1 Kings 6
1 In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD. 2 The house that King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. 3 The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits wide, across the width of the house. Its depth was ten cubits in front of the house. 4 For the house he made windows with recessed frames. 5 He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary; and he made side chambers all around. 6 The lowest story was five cubits wide, the middle one was six cubits wide, and the third was seven cubits wide; for around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.
7 The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built.
8 The entrance for the middle story was on the south side of the house: one went up by winding stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. 9 So he built the house, and finished it; he roofed the house with beams and planks of cedar. 10 He built the structure against the whole house, each story five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.
11 Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. 13 I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”
14 So Solomon built the house, and finished it. 15 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar; from the floor of the house to the rafters of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood; and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the most holy place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house had carvings of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen. 19 The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD. 20 The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar. 21 Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, then he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. 22 Next he overlaid the whole house with gold, in order that the whole house might be perfect; even the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.
23 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. 24 Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. 25 The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. 26 The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. 27 He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one was touching the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall; their other wings toward the center of the house were touching wing to wing. 28 He also overlaid the cherubim with gold.
29 He carved the walls of the house all around about with carved engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30 The floor of the house he overlaid with gold, in the inner and outer rooms.
31 For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. 32 He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers; he overlaid them with gold, and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees.
33 So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, four-sided each, 34 and two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35 He carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, overlaying them with gold evenly applied upon the carved work. 36 He built the inner court with three courses of dressed stone to one course of cedar beams.
37 In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid, in the month of Ziv. 38 In the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.
The construction of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem is a central event in the narration of the story of Israel. For the era this temple is a massive building roughly one hundred five feet long, thirty feet wide and forty-five feet tall. It is twice the length and breadth of the tabernacle and three times as tall with ten times the internal space which is correspondingly lit by ten menorahs. (Israel, 2013, pp. 177-179) It is a project of impressive scope and a phenomenal investment of resources for this relatively young and small monarchy, and it is a project which will be a central part of Jerusalem for around four hundred years.
Theologically the completion of the temple is viewed as a completion of the promises God made to the people when they left Egypt. Calendars are important in Hebrew thought and the four hundred eighty years is significant as the multiple of twelve and forty. Twelve is of course the number of tribes of Israel while forty is often a number of completion (forty days and forty nights of rain, forty years in the wilderness) and forty years is often viewed as the length of a generation in the bible. Now twelve generations later the nation has reached its adulthood and is building a permanent home for its God in the promised land.
The act of constructing the temple concentrates the resources of the nation into this great project, and yet despite the grandeur of the temple God’s presence within this space is contingent upon obedience to the statutes, ordinances, and commandments of God. The pious act of constructing the temple and offering sacrifices is never sufficient to replace covenant obedience to the God of Israel. Like the tabernacle it is to be a place where God can dwell among God’s people, but God’s presence and blessing require fidelity.
The design and construction of the temple is similar to other religious sites excavated in the Middle East, and it is likely that Solomon uses the worship sites of other nations as a guide for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem. Especially with craftsmen sent from Tyre, it is likely that lessons learned in construction of other sites are applied to this project. As a project showing Solomon’s devotion to the LORD, it likely uses the best of design and knowledge to build a structure that will endure.
Evaluating the construction of the temple often depends upon the perspective one examines it from. For much of the history of both Judaism and Christianity holy spaces were constructed to bring a small piece of heaven to earth. If one enters a Catholic cathedral you see the evidence of the very best resources of the people being brought together to create a beautiful space where God’s presence might be encountered in the beauty of the space. The Protestant Reformation with its democratization of space often constructed worship sites that were much more austere and functional rather than beautiful and awe inspiring. The lavish use of gold and cedar in the temple of Jerusalem is designed to be an awe-inspiring space which reflects its place as a place where God’s name can dwell.
First Kings views the construction of the temple as a high point in the reign of Solomon and of the people of Israel in general. There is the subtle critique of placing too much focus on the temple at the expense of covenant fidelity as well as a subtle questioning of the deal that Solomon makes to acquire the resources for the temple in the previous chapter. Yet, the completion of the temple in all its majesty is viewed as an accomplishment for both Solomon and the people. This massive temple with its ornate doors, gold plated walls, and massive gold covered cherubim is a place where God can be present among the people. Its completion at the end of seven years (also a theologically significant number) and its overall evaluation of being perfect is representative the building’s calling to be a place where God’s presence can be encountered.
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