In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD (1 Melachim / 1 Kings 6:1).
Temples abounded in the ancient world as they do today. What many of us in the western world are not accustomed to is how temples are normally considered as houses of whatever god or gods live there. The word for temple in Hebrew is "house." This is the same word we would use for our own personal dwellings. While this may take away some of the mystique of what we call temples, it emphasizes how people thought (or still think) that their gods actually lived in those buildings.
Many of these gods are idols, of course. Their temples are literally their houses. When a worshipper went to one of these temples, they were going to their god's house.
It is interesting how Israel had a house for their God, even though their understanding of God was radically different from that of their neighbors. There were elements that were similar: a priesthood, the offering of sacrifices, the burning of incense, and other rituals. But there were many differences as well, the greatest being that God didn't actually live there - at least not in the way the pagan gods lived in their temples.
The temple that Solomon built with its rituals helped the people of Israel deal with an important aspect of God: the creator of the universe, who is before and after all things, whom the universe itself - much less a building - could never contain, longs to draw near to human beings.
We too have a longing for him, but our attempts towards God tend to perceive him according to our own likeness, to limit him to our expectations and designs, and to manipulate his power in order to fulfill our own desires.
The house of God that Solomon built was one of God's ways to help us know him for who he really is. The Temple communicates to the people that the all-powerful, eternal, infinite, invisible God also lives among them.
Still there remained a need for the people to learn that just because they had the Temple, that it didn't contain God. In fact God's presence with them was dependant upon their continued right relationship with him. As God said to them:
As the years went by there would be those who would wrongly assume that the presence of the Temple was their guarantee of the presence of God and his continued favor with them. But the structure guarantied nothing. God is relational, and he abides by principles of relationship, not architecture.
Though the temple is long gone, this applies to our day as well. How often have we associated God's favor with our undertakings, whether it be buildings or other endeavors in his name. We may have done exactly what he told us to do and have seen great results, but our accomplishments will never put God under our control. We need to remember that God longs to dwell with us and be involved with us, but he is still God and will never be contained or controlled by us.
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