God Leaves the Temple
“Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them” (vv. 18–19a).- Ezekiel 10
Travel the world, and you will find Christians meeting for worship in unusual locales. New church plants often hold services in school cafeterias or movie theaters. Even old railroad cars have been used as church buildings in other countries. Moreover, unusual congregational meeting places are nothing new. After all, the earliest believers often met for worship in the Roman catacombs during periods of persecution.
Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman in John 4 has inspired Christians’ willingness to meet wherever we can find space. Our Savior’s statement that His followers will not worship exclusively in Samaria or Jerusalem but “in spirit and truth” indicate that God’s presence is not limited to any place or time (vv. 21–24). That is not to say that sacred space has no place in the new covenant. Our sanctuaries’ design and architecture always influence our worship for good or for ill. However, the Lord is not limited to one place, nor does He require a specific kind of church building for us to worship Him rightly.
Right before the exile into Babylon, the old covenant community lost sight of the fact that the Lord does not limit Himself to one place. True, He chose to make His presence felt in a special way in the Jerusalem temple during the old covenant period. Yet He was by no means imprisoned there. A belief that God could never leave His temple, however, was commonly held during the ministries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Thus, the people paid little heed to the warnings of these prophets to repent lest Jerusalem be destroyed. If the Lord could not leave Jerusalem, how could it be destroyed? “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” they would cry in order to shout down the threats of divine judgment (Jer. 7:4).
In this context, the vision God granted to Ezekiel in today’s passage was for the purpose of telling the covenant community that the Lord could not be limited to Jerusalem and that He could easily abandon the physical temple in order to bring about its destruction. Ezekiel saw the same chariot-throne that he wrote about in chapter 1 of his book, only this time the chariot was parked outside the temple (10:1–3). The glory of God left His place above the cherubim of the ark in the Holy of Holies and exited the temple, carried off by the chariot (vv. 4–22). By this vision, Ezekiel saw that Yahweh was leaving the place where His people normally met with Him, opening up Jerusalem to the invasion of its enemies.
For those with the eyes of faith, God’s willingness to leave His temple in Jerusalem was also a positive sign. If the Lord was not limited to Mount Zion and could leave His house there, then He could go with the faithful remnant into exile and protect them. History shows us that this is exactly what God did. He was with Daniel, Ezekiel, Esther, and the other believing exiles when they were in foreign lands. Such is His grace that He never utterly abandons His true children.
Passages for Further Study