Day 125: 2 Chronicles 5-7; Solomon Dedicates the Temple

How fitting for a reading like this to come in the midst of a Sunday for us.  This worship service must have been amazing to be a part of.  The visible glory of the Lord appears in the form of smoke and fire, hundreds of thousands of people worshiping the Lord together and praying together with the magnificence of the Temple of the Lord as their backdrop.  Indeed, what an awesome time of worship this must have been for the people.  Everything is going their way and God has blessed them beyond compare.  In many ways this is the pinnacle of Israel’s Golden Age, the height of all that is accomplished in Jerusalem and the high point of history for God’s chosen people.

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the midst of this worship service there is an interesting line about the status of the Ark of the Covenant that raises some questions about the writing and about the nature of how the Israelites viewed both the Temple and the presence of God in their midst.  As we read about the Ark of the Covenant and all the articles of the Tabernacle being brought into the Temple, we read that “the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.”  They are there to this day?  How is that even possible?  Isn’t this being written in the context of the people returned to a completely demolished Jerusalem?  Yes… and this is why it reveals something deeper about what the people believed about God’s presence and the nature of the Temple of the Lord.

First of all, as we have read about since the Ark of the Covenant was built way back in Exodus 25, it has been the place where God resides.  The Ark was called the “mercy seat,” the place in which God was enthroned here on earth.  This is also the place from which God judged and from which the Word of the Lord went forth.  It was very symbol and place of the presence of God on earth.  The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and in the Temple.  This was the place that Heaven and earth collided, the very center of the universe.  From here the universe was sustained. From here creation continued.  From here God’s decrees went out.  From here God reigned.

The Glory of God fills the Temple Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com/

The Glory of God fills the Temple
Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com

This is all well and good.  We can sign on to this.  There is but one problem… the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and took all that was in it.  Nothing was left when the people of God returned.  how can one say that they are “there to this day“?  I think that this reveals another very important concept of the Israelite Theology, that being their view of time and space.  The placement of God on the throne is not simply something that is temporal or physical in nature.  The Most Holy Place being a place in which our created reality meets the reality of God’s infinitude means that it is not bound by the laws of our universe, our reality.  For the people of Israel, the Temple still exists and God is still on that throne, even if it is not physically present here on earth.  The writer of the Chronicles is making the point that just because the Temple itself has been destroyed doesn’t mean that God is no longer present.  He is also saying that just because the Ark of the Covenant is not sitting in that exact spots doesn’t mean that God isn’t still sitting on the throne and reigning.

Like Israel’s connection to the past, the people are able to look back at this moment and see the true nature of themselves as the people of God gathered around the Temple worshiping and praising.  For them, these sacred times are “infinitely recoverable,” to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel.  And, the fact is that the truth of the nature and existence of God isn’t grounded solely in our physical reality or in what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or experience.  The truth of the reality of God is grounded in God alone.  This is something that the people of Israel had to learn as well.  Being removed from their homeland and relocated was likely one of the most traumatic events of the history of ancient Israel.  For them, to be removed from the location of the Temple, from Jerusalem, was to be cut off from God.  Yet God continued to reveal Himself to the prophets in exile, revealing to them that they were indeed still God’s people and that He wouldn’t abandon them.  Neither was He bound by and sort of spacial or geographic boundaries, much less the rule of an ancient power.  Indeed God is present in all of His creation and is able to sustain His people, even in their exile, and even more in their return.

On another note, Solomon’s prayer of Dedication in chapter 6 and the subsequent response of God in the latter part of chapter 7 are worth reading again.  The writer is making a very important point here, one that is not necessarily clearly made in the counterpart we find in 1 Kings.  Again, these writings are part of the bigger narrative of the people of Israel, one that includes highs and lows, with the ultimate low being that of the exile itself.  However, the covenant with God is being renewed here in Solomon’s prayer and God’s response is that He will indeed be listening, always listening to the prayers of His people.  Thinking back to Leviticus 26, especially the latter verses, Solomon is repeating to God what God has already promised to them, which God affirms in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”



Day 119: 1 Chronicles 14-16; David's Song of Thanks

As I was thinking about today’s reading, I really was just astounded by the song of David in 1 Chronicles 16.  Thus far, there hasn’t been a better summary of the Covenant and God’s faithfulness in Israel’s history.  I think, in lieu of something better to say, that I will just encourage you to read it again and reflect on the all that we have heard and read in these last four months.

