These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
When Moses designed the Tabernacle according to God’s instructions it was to be divided into various sections. The idea was that God dwelt in the most holy place, and that people were only allowed to come near by degrees. Indeed, only one person, the high priest, was allowed to enter the most holy place, and even he could only do so once a year. This holy place lay at one end of the tent and was separated off from the other sections by a heavy veil. This veil will be described in this week’s reading.
When the temple was built by Solomon to replace the Tabernacle, the holy place or Holy of Holies was again divided off by a heavy veil. The size of the room was a cube, 20 cubits (a cubit is the length from elbow to finger tip, about 18 inches or 45 cm). This meant it was about 10 yards or 9 metres long, high and wide.
Within this space was to be found one thing only, the Ark. This amazing item will be described next week and something of its importance will be unpacked.
The veil that separated the presence of God from the people of God was a permanent reminder that God could not be approached by sinful human beings. He was shrouded in darkness and mystery. This holiness (i.e. difference or separateness) of God created a barrier that was impenetrable by individuals. Even the annual visit by the high priest was only possible if he carried sacrificial blood with him.
This did not mean that God was not with his people, and indeed involved in all the world, but it would take the one, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the great high priest, to enable all to enter into his presence. This was represented on the day of Crucifixion by the rending of the veil in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). ‘Top to bottom’ indicates that God did the act, not man. From the death of Jesus onwards the way was open for all believers to go into the holy of holies. What a privilege!
Thank you Father that Jesus has opened for us a new and living way into your presence. Amen.
1 Note the structure of Solomon’s Inner Sanctuary.
“… a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (v.8) RSV
People through the ages have always needed a place where they can focus their attention on God. Our passages over the following week describe the first time that the Hebrew people are to have such a place. At the time they were in the Wilderness and were a people on the move. They had no fixed abode and so needed a sanctuary that they could up sticks and take with them.
This Tabernacle would last them for hundreds of years, not only through the forty years in the Wilderness, but through all the times of the Judges and on through kings Saul and David. Thus the Tabernacle was first constructed round about 1280BC. King Solomon built the first Temple round about 950BC. This was destroyed by the Babylonians and was only reconstructed (a smaller version) when the Exiles returned, say 500BC. Finally this was rebuilt and enlarged by Herod starting about 20BC.
This special place was there to represent the presence of God. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of his temple he quoted the words God had spoken: “My name shall be there” (1 Kings 8:29). By this he meant that God was everywhere – “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). God could not, and would not, be limited to a building. However, people needed a place to focus their attentions and to stimulate their faith in the presence of God.
Jesus however indicated that the time would come when ‘place’ would be secondary to the real presence of God in a believer and in his people. This is what he told the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:21-23). Paul likewise said “you are God’s temple and … God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16). In other words the presence of God is with us wherever we are: in prison, in a city, in a slum, in the garden or in a church.
Thank you for your promise, O God, that you are always with me, and will never leave me. Amen.
Although they may speed through the air, most, if not all angels, do not have wings. It is the Cherubim and Seraphim who have wings. The two Cherubim are depicted on the Ark of the Covenant made in the time of Moses. Their wings met each other above the box, creating a space known as the ‘mercy seat’ (Exodus 37:9). Years later, Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. In its Inner Sanctuary he made two cherubim of olive wood, each 15 feet high, with a wing span of 15 feet (1 Kings 6:23-24). God is always said to “sit enthroned on the cherubim” (e.g. 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Kings 19:15).
Many, many years later in the Temple, the prophet Isaiah had a dramatic vision of the Seraphim. Each of these had “six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (Isaiah 6:2).
Cherubim and Seraphim are highly symbolic figures. In the song known as the ‘Te Deum’ we sing: “To thee Cherubim and Seraphim: continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy: Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty: of thy Glory.” (1662 Book of Common Prayer). These creatures seem to be continually in the presence of God. Wherever they are, there is God.
So they were seen either in wood and gold, or in vision. There is obviously more in heaven and earth than we can ever imagine. It is truly enlarging to our faith to contemplate these revelations and to worship the creativity and majesty of God. Perhaps we can utter the words of the Queen of Sheba when she visited Solomon and saw all his splendour and experienced his wisdom: “the half was not told me” (2 Chronicles 9:6).
One day, when we pass through the veil and shed this earthly flesh, our eyes shall be opened and we shall see what we have never been able to see before.
Lord, thank you for the mysteries and the magnificence. Your greatness and the extent of your creativity is more than I can ever conceive. Amen.
1 What other created beings in the Bible have wings?
“… a mighty angel coming down from heaven …” (v.1) RSV
Most of our references to angels have been man-sized. They have appeared as ‘young men’ or ‘strangers but they have nevertheless been often awesome. The angel that appeared in the empty tomb of Jesus is described as having the “appearance like lightening, and his raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). But if this was amazing what about the angel in our passage today: mighty and vast? We read of John’s vision of the spiritual warfare that lies behind the scenes.
In today’s reading, John sees “another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire” (v.1). This angel stood both in the sea and on the land at the same time (v.8). When he called out, “the seven thunders sounded” (v.3). This was no ordinary sight!
Normally their presence is not seen, but when they are seen their appearance is adapted to suit human encounter, and we should be heartened to know that the angelic host are far more powerful than we are. We have an incredible unseen army of great strength fighting on our behalf.
Not only can they be large and magnificent, they can also be fiery. Remember again the servant of Elisha having his eyes opened to see that they were surrounded for protection by “horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:17).
Sometimes we may wonder whether this use of angelic symbolism is literal or picturesque, but either way it expresses the magnificent power of God. Take the occasion when King Hezekiah was besieged in Jerusalem by a vast Assyrian army. In answer to prayer, “the Lord sent an angel, who cut off (slew) all the mighty …” (2 Chronicles 32:21). There is surely more in heaven and earth than we have ever imagined.
Lord, I stand in awe and wonder at the presence and power of your angelic host. May you send them forth to minister to the needs of your people. Amen.