Although the winding stairs that led to the middle and top chambers seem to be a small detail in the construction of the temple, yet it has been carefully recorded. These chambers were not the main part of the building, but were most likely for the service of those who worked, in one way or another, about the temple. The winding steps or spiral staircase made it easy to go from one chamber to another. A ladder would have saved space, but would have been much more difficult to climb, requiring the use of the hands. In Jacob’s vision at Bethel he saw a ladder set up on the earth that reached to heaven, but this ladder was not for Jacob, and should be called the angels’ ladder. The angels went up and down upon it. We note they ascended before they descended, – they were down to begin with.
Now, just as the winding steps were easier than a ladder, so the winding ways of life, with their turns and twists, their ups and downs, and their sunshine and shadow, are better than one long straight road with its monotonous sameness.
In Genesis 1. 14, God made lights in the firmament, to divide the day, and set them for signs and for seasons, for days and for years. These signs and seasons keep our lives from being unbroken by a continuous sameness, so God has given us birthdays for the years, months with the moon and sabbaths for the week. Life comes to us in little portions, a day at a time, with the opportunity to rectify our mistakes, and give us another opportunity to do better.
For the children of Israel in the land, God ordained the ‘Feasts of Jehovah’. Deuteronomy 16. 16 tells us about them: ‘Three times in a year shall all the males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose’; in the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles. In this way their year was broken up for them. Here is a verse by an unknown writer:
THE ZIG-ZAG PATH
‘We climbed the hill by the zig-zag path
And wondered why, until,
We understood it was made zig-zag,
To break the face of the hill.
A road straight up would prove too steep,
For travellers feet to tread.
The thought was kind in its wise design,
Of a zig-zag path instead.
It is often so in our daily life,
We fail to understand,
That the twisting way our feet must tread,
By love alone was planned.
Then murmur not at the winding way,
It is our Father’s will
To lead us home by the zig-zag path
To break the face of the hill.’
In Psalm 31. 15, David wrote, ‘My times are in thy hand’. He did not say, ‘My time (meaning his entire life) is in thy hand’, though that would have been true. When he said ‘times’ he was no doubt thinking of the many changes in his life, and he had many, tasting the extremes of fortune. He started life as a shepherd boy, became a national hero, then was an outlaw in danger of his life, yet finished as Israel’s warrior king. Someone has said, ‘He started life with the staff of the shepherd and finished with the sceptre of the sovereign’. He knew the winding stairs and the zig-zag path, and in the end they led him to the throne of Israel.
Elijah reached heaven without dying, but he went by the winding way. In 1 Kings 17 we see him by the brook. The brook dried up and a widow woman in Zarephath sustained him. Again we find him on Mount Carmel challenging and defying the priests of Baal. Then we see him under a juniper tree, disconsolate and crestfallen. Then after he cast his mantle on Elisha he went with him to Bethel, Jericho and Jordan. Then after crossing Jordan with Elisha he went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Samuel did a great spiritual work in his day by restoring Israel to the Lord after the battle with the Philistines, when the ark of God was captured. In 1 Samuel 7. 16 we are told he went in circuit to Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpeh, and then returned to Ramah where he dwelt. Surely here we have the winding stairs. Samuel judged Israel, and this was no easy task, and found it helpful to go in circuit from place to place. If he had judged from one centre only, those far off might easily have been careless and unlawful. By going in circuit he kept his finger on the pulse of the nation. The various centres of government are interesting. Bethel meaning the house of God, Gilgal where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away, Mizpeh meaning watchtower and Ramah meaning height. Like the winding stairs in the temple, Samuel found these various places helpful.
Our yet unfinished story, Is tending all to this,
To God the greatest glory, To us the greatest bliss.
If all things work together, For ends so good and blest,
Why should we wonder whither Each in itself is best?
If some things were omitted, Or altered as we would
The whole might be unfitted To work for perfect good.
Our plans may be disjointed, But we may calmly rest,
For what God has appointed Is better than our best’.
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