The Exodus-to-Temple Pattern

Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly in his Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  He writes, “The basic structure of the idea is this:”

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom.  The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people.  The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location.  The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it (Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008], 30).

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament recapitulate this eschatological temple-building motif.   This pattern can be witnessed in the life of Moses, when YHWH calls the reluctant shepherd to defeat Pharaoh and liberate Israel, with the ultimate goal of tabernacle worship with God’s covenant people.  Moreover, in the life of David, YHWH summons a shepherd to crush the head of the enemy, to free the people of Israel, and to establish his covenant people in the land—a land where YHWH has set his name.  The culminating act of temple-building in 1 Kings is the high point of the OT, and sets the stage for a greater Spirit-anointed, Divine warrior/savior, who will construct the final dwelling place for God in the NT.

The same kind of pattern can be found in a variety of New Testament passages. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, Paul’s preaching in Acts 13, 17, and passages like Ephesians 2:11-22, and the whole book of Revelation show the exodus-to-temple pattern outlined by Niehaus.  In fact, in regards to the work of Christ, Niehaus writes,

God wages war through his Son and prophet, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, against the powers of darkness.  He liberates people from those powers and establishes them as his people by a new covenant.  He establishes a temple presence, not only among them but in them (the church and individually its members) (ibid., 31).

They look forward to a heavenly city (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2).  Theologically, it is important to remember that these people were God’s enemies…until he waged warfare, set them free from their vassaldom to sin, and established his covenant with them, making them his own vassals…Christ is also Creator or Co-creator.  He creates a “new heaven and a new earth,” with a temple presence that recalls Eden with its river and tree of life” (ibid, 31-32).

Reading the Bible along these lines, it is becomes apparent that the God of the Bible works in a regular and repeating way throughout redemptive history, and that the NT writers were conscious of these biblical-theological structures and interweaved them into the very fabric of their thinking, preaching, and writing.

For a short list of resources that observe this phenomenon, see See David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997);  the articles found in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theologyed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon J. Gathercole (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

A Royal Palace

Finally, the tabernacle is a royal palace, built with the materials plundered from the defeated Egyptians (Exod 12:35-36; 25:3-7).  In this way, the tabernacle is a memorial to the King of Israel’s victory over the king of Egypt.  Like the Arc D’Triumph that marked Napoleon’s greatest victory over his enemies, or like the way victorious coaches have their names assigned to gymnasiums and stadiums, so the tabernacle (later temple) served as a marker for the way the God of Israel defeated the surrounding nations. We see this aspect in a handful of ways.

Materials

First, notice that the materials that are collected are costly, beautiful, and fitting for a king.

25:3-7. This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, & stones for setting, for the ephod &  for the breastpiece.

It is easy to miss just how expensive these materials are: First, the amount of gold, silver, and bronze is amazing. According to [Exodus] 38:21-31 approximately one ton of gold, four tons of silver, and two-and-a-half tons of bronze were used to make the tabernacle and its furnishings” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land, 195).

Next, the dyed materials—blue, purple, scarlet—were not only the garments of royalty, they too were very rare and costly.  From where the priests served, the house was absolutely breathtaking.  It was meant to be.  The God of creation who is a master-builder and magnicifient artist, has called Israel to construct a house for him that is worthy of his glory.

Ark of the Testimony  

Not only are the materials royal.  The furniture is too.  In the Holy of Holies, sits the ark of testimony.  Overlaid with gold, this is God’s throne.  This is where he sits and rules over his people.  In fact, Exodus 25:16 records, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”  The covenant laid out in Exodus 20-23 was stored in the tabernacle, affirming God’s kingship in Israel and Israel’s absolute promise to obey all God’s commands. (For an in-depth discussion of the relationship between the covenant and the house of God, see Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority).  Interestingly then, when Israel later rebelled against God, one of the greatest signs of his judgment was the destruction of the temple.

Moreover, in the New Testament, when the temple veil was torn, this was not only a picture of the access that New Testament believers have (Heb 10:19-25), it was a picture of God’s royal judgment upon Israel for their failure to keep covenant.

