But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! – 1 Kings 8:27 ESV
1 Kings 8:22-53
As Solomon prepared to dedicate the temple he had just constructed, he offered a prayer of consecration to God. He was setting apart this very special building as the dwelling place of God. But even as he prayed, he realized the futility and extreme absurdity of what they were doing. They very idea of men trying to create a structure adequate or large enough to contain the God of the universe was absurd. Solomon’s prayer reveals his understanding of God’s immensity and transcendence. While the false gods worshiped by other nations could easily be contained in temples and shrines, the God of Israel was far too great and omnipresent to be contained in a single structure, regardless of how beautiful or large it might be. God Himself had said, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).
So was all the effort and expense Solomon had put into building the temple nothing but a waste of time? No. God had given Solomon permission to build the temple for which his father David had long dreamed. Solomon was well aware of the history of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the stories regarding the tabernacle. It was within the Holy of Holies that God’s shekinah glory rested. God had ordained the construction of the tabernacle and had agreed to meet with His people there. Within the tabernacle, hidden from the view of men, the glory of God hovered over the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It was there, once a year, that the high priest sprinkled the blood of a spotless animal in order to atone for the sins of the people. It was David’s original intent to create a new dwelling place for the Ark. Ever since the people had lived within the land of Canaan, the Ark had been without a proper resting place. So David had dreamed of creating a house in which to keep the Ark. “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent’” (2 Samuel 7:1-2 ESV). God had approved of David’s plan, but it was Solomon who was allowed to bring it to fruition. The marvelous structure Solomon had constructed was not intended to contain or house God. That would have been impossible. It was created to provide a proper home for the Ark and allow for the continued atonement for the sins of the people of God. But the sacrifices made each year within the temple had to be more than just religious rituals performed out of some sense of duty. God expected the sacrifices to be accompanied by repentance and a sense of contrition. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would write, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). Isaiah would also end up warning the people regarding their casual use of the temple and their contemptuous regard for the sacrificial system. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah wrote: “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!’” (Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT).
The temple could not contain God. And the sacrifices of men could not obligate God to forgive them for their disregard and disrespect for His holiness. As God had said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” God didn’t live in the temple. He lived within the hearts of those who loved Him and recognized their need for Him. Our God is uncontainable and uncontrollable. We can’t manipulate Him or make Him do what we want. We can’t live our lives according to our own standards and then expect Him to bless us just because we go to church, periodically read our Bibles, or offer up the occasional prayer. As those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, we are the dwelling place of the most High God. We are His temple. He lives within us. Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV). “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV). What an amazing reality. The uncontainable, uncontrollable God of the universe has chosen to dwell among us. He has determined to live within us. We don’t need a building. All we need is belief in the redemptive work of His Son Jesus Christ and hearts that are willing to repent of our love affair with sin and self. Then God Himself takes up residence within us. Paul writes, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT). The undeserving contains the uncontainable. The unremarkable contains the uncontrollable.