In the Old Testament, there are two key buildings that, for Israel, shelter the presence of God. The Tabernacle and the several iterations of the Temple are both viewed by Israel as the location where God’s presence remains. It is also where mankind can meet with God.
By taking a look at how God met with people in the Old Testament, we can see the important role the Temple had concerning God’s presence.
Before the Tabernacle
Before the Tabernacle, God could and would meet with individuals. These locations—like the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18), Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), and Bethel (Genesis 28)—were temporary sites, though they became viewed as holy sanctuaries because God had been there. The only seemingly permanent location where God would meet mankind was on Sinai; Moses met God there in Exodus 3, and he later returned with the nation in Exodus 19.
While at Sinai, God gives Moses the plans to build a Tabernacle. This is to become a portable sanctuary and worship center for Israel, where they can go and perform their newly-prescribed sacrifices. More importantly, the Tabernacle exists to serve as a dwelling place for God in the midst of Israel’s camp (Exodus 25:8).
In Exodus 25–31, God gives Moses specific instructions on how to build every aspect of the Tabernacle. When looked at a whole, these building plans describe a tent filled with opulence—thanks to the gold of Egypt—and dedicated to the worship of God. Another role of the Tabernacle is to serve as a reminder to Israel: a reminder of God’s deliverance (through the Ark of the Covenant), a reminder of God’s holiness (through the Holy of Holies), and a reminder of man’s sinfulness (through the altar in the outer court).
Years later, after David had conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel, his son Solomon constructed a permanent Temple to the Lord. This replaced the aging Tabernacle, but still continued the primary purposes and activities of the tent. Described in 1 Kings 5–8, Solomon’s Temple was massive and ornate. At the dedication to the Temple, Solomon acknowledge the futile thinking that this Temple could ever house the entirety of God’s presence (1 Kings 8:27). Yet God did keep His presence in the Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11) so that He could dwell in the midst of Israel.
But God’s presence in the Temple was short-lived. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes a vision of the glory of God leaving the Temple. God’s presence, which had brilliantly appeared in the Temple in 1 Kings 8, was now leaving. This was a result of the nation and her leaders flirting with idolatry and following the gods of other nations. This also foretold the destruction of the Temple by Babylon in 587 BC.
After the Exile in Babylon, some of those returning under the leadership of Ezra sought to rebuild the Temple. This reconstruction was designed to restore the altar and to commence celebrating the Jewish festivals. Curiously, there is no mention of the presence of God returning to Ezra’s rebuilt Temple. This new Temple existed to reestablish the sacrificial system, but not for God do dwell in the midst of the people.
In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle/Temple was the location where mankind would meet with God. While these locations would be sacred, God had plenty of regulations in place in order to atone for and cover mankind’s sins. Still, these regulations limited the amount of interaction man could have with God. This, of course, would all change in the New Testament with a small-town teacher begins speaking at the Temple.Tweet