I am continuing to read G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Mission of the Church. He has argued that the Israelite temple was similar to other temples we know about from ancient texts and archeological discoveries. Temples stood for the whole cosmos. They were the visible and invisible world in miniature, a scaled-down model of the creation.
Now Beale further argues that the Temple represents God’s rest after creation. He draws on works by Jon Levenson and John Walton that relate the Temple to the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4. The big point here is that the Temple is God’s resting place after the work of creation.
Now this raises a question I have always had about the Genesis creation story. Why did God need to rest after creation?
The usual idea of creation is that God did everything by fiat. He spoke the world into existence. It was like God went zap and there was the firmament, then land and sea, then plants and animals. Finally, God went zap and there was man and woman. He was a divine magician who said the magic word or waved the magic wand and things that had not existed instantaneously came into existence.
God is God and can do anything he wants at the snap of his fingers. It does not sound like work from which he would need to rest.
But if we take seriously that Israel’s mind-set was similar to that of other ancient cultures in her neighborhood, then there may be a different view. Creation was a struggle. God or the gods did battle with the forces of chaos and the creation was a victory in a hard-fought combat. The priestly account plays this down, but it is very much there in the Psalms, Job and the imagery of the prophets.
This seems to me to fit more with the nature of the world. Evolution and natural history show long eras, growth and development by fits and starts and dead ends. Creation is more like an ongoing struggle than an instantaneous act.
And if creation was a titanic struggle that God finally won, then it makes a lot of sense that the aftermath would be a time of rest.
Getting back to Beale, he quotes Psalm 137:14 where God says of Zion, “this is my resting place forever.” There are other passages, especially from late works like the books of Chronicles and Judith that express this idea. God’s rest is like that of a king who has subdued his enemies and now reigns unchallenged. It signifies the sovereignty of God. The imagery of God sitting on a throne and having a footstool relates to this. In keeping with the idea that the Temple is the cosmos in miniature, God sits enthroned in the presence of the heavenly beings.
Beale brings up an interesting idea in regard to the story that David could not build a temple because he was a man of war. The idea is that there is a parallel between God’s reign and the king’s reign. Solomon is portrayed as the king who rules in peace without internal opposition and without much external opposition. So Solomon built the Temple at a time when the sovereignty of the Israelite king matched in a way the sovereignty of God after the struggle of creation.
I think Beale tends to pass over the mythological basis for the idea of creation as a struggle. It raises difficult theological questions (the sovereignty of God as the result of a struggle rather than a divine attribute). But it also recognizes the complexity and inertia that characterizes the real world. The Bible’s priests more than its poets saw the theological problem. So we have some tension within the Bible about this.