Several of the Psalms we first encounter in our reading today exalt the excellencies of Jerusalem and the Temple in the midst of her. We can understand the reason for this. The LORD had centralized the worship of His people there. The surrounding peoples believed in many ‘gods’ and worshiped their idols in many different temples and high places. The pagan worship of fertility gods and goddesses always posed a threat to the monotheism of the Jews.
In order to combat this, I believe the LORD had ordained one place to worship Him. Because the LORD was holy and distinct from His creation, He had to teach His people that they could not approach Him in any way they chose or in a irreverent manner. God was not like them. The LORD ordained the Levitical priesthood to instruct the Israelites in proper worship of God and to mediate there approach to Him through sacrifice.
So it is understandable why Jerusalem and the Temple, under David and his descendants, became so important in the covenant faith of the Jews. Mount Zion, which was the specific location of the Jerusalem Temple, became the center of the Jew’s world. For example, from Psalm 50:1,2 we read these words: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”
The Psalms repeatedly exalt Mt. Zion and Jerusalem. Another example is Psalm 46:4,5: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of our God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day.” Jerusalem and the Temple were the apple of God’s eye. But there was an inherent danger here.
I believe the Jerusalem Temple and the Levitical priesthood did foster development of a maturing covenant faith for the Israelites. But the beauty of Mt. Zion and the exaltation of the religious rituals performed at the Jerusalem Temple could also foster a false sense of security for the Jewish people. And this is what happened.
The Jews gave way to the false notion that because the LORD had so exalted Mt. Zion that they were always guaranteed God’s presence, protection and blessings irrespective of their faithfulness to their covenant God. When the LORD raised up the prophet Jeremiah, one of the 1st places He sent him was to the Jerusalem Temple (Jer. 7:2). In Jeremiah’s message recorded in chapter 7, we read the LORD declaring that the animal and grain offerings offered at the Temple are meaningless without obedience to the Mosaic Covenant (Jer. 7:21-25).
Even in the Psalms, the LORD warns against a magical view of the Temple and its rituals (see Ps. 50:7-15). The LORD urges His people “to fulfill your vows to the Most High” (Ps. 50:14b). Over and over we see how the LORD values faithfulness in our dealings with Him and one another. The LORD is not looking for “religious superstars” but faithful Stans and faithful Joannes. This is how God’s kingdom comes into our world and lives. In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John