1 CORINTHIANS 10
Like the ominous reversing warning sounds of a heavy goods vehicle, the danger of sin is made very clear to us by the Lord. His scriptures, his Spirit in us, our consciences, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are all suitable resources to warn us of sin’s stealthy approach. And we can also learn from others’ previous mistakes…
Learn the lesson from Israel the nation, who were all baptised (or ‘identified’) with Moses and with God. Just being ‘baptised’ was no evidence of submission to Christ in everyday life. It was clear to Paul that, in fact, Christ himself had been present amongst the Israelites on all their journeys. Furthermore, the punishment that God meted out to his people in the wilderness was not so much to teach them a lesson, but to teach us – “…written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come”. God was warning us (vv 6,11).
Watch out that you don’t fall into temptation! God always provides a fire escape, but you need to get out of that burning building fast before the smoke conceals it! Joseph, in fleeing from Potiphar’s lusting wife, gives us the visual aid to how we should deal with temptation of all types: run away from temptation at the first signs of its approach – don’t play a game of ‘chicken’ with it! – and in this way, you resist the Devil and cause him to flee from you! (James 4:7)
What are some of the things we are tempted to do? Devote our time, energies and emotions to things or people, instead of devoting them to God – this is called ‘idolatry’. Committing sexual immorality, grumbling at God, and testing his patience are also worth running a mile from.
Believers have a birthright of freedom – in theory we can do anything we want – but not everything is beneficial or constructive if we are hoping to bless others. For example, any food can be eaten with a clear conscience (see 1 Cor 10:25-26, 30) and God has provided all for our nourishment and enjoyment. Yet… if an unbeliever knows that certain food has been offered to pagan gods as a sacrifice, don’t eat it, since his conscience cannot handle our freedom in Christ. He will condemn us, and this will blunt our gospel message to him (10:28-9). Furthermore, we should also exercise loving restraint of our right to freedom when believers with a weak conscience see us eating; they may copy us and yet themselves sin, since they think it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols. (See 1 Cor 8:7-13.) So our love should sometimes curtail our freedom – and this itself must be for us a free choice.
Of course, if no-one comments on the origin of the food at the feast, then we are totally free to enjoy a good meal. It is not our responsibility to turn into ‘food detectives’, snooping around to retrace the journey and spiritual provenance of our steak! However, ultimately, we must try to please God first and foremost, then everyone else, and finally ourselves; the fact that we have so much freedom in Christ gives us the utmost flexibility and it facilitates our efforts to see the lost saved. After all, it’s not really about our food; it’s about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us that others eat!
2 CHRONICLES 2, 3 and 4
So Solomon begins the greatest construction project that he will ever undertake: the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. (1 Kings chapters 5 and 6 are roughly paralleled by 2 Chronicles chapters 2 and 3, although there are some subtle differences of emphasis.)
First, he wrote to Hiram, king of Tyre, in response to a message of goodwill that was sent to welcome Solomon to the throne of Israel. The one material that Solomon did not have in abundant supply within the nation was wood; the cedars of Lebanon were used all over the Middle East to construct temples and palaces, and therefore it was important to keep Hiram ‘onside’.
His father David was not able to build the temple because he was engaged in so many wars aimed at establishing the borders of the nation and ensuring its security. In our era, during times of war there are often greater opportunities for individuals to come to salvation since they are much more aware of their own mortality and less likely to have the false mindset that they will never die. However, the expansion of the church really occurs fastest during times of peace, since communication is better and there are fewer distractions. In 1 Timothy, Paul asks us to pray: “… for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”. If this were not true, then I suppose that God would ask to pray for war!
Solomon, in his times of peace, was therefore able to begin construction of the temple in an attitude of single-mindedness. He made the arrangements for the cedar and juniper logs to be sent down from Lebanon and then brought up from the port of Joppa on Israel’s coast. The other essential ‘ingredient’ that Hiram supplied was a man: “I am sending you Huram-Abi, a man of great skill, whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre. He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone, and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him. He will work with your skilled workers and with those of my lord, David your father”. The need for skilled and gifted craftsmen was as urgent as that for suitable construction materials. In God’s construction of his Church today, we also need gifted men and women who are supernaturally equipped to do jobs that no-one else can accomplish.
