1 Kings 6:23-8:11
1 Kings 5:1-7:51 - Solomon the Builder
First Kings 6 and 7 describe the temple that was built by orders of King Solomon. When combined with the description of 2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1 the Old Testament provides the most detailed text describing any ancient building. This is very valuable from the historical standpoint since to the present point in history we have no known archaeological remains of Solomon's temple. When we take what is known of other ancient temples in the Near East and combine it with the Biblical account we have considerable information. That does not mean that 1 Kings 6 and 7 are perfectly clear. They contain technical terms for Hebrew architecture; the meaning can be guessed, but it is only an educated guess. The description supplies some vital information; it repeats or omits other pieces of important information. Only rarely are there interpretive remarks by the author of 1 Kings that give a sense of meaning to this information.
There is a general flow of thought. Chapter six deals with the temple building itself. Verses 2-14 focus on the features of the external structure of the building. Verses 11-13 interrupt that description to provide a theological reminder of the necessity of obedience. Verses 15-35 focus on selected features of the internal structure of the temple. There is an emphasis on the materials of cedar and olive wood and gold that were used, the decorations that were made, and the cherubim. Verse 36 mentions the inner court, which differs from the inside of the temple proper.
1 Kings 6:1-7:51 - Building the Temple (cont.)
First Kings 6:23-28 deals with the two cherubim. The meaning of the word cherubim is not at all certain. Most Bible scholars believe that they were winged creatures with a human face. It is thought that they had the bodies of an animal. The most common understanding, based on archaeological discoveries of other temples, is that they were winged bulls. The author of 1 Kings does not explain what these giant winged bulls were doing in the inner sanctuary, the most holy place. Again, evidence from the writings of Mesopotamia and Phoenicia suggests that the cherubim had two functions. The first was to protect. They were to protect the Ark of the Covenant that was kept in the inner sanctuary, and to protect the holiness of that place.
Some Christians, trained away from any image as idolatrous and toward worship as primarily conceptual, find it difficult to imagine the Old Testament mentioning statues of winged bulls in the Holy of Holies. However, the Old Testament has a keen insight into human nature. As much as our conceptual thinkers would like to make worship primarily a matter of thought, our human experience is that worship is a matter of the heart. Allegiances, hopes, fears, and feelings also enter into our worship. We do not find it easy to keep holy things holy. Whenever we become too familiar with the holy, part of its holiness is lost.
The Israelites understood that they could not maintain the holiness of the inner sanctuary by simply thinking about its holiness. There had to be something that instilled a bit of awe, a bit of fear in them. Then they would remember that the Holy of Holies was not any ordinary place, but the place where God came to dwell in the fullness of his presence. The powerful forms of the winged bulls - the cherubim - would always invoke that sense of awe, mystery, and fear in them. The holiness of the inner sanctuary was protected by the cherubim.
A second function of cherubim according to texts from ancient Phoenicia was to support the king's throne. The analogy is usually thought to apply to God. The cherubim in the inner sanctuary would have been understood as a footstool for God's throne or a place to sit. In fact, several Old Testament passages speak of God dwelling between the cherubim and the verb translated "dwell" can also mean to "sit." Thus the cherubim represent God's "chair," a powerful symbol of his presence. Many human organizations have a certain chair reserved for their leader. Even when that leader is not present, that chair - empty - powerfully evokes the presence (and the power) of the leader. So it was with the cherubim. To even think of them brought to mind God's own presence.
These were large statues. The wingspan of each was fifteen feet. Each was fifteen feet tall. Since the inner sanctuary was a 30-foot cube, the two cherubim touched a wing tip to each outside wall and touched the wing tip to each other. They were half as tall as the room itself. If this were not impressive enough, the author of 1 Kings notes that they were made of olivewood and then overlaid with gold. That would have required a lot of olivewood and a lot of gold.
Verses 29-35 focus on the walls, floor, and doors of the temple. Cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers were engraved on the walls and on certain doors. This section also emphasizes the use of gold and of olivewood. This points to the extravagant expense that went into the temple.
