (2 Sam. 7:11ff). There is a wordplay in 2 Samuel 7 on “house.” David has in mind a physical building, while the Lord promises David a royal dynasty. It will be a royal son of David who will build a house for God, that is, a temple. Here we have the establishment of the Davidic Covenant (cf. Psalm 89:3). David gathered the vast amounts of materials needed for this project, but it would be his son, Solomon, who would build the magnificent temple in Jerusalem.

In the same way the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, so we read of the temple immediately following its completion: “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kgs. 8:10-11; cf. 2 Chron. 7:1-2). Thus, the Lord’s dwelling place on earth is now in the impressive Solomonic Temple.

The Glory of God and the Presence of God

We can begin to recognize here something vital to the theme of joy-full fellowship (Ps. 16:11) that we have been considering, namely the connection between the glory of God and the presence of God. We noted in our previous article that in the same cloud that led Israel in the wilderness, descended on Mount Sinai, and filled both the tabernacle and the temple was the presence of God. Notice that in the same breath the author of Kings says the cloud (presence) and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (1 Kgs. 8:10-11). Kline’s signature designation of the “glory-cloud” might be helpful here. We will say more on this in subsequent articles, but for now it is important not to think of the glory of God in the abstract, but as including the very presence of God in which there is fullness of joy.

The Continuity and Development of the Temple

The temple exhibits many commonalities with the tabernacle, for example, varying degrees of holiness, an exceptionally holy inner sanctum, Edenic and cosmic features, arboreal imagery (e.g., carvings of lilies and pomegranates), etc. (See our previous article on the tabernacle for the significance of these things.) The continuity remains of the biblical storyline of God dwelling with man, but what further developments does the temple bring to it?

The main development consists in the fact that the temple’s permanence (no longer being mobile as it was in the tabernacle) affects the status of Jerusalem as a city, which “now becomes in a unique way the city of God.”[2] The city has become his dwelling place (cf. Pss. 78:68; 132:13).

This moves us closer to the eschatological picture we are given in Revelation 21-22. Though we find a garden-like description there, the ultimate picture is of a city that encompasses the earth, i.e., “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). God’s temple-garden is to become a temple-city as image bearers are multiplied. Thus, the city of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God “is in miniature what God intends for the whole world”[3] (cf. Pss. 48:1-3; 12-14; 132:13-18; 133:1-3; 147:12-14).

This is evident also in the fact that the glut of gold is no longer limited to the sanctuary, but is now found throughout the whole city: “The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone” (2 Chron. 1:15). “The presence of gold throughout Jerusalem signifies that the whole city has become his dwelling place.”[4] Thus, pilgrimages to Jerusalem were significant since the believer came close to the Lord there (Pss. 84:1-5; 120-134).

The Temple Looked Forward to Something Greater

While the presence of the glory of God extended its majestic reach from the holy of holies to encompass the city of Jerusalem, even this fell vastly short of the hope expressed by Habakkuk: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). The temple was good, but it was not perfect. It was an advancement from the tabernacle, but it was not ultimate. The eschatological goal held out to Adam in the garden was for the whole earth to be transformed into a holy realm where God would dwell with his people in joy-full fellowship forever. The Solomonic temple, then, looked forward to something greater, spatially and temporally. In our next article we will consider the greater temple that God promises to his people through the prophets.

[1] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 43.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 46.


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