THE TEMPLE OF GOD
Readings: Exodus ch. 26; Psalms 79 and 80; Mark ch. 11
Concerning the erection of the Tabernacle in the wilderness for the very first time in service to God it is written in the book of Exodus: "And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars. And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the Lord commanded Moses." And the sequel? "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
What, then, were the thoughts of the true Israelite as he witnessed this opening ceremony, and as he gazed on that structure of which such composite and exacting details had been given as are given in that chapter which we read together? Well, for many months the members of the tribes had been busy fashioning, shaping, fitting together all the component parts: the gold, the silver, the precious stones had been not only willingly given but steadily incorporated within the total plan. The parts of wood had been shaped with willing, eager and expert hands; the fabric of the veil, the door, the gates and the coverings all woven and exquisitely embroidered with the blue, purple and scarlet needlework. The cherubic emblems portrayed with such beauty in the fabric were also featured conspicuously above the mercy seat and were to dominate that area designated as the Most Holy Place. Other members of the tribes had been busy contributing to the furniture of the Holy Place: the candlestick, the table of shewbread and the altar of incense. Still more had made the supporting pillars which were to carry the ample proportions of the wall of the outer court and the embroidered gate of entry.
Then, in readiness for that consecration ceremony on the first day of the first month of the second year since that night when they had left Egypt, the ground was prepared, and the tents of Moses, Aaron and all the tribes were set in the due order. And then at the time appointed, the work being completed, the Tabernacle was reared up and Aaron and his sons were consecrated for service and for worship. The pattern shewn in the mount had been truly followed, and in due course the glory of the mighty Lord, the national Saviour of the nation, could truly come to rest in its appointed place.
Well, we ask the question again: What, then, did the typical Israelite make of those early, stirring, significant times as he gazed with awe and wonderment upon this new Tabernacle, and as he joined in the collective worship of the God of Israel? Did he, for example, realise that there was deeply enshrined within the whole enactment a recognition of divine supremacy, of human need, the sinfulness of sin and of its punitive, death-striking powers? Did it teach him how that the God whom he served, and who had already demonstrated His power to save, could only be approached in the appointed way; and only by the shedding of blood, by confession of sin and by repentence therefrom, could divine law be recognised and God's justice acknowledged, and the sins of the repentant be forgiven?
The law that governed the whole could surely be seen in those words: "Holiness becometh my house"; and this same characteristic must therefore be seen in every facet of the life of all those who sought to worship in the way now established. God's law was perfect, but it condemned the sinner at every point, and the sinfulness of sin was emphasised by the nature and the extent of the offerings which were necessary to obtain forgiveness. The life of the sinner was forfeit, apart from the shedding of the blood of the animal and the figurative association of the sinner with the life-blood of the animal slain. The whole process reminded the Israelite that forgiveness could come from God alone.
Then, too, almost all the physical features of the Tabernacle were designed to teach and to admonish. The white linen of the outer wall spoke of those essential qualities of righteousness and holiness which must be demonstrated in the lives and attitude of those who would worship through the Tabernacle medium. The one gate emphasised the one way; whilst the burnished, beaten gold spoke of that essential attribute of faith which is surely the prerequisite for all that come unto God in worship and for forgiveness.
Possessed, then, with the eye of faith, the earnest enquirer could perceive in the offerings the final provision for sin, reconciliation and redemption that was afterwards to be revealed in Jesus. If the typical Israelite was rightly exercised, therefore, by what he saw, and if in his heart he meditated aright, then surely it was along lines such as those we have endeavoured to express that his train of thought might go as he saw the Tabernacle erected, the consecration of Aaron and his sons, and the manifestation of the cloud above; and he would also learn of the demonstration of divine glory as it rested over the mercy seat between the cherubim.
But with the passing of this generation that witnessed those glorious enactments, and with the arrival and passing of other generations, and the development of the nation amongst the other surrounding tribes, many soon lost their real appreciation of all that the Tabernacle was designed to teach. The same principles were incorporated within the Temple that was built by Solomon, and subsequently rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, yet ritualism and self-importance largely superseded the original simplicity that was so essentially demonstrated within the Tabernacle. Israel nationally suffered greatly at the hands of powerful aggressive nations, who deliberately broke up the Temple because they knew it was the focal point of the Jewish national and religious system.
It was in the knowledge of these things that the Psalmist could truly exclaim, as he did in one of those Psalms that falls to our lot for today: "O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps." It was the depth of their national wickedness in relation to standards of holiness and obedience expressed precisely in divine law, which led to collective punishment upon such a widespread and devastating scale.
Thus, then, the Psalmist could continue in the second of the Psalms that falls to us for today: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, 0 God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." It may have been sentiments like these that lingered in the minds of those righteous men of old when they saw the foundation being prepared of the Temple that was to be rebuilt under the guidance of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Scriptures state: "Many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted for joy." To them the opportunity to rebuild the Temple and the setting again in its ancient place of the Temple foundation was sufficient to stir chords of both conscience and devotion, and to give rise to great thankfulness to the Most High.
At this time in their national history there was a marked return to many of those original standards of holiness, obedience and spiritual awareness.
What, then, was the spiritual state of Israel when, centuries later the Lord Jesus Christ appeared, and with a mind that was perfectly attuned to his Father's will, in the words of our chapter from Mark "looked round about" within the Temple precincts. Outwardly, to the superficial onlooker, all might appear to be well. Herod himself, for his own devious purposes, had spent time, money and many years recently on works of renovation and restoration. No, there was little or no fault in the goodly stones and the buildings; but what of the priests, and of those recently emerged ruling castes, the scribes and Pharisees? and, more important, what was the tone of the spiritual health of the worshippers at large?
