The Building Of The Temple And Its Specifications (1 Kings 6:1-38).
The description of the building of the Temple, and its specifications, are now given in order to bring out the glory of Solomon, and the glowing picture (untainted by the later reality) suggests that the whole was taken from the original source. It was common for such information to be found in the records kept by kings of the ancient Near East, for their temples were an important aspect of their reigns, and thus there is no need to look for a source outside the court records. The overall emphasis is on the materials used, the measurements, and the techniques.
Being mainly designed by the Phoenicians it was, as we would expect, similar to neighbouring temples, although having the addition of a Most Holy Place, following the pattern of the Tabernacle. Thus the porch led in to the Holy Place, an elongated room, which itself led up to the Most Holy Place which was designed as a perfect cube. An almost parallel design was found at Ebla, in Syria, dating to the third millennium BC. A further example of a similar, but smaller, tripartite shrine was discovered at Tell Tainat on the Orontes (9th century BC), although that had an altar in the inner room. A late bronze age tripartite shrine was also discovered at Hazor constructed with timber between the stone courses.
One outstanding feature of Solomon’s Temple was that it was coated with gold. It was a display of Solomon’s great wealth. It is, however, an interesting indication of Solomon’s lack of spiritual perception that he did not follow the pattern laid down for the Tabernacle whereby the closer men came to the Most Holy Place, the more precious the metal that was in use. That indicated to men, as they moved from bronze, to silver, to gold, that they were, as it were, moving gradually out of their mundane world closer into His presence until at last they approached the very curtain behind which was the Ark of YHWH. It was a reminder that man was what he was, earthly and mundane, and that God was the God of Heaven, and that a purifying process must take place before we could come face to face with Him. But in Solomon’s Temple all was gold. God had simply become a ‘national treasure’. Yes, He was valued. But enclosed in His own little box.
From a literary viewpoint the passage itself follows a clear plan which seeks to bring out its important message. It opens and closes with a record of the dates involved, which form an inclusio, and are a reminder that we are dealing with the genuine history of men, and it centres round a confirming word from YHWH demanding obedience to His covenant. Indeed without such obedience all that the Temple was supposed to indicate meant nothing. And in between we have the description of the building and decorating of the Temple, indicating man’s efforts on God’s behalf. The writer has already made clear the huge physical effort that has gone into the building of the Temple (1 Kings 5:13-17), and in 1 Kings 6:14-36 it is made clear the greatness of the wealth that was being poured into its decoration. The lesson that is being emphasised is clear. Whatever efforts we may put in, and however much wealth we may devote to God, if we do not live in obedience to him, all else is in vain. Being ‘religious’ is not sufficient. What God requires is personal response. Obedience is central. In the words of Samuel, ‘to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams’ (1 Samuel 15:22). This lesson that great effort and great giving is not in itself sufficient but must be centred on obedience explains why the writer divided up the description of the building of the Temple into two parts around the central covenant.
In this regard God’s words concerning the Temple can hardly be described as over-enthusiastic. Notice the rather unenthusiastic, ‘Concerning this house which you have built,’ and compare it with Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘Is this not great Babylon which I have built?’ (Daniel 4:30). The initiative for the Temple had come from men and not from YHWH, which was in total contrast to the Tabernacle (2 Samuel 7:5-7). And even in its building YHWH’s requirements had been disobeyed as we have already seen above. It was thus more a monument to Solomon’s great splendour, and to his spiritual superficiality, than to a genuine evidence of deep spirituality. Like Saul he was more into the externals than into genuine obedience, something which in both cases did not become apparent immediately.
The ordinary reader may feel somewhat bewildered at all the detail provided with regard to the construction and embellishment of the Temple, but we should learn from this important lessons. Firstly how interested God is in the details of life. he ensured that a record was made of all the attempts of men to please Him (‘and then shall every (believing) man have praise of God’ - 1 Corinthians 4:5), just as He keeps a record of our lives. Secondly of how important it is that we should devote our skills to worshipping Him as well as serving Him. It reminds us that both are important. How much time do we, for example, spend in planning and designing our own public and private worship so as to bring glory to Him?). Thirdly as a reminder of how generous we should be towards God, and of how we should never treat Him lightly. Fourthly that the Temple, at its best, was designed to lift up men’s hearts towards God and remind them of His glory, so that as we consider its detail we might bring glory to our God. It is equally as important for us that we do not get so absorbed in ‘the church’ that we fail to give Him the glory that is His due. Fifthly in that it was designed so as to demonstrate that all creation is important in the eyes of God, and that He created it for our benefit (even though we may misuse it). Sixthly in that it was demonstrating the presence of God among His people in splendour and glory, and lifting up their eyes towards Him. The danger came when they turned their eyes away from God to the Temple and gave it an importance beyond its deserving. Seventhly in that it stood as a guarantee of the fulfilment of all God’s promises concerning the rise of the Coming King.
