1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-44
It was the fulfillment of David’s dream, which he never lived to see in this life. After seven years of careful construction under the guidance of the Lord, finally it stood before the people of Israel. For hundreds of years, the Ark of the Covenant had stayed in a tent, moved from place to place. The Ark had been stolen by the Philistines, and it caused the death of hundreds when some foolish Israelites dared to take a peek inside. Now, hopefully for all time, it had a permanent home. The temple stood ready to be a place of prayer, sacrifices, teaching God’s word, and a focal meeting place between God and humanity.
I submit that Solomon’s prayer of dedication stands out as one of the most meaningful and profound passages in the entire Bible. I could spend two or three days examining it, but here I want to address just one major issue, a serious potential problem created by this very magnificent building.
I know that it’s a cliché that people use, but the term “God in a box” is actually a useful phrase at times. The problem was that with this new temple, God’s people might be tempted to think of him as literally in a box. Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wanted to cut off that attitude as quickly as possible.
What do we mean when we use the term “putting God in a box”? People in church circles use it quite frequently, usually without really thinking about its definition. I would simply define it as “putting limits on God that he's not put on himself.” For example, believing that salvation is only possible through faith in Christ is not “putting God in a box,” because this is a limitation which is completely biblical. But believing that God limits salvation to only one racial group would certainly qualify, because there’s no basis for it; on the contrary, that idea would completely contradict the plain teaching of Scripture.
With this new temple, the people were in danger of putting limits on the Lord in at least two ways. The first way would be to think that God was actually limited to that building. You can see how easy it is to fall into this trap: "This is the official meeting place for us to commune with him, so this is where he lives." Once you start thinking that way, it’s easy to think that once you leave the temple, you’ve left his presence. Um, no. He's with you, and he’s watching you 24-7. Do you think this notion is a thing of the past, of the Old Testament? Let me answer your question with a question. How many married couples out there fight all the way to church like cats and dogs, then suddenly act all “lovey-dovey” as soon as they drive onto the church parking lot? So he only starts listening and cares about how you treat your spouse once you’re on church property?
In response to this, Solomon asked “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” His understanding of the Lord Almighty was a bit larger than most of us. Even with this magnificent structure, he was under no illusion that the God of Israel actually was contained within any “box” which man had built.
The other danger of “putting God in a box” was figurative. As we mentioned before, it was common for Old Testament Jews to think that because they were God’s people, he really didn’t care about any others. But what was one of the main reasons for building the temple? Read vss. 41-44 again. Sounds like the beginnings of missionary thinking. I’ve spoken on this before, but it does get me pretty upset: The tendency we have to think that he somehow loves our people group more than he loves those “others.”
So please, let’s not put any limits on God that he doesn’t place on himself.
Father God, you are so big, and my vision of you is so small. Open my eyes, just a little bit, to how big you really are.