Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 5th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 6

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-38

; 1 Kings 6:1-38; 1 Kings 7:1-51


"And his next son, for wealth and wisdom famed, The clouded Ark of God, till then in tents Wandering, shall in a glorious temple enshrine."

-Paradise Lost, 12:340.

AFTER the destructive battle of Aphek, in which the Philistines had defeated Israel, slain the two sons of Eli, and taken captive the Ark of God, they had inflicted a terrible vengeance on the old sanctuary at Shiloh. They had burnt the young men in the fire, and slain the priests with the sword, and no widows were left to make lamentation. {Psalms 78:58-64} It is true that, terrified by portents and diseases, the Philistines after a time restored the Ark, and the Tabernacle of the wilderness with its brazen altar still gave sacredness to the great high place at Gibeon, to which apparently it had been removed. Nevertheless, the old worship seems to have languished till it received a new and powerful impulse from the religious earnestness of David. He had the mind of a patriot-statesman as well as of a soldier, and he felt that a nation is nothing without its sacred memories. Those memories clustered round the now-discredited Ark. Its capture, and its parade as a trophy of victory in the shrine of Dagon, had robbed it of all its superstitious prestige as a fetish; but, degraded as it had been, it still continued to be the one inestimably precious historic relic which enshrined the memories of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and the dawn of its heroic age.

As soon as David had given to his people the boon of a unique capital, nothing could be more natural than the wish to add sacredness to the glory of the capital by making it the center of the national worship. According to the Chronicles, David-feeling it a reproach that he himself should dwell in palaces celled with cedar and painted with vermilion while the Ark of God dwelt between curtains-had made unheard-of preparations to build a house for God. But it had been decreed unfit that the sanctuary should be built by a man whose hands were red with the blood of many wars, and he had received the promise that the great work should be accomplished by his son.

Into that work Solomon threw himself with hearty zeal in the month Zif of the fourth year of his reign, when his kingdom was consolidated. It commanded all his sympathies as an artist, a lover of magnificence, and a ruler bent on the work of centralization. It was a task to which he was bound by the solemn exhortation of his father, and he felt, doubtless, its political as well as its religious importance. With his sincere desire to build to God’s glory was mingled a prophetic conviction that his task would be fraught with immense issues for the future of his people and of all the world. The presence of the Temple left its impress on the very name of Jerusalem. Although it has nothing to do with the Temple or with Solomon, it became known to the heathen world as Hierosolyma, which, as we see from Eupolemos (Euseb., Praep. Evang., 9:34), the Gentile world supposed to mean "the Temple (Hieron) of Solomon."

The materials already provided were of priceless value. David had consecrated to God the spoils which he had won from conquered kings. We must reject, as the exaggerations of national vanity, the monstrous numbers which now stand in the text of the chronicler; but a king whose court was simple and inexpensive was quite able to amass treasures of gold and silver, brass and iron, precious marbles and onyx stones. Solomon had only to add to these sacred stores.

He inherited the friendship which David had enjoyed, with Hiram, King of Tyre, who, according to the strange phrase of the Vatican Septuagint, sent his servants "to anoint" Solomon. The friendliest overtures passed between the two kings in letters, to which Josephus appeals as still extant. A commercial treaty was made by which Solomon engaged to furnish the Tyrian king with annual revenues of wheat, barley, and oil; {Comp. Ezekiel 27:17 Acts 12:20} and Hiram put at Solomon’s disposal the skilled labor of an army of Sidonian wood-cutters and artisans. The huge trunks of cedar and cypress were sent rushing down the heights of Lebanon by schlittage, and laboriously dragged by road or river to the shore. There they were constructed into immense rafts, which were floated a hundred miles along the coast to Joppa, where they were again dragged with enormous toil for thirty-five miles up the steep and rocky roads to Jerusalem. For more than twenty years, while Solomon was building the Temple and his various royal constructions, Jerusalem became a hive of ceaseless and varied industry. Its ordinary inhabitants must have been swelled by an army of Canaanite serfs and Phoenician artisans to whom residences were assigned in Ophel. There lived the hewers and bevellers of stone; the cedar-cutters of Gebal or Biblos; the cunning workmen in gold or brass; the bronze-casters who made their moulds in the clay ground of the Jordan valley; the carvers and engravers; the dyers who stained wool with the purple of the murex, and the scarlet dye of the trumpet fish; the weavers and embroiderers of fine linen. Every class of laborer was put into requisition, from the descendants of the Gibeonite Nethinim, who were rough hewers of wood and drawers of water, to the trained artificers whose beautiful productions we’re the wonder of the world. The "father," or master-workman, of the whole community was a half-caste, who also bore the name of Hiram, and was the son of a woman of Naphtali by a Tyrian father.

