Our portion from Exodus this week parallels its companion in Kings perfectly. First, we learn of the resources we must bring to build the Tabernacle as well as the glorious details of its design, construction, and furnishing. Next, we learn of the manner by which Solomon much later acquires the needed resources and then constructs the extraordinary Temple in Jerusalem.
Since we no longer have either the physical Tabernacle or Temple, what, if any, meaning, do these words have for us in our own time?
We get a wonderful hint when God tells Solomon: “This Temple that you build – if you follow My decrees, perform My statutes, and observe all My commandments, to follow them, then will I establish My word with you” and “I shall dwell” among you.
On the surface, yes, God’s words relate directly to building and operating the Tabernacle and later the Temple. But I want to set out a broader and more universal view that what is intended here at a deeper level is that the Temple we are to build is a certain sort of life we are to construct and maintain. And, to the extent that that life is lived in accord with God’s ways, God dwells among us, true to the promises of our covenant.
So, in our time, the resources we use to “build the Temple” and the ways in which we manage them may relate to our involvement in our churches and synagogues. They also may extend outward to the broader spaces of our lives – in our friendships, our families, our communities, and our engagements in the world. Indeed, they may direct how we order the operation of our bodies through the proper support and functioning of our souls.
Remembering that God’s mission for us was always to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” doesn’t it also follow that the discussion we’re having here must ultimately take us from our inner selves out into the world?
What specific features do we learn in the text that are essential to the acts of building and operating the sacred precincts of our lives?
First, we bring “gifts” of our own resources to build our lives as well as “offerings” to sustain them. We invest of ourselves to assure their construction, their beauty, and their successful operation? And we do so with gratitude, with the hope of our elevation.
Second, we come with the fundamental desire to “draw near’ in closeness to God, as well as friends, family, and community.
Third, we build and display markers of meaning in our lives that we experience continually and that we associate with God’s power and saving hand. This is especially so with respect to our ancient memory of, and reliance on, God’s guiding words, light, and sustenance.
Fourth, we learn and feel reverence about our place in these sacred precincts, with a sense of purpose and energy.
Both texts teach us much about the nature and purpose of sacred space. Why do we go there? What do we find in drawing near to God there? And what do we carry away from there that informs our mission in the world?
An especially lovely answer comes from Psalm 48:
“We witnessed, O God, Your loving-kindness in the midst of Your temple.
Like Your name, O God, so Your praise – to the ends of the earth. With righteousness Your right hand is full.
Let Mount Zion rejoice, Let Judea’s towns exult because of Your judgment.
Go around Zion, encircle it.
Counts its towers.
Set your mind to its ramparts,
scale its bastions
to recount to the last generation.
For this is God, forevermore.
He will lead us forever.”