The Threshold as the Holiest Location of the Temple

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Many people might be surprised by the proposal that the most profound, mysterious, and holy place in the Temple could be the doorway! Of course, from one perspective, the Holy of Holies (or the Celestial Room) may be seen as the most holy place, but from another angle, the entryway, as a liminal space, may be the most precious feature of the Temple. The beautiful praise of the temple in Psalm 84 is the prompting for this idea:

“For spending just one day in your temple courts
is better than spending even a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather stand at the entrance to the temple of my God
than live in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10).

The verb translated “stand at the entrance” is סָפַף and is derived from the noun סַף (“threshold”), which we will encounter later. This verb could refer to serving as a doorkeeper at the temple, or it could perhaps relate the experience of a pilgrim concluding the beautiful Song of Ascents (Psalms 120–134) after journeying to the Jerusalem Temple. The temple courts referenced in the first half Psalm 84:10 are likewise an amazing place of ambiguity, as a person in the courtyard is not quite in the temple yet, but still on the temple grounds. Either way, the temple courts and the threshold of the temple are both transitional spaces. They are the ambiguous places that blur the boundaries between inside and outside, between special and normal. It is a queer place, if we understand “queer” as referring to whatever doesn’t fit neatly in one category or the other. Just a moment in either place feels more satisfying than eternity anywhere else.

The doorway of the temple is also a place of both splendor and compassion. One of the temple gates is called “Beautiful” by the author of Acts.  Perhaps it was named for its physical beauty, but it is also a focal point where grace is expected: “And a man disabled from birth was carried up and placed at the temple gate called ‘Beautiful’ every day so he could beg for alms from those going into the temple” (Acts 3:2). May we always remember the marvelous power and significance of the temple doorway.  It is the only thing in the Bible that has “Beautiful” as its actual name (Acts 3:2, 10).

Furthermore, the doorway to the Temple was a miraculous place in two separate visions recounted in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah describes his experience: “They [the seraphim] called out to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! His splendor fills the entire earth!’ The sound of their voices shook the door frames [אַמּוֹת הַסִּפִּים], and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:3–4. See also 2 Nephi 16:3-4). Secondly, Ezekiel experiences two wild and marvelous visions while he was at the threshold (סַף) of the temple, where the glory of the Lord visits: “Then the glory of the LORD arose from the cherub and drifted to the threshold of the temple. The temple was saturated with the cloud while the temple court was filled with the brightness of the LORD’s glory” (Ezekiel 10:4. The second vision is recorded in Ezekiel 47:1). Indeed, the Lord chooses the threshold as a place of special miracles.

It is no surprise, then, that according to latter-day revelation, the threshold is where the holiness of the Temple and the power of the Lord hit you in the face when you enter. As D&C 109:13 declares: “And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.”

In modern LDS Temples, the entrance is the place where one sets aside the cares of the world. It is also a place of connection and unity, because it is the portal through which the people entering meet the people leaving. It is also the place where newly married couples greet those waiting outside. Even so, I plan to take some time to dwell and pray in the entry of the Temple, or the waiting room, and drink in the glory and profundity of encountering God in the mystery of a transitional space. Spending a moment in the doorway is better than anything else the world can offer (Psalm 84:10). Won’t you join me there sometime?

[For an analysis of the temple architecture as an “inside-out” closet, see here.  For an application of the “stone which the builders rejected” in Psalm 118, see here.]

2 thoughts on “The Threshold as the Holiest Location of the Temple

  1. Pingback: The Temple as an “Inside-Out” Closet | Latter-day Thinking

  2. Pingback: The Stone which the builders rejected | Latter-day Thinking

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