Some writers have tried to minimize Solomon’s work as a builder, and have spoken of the Temple as an exceedingly insignificant structure which would not stand a moment’s comparison with the smallest and humblest of our own cathedrals. Insignificant in size it certainly was, but we must not forget its costly splendor, the remote age in which the work was achieved, and the truly stupendous constructions which the design required. Mount Moriah was selected as a site hallowed by the tradition of Abraham’s sacrifice, and more recently by David’s vision of the Angel of the Pestilence with his drawn sword on the threshing-floor of the Jebusite Prince Araunah. But to utilize this doubly consecrated area involved almost superhuman difficulties, which would have been avoided if the loftier but less suitable height of the Mount of Olives could have been chosen. The rugged summit had to be enlarged to a space of five hundred yards square, and this level was supported by Cyclopean walls, which have long been the wonder of the world. The magnificent wall on the east side, known as "the Jews’ wailing-place," is doubtless the work of Solomon, and after outlasting "the drums and tramplings of a hundred triumphs," it remains to this day in uninjured massiveness. One of the finely beveled stones is 38 1/2 feet long and 7 feet high, and weighs more than 100 tons. These vast stones were hewn from a quarry above the level of the wall, and lowered by rollers down an inclined plane. Part of the old wall rises 30 feet above the present level of the soil, but a far larger part of the height lies hidden 80 feet under the accumulated debris of the often captured city. At the southwest angle, by Robinson’s arch, three pavements were discovered, one beneath the other, showing the gradual filling up of the valley; and on the lowest of these were found the broken voussoirs of the arch. In Solomon’s day the whole of this mighty wall was visible. On one of the lowest stones have been discovered the Phoenician paint-marks which indicated where each of the huge masses, so carefully dressed, edge-drafted, and beveled, was to be placed in the structure. The caverns, quarries water storages, and subterranean conduits hewn out of the solid rock, over which Jerusalem is built, could only have been constructed at the cost of immeasurable toil. They would be wonderful even with our infinitely more rapid methods and more powerful agencies; but when we remember that they were made three thousand years ago we do not wonder that their massiveness has haunted the imagination of so many myriads of visitors from every nation. It was perhaps from his Egyptian father-in-law that Solomon, to his own cost, learnt the secret of forced labor which alone rendered such undertakings possible. In their Egyptian bondage the forefathers of Israel had been fatally familiar with the ugly word Mas, the labor wrung from them by hard task-masters. {Exodus 1:2} In the reign of Solomon it once more became only too common on the lips of the burdened people. 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 5:13-14; 1 Kings 5:17-18; 1 Kings 9:15; 1 Kings 21:12-18.

Four classes were subject to it.

1. The lightest labor was required from the native freeborn Israelites (ezrach). They were not regarded as bondsmen yet 30,000 of these were required in relays of 10,000 to work, one month in every three, in the forest of Lebanon.

2. There were strangers, or resident aliens (Gerim), such as the Phoenicians and Giblites, who were Hiram’s subjects and worked for pay.

3. There were three classes of slaves-those taken in war, or sold for debt, or home-born.

4. Lowest and most wretched of all, there were the vassal Canaanites (Toshabim), from whom were drawn those 70, 000 burden-bearers, and 80, 000 quarry-men, the Helots of Palestine, who were placed under the charge of 3600 Israelite ofricers. The blotches of smoke are still visible on the walls and roofs of the subterranean quarries where there poor serfs, in the dim torchlight and suffocating air "labored without reward, perished without pity, and suffered without redress." The sad narrative reveals to us, and modern research confirms, that the purple of Solomon had a very seamy side, and that an abyss of misery heaved and moaned under the glittering surface of his splendor. {1 Kings 5:13; 1 Kings 9:22 2 Chronicles 8:9} (Omitted in the LXX) Jerusalem during the twenty years occupied by his building must have presented the disastrous spectacle of task-masters, armed with rods and scourges, enforcing the toil of gangs of slaves, as we see them represented in the tombs of Egypt and the palaces of Assyria. The sequel shows the jealousies and discontents even of the native Israelites, who felt themselves to be "scourged with whips and laden with heavy burdens." They were bondmen in all but name, for purposes which bore very little on their own welfare. But the curses of the wretched aborigines must have been deeper, if not so loud. They were torn from such homes as the despotism of conquest still left to them, and were forced to hopeless and unrewarded toil for the alien worship and hateful palaces of their masters. Five centuries later we find a pitiable trace of their existence in the 392 Hierodouloi, menials lower even than the enslaved Nethinim, who are called "sons of the slaves of Solomon"-the dwindling and miserable remnant of that vast levy of Palestinian serfs.

