The temple contained the presence of God (1 Kings 9:3 and 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, 12). All the properties that were associated with the temple existednot because of geography, not because of value, not because of expensive preparation, not because of human claims because of the fact the God allowed His presence to be in that place. Without Gods presence in the temple, the temple would be just another expensive house built by people.
This central point must not be missed and cannot be exaggerated. The presence of God made the temple Gods temple! Without Gods presence the temple was just another expensive building built by humans for religious purposes. Idols often had expensive buildings built for them. The thing that distinguished the temple of God from the idolatrous buildings/altars Solomon later built to honor idols (1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Kings 23:10-14) was the fact that Gods presence was in the temple. Gods temple exists when that temple contains Gods presence. Without Gods presence, it is not Gods temple.
In what ways did the temple benefit Israelites (and non-Israelites)?
The first consideration: The primary threat to a correct understanding of God in the generations of the Bible (early and late) was idolatry. The biblical injunctions against idolatry were based on the understandings that follow.
(a) The god or goddess was created by human concept or effort. Isaiah 44:15-20 spoke of the foolishness of taking a tree, making a fire, cooking a meal, warming oneself, and (from the same tree) making a god, worshipping it, and asking it for deliverance. Paul in Acts 17:24-31 contrasted the concept of the living, creator God with the concept of an idol by appealing to Gods ability to create, His self sufficiency, His nearness, and His ability to sustain human existence. Idols, in contrast, were the product of human art, thought, and ignorance.
(b) Thus, God the Creator, was not to be reduced to the concept of one among many, nor was He to be considered the product of human effort or thought. Exodus 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments) was given to the young nation of Israel who previously existed in a society that honored idolatry. God produced this nation (Israel) from Abraham. Gods acts delivered these people (who were slaves) from Egypt to be Gods people. Through Israel would come the Christ through whom God would reach out to all people (see Isaiah 49:6 and Luke 2:29-32). In these ten commands, the first four are centered in how this new nation should honor the living God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Obviously they did not know how to treat Godthey knew how to treat idols, but they did not know how to treat God.
The basic understandings of how to treat God were these:
(1) He was not to be regarded as one among manyto do so was to insult God!
(2) He was not to be reduced to the form of an idol.
(3) He was to be respected above all else.
(4) He was to be the source of their dependence.
The six commands that followed declared how they should treat each otheror human-to-human treatment. Consider something inherent in these Ten Commandments and their order: only if they knew how to treat God would they understand how to treat each other. Treating God as though He were an idol would result in ungodly treatment of each other. The last six commands surely suggest they did not know how to treat each other! This deficiency did not exist because they had no previous religious exposure. It existed because (1) they did not know the living, Creator God, and (2) they did not comprehend His moral values.
The second consideration: The presence of the Holy God made the temple holy. The temple could be considered by people to be holy because it was declared to be a religious place. The temple could be considered by people to be holy because of its geographical location and the history of that place. The temple could be considered by people to be holy because of the human functions performed in that building. However, all of that is insufficient. It is based on a human concept of holiness.
How would those concepts of holiness be insufficient? Why would the human definition of holiness be different? The human concept and definition of holiness is inadequate because such concepts/definitions are typically based on restricted access, restricted purposes, and human designation. In contrast, Gods basic concept of holiness is based on being, on who He is. There is a significant difference in human forms/practices and divine being. Human forms/practices can designate appropriate procedures to be followed. Gods being can make something holy. There is an enormous difference between respecting what is declared holy and actually making something holy because the divine presence is there. It is the basic difference between a human acknowledgement/declaration and a divine actuality. For humans to say something is holy is a far cry from God making something holy because His presence is there.
The basic divine concept of holy is the absence of any sin, the absence of expressions of sin, or the absence of the taint of evil. Thus, there is complete righteousness. There is nothing human that is totally separated from sin and evil in all their expressions. Only God is absolutely separated from all sin/evil; only God is pure righteousness. Thus, the concept of sanctification or belonging exclusively to God becomes the commitment of the person who is directed by God.
The temple was holy because Gods presence was there as it was nowhere else. Ideally, people who went to the temple wished to belong to God exclusively. That is why wicked people who had no desire to abandon wickedness so offended God, even when those people did the right things (see Isaiah 1:10-15, or Jeremiah 6:20, or Amos 5:21-24). The reason prayers prayed at the temple or in the direction of the temple were effective was due to the fact that the temple contained Gods presence, not because it was declared by humans to be a religious place. God, not human declarations, made the temple holy.
For Thought and Discussion
1. What central point must not be missed? Discuss the importance of that understanding.
2. What was the first consideration of the importance/blessings of the temple?
3. The god or goddess was what? What did Isaiah 44:15-20 say?
4. God the Creator could not be reduced to what? Use Exodus 20:1-17 to illustrate that fact.
5. What are the basic understandings of how to treat God? What would they not understand without that awareness?
6. What was the second consideration? Discuss the divine concept of holy.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 7
previous lesson | table of contents | next lesson