This particular passage is divided into three main parts by three phrases, each of which is a reminder that the Temple was completed, a repetition which was typical of ancient literature. These phrases are as follows:
“So he built the house and finished it.” This ends the description of the building of the stonework (1 Kings 6:9).
“So Solomon built the house and finished it.” This follows the covenant made by YHWH. (1 Kings 6:14).
“So was he seven years in building it.” This concludes the whole (1 Kings 6:37).
In writings where the script continued unbroken such ‘breaks’ were vital in order to enable the reader to recognise when a change in the subject matter was taking place and a new point in the narrative was being reached.
We may analyse the whole as follows:
a The date of commencement of the work (1 Kings 6:1).
b The building of the main structure in stone (1 Kings 6:2-10).
c YHWH’s covenant with Solomon (1 Kings 6:11-14).
b The embellishment of the Temple with timber and its inner detail (1 Kings 6:15-36).
a The date when the Temple was finished (1 Kings 6:37).
Thus the whole is planted firmly in history, man’s efforts on God’s behalf are described, but central to all is the requirement for obedience to God and His covenant.
1 Kings 6:1 a ‘It came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt ---.’
The interpretation of these words is a decisive point in Biblical chronology. It does at first sight give the appearance of indicating an exact chronology, but if taken literally it would be the only place in Scripture where such a specific attempt at exact dating, covering so long a period, has been attempted, apart from Exodus 12:40-41. Indeed, speaking from a human point of view it is difficult to see who would have been in a position to be able to accurately arrive at this figure. Records were not meticulously kept before the time of the monarchy, and the periods covered by Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Saul, contain time periods so uncertain that no one could have pinpointed the length of time with such accuracy from them, even if they accepted the exact round numbers in Judges literally. Certainly many attempts have been made to do so since, but none of them have been successful, for they have always had to make (or ignore) uncertain assumptions concerning the time period of Joshua, the length of time to the first invasion of the land in Judges 3:8, and the length of the periods for Samuel and Saul. We may take a scholarly interest in such matters, but it is doubtful if the writer of Kings or his source did so.
It is true, of course, that God would have known how long the true period was, but the words are not shown as coming from the mouth of God nor are they put in the form of a prophetic announcement, and there is no indication given anywhere that the writer obtained special divine assistance in arriving at the figure. He appears rather to have made the statement almost matter-of-factedly on the basis of his own knowledge. In that case we may ask why did he do so, and what was the criteria on which he based his information?
A point that must be borne in mind in considering the matter is the way in which number words were used in ancient times. They were not times in which much stress was laid on mathematics and arithmetic. Numbers were a mystery to most people. Indeed most probably could not accurately use numbers beyond, say, twenty (even if that). Numbers were rather used in order to convey an impression, and many of what we see as number words (e.g. a thousand) also had a number of other different meanings (such as military unit, family unit, clan unit, work unit, etc.). This being so our question should rather therefore be, what impression was the writer trying to give?
A clue may perhaps be found in another reference which has in mind the period from the Exodus to Solomon and that is found in 1 Chronicles 6. Indicated there we have the list of ‘Priests’ from Aaron to the time of Solomon, and then from Solomon to the Exile. If we list the ‘Priests’ from Aaron to Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, who would succeed Zadok as Priest in the early days of Solomon, we have twelve names, and if we take a ‘generation’ to represent forty years that would give us four hundred and eighty years. Thus the writer may simply be intending to indicate that there were ‘twelve generations’ (12x40=480) between the coming out of Egypt and the commencement of the building of the Temple, which would in reality be considerably less than 480 years. And a connection with the High Priesthood would be a very fit way in which to date the growth of Israel’s faith to the point at which the Temple was built (which was as the men of the day would see it).
But we must then ask, why was the matter seen as being of such importance that such dating was required? The answer would appear to lie in the emphasis that is earlier laid on the fact that the Temple was being built by Solomon because at long last the land was at rest, with all its enemies having been dealt with. It was an indication that the period of wandering, and of having a temporary, travelling sanctuary, was considered to be over. Thus the ‘four hundred and eighty years’ indicated the period that had passed between the first deliverance from Egypt and the time at which Israel could say, ‘now at last we are permanently settled in the land and at rest, with all our enemies subdued.’ It was a moment of great satisfaction.