Apart from the lavish costliness of its materials the actual Temple was architecturally a poor and commonplace structure. It was quite small-only 90 feet long, 35 feet broad, and 45 feet high. It was meant for the symbolic habitation of God, not for the worship of great congregations. It only represented the nascent art and limited resources of a tenth-rate kingdom, and was totally devoid alike of the pure and stately beauty of the Parthenon and the awe-inspiring grandeur of the great Egyptian temples with their avenues of obelisks and sphinxes and their colossal statues of deities and kings

"Staring right on with calm, eternal eyes."

When Justinian, boastfully exclaimed, as he looked at his church, "I have vanquished thee, O Solomon," and when the Khalif Omar, pointing to the Dome of the Rock, murmured, "Behold, a greater than Solomon is here," they forgot the vast differences between them and the Jewish king in the epoch at which they lived and the resources which they could command. The Temple was built in "majestic silence."

"No workman’s axe no ponderous hammer rung.

Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric sprung."

This was due to religious reverence. It could be easily accomplished, because each stone and beam was carefully prepared to be fitted in its exact place before it was carried up the Temple hill.

The elaborate particulars furnished us of the measurements of Solomon’s Temple are too late in age, too divergent in particulars, too loosely strung together, too much mingled with later reminiscences, and altogether too architecturally insufficient, to enable us to reconstruct the exact building, or even to form more than a vague conception of its external appearance. Both in Kings and Chronicles the notices, as Keil says, are "incomplete extracts made independently of one another." and vague in essential details. Critics and architects have attempted to reproduce the Temple on Greek, Egyptian, and Phoenician models, so entirely unlike each other as to show that we can arrive at no certainty. It is, however, most probable that, alike in ornamentation and conception, the building was predominantly Phoenician. Severe in outline, gorgeous in detail, it was more like the Temple of Venus-Astarte at Paphos than any other. Fortunately the details, apart from such dim symbolism as we may detect in them, have no religious importance, but only a historic and antiquarian interest.

The Temple-called Baith or Hekal-was surrounded by the thickly clustered houses of the Levites, and by porticoes through which the precincts were entered by numerous gates of wood overlaid with brass. A grove of olives, palms, cedars, and cypresses, the home of many birds, probably adorned the outer court. This court was shut from the "higher court," {Jeremiah 36:10} afterwards known as "the Court of the Priests," by a partition of three rows of hewn stones surmounted by a cornice of cedar beams. In the higher court, which was reached by a flight of steps, was the vast new altar of brass, 15 feet high and 30 feet long, of which the hollow was filled with earth and stones, and of which the blazing sacrifices were visible in the court below. Here also stood the huge molten sea, borne on the backs of twelve brazen oxen, of which three faced to each quarter of the heavens. It was in the form of a lotus blossom, and its rim was hung with three hundred wild gourds in bronze, cast in two rows. Its reservoir of eight hundred and eighty gallons of water was for the priestly ablutions necessary in the butcheries of sacrifice, and its usefulness was supplemented by ten brazen caldrons on wheels, five on each side, adorned like "the sea," with pensile garlands and cherubic emblems, Whether "the brazen serpent of the wilderness," to which the children of Israel burnt incense down to the days of Hezekiah, was in that court or in the Temple we do not know.

