Original lettering: מקדש
Sounds like: mik-dawsh
When I think of the word sanctuary my mind immediately takes me to my favourite novel: Victor Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris”, published in 1831. In the book the anti-hero, Quasimodo, loved the gypsy Esmerelda. When she was convicted and sentenced to death, Quasimodo threw Esmerelda over his shoulder and ran towards his beloved home, Notre Dame Cathedral, shouting “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” Quasimodo understood the power of living in God’s house. By just walking through the doors he could save his beloved Esmerelda.
In French medieval law, the church was not under the jurisdiction of the criminal courts, allowing them to house the convicted safely behind closed doors. Anyone who asked for sanctuary would be let in, and as long as they remained within the confines of the church walls they were protected from execution.
It was the walls, holding in sacred space, which made the sanctuary and protected the needy… but Biblical sanctuary was somewhat different.
In the Bible, things that were sanctified were set apart from the unsanctified. These were holy things, associated with divinity. To the early Hebrew people the prime sanctuary was the moveable Tabernacle.
As the people moved, the tabernacle moved with them. In the book of Numbers (10:17) it was disassembled and carried by the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari. But it was the Kohathites who carried the sanctified things which belonged inside the Tabernacle:
Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy objects [the sanctuary (objects): ha-miq’dash]; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival.
It wasn’t the tabernacle/tent that was holy, it was its contents that made it a sanctuary.
The tabernacle was the house of God on earth; it was where people could come into the Presence of YHWH. Although they could not get directly in front of YHWH (who was housed behind the sacred curtain in the official sanctuary), the Tabernacle would get them as close as possible to “God space”.
YHWH’s Dwelling Place
The holiest place in the Tabernacle/Temple was the Sanctuary. It was where the Ark of the Covenant sat and the Presence of YHWH resided:
Exodus 25:8-9 (see also Exodus 15:17-18)
[YHWH:] Have them construct a sanctuary [miq’dash] for Me, so that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, so you shall construct it.
YHWH wanted to be with His people, dwelling among them. He also recognized that the people needed a place where they could physically connect with Him. This was an incredible act. What kind of god would want to be on the same level as the common human… dwelling amongst them?
Although that sounds really lovely, having God in your backyard (so to speak) may have been an intimidating prospect. Undoubtedly, having YHWH in such close proximity helped maintain the respect and reverence that was expected of them:
[YHWH:] You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary [u-miq’dashi]; I am YHWH.
But even with YHWH in their neighbourhood, they still struggled with loyalty and faithful living. Many turned away from YHWH and towards other gods who devalued life. As a result of their defiance, the Hebrew people defiled YHWH’s Sanctuary:
[YHWH:] I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his children to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary [miq’dashi] and to profane My holy name.
YHWH made it clear. Respect His sacred space! Carved idols and child sacrifice had no place in the sanctuary of YHWH:
[YHWH:] ‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves a carved image or a memorial stone, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am YHWH your God. You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary [u-miq’dashi]; I am YHWH.
An Immovable Sanctuary
Eventually the sanctuary (the sacred space of YHWH) would become housed under a permanent structure. David’s son Solomon would build a Temple to house the sanctified things (the ark and the vessels) and, in essence, God Himself:
1 Chronicles 22:19
[David to the leaders of Israel:] “Now set your heart and your soul to seek YHWH your God; then arise, and build the sanctuary of YHWH God [et miq’dash YHWH ha-elohim], so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of YHWH and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of YHWH.”
Although it was David’s idea, YHWH chose David’s son Solomon to build His indelible earthly home:
1 Chronicles 28:9-10
[David to Solomon:] “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him wholeheartedly and with a willing mind; for YHWH searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. Consider now, for YHWH has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary [la-miq’dash]; be courageous and act.”
The building was not the sanctuary, it housed the sanctuary. Solomon was to build a house FOR the Sanctuary, not so that it would BECOME the Sanctuary.
The sanctuary within the Temple was God’s space. It was the place where the High Priest could stand before YHWH and call on His name for help.
When Judah was about to be attacked by the Ammonites, the Moabites and the Meunites, king Jehoshaphat spoke of the Sanctuary:
2 Chronicles 20:6-9
…and he (Jehoshaphat) said, “YHWH, God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You. Did You not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land from Your people Israel, and give it to the descendants of Your friend Abraham forever?
They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary [miq’dash] in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, or judgment, or plague, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house), and cry out to You in our distress, and You will hear and save us.’
Get Out of God’s Living Room!
Unfortunately, YHWH’s sanctuary was not always respected or feared. When Uzziah, king of Judah, decided to control the sanctuary and do whatever he wanted in it, he was asked to leave:
2 Chronicles 26:16-19
But when he (king Uzziah) became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was untrue to YHWH his God, for he entered the temple of YHWH to burn incense on the altar of incense.
