The Ark and the Glory

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

1 Kings 8:1-21 | October 22 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
October 22
The Ark and the Glory | 1 Kings 8:1-21
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Well, people of God, let’s turn in our Bibles tonight to 1 Kings chapter 8 and our text tonight is verses 1 through 21 as we move on in the life and reign of King Solomon. 1 Kings, chapter 8, verses 1 through 21. 1 Kings 8, 1 to 21. We’re really kind of coming to a, I think, a climatic text, a high point in the narrative regarding Solomon’s life and reign, and you can see the heading in the ESV, the ark is brought into the temple. A great event in the life of Israel.

So let’s read together verses 1 through 21 from 1 Kings chapter 8. This is God’s Holy Word.

“Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.”

“Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that He would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built You an exalted house, a place for You to dwell in forever.” Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. And he said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with His hand has fulfilled what He promised with His mouth to David my father, saying, ‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there. But I chose David to be over My people Israel.’ Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for My name.’ Now the Lord has fulfilled His promise that He made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and I have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that He made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.””

Well, dear people of God, we have been working our way through Solomon’s life and reign and over the last number of sermons we’ve been looking at the construction of the temple, which was a centerpiece, of course, of Solomon’s reign, to construct this temple in which God would be and God would live. We’ve noticed that the construction of the temple really is kind of the center. It’s the climax, if you will, of Solomon’s reign. Four and a half chapters from 1 Kings 1 through 1 Kings 11 devoted to the construction of the temple. We saw that the temple was planned and then the temple was built. Last week we saw that the temple was furnished. So all of the pieces of furniture and all the parts and pieces that were used for the worship of God were brought into the temple.

This this concluding statement, chapter 7 verse 51, just before our text tonight: Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished. Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and he stored them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord.

It seems like the end, doesn’t it? That we can just kind of move on from there. But I have a question for you tonight. What if the narrative of Solomon’s life and reign stopped at that point? So the temple is finished, all the things that were part of the furnishings of the temple, they have been brought in, they are now inside of the temple. What if the story ended at that point?

I think all of us realize that something would be missing, right? The story cannot end there. This cannot be the end of the matter. Something would be incomplete. The temple, it would be a great museum piece if the story ended there. It’s kind of like going to Blowing Rock and visiting Cone Manor. Elegant, beautiful, wonderful place but there’s nobody in it. Right? Beautiful, but it’s empty. For all the grandeur of the temple, the temple still needed to be filled. Not just with silver or gold or vessels, but it needed to be filled with God.

Would God come in grace to live among His people? That’s the question here. Would God dwell with Israel?

Our text answers those questions. Because as we read, we read here finally the ark of the Lord, the ark of the covenant, is brought into the temple and the glory of God came down and filled this place.

What we’re going to do tonight is to look at three pieces of what the ark’s entrance into the temple was about, three things it communicates to us, and then we’re going to end tonight with a word of application about our response to that.

First of all, what did the ark communicate, or the entrance of the ark communicate? First of all it communicated God’s presence. It says something about the presence of God. So the ark comes in and it was a wonderfully festive celebration that Israel took part of. Solomon assembled the elders, the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the people. Verse 5 tells us that all of the congregation of Israel gathered and they gathered to celebrate the arrival of the ark to the temple.

It was the seventh month, our text says, a crowded festive month. This was the same month that the Day of Atonement was Celebrated among God’s people, this is the same month that the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated. Most authors think that the arrival of the ark coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles and it makes sense. The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of how God had faithfully been with His people through their wilderness wanderings, when God’s people lived in booths, or lived in tents, and God had wonderfully, providentially provided for them and finally brought them into the Promised Land.

Now the ark of the Lord was no longer in the wilderness, as it were, but it was finally coming to its resting place, to the temple. No longer was the ark going to live in a tent in the tabernacle, but it was now coming to rest in a permanent building in the temple.

