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The Temple and the Tabernacle

To be honest I think what initially attracted me to J. Daniel Hays’ The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation was the fact that it boasts over 60 full colour images in its almost 200 pages. Many pages of Scripture are filled with events taking place in or around a tabernacle or temple, and I was hoping to get a better handle on the particulars of each of these structures which played such a large role in the life of God’s people. Hays delivers an accessible, enjoyable survey of how these structures came to be, but he also demonstrates how the prominent biblical motif of “temple” weaves its way through Scripture from Genesis to Jesus, and the implications for the people of God today.

Hays begins with Eden as the Garden Temple where God dwells and relates to the people he created (this is the underlying reality of the later tabernacle and temple structures), and he shows 9 ways in which this place serves as the divinely constructed prototype for the later tabernacle that Moses built, and the temples of both King Solomon and Herod the Great. What I appreciate most about Hays’ work is his detailed summaries of the construction projects, including the extravagant furnishings with their function and symbolism. He places each of these structures (and their contents) in their historical and theological contexts, and follows Scripture’s naturally growing anticipation as he discusses the role that all these things play in foreshadowing greater future realities.

After admiring the significance of Eden, Moses’ tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the postexilic rebuilding events recorded by Ezra and Haggai, and finally the temple of Herod the Great, we find ourselves entering the New Testament period. Here we come to learn that it’s been 400+ years since the presence of God has chosen to return to any temple, that is until Jesus Christ walks in through its gates. Hays brings together every untied thread; using Scripture to show how the temple, the sacrifice, the priesthood, the ark, and the very temple itself all come to find their fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. After centuries of carrying out the blood-soaked requirements of the old covenant, and witnessing the constant rebellion and sin of God’s chosen people, Hays writes

“God is very clear throughout the Old Testament about the righteousness demanded by his holiness. That is, the whole point of the stepped gradations of holiness in the tabernacle and temple (moving from the courtyard to the holy place to the most holy place) is to stress that the powerful and dangerous holiness surrounding God’s presence cannot allow sinful or unclean people into his presence.
…But with the death and resurrection of Christ, all of this changes dramatically.”

After a detailed examination of the second temple in the time of the gospels and the book of Acts, The Temple and the Tabernacle finally reaches the glorious event that all Scripture has been anticipating for hundreds of years: the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s presence once again has come to dwell with his people, and through the sending of the Holy Spirit God now dwells in the newly constituted temple – his people. It is within the context of the sweeping arc of all salvation history that Hays has brought his readers on a journey from the garden temple at creation to the arrival of the Creator, and now he looks forward to the fullness of God’s presence in the ultimate climactic temple city of Revelation 21-22.

As the people of God today, we understand that the beauty of these remarkable structures does not lie in their being impressive feats of architecture, nor in the tons of precious resources that went into their construction. Rather, it is that God was present in them, relating to his people who came to worship him. Through them we are reminded of the immense privilege that Paul reminds us of in 1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

May we be humbled and awed as we consider that because of Jesus’ removal of the multiple layers of separation (courtyard, holy place, most holy place) the God who dwelt in unapproachable glory in the heart of the temple now chooses to dwell in our hearts. The Temple and The Tabernacle will leave you not only with a greater understanding of the reason for these old covenant structures and a greater appreciation for the unity of Scripture, but most importantly you’ll add meaning and depth to your own Christian journey by coming to see the daily joy and responsibility of living as those in whom this holy God has chosen to dwell.

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Published in2017 Reading ChallengeBook Reviews