When Worship Centered Around an Earthly Temple
THERE are thousands of temples and cathedrals throughout the world. Many of them are glorious in architecture and very ornate, often being decorated with gold and precious jewels.
Have these temples brought the people of earth closer together in true, unified worship, with love toward one another? No; rather, they have put up almost insurmountable barriers. We may find a god in such temples or an image before which devotees kneel, but can we find the true God, that all may worship him “with spirit and truth,” in unity and love for one another? The psalmist said: “All the gods of the peoples are valueless gods,” and the apostle Paul stated: “The things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.”—John 4:24; Ps. 96:5; 1 Cor. 10:20.
But at one time there did exist on earth a temple that represented the worship of the true God. It did not have an image of its God in it, for this God is the Creator, and of him it is written: “To whom can you people liken God, and what likeness can you put alongside him?” (Isa. 40:18, 25) In fact, this God prohibited his worshipers from making anything to represent him. It would be impossible to do so, for, as his representative Moses declared to Israel: “You did not see any form on the day of Jehovah’s speaking to you in Horeb out of the middle of the fire.” For them to make for themselves a “carved image, the form of any symbol,” would be to “act ruinously.” (Deut. 4:15, 16) Furthermore, at the time of inaugurating the temple to this God, its builder said: “Will God truly dwell upon the earth? Look! the heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, themselves cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built!”—1 Ki. 8:27.
This was the temple of Jehovah, completed by King Solomon in Jerusalem in 1027 B.C.E., and destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. After the Israelites’ return to restore pure worship in 537 B.C.E., a temple was rebuilt on the same site. This structure, in turn, was rebuilt and enlarged by Herod the Great. But, in effect and for all practical purposes, over the years there was but one temple, having the same function and intent.
THE TABERNACLE A PATTERN OF HEAVENLY THINGS
Prior even to King Solomon’s temple, Moses had erected a tabernacle (sometimes spoken of as a “temple”) in the wilderness at God’s command and according to the pattern God gave him. (1 Sam. 1:9; 3:3; Ex. 25:40; 39:43) It was the simplest of all the temple structures that Jehovah approved, yet it provided all the essential things. The temple buildings that succeeded it were merely enlargements and elaborations and were permanent structures, whereas the tabernacle was movable.
Why would this tabernacle, built nearly 3,500 years ago in the wilderness of Sinai, be important to us? Because a large portion of a book or letter of the Christian Greek Scriptures is written about it. That, tabernacle’s primary purpose was a prophetic one. The writer of that letter points this out when he says that the priests serving at that tabernacle and the later temples were “rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things; just as Moses, when about to make the tent [tabernacle] in completion, was given the divine command: For says he [God]: ‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’”—Heb. 8:5.
Everyone who is a Christian wants to know as much as possible about heavenly things, at least those things that pertain directly to our living in a way that is pleasing to Jehovah. Man cannot fully understand or grasp a thing unless he has seen or experienced it, or has something to which he can compare it. For example, a man in a primitive land who has never seen a modern skyscraper, when told that some of them are forty stories high, may ask, ‘Is it as tall as that tree?’ If you tell him, ‘Oh, it’s four times as high as that,’ he begins to grasp what you mean, and can see the building’s height in his mind’s eye. So God has kindly given us a physical, earthly pattern that gives us some idea of heavenly things, particularly the principles and requirements of true worship.
Therefore, it is profitable for us to consider the tabernacle’s structure and the things carried on in it, because that was God’s purpose in having it built. Then we can more clearly see what he expects of us in worship today. As the Son of God himself told a Samaritan woman: “The hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him.”—John 4:23.
This tabernacle or “temple” was the center of true worship for the nation of Israel. In fact, the tabernacle was the very center of the Israelite camp of between two and three million people. The Levites, caretakers of the structure, tented around it at a reasonable distance, then, farther out, the twelve tribes, three on each of the four sides. The location of the tabernacle was easily discernible because there was a cloud above the Most Holy compartment. This cloud appeared as fire by night, and hence was visible to all, wherever they tented. When the people thought of worship, they thought of the tabernacle, for here was where all sacrifices were made and where the priests rendered their services. Even questions of national importance were answered here by God through the high priest by means of the sacred lots, the Urim and the Thummim.
The tabernacle, as were the more permanent structures that replaced it, was a “sanctuary,” that is, a sacred place. God did not personally dwell in this tabernacle, and he never had an image of himself there. He dwelt there only by spirit. This was indicated by a miraculous light over the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy compartment. But let us consider the entire structure in detail.
THE TABERNACLE STRUCTURE
The ground set apart for the tabernacle area was one hundred cubits (about 146 feet) long and fifty cubits (about 73 feet) wide. This area was called the “courtyard.” On this border a fence of linen material was erected, five cubits (about 7 1/4 feet) high, supported by copper pillars or posts. In the middle of the front (east) end of the area was a gate composed of a beautifully colored woven screen twenty cubits (about 29 feet) long.—Ex. 27:9-19.
