“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” 2 Kings 8:27
There’s a lot of detail in the Bible as to how the temple was to be constructed. Yet despite all the time and effort that went into God’s directions for its development, Solomon acknowledges that God doesn’t dwell in human temples. Constable in his Commentary comments, “Solomon did not confuse the symbols of God’s Presence with God Himself.” This leaves us wondering why God directed the temple to be built.
The desire for a temple started with David, not God. He wanted to build God a temple to house the ark of the covenant which was in a tent at this time. David’s motives were pure, to honour God by building a permanent structure. David’s cultural setting probably influenced his desire since the surrounding nations had temples for their idols.
Even though God preferred to have a tent (Acts 15:16), he allowed David to organise the building of a temple and Solomon to complete the work. God was able to use this physical structure to teach his people spiritual lessons about kingdom living and the coming Messianic reign.
The temple was symbolic of God’s abiding presence with his people but over time, it became synonymous with God. Consequently, the people felt abandoned when it was destroyed and they were taken into exile.
This is a danger for us today. We can become so impressed with the symbols, we forget their purpose. As we partake in Christian ceremonies we remind ourselves that the symbols of God’s presence are simply symbols, and not God himself and if necessary, we can worship God without them.