1 Kings 6:1
‘And it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of YHWH.’
So after twelve generations from the coming out of Egypt, Solomon felt that things were so at rest that a permanent Temple could be built. The impression being given was that now at last Israel were finally settled in the land for good. But as we know, and as the writer knew, within a generation that vision would collapse, and a united Israel would be no more. It was a dream that would turn into a nightmare. Thus the positive note of the verse suggests that it was written before the crises that followed occurred, confirming that it was very early and part of the original source.
The date was seen as so important that the exact date is then given. It was in the month Ziv, which was the second month, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (somewhere around 960 BC). It was seen as a glorious month in history, for it was in this month Solomon began to build the house of YHWH. The final writer of Kings must, however, certainly have had in mind what the future of the Temple was. He would have known that that too was doomed even as it was being erected, and that a promising beginning would end in disaster. The dream would come to nothing because the injunction to Solomon in 1 Kings 6:12-13 would be ignored.
The word used for ‘moon period’ appears regularly in Genesis, Exodus, etc. The moon period Ziv occurs only in this chapter, and is explained as being the second moon period in the year. It is an indication of early date, for later the second month would be Iyyar. The dating from the beginning of the reign was a normal method of dating. Everything about this verse indicates its antiquity.
Description Of The Erection Of The Main Stone Buildings (1 Kings 6:2-10).
As we read these descriptions we need to keep in mind the huge effort that had been put into bringing things up to this stage. It was the result of blood, sweat and tears, and the slave labour of tens of thousands of workers. It must be borne in mind that there are a number of technical terms in what follows which are not fully understood. Thus to some extent the descriptions are tentative. But the basic idea is relatively clear.
1 Kings 6:2
‘And the house which king Solomon built for YHWH, its the length was threescore cubits, and its breadth twenty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.’
The dimensions of the Temple were now given. It was double the size of the Tabernacle in all dimensions. The cubit was the distance from the elbow to the finger tips, about forty five centimetres or seventeen and a half inches. Thus the building was about twenty seven metres (ninety feet) long, nine metres (thirty feet) wide, and thirteen and a half metres (forty five feet) high. It was divided up into the main sanctuary (the Holy Place), and an inner sanctuary (the Most Holy Place), with a porch in front of the main sanctuary. It was thus adequate but not huge, and dwarfed by the House of the Forest of Lebanon ( 1 Kings 7:2-3). We may feel that had David built it he would have ensured that it was larger than his own palace.
1 Kings 6:3
‘And the porch before the temple of the house, its length was twenty cubits, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was its breadth before the house.’
The porch in front of the Temple was roughly nine metres (thirty feet) in length i.e. going the breadth of the building and four and a half metres (fifteen feet) in width (from outer door to inner door).
(There were also in fact side-chambers going along the outside of the building (1 Kings 6:5; 1 Kings 6:7), and seemingly an outer and inner court (see 1 Kings 6:36), but the latter are not mentioned in any detail).
1 Kings 6:4
‘And for the house he made windows of fixed lattice-work.’
The Hebrew words used here are of uncertain meaning, but if the usual ‘guess’, partly supported by grammar and ancient versions, is correct the main sanctuary was lit by small windows near the roof, either of fixed lattice work or embrasured.
1 Kings 6:5
‘And against the wall of the house he built stories (or ‘platforms’) round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the inner room, and he made side-chambers round about.’
Along the walls on the outside were built side-chambers (which would act as ‘store rooms’ and provide facilities for the priests) which went the whole length of the building, probably built on platforms (‘stories’).
1 Kings 6:6
‘The lowest story was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad, for on the outside he made offsets in the wall of the house round about, that the beams should not have hold in the walls of the house.’
These side-chambers were built in three stories with the lowest story just over two metres (seven foot six) broad, the second story nearly three metres (nine foot) broad and the top story over three metres ( ten and a half foot) broad. These were thus tiered, and the main building was built in such a way that the tiered walls of the sacred building itself were not pierced, but rebated so as to offer support for the timbers which supported the side-chambers. The sanctuary wall itself was to be kept unpierced, and therefore untainted in any way.
There is a reminder here that we should maintain our own inner hearts (the temples of the Holy Spirit - 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) unpierced by the world, even though we are nevertheless ready to bear the world’s burdens.
1 Kings 6:7
‘And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.’
