Monday, February 3, 2014


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A few days ago I was reading Ezekiel and came to chapter 40 which begins a precise description of the construction of what is known as the Third Temple (the first two were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans). Like many others before me, I have read these lists of measurements and wondered what inspiration and wisdom I can draw from them. I am not in the construction business so there seems to be no obvious practical application. However, there is a lot to glean from these chapters which itemize detailed dimensions of walls, courtyards, and porches. One of the clues to the richness of the temple instructions can be found in chapter 43.

Here we read: "Son of man, tell the people of Israel all about the Temple so they'll be dismayed by their wayward lives. Get them to go over the layout. That will bring them up short. Show them the whole plan of the Temple, its ins and outs, the proportions, the regulations, and the laws. Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent. This is the law of the Temple: As it radiates from the top of the mountain, everything around it becomes holy ground. Yes, this is the law, the meaning, of the Temple." (Ezekiel 43:10-12, The Message).

Eugene Peterson's interpretation draws attention to a key element which can sometimes get lost in all the measuring: this temple complex is to radiate the glory of God. When we keep this is mind, it is not difficult to find several insights from the architectural instructions. Here are a few that I discovered. Perhaps you can find others.

Big Picture: The temple is to be seen as a whole because its meaning and intent become clearer when one takes a step back and looks at the complete design. The temple radiates the glory of God and is meant to draw people in, to call them to meet with God. The temple represents an invitation to partake in divine holiness for everything that God touches becomes holy. The mountain is holy, the ground is holy, the temple is holy, the people who enter into it become holy, all because they come into contact with God. "Come, be my holy people," calls the God of the temple. "Come, shine with my radiance, be cleansed by my righteousness, participate in my holiness," calls the architect of salvation.

Transformation: One of the intended results of looking at the construction of the temple is repentance. This means that when we gaze at it, ponder it, or walk into it, we are experiencing something which reflects the holiness of God. As a result, we realize our lack of righteousness, our lack of love, our lack of healthy relationships, and our lack of a cohesive life. That's a good thing. The temple confronts us with the presence of God and shows us where we need to be transformed.
Value of Life: The presence of animal sacrifice tells us a few things. First, life is valuable to God. The spilling of blood in the temple was never done lightly; these sacrifices reflected the damaging effects of rejecting God by not living a loving and generous life. Life bleeds every time we sin. It was a merciful gesture on God's part to illustrate the great cost of pride, hatred, greed, jealousy, and lust through the blood of animals instead of letting the lifeblood drain completely out of humanity. In a world where people were bent on destroying each other, the temple stood as a reminder that life is costly, life is valuable, and most importantly, life can be redeemed. A second observation is found in a cultural contrast. One must remember that the directives and actions of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible were often meant to differentiate Yahweh from the pagan deities worshiped in the culture at the time. In contrast to human sacrifices which were present in some of the other religions, Yahweh never demanded it (see the story of Abraham and Isaac as a prime example of this). The temple tells us that God values life and protects it.

Precision: Take a look around you. Perhaps you see trees, sky, and flowers. If you are in a wintery climate like myself, take in the snow-covered ground and wispy clouds. If you are inside, cast a glance at the dog chewing on your furniture or the cat lying on your bed or the fly crawling on your window. Each of these confirms that the Creator of the universe is meticulous and precise. The largest bodies (planets) as well as the smallest ones (microbes) contain astonishing wonders that we are still discovering. The temple reflects some of this same precision and attention to detail: in creation, not one thing is wasted. We see example after example of a perfect marriage between functionality and beauty. One major difference, however, is that the temple was to be a cooperative creation between God and humans. We were to have a hand in creating a holy place, a beautiful place, a place where God and his creation unite in harmony and love. How cool is that?

So when the nitty, gritty details of life seem to bog you down, when you wonder why the small things take up so much of your time when they matter so little in the grand scheme of things, when you are knee-deep in measurements, number-crunching, or cutting an extra millimeter off that piece of wood to make it fit, remember the temple. And rejoice in the minutiae.

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