“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let the whole earth be silent in his presence.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There are some people who, when they speak, everyone around them listens. You’ve perhaps been around people like this before. There was just something about them. Not everyone has this. It’s generally a reputation that is earned over time. Not everyone recognizes it immediately. But when they do, they fall in line. What Habakkuk wants us to recognize here is that God is one of these people.
In the ancient world, the temple functioned differently in the hearts and minds of the people than we think about the church today. They tended to build temples tall. The easiest way to build something tall out of stone is to build it in a series of rising steps. That way you have these convenient steps already in place to reach the upper floors and don’t have to worry about using some unstable scaffolding to do it. The most natural base for this kind of approach is a square base. Well, when you take a stair-stepping building approach starting from the four equal sides of a square base, eventually you come to a single point. Thus, ancient temples from around the world share a similar shape: a pyramid.
These pyramids were generally built as tall as they could make them. The reason for this had to do with the function of the temple in most ancient religions. It was intended to be a place for the god who was the object of its worship to live. But, in order to get this god to come and live there, they had to make it tall enough to get his attention since he was up in the sky somewhere. Often these tower temples would be topped with a small, furnished room. This was intended to be for the god’s use. The reason for this was that if he lived there, the people would be covered by and benefit from his power.
This is likely what was going on in the story of the Tower of Babel. The people were trying to build a tower high enough to get God’s attention to live there. By making a name for themselves He would be more likely to pay attention to them. God’s response to this was at least in part about teaching them that’s not the kind of God He is. Tall towers aren’t impressive to Him. He’s drawn to an entirely different kind of display.
Later, temples changed a bit. They were built with an interior room that contained some kind of an image of the god. This was where the god was believed to live. In this sense, Solomon’s temple was very similar to every other ancient temple of its day and for the next thousand years or so in its design and layout. The one major difference was that his temple did not have an image in the center room. When God did take up residence after making clear that He did not value the temple per se and would see it destroyed if they didn’t live up to His standards, He inhabited the temple as a cloud. No image to be found. And a cloud can come and go as it pleases.
Still, the image of God in the temple was a powerful one. It stuck in the hearts and minds of the people. When the god was in residence, the people would pay extra close attention. They would lean in and listen closely. He was in his position of authority and he had the kind of authority that was recognized with silence. He was in charge and you were not. His was the power, yours the task to obey.
But, the best of them understood that God’s real temple wasn’t the one sitting in Jerusalem—the one awaiting its eventual destruction according to the prophets. God’s temple wasn’t made by human hands. His temple extended to the highest heavens and the ends of the earth. We don’t have to try and get His attention by building tall towers or making the right sacrifices. He is always engaged with His world. He knows what’s happening in every part of it all of the time. He is the great Lord and King.
This image of God being in His temple here at the end of the woe judgments is intended to be a punctuation on them. God is watching and He’s in charge. He is not going to let things get out of hand. Ever. He is going to deal rightly and justly with everything that needs dealing with. Our position is to trust and obey.
This should all strike the reader in one of two ways. If you are pursuing a path other than His, it should be a note of foreboding. God is on His throne. You won’t get away with sin and unrighteousness forever. He will one day make all things right.
For those who are pursuing the path of righteousness, though, this is intended to be a note of encouragement. God is on His throne. The hardships you face—be they the result of human sin or natural evil like this virus—are always and only short-terms affairs. They will not last forever. In Christ we know that their end has already been scheduled. We may not know when that will come, but we can have absolute confidence and faith that it will come and because of that hope.
In this season of fear and anxiety, of terrible unknowns and frightening knowns, rest quietly in this truth: The Lord is in His holy temple.