On the western side of this court, facing the rising sun, stood the Temple itself, on a platform elevated some sixteen feet from the ground. Its side chambers were "lean-to" annexes (Hebrews, ribs; Vulg., tabulata) in three stories, all accessible by one central entrance on the outside. Their beams rested on rebatements in the thickness of the wall, and the highest was the broadest. Above these were windows "skewed and closed," as the margin of the A.V. says; or "broad within and narrow without"; or, as it should rather be rendered, "with closed crossbeams," that is, with immovable lattices, which could not be opened and shut, but which allowed the escape of the smoke of lamps and the fumes of incense. These chambers must also have had windows. They were used to store the garments of the priests and other necessary paraphernalia of the Temple service, but as to all details we are left completely in the dark.

Of the external aspect of the building in Solomon’s day we know nothing. We cannot even tell whether it had one level roof, or whether the Holy of Holies was like a lower chancel at the end of it; nor whether the roof was flat or, as the Rabbis say, ridged; nor whether the outer surface of the three-storeyed chambers which surrounded it was of stone, or planked with cedar, or overlaid with plinths of gold and silver; nor whether, in any case, it was ornamented with carvings or left blank; nor whether the cornices only were decorated with open flowers like the Assyrian rosettes. Nor do we know with certainty whether it was supported within by pillars or not. In the state of the records as they have come down to us, all accurate or intelligible descriptions are slurred over by compilers who had no technical knowledge and whose main desire was to impress their countrymen with the truth that the holy building was-as indeed for its day it was-"exceeding magnifical of fame and of glory throughout all countries."

In front of or just within the porch were two superb pillars, regarded as miracles of Tyrian art, made of fluted bronze, 27 feet high and 18 feet thick. Their capitals of 7 1/2 feet in height resembled an open lotus blossom, surrounded by double wreaths of two hundred pensile bronze pomegranates, supporting an abacus, carved with conventional lily work. Both pomegranates and lilies had a symbolic meaning. The pillars were, for unknown reasons, called Jachin and Boaz. Much about them is obscure. It is not even known whether they stood detached like obelisks, or formed Propylaea; or supported the architraves of the porch itself, or were a sort of gateway, surmounted by a melathron with two epithemas, like a Japanese or Indian toran. The porch (Olam), which was of the same height as the house (i.e. 45 feet high), was hung with the gilded shields of Hadadezer’s soldiers which David had taken in battle, and perhaps also with consecrated armor, like the sword of Goliath, {2 Samuel 8:7, 1 Chronicles 18:7} to show that "unto the Lord belongeth our shield," {; Psalms 89:18} and that "the shields of the earth belong unto God." {Psalms 47:9} A door of cypress wood, of two leaves, made in four squares, 7 1/2 feet broad and high, turning on golden hinges overlaid with gold, and carved with palm branches and festoons of lilies and pomegranates, opened from the porch into the main apartment. This was the Mikdash, Holy Place, or Sanctuary, and sometimes specially called in Chaldee "the Palace" (Hekal, or Birah). {; Ezra 5:14-15, etc.} Before it, as in the Tabernacle, hung an embroidered curtain (Masak). It was probably supported by four pillars on each side. In the interspaces were five tables on each side, overlaid with gold, and each encircled by a wreath of gold (zer). On these were placed the cakes of shewbread. At the end of the chamber, on each side the door of the Holiest, were five golden candlesticks with chains of wreathed gold hanging between them. In the center of the room stood the golden altar of incense, and somewhere (we must suppose) the golden candlestick of the Tabernacle, with its seven branches ornamented with lilies, pomegranates, and calices of almond flowers. Nothing which was in the darkness of the Holiest was visible except the projecting golden staves with which the Ark had been carried to its place. The Holy Place itself was lighted by narrow slits.

The entrance to the Holiest, the Debir, or oracle, which corresponded to the Greek adytum, was through a two-leaved door of olive wood, 6 feet high and broad, overlaid with gold, and carved with palms, cherubim, and open flowers. The partition was of cedar wood. The floor of the whole house was of cedar overlaid with gold. The interior of this "Oracle," as it was called-for the title "Holy of Holies" is of later origin-was, at any rate in the later Temples, concealed by an embroidered veil of blue, purple, and crimson, looped up with golden chains. The Oracle, like the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, was a perfect cube, 30 feet broad and long and high, covered with gold, but shrouded in perpetual and unbroken darkness.

