Looking back at some of the earliest years of God’s chosen people, we can see that worship played quite a significant role in the everyday lives of the people. Until the temple in Jerusalem was built, there was no real establishment or unification of the people since their captivity to Egypt. Solomon, one of Israel’s first few kings, built the Temple of Jerusalem. Solomon’s Temple was believed to be the dwelling place of God.
The Temple was a very complex structure, and because of its destruction there is no abundance of information upon its exact design. Therefore, most of the information that we have today is taken from the books of Kings and also from the books of Chronicles in the Holy Bible. In this paper, the Biblical references come from a New King James Version of the Holy Bible. In this paper we will examine the history behind Solomon’s Temple, its structure, and its downfall.
A Brief Introduction to Solomon’s Temple
In the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel came out of Egypt, Solomon built the Temple. The building of Solomon’s temple lasted seven years. The completion of the temple was in the eleventh year of Solomon’s reign. Although it underwent many changes and renovations, Solomon’s temple stood for nearly four centuries until its destruction in 586 BC.
The temple was considered to be a divine presence; it included such things as the ark, the cherubim, and on very rare occasions a statue of Yahweh. It also contained objects used in God’s service such as the table of shewbread, and a lampstand. The altar was not included with the temple building but in an open court adjoining the temple. The format of the temple is laid out in the books of Kings and also in Chronicles. Solomon’s temple was designed to be a more magnificent shrine than any other in the land, one benefiting the wealth and splendor of the king himself.
The Temple was not built until the reign of Solomon, but significant steps had already been taken. To see this, we must first look at the life of David, the second chosen king of Israel and also Solomon’s father. David ruled as king for seven years, and he then established his throne in Jerusalem after overcoming the ancient Jebusite community that was there. His reign continued in Jerusalem for the next thirty-two years. David contemplated the erection of a shrine for the Ark of the Covenant. At first the prophet Nathan gave David approval to construct a temple, but the following night God intervened. Speaking to Nathan in a dream, God laid out for David an amazing covenant, which would establish the house of David forever. He also told Nathan of the temple that was to be built. Although David was not allowed to build the Temple, he amassed the means for the temple to be built. The task was to be given to his son, Solomon.
After the death of his father David, Solomon issued the orders for the building of the First Temple to commence. The building of the Temple was a monumental task and in the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of Egypt, the construction began. This was in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel. In the fourth year of construction the foundation of the Temple was laid. Then the building of the “House of God” began.
The Temple was essentially a rectangular building erected on a platform, orientated east and west. It consisted of a porch (ulam) and two chambers, one behind the other (hekal and debir). The measurements of the Temple are given in cubits, with one cubit being approximately twenty inches. Within Solomon’s temple the cherubim and ark were contained in the inner sanctum; one table , a lampstand and an altar of incense in the outer sanctum; and a burnt-offering altar and water containers in the court.
The Temple proper consisted of a porch beyond which was a large chamber, later called the Holy Place, and beyond this a smaller inner shrine, or the Holy of Holies, into which the ark was brought. The porch was a kind of entrance hall, either projecting or flush with the building itself. It was entered through double doors and was 20 cubits wide and 10 cubits in depth. A courtyard surrounded the whole of the Temple proper. In front of the porch stood two bronze pillars, on the south was Jachin and the northern was Boaz. There has been much speculation as to the meaning of the names, but no certainty is attainable. The Sea of Bronze, which stood on 12 bulls of bronze, was in the court. Also in the court of the Temple, were ten smaller lavers of bronze. The lavers were to wash the sacrificial gifts and the sea for the priests to wash in. Some scholars believe that there was an altar of burnt offering which stood in the court outside of the Temple proper. It is not mentioned in the account of the construction of the temple, though there are allusions to it elsewhere. It is believed that it may have been a movable bronze altar which does not conform to Israelite custom and, therefore, may have been added at a later date.
