The Place God Lives: a book review

The significance of temple and tabernacle cannot be understated. The theme runs right through the biblical story. It describes the place(s) where God dwells with his people. In The Temple and the Tabernacle: a Study of God’s Dwelling places from Genesis to Revelation, J. Daniel Hays traces the theme of God’s presence with His people from Creation (‘God’s garden temple’) to the New Heaven and New Earth of Revelation 21-22 (where God dwells with his people on earth as it is in heaven).

9780801016202Hays walks us through this material chronologically (though he saves Ezekiel’s prophetic temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 until his discussion of the eschatology in his ‘New Testament’ chapter). Hays notes God’s presence with (or absence from) His people throughout the biblical narrative. The Garden of Eden in Genesis 1-2 describes a ‘garden Temple’ where God dwells with his people. When Adam and Eve’s sin cause them to be evicted from the garden, they fell cut off from God.

Between humanity’s eviction  from the garden and the building of the tabernacle, God does sometimes meet with his people and promise to dwell with them (i.e. his Covenant with Abraham, meeting Moses at the burning bush and Israel at Sinai); however the tabernacle becomes a portable dwelling for God’s presence, so that God would be with his people all along the wilderness way. Hays describes the physical features of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant that dominate the latter half of  Exodus. He describes the architecture, design and significance of each item or tabernacle feature. The Israelite’s gave generously and willfully to construct the tabernacle and when it was finished, God’s presence fills the tabernacle(59). 

Hays chapter on Solomon’s temple describes a different dynamic entirely. He eschews a shallow surface reading of the Solomon story that treats him as a mostly good king who loses his way toward the end of his life. There are troubling aspects of Solomon’s life all along and Hays points out where this is evident in the construction of the Temple.

This is  evident when reading the construction of Solomon’s temple against the backdrop of the construction of the tabernacle as described in Exodus. Exodus had described the role of God in the construction of the tabernacle (68). Conversely, 1 Kings emphasizes the directives of Solomon and his craftsmen from Tyre rather than God’s role (73). In constructing the tabernacle, the Israelites gave freely and participated willingly in the construction; but Solomon conscripts 30,000 Israelites into slavery, plus 150,000 other workers whose ethnicity is not specified (77-78).  In the Exodus, much is made of God’s selection and Spirit’s infilling of Bezalel son of Uri, and the appointment of Oholiab son of Ahisamak and other skilled workers (79-80); yet Solomon appoints a foreigner, Huram of Tyre, based on his reputation (constructing other temples?)(81). These differences are startling. Furthermore, Hays points out other differences between Solomon and his fore-bearers which show his drift (use of ‘the cedars of Lebanon’ as building material, reference to Canaanite months, possible Canaanite influence in the depiction of the temple Cherubim, etc). God’s presence fills the temple, but God’s endorsement of Solomon is merely conditional and tentative (101).

Solomon’s temple is the last structure that God’s glory fills. The rest of the book of Kings tells the story of this temple’s downfall and destruction. Ezekiel describes the departure of God’s presence from the temple (Ezekiel 8-11) before the Babylonian destruction. Ezra and Haggai describes the rebuilding of the temple, but God does not take up residence there (130-31).  Nor does God indwell Herod’s temple. The renewal of God’s presence with his people comes with Jesus who ‘tabernacles with his people’ (John 1:14) and ultimately the eschatological vision of Revelation’s closing chapters.Hays conclusion points us towards the implication of his study on the Temple/tabernacle for our worship and our focus on God’s indwelling presence.

Hays has done a wonderful job laying out the history of temple and tabernacle and their theological significance. With glossy pages, charts, photographs and diagrams, this book is beautiful as well as informative. It is nice that a book  about the temple and tabernacle has a pleasing aesthetic (though a hardcover might have been nice).

Hays offers a d literary sensitive reading of the  tabernacle/temple narratives and clearly  keeps abreast of scholarly discussions; however he does occasionally reference other interpretations (scholarly or otherwise) opaquely. For example,  he acknowledges that the ancient tabernacle points forward to Christ but faults “various writers and speakers” who “simply let their imaginations run free and look for any kind of similarity between even the smallest details of the tabernacle and Christ”(61). He gives  examples of some writers pointing to a fanciful and spiritual significance of the tabernacle tent pegs (61-62), but he leaves us guessing as to which writers or speakers interpretation he is referencing. This book is not without footnotes, but here is one place where they are sorely lacking.

Of course not every reader will want to track down these arguments (I may be odd that way). Hays has done the church a tremendous service in helping us recapture the significance of temple and tabernacle: God’s dwelling place with his people. I give this book an enthusiastic four stars.

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

 

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