Maybe you remember some of the places where the ark had been before, the journey of the ark of the covenant. It had been in Shiloh, where God’s people had worshiped Him. It had been captured by the Philistines, returned to Israel. It settled for a while in the house of Obed-Edom, then moved to the city of David, and now finally in the temple.

In 2 Chronicles 5, the parallel passage to our text tonight, there’s a bit more detail given about the celebration that took place as the ark came into the city and moved into the temple. There were cymbals, there were harps, there were lyres, 120 priests blew their trumpets. There was a great chorus in unison of God’s people praising the Lord, singing together, “The Lord is good, His steadfast endures forever.” It was a wonderfully festive celebration.

But it was also a holy celebration. Verse 5 we read that so many sheep and oxen were sacrificed as the ark came into the temple that they couldn’t be counted. It takes us back to a time when the ark finally came into Jerusalem, away from the Philistines, and came into the city of Jerusalem and we read in 2 Samuel 6 that when it came into the city that time, when those who bore the ark walked six steps, an ox and a fattened animal were sacrificed. Imagine that. They’re carrying the ark. Every six steps, one, two, three, four, five, six, a sacrifice. And then one, two, three, four, five, six, another sacrifice. You don’t get very far, do you, at that rate? But filled with sacrifice.

Here again we don’t know whether it was every six steps that a sacrifice was offered or not, but the sacrifices were so many that they could not be counted or numbered. The reason for this is that this was a holy moment. A holy God coming to dwell among an unholy people, and the only way that is possible is if blood is shed. Sacrifices needed to be made. Then the ark was placed beneath the cherubim, symbol of the holy angels that surround the presence of God, these two cherubim that were above the ark of the covenant. They’re facing each other, their wings outstretched, wing tip to wing tip, covering the ark. Their faces down. These angels symbolically are the protectors of God’s holiness. They stand in reverence before God. They look down. Their faces shielded from the radiance of God’s glory.

Then there were these poles. You read about these poles here that they stretched from, they were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place before the inner sanctuary but could not be seen from the outside, and they are there to this day. The reason why the poles could not be removed is that it was with the poles that the ark could be moved. The ark was so holy you cannot touch the ark, you could only touch the poles that you grab onto to lift the ark up. These were long enough that the priests who entered the holy place, so they’re not yet into the holy of holies, they’re in that room just before the holy of holies, they enter the holy place and they can see the poles, maybe even pressing a little bit on the veil that existed between the holy place and the holy of holies. Cannot see the ark but they know that the ark is there. This holy presence of God.

So the ark enters in and the glory comes down. You see that in verses 10 and 11. This was the signal of God’s presence among His people. God had promised this two chapters earlier, chapter 6:13 – I will live among the Israelites.

This is what was happening as the glory of God fell. We read that a cloud filled the house of the Lord. No doubt this is the same cloud that had led God’s people through the wilderness. Remember as the cloud moved, so God’s people moved. God leading the way. God being with His people. When the cloud settled, then the glory came, the glory of the Lord filled the house and the priests were not able to stand and minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

We understand, of course, that God is so great that He is everywhere. He is omnipresent. So great that not even the heavens can contain God. But this is where God chose to live among His people in covenant love. This is where God came to dwell among them.

You might remember Moses saying as Israel was traveling through the wilderness, “God, if You will not go with us, if You are not there with us as Your people, we cannot go up. We’re not going to move if You’re not there, if You don’t dwell with Your people, we cannot go.”

And here was God coming down to live among the people of Israel. In the ark, at the mercy seat, the top lid of the ark, or as it’s called sometimes in the Scriptures, the ark called the footstool of God. God came to live and here God would be worshiped among His people.

Matthew Henry in his commentary puts it like this. He said the temple, though richly beautified, yet while it was without the ark was like a body without a soul, or a candlestick without a candle, or to speak more properly, a house without an inhabitant. All the cost and pains bestowed on this stately structure are lost if God does not accept them and unless He pleases to own it as the place where He will record His name. It is, after all, but a ruinous heap.