It has been made clear that the sanctuary was kept ‘untainted’ by using tiering so that its integrity might not be infringed on, and that now leads on to the fact that it was also kept untainted by not allowing any noise or activity of building work to disturb its peacefulness. We have here a reminder that the Temple was built of stone, but it then very importantly (from their viewpoint) informs us that all the work of dressing the stone from which the Temple was built had been done at the quarry. This prevented any noisy work taking place on the actual site of the sanctuary itself, noise which might defile its peacefulness. The central problem being guarded against appears to have been the clanging and clattering noise caused by builder’s tools, which was apparently considered not to be seemly for the site of the house of YHWH, (and which would certainly have disturbed the neighbours). The only noise to be allowed in the Temple area from now on was the praises of God’s people.
It has been suggested that the aim was to prevent the introduction of masons’ tools to the site, especially iron tools, (for the latter compare Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5, where, however, they were not to touch the altar at all). But the aim would appear to have been to exclude the noise of the tools rather than the tools themselves. (Although we can possibly compare the way in which only flint knives were used for circumcision - Joshua 5:2-3; Exodus 4:25). Tools would certainly be required later for repair work.
This information was inserted here in order to tie in with the fact that the beams of the storerooms had not ‘tainted’ the main sanctuary by piercing it. It is saying that in the same way, the area of the sanctuary had not been tainted by the noise and cries of builders. The special ‘holiness’ of the sanctuary was thus being maintained.
There is a reminder to us here that when we meet for worship we should not allow the atmosphere to be tainted by the intrusion of the outside world. Rather it should only be disturbed by the testimony, praises and worship of God’s people. Unseemly noise should be left outside.
1 Kings 6:8
‘The door for the middle side-chamber was in the right side of the house, and they went up by winding stairs into the middle story, and out of the middle into the third.’
The side-chambers were entered by their own door placed on the right hand side, leading into the middle side-chamber, from where access to the remainder could be obtained. It is quite possible that this access was from within the Holy Place, although it may have been from outside, from the inner court. This included the provision of lulim (possibly ‘winding stairs’, obtained from the Arabic lawiyah, ‘to be coiled’, an example of which was found at Atchana; or ‘ladders’; or ‘trapdoors’, which was the meaning of lulim in later Hebrew) which gave access to the upper chambers. These side-chambers probably had multiple uses. They could be used, for example, to house the priests’ portions and skins, the Temple treasure (much of which would, however, be kept in the sanctuary proper), and even possibly the priests themselves when they were on duty, or when they were preparing to partake of their portions.
1 Kings 6:9
‘So he built the house, and finished it, and he covered the house with beams and planks of cedar.’
The stonework having been completed, and the house built, the whole was then encased in beams and planks of cedar. The idea is that all was made beautiful and a delight to behold.
1 Kings 6:10
‘And he built the stories against all the house, each five cubits high, and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.’
And the store-rooms which were built against the house, each of them just over two metres (seven foot six inches) high, rested on cedar beams, which themselves rested on the rebatements made on the walls. Again therefore it is stressed that the purity of the sanctuary was maintained, and that it was not infringed upon by the timbers from the more mundane store-rooms.
YHWH’s Mini-Covenant With Solomon (1 Kings 6:11-14).
These words are deliberately place in the centre of the description of the building of the Temple, because they went to the heart of what the passage was all about. Into the Temple would be brought the Ark of God containing the tablets of the covenant, and they were a reminder that, unless that covenant was kept at the heart of what was going on in the Temple, the whole would be in vain. Thus YHWH’s genuine dwelling among them would only continue while they were genuinely faithful to His covenant. God was only too well aware that the Temple could so easily become an outward symbol that was unable to move the heart. We can compare here 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:10-18; Isaiah 58:2-14.
It appears very probable that the revelation came through a prophet once the stonework had been erected and completed, but prior to its embellishment, partly as an encouragement in the work, but very much as a warning not to be too taken up with the Temple itself.
1 Kings 6:11
‘And the word of YHWH came to Solomon, saying,’
So in the midst of the busyness of building the Temple the voice of YHWH broke through on Solomon, seeking to encourage him, but also in order to remind him that without obedience to His Instruction all that he was building would be futile.
1 Kings 6:12-13
“Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments to walk in them, then will I establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father, and I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”
“Concerning this house which you are building.” This was hardly the warmest way of describing the Temple, and in a sense it was a disclaimer of responsibility (note the absence of ‘My’). This was not what YHWH had had in mind when He had made His covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:5-7), and He wanted it to be recognised that its success would depend on faithfulness to His covenant, and obedience to His ways. It was only on such terms that He would ‘establish’ the covenant that he had made with David, and would dwell among His people and not forsake them. He wanted it recognised that the Temple itself would be no guarantee of His presence. What would guarantee His presence would be their faithful walk with Him. Without that He would desert both the house and the people.