The final detail of temple mentioned here is in verse 36. The inner court is only mentioned briefly at this point. It is generally thought that this inner court was the place just outside the sanctuary proper where the altar and the sea mentioned in chapter 7 were located. The only information given at this point is that for each three layers of stone, a layer of cedar beams was used. This was a construction technique that was widely used in ancient building. Ezra 6:4 mentions the same construction in the re-building of the temple after the Babylonian Exile and there are numerous references in other ancient texts to this technique. Perhaps the layer of cedar timbers bonded the three stones layers to strengthen the structure against earthquake damage.
Chapter 6 concludes with a chronological note. The foundation of the temple was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv. Ziv was the Canaanite name for the second month of the Hebrew year, corresponding to late April-early May (see Hebrew Calendar). The fourth year would mean in the fourth year of Solomon's reign. The temple was finished in the eleventh year in the month of Bul. Bul was the Canaanite name for the eighth month (October-November). Thus the construction of the temple took 7 years and 6 months. The time span is often rounded off to seven years, which signifies completion, fullness, or perfection in the Biblical culture. The author emphasizes that everything was finished in that time span.
1 Kings 7:1-12 - The Building of Solomon's Palace
Between the description of the temple building in 1 Kings 6:2-38 and the temple furnishings mentioned in 1 Kings 7:13-51 is a description of Solomon's Palace. Five sections of the palace complex are mentioned. They are the House of the Forest of Lebanon, described in verses 2-5, the Hall of Pillars, described in verse 6, the Throne Hall, mentioned in verse 7, his own house where he would reside, mentioned in verse 8, and the house for Pharaoh's daughter, also mentioned in verse 8. Compared to the temple it is noteworthy that only cedar is mentioned as a building material. The expense of imported cedar makes this only relatively less expensive than the temple. It was still an extremely expensive palace. Verses 9-12 emphasize that fact by mention of all the costly stones that were used for foundation and the courtyards.
The House of the Forest of Lebanon seems to derive its name from the extensive use of cedar pillars and paneling from Lebanon. This building was 150 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Though side chambers, windows, doors, and pillars are mentioned, there are not enough details to understand where and how they were constructed. This passage does not mention a purpose or function for this building. First Kings 10:17 and 21 imply that at least some of Solomon's treasures were stored in the House of the Forest of Lebanon.
The Hall of Pillars was 75 feet long and 45 feet wide with a porch. No further details of construction or purpose are given. Since the length of the Hall of Pillars was equal to the width of the House of the Forest of Lebanon some scholars believe that the Hall of Pillars was a portico for the House of the Forest. Other scholars believe that the Hall of Pillars was a waiting area for people waiting an audience with the king in the throne room. The author of 1 Kings gives no information help us understand the purpose of this building.
The Hall of the Throne would have contained the throne where the king held court. Thus it would have functioned as a hall of judgment. Cases like that of the two women mentioned in 1 Kings 3:16-27 would be heard and decided in this room. No mention is made of the dimensions.
The royal residence would have contained the various apartments for the king and his family. The way verse 8 describes this house of Solomon implies that these apartments might have been around an inner courtyard behind the Hall of the Throne. It is described as being of like workmanship. The implication is that it was made of cedar. Verse 8 also notes that a similar structure was built for Pharaoh's daughter, one of Solomon's wives.
It is a bit strange that 1 Kings inserts the description of Solomon's palace complex between the description of the temple and the temple furnishings. However, it appears that this insertion has a purpose. Immediately after noting that the construction of the temple required seven and a half years, 1 Kings 7:1 notes that Solomon's palace required thirteen years to construct. If one pays attention to the few dimensions given, the House of the Forest of Lebanon alone is significantly larger than the temple. The whole palace complex would have been much, much larger than the temple. In fact, both the comparative sizes and the analogy of other ancient Near Eastern palace complexes suggest that the temple appeared somewhat as a royal chapel. Solomon's prayer in chapter 8 will make it clear that the temple's function was for the whole nation, indeed the whole world. However, the dimensions and time involved suggest that Solomon modeled both the temple and the palace after other Near Eastern palaces and chapels.
These proportions might have been appropriate in Egypt where the king was viewed as almost an incarnation of a god. But in Israel, Solomon's house should not have been bigger and required longer to build than the temple. Without writing a word of direct criticism, the author of 1 Kings has held up to the light one of Solomon's significant problems. However, lest we be too quick to criticize Solomon, we should be aware of the percentage of time, energy, and resources that we devote to ourselves compared to that which we devote to God. When the Lord receives the leftovers of our lives we cannot expect the kind of joy and fulfillment experienced by those whose commitment to Christ receives the first fruits of their energy.
