When we moved to Tennessee a few years back, my wife and I searched and searched for our dream home. You know the one—the white farmhouse on a couple of acres, rolling hills and trees all around. The kitchen is amazing, perfect for entertaining. There’s a quiet room above the garage where I can write whenever inspiration strikes. And there’s plenty of room for the kids to play in the yard.
We didn’t find that house, not with our budget anyway. What we found was something that would work, but it was far from our forever home, the one we want our children to grow up in, the one we want to grow old in, the one we want our future grandkids to visit at Christmas. It’s a good house, and we’re thankful for it, but we can still see that farmhouse in the distance if we squint hard enough.
Now, imagine you’re building a house for God, and money is no object. You literally have the resources of an entire nation at your disposal. Then what would you build? If you’re Solomon, you build the temple described in today’s reading. While many of the details may not mean much to us today, it’s clear that the finest materials were used and nothing was overlooked. It must have been beautiful. God was certainly pleased with Solomon’s efforts: “As for this temple you are building—if you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep all my commands by walking in them, I will fulfill my promise to you, which I made to your father David. I will dwell among the Israelites and not abandon my people Israel” (1 Kings 6:12–13).
As glorious as the Bible tells us Solomon’s temple was, there’s one incredible thing that most readers miss: in many ways, it was a lot like other temples of the ancient world. Sure, there were some unique features in the house Solomon built for the Lord, and there was, of course, no idol in the most holy place, as there would have been in the temple’s pagan counterparts. Still, the basic design would have been familiar to people near and far.
When I first discovered this truth, it was jarring. I wanted everything about God’s temple to be utterly unique, for there is no god like Him, not by a long shot. But then I realized what God was really saying to His people in the design of His house. He was speaking to them in a language they could understand. He was using the culture and conventions of the day to draw near to His people. The truth is, God didn’t need a temple to dwell among His people. But He chose to have Solomon build Him a house, because a temple in Jerusalem—a beautiful one at that—would be a way for Israel and all the people of the ancient Near East to recognize that He was there among them.
It’s not unlike how God put on flesh and became a man, wearing the culture and conventions of the day, speaking the language, and getting His hands dirty caring for people who needed a physical touch. We cannot ascend to God—not without Christ—so God bends low to be near us. That’s what the temple was all about, and it pointed ahead to the incarnation of the Son of God, and further still to the gift of the Holy Spirit, who has made His people into a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), one more precious than anything Solomon could have constructed.
Written by John Greco