“If you will walk in My statutes and execute My judgments, and keep all My commandments.” The emphasis is on threefold obedience to all God’s ways and requirements. The phrase ‘if you will walk in my statutes’ is taken from Leviticus 26:3. The phrase ‘execute My judgments’ is taken from Leviticus 18:4. See also Leviticus 18:5; Leviticus 19:37; Leviticus 20:22; Leviticus 25:15 for a similar idea. ‘Keep all my commandments’ is found in Deuteronomy 5:29. The nearest to ‘keep all My commandments to walk in them’ are Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 28:9; but none are very close. For the appeal ‘if you will --’ see 1 Kings 3:14; Exodus 15:26; Leviticus 26:3; (interestingly an opening and direct ‘if you will --’ is not a Deuteronomic approach. We may compare Deuteronomy 19:9; Deuteronomy 30:10, but they are not using the words as a direct opening phrase and are therefore not strictly comparable). In view of this it is not justifiable to suggest that this covenant is ‘Deuteronomic’. It should rather be called ‘Mosaic’.
For the overall idea see for example 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 3:14; 2 Kings 17:34; 2 Kings 17:37; Genesis 26:5; Exodus 15:26; Leviticus 18:4-5; Leviticus 18:26; Leviticus 19:37; Leviticus 20:22; Leviticus 25:18; Leviticus 26:3; Leviticus 26:15; Deuteronomy 5:31; Deuteronomy 6:1; Deuteronomy 7:11; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 26:17; Deuteronomy 30:16.
On the condition of such threefold obedience YHWH promises that He will establish with him His word which He spoke to David his father. This word primarily has in mind His covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, but compare 1 Chronicles 22:7-13, which was a further revelation given after the incident of the numbering of Israel and the purchase and use of Ornan’s threshingfloor for sacrifices (1 Chronicles 21:28-30). Ornan’s threshingfloor was itself the site of the Temple (2 Chronicles 3:1). In that revelation YHWH belatedly gave permission for a permanent Temple to be built (in contrast with David’s house).
“And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.” YHWH’s dwelling among His people was thus conditional on Solomon’s obedience as revealed by ‘walking in His statutes, executing His judgments and keeping all His statutes to walk in them’. The idea, however, was that this would then cause the people to walk in them too, for His presence would in the end always depend on the faithful response of His people (compare Isaiah 57:15). On the other hand, for those who were faithful it was guaranteed (Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Samuel 12:28; Hebrews 13:5).
1 Kings 6:14
‘So Solomon built the house, and finished it.’
In response to YHWH’s covenant Solomon ‘built the house and finished it’ (with a little help from numerous others). All the stonework was now complete. As we have seen this and similar phrases end the three sections into which the passage is divided (see 1 Kings 6:9; 1 Kings 6:38).
Description Of The Embellishment Of The Building (1 Kings 6:15-38).
Having been given the description of the erection of the basic stonework we are now provided with brief details of how the building was embellished, which emphasises the wealth that was poured into it. Once again we have the problem of technical information and unusual technical words which would have been quite understandable to the builders but are somewhat of a mystery to us. The passage has been described as ‘untranslatable’, but we should recognise that that is due to our ignorance, and not to the grammar of the passage itself. It was possibly originally composed from builder’s technical notes which would help to explain its obscurity.
The work proceeded as follows:
The lining of the building with woodwork and the dividing off of the Inner Room to contain the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH (1 Kings 6:16-19).
The overlaying of the various parts with gold (1 Kings 6:20-22).
The making and erection of the cherubim in the Inner Room (1 Kings 6:23-28).
The decorating of the whole (1 Kings 6:29-30).
The making of the various doors (1 Kings 6:31-35).
The building of the inner court (1 Kings 6:36).
With this the work was completed (1 Kings 6:37).
The Lining Of The Building And Creation Of The Most Holy Place (1 Kings 6:16-19).
1 Kings 6:15
‘And he built the walls of the house within with boards of cedar, from the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of pine.’
The whole inside of the building from top to bottom was covered with boards of cedar, and the floor was covered with pine wood. These walls would later be carved with carved figures of cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, which would be covered in gold. The whole intention was probably that it would, with its glory and beauty, convey the idea of creation, especially as seen in the Garden of Eden (cedar and pine wood, cherubim, trees and flowers).
1 Kings 6:16
‘And he built twenty cubits on the back part of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls of the ceiling. He built them for it within, for an inner room (dbr - ‘back part’), even for the most holy place.’
