by Peter Ditzel
The term “house of God” is used throughout Judges and 1 Chronicles to refer to the tabernacle.
Beginning in 1 Kings 3:1, “house of the Lord” begins to be used, not of the tabernacle, but of the temple that was built by Solomon after David’s death. And beginning with 2 Chronicles 3:3, “house of God” also begins to be used of the temple.
So far, then, we have seen these terms used at first to refer to a piece of ground where Jacob had a vision of the ladder (which we know to be Christ) and the pillar Jacob set up. Then the terms are transferred to the tabernacle, then to the temple that replaced the tabernacle.
In Ezra and Nehemiah, “house of God” and “house of the Lord” are both used of the second temple that was built under Zerubbabel after the Jew’s return from captivity. The first temple had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.
In the Psalms, we begin to see these terms used in a way that appears to have a double meaning; that is, a physical meaning and a spiritual meaning. For example, let’s look at Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” What does David mean by “house of the Lord”? I believe that David is not writing just about the physical tabernacle of his time, but also about the heavenly temple where he will dwell forever.
Let’s look at Psalm 92:13: “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.” Now, of course, people cannot really be planted in a building. So there is at least figurative language here and, perhaps, also a spiritual meaning referring to eternity.
When we look at the prophets, we see the terms “house of God” and “house of the Lord” often used to mean the temple. Sometimes these are prophecies of the second temple that was built under Zerubbabel after the return from captivity, yet these prophecies were written before the return from the captivity. But some of the references are not to the physical temple.
In Ezekiel, beginning with chapter 40, Ezekiel is given a vision that obviously does not deal with physical Jerusalem and the physical temple. Baptist theologian and commentator, John Gill, says this: “Many Christian commentators have omitted the exposition of these chapters; and all acknowledge the difficulties in them. Something however may be got out of them, relating to the Gospel, and Gospel church state, which I am fully persuaded is intended by the city and temple; for that no material building can be designed is clear from this one observation; that not only the whole land of Israel would not be capable of having such a city as is here described built upon it, but even all Europe would not be sufficient; nor the whole world, according to the account of the dimensions which some give of it.”
In Ezekiel 44:4-5, Ezekiel uses the term “house of the Lord” to refer to this temple in this vision. When we get to the New Testament, we will see more of what this vision might be about, but it is certainly not about a physical building.
Next, let’s look at Hosea 8:1: “Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law.” What is “the house of the Lord” here?
Notice that it says, “He shall come as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant.” This is a prophecy against Israel. John Gill says of “house of the Lord” here, “meaning not the temple at Jerusalem, but the nation of Israel.” So here we see “house of the Lord” being used, not for a place or a pillar or a building, but for a people. “House of Israel,” “house of Judah,” “house of David,” and so on refer to people because the Hebrew word beth means both a house building and family or household, and so “house of the Lord” can very well mean people of the Lord.
In Joel 3:18, we read, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.” What does Joel mean here by the “house of the Lord”?
How physically should we take this? Will actual, physical mountains drop down new wine? Will actual physical hills flow with milk? Does Joel really mean that a fountain will come out of the temple?
Here’s what John Gill says of this verse: “And a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord; not meaning baptism, as some; nor Christ, the fountain of grace, life, and salvation; but the Gospel, the word of the Lord, that fountain full of excellent truths and doctrines; of the blessings of grace; of exceeding great and precious promises; and of much spiritual peace, joy, and comfort: this is the law or doctrine of the Lord, that should come out of Zion, or the church, Isa 2:3; the living waters that shall come out of Jerusalem, Zec 14:8; and the same with the waters in Ezekiel’s vision, that came from under the threshold of the house, Eze 47:1; it seems to denote the small beginnings of the Gospel, and the great increase and overflow of it in the world, as it does in all the above passages: this is referred by the ancient Jews to the times of the Messiah.” And when are the times of the Messiah? When is the Gospel being preached?
Right now, in this church age. And what, then, does Joel mean by the “house of the Lord” from which flows the Gospel? The church! And I want to point out here that the Greek word translated “church” in the King James Version and many other versions of the New Testament is ekklēsia. This word does not mean a building. This is very important. Ekklēsia does not mean a building. It means an “assembly” or “meeting.”
Now let’s look at Micah 4:1: “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.” Clearly, this is prophetic language. Gill writes, “‘the mountain of the house of the Lord’, which is not literally the same, but what that was typical of, the church of Christ, should be greatly exalted and enlarged.”
Albert Barnes, in his Notes on this passage, quotes someone, and I could not figure out who, but someone is quoted as saying, “This ‘mountain,’ the church of Christ, transcends all laws, schools, doctrines, religions, Synagogues of Jews and Philosophers, which seemed to rise aloft among men, like mountain-tops, yea, whatever under the sun is sublime and lofty, it will overpass, trample on, subdue to itself.”
The last place “house of the Lord” is found in the Old Testament is in Zechariah 14:20-21: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD’S house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.” Is this talking about a physical building? Is it talking about physical bells on horses or physical pots?
It reminds me of Revelation 22:15: “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” All of these, including the Canaanite in the Zechariah Scripture, are representative of the reprobate. If this is not a physical building, and the reprobate are outside of whatever this is, what are they outside of? Well, of course, the reprobate are not a part of the true church of God.
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