In the polytheistic culture of the Ancient Near East, deities were worshipped by means of sacrifices made in particular places. Most gods were considered to have what we might consider “regional” power (the Babylonians having a few patron deities vs. those of say the Assyrians); and within those regions to have particular locations in which their “presence” dwelled (or could at least be called upon). These locations were usually marked with the building of a sacrificial altar, and in key locations, with the construction of a temple (think, for example of ancient Greek or Roman ruins).
It is worth noting that YHWH never demands the building of a temple. But it is unthinkable to King David that the earthly king of Israel should be granted a palace while the Lord had no “home.” David determines to build a temple to YHWH, but God denies him the opportunity. That honor falls instead to David’s son, Solomon, who completed what we know as the Temple of Solomon (or the first Temple) sometime in the mid-10th century BCE.
When the Temple is completed, Solomon holds a dramatic dedication ceremony, and the “the glory of Lord” comes to rest in the inner-most sanctuary of the Temple known as the “Holy of Holies” (where the ark of the covenant was laid to rest). And in that moment, God pledges that his heart will be ever-open to the prayers said in the Temple, his eyes and ears ever attentive.
No one – then or in later centuries – ever imagined that “all” of God dwelled in the Temple (YHWH is Lord of the heavens and the earth – “heaven” is not emptied when the Temple is completed!). But now there was a place on earth – an actual geographic location – where God could be “found.”
It is difficult for us in the 21st century to imagine God having a mailing address, a “home” that could be located on Google Maps. But that is what the Temple was – a dwelling place for God on earth.
In this episode we explore this next step in Israel’s development in light of the larger biblical narrative. And – for ourselves – we ask: Where do you go to find God when it counts? When we need God to hear our prayers, how do we ensure God’s ears are still listening.