When we think of worshipping God we usually think about a building for this to take place. For many these buildings of worship take on a ‘holy’ status. I know people who believe that the best place to pray to God is in a ‘church building’. Somehow, they believe that by being there they are closer to God and perhaps God will listen more to them in that setting.
The religious Jews in Israel today still have this view of the Western Wall: as this wall was once connected with the temple, where God lived, the closest they can now get to that is the wall. They write out prayers and put them in the cracks between the stones of the wall and, when near the wall, they touch it believing it puts them into closer contact with God.
When we read through the early history of Israel, from their leaving Egypt and then entering the Promised Land, God never told them to build a permanent place for his worship. He did give a detailed ‘blueprint’ for the construction of a tent which would symbolise his presence among the Israelites. When they conquered the land the Tabernacle was set up in a permanent location, although it seemed to have moved a few times in their history: from Joshua to at least Samuel it was at Shiloh, while during the reign of David it was at Gibeon.
It was while the Tabernacle was in Shiloh that the Israelites took the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ with them into battle, thinking that having the place representing where God lived on earth would give them victory. They were defeated and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Due to the calamities it brought to the Philistines they returned it, but it was never again placed in the Tabernacle. During David’s reign it was taken to Jerusalem where David had a special tent set up for it with Ahimelech serving there as priest for worship, while the Tabernacle was set up in Gibeon with Zadok serving as the priest for offering the sacrifices. David wanted to build a permanent building for the worship of God, but this was not to be.
“Solomon then sent this message to Hiram: ‘You know that my father David was unable to build a temple to honor the Lord his God, for he was busy fighting battles on all fronts while the Lord subdued his enemies. But now the Lord my God has made me secure on all fronts; there is no adversary or dangerous threat. So I have decided to build a temple to honor the Lord my God, as the Lord instructed my father David, “Your son, whom I will put on your throne in your place, is the one who will build a temple to honor me.”’” (1 Kings 5:2-5 NET)
Just as we have a ‘blueprint’ given in Exodus for the construction of the Tabernacle, there was great planning which went into the construction of what became known as the Temple of God in Jerusalem. David drew up plans for the worship of God in the Temple and he stored materials that would be needed (the details of this can be found in 1 Chronicles 22-29).
Solomon organised to get wood, stone, craftsmen which were needed to make the best building for worshipping God (these details are in 1 Kings 5-7 and 2 Chronicles 2-4). As we read these chapters we can see the detailed planning that went into this structure as well as how beautiful it would have been.
Although we can get attached to beautiful buildings, Jesus and the apostles never mentioned the place where Christians were to worship. The reason is quite simple: God’s building today is not physical but is his people.
“…you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22)
Photo of Western Wall, Jerusalem, taken by Jon Galloway, November 2019.
Readings for next week: 1 Kings 5-7; 2 Chronicles 3-5; Psalms 42, 44