The Temple and the Tabernacle, J. Daniel Hays. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.
Summary: An exploration of God’s dwelling places as described throughout the Bible from Eden to tabernacle, to the first and second temples, the question of Ezekiel’s temple, and the temple in John’s Revelation.
For many of us, reading the details of the layout and construction of the tabernacle, or the descriptions of the building of Solomon’s temple was “fly over” country. In addition, it all seems from another time, foreign to our own experiences of worship. This book was a refreshing beam of light on material I’ve neglected, that in fact is quite important to the story of not only Jewish, but Christian faith. It brought alive the significance of ‘tabernacle’ and ‘temple’ as dwelling places where God encounters and relates to his people and also the physical construction, and layout of the successive structures in Israel’s history where they hoped to encounter the living God. Not only that, the clear verbal description is accompanied by lavish illustrations printed on high quality paper, making this book a delight to handle, to look at, and to read.
Hays begins with an overview, looking at the Hebrew and Greek words used for tabernacle and temple, and noting how these all have in common the idea of a dwelling place, whether a movable tent or a royal palace. He surveys the successive places that served this role in scripture beginning with the garden temple of Genesis, following John Walton and others, noting the themes of the tree of life, a river flowing from the garden and gold and precious stones, that will turn up in later accounts. He then turns to the ark and tabernacle of the exodus, considering each object and its significance, and the overall layout of the tabernacle, emphasizing as it does the holiness of God.
Hays brings out as well as any I’ve read the ambivalence of the accounts of the temple of Solomon. He contrasts this with the tabernacle construction, noting that the tabernacle, in all its detail was built according to God’s command. Neither the temple itself, nor its construction details were commanded. Instead of voluntary and enthusiastic work by Jewish craftsmen, foreigners and conscript labor build Solomon’s temple. And while God initially shows favor upon Solomon, as Solomon disobeys God in multiplying wives, chariots, and gods, God turns from him. A sorry story indeed, for it ends in the sacking and destruction of this temple and the loss of the ark.
He then considers the post-exilic temple, and particularly Herod’s reconstruction of that temple. Great attention is focused on the latter, and Hays helped us see not only that this was indeed an incredible sight for the disciples of Jesus, but also for anyone in the Roman empire, as the greatest of the four temples Herod built, and one of the greatest construction feats of the Roman empire. He includes diagrams showing the locations where various incidents in the gospels and Acts occur. Yet in 70 AD, this structure was razed, with only portions of the foundations, notably the Western (Wailing) Wall remaining.
Yet the truth was that God never visibly showed his presence in this temple. God’s dwelling among his people was fulfilled in Christ, whose death opens the way to relationship with the Holy God, symbolized in the rent curtain in the temple. In the heavenly city of Revelation 22, there is no temple, for God and the Lamb are the temple. And the truth is the church, the people of God are a temple, a dwelling place for the Spirit of God upon earth. Thus, Hays does not think in terms of a literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple, but rather sees this fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.
I thought this book was a great example of biblical theology written in service of the people of God. It is rooted in careful scholarship, yet in writing and illustration helps any thoughtful lay person grasp the wonderful truth of how it can be that a holy God dwells with his people, and how Christ fulfills what the tabernacle foreshadowed nearly a millenium and a half earlier. The careful reader will be rewarded with an enriched understanding of one of the great themes that literally runs from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and taking it to heart will find themselves worshiping the Holy God, who incredibly has chosen to dwell with such as us!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.