A separate Inner Room was then divided off at the rear of the building to form the Most Holy Place. This was built of cedar wood in the form of a perfect cube (the ancients way of indicating perfection and total completeness) with dimensions of twenty cubits (nine metres, thirty feet). There would thus have been a space above this inner chamber of ten cubit high, which was presumably necessary in case any work had to be done on the Most Holy Place for which elaborate precautions would have been deemed necessary and special access arranged.
The word dbr is in some translations rendered as ‘oracle’ from the verb dbr ‘to speak’. But it more probably signifies ‘the back part, back room’ coming from dbr ‘to turn the back’, compare Akkadian dabaru, Arabic dubr.
“The Most Holy Place.” Literally ‘the Holy of holies’ a Hebraism intensifying the idea of its holiness. It is an obvious Hebraism for indicating what is most holy, what is the most sacred of all, and there is no justification in arguing that it is necessarily ‘late’. The idea of the extreme holiness of the Ark, and of the place where it was to be found, is constant throughout Scripture.
1 Kings 6:17
‘And the house, that is, the temple before (the inner room), was forty cubits long.’
As a consequence of the separation of the Inner Room, the Outer Room, or Holy Place, was made up of what remained, being forty cubits long (eighteen metres, sixty feet), and, of course twenty cubits wide. It is first thought of as ‘the house’, but then, recognising that that description signified the whole, more closely defined as ‘the temple before’, i.e. the main sanctuary before the Inner Room.
1 Kings 6:18
‘And there was cedar on the house within, carved with wild fruits and open flowers, all was cedar, there was no stone seen.’
It is then stressed that all the stonework was hidden behind cedar wood, which was carved with wild fruits (gourds) and open flowers, the whole together indicating beauty, life and fruitfulness. The thought was more of life and beauty in creation than of fertility. All was of cedar embellished with symbols of natural beauty and fruitfulness. No stonework was visible. It was symbolic, not of dead stone, but of the living creation, and was thus suitable for the worship of, and reminder about, the God of creation Who, through their representatives, welcomed His people into His garden world (reminiscent of Eden). Compare the way in which the semi-deified king of Tyre saw himself, when in his Temple which had been fashioned in the likeness of a garden of Paradise, as walking in the garden of God (Ezekiel 28:1-19).
1 Kings 6:19
‘And he prepared an inner room in the midst of the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of YHWH.’
The Inner Room, already described in 1 Kings 6:16, was for the purpose of housing the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH. It was the Most Holy Place, the Holiest of all, which could only be entered by the High Priest, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement. It indicated the invisible presence of their covenant God, YHWH, ever ready to meet with His people, continually expectant of their obedience (the covenant tablets were within), and open with the offer of mercy (the propitiatory or ‘mercy seat’ was above).
The Overlaying Of Everything With Gold (1 Kings 6:20-22).
1 Kings 6:20
‘And within the inner room was a space of twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in its the height, and he overlaid it with pure gold, and he covered the altar with cedar.’
The whole of the inner room was covered with refined gold, probably applied in liquid form. Such coverings of precious metals were common among rich kings in antiquity. In Egypt, for example, we know of temples which had silver and gold covered floors and stairways, while Queen Hatshepsut is known to have capped and plated her giant obelisks (30 metres, 97 feet, high) with gold and electrum. The skilled artisans of Rameses II delighted in gold-covered temple-doors and sacred barques, and we have only to consider the golden coffin of Tutenkahmen, together with his other treasures, which many readers will actually have seen, to realise how much wealth could be expended. Indeed within ten years of Solomon’s death Osorkon I of Egypt made a whole host of staggering gifts of precious metals to the gods of Egypt. During the first four years of his reign he presented them with a total of two million deben weight of silver (about 220 tons) and another 2,300,000 deben weight of silver and gold (some 250 tons) largely in the form of precious objects (vessels, statuary, etc.). In other parts of the unfortunately damaged inscription a good number of such objects are itemised, many by weight. And all this is precisely recorded in the inscription. No doubt much of it came from the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:26).
There were a number of sources of such gold in the ancient Near East, including the abundant supplies in the alluvium of the eastern desert of Egypt, and the sources in the west coast of Arabia, the mountains of Armenia and Persia, western Asia Minor and the Aegean, with all of whom Solomon had trading contact. In view of his monopoly of the trading routes there is no reason to doubt that he was wealthy enough to have this much gold available.
“And he covered the altar with cedar.” This refers to the altar of incense which he installed in the Holy Place, but was always seen as ‘belonging’ to the Most Holy Place (compare Hebrews 9:3-4). It would appear that it was made of stone like the Temple walls, and therefore required a covering of cedar, prior to its coating with gold. Note how the writer seeks to give the impression of the work proceeding action by action for in 1 Kings 6:22 we are then told that this altar was further overlaid with gold (compare also 1 Kings 7:48).
