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.

 

 

 

Long Have I Desired To Look Upon the Kings of Old (a commentary review)

1 Kings: An EP Study Commentary by John A. Davies

“Fear not!” said a strange voice behind him. Frodo turned and saw Strider, and yet not Strider; for the weather-worn Ranger was no longer there. In the stern sat Aragorn son of Arathorn, proud and erect, guiding the boat with skilful strokes; his hood was cast back, and his dark hair was blowing in the wind, a light was in his eyes: a king returning from exile to his own land.

“Fear not!” he said. “Long have I desired to look upon the likenesses of Isildur and Anárion, my sires of old. Under their shadow Elessar, the Elfstone son of Arathorn of the house of Valandil Isildur’s son, heir of Elendil, has nought to dread!” [Fellowship of the Ring,

As  Aragorn  looks at the likeness of the ancient kings  in The Fellowship of the Ring, we get one of our first inklings that he is someone with a destiny. In the same way, when we revisit the record of the kings of Israel we discover a picture of clay-footed-kings and the God they served. Each of the kings pictured  failed to walk humbly with their God(consistently) and remain faithful to the covenant;  yet God was faithful to them, honoring his covenant with their ancestor David and calling all of Israel’s King’s to repentance.

The book of 1 Kings opens with the story of Israel’s third king, Solomon, when his father David was an old man. Solomon is crowned King to prevent his half brother’s attempt to take the throne and he quickly works to consolidate  power. Initially he enjoys God’s blessing on his reign. At his best Solomon was a type of ‘new Adam’ restoring God’s people to covenant faithfulness and blessing the whole earth; however, he had his shadow side and he led the nation into idolatry and taxed the nation heavily for the building of his own palace and reputation. When his son Rehoboam succedeed him, he did not alter his father’s policies and that caused eleven of the tribes to follow Jeraboam in the North instead(the kingdom of Israel). While Israel was wrested from Rehoboam’s grasp, for the sake of David, God kept a king on the throne in Jerusalem to rule over the tribe of Judah. When the book of 1 Kings ends, four kings after Solomon have sat on Judah’s throne and four different dynasties have ruled in Israel.

The Evangelical Press Study Commentary series purports to bring together some of the best biblical scholarship from a Reformed perspective to produce a commentary that is both comprehensive and practical.  They present a careful analysis of the biblical text and a simple application for daily life.  This is a commentary aimed at pastors, theologians and laypeople alike, which means them an ideal mid-level commentary. They delve into the depths of the passage while remaining accessible to the non-specialist.

If John Davies commentary on 1 Kings is representative of the series, than this commentary series is well worth it. Davies translation and verse by verse commentary is sensitive to literary structure, the grammar and the historical context of Kings. While many Kings commentaries from a generation ago concentrated on ‘the world behind the text’ (the community that produced the narrative), Davies offers a close reading of the text we have, attending to the nuances in the text. He explores where Hebrew language sheds light on the meaning of the narrative (though does not get unnecessarily mired in syntax). He  also provides an analysis of  the Ancient Near East and places the story of Israel’s kings within the wider story of the Canon (building on Deuteronomy and coming to fruition in the New Testament).  Having studied Kings at length in the past I was impressed with Davies insights and the way he picked on some of the subtleties  in the narrative.  For example, he critiques Solomon along the way demonstrating that chapter 11 is not a dramatic reversal of Solomon’s earlier character but we have had intimations of his failure in devotion along the way. Likewise he picks up on the ambiguities in the Elijah narrative and his slowness to anoint a successor as Yahweh commanded. Davies also provides key insight into the connection with worship, idolatry and political life in ancient Israel (i.e. Elijah’s slaughtering of 950 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, erode Israel’s alliance with Phoenecia, magnifying the crises that Ahab faces in1 Kings 20). There are some real gems in Davies comments which surprised and opened up new insights for me.

My one small disappointment with this commentary is that Davies introduction lasts about a page and a half. I appreciate fuller introductions from commentators which fill in some of the theology, structure and themes of the book. Granted the commentary itself will discuss the same information at length but a good introdcution gives you a starting point and a frame of reference for study. It isn’t as though Davies doesn’t have a wealth of information (the commentary is 464 pages)  but you will find it with in his comments not in the front matter of the books. This makes this book useful for verse by verse study or for examining a particular passage, but less helpful as a general reference.

This is a great commentary on 1 Kings and has whetted my appetite not only for what else this series of commentaries has to offer but for the completion of the story in 2 Kings. If you are studying, preaching or are  just shopping for a good commentary on 1 Kings, this is a great option. My go to commentator for Kings is Iain Provan’s (an Old Testament professor of mine) but Davies brings similar sensibility and insight. So gaze with Davies on the Kings of old and discover that despite their and our failure, the covenant God is faithful to his promise to us.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and to Evangelical Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.  No one from Middle Earth was harmed in writing this review.