Wednesday, December 23, 2009

God's Glory in His Temple: And We Saw His Glory

As we are seeking to be properly affected by the truth that John 1:14 teaches us about Christmas, we are considering three key words in that verse which give us a depth of insight into the significance of the incarnation. The first key word was dwelt.

The second key word that gives us worship-inspiring insight into the significance of the incarnation is glory. After John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he says, “And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And so having seen how the glory of God was such a big part of His dwelling with His people in the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-38), we now see how “and He dwelt among us,” fits with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (1) dwelling place of God, and (2) His glory that fills that place.

In fact, you remember that I mentioned that the Hebrew word for "to dwell" is shākan. Well does that sound like any other popular Hebrew word you might know? How about shekinah? That's the old Jewish word for the glory of God. Shākan and shekinah also have those same consonants. They come from the same root.

And what that teaches us is the same thing John is teaching us by adding on the rest of this verse: that the dwelling of God is absolutely inseparable from the glory of God. In Exodus 40 when the tabernacle is completed, Yahweh’s glory descends and fills the tabernacle to signify that He will dwell there.

The Journey of the Glory of Yahweh in the Tabernacle

And so the glory of Yahweh was with Israel in the tabernacle – a cloud by day and a fire by night (Ex 40:38). And it led them in all their journeys through the wilderness and into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land which He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give to their descendants. And whenever they would move, they would take down the Tabernacle, and then when they would settle in another place they would set up the Tabernacle (Ex 40:37).

And that’s the way it went for over 450 years, even after they entered the land of Canaan. And so if we fast-forward about 450 years from Exodus 40 and the journey of the glory of God with Israel in the wilderness, we arrive at 1 Kings 8.

The Glory Fills the Temple

By this time the construction of Solomon’s temple has been completed. And the temple is just magnificent. It was twice the size of the tabernacle, which itself was impressive. Not including the court, the temple itself was 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high. And on the inside everything in it was overlaid with gold. And so as construction is finished, the priests and the Levites bring the Ark of the Covenant into the holy of holies, verses 4 through 6, and station the ark under the wings of two massive 15-foot golden cherubim.

Then, 1 Kings 8:9-11 says, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb [about 500 years earlier], where Yahweh made a covenant with the sons of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh.

Sound familiar?

This is exactly what happened in Exodus 40 at the completion of the tabernacle. Yahweh is now declaring that He will no longer dwell in the tabernacle, but He will be with His people in this temple. And His glory descends and takes up residence. The parallel account in 2 Chronicles 7:3 adds, “All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of Yahweh upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to Yahweh, saying, ‘Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindess is everlasting.’

Yahweh’s glory settles in His temple. He dwells there among His people.

The Glory Departs from the Temple

Until the tragedy of the Babylonian exile.

Between the time of the completion of Solomon’s temple and the final king of Judah, over 350 years had passed. The glorious united monarchy of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms: Israel the northern, and Judah the southern. And because of the idolatry and apostasy of the northern kingdom Yahweh had given them into the hands of the Assyrians in 721 BC.

And in 592 BC Judah was facing the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians, because of their great wickedness. 2 Chronicles 36 sets the context. Judah is under their final king, Zedekiah. They are only six years away from the Babylonian captivity.

2 Chronicles 36:11-14 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of Yahweh his God; he did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for Yahweh. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to Yahweh God of Israel. Furthermore, all the officials of the priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of Yahweh which He had sanctified in Jerusalem.

Take notice of that. They defiled the temple of Yahweh, where His name dwelt, where His glory dwelt. And then, listen to the sadness in the next two verses:

2 Chronicles 36:15-16 Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of Yahweh arose against His people, until there was no remedy.

He did everything He could! But the people just preferred their idols.

The prophet Ezekiel prophesies during this time. And it is his vision that gives most interesting insight into what’s happening at the time of the exile. In Ezekiel 8 [click here], we see the great and wicked abominations of the sons of Israel (Ezek 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 17):

  • The idol of jealousy in the inner court (Ezek 8:3, 5)
  • Graven images (cf. Ex 20:4-5) of every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things (Ezek 8:10, 12)
  • The offering of strange incense (Ezek 8:11; cf. Ex 30:9)
  • Women weeping for Tammuz, a god of the Phoenicians (Ezek 8:14)
  • Men with their backs to the temple, worshiping the sun (Ezek 8:16)

These abominations, this mass idolatry, is happening in the dwelling place of Yahweh! In the place where His glory dwells! In the place where He condescends and meets Israel and provides atonement for their sin!

