“A House of Prayer for All the Nations”
“Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?”—MARK 11:17.
1. What kind of relationship did Adam and Eve originally enjoy with God?
WHEN Adam and Eve were created, they enjoyed a close relationship with their heavenly Father. Jehovah God communicated with them and outlined his marvelous purpose for the human race. Surely, they were often moved to burst forth in praise of Jehovah for his magnificent works of creation. If Adam and Eve needed guidance as they contemplated their role as the future father and mother of the human family, they could approach God from any place in their Paradise home. They did not need the services of a priest in a temple.—Genesis 1:28.
2. What change took place when Adam and Eve sinned?
2 The situation changed when a rebellious angel seduced Eve into thinking that her lot in life would improve if she rejected Jehovah’s sovereignty, stating that she would “be like God.” Accordingly, Eve ate fruit from the tree that God had placed off limits. Then Satan used Eve to tempt her husband. Tragically, Adam listened to his sinful wife, showing that he valued his relationship with her more than his relationship with God. (Genesis 3:4-7) In effect, Adam and Eve chose Satan as their god.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:4.
3. What were the bad results of Adam and Eve’s rebellion?
3 In so doing, the first human couple lost not only their precious relationship with God but also the prospect of living forever in an earthly paradise. (Genesis 2:16, 17) Their sinful bodies eventually deteriorated until they died. Their offspring inherited this sinful condition. “Thus,” the Bible explains, “death spread to all men.”—Romans 5:12.
4. What hope did God hold out to sinful mankind?
4 Something was needed to reconcile sinful mankind with their holy Creator. When sentencing Adam and Eve, God gave hope to their future offspring by promising a “seed” that would save mankind from the effects of Satan’s rebellion. (Genesis 3:15) Later, God revealed that the Seed of blessing would come through Abraham. (Genesis 22:18) With this loving purpose in mind, God selected Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, to become his chosen nation.
5. Why should we be interested in details of God’s Law covenant with Israel?
5 In 1513 B.C.E., the Israelites entered into a covenant relationship with God and agreed to obey his laws. That Law covenant should be of great interest to all who want to worship God today because it pointed to the promised Seed. Paul said it contained “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Hebrews 10:1) When Paul made this statement, he was discussing the service of Israel’s priests at a movable tabernacle, or tent of worship. It was called “the temple of Jehovah” or “the house of Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 1:9, 24) By examining the sacred service performed at Jehovah’s earthly house, we can come to appreciate more fully the merciful arrangement whereby sinful humans today can become reconciled with God.
The Most Holy
6. What was positioned in the Most Holy, and how was God’s presence represented there?
6 “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands,” states the Bible. (Acts 7:48) However, God’s presence in his earthly house was represented by a cloud in the innermost compartment called the Most Holy. (Leviticus 16:2) Evidently, this cloud shone brightly, providing the Most Holy with light. It was positioned above a sacred chest called “the ark of the testimony,” which contained stone tablets engraved with some of the commands that God gave Israel. On the cover of the Ark were two golden cherubs with outstretched wings, which pictured spirit creatures of high rank in God’s heavenly organization. The miraculous cloud of light was situated above the cover and between the cherubs. (Exodus 25:22) This was pictorial of Almighty God enthroned upon a heavenly chariot supported by living cherubs. (1 Chronicles 28:18) It explains why King Hezekiah prayed: “O Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, sitting upon the cherubs.”—Isaiah 37:16.
7. What furnishings were there in the Holy?
7 The second compartment of the tabernacle was called the Holy. Inside this section, to the left of the entrance stood a beautiful seven-branched lampstand, and on the right was a table of showbread. Straight ahead stood an altar from which the aroma of burning incense ascended. It was situated in front of a curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy.
8. What duties did priests regularly perform in the Holy?
8 Every morning and every evening, a priest had to enter the tabernacle and burn incense on the altar of incense. (Exodus 30:7, 8) In the morning, while the incense burned, the seven lamps that rested upon the golden lampstand had to be replenished with oil. In the evening the lamps were lit to provide light for the Holy. Every Sabbath a priest had to place 12 fresh loaves on the table of showbread.—Leviticus 24:4-8.
9. What was the purpose of the basin of water, and what lesson can we draw from this?
9 The tabernacle also had a courtyard, surrounded by a fence of tent cloths. In this courtyard was a large basin where the priests washed their hands and feet before entering the Holy. They also had to wash before offering sacrifices on the altar that was situated in the courtyard. (Exodus 30:18-21) This requirement of cleanliness is a strong reminder to God’s servants today that they must strive for physical, moral, mental, and spiritual purity if they want their worship to be acceptable to God. (2 Corinthians 7:1) In time the wood for the fire on the altar and the water for the basin were supplied by non-Israelite temple slaves.—Joshua 9:27.