So if we get to the end of chapter 7 and there the temple is standing, all the furniture, the pews, the pulpit, all the stuff is brought inside and God doesn’t come to live there, what is it? Just a ruinous heap, Henry says. It’s just a building.

But here God’s presence could be found.

A second thing the ark’s entrance into the temple communicates is something about God’s precepts. So God’s presence and God’s precepts.

The arrival of the ark was a reminder to Israel that they were to live in covenant with God. It’s interesting, isn’t it, in the chapters preceding chapter 8, particularly chapter 7 that we went through last Sunday night, there are so many descriptions of what was inside the temple. Maybe you caught that last week as we were reading through that chapter, detail after detail, this piece and this piece. This piece of furniture and that vessel and all of the stuff, so many descriptions of what was inside the temple, but there’s only one description of what was inside the ark. Many things inside the temple, only one thing inside the ark. Verse 9 – there was nothing in the ark, our text says, except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel when they came out of the land of Egypt. So just these two tablets inside the ark.

Now you may remember from Hebrews chapter 9 the writer of Hebrews writes about three things that were inside the ark. There were the two tablets of stone with the 10 commandments, a pot of manna to remind Israel how God had been faithful to them throughout the wilderness, and then Aaron’s staff that had butted as a testimony of who God’s appointment was as priest.

But it seems by the time of Solomon only the two tablets were left. We really don’t know what happened to those other items.

Two tablets, sometimes called tablets of the covenant, inside the ark, the ark of the covenant. These tablets, people of God, were a reminder to Israel that God had entered covenant with them and that they were to live as His people. We read about it here. God had redeemed them. God had taken them out of Egypt. He had made them His own people. He had entered covenant with them on Mount Sinai and they were to respond to God in faith and obedience.

You ever ask yourself the question why two tablets? Well, pictures tell us sometimes. I don’t think correctly, but pictures tell us. So you see these pictures around of two tablets and on one tablet are the first four commandments, like the first table of the law, which is all about our love for God, and then you see sometimes a picture of the second tablet and then there’s six commandments on it, the second table of the law, our obligations to our neighbor, to love them.

I don’t think that’s probably why there were two tablets in the ark. In ancient times when kings made a treaty with one another, made a covenant with one another, each king would take a tablet with the covenant inscribed on it and take it back to their own land and put it in the sanctuary of their God. So this king takes a tablet, here’s the treaty, here’s the covenant, brings it home, puts it in the sanctuary, it’s there as a testimony to the covenant that he has made. This king takes the other tablet, goes to his home, puts it in his temple, it’s there for him as a testimony of the covenant that they have made.

Two tablets. Why? Well, one, as it were, reminding God of the covenant that He had made with Israel. The other tablet reminding Israel of the covenant that they had entered with God. Because there’s only one true God, there are not many gods, there’s only one true God, both tablets go into the sanctuary of the living God and they enter the ark.

Here’s the point. The tablets of stone reminded Israel of what obedience to God in covenant looked like. So here comes the ark, making its way into the temple, the tablets inside of the ark, the people being reminded, the people having it right before their eyes, as it were. You are the covenant people of the Lord. You are to dedicate yourself to God. You are to live for God. You are to obey God. You are to love God.

It wasn’t just a reminder to God’s people, it was a reminder to King Solomon that yes, while he was king, he was to serve the King and he was to point God’s people to God Himself.

We’ve been learning how much he needed this. In fact, we’re going to learn it even more. The next chapters that we’re going to enter as we move into the final chapters of Solomon’s life, reminder Solomon, you need to remember that you’re in covenant with God. You’re to obey Him, you are to serve Him.

Friends, we need that reminder, too, don’t we? All the time. When we think about covenant, we so often think about the privileges, the blessings of being in covenant with God, as we should. That God is our God, we are His people, that God in His grace has come to us, condescended, come down, stooped to our level, and has made us His very own.

But don’t forget that when you live in covenant with God, there’s obligations. We’re to respond in faith and obedience and love to Him. We don’t want to be found to be covenant breakers in this relationship with God. That’s what Israel was reminded of, that here were the precepts of God before their very eyes.