Then Azariah the priest entered after him, and with him eighty priests of the YHWH, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to YHWH, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary [Tsey min ha-miq’dash], for you have been untrue and will have no honour from the YHWH God.”
But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of YHWH, beside the altar of incense.
Uzziah was in the living space of YHWH, essentially YHWH’s “living room”, but he treated the space as if it was his own.
To have a leprosy breakout within the Temple would have been shocking. It was an announcement of uncleanliness in the cleanest space on earth. Uzziah was filth in a spotless domain. He did not belong in the sanctuary.
Pride, such as Uzziah’s, had no place in the presence of YHWH. People, instead were to bow in reverence and yield their spirit to YHWH before entering into His sanctuary:
2 Chronicles 30:7-9
Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were untrue to YHWH God of their fathers, so that He made them an object of horror, just as you see. Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to YHWH and enter into His sanctuary [l-miq’dashow] which He has consecrated forever, and serve YHWH your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. For if you return to YHWH, your brothers and your sons will find compassion in the presence of those who led them captive, and will return to this land. For YHWH your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.”
Taking Down His Own Sacred Space
Although YHWH promised to be with them forever, it would not always be in the physical sanctified area of the Temple. Eventually, YHWH had enough. The people defiled His sanctuary and He would have it removed:
[YHWH:] ‘Therefore as I live,’ declares the Lord YHWH, ‘Because you have defiled My sanctuary [et miq’dashi] with all your detestable idols and with all your abominations, I definitely will also withdraw and My eye will have no pity, and I also will not spare.’
The people had wandered far from YHWH and towards the gods of their neighbours. And they did the most abominable thing… the thing that YHWH hated the most: they sacrificed their children, their own seed, ultimately destroying God’s own image bearers:
[YHWH:] Again, they have done this to Me: they have defiled My sanctuary [et miq’dashi] on the same day, and have profaned My Sabbaths. For when they slaughtered their children for their idols, they entered into My sanctuary [el miq’dashi] on the same day to profane it; and behold, this is what they did within My house.
And so YHWH took action. He would take down His own Sanctuary, for they did not deserve a place of refuge:
[YHWH to Ezekiel:], Speak to the house of Israel, “This is what the Lord YHWH says: ‘Behold, I am about to profane My sanctuary [et miq’dashi], the pride of your power, that which is precious in your eyes and the longing of your soul; and your sons and your daughters whom you have left behind will fall by the sword.’”
This was not good news. They profaned YHWH’s Sanctuary, so YHWH would profane it as well. He would remove Himself from it and let it fall. This was no longer a sacred space, but a space of national pride and an emblem of power. At the time, no one held more pride and power than the Babylonians and so it made sense that they would attack and destroy the pride of the Israelites:
2 Chronicles 36:15-17
Yet YHWH, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of YHWH rose against His people, until there was no remedy.
So He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans (Babylonians), who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary [ba-veyt miq’dasham], and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or frail; He handed them all over to him.
YHWH turned away and allowed the Babylonians to walk in and take down YHWH’s Sanctuary. They ransacked Jerusalem, killed young men inside the sanctuary, and destroyed the Temple.
When the Temple Fell…
Isaiah recognized the fickleness of God’s people and the loss of sanctuary as a result of their insolence:
Your holy people possessed it (the sanctuary) for a little while, our adversaries have trampled Your sanctuary [miq’dasheka] down.
We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, like those who were not called by Your name.
They “became” exactly how they behaved: Godless. This was a common theme. They turned their backs on God, so YHWH accepted their defiance and stepped away.
And He has treated His tabernacle violently, like a despised garden; He has destroyed His appointed meeting place.
YHWH has caused the appointed feast and Sabbath in Zion to be forgotten, and He has despised king and priest in the indignation of His anger.
The Lord has rejected His altar, He has repudiated His sanctuary [miq’dashow]; He has handed over the walls of her palaces to the enemy.
This was what happened when the Babylonians invaded, took the people as captives, and exiled them out of their homeland. But the theme continued. Whenever they turned back to YHWH (and in their hardship they inevitably did turn back), He always accepted their return.
In Psalm 74 the poet Asaph, in confusion and despair, called out to YHWH:
God, why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
Remember Your congregation, which You purchased of old, which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your inheritance; and this Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.
Step toward the irreparable ruins; the enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary (holy place) [ba-qodesh].
Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs as signs. It seems like one bringing up his axe into a forest of trees. And now they break down all its carved work with axe and hammers.
They have burned Your sanctuary [miq’dasheka] to the ground; they have defiled the dwelling place of Your name.
They said in their heart, “Let’s completely subdue them.” They have burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, nor is there anyone among us who knows how long.
How long, God, will the enemy taunt You? Shall the enemy treat Your name disrespectfully forever?
Why do You withdraw Your hand, even Your right hand? Extend it from Your chest and destroy them!
