Saturday, 28 May 2016

Why Solomon Built a Temple

(A theological reflection rather than an attempt to read the mind of Solomon.)

It has often been observed that the creation of the cosmos, the making of the tabernacle and the building of the temple are described in similar and sometimes identical language. In ancient Near Eastern stories the establishment of a temple marks the final victory over the forces of chaos. David wanted to build a temple when God had given him rest from all his enemies; he was not allowed. The initiative was to be God's. First he was going to build a house (dynasty) for David's son, then David's son would build a house (temple) for him.

Temple building is world building. (God famously made the world in seven days; Solomon took seven years for the temple which he then dedicated in the seventh month.) Israel's temple was a microcosm of the universe:
  • the courtyard representing the lower and habitable part (note the large bronze basin called "the sea" on top of twelve bulls and the altar of earth and uncut stone), 
  • the holy place representing the visible heavens, i.e. the sky, with its lights, i.e. sun, moon, and stars (note the use of blue and purple colours and of precious stones), 
  • the holy of holies representing the invisible dimension (note the sculpted cherubim around the ark of the covenant and the figures of the cherubim woven into the curtains).
(This is not entirely uncontroversial but acknowledged by a good range of scholars. The evidence is gathered in G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [NSBT 17; Leicester: Apollos, 2004].)

This microcosm speaks of the mission of God's people. The very first sanctuary was the garden of Eden. (My Doktorvater, Gordon Wenham, argued this in his 1986 essay "Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story" and it has since been widely accepted.) The first man and woman were set in a garden but their task was to rule over the earth as God's image-bearers. As Beale notes, 
"it is plausible to suggest that they were to extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth. They were on the primeval hillock of hospitable Eden, outside of which lay the inhospitable land. They were to extend the smaller liveable area of the garden by transforming the outer chaotic region into a habitable territory...[putting] 'finishing touches' on the world God created in Genesis 1 by making it a liveable place for humans in order that they would achieve the grand aim of glorifying him." (p. 82)
The vocation of humanity as priest-kings consists of managing and caring for the earth, maintaining its order and guarding against corruption - 'gardening' in the widest possible sense. The ultimate goal is to fill the whole earth with God's glory.

As Adam's commission was passed on to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel small sanctuaries were built 'like planting a flag and claiming the land' for God and his people in the case of the patriarchs and claiming the people in the case of the tabernacle, all anticipating the larger-scale construction in Jerusalem where God's election of a land and people become focused in a city and dynasty.

The commission was not passed on unchanged. Because of Adam's sin, the commission demands additional work (subduing evil) and receives additional grace (a special relationship with God).
"Abraham's descendants were to be a renewed humanity. They were to bear God's image and 'fill the earth' with children who also bore that image, being beacons of light to others living in spiritual darkness. They were to be God's instruments through whom God caused the light of his presence to shine in dark hearts of people in order that they too might become part of the increasing expansion of the temple's sacred space and of the kingdom. This is none other than performing the role of 'witness' to God throughout the earth." (Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission, 117)
Solomon built the temple because God's purposes for the whole world were to be fulfilled through the agency of David's son. Fast forward to the end of the Bible, Revelation 21-22.
Everything of which Old Testament temples were typologically symbolic, a recapitulated and escalated Garden of Eden and whole cosmos, will have finally been materialized. The holy of holies stood for the invisible heavenly dimension of the cosmos where God dwelt; the holy place represented the visible heavens; the outer court symbolized the visible earth (land, sea, the place of human habitation). God's special presence that was formerly confined to the holy of holies, which was the essence of temple reality, will at last encompass the whole new earth and heaven because of the work of Christ. At the very end of time, the true temple will come down from heaven and fill the whole creation, as Revelation 21:1-3, 10 and 22 affirm." (Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission, 369-70)
This is why the new heaven and the new earth = the new creation = the new Jerusalem = the true temple,
"the two outer sections of the temple ... have fallen away like a cocoon from which God's holy of holies presence has emerged to dominate all creation" (372)
This will have been accomplished by Christ in whom the church is the true end-time temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16 
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?

Ephesians 2:20-22 
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

1 Peter 2:5 
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The microcosm that speaks of the mission of God's people also enables it by being a meeting place. The temple is a place of revelation and sacrifice, "the communications switchboard connecting heaven and earth" (Peter Leithart), the place where heaven touched earth.

There was only one such place to ensure the unity of God's people, enacted as they assembled for the major festivals, under one king who proclaims and enacts judgement from this place.

It was to be "a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56.7; cf. 1 Kings 8.41-43) which is why Jesus got so angry about the way in which praying was reserved for Jews with the court of the Gentiles being given over to commerce (Mark 11.15-17).

