Ziggurats, Mountains, and Tabernacles

6th March, 2011 - Posted by Claire Larsen - No Comments

Why did the ancient Mesopotamians build strange-looking step pyramids? In co-authoring the new History For Children with my son, Aaron Laresn, I’m learning helpful background information about the Old Testament stories. Back to my question … ancient people thought that the gods dwelt on the top of the mountains. Wasn’t Mt. Sinai called the “Mountain of God” by the nomadic tribes wandering in the Sinai dessert?

Mesopotamia didn’t have high mountains so the people built high stepped-pyramids called ziggurats. At the top they built a temple for the patron god of the area  to dwell in. By building platform upon platform the ziggurat got higher and higher. “Surely,” the people said, “if we build it high enough, the god will be pleased to  come down and dwell in the temple we build for him.”

The Old Testament talks over and over again about the people building “high places” for worship, and the godly kings tearing down these high places. Sadly, even the Israelites tried to invite “the gods” to live close to them by setting up these high places. For the Israelites, it was all so unnecessary. God had given specific instructions for the people to build the tabernacle to sit right there among the tribes. There in that crude tent God willingly chose to dwell among His people. The Israelites never had to wonder if God was with them. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night reminded them that God was with them.

Even more amazing than the Old Testament tabernable was the New Testament incarnation of Jesus. In John 1:14 Scripture says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word “dwelt” is the word that means “tabernacled.” In other words, when Jesus became a man, He was “tabernacling” with us.  We didn’t have to find a tall mountain for Jesus to live on or build a massive structure from sun-baked bricks and keep building it higher and higher to woo His presence among us. Jesus voluntarily chose to take on a human body and live among us.

Learning about ancient ziggurats gave me new insight about the high places talked about in the Old Testament. Learning about ancient ziggurats also made me realize what Jesus has done for us by stooping down and choosing to dwell with us. We don’t have to look for Him or build something bigger and higher to convince him how much we want Him close to us. He has decided Himself to be Immanuel, “God With Us,” and what a blessing that is!

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