Third thing that Israel was reminded of was God’s promises. This is what Solomon particularly blessed the Lord for in verses 12 through 21. He praised God that God had kept all the promises that He had made to Israel and to David. You see these in verse 20. He praises God that God had fulfilled the promise that he would follow David and sit on David’s throne. Remember that promise was made back in 2 Samuel 7, there’s going to be a son that reigns after you.

Then he praises God for keeping His promise that David’s son would build a house for God, for His name, and here the temple is standing and Solomon praises God that God had been faithful in keeping that promise as well.

Solomon here recognizes that it’s the goodness of God and the grace of God that has brought the temple about. Yes, this was a mark of his wisdom, but ultimately it was not in the wisdom of Solomon but in the grace of God that the temple was standing there, that the ark of the covenant had come in, that God had chosen to live among His people. The initiative for this was the Lord; it wasn’t Solomon, it wasn’t his bright idea to build a temple and then God just says, “Okay, I guess I better fill it.” That’s not the way it worked. God had promised that He would do this.

As the temple stood there, this is the promise of God being fulfilled and Solomon blesses the Lord for His faithful keeping of his promises.

Friends, within this there’s a most wonderful expression that Solomon makes of the faithfulness of God. You see it in verse 15 when Solomon says, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with His hand has fulfilled what He has promised with His mouth.”

Isn’t that a beautiful way of saying it? God has fulfilled with His hand what He had promised with His mouth.

This is simply an anthropomorphism, a description of God in human terms. God’s hand, God’s mouth. But notice the connection between the two, that when God promises something with His mouth, God always fulfills that promise with His hand. When He gives a promise, He fulfills that promise. He will accomplish what He says He will do.

Solomon said that in the context of praise and prayer. I think that’s a wonderful encouragement to our own prayer lives. Prayer is not a request of God of simply whatever our heart’s desire, because our hearts desire many, many different things. Not always exactly what we ought to desire.

So prayer is not coming to God and simply saying, “God, this is what I want, this is what I desire. Would You do it? Would You grant my desires?” But rather prayer is an asking of God to do with His hand what He has said with His mouth.

Let me say that again. Prayer is asking of God to do with His hand what He has said He would do with His mouth.

In other words, our prayers ought to find their substance in what God has spoken, and in prayer we ask God to be faithful to His Word, to His promises, and to accomplish what He has said with His hand, and Solomon recognized that here. The Lord has done it. He said something, He promised something, and now with His hand He has fulfilled all what He has promised with His mouth.

God’s presence, God’s precepts, God’s promises.

That leads us, people of God, to our praise. How does Solomon respond? The temple is up, the ark has come in, the glory has fallen. Well, he blessed God. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he says. It was in the presence of the congregation. As the passage says, with his hands spread out towards the heavens, he exulted and praised God for his steadfast love and faithfulness.

Can you imagine being in that worship setting? Being one of the Israelites and here comes the ark and it’s making its way from the city of David, from Zion. It’s climbing its way up the temple mount and passes through the front doors of the temple and into the holy place and then finally settles into the holy of holies, for the great cause for the worship of God.

I’d say to you tonight that we have even more reason to praise God because of the Lord Jesus Christ, because I think this text has everything to do with Jesus, pointing forward towards Him. In Christ, God has indeed come to live among us, hasn’t He? As He did in that temple with God’s people. That’s why we read tonight from John chapter 1, verse 14 – The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we have seen what? Just like here in 1 Kings 8. What have we seen? We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He became flesh and dwelt. He tabernacled, literally tabernacled among us. God lived in a tabernacle and a temple, so in Christ God has come to dwell with us. He lives among us. His glory is revealed. To see Jesus is to see the Father.

Remember the announcement at His birth – give Him the name. What? Immanuel, God with us. This is God come to dwell with us.

