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Why Wait?

by Tim O'Hearn

King David had determined to build a permanent house for his God. Perhaps he felt that it was shameful that his God dwelt in a tent while the gods of the nations were housed in permanent dwellings. (OK, some of those dwellings were individual homes, because every man had his own idols, but they were still permanent dwellings.) Whatever his motivation, he was not allowed to build such a place. His son, Solomon, however, did build the Temple to replace the Tent as the housing for the Ark of the Covenant. It took him seven years to build it. (1 Kgs 6:38) Then came Succos (the Feast of Booths).

Solomon completed building the Temple in the eighth month of the eleventh year of his reign. He brought the Ark into the Temple in the seventh month of an unspecified year. Either he brought the Ark before completion of the Temple, or he waited almost a year after completion to bring it up. Either choice seems to indicate that Solomon chose ¬Succos specifically for the dedication of the Temple. Why might he have chosen that time?

It is possible that the building was so nearly completed that this was a good time to bring it. But then, why not five days earlier, on or just before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement? It seems that would have been a more appropriate time to make sure the Ark was in the Holy of Holies. That would be the time that the High Priest would go before the Ark every year. It would have been a day of great significance. If Solomon waited a year to dedicate the Temple there would have been time and ability to install the Ark before the Day of Atonement.

Instead he waited until “the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month.” (1 Kings 7:2) The people celebrated the feast (and the dedication) the required seven days, and then another seven days. Perhaps Solomon wanted a celebration during a feast rather than a fast. Perhaps he wanted to associate this time with joy rather than sorrow. Or, perhaps he had another reason.

During Succos all Israel were required to live in temporary shelters. This was to commemorate their wanderings in the wilderness. For many years, the people of Israel offered sacrifices at a temporary shelter, the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting. Is it significant, then, that this practice ended one Succos? Did Solomon choose this feast for its symbolic significance? At a time when the people moved out of their permanent houses and into temporary shelters the place where God met the people was moved out of a tent and into a permanent house. There are at lest three possible messages. First, God is greater than his people. While they have to live like vagabonds he was able to move into a house. Second, Solomon was emphasizing the peace that typified his name and his reign. Since he had brought about a pax romana (before the Romans existed) the Ark and God could finally settle down. Third, Solomon emphasized that God was among the people. No longer could his Ark be easily taken hither and yon. The people had to face the fact of the presence of God among them.

These may be some ideas that people may need to face even today. God has a permanent place in his world, but we are only here a short while. We need to act as if we are pilgrims in this world. God is peace, and without his presence we cannot have peace. Finally, God is among us. That can be a fearsome or joyous thing. Solomon apparently thought it was something to be celebrated, but it may also serve as a warning. Live as if God is living next door.

(Succos falls on September 23-29 in 2010)