No light was ever visible in it save such as was shed by the crimson gleam of the thurible of incense which the high priest carried into it once a year on the Great Day of Atonement. In the center of the floor must apparently have risen the mass of rock which is still visible in the Mosque of Omar, from which it is called Al Sakhra, "the Dome of the Rock." Tradition pointed to it as the spot on which Abraham had laid for sacrifice the body of his son Isaac, when the angel restrained the descending knife. It was also the site of Araunah’s threshing-floor, and had been. therefore hallowed by two angelic apparitions. On it was deposited with solemn ceremony the awful palladium of the Ark, which had been preserved through the wanderings and wars of the Exodus and the troublous days of the Judges. It contained the most sacred possession of the nation, the most priceless treasure which Israel guarded for the world. This treasure was the Two Tables of the Ten Commandments, graven (in the anthropomorphic language of the ancient record) by the actual finger of God; the tables which Moses had shattered on the rocks of Mount Sinai as he descended to the backsliding people. The Ark was covered with its old "Propitiatory," or "Mercy-seat," overshadowed by the wings of two small cherubim; but Solomon had prepared for its reception a new and far more magnificent covering, in the form of two colossal cherubim, 15 feet high, of which each expanded wing was 7 1/2 feet long. These wings touched the outer walls of the Oracle, and also touched each other over the center of the Ark.

Such was the Temple.

It was the "forum, fortress, university, and sanctuary" of the Jews, ‘and the transitory emblem of the Church of Christ’s kingdom. It was destined to occupy a large share in the memory, and even in the religious development, of the world, because it became the central point round which crystallized the entire history of the Chosen People. The kings of Judah are henceforth estimated with almost exclusive reference to the relation in which they stood to the centralized worship of Jehovah. The Spanish kings who built and decorated the Escurial caught the spirit of Jewish annals when, in the Court of the Kings, they reared the six colossal statues of David the originator, of Solomon the founder, of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Manasseh ‘the restorers or purifiers of the Temple worship.

It required the toil of 300, 000 men for twenty years to build one of the pyramids. It took two hundred years to build and four hundred to embellish the great Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. It took more than five centuries to give to Westminster Abbey its present form. Solomon’s Temple only took seven and a half years to build; but, as we shall see, its objects were wholly different from those of the great shrines which we have mentioned. The wealth lavished upon it was such that its dishes, bowls, cups, even its snuffers and snuffer trays, and its meanest utensils, were of pure gold. The massiveness of its substructions, the splendor of its materials, the artistic skill displayed by the Tyrian workmen in all its details and adornments, added to the awful sense of its indwelling Deity, gave it an imperishable fame. Needing but little repair, it stood for more than four centuries. Succeeded as it was by the Temples of Zerubbabel and of Herod, it carried down till seventy years after the Christian era the memory of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, of which it preserved the general outline, though it exactly doubled all the proportions and admitted many innovations.

The dedication ceremony was carried out with the utmost pomp. It required nearly a year to complete the necessary preparations, and the ceremony with its feasts occupied fourteen days; which were partly coincident with the autumn Feast of Tabernacles.

The dedication falls into three great acts. The first was the removal of the Ark to its new home; {1 Kings 8:1-3} then followed the speech and the prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 8:12-61); and, finally, the great holocaust was offered (1 Kings 8:62-66).

The old Tabernacle, or what remained of it, with its precious heirlooms, was carried by priests and Levites from the high place at Gibeon, which was henceforth abandoned. This procession was met by another, far more numerous and splendid, consisting of all the princes, nobles, and captains, which brought the Ark from the tent erected for it on Mount Zion by David forty years before.

The Israelites had flocked to Jerusalem in countless multitudes, under their sheykhs and emirs from the border of Hamath on the Orontes, north of Mount Lebanon, to the Wady el-Areesh. The king, in his most regal state, accompanied the procession, and the Ark passed through myriads of worshippers crowded in the outer court, from the tent on Mount Zion into the darkness of the Oracle on Mount Moriah, where it continued, unseen perhaps by any human eye but that of the high priest once a year, until it was carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. To indicate that this was to be its rest for ever, the staves, contrary to the old law, were drawn out of the golden rings through which they ran, in order that no human hand might touch the sacred emblem itself when it was borne on the shoulders of the Levitic priests. "And there they are unto this day," writes the compiler from his ancient record, long after Temple and Ark had ceased to exist.