As one entered the gateway one would first see the copper altar of burnt offering, on which the sacrifices of various kinds were placed. (Ex. 27:1-8) Behind this was the copper basin containing water for the priests to wash themselves. (Ex. 30:17-21) Then, halfway back in the courtyard, was the tabernacle itself. This building or rectangular tentlike structure was thirty cubits (about 44 feet) long, ten cubits (about 14 1/2 feet) wide and ten cubits high. It was made of forty-eight gold-overlaid panel frames, each having two side posts and three crosspieces, at the top, bottom and middle. At the entrance were five pillars overlaid with gold, and between the Holy, or larger compartment, and the Most Holy were four gold-overlaid pillars. All the panel frames and the pillars were set on solid-silver pedestals, with the exception of the five front pillars, which had copper pedestals.—Ex. 26:15-33, 37.
Covering the tabernacle were curtains of fine linen, embroidered in beautiful colors with figures of cherubs. From inside the tabernacle these would be visible through the openings in the panel frames. Over the linen covering was a fine, soft curtain of goat’s hair, and over that two other protective curtains, one of ram skins dyed red and an outer covering of sealskins, these providing a roof.—Ex. 26:1-14.
The screen in front was of linen beautifully embroidered, but not with cherubs. (Ex. 26:36) The curtain between the Holy and the Most Holy compartments was embroidered with cherubs.—Ex. 26:31-33.
The innermost room, the Most Holy, was a perfect cube ten cubits in each dimension. The front or eastern compartment, the Holy (or Holy Place), was twice as long. Inside the Holy, on the north side, was the gold-overlaid table for showbread, on which were twelve loaves of bread, one for each tribe, also some frankincense. (Lev. 24:5-7) On the south side was the solid-gold lampstand (not a candlestick). In front of the curtain to the Most Holy was the altar of incense, overlaid with gold.—Ex. 25:23-36; 26:35; 30:1-6.
In the Most Holy stood the Ark of the Covenant, gold overlaid with a solid-gold “mercy seat” or “propitiatory cover,” atop which were two golden cherubs. Above the cover and between the cherubs was a miraculous cloud of light, indicating that God was with his people in the temple, not personally, but by spirit. His holy spirit was active there in providing this light.—Ex. 25:10-22; Lev. 16:2.
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
To this tabernacle the people brought their sacrifices throughout the year. But the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar was the outstanding day of the year. It was the Day of Atonement. (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:27) On this day the gateway to the courtyard was opened so that the people could see what went on in the courtyard, but none of the people not assigned to temple service could enter. The tabernacle screen behind the five entrance posts was always in place, so that no one except the priests who ministered inside the tabernacle ever saw what was in there. However, while the atonement proceedings were carried out, only the high priest entered the tabernacle at all. (Lev. 16:17) At no time did anyone enter the Most Holy except the high priest, who entered that compartment only on this one day of the year.—Heb. 9:7.
On the Day of Atonement the primary sacrifices, besides the necessary burnt offerings, were a young bull, a perfect specimen, and a goat, called the ‘goat for Jehovah.’ Another goat was brought in also, over which the sins of the people were confessed by the high priest, and the goat was led into the wilderness, to die there.—Lev. 16:3-10.
The bull was stood by the north side of the altar of burnt offering and then slaughtered. (Compare Leviticus 1:11.) The high priest went first into the Most Holy with a portable censer or incense burner with coals taken off the altar. (Lev. 16:12, 13) After burning the incense in the Most Holy he again entered, this time with some of the bull’s blood, which he sprinkled on the ground in front of and toward the Ark of the Covenant with its propitiatory cover or mercy seat. This blood was an appeal to the mercy of God for propitiation or covering of the sins of the high priest and “his house,” which included all the tribe of Levi.—Lev. 16:11, 14.
The third entry into the Most Holy was with blood of the ‘goat for Jehovah,’ which was sprinkled before the Ark for the sins of the people. Some of the blood of the bull and the goat was put on the altar of burnt offering and on its horns. The fat of the animals was burned on the altar, and the carcasses were taken outside the camp and burned, skin and all.—Lev. 16:25, 27.
By this means the people received the satisfaction of knowing that they were doing what God commanded, what pleased him, and that their sins were rolled back or held off for another year. The apostle Paul remarks about the Law’s sacrificial arrangement: “The blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies to the extent of cleanness of the flesh.”—Heb. 9:13.
But the Israelites had to observe the Day of Atonement each year, and between times had to make specific sacrifices for certain personal sins. As the apostle went on to say: “How much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God?”—Heb. 9:14.
The Law, with its tabernacle and temple, only had “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things,” because “the reality belongs to the Christ.”—Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:17.
The Hebrews never had the idea enter their minds that someday they would have a High Priest who would actually give his own human life as a sacrifice and who would enter, not into the Most Holy of the earthly tabernacle or temple, but into heaven itself, in the very presence of God in his great spiritual temple. That spiritual temple and how it serves as the center of true worship today will be the subject for the next article of this series in The Watchtower.—Heb. 9:24.
“Jehovah is in his holy temple. Jehovah—in the heavens is his throne. His own eyes behold, his own beaming eyes examine the sons of men. Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one, and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates. He will rain down upon the wicked ones traps, fire and sulphur and a scorching wind, as the portion of their cup. For Jehovah is righteous; he does love righteous acts. The upright are the ones that will behold his face.”—Ps. 11:4-7
[Diagram on page 173]
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GROUND PLAN OF THE TENT OF MEETING
Ark of the Covenant
Table for Showbread
Altar of Incense
Altar of Burnt Offering