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Israel his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
Remember his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
as your portion for an inheritance.”

When you were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”

David's Song of Thanks Photo Credit: http://caffeinatedthoughts.com

David’s Song of Thanks
Photo Credit: http://caffeinatedthoughts.com

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy are in his place.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
     tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Save us, O God of our salvation,
and gather and deliver us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!

Amen!



Day 118: 1 Chronicles 11-13; David and His Mighty Men

Today we find ourselves finally past all of the genealogies that open the book of Chronicles.  Though it is interesting to see how the Hebrew people connected themselves with the past and sought to live as close to God and the blessings of God as they could.  I do think it is something we ought to continue to think about as we examine our own lives and evaluate our own relationship with God.  That being said however, it is refreshing to return to the narratives of Scripture that we are a bit more familiar with, like the narratives of King David in the Chronicles, which we being today… even in the midst of a great many names once again.

The lists of names that we encounter today though are written about differently than the genealogies that we have been reading for the past couple days.  We aren’t simply reading about so-and-so the father of so-and-so right down the line to some intended end.  Rather, we are reading the names of the people that the Lord had brought to David and provided David with as his reign began.  In a way, we are reading a roster of David’s military and learning about all that they had accomplished, none of which can be separated for a moment from the work of God in faithfully providing for His anointed one.  I see these lists as being meant for two things, at least that are coming to my mind at the moment.  

English: Entry of king David into Jerusalem

English: Entry of king David into Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, these lists and names, like the genealogies and other lists and names of this sort are a way of connecting the Hebrew people back to this time in history.  Given the context of exiles returning to Babylon to a decimated and hostile land of Judah, I think this list is making a statement to the people that the Lord provides the means and the ways to make things happen.  David certainly couldn’t do any of this on His own.  They hadn’t even taken Jerusalem from the Jebusites yet, a city that was really only conquered twice at the time of this writing.  However, David and the mighty men that God provided for him went up and took the city that would eventually house God’s Temple, and did it without much effort (at least not much that is written about).  The people returning from the exile are also encountering forces that seem beyond their ability to overcome, yet God is saying to them in His Word that He will provide for them the means and the power if they will only trust completely in Him.

And second, these lists also point to the fact that it took people and action to accomplish these things.  Yes, ultimately all of the glory should and does go to God.  This is true first and foremost in any narrative.  However, God is not a God who just does everything for His people, and his people are not to be ones who sit back and do nothing waiting for God.  God appointed men to join David’s ranks.  These men defected from places David wouldn’t have expected.  They fought battles, built walls, and defended the territory.  David didn’t take Jerusalem and then sit in its ruble and call it “the City of David,” he built it up and made it defensible!  God doesn’t call His people to be passive, He expects action and work from those that trust Him.  When God’s people move to action and trust in Him, great things can be done.

The Chastisement of Uzzah

The Chastisement of Uzzah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally today, we read a narrative that we are somewhat familiar with, that of the first attempt to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  This is recorded also in 2 Samuel 6, something we talked about on Day 88 of our journey through the Bible.  The narrative here is much the same as in 2 Samuel except, if you read it closely, you will note some name changes in the places that are spoken of.  This is probably due largely to the change in the landscape between the time of David and the time of the return of the exiles.  The story stays the same… the oxen stumble at a threshing floor and Uzzah reaches out to stead the Ark and is put to death.  Why the name change then?  Perhaps they weren’t aware of the old names of the places?  Perhaps… or maybe the point is being made that it doesn’t matter what the names of the places are so much as the truth that the narrative communicates.

