Formations 04.10.2016: Places of Worship

1 Kings 6:1, 11-13, 37-38; 8:1-2, 22-30

Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield KY

Springfield Baptist Church, Springfield KY

Do you have fond memories of a particular place of worship? Maybe it’s the sanctuary were you were baptized, where you were married, or where your parents or grandparents were bid farewell when they entered the nearer presence of God. Maybe it’s the Sunday school class where you have wrestled with your faith, the fellowship hall where you were welcomed as family, or the Vacation Bible School craft room where you used your gifts to take care of “the least of these.”

We care for these places and want them to be beautiful because we believe that such attention says something about the value we place on God. And I think we’re right. A church is more than bricks and mortar, of course, and yes, God is present in the great outdoors and in any number of other locales. But that doesn’t mean buildings set apart for worship can’t have a special place in our hearts if we have met God there. If we trust that those who seek God will still find God in those sacred places, what better reason to hold those places in honor?

When the biblical writer remembered the reign of King Solomon, the construction of the temple in Jerusalem stood out as the hallmark achievement. In 1 Kings 6, we read the story of how the temple was built. In chapter 8, Solomon assembles the leaders of Israel to dedicate the temple to the Lord. His dedicatory prayer gives insight into the covenant-faith of the early Israelites.


• In what places of worship have you met God in a special way?
• How is the role of Solomon’s temple like or unlike that of the church buildings today?
• What is the point of having a designated worship space when heaven itself could not contain God (1 Kings 8:27)?
• How can our memories of God’s help in the past foster growth in faith today?

Reference Shelf

Solomon’s Temple

The description of [Solomon’s] Temple suggests that much like Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples, the Israelite Temple was understood as the dwelling place of their God, Yahweh. Since it is commonly called bêt Yahweh [“house of Yahweh”], it is not surprising to find the stylized house plan: the hêkal [or holy place] paralleled the courtyard and public portions of a house, while the debir [or inner sanctuary] paralleled the back room, the family quarters, also like the Egyptian temples, the art work suggests that the Temple represented Israel or the earth in microcosm. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the presence of Yahweh in the midst of his people and by its very name reminded the people of the covenantal basis of their relationship to Yahweh.

The Solomonic Temple, with various changes when syncretistic cult objects were added, when reforms occurred, and when renovations took place, remained a focal part of worship throughout the monarchy. The Temple was ultimately destroyed with the invastion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar in 587/6 B.C.E.

Joel F. Drinkard Jr., “Temple/Temples,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 879–80.

Yahweh’s Name Is There

Whereas the liturgic utterance of vv. 10-13 had placed Yahweh visibly and physically in the temple, vv. 27-30 issue a protest against such a claim and offer an alternative. The opening question of v. 27 requires a decisive “no” in response. No, Yahweh will not dwell on earth…because Yahweh is too free, but also because Yahweh is too big. The earth is not large enough for the splendor of Yahweh. Indeed, Yahweh is so unutterably massive that even heaven, the large open space above the earth, is not adequate to hold Yahweh. No container is adequate for holding Yahweh. Conclusion: this little temple should not have such pretensions and therefore the song of vv. 12-13, perhaps the entire dedicatory anthem, is a cozy, misguided illusion. What a dash of cold water tossed into the dedicatory text! The entire claim of the temple is abruptly and uncompromisingly rejected!

But then, if v. 27 obliterates any conventional claim for temple presence, does it follow that the temple is null and void, without theological significance? No, and vv. 28-30 promptly articulate an alternative notion of temple that we may regard as highly significant, but distinctly “low church.” The alternative rationale for temple is organized around the “name theology” of Deuteronomy that we have already seen in 5:5. That is, Yahweh is not there, but Yahweh’s name is there. Yahweh’s “dwelling place” is in heaven (8:30), but Yahweh’s “eyes” are endlessly attentive to the Jerusalem temple (8:29). This careful wording nicely sorts out the way Yahweh in heaven is present to the temple but is not present in the temple. The formula seeks to adjudicate the tricky affirmation of presence in the midst of Yahweh’s freedom.

The practical outcome of this formulation is that the temple becomes a primary meditation through which Israel’s prayers are channeled to the attentive God of heaven. Thus this counter-theory of presence, with it pastoral focus, is summarized in the three petitionary verbs of v. 30: hear, heed, forgive. The accent is on the last of these verbs. The religious significance of the temple now is that it is a vehicle for forgiveness, thus pushing quickly beyond royal ideology and temple pretension to the intimate, powerful pastoral needs of those who want to live in covenantal communion with Yahweh.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 110–11.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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