Greg Beale On Biblical Cosmology, Part 2/2

This is the second part of a two part series on Greg Beale’s understanding of Genesis 1-2 and science. Click here for part one.

 Quite frankly I am bored by debates about the relationship of Genesis to modern science. While I’m not a theistic evolutionist, I don’t particularly care to land the plane on any of the other evangelical options regarding dating the universe and so on. I know God created all things. I believe Jesus and Paul thought Adam and Eve were historical persons. And most definitely, Genesis depicts a true account of reality (there’s no Harry Frankfurt “bullshit” here). Beyond that, I have no idea.

 Part of the appeal with Greg Beale’s work on Genesis 1-2 is that he sees the Genesis narrative depicting the universe in a phenomenological and theological sense, not scientific. This hopefully will allow me to bypass debates that I can’t be bothered to look into.

 In this blog post I just want to share some of my notes, which back up Beale’s claim that Israel’s small temple was understood to be a microcosm of the entire universe. And for the author of Genesis, the entire universe was one massive cosmic temple in which God dwelt. Hopefully you will find this as helpful as I have.  

  • In Psalm 78:69 David says the temple was built in a similar fashion as the way God designed the heavens and the earth. “He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.”
  • The tabernacle and all its furniture was made after the heavenly pattern which was shown on Mountain Sinai (Ex. 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Num. 8:4; Heb. 8:5; 9:23-4).
  • The temple had three parts and each symbolized a major part of the cosmos. 1st – outer court, the habitable world where humanity dwelt; 2nd – Holy Place, visible heavens and light sources; 3rd – Holy of Holies, invisible dimension of the cosmos, the dwelling of God and the heavenly hosts.
    • Outer court – visible earth and sea – large molten washbasin and altar in the temple courtyard are called the ‘sea’ (1 Kings 7:23-26) and the ‘bosom of the earth’ (Ezek. 43:14). The altar was identified with the ‘mountain of God in Ezek. 43:16. The altar was to be an ‘altar of earth,’ in the early stages of Israel’s history, or an ‘altar of uncut stone’ (Ex. 20:24-5), thus identifying it even more with the natural earth. In the mind of an early Israelite, the sea and the altar were cosmic symbols meant to be associated with the seas and the earth.
      • There was not just water imagery but ten smaller washbasins, on each side of the Holy Place (1 Kings 7:38-9). The arrangement of twelve bulls encircling the sea and the lily blossom decorating the brim would also present a miniature model of land and life surrounding the seas of the earth (2 Chron. 4:2-5).
  • The Holy Place was intended to be a symbol of the visible sky. The seven lamps on the lampstand might have been associated with the seven light sources visible to the naked eye in the sky – five planets, the sun, and the moon.
    • Vern Poythress: “The lampstand is placed on the south side of the Holy Place. Perhaps this placement is intended to correspond to the fact that from Israel’s point of view, north of the equator, the circuit of the heavenly lights would be primarily to the south. That there are seven of the lamps correlates not only with the seven major lights of heaven … but with the general symbolism for time within Israel. The heavenly bodies were made in order to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (Gen. 1:14). The whole cycle of time marked by the sun and moon and stars is divided up into sevens: the seventh day in the week is the Sabbath day; the seventh month is the month of the atonement (Lev. 16:29); the seventh year is the year of release from debts and slavery (Deut. 15); the seventh of the seven-year cycles is the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25). Fittingly, the lampstand contains the same sevenfold division, symbolizing the cycle of time provided by the heavenly lights.”
  • The third, innermost section of the temple symbolized the invisible dimension where God dwelt. The sculpted cherubim around the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:23-8) reflect the real cherubim in heaven who stand guard around God’s throne in the heavenly temple (Rev. 4:7-9; 2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kings 19:5).  
    • No human could enter the inner sanctum and look upon the divine glory. Even the high priest, who could only enter once a year, offered incense that formed a cloud so thick that he could see God’s glorious appearance (Lev. 16:13). The cloud itself could easily have been associated with the visible heaven that pointed beyond to the unseen heaven, where God dwelt.
    • Finally, the ark itself was understood to be the footstool of God’s heavenly throne (1 Chron. 28:2; Ps. 99:5; 132:7-8).

 Twitter summary of Beale’s work: Israel’s temple appears to be a small model of the massive temple of the universe. The innermost sanctum represented the invisible dimension of heaven; the Holy Place symbolized the starry visible heavens, and the courtyard signified the earth and sea.