The king is the one predominant figure, and the high priest is not once mentioned. Nathan is only mentioned by the heathen historian Eupolemos. Visible to the whole vast multitude, Solomon stood in the inner court on a high scaffolding of brass. Then came a burst of music and psalmody from the priests and musicians, robed in white robes, who densely thronged the steps of the great altar. They held in their hands their glittering harps and cymbals, and psalteries in their precious frames of red sandal wood, and twelve of their number rent the air with the blast of their silver trumpets as Solomon, in this supreme hour of his prosperity, shone forth before his people in all his manly beauty.

At the sight of that stately figure in its gorgeous robes the song of praise was swelled by innumerable voices, and, to crown all, a blaze of sudden glory wrapped the Temple and the whole scene in heaven’s own splendor. {2 Chronicles 5:13-14} First, the king, standing with his back to the people, broke out into a few words of prophetic song. Then, turning to the multitude, he blessed them-he, and not the high priest-and briefly told them the history and significance of this house of God, warning them faithfully that the Temple after all was but the emblem of God’s presence in the midst of them, and that the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything. After this he advanced to the altar, and kneeling on his knees {; 2 Chronicles 6:13}-a most unusual attitude among the Jews, who, down to the latest ages, usually stood up to pray-he prayed with the palms of his hands upturned to heaven, as though to receive in deep humility its outpoured benefits. The prayer, as here given, consists of an introduction, seven petitions, and a conclusion. It was a passionate entreaty that God would hear, both individually and nationally, both in prosperity and in adversity, the supplications of His people, and even of strangers, Who should either pray in the courts of that His house, or should make it the Kibleh of their devotions.

After the dedicatory prayer both the outer and the inner court of the Temple reeked and swam with the blood of countless victims-victims so numerous that the great brazen altar became wholly insufficient for them. At the close of the entire festival they departed to their homes with joy and gladness.

But whatever the Temple might or might not be to the people, the king used it as his own chapel. Three times a year, we are told, he offered-and for all that appears, offered with his own hand without the intervention of any priest burnt offerings and peace offerings upon the altar. Not only this, but he actually "burnt incense therewith upon the altar which was before the Lord,"-the very thing which was regarded as so deadly a crime in the case of King Uzziah. Throughout the history of the monarchy, the priests, with scarcely any exception, seem to have been passive tools in the hands of the kings. Even under Rehoboam much more under Ahaz and Manasseh-the sacred precincts were defiled with nameless abominations, to which, so far as we know, the priests offered no resistance.

Verses 23-30


1 Kings 6:23-30; 1 Kings 8:6-11.

"Jehovah, thundering out of Zion, throned Between the cherubim."


THE inculcation of truths so deep as the unity, the presence, and the mercy of God would alone have sufficed to give preciousness to the national sanctuary, and to justify the lavish expenditure with which it was carried to completion. But as in the Tabernacle, so in the Temple, which was only a more rich and permanent structure, the numbers, the colors, and many details had a real significance. The unity of the Temple shadowed forth the unity of the Godhead; while the concrete and perfect unity, resulting from the reconciliation of unity with difference and opposition (1 + 2), is "the signature of the Deity." Hence, as in our English cathedrals, three was the predominant number. There were three divisions, Porch, Holy Place, Oracle. Each main division contained three expiatory objects. Three times its width (which was 3 x 10) was the measure of its length. The number ten is also prominent in the measurements. It includes all the cardinal numbers, and, as the completion of multiplicity, is used to indicate a perfect whole. The seven pillars which supported the house, and the seven branches of the candlestick, recalled the sacredness of the seventh day hallowed by the Sabbath, by circumcision, and by the Passover. The number of the cakes of shewbread was twelve, "the signature of the people of Israel, a whole in the midst of which God resides, a body which moves after Divine laws." Of the colors predominant in the Temple, blue, the color of heaven, symbolizes revelation; white is the color of light and innocence; purple, of majesty and royal power; crimson, of life, being the color of fire and blood. Every gem on the high priest’s pectoral had its mystic significance, and the bells and pomegranates which fringed the edge of his ephod were emblems of devotion and good works.

Two instances will suffice to indicate how deep and rich was the significance of the truths which Moses had endeavored to engraft in the minds of his people, and to which Solomon, whether with full consciousness or not, gave permanence in the Temple.

1. Consider, first, the Ark.

Every step towards the Holiest was a step of deepening reverence. The Holy Land was sacred, but Jerusalem was more sacred than all the rest. The Temple was the most sacred part of the city; the Oracle was the most sacred part of the Temple; the Ark was the most sacred thing in the Oracle; yet the Ark was only sacred because of that which it contained.

