“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is the footstool of My feet; What kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?’” (Acts 7:44-50).
Stephen offered Abraham and Moses as living witnesses of God’s work of grace to redeem a people for His own possession. God appeared to Abraham, called him to Himself and promised to make a nation peculiar to God through Abraham. Then, God appeared to Moses, called him to Himself and sent him to deliver Israel into the land He’d promised to Abraham.
Here, Stephen called attention to the tabernacle and the temple, in which God dwelt among the whole nation of Israel. Since He is omnipresent, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands.” The purpose for the two meeting places – one portable, as Israel traveled in the desert and one permanent, when Israel settled in Canaan – was not for God’s benefit, but for Israel’s. God condescended to a specific place in time so that His people could meet with Him.
God not only commanded Moses to erect a tabernacle, He gave him detailed instructions to build it exactly as God desired: “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Ex. 25:9). The writer of Hebrews informs us that Moses’ tabernacle was a copy of the real tabernacle in heaven (Heb. 8:5).
It’s ironic that God commanded Moses to build a tent according to a specific design, and yet, God denied David the opportunity to build a permanent structure for God, when the king came up with the idea on his own. David never did build a temple for God, but God let Solomon do it.
It shouldn’t surprise us though. Ever since the fall, humanity has tried to improve on God’s creation and to better God’s ways. Unfortunately, not even churches can often escape the temptation to add to or trim off some of God’s Word. The so-called worship wars are little more than our asserting our own preferences and prejudices over against someone else’s. If God truly had a particular musical style in mind, He would’ve preserved it right along with the texts of Scripture and He would’ve commanded us to make His music.
How often do we try to make something for God that He doesn’t require? Should we expect God to be pleased because we thought of something that He hasn’t. Scripture has enough examples of the consequences of such inventions that we should lose all temptation to introduce strange fire into our worship assemblies. Every time we do, we get into trouble, and yet, churches build their calendars around Hallmark holidays, as if God delights to see us applauding different segments of the population instead of worshiping Him.
The point of all this is that God will not be worshiped as a mere idol, with the trappings of fallen humanity, but as God alone. We cannot recreate Him in our own image. We must approach Him as He is – infinitely holy, perfect in all His attributes, and sovereign over His creation. We come to Him on His terms, not ours, nor do we negotiate with Him. He is Lord.
Some people bristle at the idea of God’s sovereignty and holiness because they doubt His trustworthiness, but God is truly good because He is perfectly holy, and He is able to save completely because He is sovereign. He demonstrated His sovereignty and holiness when He appeared to Abraham and Moses and when He dwelt with Israel and when He became flesh and dwelt among us and whenever He redeems someone from bondage to sin.