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Thursday, 04 February 2010 00:06

The True Role of the Temple

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Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. He said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart, who have kept with Your servant, my father David, that which You have promised him; indeed, You have spoken with Your mouth and have fulfilled it with Your hand as it is this day. Now therefore, O LORD, the God of Israel, keep with Your servant David my father that which You have promised him, saying, "˜You shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your sons take heed to their way to walk before Me as you have walked.' Now therefore, O God of Israel, let Your word, I pray, be confirmed which You have spoken to Your servant, my father David. (1 Kings 8:22-26)

One of the central, recurring sources of discussion by Jew and Christian alike is the Temple in Jerusalem. There is a lot of Scripture devoted to the Laws and operation of the Temple and the priests and Levites supporting it, but from a purely historical perspective the two temples, along with their precursor the Tabernacle, only stood for a brief fraction of time in terms of the whole of mankind's history. And yet mainstream Judaism and Christianity alike believe a third Temple is not only inevitable but imminent. I personally find it fascinating that the majority of Jews and Christians alike seem to miss the greater purpose of the Temple, often focusing on all the things humans are supposed to do in the course of operating the Temple. But Solomon's dedication of the original Temple reveals that what is most important is not what MAN does with it, but God. And this is no small lesson to be lost on Christians who are repeatedly taught in the New Testament that THEY are now the Temple. The original, intended role of the physical Temple probably has quite a bit to teach New Testament believers about their greater role and purpose as His spiritual Temple.

Solomon begins by making a telling observation about the defining characteristic of "servants" "“ God’s people. Do not rush past the foundational conditional statement, ""¦there is no God like You"¦keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart"¦" Neither the Temple "“ nor any "thing" associated with the One True God for that matter "“ can take the place of obedience to God’s Word and ways from the heart. The true servants of the Temple are not those carrying out operations, but those who are carrying out His Word in obedience. In fact, I will let you in on a little secret that is not well taught where the Temple is concerned: it is intended to be the last step of the spiritual process, not the process itself.

God’s people were supposed to come to the Temple as the last and final step of addressing sin or offering praise. The process begins with a sincere desire to change from the heart, the person begins to make amends or address the issue, and the very last step is showing up at the Temple as a public testimony of what has already taken place spiritually. The Temple was never intended as the place someone has to go to address sin or testify to God’s goodness "“ a place can never act on behalf of God "“ but was always intended as a way to demonstrate the sincerity of their faith to begin with.

Solomon affirms this again in this opening statement referring to David’s throne with the qualifier, ""¦if only your sons take heed to their way to walk before Me as you have walked"¦" The first and foremost lesson to be learned about the proper role of the Temple of God is that it is founded on the presupposition that those working in or using it for any reason are first and foremost obedient to God’s Word and ways. Just as attending weekly church services has never made anyone a "Christian", so no one simply making pilgrimages to the Temple has ever truly been God’s Chosen.

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today; that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, "˜My name shall be there,’ to listen to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place. Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive. (1 Kings 8:27-30)

Solomon provides a summary at the beginning of this dedication which serves as the basis for what he establishes as the true role of the Temple. Notice what is missing when we most often think of the Temple: he never mentions the priesthood, the sacrifices, or the things inside such as the ark, altars, etc. Solomon dedicates the Temple to one thing and one thing alone: prayer.

"¢ ""¦that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day"¦" (v.30)

"¢ ""¦to listen to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place..." (v.30)

"¢ ""¦Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place"¦" (v.30)

"¢ ""¦hear and forgive"¦" (v.30)

Remember what Jesus said in the process of cleansing out the Temple? "And He began to teach and say to them, "˜Is it not written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations"? But you have made it a robbers’ den.’" (Mk. 11:17) Solomon provides a very detailed dedication which affirms this purpose over and over again.

"If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath, and he comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this house, then hear in heaven and act and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. (1 Kings 8:31-32)

It begins first with the prayers of the individual in regards to how they treat others. ("If a man sins against his neighbor".) And this first point of dedication establishes a pattern for each point to follow, identifying from where God will hear prayer and on what basis He will respond. From where does He respond? "Hear in heaven and act". The Temple can never be mistaken as His new address; it cannot actually contain Him. And how does He deal with individuals? "Condemning the wicked"¦and justifying the righteous". We have here the Old Testament roots of the New Covenant commandment to come to fulfill the Law by loving others. It is worth noting Solomon begins first with how man treats man rather than how man treats God. The Temple never provides an excuse to lift up the Laws to honor and love God higher than the parallel Laws to honor and love others.

"When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy, because they have sinned against You, if they turn to You again and confess Your name and pray and make supplication to You in this house, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers. (1 Kings 8:33-34)

Now it is the prayers of the nation, but notice God responds from the same place ("hear in heaven") and the primary need is to "forgive the sin of Your people". Does the Temple remove sin? No, it is at the end of the process after the people first "turn to You again and confess Your name".

"When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and of Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Your land, which You have given Your people for an inheritance. (1 Kings 8:35-36)

Now God is asked to "hear in heaven and forgive" when His people "confess Your name and turn from their sin". Are you beginning to see the pattern that Solomon is not talking about prayer for any and every need or thing but first and foremost where spiritual reconciliation and faithfulness are concerned? What is the greater goal of answered prayer from a contrite heart? "Teach them the good way in which they should walk".