Whether the names of the cities and places are those which were given by the Hebrew people, or the names given by the current local inhabitants is likely besides the point.  What the point is here, is that God is real, He is present, and He is still Holy.  This, I think, is an on-going theme in these books, and in the greater narrative of Scripture as well.  We’ve seen how God works through the generations, and we have also seen that God is still working within the Covenant relationship He has set up with the people which, in this time, included the Law.  Uzzah was clearly not supposed to touch the Ark, despite his seemingly good intentions.  What, then, do we communicated in this to the returned exiles and to us?  God has not changed a bit.  He is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

 



Day 99: 1 Kings 8-9; Dedication of the Temple

When Solomon had finished building the Temple of the Lord he held a great celebration as they brought the Ark of the Covenant up into the Temple.  Notice some differences here between how Solomon brought the Ark where it needed to go and how David did the first time.  David had it brought in a cart which led to the death of one of the men going with them up to Jerusalem.  This time however, Solomon makes sure that it is done right.  The priests carry the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and place it in the Most Holy place, also know as the Holy of Holies.  This room existed in the Tabernacle as well.  In fact, the Temple area was an exact representation of the Tabernacle, only it was larger and a bit more permanent.

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like the dedication of the Tabernacle in Exodus 40, when the Temple is finished and the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat and throne of God is placed in the Tabernacle, we read that the glory of God descends down upon the Temple.  It comes down in the form of a cloud so think and (I imagine) so dark that the priests are unable to do their priestly duties.  As we have spoken about before, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies represents the place at which heaven and earth meet, where God’s presence is concentrated, the center of the Hebrew universe.  When everything is finished, God inhabits this place in all His glorious splendor, which is physically manifested in a dark cloud.  This too is a sign that it is indeed God that is present.  Remember all the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham.  The first time we read about this was on Day 4 of our journey through the Bible.  The vision that Abraham had involved a great deal of darkness, which represents the glory and presence of God.

Dedication of the TemplePhoto Credit: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/dia/detail.cfm?ID=112584

Dedication of the Temple
Photo Credit: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/dia/detail.cfm?ID=112584

Solomon’s benediction prayer is a beautiful conclusion this whole celebration!  It is, in itself, an occasion of covenant renewal.  He has just finished a prayer to the Lord to remember the people and be merciful to them when the sin.  He continues on with this benediction:

“Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.  The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us,  that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires,  that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.  Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”

What an amazing testament to all that the Lord has done.  Not one word has failed of all his good promise. He refers to both the blessings and the curses.  God has been faithful to them all and continue to be faithful even to the present day.



Day 78: 1 Samuel 4-7: The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s reading is all about two things: the importance of the Ark of the Covenant and, more importantly, God’s power over other gods.

Yesterday we read about the vision of Samuel, calling him to ministry, and also the promise of God to cut off Eli from the priesthood because of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  We see this word from the Lord come true in 1 Samuel 4 & 5.  True to form, God always keeps His promises.

But this is not really the main part of the narrative we have read today.  There is a lot of action that happens around the Ark of the Covenant.  Remember with me all the way back to the time that Israel was at Mount Sinai, when they first created the Tabernacle.  This is recorded in Exodus 25.  The Ark was created as the dwelling place of God, the “Mercy Seat” as it is often called.  The very presence of God sat enthroned on the Cherubim that were on top of the of Ark.  It was the most sacred item in the Tabernacle, so much so we read that those that even looked on it were punished by death.  Israel’s decision to bring the Ark out of the Tabernacle and into battle without the direction of God is a testimony to their depravity at this time.  They were not trusting in God, they were trusting in this golden box on some sticks.  One could say that they had become so used to worshiping idols that they made the symbol of the presence of God an idol.

The Ark of the Covenant

Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that the Church, especially the Western Church.  Icons are artistic pictures, representations of Saints, scenes, and things of the Church’s past.  If you ever visit church’s of Orthodox belief, you will notice many of these.  They are pieces of art that can be used in worship, or in daily life to help direct our attention to God.  This is the important point of both the Ark and icons in general, they are not themselves to be worshiped, but serve to point us, our minds and hearts, to the living God.  These were removed from many churches because of the fear that the icons themselves would be worshiped, a type of “graven image” which would be in direct violation of Commandment #2.  The following is a more modern version of an Icon of Samuel from salliesART.

Samuel Icon

Finally, the most important question that we ask about these Narratives is, as always, “where is God in this narrative?”  Sometimes this is more difficult to answer than others.  However, today it is very clear to see that God is present and powerful, even when His “throne” is in the hand of the enemy.  The people of Israel associated the present of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  So, when the Ark is taken, the people are shaken to their core because they believe that somehow the Philistines have taken God away from them (which is odd being that they are worshiping idols all over the place anyway).  But God is still at work, showing Himself to be more powerful that Dagon, or any of the other Philistine gods and the people as well.  And while the Ark may indeed be the physical seat of God’s presence on earth, it is clear that He is working in Israel and in Philistia all at the same time and he makes it clear to the leaders of Israel’s enemies where He and the Ark belongs.