1 Kings 6:21
‘So Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across before the inner room, and he overlaid it with gold.’
What has been said about overlaying with gold is now emphasised by repetition in typically ancient fashion, possibly indicating the length of time that this all took, and the care with which it was carried out. While it may make boring reading to us, to those who were listening to it read out it would build up picture on picture which emphasised the munificence of Solomon’s gifts to the Temple. Now therefore we are reminded that the whole of the Most Holy Place was overlaid with gold. The chains may have been designed to hang across the doors thus preventing entry into the Most Holy Place, or they may have been the chains from which the sacred curtain (2 Chronicles 3:14) would hang, separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place. These were also made of gold. And everything, but everything (to use our modern method of repetition), was overlaid with gold.
1 Kings 6:22
‘And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until all the house was finished, also the whole altar that belonged to the inner room he overlaid with gold.’
Not only the Most Holy Place, but also the Holy Place, was overlaid with gold, and at the same time the altar of incenses, which had been covered with cedar, was now overlaid with gold. There may have been a distinction between the thickness of the gold applied to the Holy Place in comparison with the Most Holy Place, which would explain the reason for the distinction being made. On the other hand the whole purpose may have been to hang out the description in order to bring it home as men listened to it being read out.
The Provision Of Cherubim For The Most Holy Place (1 Kings 6:23-28).
We do not know the form in which the cherubim were presented apart from the fact that they are seen as having wings. The fact that they stood ten cubits high, with wings extended sideways, militates against them having the forms of sphinxes known from other temples, where they were, for example, a combination of animal body, bird wings and human face (although this would partly fit the ideas behind the descriptions in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation). There were, however, many different types of such figures in foreign Temples, some acting as guardians, others in a worshipping attitude. From Genesis 3:24, Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4-5 it is apparent that they were seen as protectors and conveyors of the sense of YHWH’s holiness, and as bearers of His throne. Compare also Isaiah 37:16; Psalms 80:1.
1 Kings 6:23-24
‘And in the inner room he made two cherubim of olive-wood, each ten cubits high (literally ‘it was ten cubits high’). And five cubits was the one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the other wing of the cherub, from the uttermost part of the one wing unto the uttermost part of the other were ten cubits.’
The two cherubim were made of olive-wood (prior to being placed in the Temple) and were each ten cubits (1 Kings 4:8 metres, fifteen feet) high, each with wings extended sideways which were each five cubits (1 Kings 2:4 metres, seven and a half feet) long, including the width of the body. ‘It was ten cubits high.’ The singular is explained by the description in 1 Kings 6:25, indicating that the writer was giving the size of one cherubim, and then the other.
1 Kings 6:25-26
‘And the other cherub was ten cubits. Both the cherubim were of one measure and one form. The height of the one cherub was ten cubits, and so was it of the other cherub.’
It is then emphasised that both cherubim were identical in both size and shape, both being ten cubits high.
1 Kings 6:27
‘And he set the cherubim within the inner house, and the wings of the cherubim were stretched forth, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall, and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.’
Once it was completed the two cherubim were set within the Most Holy Place, seemingly standing alongside each other with wings outstretched, so that one wing of one cherub touched one wing of the other, with, in both cases, their other wing reaching out to the wall. Between them would be placed the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH. Unlike the cherubim on the Ark, who would, of course shortly join these two cherubim, these two looked out towards the curtain behind which was the Holy Place, presumably watching so as to ensure that no one dared to come through the curtain.
1 Kings 6:28
‘And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.’
Both Cherubim were overlaid with gold in the same way as everything else in the Most Holy Place. They shared in the holiness of the inner Sanctuary.
The Further Decoration Of The Temple (1 Kings 6:29-30).
1 Kings 6:29
‘And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers, within and without.’
We were informed in 1 Kings 6:18 about the carvings on the cedar wood where it was described as carved with wild flowers (gourds) and open flowers. Here are added carvings of cherubim, and palm trees. Once again the writer is trying to give the impression of step by step progression. First the outline features, now the central features. The palm trees and the Cherubim would alternate around the wall. They probably symbolised the heavenly garden, possibly including the idea of the tree of life which the Cherubim had been set to guard. The way back to God was to be seen as possible through the presenting of blood before the Ark.
Open flowers and palm trees have been found on a number of Phoenician artefacts, which again suggests Phoenician influence here.
1 Kings 6:30
‘And the floor of the house he overlaid with gold, within and without.’