A Hint from ANE

Last, the pagan world surrounding Israel gives an interpretive context (by common grace) for understanding what the building of a temple signifies.  Jeffrey Niehaus makes this point very well in his book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical TheologyIn the Ancient Near East, like with Napoleon’s arch, temples were built at the end of military campaigns.  Niehaus records the words of one particular Egyptian leader,

[Ra] begat me to do that which he did, to execute that which he command me to do… I will make a work, namely, a great house [a temple], For my father Atum [Pharaoh].  He will make it broad, according as he has caused me to conquer (90).

We find this same pattern is in Scripture. In Exodus, God saves Israel out of Egypt, and has them build a victory palace.  In Samuel and Kings, God gives David the victory over the enemies of God, and he desires to build a house for God.  While God does not permit David to build God a house, his son Solomon does with the pattern revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28).  Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes promising to build a house for the name of the Lord one that the gates of hell cannot defeat (Matt 16:18).  What is he doing?  He is building a victory temple.  Consider Paul’s flow of thought in Ephesians 2, where he concludes,

Ephesians 2:19-22. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (See my exegetical paper on Ephesians 2 for a more thorough explanation).

This is the message of Scripture: God who created a cosmic temple in which to dwell, set man in Eden in order to expand all over the earth.  Man sinned, and ruined that plan.  But God has sent a Second Adam to come and finish what Adam failed to do.

He has redeemed a people and he is now building a place.  And the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is that our story and our hope? Are you a living stone affixed in his temple, or are you trying to build your own–a house for your own name?  Are you worshiping the hero of God’s epic story who is building his victory memorial, or are you trying to create your own epic?  Rest assured, if you are looking to win the victory for yourself, you will lose out in the end.

Rather than finding joy in our own earthly successes, we must find joy in the promise of dwelling forever with the God of heaven.  We must cry with the Psalmist,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84)

May that such longing for God’s dwelling place rule our hearts and govern our hopes!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Don’t Despise the ‘Plain Things’ of Life: What the Lord Uses to Prepare His Ministers

Thinking about ministry and concerned about your ‘theological’ preparation?

Consider that some of the greatest “pastor-theologians” (biblical authors) were entrenched in mundane occupations and the plain things of life for decades before God opened the door to ministry.  For instance, consider Jeffery Niehaus’s words that remind us of Moses’ calling and equipping:

When Moses flees to Midian, he learns to be a husband (Ex 2:2), a father (v. 22), and a shepherd (3:1).  These [plain things] are theologically important facts for him, because he now encounters the God who chooses to become a husband (Jer. 31:32; Eze 16:1ff–both reflecting the Exodus events), a father (Dt 1:31), and a shepherd (Ge 49:24) to his people (God at Sinai: Covenant & Theophany in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, 185).

For 40 years, Moses learned the plain things of life–caring for a wife, leading a family, and tending a flock.  Each of these prepared him for his ministry to Israel, and his ability to record God’s Word.  Likewise, for us, marriage and work, the common but significant lot which all humans enjoy (or despise), prepare us greater Christian service.  In fact, 1 Timothy 3 disqualifies ministers who fail at home.  Thus marriage (which pictures Christ’s love for the church), fatherhood (which reflects God’s love for his adopted children), and vocation (which requires thoughtful creativity, organization, and physical strength, resemble God’s work in the world), all demonstrate aspects about God and his gospel. And thus, all of these “plain things” prepare you and I  for more fruitful service.

Moses example teaches us to stop fearing insufficient training and to recall the fact that for those who God has called, he will use all of life to prepare us for our “received” ministry (cf. John 3:27; Col. 4:17). So, while we ought to look for ways to further our knowledge of god (cf. Ps 111:2; 2 Pet 3:18), we should at the same time realize that all of  life points to God, and prepares us for useful service–with or without “theological training.”

In the plain things are hidden the main things, if we look at them with eyes of faith and minds renewed by God’s Word.  In this way, God reminds us that he is the one who uniquely prepares us for his service, and that our plans are accomplished according to his steps (Prov 16:9).  May we seek God and see him in all of life, so that we may better communicate the divine truths of God’s word as we encounter the daily regimen of life.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss