The Dwelling Place of God

1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:1-11 ESV

After nearly seven-and-a-half years of construction, the temple was finally completed. The only thing left to do was to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from its resting place in the City of David and transfer it to its new home within the Most Holy place of the new temple. But while this might sound like a relatively easy task after all the time, energy, and effort that went into building the temple, it actually a very difficult and dangerous endeavor. As the son of David, Solomon would have been well aware of the stories surrounding his father’s past attempts to transport the Ark.  And he was not interested in repeating his father’s mistakes.

God had given very specific instructions to Moses regarding the proper way to move the Ark from one place to another. Because it was considered to be holy, it had to be handled with extreme care and treated with deep reverence. And God had provided clear guidelines concerning both how and who was to transport the Ark and the other holy vessels.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles.… And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:5-6, 15 ESV

All during the 40-year period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, long before they settled in the land of Canaan, this was how the Ark was moved from place to place. But after Israel had finally settled in the land, the Ark had come to rest in the town of Kiriath-jearim, and was kept under the care of a man named Abinadab. When David had become the second king of Israel and established Jerusalem as his capital, he determined to relocate the Ark and the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). So, he consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army, then he announced his plans to the people of Israel.

“If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send messages to all the Israelites throughout the land, including the priests and Levites in their towns and pasturelands. Let us invite them to come and join us. It is time to bring back the Ark of our God, for we neglected it during the reign of Saul.” – 1 Chronicles 13:2-3 NLT

Having received the unanimous support of the people, David organized an elaborate parade to accompany the Ark on its journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem. It was a festive and joyous occasion, featuring music, dancing, and worshipful celebration of God.

Then David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (also called Kiriath-jearim) to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart. David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. – 1 Chronicles 13:6-8 NLT

But the joy quickly turned to sorrow. The dancing was replaced by mourning. Because David had violated the commands of God. In his zeal to move the Ark of the Covenant, he had neglected to do so according to God’s clearly revealed will. And, as a result, tragedy struck.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-8 NLT

God had never commanded the Ark to be transported by a cart pulled by oxen. But David had come up with this ingenious plan as a way of expediting the process of transporting the Ark. In his mind, it would be a much quicker and easier way of getting the job done. But his plan resulted in Uzzah’s death. As the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to fall, Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark with his hand. And, in doing so, he violated the command of God.

“…they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:15 ESV

David was angry and frustrated over Uzzah’s death. But he was also confused and wondered how he would ever get the Ark safely transported into Jerusalem. Unsure of what to do, he simply ordered the Ark to be moved to the house of Obed-edom of Gath, where it remained for three months. Eventually, David was informed that the presence of the Ark had resulted in great blessings for Obed-edom. This bit of news seems to have prompted David to take another chance at moving the Ark, but this time he chose to do it God’s way.

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. After the men who were carrying the Ark of the Lord had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15 NLT

Fortunately, Solomon was able to use his knowledge of these past events and the wisdom given to him by God to make the right decision. He chose to follow God’s commands and treat the Ark of the Covenant with the honor and reverence it deserved.

…the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. – 1 Kings 8:3-4 ESV

And when the priests had successfully moved the Ark into the Most Holy Place of the new temple, something significant happened. Because they had followed God’s instructions, they received a visible sign that God was pleased with their efforts.

…a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 ESV

God showed up. He entered the Most Holy Place, in the form of a cloud, and settled over the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. This visible manifestation was meant to assure Solomon and the people of Israel of God’s glory and presence. And it was a tangible reminder of how God had revealed Himself to their ancestors in the wilderness hundreds of years earlier.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

Solomon had managed to build a one-of-a-kind structure of unsurpassed beauty. But it was the presence of the cloud that transformed what was an opulent but ordinary building into the dwelling place of God. Solomon had built a building. But only when God showed up did it truly become a temple. And the apostle Paul would later remind his fellow believers in Christ that they too had become temples of God because of the presence of the Spirit of God within them.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson