Review: God Dwells Among Us (Revisited)

God Dwells Among Us (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021 (Originally published in 2014).

Summary:A study of the theme of the temple from God’s garden temple in Eden to the New Jerusalem of Revelation, and the role of the people of God, his living temple, in extending the reach of God’s kingdom.

I discovered in logging this book in Goodreads and setting up this post that I read a different edition of this book in 2016 and posted a review of it previously on this blog. I’ve enjoyed the new Essential Studies in Biblical Theology series and have tried to review works in that series and had not realized that this work had been re-issued as part of this series. But it totally fits the series purpose to address broad themes in “the grand story line of the Bible.” The temple is clearly one of these, and building on the work of G. K. Beale, Beale and Mitchell Kim offer a survey of this theme and its practical implications. The book actually grows out of a preaching series by Kim drawing the arc between the Biblical development of this idea and the life of the church.

Rather than recapitulate the material covered in my previous review, since, as far as I can tell, this is basically the same book with a new cover and as part of a series. I will just touch on a few things that stood out to me in this reading of the work. One is that I’ve often thought of the discontinuity between Eden and the rest of history resulting from the fall. This work underscored the purpose of God to dwell among human beings, first materialized in the garden temple of Eden and intended to expand through the rest of creation. The wonder is that the fall, with its very profound impacts, did not thwart God’s intent to dwell deeply with his creatures, as he calls out Abraham, and works through this family to bless all the families of the earth.

I was also impressed with the work done on the pattern of the temple from the outer courts, the holy place, and the holy of holies and how this plays out in tabernacle, temple, and the church. One grasps the deep offense of Jesus when the outer court is turned into a marketplace when this was the place of approach, and as far as the Gentiles could come to pray. Also striking was the idea that for the church, the outer courts, the place of sacrifice is the place of our witness, our μάρτυρα (marturas) the word from which we get martyr. Through the suffering of the church in faithful witness, the nations come to God. Finally, one of the marvels of the new Jerusalem, the new garden-temple is that the outer courts and holy place are no longer. Holy God is amid his people without separations.

Witness is fueled by worship, our prayers, like incense rising, and God’s word like the bread of presence pointing to the one who is our living Bread. All of this flows out of being able to approach the living God through Christ, our great high priest. All of this occurs, no longer in a physical building, but amid a people, and we who are in Christ, are that people, we are that living temple, and in mission, we see that temple expand to encompass the whole creation and all the nations, fulfilling both the mandates of creation and the great commission. The two are really one.

It strikes me that reflecting on this theme of God’s presence among us is great comfort at a time when the American church, particularly white evangelicalism, has been rocked by scandal and apostasy, and many are deserting her. God’s purpose to dwell among his people and to expand that dwelling was not thwarted by the fall, by Israel’s unfaithfulness and exile, nor by the repeated failings of the church. We have failed but God will not fail. One of the encouragements I gain from this work is to face our failures but not wallow them, but rather to look up to the unfailing God who continues to be present and will not fail to build his world-encompassing temple.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Temple and the Tabernacle

temple-and-tabernacle

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!

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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.

Review: God Dwells Among Us

God Dwells Among Us

God Dwells Among Us, G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A study of the theology of the Eden-temple of creation as an expression of God’s purpose to have a dwelling place with humanity and the development of this theme throughout scripture, under-girding the mission of the church.

Good biblical theology works up from the data of particular books of scripture to develop themes that run through the whole of scripture. It helps us both hear the testimony of particular writers to a particular time, and the harmony of witness through time, and calls us to join the chorus with the worship and service of our lives. This book is good biblical theology that does all of these things.

The book arises from Mitchell Kim’s pastoral ministry, particularly a seven week sermon series based on the work of G.K. Beale in The Temple and the Church’s Mission in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Kim, with Beale’s co-authorship, expand this series into a survey of this theme suitable for an adult lay audience. They begin with the idea of the garden of Eden as God’s dwelling place with his image-bearers, and his intention that they would expand Eden to fill the whole earth through their offspring. Although the fall of the first couple means this purpose to extend the Eden-temple to the whole earth could not be fulfilled in the way God originally intended, we see this working out in the patriarchs with Noah once again being fruitful and multiplying after the flood, God dispersing the nations at Babel and the promise to Abraham and the response of Abraham and later Jacob in building altars throughout Canaan as types of “sanctuaries” as God begins to make a great nation.

After the deliverance of the nation from slavery in Egypt, God establishes a “tabernacle” in the wilderness, which Kim and Beale call the Eden dwelling place “remixed in the context of sin.” There is both the Holy of Holies, and provision for sin by which the people of God may approach and live in God’s Holy presence. The tabernacle, and the later temple image the cosmic temple, and the restoration of the temple, the future temple that will fill the earth.

The second Jerusalem temple never fulfills these purposes in itself, which only the coming of Jesus does; the temple that will be destroyed and raised up, signalling the coming of God’s new creation extending to the nations. This is accomplished in and through the church, the body of Christ and the temple of his Spirit, extending the new Eden-creation to the ends of the earth, even as it looks for the consummation of this purpose in the return of Jesus, establishing the new heavens and the new earth.

The penultimate chapter asks the telling question, “Why Haven’t I Seen This Before?” The authors cite four reasons. One is that very different cosmology of the biblical writers from our naturalistic cosmos disconnected from any spiritual realities. Second is that rarely is the Bible treated as a unity, a canonical whole. We look at particular books but rarely at the witness of the whole (and some who do only emphasize the discontinuities). Third is that we are unfamiliar with the use of typology. Finally, we think of “literal” fulfillment only in physical terms, when in scripture, the “true” temple is the heavenly one of which the earthly temple is only a shadow.

The final chapter returns to the idea of the mission of the church as those through whom the new creation Eden-temple is being extended to the ends of the earth. This is a call to sacrifice, and to ministry empowered by the word of God and prayer. It was here, even as I found myself saying “Amen” to these foundational aspects of the church’s life and witness, that I also found myself struggling with the very “spiritual” feel that seemed to ignore how the church’s social witness and care for creation also herald the coming Eden-temple of the new creation, portrayed in Revelation as a garden-city.

Aside from this quibble, I appreciated this book as a model of the kind of teaching that can, and I think, ought to be done in the setting of the church that helps people grasp the Big Story of which we are a part, and how we in fact have a part in advancing the plot that is life-affirming and embracing. Such teaching is rich fare that fuels both worship and work in a way that the “fast food” diets of many of our churches cannot sustain, as many of our most vibrant churches are learning.