10. What were some of the offerings made on the altar of sacrifice?
10 Every morning and every evening, a young sacrificial ram was burned on the altar along with a grain and drink offering. (Exodus 29:38-41) Other sacrifices were made on special days. Sometimes a sacrifice had to be made because of a specific personal sin. (Leviticus 5:5, 6) At other times an Israelite could offer a voluntary communion sacrifice in which portions were eaten by the priests and by the one who made the offering. This denoted that human sinners could have peace with God, enjoying a meal with him, as it were. Even an alien resident could become a worshiper of Jehovah and be privileged to present voluntary offerings at His house. But in order to show due honor to Jehovah, the priests could only accept offerings of the best quality. The flour of grain offerings had to be finely ground, and animals for sacrifices had to be without any defect.—Leviticus 2:1; 22:18-20; Malachi 1:6-8.
11. (a) What was done with the blood of animal sacrifices, and to what did this point? (b) What is God’s view of both human and animal blood?
11 The blood of these sacrifices was brought to the altar. This served as a daily reminder to the nation that they were sinners in need of a redeemer whose shed blood could permanently atone for their sins and save them from death. (Romans 7:24, 25; Galatians 3:24; compare Hebrews 10:3.) This sacred use of blood also reminded the Israelites that blood represents life and that life belongs to God. Any other use of blood by humans has always been forbidden by God.—Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10-12; Acts 15:28, 29.
The Day of Atonement
12, 13. (a) What was the Day of Atonement? (b) Before the high priest could bring blood into the Most Holy, what did he have to do?
12 Once a year on what was called the Day of Atonement, the whole nation of Israel, including alien residents who worshiped Jehovah, had to cease from all work and fast. (Leviticus 16:29, 30) On this important day, the nation was cleansed from sin in an illustrative way so as to enjoy peaceful relations with God for another year. Let us imagine the scene and consider some of the highlights.
13 The high priest is in the courtyard of the tabernacle. Having washed himself at the basin of water, he slaughters a bull for sacrifice. The bull’s blood is poured into a bowl; it will be used in a special way to atone for the sins of the priestly tribe of Levi. (Leviticus 16:4, 6, 11) But before going any further with the sacrifice, there is something the high priest must do. He takes perfumed incense (likely putting it in a ladle) and burning coals from the altar in a fire holder. He now enters the Holy and walks toward the curtain of the Most Holy. He slowly passes around the curtain and stands before the ark of the covenant. Next, out of the view of any other human, he pours incense onto the fiery coals, and the Most Holy is filled with a sweet-smelling cloud.—Leviticus 16:12, 13.
14. Why did the high priest have to enter the Most Holy with the blood of two different animals?
14 Now God is willing to show mercy and be propitiated in an illustrative way. For this reason the cover of the Ark was called the “mercy seat” or “propitiatory cover.” (Hebrews 9:5, footnote) The high priest goes out of the Holy of Holies, takes the bull’s blood, and enters the Most Holy again. As commanded in the Law, he dips his finger into the blood and spatters it seven times before the cover of the Ark. (Leviticus 16:14) Next he goes back to the courtyard and slaughters a goat, which is a sin offering “for the people.” He brings some of the goat’s blood into the Most Holy and does with it the same as he did with the bull’s blood. (Leviticus 16:15) Other important services also took place on the Day of Atonement. For example, the high priest had to lay his hands on the head of a second goat and confess over it “the errors of the sons of Israel.” This live goat was then led into the wilderness to carry away the nation’s sins in a figurative sense. In this manner atonement was made each year “for the priests and for all the people of the congregation.”—Leviticus 16:16, 21, 22, 33.
15. (a) How was Solomon’s temple similar to the tabernacle? (b) What does the book of Hebrews say about the sacred service performed at both the tabernacle and the temple?
15 For the first 486 years of Israel’s history as God’s covenant people, the movable tabernacle served them as the place to worship their God, Jehovah. Then, Solomon of Israel was given the privilege of building a permanent structure. Though this temple was to be bigger and more elaborate, the divinely provided plan followed the same pattern as that of the tabernacle. Like the tabernacle, it was illustrative of a greater, more effective arrangement for worship that Jehovah would “put up, and not man.”—Hebrews 8:2, 5; 9:9, 11.
The First Temple and the Second
16. (a) What loving request did Solomon make when dedicating the temple? (b) How did Jehovah show his acceptance of Solomon’s prayer?