What do we learn from this?  Well… don’t ever take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with you.  Or perhaps the presence of a Bible at official and unofficial functions doesn’t not guarantee the presence of God at that place?  Maybe we are being shown that it isn’t about having the right religious trinkets, shirts, books, etc. that connect us to God, but rather we need to be steeped in His Word, keeping it on our hearts every day to truly hear Him and be connected to Him?  I think that one thing that God is showing Israel here is that He is neither limited by our bad actions or disobedience, nor is He limited by any distance, space, or other god that might be present.  He again shows that He is more powerful than any other god, and even has control of “untamed” animals that bring the Ark home.  God is all powerful, all knowing, and always working His will in all situations, no matter how grave they might seem.



Day 24: Exodus 24-27; Covenant and Tabernacle

Well, after the laws of yesterday, we step into what is seemingly a construction plan that really has no pertinence to us at all.  I know that my temptation what I come to these passages is to skim briefly and not really pay attention to them.  Don’t give into this temptation… there are things we can learn even here!

First in this passage we see the covenant confirmed.  To date, if you look at all the times that the covenant is brought up in the Scriptures, there is really little asked of the people of Israel.  Phrases like “I will be your God and you will be my people” abound in covenant language.  This is still true, and is still the basis of the covenant.  Along with this, the idea of election is also true, the fact that Israel was a chosen people by the grace of God through no merit of their own.  Now however, there are a few more stipulations to the covenant.  The how of the “you will be my people” has been more defined.  And Israel’s overwhelming response is written in 24:7, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”  The sign of the covenant is seen here, once again as a foreshadow to something greater, with the blood sprinkled on the alter and on the people.  This becomes for the Hebrew people, the sign of the covenant, of forgiveness.  Blood, as a symbol, has an abundance of meanings which we will talk about in the future I’m sure.  One of the first and foremost of the meanings though, is the symbol of “death for life.”  The people of Israel are dying to their own desires so that they will thus live in God’s covenant.  More to come on this!

Moving along to the design of the tabernacle again I want to encourage you to read through this, boring as it may seem.  I’ve heard few sermons on sections in the Bible like this, and have really heard even less life application about them.  One of the popular themes in messages that I have heard about this particular passage is the notion that God is a God of particularities.  God doesn’t simply say “build me a nice tent to live in,” but rather sets out all of the designs for very specific dwelling place for His presence.

Structure of the Tabernacle

The particularities of the designs of the Tabernacle are not arbitrary either.  There is a very specific set of symbols and meanings that are communicated in the tabernacle’s design.  We see things like angels woven into the fabric.  Things are placed in very specific places for a very specific purpose.  The ark is placed in the very center of the tabernacle, in a perfectly square room, in complete darkness; the place that God dwells.  It is strangely reminiscent of the creation story in which God is dwelling in the darkness of pre-creation.  If one was walking out of the Holy of Holies, the first thing one would see would be the light of the candle.  Thinking of the creation story once again, this would bring up some memories of Day 1 of creation.  There are others here as well.  See if you can point them out!

A not so final note about the Tabernacle, as it is of great importance in the biblical story is the meaning of the word “tabernacle.”  Tabernacle actually means “to dwell” or “dwelling place.”  There are two things that I am reminded of here.  First, that God actually dwelt in this place in a special location.  While we know that God is omnipresent, everywhere all the time, He was here in a very special way and the Hebrews believed it.  To them, God was real.  Unlike some of our theologies and philosophies of today which start with humanity and work to explain God, their world was the opposite (and the way it should be), all things begin with God and it is from that starting point that we seek to understand the world.  Second, and I think this is very important as well… Read John 1 if you get a chance.  In the phrase “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” uses the same Greek word that would have been used in Hebrew in the Old Testament for Tabernacle.  Jesus, the divine Word, second person of the Trinity tabernacled among us.  It is an interesting foreshadowing of the idea of God with us, fulfilled in Jesus and ultimately will be realized at the end of time when heaven comes down to earth and “the dwelling of God is with men.” (Revelation 21:3).