Ezekiel 43: Draw a picture…
As a casual reader, one of the bewildering portions of Ezekiel has been, to me, all the measuring that takes place in the final chapters of the book. In his vision Ezekiel crawls all over the Temple measuring every nook and cranny, carefully taking note of every inch. If I thought about it at all I thought maybe these were the plans for the promised rebuilding of the Temple. However, I don’t think that’s the actual intent. The Lord tells Ezekiel, “Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent.” Concerning the Temple the prophet is told, “Everything around it becomes holy ground.” God had called the people of Israel to be his own, holy nation. All the laws, rituals, and even the construction of the Temple had the purpose of helping to bring that to pass. In this case Ezekiel is to rediscover the power of the architecture of that place of worship. Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple is to remind his people of how far they’ve fallen from the holiness to which they were called. It’s also intended to give them hope and call them back to God. Ezekiel’s going to go right on with his vision, talking about the rituals and the work of the priests and the feasts, all with that same intent. However, I’m still thinking about the purpose of sacred space. The Temple wasn’t just built to be a functional place of worship. It was to call people to holiness — a place set apart for the worship of a God set apart by a people set apart. The layout and the furnishings weren’t just for practical use. Just looking at the building was to create longing for holiness. I don’t know that I’m deep enough to fully grasp this, but I’m reminded today that as I read of Ezekiel with his tape measure that there’s more going on than just the drawing of blueprints.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those gifted in the design of buildings set apart for the purpose of worship.
God and construction projects
Ezra 6: …you are to help the leaders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that Temple of God.
Orders to stop rebuilding the Temple brought the project to a halt for about 3 years. In time, two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, began to urge the people to get back to work. Now, the precise chronology of the letters and which king wrote what is a bit muddy, but that doesn’t diminish the actual story here. First, the king receives a letter that causes him to issue a stop order to the Jews who are rebuilding the Temple. Then, upon the urging of the prophets, the work is started again. The regional governor writes to the king to report what’s happening, and, upon review, the king finds that years earlier they had not only been given permission to rebuild, but were ordered to do so. He responds by directing the governor to allow the work to continue, and beyond that, to assist in any way he’s asked to. The temporary halt to the program actually results in the full support of the current king and speeds up the process. Even though there’s a bit of a mystery in these passages about who is king when there’s a clear message that God works even through what we see to be road blocks to our obedience to his will. This is a difficult lesson for us to learn, as we want green lights all the way before we even start. It’s hard to understand how God’s “go” and how the on- the-ground circumstances that force a “stop” can be working together, but, sometimes, that’s just how it is.
Take Away: The Lord works through circumstances beyond our control to accomplish his purposes.
God and “good old boy” politics
Ezra 5: Who issued you a permit to rebuild this Temple and restore it to use?
Years ago our small south Texas congregation was preparing for a building project. For a larger church, this would have been a drop in the bucket, but for us, it was a big deal. One key element was that we needed a city code variance to build a few feet closer to the street than was normally allowed. The whole project depended on that variance. We went to the city planning commission and presented our case. They took it under advisement and then turned us down. This put our project back to stage zero. Disappointed, we went back to the drawing board. A couple of weeks later I noted that the small grocery store across the street from our church was getting ready to do some remodeling. It just so happened that they needed (you guessed it) a zoning variance that was almost exactly the same as the one we had had rejected. No doubt, small town politics had a hand in it and their variance was approved. We went back to the city and asked to be put on the agenda for the next meeting. When our turn came, one of the members asked, in a perplexed voice, “Isn’t this the exact same plans that we turned down a few weeks ago? What makes you think we’ll accept them now?” I patiently replied, “We think you should reconsider in light of your giving the grocery store next door to us a variance to do the exact same thing.” There was a moment as the facts of the matter became apparent to the commission, then one of them said, “I think we should give the church its building permit.” Isn’t it interesting how the Lord can navigate through small town politics? In light of the passage before us, we see that he’s just as good in working through big government. Never count God out of the equation.
Take Away: The Lord can handle building permits, city ordinances, and such.
2Kings 12: Why haven’t you renovated this sorry-looking Temple?
The sample we’re given of Joash’s leadership of Judah is his faithfulness to repair the Temple of God. Any building will deteriorate if it is not cared for and Joash realizes that the Temple is overdue for some serious work. He orders the priests who serve there to use offerings for that purpose, but it never happens. Instead of being used on the building, the money is absorbed in the everyday operations at the Temple. When Joash sees this, he changes tactics and creates a system by which money can be given for this specific purpose. The people respond and during his reign Joash sees the Temple restored to much of its former glory. So what do I see in this incident? First, I’m reminded that the building where worship takes place needs regular attention and that the Lord gifts some people for this task. The church needs to recognize that and both finance and empower these people for their work. Second, I see that without leadership things gradually fall apart. In this case, not only is the building deteriorating, but the plans for financing the renovations also come apart without Joash’s leadership. It isn’t enough for him to have the vision and then put a plan together. He has to be sure that the plan continues to completion. Third, I see that the best way to finance such an operation is with money specifically given for that purpose. The expenses of the Temple continue even through the building project so the money has to be given above the regular offerings. Finally, I see that people are willing to give to such a project. People don’t have to be brow beat to give if they see the need and that something is really happening. Clearly, these are good principles for today even as they were good so long ago.
Take Away: Leadership not only provides vision and plans. It also stays engaged as the vision is made reality.
1Kings 9: Everything that had to do with The Temple he did generously and well; he didn’t skimp.
I know there are huge differences between our church buildings and the Temple and I’m not getting ready to make an argument for the construction of large, extravagant places of worship. Still, Solomon’s commitment to the Temple impresses me. He takes no shortcuts in anything he does in relation to the Temple. While I have great respect for the house church movement, I also believe that there’s a desire within human beings to have sacred space, places set aside for the express purpose of worship. I think that the place where we worship should be clean and uncluttered. There should be evidence of loving attention to detail and, generally speaking, there should be symbols of our faith. On one hand, I know worship can take place in other settings. On the other hand, though, there’s a feeling of “rightness” when worship is done in a place set aside for that purpose. Note that these attributes can be said of a plain Quaker meeting house or a mega-church with a large campus. Solomon’s commitment to God is reflected in his commitment to the place where God is worshipped. I think this is a reasonable concern today.
Take Away: The place where I often meet the Lord becomes for me, sacred space.