And what did it contain? What was it which enshrined in itself this quintessence of all sanctitude? When we pierce to the inmost recesses of a pyramid, we find there only the ashes of a dead man, or even of an animal. Within the adytum of an Egyptian temple we might have found "an ox wallowing on purple tapestry." The Egyptians, too, had their arks, as the Greeks had the cyst of Cybele, and the vannus of Iacchus. What did they contain? At the best phallic emblems, the emblems of prolific nature. But the Ark of Jehovah contained nothing but the stone tablets on which were carved the Ten Words of the Covenant, the briefest possible form of the moral law of God. In the inmost heart of the Temple was its most inestimable treasure, -a protest against all idolatry; a protest against all polytheism, or ditheism, or atheism; a protest, too against the formalism which the Temple itself and its services might tend to produce in its least spiritually minded worshippers. Thus the entire Temple was a glorification of the truth that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and that the one end to be produced by the fear of the Lord is obedience to His commandments. The Ark and its unseen treasure taught that no religion can be of the least value which does not result in conformity with the plain moral laws:-be obedient; be kind; be pure; be honest; be truthful; be contented; and that this obedience can only spring from faith in the one God whom all real worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.

Obvious as this lesson might seem to be, it was entirely missed by the Jews in general. The Ark, too, was degraded into a fetish, and Jeremiah says {Jeremiah 3:16} of the exiles, "They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they miss it: neither shall it be made any more" (Hebrews). When a symbol has been perverted into a source of materialism and superstition, it becomes not only useless but positively dangerous. No religions have fallen so absolutely dead as those which have sunk into petty formalism. The Ark, for all its quintessential sacredness, had been suffered to fall into the hands of uncircumcised Philistines, and to be placed in their Dagon temple, to show that it was no mere idolatrous amulet. Ultimately it was carried away to Babylon, to adorn the palace of a heathen tyrant, and probably to perish by fire in his captured city. In the second Temple there was no ark. Nothing remained but the rock of Araunah’s threshing-floor, on which it once had stood.

2. Consider, next, the meaning of the Cherubim.

(1) The infinite sanctity given to the conception of the moral law was enhanced by the introduction of these overshadowing figures. We are never told in the entire books of Scripture what was the form of these cherubim; nor is their function anywhere specially defined; nor, again, can we be at all certain of the derivation of the name. That the cherubim over the Ark were not identical with the fourfold-visage-four of Ezekiel’s cherub-chariot we know, because they certainly had but one face. But we now know that among the Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, and other nations nothing was more common than these cherubic emblems, which were introduced into their palaces and temples under the forms of winged lions, oxen, men, and eagle-headed human figures. We see also that in the Tabernacle, and to a still greater extent in the Temple, a tacit exception to the stringency of the Second Commandment seems to have been made in favor of the component parts of these cherubic figures. If Solomon was aware (as he surely must have been) of the existence of the law, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image," he must either have laid stress on the words "to thyself," and have excused the brazen oxen which supported his great laver on the ground that they could not be turned into objects of worship, or he must have held, as Ezekiel apparently did, that the ox was the predominant form in the cherubic emblem. From the Vision of Ezekiel we see that the cherubim-like the "Immortalities" of the Apocalypse, which had faces of the ox, the eagle, the lion, and the man-were conceived of as "living creatures" upholding the sapphire Throne of God. They had wings, and the similitude of hands under their wings. They flashed to and fro like lightning in the midst of a great cloud, and an enfolding fire, and a rolling mass of amber-colored flame. Of the form of this "changeable hieroglyphic" we need say no more. Perhaps originally suggested by the wreathing fires and rolling storm clouds, which were regarded as immediate signs of the Divine proximity, the cherubim came to be regarded as the genius of the created universe in its richest perfection and energy, at once revealing and shrouding the Presence of God. Their eyes represent His omniscience, for "the eyes of the Lord are in every place"; their wings and straight feet represent the speed and fiery gliding of His omnipresence; each element of their fourfold shape indicates His love, His patience, His power, His sublimity. Their wheels imply that "the dread magnificence of the unintelligent creation" is under His entire control; and, as a whole, they symbolize the dazzling beauty of the universe, alike conscious and material. They were the ideal anima animantium-the perfection of existence emanating from and subject to the Divine Creator whose tender mercy is over all His works. Their function, when they are first introduced in the Book of Genesis, is at once vengeful and protective; vengeful of the violated law, protective of the treasure of life. They are here the Erinnyes of the Dawn, revealing and avenging the works of darkness. Their "dreadful faces and fiery arms" at the gate of Eden typify guilty awakenment, realized retribution, conscious alienation from God, the universe siding with His awakened anger.

