The Temple / Creation Link

In my last post I argued that temples, both for the culture in general and Israel in particular, were viewed as a kind of microcosm – a miniature representation of creation.To further strengthen that observation, I’d like to explore two more angles: First, I’d like to briefly consider how the Jews themselves interpreted many of the elements of the temple. Second, since the temple reflects creation, I’d like to reverse the question and ask if creation reflects the temple at all.

Jewish Interpretations of Temple Details

Many Jewish ancient sources also confirm this interpretation. Josephus in his Antiquties (3.181; 3.123) and Midrash Rabbah Numbers 13:19 confirm the tripartite structure as reflecting the earth and heavens. For example, Josephus, in describing the tabernacle in general says that

As for the inside, Moses parted its length into three partitions… to be an imitation of the system of the world; for that third part thereof … is, as it were, a heaven peculiar to God. (Josephus, Ant, Book 3, Chapter 6.4.)

He continues on to describe the lampstand saying, “ It terminated in seven heads, in one row, all standing parallel to one another; and these branches carried seven lamps, one by one, in imitation of the number of the planets.” In fact, many sources confirmed the lights of the lampstand as representing the lights of the heavens (Josephus, Ant. 3:145; War 5:217; Philo, Rer. Div. Her 221-225; Vit. Mos. 2.102-105; Quaest. Exod. 2.73-81; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5.6).

Josephus speaks at length in book 5 of his Wars of the Jews about the temple. In there he speaks of the curtains:

It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and . . . was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens. (Josephus, War, Book 5, Chapter 5.4.)

He adds that the veil “typified the universe” and on it “was portrayed a panorama of the heavens” (Josephus, War, 210-214, as quoted in Beal, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, p 46). Philo agrees with this interpretation saying, “Moreover, he chose the materials of this embroidery, selecting with great care what was most excellent out of an infinite quantity, choosing materials equal in number to the elements of which the world was made” (Philo, Life of Moses, Book 2.88).

In a rather sweeping statement, Josephus claims that, “everyone of these objects [of the tabernacle] is intended to recall and represent the nature of the universe.” (Ant 3.180).

A talmudic sage of the second century A.D. said that

The house of the Holy of Holies is made to correspond to the highest heaven. The outer holy house was made to correspond to the earth. And the courtyard was made to correspond to the sea ( Rabbi Pinhas ben Ya’ir, as cited in Patai 1967: 108).

Creation as Temple

Israel’s God was the God of all creation, not just some tribal deity. He was not a god of the rivers, or a sun god, or the god of the underworld, or a fertility god. He was the one Almighty God of it all. Nothing was outside of his authority. To that end, having seen that the temple/tabernacle passages reflect creation, we may also expect that creation passages would point to the temple, or use temple terminology. That is exactly what we find.

  • 1 Samuel 2:8 For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.
  • 2 Samuel 22:8 “Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
  • Job 9:6 who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble;
  • Job 26:11 The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.
  • Job 38:4-6, 8-11 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
  • Psalm 18:15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
  • Psalm 75:3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
  • Psalm 104:3, 5 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; 5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.
  • Proverbs 8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
  • Proverbs 8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
  • Isaiah 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
  • Amos 9:6 who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.
  • Hebrews 1:10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

God is the builder who measures and stretches and sets foundations. He lays the cornerstone and stretches a line across to measure its straightness. In contrast to all the tribal deities who ruled over a certain region, YHWY ruled over it all. In contrast to other deities who sprung from nature, the Lord God made it all. Therefore He can do what no other deity can – make the universe as his own dwelling.