And at His death, at His crucifixion, you remember the veil of the temple torn from top to bottom. With the death of Christ, the way opened for us to God, to enter into the holy of holies where the priest could only do this once a year, with blood, now it’s opened. God’s glory is so great, God’s holiness so immense, our sin so poignant that you cannot enter the room where God is, but in Christ there is a way for us to approach God, to meet Him and to know Him. So in Christ God has come to live with us. In Christ there’s no longer a need for a temple.

It’s interesting. When they brought the ark into the temple, there’s a reference in verse 4 that they took the ark of the Lord, they brought up the ark of the Lord, and the tent of meeting and all the holy vessels. After this reference the tent of meeting disappears. Tent of meeting was simply the tabernacle. From this point on we don’t read about the tent of meeting, we don’t read about the tabernacle anymore.

Why is that? Because with the temple, the tabernacle is obsolete. The curtains of the tent of meeting, they can be folded up and put away, stored. Not needed anymore. God will have no rival place where He will be worshiped. Worshiped at the tent of meeting, now worshiped at the temple, and the tent of meeting goes away.

People of God, you see this very same thing happened when Christ came and tabernacled among us. The very same thing was happening with regard now to the temple. Not the tent of meeting, but the temple. As it were it can be folded up, it can be put away because Christ has come.

This is why Jesus, when He’s talking to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 and she’s saying to Him, well, you know, “You Jews, you worship in Jerusalem, we worship on this mountain on Gerizim,” and Jesus says, “You know that the hour is coming when you will worship neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem for the true worshipers of God worship in spirit and truth.”

It’s not going to be Jerusalem, it’s not going to be Gerizim. Why? Because the Christ has come. That’s why Jesus says later on, “You destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” What are you talking about, Jesus? It took 46 years to build this temple. You’re going to raise it in three days? And John wonderfully tells us, of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about the temple, He was talking about the temple of His body.

You see what all this is saying? It’s with the coming of Christ, His death and resurrection, the temple is done. No temple anymore. In fact, we’ve become His temple. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. God’s people, sometimes they worship in churches, sometimes they worship in huts, sometimes they worship in houses, sometimes they worship in schools. Wherever God’s people gather, there the Lord is.

I’ve loved it over the years of my ministry, occasionally taking communion to somebody from the church. You find this shut-in, this elderly member of the church or somebody who’s sick in the church, “I can’t come to church, I can’t come to church, I can’t come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.” You know what we’re able to say to them? You can’t make it to the church, but the church will come to you. We gather some brothers and sisters in Christ and take a couple of elders of the church along and bring the worship of God to their home. Because we don’t have to come to a temple any longer.

Here’s our glorious identity. Paul writes about it in Ephesians chapter 2. He says so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, you are fellow citizens with the saints and the members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord, and in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God by His Spirit.

God lives with us. No longer a need for a temple.

Finally, in Christ we look forward to a greater glory that is to come, even more glorious than what Israel witnessed when the ark entered the temple. There’s a greater glory coming because Jesus is coming back. He’s going to return and He will come down, not as a cloud, but He will come down on the clouds and we will be ushered into the presence of God. There will be no temple in that New Jerusalem because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Then it will be said, and I love this, this is probably one of my favorite parts of Revelation, I can’t wait until Kevin gets there, it’ll be a while yet but when he gets there, chapter 20 – Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man and He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God.

The very thing that Israel longed for, the very thing that they were experiencing here in 1 Kings 8, we are going to experience in a more glorious way in a new heavens and a new earth, the New Jerusalem. God dwells with us forever.

So you see that all that the coming of the ark meant for Israel, what a glorious worship celebration, a holy event it was, all of that has and will come true even more for us who are in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Let’s pray together. We do praise You, Father, for coming to dwell with us as Your people in Christ Jesus. You dwell not only with us but now by Your Spirit You dwell in us. We do pray that we would be faithful to respond in faith and obedience, that we would live as Your holy temples, glorifying and praising You. We look forward to the glory that is to come when Jesus Christ returns, when You’ll dwell with us forever as our God and we as Your people. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.