GOD’S BUILDING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT—THE TABERNACLE AND THE TEMPLE—
HAVING THE MINGLING OF GOD AND MAN AS ITS CENTER
We must ask the Lord to give us light to see that the building, the house, God wants to obtain in the universe is altogether not a physical house but a spiritual building of the mingling of God and man. It is true that the Old Testament says that God dwelt in the tabernacle and then the temple, but that was only a symbol of God’s union with the children of Israel. In Isaiah God said clearly that heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool and that the house which the children of Israel built for Him was not the place of His rest (66:1). His desire was to be with His people and dwell among them, taking them as His dwelling place. Therefore, strictly speaking, God dwelt neither in the material tabernacle nor in the material temple but among the children of Israel as His dwelling place. God was united with the children of Israel and became one entity with them, and this one entity was a spiritual house in which both God and the godly people in Israel dwelt.
If you ponder over the picture of the tabernacle, you will sense how meaningful the tabernacle was. When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, the twelve tribes camped around the tabernacle, and inside the tabernacle was the glory of God. When the cloud was taken up and the glory of God began to move, they knew that God was moving, so the twelve tribes would set out and follow. When the glory of God set down in a certain place, they knew that God had settled there, so they also settled there and stopped moving. Their moving was altogether dependent upon God’s moving in the tabernacle. Moreover, the tabernacle became the place where God met with His people. Out of the tabernacle God spoke to His people. These pictures show us that God dwelt among the children of Israel through the tabernacle. The tabernacle was the house of God, in which God dwelt and into which the seekers of God entered. It was the meeting place of God and man.
After the children of Israel entered into Canaan, the tabernacle was replaced by the temple. The temple was a stable, firm tabernacle. The temple was also clearly a center. All the works of God were concentrated there, and God Himself and His glory were also there. Furthermore, the godly men, men who were of God and in oneness with God, also dwelt there. Now you can understand the passages in the Psalms that speak about the temple. The psalmists greatly longed to dwell in the temple of God because they knew that they could be in union with God and have God dwell in them and they in God. Therefore, apparently they were desirous of dwelling in the temple of God, but in reality they longed to dwell in God as their dwelling place.
In Psalm 90:1 Moses prayed, “O Lord, You have been our dwelling place / In all generations.” If you were to ask Moses where he was dwelling, I believe that he would tell you that he dwelt in God, that his house, his dwelling place, was God Himself. In Psalm 91:1 the psalmist said, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High / Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Then in Psalm 92:12-13 the psalmist said that the righteous man is like a tree planted in the house of Jehovah and flourishing in the courts of God.
Many love to read Psalm 23. The first part of that Psalm says, “Jehovah is my Shepherd; I will lack nothing. / He makes me lie down in green pastures; / He leads me beside waters of rest” (vv. 1-2). Many read up to this point and think it is enough. Yet the psalmist does not think it is enough. This is only the beginning. Feeding and being satisfied on the green pastures, and resting and drinking to the full beside waters of rest are experiences of a new believer. Therefore, the psalmist goes on to say that we still have to walk on the paths of righteousness which lies before us, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and to be in the battlefield feasting at the table which God will spread before us in the presence of our adversaries (vv. 3-5). Finally, the psalmist says, “And I will dwell in the house of Jehovah / For the length of my days” (v. 6b).
All those who understand the Scriptures know that the Old Testament is primarily concerned with the tabernacle and the temple. We can almost say that the history of the Old Testament is a history of the tabernacle and the temple. This is because God’s work throughout the Old Testament was focused on this one point—His intention to build a dwelling place so that He can dwell with man. In reality, however, the visible tabernacle and temple were merely types. The children of Israel were the real temple, the real dwelling place of God. Therefore, when the children of Israel were in desolation, God could not dwell among them any longer, and He had no choice but to return to the heavens. At such a time God also caused the temple to be destroyed immediately. The land of Canaan in which the children of Israel dwelt was also not their habitation. Their real habitation was God Himself. Therefore, when they lost their fellowship with God and had a problem with God, then they also could not continue to dwell in Canaan and were driven out into the nations by God.
This is a marvelous yet serious matter. When the condition of the children of Israel was normal, God was united with them, He could dwell in their midst, and they learned to live before God. The two—God and the children of Israel, the children of Israel and God—were in union, in oneness, and in their midst there was a temple, a dwelling place, which was the house of God. God could dwell in it, and they also could dwell in it. The children of Israel and God became a dwelling place to one another. However, when their condition before God became abnormal, when they had a problem with God, God had no choice but to return to the heavens. He could no longer be in union with them and dwell among them. In this situation could they be at peace and without trouble? No, they were driven into the nations by God. Since they would not be God’s dwelling place, God also would not be their habitation. Thus, God became a homeless God, and He made His people a wandering, homeless people. Therefore, when the temple was destroyed, God became “the God of the heavens,” which was how He was addressed in the prophetic books written after the captivity. He had no dwelling place or resting place on earth. On the other hand, the children of Israel, who rejected Him, were driven away to wander among the nations. When God loses man, God becomes a homeless God; when man loses God, man also becomes a homeless man.
Therefore, the center of the entire record of the Old Testament is the temple, which signifies the mingling of God and man. When there is the proper mingling of God and man, God has a dwelling place, and man also has a habitation. In this way there is a building in the universe, a universal house. When there is not the proper mingling of God and man, or when there is a problem with this mingling, then this building is destroyed. Thus, God does not have a home on earth, and man is also homeless and wandering from place to place.
We must see that this is what God pays attention to and desires to obtain, and this is also what Satan hates and wants to destroy. In the Old Testament the enemy Satan destroyed this temple. When people were instigated by Satan to attack the children of Israel, their ultimate goal was to tear down the temple. In the same principle, when the people of God revived, their ultimate goal was to build the temple. Therefore, the Old Testament ends with the recovery of the temple. This signifies the restoration of the fellowship between God and man and the recovery of the mingling of God and man, so that God could dwell in man, and man could dwell in God.
(The Building Work of God, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)