Not only were the walls and ceiling overlaid with gold, but the floor as well, both within the Inner Room and outside it. This gilding of the floor followed a well known pattern evidenced in Egypt. See on 1 Kings 6:20.
The Doors Guarding The Two Rooms Of The Temple, The Inner Doors and The Outer Doors (1 Kings 6:31-35).
1 Kings 6:31
‘And for the entrance of the inner room he made doors of olive-wood, the lintel and doorposts were a fifth part of the wall.’
The way into the inner room was not only to be guarded by the curtain, but also by two doors of olive wood covering four fifths of the space, the other fifth being occupied by the lintels and the door posts.
1 Kings 6:32
‘So he made two doors of olive-wood, and he carved on them carvings of cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and he spread the gold on the cherubim, and upon the palm-trees.’
These two doors of olive wood again had on them carvings of Cherubim, palm trees and open flowers, and both the doors and the carvings were also overlaid with gold.
1 Kings 6:33-34
‘So he also made for the entrance of the temple doorposts of olive-wood, out of a fourth part of the wall; and two doors of pine-wood: the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding.’
Similarly doors were made to cover the entrance into the outer sanctuary. These were made of pine wood, and the door posts of olive wood. The door posts took up a quarter of the space, and two doors, which folded in two, covered the remainder of the space.
1 Kings 6:35
‘And he carved on them cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers; and he overlaid them with gold fitted on the graven work.’
And on these also were carved Cherubim and palm trees and open flowers. And these also were overlaid with gold. Thus anyone who approached the sanctuary would be made aware of Cherubim guarding the way, and palm trees and open flowers reminding them of how once their ancestor had walked in the garden of God. And the priests who entered would find themselves surrounded by these on all sides as they sought to maintain the access of the people into God’s mercy.
The Inner Court (1 Kings 6:36).
1 Kings 6:36
‘And he built the inner court with three courses of hewn stone, and a course of cedar beams.’
The Temple clearly had an Inner court, and therefore presumably an Outer court. The Inner court would be where people brought their offerings, and it would contain the bronze altar and the bowls of water where the priests washed their hands and feet prior to entering the Holy Place. Jeremiah calls it ‘the upper court’ which suggests that it was higher than the Outer court (Jeremiah 36:10). The Outer court would be a place for worshippers to gather, and may well at this time have also incorporated within it the king’s palace. See 1 Kings 7:9; 1 Kings 7:12. The wall of the inner court was built with three courses of hewn stone to one course of cedar beams as it rose upwards. We are not told anything about the height that it reached. This construction, which was commonly found in buildings elsewhere, may have provided protection from damage through earthquake. Or it may in this case have symbolised the materials from which the Temple was made. Or the cedar course may have provided spaces through which people could look in. The same pattern is found in a number of excavated Syrian buildings, and generally in the ancient world.
According to 2 Chronicles 4:9 the outer wall had gates lined with bronze, thus it also clearly had high walls. Around it were rooms and cells for the priests and Levites (2 Kings 23:11; Jeremiah 35:4; Jeremiah 36:10). The principal gate of the outer court was the east gate (Ezekiel 11:1) but other gates are mentioned (2 Kings 11:6; 2 Chronicles 23:5; Jeremiah 20:2; 2 Kings 12:10; 2 Chronicles 24:8). The reason why it is not mentioned here is probably because it also included within it the palace of Solomon shortly to be described.
The Date Of The Finalising Of The Temple (1 Kings 6:37). 1 Kings 6:37
‘In the fourth year was the foundation of the house of YHWH laid, in the moon period (yerach) Ziv. And in the eleventh year, in the moon period (yerach) Bul, which is the eighth month (chodesh), was the house finished throughout all its parts, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he seven years in building it.’
The building of the Temple took seven years and six months. The fact that it took ‘seven years’ would have been seen as a good sign. It was the divinely perfect period. Note again the ancient pre-exilic names for the months. Ziv means ‘flowers’ (spring time) and Bul means ‘moisture’ (the rainy season). We need not doubt that the building of it was a genuine act of worship, but as we have already seen it revealed the shallowness of Solomon’s religious awareness. It lacked in obedience. It revealed man’s view of God, not what God had revealed Himself to be.
“Yerach” is an ancient word for a moon period, found also at Ugarit and on the Gezer tablet, but comparatively rare in Scripture, being found prior to Kings only in Exodus 2:2; Deuteronomy 21:13; Deuteronomy 33:14. ‘Chodesh’ is a parallel word and is of common use, being found regularly from Genesis onwards. Both words were used by Job and Zechariah which demonstrates that they were parallel words in use throughout the Biblical period.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent