As we study how the location of the Hebrew temple was chosen, we can clearly see the intentions and heart of God towards us. God cares deeply for us and He often uses symbolic imagery to help us understand Him better.
During the reign of king David, the people of Israel were doing things unspecified in the Bible that were upsetting to God. In context of the whole Bible, upsetting God was usually caused by neglecting and rebelling against God. In addition, king David himself in an act of pride decided to count all the men of Israel. The combination of Israel’s rebellion and David’s sin caused God to bring judgement.
God brought an angel against the people and of the one million men counted in the census, seventy thousand were killed. It can be hard to understand that God would kill people in judgement, but from the beginning of the Bible we can see that God firmly punishes rebellion against Him, with examples like the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the 10 plagues of Egypt, enemy attacks in the days of the Judges, battle of Gibeah, etc.
However, in this story the angel of the Lord stops at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Gad the seer/prophet tells David to build an alter to the Lord on that threshing floor. An alter is a place where sacrifices are given to God. The sacrifices are used for a couple things, but primarily as atonement for sin, which provides God’s mercy.
Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a sign of obedience and to symbolize the sacrifice God would give of Himself in Jesus. When we read the story we know that Isaac was not sacrificed, but that a ram was provided to take Isaac’s place. Just like we do not need to go through the punished for sin, but that Jesus takes our place.
“He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:2)
In Genesis 22 we see that this symbolic act of sacrifice took place on a mountain in the land of Moriah. In 2 Chronicles 3 we read that the temple was built on the mount of Moriah where David had built the alter on the threshing floor.
“Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (2 Chronicles 3:1)
Therefore, at the same location where a ram took the place of Isaac, an alter was built by David to atone for sins stopping a plague, and later Solomon built the temple where regular sacrifices were made. This was all in Jerusalem and Jesus was crucified just outside the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was the greatest sacrifice for sin. In the book of Hebrews we read that Jesus took His own blood and atoned for us in tabernacle in heaven. The tabernacle built by Moses was only a copy of the one that is in heaven. This isn’t the temple, but it is before the temple.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11–14)
The temple was a larger, more permanent version of the tabernacle, and regular animal sacrifices were done there. As the verse above mentions, the blood of these animals does not compare to how powerful the blood of Christ is for our redemption and spiritual cleansing.