Tabernacles and Temples

Why was Solomon’s Temple dedicated during the Feast of Tabernacles?

I’ve read 2 Chronicles several times, and I may even have heard someone point this out before, but I didn’t realize the Temple dedication was set during this holy day festival until just last week. Maybe I was paying more attention this time when I made it to 2 Chronicles 5-7 while reading through the Old Testament.

One one level, this was simply a logical time for an event of this magnitude, since people would have been traveling to Jerusalem anyway to keep the Feast. But I’m also sure there’s a greater significance to this “coincidence.”

Tabernacles Overview

Lets take a quick look at what was going on during the Feast of Tabernacles, or “Sukkot.” This year, Tabernacles runs from October 9-16, which makes today the Sabbath during this Feast.  The Jewish name for this holy day comes from the fact that the Israelites were commanded to build sukkah (H5521), which basically means a temporary dwelling place. Specific examples of a sukkah include a lair for an animal, a hut, a booth, “an arbor made of interwoven leaves and branches, a tent, a house” (Zodhiates).

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it. (Lev. 23:33-36)

This is 15 days after the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) and five days after the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In those days, we’ve been reminded that the King is coming and we must be ready to meet Him, and we’ve been given the privilege to deepen our relationship with God by being reconciled to Him at the mercy seat. Now, we have another special appointment with God to learn more about Him and His plan through the Feast of Tabernacles.

Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:39-43)

After listing all the holy days in Leviticus 23, this is the only one that God elaborates on (in this chapter at least. The other days are mentioned again elsewhere in scripture, as is Tabernacles). Two key points emerge from both sets of instructions given in Leviticus 23. 1) Tabernacles is a Feast of rejoicing, and 2) Israel lived in temporary dwellings to remind them of their sojourning in and out of Egypt (Neh. 8:13-18).

Rejoicing

We started out talking about Solomon’s temple, so let’s head over to 2 Chronicles and see how that relates to Tabernacles.

So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished; and Solomon brought in the things which his father David had dedicated: the silver and the gold and all the furnishings. And he put them in the treasuries of the house of God. Now Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel, in Jerusalem, that they might bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord up from the City of David, which is Zion. Therefore all the men of Israel assembled with the king at the feast, which was in the seventh month. (2 Chr. 5:1-3)

This event was accompanied by “trumpeters and singers” who made “one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord” (2 Chr. 5:13). There was much rejoicing, as befitted such a landmark Feast of Tabernacles.

At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel. (2 Chr. 7:8-10)

God wants His people to be joyful. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). In the Greek, this word is chara (G5479), which means delight, joy, or rejoicing, and it is part of the same word-family as charis (G5485). Charis carries the idea of joy being “a direct result of God’s grace” (Zodhiates). The most common translation of that word is “grace,” but other translations include “gifts,” “favor,” “benefit” and “pleasure.”

Chara is the word used when James writes, “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Basically, someone with chara is so delighted by the fact that they’ve been chosen by God to be part of His family that the trials seem unimportant in comparison.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Paul offered us an example of finding joy in the worst of circumstances. No matter what we’re going through, God gives us the opportunity to have joy through His Spirit.

But what does all this have to do with Tabernacles or temple dedication? I’m so glad you asked.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)

During the Feast of Tabernacles, we usually focus on the fact that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13), as tied in with the Old Testament command that the children of Israel dwelt in temporary sukkah. But God doesn’t intend for us to remain homeless (John 14:2-3). We are strangers on the earth because we are not stranger to Him, and because He is making us His temple. And that is truly cause for rejoicing.

Temple Dwelling

The question of where God dwells was central to Solomon’s temple dedication. The temple was built as a house for God’s use, but Solomon was not so arrogant as to believe this house would be good enough for God to take up permanent residence.

The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever. … But will God indeed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You: that Your eyes may be open toward this temple day and night, toward the place where You said You would put Your name, that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. (2 Chr. 6:1-2, 18-20)

The Lord respected this prayer, filling the temple with His glory to the point that the priests couldn’t even go inside (2 Chr. 7:1-3). It was a very visible sign that God had indeed chosen to put His name in this place. It was not, however, God’s place of permanent residence, as Stephen brought up in the sermon before his death.

But Solomon built Him a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’ (Acts 7:47-50)

So where does God dwell? The heavens are an obvious answer, given what Stephen says here in Acts and what Solomon said in his prayer (2 Chr. 6:30, 33, 39). But God also has other residences, which are in some ways similar to a temporary sukkah. One was the tabernacle He commanded Moses to make, another Solomon’s temple, and still another the human body of Jesus Christ.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This word “dwell” is the Greek skenoo (G4637). Strong’s dictionary says it means “to reside (as God did in the Tabernacle of old, a symbol for protection and communion).” Etymologically, it is very closely related to the words skene (G4633) and skenos (G4636), which are both translated “tabernacle.”

Jesus was fully God, became fully human, died, and was raised to have the same glory He had with the Father “before the world was” (John 17:5). Just like every other human being, His physical body was a temporary dwelling place. In Christ’s case, this body let God tabernacle among men, and His return to eternal life gave us an example of what to expect when we also leave our tabernacles to live with God in the permanent residence He is setting up for His family.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor. 5:1)

The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that physical life is not a permanent residence. It’s the spiritual equivalent of living in a sukkah until we can move into a mansion. Our real home is with God as part of His family. Something else that reminds us of this is God’s indwelling presence. God doesn’t dwell, even temporarily, in a physical temple any more. He dwells in us, tabernacling with and inside His people until we reach the part of His plan when Christ returns and sets up a kingdom where all God’s family can be together as spirit beings.

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:16-18)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s