Where Does God Dwell?


Haftarat Terumah (1 Kings 5:26–6:13 [5:12–6:13])

Dr. Vered Hillel, Netanya, Israel

As for this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to your father David. I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel. (1 Kings 6:12–13)

These words to Solomon refer to the promise Hashem gave to David, that one of David’s descendants would build a house for Hashem’s name and that he would build a permanent dynasty for David (2 Sam 7). Ultimately, these words were fulfilled in Yeshua, the King and Messiah of Israel. As we say at Pesach, dayenu, this would have been enough, but Haftarat Terumah contains so much more than a fulfillment of a promise or a litany of architectural details. It records a monumental and defining event in the history and life of the people of Israel.

Israel had grown from a family, to a tribe of liberated slaves, to a covenant people wandering through the desert, to an established nation with a king. By the time of Solomon’s reign, Israel had become a superpower in the Middle East. Egypt and Mesopotamia had both fallen from power, leaving a political vacuum that Israel filled. Israel had reached its greatest heights of political, economic and intellectual greatness, and Solomon’s building of the Temple was the pinnacle. According to Rambam in Mishneh Torah, after entering the Land, Israel was to appoint a king (Deut 17:14–15), destroy the descendants of Amalek (Deut 25:19)—both of which were completed through Saul and David—and build the Temple (Deut 12:5; cf. Exod 25:8), which Solomon was building (Hilchot Kings and Wars 1:1).

A couple of pertinent details are found in Exodus 25:8. Hashem told Moshe to tell B’nei Israel to “make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.” Notice that the verse refers to the Mishkan or Tabernacle, and states, “that I may dwell in them (plural),” and not “in it,” meaning the sanctuary. Neither the Mishkan nor the Temple was intended to house God. No physical space, no matter how large or small, temporary or permanent, can contain God. Hashem says through Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?” (Isa 66:1). At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon affirmed God’s omnipresence, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built” (1 Kings 8:27). Both sanctuaries were meant to serve as a place where people could meet with God, and to enable God to dwell in the midst of B’nei Israel. God is everywhere, but we don’t sense the presence of God the same way in every place. The sanctuary was holy space where the presence of God touched the hearts of all who worshiped there. Though the Mishkan and Temple share the common purpose of providing a place for Israel and God to meet, the two institutions represent two different seasons and needs in the history and life of Israel. 

The Mishkan was the first collective house of worship for Israel. It was small and temporary, designed to travel along with Israel on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and constructed from readily available materials from the animal and vegetable kingdom, of beams and hangings that could be dismantled easily and carried by the Levites. In Parashat Terumah (Exod 25:1–27:19), we read that the Mishkan was constructed by voluntary and enthusiastic participation from the whole of the Jewish people. They brought free-will offerings, gave of their time and talents, and supported the communal sacrifices through a regulated gift of a half-shekel per person. Although they were recently liberated slaves, they constructed the Mishkan with no foreign help, contributions, or labor. In contrast, the Temple was permanent, larger and more opulent. It was constructed from stones and materials obtained from foreigners, was built by conscripted labor, and was financed and supported from the king’s coffers. In short, the Mishkan was built by the people of Israel as a loving response to Hashem, while the Temple was primarily built by artisans commissioned by King Solomon and King Hiram as an extension of royal power.  

At first glance the Mishkan appears to be the work of God, thus positive, and the Temple the work of man, thus negative. This view is reinforced by the destruction of the Temple—twice. However, a look at the function of each structure demonstrates that each met the physical, cultural, and societal needs of two different seasons. The Mishkan was small and portable, suited for the needs of Israel during their wanderings, while the Temple was monumental and permanent, just as an established and powerful nation needed at that time. The two different sanctuaries provided a place for Israel and Hashem to meet in a manner appropriate for the different seasons of Israel’s life.  

The same principle applies to our lives. The manner in which Hashem meets with us may change throughout the seasons of our lives, but his presence and holiness do not change. No matter our season of life, we must guard against becoming apathetic, which happened with Temple worship and eventually led to its destruction, and actively pursue a vibrant relationship with Hashem. Remember that the Spirit of God does not dwell in buildings, but in the builders. As believers in Yeshua we are not only builders but living stones being built together into a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.

I encourage all of us to stir up our hearts to ignite or reignite a dynamic and passionate relationship with him (cf. 2 Tim 1:6), so we can be built into a sanctuary (Eph 2:22) where the presence of God may be sensed by all.

Russ Resnik