Posts Tagged ‘temple’

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

We can say with certainty that any psalm in our Bible that refers to the temple and its courts could not have been written by David, who lived before its time. The ending of Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, makes it questionable on the list of authentic poems by the shepherd-king. Regardless, the remarkably personal and passionate spirituality that is expressed in this and other poems of the biblical collection form a continuous line of influence from David himself.

For the author of this psalm the house of God is a place of delight, where every creature can find refuge and a beauty beyond words. The poet’s heart longs to be in its sacred precincts, with songs of praise and overflowing joy.

And then there is this: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (the mountain on which the temple stood). As he looks outward to the stream of pilgrims approaching the temple, the psalmist has a vision of the true path of approach, in the heart of every honest and searching soul.

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1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

We can hear the trepidation in Solomon’s words as he dedicates to God the newly built temple in Jerusalem. Yahweh had admonished David earlier for the presumption in his plans to erect a place for the deity to dwell. And what about that? Was God now of a different mind on the subject? A sacred house is acceptable today, but wasn’t yesterday? David couldn’t, but now Solomon can?

There is a rather fascinating undercurrent to the history of Israel’s progress toward becoming an empire like others round about, something of a counter-voice to the entire project. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul king only after God reluctantly gave in to the people’s demand for a royal leader. Previous to that, Yahweh had been their Lord. Even after the throne was established, generations of prophets continued to rail against the corruption of kings, one after another.

Similar criticism sprang up around the plans to build a temple for God in the capital city of Jerusalem. Wasn’t it enough that the nation had set up a human authority in the place of God, and now they want to store Him away inside a shrine where He can be worshiped at their convenience? Later on, the prophet Jeremiah would be especially reproachful of a popular belief concerning the temple, that its presence in the city guaranteed it invincible to enemy attack.

2 SAMUEL 7:1-14a

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In a time when the gods of other tribes and nations were represented in idols and established in sacred shrines and temples, Yahweh, the deity rediscovered by Moses in the mountains of Sinai, was acknowledged as being not only non-representable but also unwilling to settle down inside the more permanent structures of religion.

Yahweh had cautioned the exodus community against fashioning graven images of the divine likeness. And since the early experience of God took shape during an event of radical transition, as the people were moving from one place to another, the presence of Yahweh needed to be ‘portable’ and not tied down to location. In the forty years of wilderness wandering, Yahweh’s dwelling was a movable tabernacle, and whenever Moses needed to consult the oracle of the deity he went outside the boundary of the camp to the tent of meeting and waiting for God’s word.

There we have some of the essential history behind the conflict between David’s desire to make for God a more permanent dwelling place (temple) and God’s refusal to be clapped up inside a building. David’s intention was innocent enough, and we notice that even the prophet Nathan thought it was a good idea at first. It’s always more convenient to have a place where God stays put.

MATTHEW 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

To the degree that the portrait of John the baptist in the Gospels is confirmed also in the report on first-century religious and political movements given by the Jewish historian Josephus, we can say that John stood rather squarely in the tradition of what we earlier called an exclusionist messianism.

The Gospels themselves don’t give us any suggestion that John reached out beyond the boundary of Jewish identity, though he did attract a remarkably large following of Jews from just about every walk of life.

Both his geographical and ideological proximity to the sectarian group known as the Essenes places him as a possible one-time adherent of their community. His message marked a strategic departure from the sectarian outlook, however, in that he offered repentance with a requirement of formal sect membership through world-renunciation.

Upon repentance and their ritual washing in the Jordan, those responding to John’s call were sent back into their work-a-day world with a new ethic – not of separatism but fairness, honesty, and charity on behalf of the needy.

John’s concept of how the messianic age would come, and to what effect, was less kind to Pharisees and Sadducees – at least as Matthew tells the story. Their so-called leadership among the Jewish people had only magnified the law’s burden and depressed the human spirit. Both were in agreement that salvation needed to be officially mediated – by the law (Pharisees) or by the temple (Sadducees).

                                                                         

The Gospel writers inform us later on that John eventually grew somewhat disillusioned with Jesus and sent a delegation of disciples to inquire whether he was really the messiah of their expectation.

As far as his original insight was concerned – that the messiah of God’s in-breaking kingdom would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire – John was right on the mark. But once again, he was mistaken over the ultimate outcome.

John was anticipating that Jesus (or the messiah of his expectation) would cast the unrepentant moral reprobates of the world into the “unquenchable fire” of God’s wrath – and that’s where he got it wrong. Jesus did not, in fact, bring God’s vengeance but God’s forgiveness. And forgiveness, at least as Jesus understood and advocated it, is something that does not compute in the calculations of a black-and-white worldview.

But as a figure, John serve as the historical bridge from the moral paradigm of conventional religion (represented in the story of Judaism) to the mystical paradigm of esoteric religion. This move from membership to spirituality, from orthodoxy to enlightenment, and from an ethic of duty to an ethic of compassion, is a passage that faith must make in its progress to maturity and fulfillment.