16 When dedicating that glorious temple, Solomon included this inspired request: “To the foreigner who is no part of your people Israel and who actually comes from a distant land by reason of your great name . . . , and they actually come and pray toward this house, then may you yourself listen from the heavens, from your established place of dwelling, and you must do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you; in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and may fear you the same as your people Israel do, and may know that your name has been called upon this house that I have built.” (2 Chronicles 6:32, 33) In an unmistakable way, God showed his acceptance of Solomon’s dedication prayer. A shaft of fire fell from heaven and consumed the animal sacrifices upon the altar, and Jehovah’s glory filled the temple.—2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
17. What eventually happened to the temple built by Solomon, and why?
17 Sadly, the Israelites lost their wholesome fear of Jehovah. In time, they profaned his great name through acts of bloodshed, idolatry, adultery, incest, and through the mistreatment of orphans, widows, and foreigners. (Ezekiel 22:2, 3, 7, 11, 12, 26, 29) Thus, in the year 607 B.C.E., God executed judgment by bringing up the Babylonian armies to destroy the temple. The surviving Israelites were taken captive to Babylon.
18. At the second temple, what privileges opened up to some non-Israelite men who wholeheartedly supported the worship of Jehovah?
18 After 70 years a repentant Jewish remnant returned to Jerusalem and were granted the privilege of rebuilding Jehovah’s temple. Interestingly, there was a shortage of priests and Levites to serve in this second temple. As a result, Nethinim, who descended from non-Israelite temple slaves, were given greater privileges as ministers of God’s house. However, they never became the equals of the priests and the Levites.—Ezra 7:24; 8:17, 20.
19. What promise did God make respecting the second temple, and how did these words come true?
19 At first it seemed that the second temple would be nothing compared to the former one. (Haggai 2:3) But Jehovah promised: “I will rock all the nations, and the desirable things of all the nations must come in; and I will fill this house with glory . . . Greater will the glory of this later house become than that of the former.” (Haggai 2:7, 9) True to these words, the second temple did attain a greater glory. It lasted 164 years longer, and many more worshipers from many more lands flocked into its courtyards. (Compare Acts 2:5-11.) A renovating of the second temple started in the days of King Herod, and its courtyards were enlarged. Elevated on a massive stone platform and surrounded by beautiful colonnades, it rivaled in grandeur the original temple built by Solomon. It included a large, outer courtyard for people of the nations who wanted to worship Jehovah. A stone barrier separated this Court of the Gentiles from the inner courtyards reserved for Israelites only.
20. (a) What outstanding distinction marked the rebuilt temple? (b) What showed that the Jews viewed the temple wrongly, and what did Jesus do in response to this?
20 This second temple enjoyed the great distinction of having the Son of God, Jesus Christ, teach within its courtyards. But as with the first temple, the Jews in general did not have a proper view of their privilege of being custodians of God’s house. Why, they even allowed merchants to do business in the courtyard of the Gentiles. Moreover, people were allowed to use the temple as a shortcut when carrying items around Jerusalem. Four days before his death, Jesus cleansed the temple of such secular practices, while he kept on saying: “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a cave of robbers.”—Mark 11:15-17.
God Abandons His Earthly House Forever
21. What did Jesus indicate with regard to Jerusalem’s temple?
21 Because of Jesus’ courageous action in championing God’s pure worship, the Jewish religious leaders were determined to kill him. (Mark 11:18) Knowing that he would soon be murdered, Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders: “Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matthew 23:37, 38) He thereby indicated that soon God would no longer accept the form of worship practiced at the typical temple in Jerusalem. It would no longer be “a house of prayer for all the nations.” When his disciples pointed out to Jesus the magnificent temple buildings, he said: “Do you not behold all these things? . . . By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”—Matthew 24:1, 2.
22. (a) How were Jesus’ words about the temple fulfilled? (b) Instead of centering their hopes on an earthly city, what did early Christians seek?
22 Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled 37 years later in the year 70 C.E., when Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. That provided dramatic proof that God had indeed abandoned his typical house. Jesus never foretold the rebuilding of another temple in Jerusalem. Regarding that earthly city, the apostle Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians: “We do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) Early Christians looked forward to becoming part of “heavenly Jerusalem”—the citylike Kingdom of God. (Hebrews 12:22) Thus, the true worship of Jehovah is no longer centered at a physical temple on earth. In our next article, we will consider the superior arrangement that God has set up for all who desire to worship him “with spirit and truth.”—John 4:21, 24.
◻ What relationship with God did Adam and Eve lose?
◻ Why should features of the tabernacle interest us?
◻ What do we learn from activities in the tabernacle courtyard?
◻ Why did God allow his temple to be destroyed?
[Pictures on page 10, 11]
Temple Rebuilt by Herod
1. Most Holy
3. Altar of Burnt Offering
4. Molten Sea
5. Court of Priests
6. Court of Israel
7. Court of Women