1 Kings 7:13-51 - The Temple Furnishings
There are several ways in which the material presented in this section may be organized. Verses 13-47 describe the furnishings made of bronze, while verses 48-51 describe that which is made of gold. It is probably more useful to note that verses 15-22 describe two large, free-standing pillars, verses 23-26 describe a large basin called the sea, verses 27-39 describe bronze stands or wagons that support water basins, verses 40-47 gives further details regarding the above-mentioned items, and verses 48-51 describes the golden altar.
Verses 13-14 introduce the man who will build all the furnishings to be described. He is Hiram, but not the king. It appears that Hiram was a fairly common Phoenician name. The idea that a pagan would have been the bronze artist constructing temple furniture would have caused great consternation among the first readers of 1 Kings. Thus, the first comment made about Hiram is that his mother was a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, one of the northern tribes whose territory bordered on Phoenicia near Tyre.
Hiram's Phoenician father was a skilled bronze worker, and Hiram is described as full of wisdom, understanding, and skill. These words represent the central attributes of the Hebrew concept of wisdom. In this way, Hiram the bronze worker was a true representative of Solomon the King who was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill.
It is also important to note the relationship of this description of Hiram to Exodus 31:2-3 where Bezalel, the craftsman who built the furniture of the tabernacle, is described with the same words. This provides a positive link between tabernacle and temple that would be especially important to people who wanted to cling to the old rather than welcoming the new.
Hiram's first project was to build two pillars of bronze. They were 27 feet tall with a circumference of 18 feet. This would represent a diameter of a little less than six feet. Each pillar had a capital or head placed on top of it that added seven and one half feet to the total height of the pillars. The earliest translation of the Old Testament into Greek included a line that stated that the pillars were hollow and the walls were "four fingers" thick. The RSV follows that reading of the text. These pillars and their capitals were intricately decorated.
The purpose and function of these two huge pillars has never been clear. Archaeological evidence makes it clear that such pillars were a common part of ancient Near Eastern temple construction. Second Kings mentions them three times. First, 2 Kings 11:14 notes that Joash stood by the pillar when he was crowned king. It further notes that this was the custom. Second Kings 23:3 states that Josiah stood by the pillar when he made a covenant with the people. Second Kings 25:13 and 16-17 describe the Babylonians confiscating the pillars when they raided and destroyed Jerusalem.
Gene Rice notes the following suggestions that have been made regarding the function of the pillars: they were altars where the fat of the sacrifice or the incense was burned; they represented the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire that guided Israel in the wilderness; they were special versions of the stone pillar and sacred pole used at the high places; they symbolized the tree of life; they were markers of the equinoxes, lined up with the sun and the temple entrance at fall and spring equinoxes; they were Egyptian-style obelisks; they represented God and the king - the two pillars of Israelite government; they were witnesses of the covenant like the stones mentioned in Joshua 24:26-27; and that they were simply imitations of the pillars of other Near Eastern temples without Israel having any real understanding of their meaning.
The most obvious conclusion is that we no longer have any idea why these pillars were such an important part of Solomon's temple. Verse 21 notes that one pillar was called Jachin and other was called Boaz. Jachin appears to be a Hebrew word meaning, "He will establish" and Boaz means, "In strength." One appealing suggestion is that the Jachin pillar was to remind people of the promise that He (God) would establish the throne of David forever. The Boaz pillar would have stood for the phrase, "In the strength of the Lord the king will rejoice." It is frustrating that we can not be sure of the meaning of these pillars whose very size tells us that they were a very important part of the temple furnishings.
Verses 23-26 describe the construction of the sea. This was a gigantic round water container fifteen feet in diameter, over forty-five feet in circumference, and seven-and-one-half feet deep. This sea rested on the back of twelve oxen, three (apparently side-by-side) facing each point of the compass. Some estimates place the weight of this furnishing at 25-30 tons, truly a masterpiece of ancient construction techniques. It would have held over 11,000 gallons of water.
Once again the purpose of this huge basin is not stated. Second Chronicles 4:6 claims that the sea was for the priests to wash in, but its height of 7.5 feet would have made it difficult to use as a place of priestly ablution (cleansing bath). Probably it functioned as a storage tank for water that was used in a wide variety of ways in the sacrificial system. One of these uses would have been water for ritual cleansing of the priests. Another would have simply been water to wash the place after the slaughter and burning of a sacrificial animal.
However, the fact that the basin is called a "sea" leads most Bible scholars to conclude that this furnishing had symbolic meaning as well as serving a practical function. In Biblical culture the sea was a fearful thing. Ancient Near Eastern peoples tended to fear the sea as a place of chaotic and dangerous powers. Even the Genesis 1 creation account mentions early on that the sea was separated from the dry land. That Israel's Yahweh could conquer the sea and manage it was regarded as a sign of His great power (see Speaking the Language of Canaan). Thus the large basin of water, called the "sea," probably represented God's victory over the powers of chaos and danger. It served as a constant reminder that the place and powers most feared by Israel was under the control of Yahweh. This would have enhanced their worship and praise of such a powerful God.
The ten bronze stands mounted on wheels are also difficult to understand. Verses 27-39 describe these ten carts. Each "stand" was six feet square and 4.5 feet high. The wheels were about 27 inches in diameter. The carts (stands with wheels) were elaborately decorated with lions, oxen, and cherubim. Each cart carried a bronze basin about six feet in diameter. These basins would have held about 230 gallons of water each. Five carts were for the right side of the temple and five for the left side. The water was available to be used by the worshippers to wash themselves and their sacrifices (see 2 Chronicles 4:6 and Leviticus 1:9,13). Perhaps the wheels allowed these smaller basins to be rolled over to the "sea" for refills.
Verses 40-47 summarize the furnishings of bronze that Hiram constructed. Verse 45 mentions pails, shovels, and bowls that would have been used in the actual sacrificing. Pails and shovels would have been used in the clean-up process after the sacrificial animal had been burned. The bowls would have been used both for ritual cleansing and for catching blood from the sacrificial animal, blood that would later be sprinkled in the sacrificial ritual. In a bit of exaggeration the author claims that too much bronze to ever weigh was used in these temple furnishings.
The final section on temple furnishings, verses 48-51, focus on the golden items. The golden altar of verse 48 would have been the incense altar found in the Holy Place along with the table with the bread of the presence and the lamp stands. In addition to these elements made of fine gold, the flowers, lamps, tongs, cups, snuffers, bowls, spoons, fire pans, and hinges were made of gold. The section concludes by noting that Solomon brought various treasures dedicated by David to God into the temple for safe-keeping.
1 Kings 8:1-66 - The Dedication of the Temple
The fact that the author of 1 Kings devoted all of chapter 8 to the dedication of the temple is a powerful indication of the importance of that temple in his mind. This chapter is the culmination of his demonstration of the way God answered Solomon's prayer for wisdom. The building and dedication of the temple represent the peak of Israel's history. Everything prior to this moment has been in preparation, building to the temple. All of Israel's history from this point on will be downhill.
Chapter 8 is built around Solomon's prayer of dedication found in verses 22-53. The chapter opens with a narrative section about the Ark of the Covenant and the glory of God in verses 1-11. The chapter closes with a narrative section dealing with the sacrifices of the dedication festival in verses 62-66. The dedication prayer is framed by an address of Solomon to the people: verses 12-21 remind the people of God's promises to David, the reason the temple had been built; verses 54-61 charge the people with obedience to their covenant responsibilities.
1 Kings 8:1-11 - The Ark and the Glory of God
The first step in the dedication of the temple was the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle to the new Holy of Holies in the temple. This would have been a moment of suspense: would God honor this new temple by the signs of His presence or would His anger flash out and kill someone involved in the transfer process? The death of Uzzah recorded in 2 Samuel 6:1-11 would have been fresh on the minds of those priests involved in the transportation of the ark.
The dedication took place during the feast in the month of Ethanim, which is the seventh month, which would have been September-October (see Hebrew Calendar). Thus, the dedication was scheduled for the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering. This was one of the high points of the Israelite religious year. God was praised for His gracious bounty in allowing Israel to bring in the harvest another year. It also celebrated the fact that God had brought Israel out of desert wandering where they had lived in tents (tabernacles) into the land of Canaan where they were able to settle down and enjoy the benefits of planting and harvesting.