The other major material that Solomon needed was stone; Israel had that, all right, but needed a huge labour force to quarry and dress it. Solomon conscripted all the non-Israel nations and forced them to cut and prepare the stone blocks for the temple. Some of these blocks were very large indeed and, furthermore, Solomon had made a rule that all stone blocks had to be completely finished at the quarries; no final adjustments were permitted on the site of the temple – which must have been the quietest building site in history!
The location was very important too: “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David”. It was no co-incidence that the temple of sacrifice was situated exactly where the major sacrifice had been made to rescue Israel in David’s time.
Just like the Tabernacle, the Temple was in three sections: the Most Holy Place, the Holy Place, and the Outer Courtyard (where the Gentiles were later permitted to go). The Most Holy Place – or ‘Holy of Holies’ – was a perfect cube in shape, with dimensions of 20 cubits in each direction. If you look at the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21:22, there is no temple. The City is itself a perfect cube of dimensions 12,000 stadia in each direction (that is 1,400 miles, although numbers in Revelation are highly figurative!), which signifies that the whole city is now the Holy of Holies. We are His holy people!
There is so much more that can be seen in the descriptions of the Temple in these chapters. Meditate on them and make some New Testament comparisons in order to extract greater truths.
Interesting that it took Solomon nearly twice as long to build his palace as it did the Temple! At least he did the Temple first, which I suppose is the equivalent of seeking first the Kingdom of God. Haggai 1:2-4 rebukes Israel, after the return from exile, for prioritising the building of their own luxury houses before beginning on the reconstruction of the temple in their day.
His palace was very impressive indeed and was more than twice the size of the temple. It was constructed mainly of cedar and the local pinkish-white limestone, and from the inside the roof must have looked like a vast three-storey forest, with a Hall of Justice, Solomon’s own living quarters, and a separate section for his queen, Pharaoh’s daughter. This limestone was soft when first quarried – and therefore able to be worked and smoothed – and then it hardened in the sunshine.
Huram, the master craftsman, made some amazing structures out of cast bronze. The ‘sea’ was a huge cylinder 15 feet (5 metres) in diameter, 10 feet high (3 metres) and contained between 12,000 and 18,000 gallons (44 – 66 tonnes) of water. Positioned near the entrance to the temple, south of the great bronze altar, it was used by the priests for personal cleaning – they literally bathed in it – and it has New Testament equivalents in Titus 3:5 and in the prophetic visions of Ezekiel 47:1-12. In the latter passage, the same water is no longer a fixed pool for cleansing a fixed cohort of priests, but it is replaced by a growing life-giving river that begins at exactly the same point and which expands to bring cleansing and life to the whole region – and by extension, to the whole world! Much of this Old Covenant imagery has important meaning if we consider New Covenant comparisons.
2 Chronicles 4:4 reads like an ancient Babylonian creation myth: “The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the centre”. Of course the writer is describing a literal object in the new temple. But even here, we have the imagery of beasts of burden taking the cleansing of God to the four furthest points of the compass on earth. In addition, there were ten bronze basins and their stands for washing the sacrificial utensils – each containing nearly a tonne of water – and ten golden lamp stands that provided light for the Holy Place. Just about everything that as made of bronze had to do with sacrifice (and judgment), whilst everything made of gold was related to the holy presence of God. It is necessary to go ‘through’ the sacrifice in order to arrive at the presence!
Two vast bronze pillars, named ‘Jakin’ and ‘Boaz’ held up the entrance to the porch of the temple; the names mean: ‘He establishes’ and: ‘In Him is strength’. Psalm 89:14 states that “Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of your throne…” and the reference to Jesus in Isaiah 9:7 says: “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”. It is possible, therefore, that the great pillars represent Jesus himself, the Faithful Witness, who upholds the throne of God on earth.
So Huram completed all his word in bronze. Interestingly, the passage later says that Solomon made all the gold furnishings of the temple; it is highly unlikely that he did this with his own hands, but rather commissioned and inspired other craftsmen to do so. This kind of description is significant when we talk about God doing things for us; he often inspires and equips other people to provide the means or the actions that assist us, yet it is no less from the Lord that our help comes!