"If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper, if their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart, and spreading his hands toward this house; then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You have given to our fathers. (1 Kings 8:37-40)

Notice the root cause attributed to these events, that their source is connected to "each knowing the affliction of his own heart". And what is the hoped for response to "hear in heaven Your dwelling place"? "Forgive and act and render to each according to all his ways"¦that they may fear You". Again the priority is a right spiritual relationship.

"Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name. (1 Kings 8:41-43)

It is not the prayers of God’s people which Solomon asks God to "do according to all for which"¦calls to You". This group is coming to God for a completely different reason "for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand" and have not yet established a right spiritual relationship with God, whereas God’s people are supposed to have already done so. This is not about having every wish and desire granted, but establishing a right relationship in the process of glorifying "Your name’s sake". And all this that God should "hear in heaven Your dwelling place".

"When Your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way You shall send them, and they pray to the LORD toward the city which You have chosen and the house which I have built for Your name, then hear in heaven their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause. (1 Kings 8:44-45)

The conditions requested for God to "hear in heaven" is that God’s people are in alignment with God’s Word and will to begin with ("by whatever way You shall send them") and grounded spiritually from the outset ("maintain their cause"). Prayer is not something which mystically makes up for not following God in the first place, but the natural extension of a heart consistently committed to His Word and ways.

"When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, "˜We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly’; if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are Your people and Your inheritance which You have brought forth from Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace), that Your eyes may be open to the supplication of Your servant and to the supplication of Your people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to You. For You have separated them from all the peoples of the earth as Your inheritance, as You spoke through Moses Your servant, when You brought our fathers forth from Egypt, O Lord GOD." (1 Kings 8:46-53)

We can see a hint of things to come here, of what happens to God’s people when they rebel to the point that He must engage the most severest discipline possible, something we know has occurred repeatedly during the times of the Judges and which will occur again when both Temples are destroyed and the people sent into the Diaspora. But how will this work when they are in captivity and have no access to the Temple? "If they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to You in the land where they have taken them captive...and pray to You toward their land...and the house which I have built for Your name..." What are the conditions they must first meet? "If they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul". And from where will God hear? "In heaven Your dwelling place".

Solomon never once mentions anything about the sacrifices. This is because the sacrifices are the END of the process. Sacrifices do not, in and of themselves, remove or forgive anything. Each person is supposed to experience the knowledge and regret and guilt of having fallen short in some way, reveal the sincerity of their changed heart through prayer, and conclude with a sort of celebration of God’s forgiveness by means of the sacrifices that also acted as a personal commitment NOT to engage in that sin again. But in this last example in particular, people held in captivity in a foreign land cannot possibly initiate a temple sacrifice. Note how God is not requiring it; He requires a changed and submissive heart, not a trip to the Temple.

In fact, did you notice the common thread of the juxtaposition of the location of God’s people and the Temple as expressed throughout these examples?

"¢ ""¦if they turn to You"¦" (v.33)

"¢ ""¦they pray toward this place"¦" (v.35)

"¢ ""¦spreading his hands toward this house"¦" (v.38)

"¢ ""¦prays toward this house"¦" (v.42)

"¢ ""¦they pray to the LORD toward the city which You have chosen and the house which I have built for Your name"¦" (v.44)

"¢ ""¦pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name"¦" (v.48)

If there is no sincerity of heart, an actual physical trip to the Temple was useless, a very strong testimony that what God desires first and foremost is a right heart.

It is fascinating that Jonah knew this explicitly. While he was praying from the belly of the fish Jonah specifically mentions, "’While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple.’" (Jonah 2:7) He prayed toward the Temple and because he repented from the heart, God heard and answered.

When Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven. And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying:

"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 promised through Moses His servant. May 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 Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers. And may these words of mine, with which I have made supplication before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that He may maintain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, as each day requires, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else. Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day." (1 Kings 8:54-61)

Solomon wraps up his dedication in much the same manner as he began it by calling to the attention of those present their need and even responsibility to be completely obedient and wholly committed to God and His ways.

"¢ "...that He may incline our hearts to Himself..."

"¢ "...to walk in all His ways..."

"¢ "...and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances..."

And note in verse 60 how he gives the ultimate purpose, "...so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else" along with a personal call in verse 61 to everyone who would use the Temple properly, "Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God, to walk in His statues and to keep His commandments, as at this day."

God’s Temple is not just a house of prayer, but a testimony of faithfulness, knowing that the One True God in heaven hears the sincere intercessions of a heart that does not merely seek Him but seeks to live according to HIS ways. God’s Temple is supposed to be a monument to faithfulness, to putting His Word into practice.

Can you see how the original purpose of the Temple might be applied to the New Testament Temple comprised of the members of the body of Christ?

I think most believers understand that we are to be a collective, visible witness of Christ, but one of the greatest points herein contained which I believe is lost on the church at large today is that the Temple is first and foremost a facility for prayer. Why is it that of all the activities the church engages in when it comes together that the least amount of time and the least emphasis is given to prayer? It is often just a passing ritual in the course of our services, and certainly the old days of holding prayer meetings where the entire congregation actually devoted themselves to extended collective prayer are but a memory in most cases. What will the ultimate ruling be for a church who spent more time singing than praying?

Just as in the Old Testament when God’s people set aside the true purpose and role of the Temple, so too the New Testament Temple needs to consider if it has learned from their predecessor’s mistakes or is simply repeating them.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

We are supposed to be a house of prayer.

In His Love,
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[Note: A version of this teaching in the form of a small group Bible study is available here.]

Read 4207 times Last modified on Thursday, 04 February 2010 00:06

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