I love to see the temple. I love walking the halls, sitting in the rooms, smiling with the people, and even waiting in the parking lot when the doors haven’t been unlocked yet. I’ve worked in the temple, served in temple, wept in the temple, and rejoiced in the temple. I’ve wanted to visit every temple on earth, and still do, though President Nelson, in his love for the Saints, is making that impossible to achieve these days.
The first temple building was constructed during the days of Solomon. Remembering a prophesy by the prophet Nathan to his father, and using materials his father had collected as well as some he procured himself, Solomon built and dedicated a temple to God. It wasn’t quite as large as his own King’s House, but it was stately, and majestic, and filled will all manner of beautiful craftsmanship and symbolism.
Solomon dedicated the House of the Lord to God with a beautiful prayer, complete with sacrifices, pleading with God to live there, to teach his people there, and for it to be a place of mercy and forgiveness for the people forever. The Lord accepted his plea and his sacrifice, so Solomon offers more sacrifices and holds a feast. They killed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep that day, so many that Solomon had to dedicate the middle court for sacrifices because the brazen altar built within the temple for sacrifices wasn’t big enough.
The Lord appeared to Solomon and told him that the temple was good, that if the people went to the temple and sincerely sought the Lord, he would hear them and heal them.
I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou has built, to put my name there forever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. (1 Kings 9:3)
Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ear attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. (2 Chronicles 7:15–16)
Nevermind that we’ll learn later on in the Bible that the Lord never really delighted in sacrifices, he’s willing to consent to Solomon’s bloody plea as an opportunity to commune with us. God is good. However, he does warn Solomon that the temple is only as good as the people who worship there, that if the people turn from God they’ll end up losing their temple.
As I read through the scriptures we have about Solomon’s temple, I was struck by the Lord’s language. He is fully accepting of Solomon’s dedication, but he doesn’t seem to have any particular preference to the temple itself. God is turning towards his people, by way of a building because he was asked to, but not to a building itself. Always to his people, all people, who ask him to come and be with them.
Solomon’s desire for a temple was passed to him from his father, David. Having conquered all of his enemies and living high and mighty in his kingly house made of cedars, David saw that the ark of the covenant was housed in a tent. His heart was pricked, and he sent for the prophet, Nathan. Nathan says, “Sure, that seems good, go and do all that is in thine heart. God is with you.”
But that night, Nathan has a dream, and the Lord tells him to give David a new message.
Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in:
For I have not dwelt in an house since the day that I brought up Israel unto this day; but have gone from tent to tent, and from one tabernacle to another.
Wheresoever I have walked with all Israel, spake I a word to any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people, saying, Why have ye not built me an house of cedars?
I took thee from the sheepcote, even from following the sheep, that thou shouldest be ruler over my people Israel:
And I have been with thee whithersoever thou hast walked. (1 Chronicles 17:4–8)
The Lord then goes on to describe for David a house that will come forth in his lineage that will forever house the mercy of God. From David’s line will come the King of Kings, whose throne will be established forever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him… but I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for evermore. (1 Chronicles 17:13–14)
Knowing the outcome of what would happen to the kings in David’s line during the next thousand years of turmoil in the land, it is easy for us to look at this prophesy and know that the Lord was clearly talking about Jesus. But David didn’t understand. He still really wanted to build a temple. He deferred to the counsel of Nathan and did not build a temple, but he never lost sight of it.
David, for all his erring, understood that God is merciful and not a God of war. He had been compassionate and nonviolent with Saul in his day, and now believed that, after so many years of fighting, God was withholding the temple from him because of his warmongering. So, instead of building the temple, he just drew up plans and started collecting materials for this prophesied son to use to build this promised “house of the Lord”. He, and his son Solomon, believed that Solomon’s temple would be the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophesy.
What David missed was a beautiful explanation of God’s goodness to always be with his people. He’s among the sheep and he’s in the king’s house. He’s in Egypt, and in the desert, and in a tent, and in a tabernacle. He has always fed his people, not once telling them they needed to build him a building of cedars. In fact, throughout all of the wandering he consistently told the people to not build idols, shrines, or buildings. Do not go after the gods you used to know. I am with you always and you do not need to do anything to appease me. “I have been with thee withersoever thou hast walked.”
There are times when I haven’t been able to go to the temple. The temple was too far away. I had young children. I had no transportation. It’s closed for renovation or cleaning. I’ve been denied a temple recommend. I was pregnant and so sick all the time. I was just sick. I’m too old to make it through an ordinance. I was too weak to stand on my own. Some of those are not my lived experiences, but I honor them, and all others like them. There are times when we all have felt beyond the reach of the peace of the temple walls. There are times when I have needed the reminder that he is with me withersoever I walk.
In John 4, we read of a Samaritan women who had been rejected by the Jews in Jerusalem because of her heritage, and by the people of her own community because of her life choices. She’s so tired of being told that she’s not good enough. She’s tired of feeling like she has no access to God, tired of feeling rejected and unloved. She meets Jesus at Jacob’s well. She’s a bit snarky with him as he tries to tell her that he can offer her living water, and quench her thirst forever.
He needs to break through. He stops her line of questioning and asks her to get her husband, knowing he’s going to touch on a sore subject but then be able to lovingly tear down the walls she’s built around her heart. She’s shocked by his ability to know intimate details about her life, but she’s not ready to give up easily. Calling Jesus a prophet, she confronts him as a representative of the holy men of the day, questioning why they would require that people worship only in Jerusalem at the temple. Why do the Jews think they know everything and have special access to God?
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (John 4:20)
She’s in so much pain. And Jesus’ response is that of the Master Healer.
Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21–24)
Jesus, as no other could, acknowledges her pain, recognizes the conditions she’s living with, and declares the good news that access to God is for all people. All. Father is looking for her. All she needs is her fiery spirit and her sincere desire for truth, which she has already exhibited. The hour is now that the true worshippers will worship right where they are, no mountains or temples required. God is with us withersoever we walk.
She leaves her pots by the well and runs to tell everyone. She has met the Christ they’ve been waiting and longing for. They believe her, and they believe him, and Jesus’ disciples learn, by example, what it means to cast in their nets.
I love our temples, and truly believe they are beautiful places of transformational healing and connection. I believe God dwells there, as he dwells in all things and in all places, the Spirit standing as a witness of Christ that we might look and live. I also believe that though one does not need the temple to have access to all that God has to offer his children, they are certainly a wonderful way to reach for him. God is forever looking for us, and if we build him a temple, dedicate it to him, and ask him to be there, he will always be there. When I seek him there, I will find him there. And I will also find him on the mountain. And at the well. And in the desert. And in my captivity. Withersoever.