From the porch, double doors of cypress-wood gave entrance to the hekal, or the Holy Place. It was a rectangular room, 40 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. In the hekal were various objects : a gold altar, the table of the shewbread, ten candelabra, and various utensils—lamps, goblets, cups knives, basins, and braziers. The hot bread was placed in the sanctuary on the table of shewbread on the Sabbath day and was eaten by the priests when it was removed. There were twelve loaves, and the number is thought to perhaps represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The description of the Temple in the book of Kings says that there was a golden table beside the table of shewbread, and it is said to be the altar of incense. But, may scholars reject this on the grounds that incense was not used in the worship until post-exilic days. But, there is also reason to believe that the writer of the passage might have been referring to frankincense, which was used in pre-exilic times. These assumptions are based upon the fact that there are two words that are rendered “incense”, one of which is frankincense. Some controversy still arises because of the passage from the Law of Holiness about the shewbread. It is said that frankincense is to be placed alongside the shewbread on the table of shewbread. This seems to imply that there was only one table. Also, in a later age, there is a Brazen Serpent that stood in the Temple. There is no specific information that tells when it was brought into the Temple, but there is an account given of its making in the Wilderness period, where Moses is said to have been responsible for its creation.
The hekal, the Holy Place, led directly into the debir, the Holy of Holies. This inner sanctuary was a perfect cube, which was 20 cubits in length, width, and height. The entrance of the Holy of Holies was closed with folding doors. No light would have entered into this chamber except when the doors were open, which would have been only rarely because God declared that he would live in darkness. In the inner sanctuary, Solomon made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the length to the tip of each of the wings. Both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. The height of both cherubim was ten cubits. The wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. One other indication of the position of the cherubim is preserved where it is clearly stated that the wings covered the ark and its poles. The cherubim were overlaid with gold. Also within the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was essentially the backbone of the Temple. The ark set Solomon’s Temple apart from every other temple or shrine because it was where the presence of God was deemed to be. I Chronicles 22 says that the Temple was built to house the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God and to be the sanctuary of the Lord God. The ark remained in its place in the Temple of Jerusalem for more than three hundred years. There is not mention of the ark in connection with the sack of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Very probably, it had been removed beforehand, in hopes that it might be concealed in some safe place. But, there is no known evidence to the whereabouts of the ark at this time.
Solomon lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. The floor was overlaid with gold in the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. For the entrance to the inner sanctuary, he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts formed a pentagon. Solomon overlaid these doors with gold. He made the doorposts to entrance into the Holy Place out of olivewood, in the form of a square, and two doors of cypress wood. Solomon overlaid these with gold. And in the eleventh year, the House of God was finished in all its parts, according to all its specifications.
Even with all of Solomon’s wisdom, he failed to heed the counsel of God and of his father David. He, in the course of time, excelled his father’s love of women by accumulating 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon’s wives turned his heart away from God. Because of his foreign wives, Solomon built many shrines to other gods than Yahweh. The Lord became very angry with him and told him that because he had turned his heart away, He was going to take the kingdom from him and give it to his servant. But, for the sake of David, God would not do it in Solomon’s days, but in the days of his son. God also told him that he would leave only one tribe to his son—just for the sake of David and Jerusalem.
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became the king of Israel. In the fifth year of his reign, God raised up an adversary against him who plundered the Temple. The Temple then continued to decline in wealth, splendor and importance over the next 367 years. Solomon’s Temple was completely destroyed by the Babylonians lead by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The Temple only stood for 374 years. After the destruction of the Temple the rains dried up and the fruits of the trees lost their taste and no longer gave nourishment. Up until the time of its destruction, Solomon’s Temple had achieved a stature that greatly exceeded that of any of the previous temples. It was known to be the most glorious temple in all of Israel, and it became one of the cornerstones of biblical religion. But because of the people turning their backs on God, the Temple was destroyed and the Israelites were again taken captive.
Solomon’s Temple was built to meet the limitations and needs of God’s people. It represented the believer’s assurance of the grace of God for their joy and blessing. The Temple was to be a memorial to Israel to turn her heart away from the idols of the surrounding nations. The Temple would provide for them an incentive not to practice evil things. But, as we see from the actions of His people, the story of Solomon’s Temple serves the purpose of, once again, showing us that if we turn our backs on Him we will be punished. From the history of the Temple, to its lavish structure, to the Temple’s complete destruction, we can take home more than just the facts, but also a lesson. Which is simply, as the D author would say, “Worship Only Yahweh!”
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Rowley, H.H. (1976) Worship in Ancient Israel: Its Forms and Meaning. (S.P.C.K., London).
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