Whose Sanctuary?

I typically read through a book of the Bible at a time, a chapter or two per day, trying to go slowly enough to comprehend the meaning. Recently, while reading Ezekiel, I got stuck at chapter 40. That’s the section where the LORD gives Ezekiel very precise details about the temple, so precise that the descriptions fill chapters 40-42. I’m sure these chapters intrigue archaeology buffs, but my mind went on autopilot, as it often does when I attempt the genealogies, and I simply couldn’t see the point of the chapters. In fact, about halfway through chapter 42, I wandered away to the Psalms for a few days.ezekiels_temple

Then I remembered that all Scripture is profitable for instruction, and, rather reluctantly, I went back to Ezekiel, determined to slog through it. I’m so glad I did because Ezekiel 43 makes it plain why the previous three chapters list the exact cubits for each porch and chamber. It shows clearly why it matters that the court was a perfect square, that there were precisely five hundred measures between the “holy” and the “profane” chambers, and why the priests had to be so careful to change their garments before moving from one chamber to the next.

In Ezekiel 43:7, the LORD says, “‘Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings…And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger.” And later in Ezekiel 43:12, God says, “Behold, this is the law of the house.”

In other words, the temple belonged to the LORD. It was His to define, and His to command. He would allow neither kings nor nations to determine what belonged in His holy place. It was His. As Master, He set the law of the house.

What does that have to do with us today? We don’t live in ancient Israel, but as Christians we do belong to God’s kingdom. As such, we recognize the church, especially the sanctuary, as a place set apart for the worship of the LORD. If God didn’t allow anyone but Him to determine what was proper in His temple in Israel, why would He allow anyone but Him determine what’s proper in His sanctuary now?

Think of it like this: when I decide to incorporate into the sanctuary a particular furnishing or decoration or employ a particular means of communication or expression that runs contrary to what God commands, I’ve set myself against God.  I’ve offered abominations in His name, simply because I like something or because it makes me feel good.

I’ve set up idols in the most holy place and demanded that the Holy One of Israel deal with it. That’s a pretty dangerous attitude.

God has made it clear throughout Scripture that He will never share His glory with another. Our idolatrous worship sets us at odds with this Holy God. If God, in His righteous anger, consumed those who defiled His holy place in Israel, how dare we think He won’t do the same to us today?

There is hope, though.

In Ezekiel 43:10, the LORD says, “If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make it known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes…so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them.” In other words, if the people of Ezekiel’s time would repent of the way they’d mistreated God’s temple, if they would be ashamed, Ezekiel could tell them all about God’s grand design and His expectations of them. If not, God would allow them to continue on their sinful course, and they would be destroyed.

God, in His mercy, offers us the same options.

If we cling to the ways we profane God’s holy sanctuary, if we continue to worship the idols we’ve set up, if we persist in setting anything or anyone alongside Him as worthy of our worship, if we continue to use means of communication or expressions of our choosing rather than His, if we refuse to repent, He will let us continue down our path to destruction. He’ll let us reap the consequences of loving ourselves more than Him. He’ll dwell far from us.

But if we will be ashamed of the way we’ve loved a particular feeling or image or expression instead of adoring God alone, if we will repent of our idolatry, then He will forgive us. He will dwell among us. He will teach us His ways.

Let’s repent of our idolatry. Let’s recognize the sanctuary for Whose it is…God’s, not ours. Let’s worship God as He demands. Let’s love Him above all else.