And so Yahweh visits them in His wrath and destroys so many Israelites that Ezekiel thinks He’s going to wipe out the whole nation (Ezek 9:8). And as that's happening, the glory of Yahweh begins to stir.

Ezekiel 10:1 - Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim something like a sapphire stone, in appearance resembling a throne, appeared above them.

He sees heaven opened over the cherubim that protect the Ark of the Covenant! And He sees the throne of God Himself breaking into His earthly dwelling!

Now,” verse 3, “the cherubim were standing on the right side of the temple when the man entered, and the cloud filled the inner court.” This is His glory now. This is the cloud of glory that had been with them since Exodus 13. “Then the glory of Yahweh went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.” And so the glory of Yahweh has gone from the Ark, it moved to hovering over the cherub, and now it goes to the threshold of the temple, to the exit, and it stays there.

Skip down to verse 18: “Then the glory of Yahweh departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim.” Now these are different cherubim. These are actual cherubim; they’re not the golden ones. These are the real cherubim from Ezekiel's vision. Verse 19: “When the cherubim departed, they lifted their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight with the wheels beside them; and they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of Yahweh’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.” So now the glory is with His angels, at the last exit of the temple.

And finally, in Ezekiel 11:22, the prophet tells us: “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. The glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.” The glory of Yahweh departs from the temple, it hovers over the Mount of Olives, and then ascends with the cherubim back into heaven.

And what is amazing, and also heartbreaking, is that the glory seems to be departing reluctantly. It goes from the ark to the cherub wings (Ezek 10:3-4), and it hovers in one place. Then it goes from the cherub wings to the threshold with the real cherubim (Ezek 10:18-19), and it hovers there. And finally it leaves the Temple and goes east over the Mount of Olives (Ezek 11:22-23). It’s as if Yahweh is saying, “Won’t any of My people worship Me? Won’t anyone listen to My Word? Won’t any of you turn from your idols? From your Baals and your Asherim and your golden calves?

And from your television and your computer, from your pornography and your fornication, from your love of money and your preoccupations with your Christmas presents and your possessions and having more stuff? Won’t any of you turn from your impatience, your anger, your fear, your anxiety, your complaining? Oh My dear people, won’t you put away all your idols that you have erected before Me, and open your eyes to see my glory which has been with you always, and has satisfied you, and now love Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?! Am I not worthy of that?”

And no one did.

And so God's glory left the temple. For the first time in Israel's history, for the first time in 850 years, Israel was without the presence of their God. Yahweh is no longer dwelling with His people. This is the last time the glory of Yahweh is seen on the earth.

The Glory Returns with the True Temple

“Until,” says the Apostle John, “Until now! Until the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”

Luke 2:8-14 - In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly, there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

The next time the glory of Yahweh is seen it comes to the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus. The angels’ message is that, “The glory of the Lord has returned to Israel in the city of David; it is the Savior! It is Christ the Lord.”

These words… these are huge words in Hebrew. “It is ‘Mashiyach ha Adonai!’ This is Messiah! The Anointed One of Yahweh! The Coming One! And “the Lord,” there isn’t functioning simply as a title, it’s functioning as LORD (in all capitals). The angel is saying, with the glory of Yahweh that no one has seen for 600 years shining around him, he’s announcing: “Yahweh is here!!!” In Jesus, God is declaring the fulfillment of that great New Covenant promise that so many hoped in for thousands of years: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Ezek 37:27)!

This is the baby Jesus! This is the Word become flesh! This is your Savior, Christian!

And so John tells us that the Eternal Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory.

And by using this language in John 1:14, he is proclaiming to his audience that this Jesus is Yahweh’s divine self-expression in the same way that the glory of the Tabernacle and Temple were.

In fact, he goes beyond that. But that's for next time.

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