The audience is described as the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, and the leaders of all the families of Israel. Thus the dedication was not a family event for Solomon, nor a Jerusalem celebration. This was truly a national event in which all the people of Israel were equally represented through the tribal system and the families by which they were identified.
The procession from the tabernacle located in the City of David, south and west of the temple site, was accompanied by sacrifices too many to be numbered. Since the author of 1 Kings has already informed us (3:4) that Solomon had offered a thousand sacrifices at Gibeon we may assume that the number of sacrifices was well over a thousand for the dedication of the temple. The sacrifices were probably done at the tabernacle, at various stations along the way, and at the new great altar in the temple courtyard. With the sacrifices as accompaniment the Ark made its way safely into the new Holy of Holies.
The emphasis in verses 6 and 7 on the wings of the cherubim reflects a strong concern for the presence of God. Since God was the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on [the wings of] the cherubim (2 Samuel 6:2), the wings of the cherubim are very important in the preparation for the presence of God to come.
Verses 10-11 finally confirm that God did come, in a cloud with great glory to vindicate the temple and to bless it with His presence. These verses are extremely important. Had God not given this visible sign of His blessing and presence, the temple would have been suspect. It might have been Solomon's crowning achievement, but was God really in it? This is a very pertinent question for those of us who are involved in doing things for God and offering the product of our work to the Lord. We may do the very best work we know how to do, but that does not validate it. It is the presence and blessing of the Lord Himself that validates our work and our worship.
Verse 8 makes the point that the poles that were used to carry the Ark were left in the carrying rings and were visible from the inside of the Holy Place. This was an important statement that God was not confined to the temple. The main symbol of His presence, the Ark of the Covenant, was portable and the carrying poles were still in place ready to move. Thus, while God has come to dwell in the Holy of Holies He is not confined. He is ready to move at a moment's notice to meet whatever need may arise. This is, indeed, an important encouragement for us.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 6:23-8:11. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new pieces of information that seemed important to you.
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that you would like to remember from this lesson. Jot them down.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to make your whole life a temple fit as a dwelling place for Him.
Second Day: Read 1 Kings 8:1-66. Now focus in on 1 Kings 8:12-21.
1. What reason does Solomon give in these focus verses for the building of the temple?
2. In what ways does Solomon connect the temple with the Exodus out of Egypt? Why is this important?
3. What do you think Solomon meant in verses 12-13? How do you explain the idea of God dwelling in a house?
Third Day: Read 1 Kings 8:1-66. Turn your attention to 1 Kings 8:22-53.
1. List the ways in which Solomon describes God. Which is most important in this context? Why?
2. What key ideas are expressed in verses 29-30? How would you apply those ideas to your own life?
3. List the various special circumstances about which Solomon prays and the verses in which they are mentioned. Are there other circumstances you wish he had mentioned? If so, what are they, and why are they important?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 8:12-66. Now focus again on 1 Kings 8:22-53.
1. What conditions do verses 33-53 require for God to forgive? What application could be made to our lives and our desire to be forgiven of sin?
2. What unique perspective does verses 41-43 present? What message does this convey about God's attitude toward Gentiles in the Old Testament? What lesson can we learn about our attitude toward other people?
3. Write brief summary of Solomon's prayer using your own words. Try to capture the main ideas and concepts of his prayer.
Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 8:22-66. Focus in on 1 Kings 8:54-66.
1. What does Solomon say about God in these focus verses?
2. What expectation does Solomon have for the people of Israel? Is it a reasonable expectation for our lives also? Why?
3. How did the people respond to the worship experience of dedicating the temple? What would be necessary for you to respond to worship in the same way?
Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 8:54-9:14. Focus in on 1 Kings 9:1-14.
1. What do you think 1 Kings 9:3-4 meant? How does it apply today?
2. What promises did God make to Solomon if Solomon would be obedient? What if he was disobedient? Based just on these verses and what we now know about the history of the temple, how did Solomon do?
3. What are the areas of obedience that are most difficult for you? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you in those areas especially.