Well, Jesus found, as we have read in those poignant words from Mark's record, that his Father's house had become little more than a den of thieves, and so he took immediate steps to rectify the situation. Turn again to the 1 lth chapter of Mark and just think of the thoughts that must have filled the heart of our dear Lord as he looked upon the scene which is here described. Verse 11: "And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve." Verse 15: The next day "they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." Those words carry within them both condemnation and the description which met the gaze of our dear Lord as he looked round about.
Concerning the scribes and Pharisees, scathing condemnation had come on more than one occasion. We read a day or so ago in the 7th chapter concerning them and their attitude. V. 6, "Jesus answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people hbnoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." And on this basis of condemnation, temple and people, priesthood and practice were doomed. "Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." "Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
Spiritual blindness, and indeed, worse still, spiritual rebellion were to bring again the full measure of divine retribution and judgment.
But thanks be to God, He was building another house in which He would be glorified, which would reflect those eternal principles of holiness, truth and righteousness originally expressed within the Tabernacle. The destruction of the literal house was to follow the complete preparation of the cornerstone of the new, figurative, spiritual house. Hosea had declared centuries before: "The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim." In the final analysis, God dwelt not in temples made with hands, but in sharp contrast was preparing a vessel fit unto honour and in whom He would be pleased to dwell for ever. Thus Jesus could declare of himself: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again." The Jews in their blindness mistook him to mean the temple of Herod. They could not perceive that there stood before them one that was greater than the temple. Simeon, however, that just and devout man, had a true perspective; he could discern, he could look round about, and he could say: "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."
Those, then, who looked in those days, and in these days, those who looked with spiritual perception recognised Jesus Christ for who he truly was, the Son of God. He had received honour and glory from the Deity. The apostle stated: "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." If then, as the apostle said in another place, the tabernacle and the temple were embodiments of and the epitome of the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, and this was glorious, yet was to be done away, much more "shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?"
In the new and figurative house the Lord Jesus Christ was to become the cornerstone, a precious stone, tried and elect; and so in his letter to the Ephesians, speaking of the erection and building of this house, Paul could declare plainly, Ephesians 2.19: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
The glory of the Lord could fill this house to perfection, for it was founded and built and ordered on principles of righteousness. The rule of the house and the measurement thereof was according to that found in the corner stone.
Now in this same chapter the apostle Paul speaks of our association with these hallowed truths. Verse 12: "At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." As, then, we gather around these emblems of the body of our dear Lord, as we recognise our relationship to this spiritual house, we can examine ourselves in the light of the principles which are so clearly set forth.
As we partake, then, of these emblems in a few moments, we ask the question which is found in that epistle to the Corinthians, concerning how we should discern the Lord Jesus, that one who is "made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption." And what of the spiritual house? Well, the first law of that house is "holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." That law touches every aspect of our mortal life, whether it be in the ecclesia, in the world outside, in the home, or indeed within our hearts. As such, it is a law which is extremely piercing and comprehensive, and compliance with it, in all its obligations and implications, must be our constant, prayerful endeavour.
The way of approach to God through the Lord Jesus can and must be noted and exercised, for only through him, as the one great offering for sin, can we obtain that forgiveness that we seek and need. Thankfulness, too, for the work of our high priest, both past and present, should always be found in our hearts and in our prayers, prayers which should ascend to our Father as sweet incense beaten small. The qualities of righteousness, separation, faithfulness and forgiveness, so strongly implied in the Tabernacle worship, and demonstrated to perfection in the example of Jesus, must characterise our association with the House, and indeed must be joined by qualities of gentleness, meekness and resignation to the Father's will. Certainly no defilement or unclean thing must be introduced or allowed to enter into the confines of our spiritual home. Paul declared, you will remember, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." And, he continues, "Let no man deceive himself."
Let not our house, then, be it ecclesial, personal or domestic, let it not figuratively be found to be "a den of thieves" when the Master comes to his Father's house and looks about him. The tradition, the selling of.doves, the money-changing can all be given a modern, figurative counterpart in relation to the obvious lessons which are so strongly implied.
Only by conforming to the law of the house can we ever hope to be included in the spiritual edifice of the future age, or witness the erection of the literal house of prayer for all nations, and to participate in its service of worship and remembrance.
Appearances are notoriously deceptive, and as in the past the apparent repository of truth in the Temple was outwardly acceptable and adorned, yet in reality within was wickedness, pride, hypocrisy, which was to lead to the total destruction of that generation.
So for some, regretfully but with every justification, there can only come in the day of account that sentence: "Depart from me, I never knew you." But in contrast, for the righteous of every epoch there will come that reward for which they have sought: immortalisation and inclusion within the House of Elohim for ever. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."
And then, to the apostle John, as he looked and watched with the spirit of prophecy within his heart, there followed the glorious outline of that symbolic city, New Jerusalem: its walls of jasper, its gates of pearl, its foundations of precious stones, and its appearance as of fine gold, like unto clear glass. Then the final seal of divine approval: "The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
This is the exalted destiny to which we have been called and in which, in God's mercy, we can share. Let us then each one so strive that we may enter therein. With the Psalmist of old we can pray, as our readings directed: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth." "Let thine hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself."—G. T. Atkinson.