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.

 

 

 

With Christ in the Tent of Meeting: a book review

Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J.V. Fesko

One of the most difficult passages for ordinary readers of the Bible is the last pages of Exodus which focus on the building of the Tabernacle.  Up until that point, the Bible has been mostly stories and while some of the laws given seem strange to modern ears, we can readily make adjustments as to how it applies to our lives. But of what import are lists of building materials? Or Priestly vestments? What does the building of the Tabernacle and the mode of worship in the desert have to teach us in our contemporary Western context?

J. V. Fesko, the academic dean and professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, has written a book which explores this portion of scripture, revealing how this wilderness tent and the practices associated with it pointed forward to the person and work of Christ.  Each of the chapters focuses on an aspect of the Tabernacle (the building, utensils, significance of various elements) and brings it into conversation with key New Testament passages which draw out their significance:

  • The building materials for the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9; 35:4-9) were given by the people as a voluntary offering. Fesko uses this talk both about the quality of our giving and the foundation we use to build our final temple on (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-16).
  • The significance of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9) is seen in that it prefigures our final atonement (through Christ’s cross) and represents God’s presence with his people (points forward to the Incarnation).
  • The Table and the show bread (Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16) pointed to God’s provision for his people  and can be connected with Christ’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the Lord’s Prayer (our daily bread) and the Lord’s supper.
  • The Lampstand and Oil (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-14) and the perpetual light it gave, points forward to Jesus the light of the world and the church.
  • The Tabernacle (Exodus 26: 1-37; 36:8-38) was the visble sign of God’s presence with Israel and the New Testament connects God’s indwelling presence with the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and God’s abiding presence with His people.
  • The Altar and the courtyard (Exodus 27:1-9; 38:1-7, 9-20) represents the place where sacrifices were made on behalf of Israel and point forward to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
  • The Priests garments (Exodus 28:1-43; 39:1-31) were endued with symbolic significance and pointed forward to Christ, our high priest. Likewise the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1-46) also would point forward to Christ’s ultimate expiation of our sin.
  • The Census Tax (Exodus 30:11-16) reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt. Fesko reminds us that when we take ‘a census’ of our own life, we should think of our unworthiness and Christ’s redemption of us.
  • The Bronze Basin (Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8) points forward to baptism and the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Oholiab and Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-11) were craftsmen gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building of his tabernacle. Fesko uses  their example to speak of  the future outpouring of Spiritual gifts to the church for service of the church and world, and God’s continual indwelling presence.
  • Finally, Fesko ends his reflection on the temple with a chapter on Sabbath (Exodus: 31:12018) and he reflects on the way in which trusting in Jesus is our entry into the Sabbath rest of God.

Fesko uses the New Testament to shed light on the Old. He takes his cue from Augustine who once wrote, ‘what is hidden in the Old is revealed in the New, and what is revealed in the New is hidden in the Old (133).’  Fesko reads the section on the Tabernacle through a Christocentric theological grid.  I appreciate this perspective and it made me think of the first time I read Hebrews after a fresh reading of the Pentateuch.  All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When Paul wrote those words, the New Testament was not canonized yet and the Bible of the early church was the Old Testament. Thus we need to learn to wrestle with passages like the building of the tabernacle (or genealogies) when we encounter them in our Bibles.

Unfortunately there are no footnotes and there is no bibliography in the book. Many readers will not miss them, but I like to know where an author has gleaned some of their ideas and who they are conversant with it. Fesko is not the first (or the last) to traverse this ground, and I want to know who he’s read. But these chapters first had life as sermons which Fesko preached at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Woodstock, Georgia)  when Fesko was pastor there.  So I am left guessing which commentators and scholars Fesko consulted in his pastor’s study.  I think Fesko has a lot of valuable things to say and makes sound theological judgments; however he offers few clues for those who would desire to dig deeper into the topic.

But Fesko wrote this book for those who find the treatment  of the Tabernacle  in Exodus boring and inaccessible. I think he does a great job and makes some good suggestions for how lay Christians can use this portion of scripture to deepen their appreciation for all that God in Christ has done on our behalf.   If  the tabernacle has always mystified you, Fesko will show you how to appropriate these texts in ways  that are worshipful and worthy of deeper reflection.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.