Daniel lived in the midst of the Babylonian crisis. He called on YHWH to look back on them and have pity:
Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the wrongdoings of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become an object of taunting to all those around us.
So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his pleas, and for Your sake, Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary [miq’dash’ka]. My God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our pleas before You based on any merits of our own, but based on Your great compassion.
Lord, hear! Lord, forgive! Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
Again YHWH would return to them, because they returned to Him. If they did not want Him, He would not be there for them. If they wanted Him, He was theirs.
And so YHWH listened to Daniel, and Asaph, and all who called on Him. He listened and acted on their behalf:
“For this is what YHWH says: ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares YHWH, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’
YHWH is the Sanctuary
Although the “sanctuary” was often seen as the Temple, the truth was that the Sanctuary was YHWH.
“It is YHWH of armies whom you are to regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.
Then He will become a sanctuary [l-miq’dash].
But to both houses of Israel, He will be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Many will stumble over them, then they will fall and be broken; they will be snared and caught.”
What made a place a sanctuary was that God was in it! The building, made of stones and mortar, wasn’t sanctified without the Presence of YHWH living within the walls.
Stones and mortar can’t hold YHWH in. He’s only ever where He wanted to be, and so wherever God stood, stood the Sanctuary. Wherever God planted His feet, that became the city of God. Often that was referred to as Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, but YHWH was not grounded to one place. Wherever YHWH stood was holy ground. That was why, when God made a personal appearance, the people who felt His Presence would usually build an altar in His name:
When Gideon realized that it was the angel of YHWH, he said, “Oh no, Lord YHWH! I have seen the angel of YHWH face to face!”
But YHWH said to him, “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid, for you will not die.”
So Gideon built an altar to YHWH there and called it YHWH Is Peace.
Sanctuary and Salvation
YHWH was the Sanctuary. He would protect and save His people! It wasn’t a building that people were to run into for protection… it was YHWH Himself:
Sing to YHWH a new song; sing to YHWH, all the earth.
Sing to YHWH, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is YHWH, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but YHWH made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary [b-miq’dashow].
YHWH was always the perfect sanctuary. He was the place of protection, the place of healing, the place of true life, and the place of salvation:
A glorious throne on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary [miq’dashenu].
YHWH, the hope of Israel, all who abandon You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, that is YHWH.
Heal me, YHWH, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.
YHWH’s great plan of salvation stretched from the beginning, in the Garden, to the end envisioned in John’s Revelation. When Eve and Adam were exiled out of Eden, YHWH put a plan in motion to bring them home.
The prophet Ezekiel painted a picture of what the Edenic home looked like:
And by the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month because their water flows from the sanctuary [min ha-miq’dasah], and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
This image from Ezekiel was repeated in John’s revelatory vision, which ended with YHWH’s great act of rescue and humanity’s return to Eden:
Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the main street of the city. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be within the city, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever.
One day we would go home and see YHWH face to face in His Sanctuary. It was not a building made of human hands, but made by YHWH alone… His perfect Garden to house His most precious creation. And all we had to do to get in, was answer His call:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. The one who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne.
We’ve always been invited into the Sanctuary of God, we just haven’t always understood what it was and how to get there.
The Living Sanctuary
When the Temple fell by the Babylonians, and later the Romans, the people were devastated because they thought they lost contact with YHWH. No longer was there a building they could point to and say, “There is where YHWH resides amongst us”.
But Yeshua knew that a building was never the intended holding place of YHWH. There was a much better home on earth for YHWH to inhabit:
[Jesus:] “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever; the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.
I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. After a little while, the world no longer is going to see Me, but you are going to see Me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I in you.”
Paul understood the concept:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Do you not know that you are a sanctuary of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy that person; for the sanctuary of God is holy, and that is what you are.
We are meant to be YHWH’s reflection and we are meant to be His dwelling place on earth. With God in us, we have the ability to be amazing! If we trust in the Spirit of Truth within us, we can be awesome through Him and He can be awesome through us:
God, You are awesome from Your sanctuary [mi-miq’dasheka].
The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!
God’s people had the strength and the power to shine and reflect the sanctity of YHWH. Through the prophet Isaiah, YHWH made it clear: where He stood, stood the sanctuary… and where His people stood was Holy Ground:
[YHWH:] “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the elm tree and the cedar together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary [miq’dashi]; and I will make the place of My feet glorious.
The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who despised you will bow down at the soles of your feet; and they will call you the city of YHWH, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”
Yeshua (Jesus) shared this vision. YHWH’s followers were like a shining city, reflecting God’s sanctuary:
Matthew 5:14, 16
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
We are sacred space, worthy of YHWH’s love and rescue. So let us be kind to ourselves, and to each other, because we are God’s sanctuary on earth. It’s time to band together and be like a city on a hill, shining YHWH’s light and love onto the whole world.
Next week: To SHUT, to CLOSE, to QUARANTINE, to ISOLATE