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why We Have Prophetic Books

“A theological explanation of the existence of the prophetic books may put it this way: God had called a people into a special relationship with himself, giving them a land of their own, addressing them in their cultic ceremonies with the assurance that he had made a covenant with them, and defining their character as his people in terms of a law. He had given them priests to instruct them, kings to maintain justice, sages to guide them, and prophets to warn and exhort them when they forgot who they were. It had not worked. neither Israel’s worship nor daily life was truly distinct from their neighbors. They were no true witness to the nations concerning the character of their God, and the fate of widow, orphan, immigrant, and the poor in their midst was no better than in other countries. With the rise of the great empire builders in the Middle East – Assyria, followed by Babylon and Persia – God determined to do a new thing, in effect to start over. The little kingdoms of Israel and Judah would lose their political existence forever, but out of the death of Judah, God would raise up a new people, who would understand about God what most of their preexilic ancestors had never been able to comprehend, and who would commit themselves to obeying his will to an extent their ancestors had never done. The first step in making that happen was to raise up a series of prophets, messengers of God, whose responsibility was straightforward. They were no reformers; it was too late for that. They were to announce what was about to happen, to insist that it would not happen because God could not protect them from their enemies, but that God intended to use the disaster for his own purposes. They were also preachers of the law; the standards of behaviour which, if obeyed, would produce a community of peace and harmony in which all would benefit. The standards had failed, so far, but when the disaster came, and all was lost, the words of the prophets were remembered. Other prophets begun to explain that God had a future in mind for a renewed people, and the combined message of judgment and promise was finally be taken with the utmost seriousness by the exiles in Babylonia. If there was to be a future for them as the people of Yahweh, they had better pay attention, and they did, for out of the exile experience did come a new people. Once the new community, Judaism, had begun to be formed there was no more need for divine messengers of that kind. , and eventually the Jews recognized they were no longer being addressed in that way. The more normal attributes of religion – organized worship and instruction in faith and ethics – were working with this transformed people as they had not worked with Israel prior to the exile. The kind of prophet represented in the canonical books is thus the one who appears when God determines that a radical change in human history must come about."

Donald E. Gowan, Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel (Louisville: WJKP, 1998), pp. 9-10, offering in effect a synopsis of his book.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Sundays after Trinity Sermon Series

The Sundays after Trinity offer a good opportunity to offer a sermon series focusing on a biblical book or theme. I have reasons to be reluctant to abandon the lectionary provision. When we were last in year C I took the opportunity to exposit Paul's letter to the Galatians, following the lectionary provision. I covered the passages that the lectionary omitted in the evenings. A similar series on the Old Testament is harder to do because we have pew sheets that follow the "related" OT provision.

Here is a first draft of a series on covenant institutions, using the lectionary provision creatively.

29 May (Proper 4)
1 Kings 8.22-23, 41-43 -  temple: the particular and universal God

5 June (Proper 5)
1 Kings 17.17-24 - prophecy: the death and resurrection of the people of God

12 June (Proper 6)
2 Samuel 11.26-12.10, 13-15 - monarchy: power and submission

19 June (Proper 7)
Galatians 3.23-29 - law: preliminary rules from an eternal God

26 June (Proper 8)
1 Kings 19.15-16, 19-21 - covenant: form and freedom in relationships

Monday, 2 May 2016


"The person is not a static thing. The person is always an event. The person is open to infinite dramatic possibilities. Insofar as the person becomes utterly repetitious, predictable, shallow, closed-off, unloving, and riven by fear, one is confronted with a distorted, wounded condition that is the opposite of genuine personhood. The person is both a gift and a calling. Personhood is from the beginning, but the flourishing of personhood requires eternity, requires a resurrected body no longer narrowed by the restrictions of fallen time. Yet human personhood must begin in time. The human person is first called into personal being by the loving smile of the mother—indeed, all of nature requires the nurturing sympathy and initial call of maternal love. Persons do not begin in striving, but in wondrous receptivity. Whatever accidents or cruelties of perverse malice that later come and put in question the goodness of existence, primal development will not happen without the womb, without a nesting and a love that welcomes the newborn into existence. A feral child, bereft of human community, will not acquire proper language, will not be capable of initiating or sustaining truly human relations. The person, in short, is intrinsically and fundamentally a relational being. Relations are not “added on” to an initially separate “atomized self.” The whole modern conception is built on a failure of understanding or upon a lie.

Yet this is only an analogy of being. Analogy points towards a reality that outdistances our conceptual comprehension and our imaginative reach. Nonetheless, we are creatures “made for revelation.” We are the face of nature given lips to kiss the divine. Before the conatus essendi [the result of all our striving efforts], there is the passio essendi [our being as fundamentally gifted prior to our choices, actions, and determinations]. Before the call of the mother, there is the call of the Father. The call of the Father is for the Son—and all of creation participates in the Logos. The logoi of creation find their root in this eternal event. This is why the true name of everything is Christological. This is also why the person transcends the limits of egological construction. The uniqueness of the person, the singularity of an irreplaceable being—and I personally extend this to all being, the beasts, the plants, the granules of sand, though the realization of singularity finds its optimal expression in spiritual being—this “self” is simply the loving will of the Father that the other should be. To refuse to love this self is an act of arrogant ingratitude. It is only in acceptance of the gift of personhood that one is metaphysically capable of love."

--- Brian C. Moore