Summary: The celebration of the finishing of the Temple that will be the focus of the nation’s worship.
We were living in Canberra in 1988 when the new Parliament house was opened. What an occasion that was! The Queen was there to open the building. People came to Canberra from all over Australia. There was a huge march and rally by Christians from all over the country who came to march around Parliament House and pray for the government of our country. The highlight for Di and me was when our daughter Katherine walked out from the crowd to give the Queen a rose that some friends who were staying with us had given her and the Queen actually stopped and talked to her.
Well, today we’re thinking about another great occasion: the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem; as Bill pointed out last week, not a particularly large building; nothing by comparison with our Parliament house, but the thing is, its significance derived not from its size but from what it represented. The Temple was the sign that God was dwelling in the midst of his people. Up until then the presence of God had been represented by the Ark of the Covenant which had been housed in a tent. But now Solomon had built this permanent structure as a focus of the nation’s worship of the living God.
And look how they celebrate. First the whole nation assembles in Jerusalem, around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the feast that recalled how Israel had wandered for forty years in the desert. Perhaps they chose this festival because now the period of wandering is over. Now they’ve come into God’s rest. The land is theirs and will remain theirs as long as they remain faithful to God.
As they gather, the elders and priests come bringing the Ark with them, along with all the holy vessels from the Tabernacle. And they begin to sacrifice. They sacrifice so many animals they can’t be counted. Well I guess there’s always an accountant or two hanging around, because later in the passage we’re told there were 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats sacrificed by the time the celebrations were over.
They take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctuary and suddenly God appears. Well, he doesn’t actually appear does he? But there’s no doubt that he’s there. A thick cloud comes down and fills the temple as a sign that God is there. So God’s presence can be seen, yet at the same time the face of God is hidden.
Do you see what we discover here about God? God is a God who graciously reveals himself to human beings, yet he is always hidden from us; we can never fully comprehend him. Now we see in a mirror, dimly; not until the last day will we see him face-to-face.
And look at v9 where the Ark is mentioned. The Ark represents the presence of God, but do you see what’s inside it? All it contains, we’re told, are the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, or Sinai. What were these two tablets of Stone and why are they mentioned? They were the tablets that contained the ten commandments.
Again, God is a God who reveals himself to us by letting us know what his will for us is. Do you know what God’s will for your life is? Too often today we interpret that question as referring to the specific day to day circumstances of our life. Should I catch the train or the bus? Should I go out with that person or the next? Should I study economics or engineering? Should I move house or stay where I am? But in fact can I suggest that God is far less worried about whether we study economics or engineering than we are. He’s much more interested in whether we live lives that are modeled on his character; whether we lie or steal, commit adultery, kill, keep the Sabbath holy, worship other Gods, make idols for ourselves. The commandments written on those stone tablets make it crystal clear how we can model his character, live according to his will.
So the cloud points to God’s obscurity, his mystery, while the Ark points to his clarity.
But then Solomon stands to pray and look at what he prays. He says “23O 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, 24the 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.”
He praises God because there is no God like our God. God is incomparable. But can you see how he’s incomparable? Not because he’s bigger and better than the rest. You might conclude that after you read about Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel in a few month’s time. But no. Not because of his great power. Not even because he’s the one who created the world and all that’s in it.