What Would We Put in God's Temple, Cherubim or Asherim?
2 Chronicles 3 & 33, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:18-20
Can you imagine being part of a royal family and taking charge of the throne and a whole country when you're only twelve years old? Sounds awesome, but this is just what happened to a young man named Manasseh. He grew up with the example of his father Hezekiah who was considered a good king. Things had been pretty rough in Israel, but Manasseh's father Hezekiah helped straighten them out for a while. He repaired the temple and helped turn the people back to God (2 Chronicles 29-32).
The temple was meant to be very important to God's people. It was an amazing structure built right in the heart of Jerusalem on Mount Moriah by King Solomon. It was the place where God would make His presence known to His people. Second Chronicles 3 describes the temple Solomon built; why not take a minute to read this short chapter.
You will notice in 2 Chronicles 3:8-9 that at the heart of the temple Solomon built a special room called the "holy of holies." This awesome room was twenty cubits wide by twenty cubits deep by twenty cubits high (1 Kings 6:20 gives the height). A cubit is the distance from your elbow to the farthest tip of your fingers. It equals about eighteen inches or 450mm. This means the holy of holies was a cube about thirty feet or nine metres in every direction. It was covered with 600 shekels of gold (about 18,000 kilograms or 39,683 pounds)! The golden nails weighed 500 grams each (just over a pound).
Inside this perfect golden cube, Solomon made cherubim (the singular is cherub) that were half as wide and high as the room. Cherubim are powerful heavenly winged creatures. Living cherubim guarded the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). King David pictured the Lord riding a cherub (2 Samuel 22:11). Cherubim guarded the ark which Solomon placed in the holy of holies. The gold-covered ark contained the stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, a golden jar of manna and the budding rod of Aaron (Hebrews 9:4). God would meet and speak to Moses from above these cherubim (Exodus 25:22).
In your mind's eye, can you see a picture of this beautiful room, a gold covered space with these huge winged creatures, the ark, and the glory of God filling it. It must have been an incredible sight to the high priest who could enter it once every year on the Day of Atonement. God intended this room to be special, like no other: beautiful, radiant, holy, ...awe inspiring, like Psalm 99:1 says, "The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!"
It's hard to believe, but God's people quickly lost sight of this awesome beauty. It was about 240 years after Solomon, following a string of kings who did mostly evil, that Manasseh came along. When Manasseh was only 12, after his father Hezekiah died, he took his place as king. He made some bad choices, "And did evil in the sight of the LORD according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel" (2 Chronicles 33:2). You can read about the disgusting things he did in 2 Chronicles 33:3-9.
Notice what he did in verses 3 and 7: he made Asherim and "he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God" (33:7). Asherim were carved wooden idols of a female fertility goddess. The Canaanites believed they had to win the favour of the "gods" to have rain and good crops. They went so far as offering their own children to please the gods. Can you imagine anything less appropriate to put in God's temple than a wooden idol to worship instead of God who is the only One worthy of our worship? Yet this is what Manasseh did. He filled that beautiful golden place with ugliness.
Do you think God was present in the temple when Manasseh's idols were there? I don't think so. This was to be a special place for God's presence. When He was present, there were no idols, His glory filled the holy of holies. Notice that when idols were present He was absent; God does not share His place in our lives with idols.
God's temple is still very important today, but it is quite different than it was in Manasseh's day. Today God's people are His temple. Listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). God actually dwells in the hearts of His people. Who He puts in us is much more powerful than cherubim. He places His Holy Spirit within us: "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19b). We belong to Him and we are to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20b).
We can learn a few things from Manasseh. He didn't make bad choices just because he was young. We know that Jesus' family and the Jewish leaders considered Jesus wise when He too was only twelve (Luke 3:39-52). Josiah was only eight years old when he became king, "And he did right in the sight of the LORD and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left" (2 Kings 22:2). Manasseh had a good example in his father Hezekiah but he caved into the bad influences of the nations around him. Fortunately, Manasseh eventually had a change of heart and removed the Asherim, but only after he had been dragged off to Babylon with hooks and bronze chains, humbled himself and prayed to God. You can read about his repentance in 2 Chronicles 33:10-13. If we make mistakes, we can, like Manasseh, turn around and change for the better.
You and I didn't have a chance to decide what went into God's physical temple in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, but we do have the choice about what we put into God's spiritual temple today. We can decide to put good or bad things into our bodies, His temple! Will we put in idols, things that take God's place? Or, will we put in good things, heavenly and holy things. When we are baptized, God places the gift of His Holy Spirit in our hearts (Acts 2:38). His glory is present in our lives. Will we keep the temples of our bodies free from idols? What would we put in God's temple, ugly wooden Asherim, or cherubim, those beautiful powerful guardians?