(2) But when next they are mentioned, God says to Moses, "Thou shalt make a mercy-seat of pure gold, and thou shalt make two cherubim of gold at the two ends of the mercy-seat." But for their presence on the mercy-seat how terrible would have been the symbolism of the Holy of Holies-God’s darkness, man’s crime, a broken law! It would have represented Him who hath clouds and darkness round about Him, and dwelleth in darkness which no man can approach unto; and the Ark would only have treasured up, as a witness against man’s apostasy, the shattered slabs of the words of Sinai. But over that Ark, and its saddening because dishallowed treasure, bent once more these mystic figures, these "cherubim of glory." They bent down as though at once to protect with outspread wings, and to regard with awful contemplation, that mystic gift of a law promulgated to all nations as their moral heritage and as the revealed will of God. These are no longer cherubim of vengeance or awakened wrath, for they stand on the Capporeth, the "covering," or "propitiatory" of the Ark. They gleamed out in the red light of the high priest’s golden brazier on the one day when human foot entered the darkness m which they were shrouded; and even by him they were but dimly discerned through the ascending wreaths of fragrant incense. But he stood before them, where, on their spreading wings, the light of the Divine presence was deemed to dwell; and with the blood of expiation he sprinkled seven times the mercy-seat over which these adoring figures leaned. The wrathful cherubim of the lost Eden had driven man from a treasure which he had forfeited; but these, though they guard the ten words of a law which man had broken, were cherubim of mercy and reconciliation. Those of Eden were armed with swords of flame; those of the Temple were reddened with the blood of forgiveness. Those typified a covenant destroyed and ended; these a covenant broken yet renewed. Those spoke of awakened wrath; these of covenanted mercy. Those kept men back from the Tree of Life; these guarded that which is a Tree of Life to them that love it.

Could the whole covenant of the law and the gospel have been symbolized more simply, yet with Diviner force? The Temple itself, with all its sacrifices, with all its service and ceremonial and all the gorgeous vestments of Aaron’s vestry, served but to teach the infinite worth of simple righteousness. The heart of the Mosaic legislation was nothing so poor, so paltry, so material as the promotion of liturgical Levitism, and the pomp of ritual, and the organization of priestly functions-as though these in themselves had any value in the sight of God. It lay in the lesson that "Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." The law of Moses-the ten words which constituted the inmost preciousness of his legislation-was, alas! a violated law. For the disobedient it had no message but the wrathful menace of death. But to show that God has not abandoned His disobedient children, but would still enable them to keep that law, and to repent for its transgression, the cherubim are there. Their presence on the propitiatory was meant to reveal the glory of the gospel. The high priest, who alone saw them on the Great Day of Israel, was a type of Him who, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but in His own blood (i.e., in the glory of the life outpoured for man), entered into God’s presence within the veil.

(3) In the dazzling living creatures before the throne in the Revelation of St. John, we see once more these cherubim of Eden, who, having indicated at the Fall an awful warning, and represented in the Tabernacle a blessed hope, symbolize, in the last book of the Bible, a Divine fulfillment. They are there no longer with fiery swords, in wrathful aspect, in repellent silence; but, gracious and beautiful, they join in the new song of the redeemed multitude under the shadow of the Tree of Life, to which all have free access in that recovered Eden. In the Temple-glimmering through the rising fumes of incense, which were the type of accepted prayer, their golden plumage sprinkled with the blood of the atoning sacrifice-they became a type both of all creation up to its most celestial beings, gazing in adoration on the will of God, and of all creation, in its groaning and travailing, restored through the precious blood that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. Not all, of course, of these deep meanings were present to the souls of Israel’s worshippers; but the best of them might with joy see something of the things which we see when we say that in these glorious figures are summed up the three chief images of all Scripture: first, the Primaeval Dispensation, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die"; next, in the wilderness, "This do, and thou shalt live"; last of all, in the Gospel Dispensation, "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 6". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/1-kings-6.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile