Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Kings 6



The first and greatest work of Solomon was the building of the temple. David had purposed in his heart to build such a house for Jehovah, and made vast preparations for it, but was divinely informed that the great enterprise was to be carried out not by himself, but by his son Solomon. 1 Chronicles 22:6-19; 1 Chronicles 28:10-21. The pattern was, in its principal parts, substantially a repetition of the tabernacle; but in its architectural details it was doubtless modelled, in some degree, after the great Phenician, Assyrian, Babylonian, and perhaps Egyptian temples of that age; drawing more or less from all these sources: for the science of architecture seems never to have received much attention among the Hebrews. Their fathers dwelt in tents; and long after their settlement in Canaan they continued to use the same style of dwellings, as something hereditary which they were loth to abandon. David called in the aid of Phenician architects and workmen in building his own palace on Zion, and Solomon did the same in building the temple. And to the Phenician artists we may reasonably believe were largely left the minor architectural designs and finish. But the great works of Phenician architecture have perished; and all present attempts at a complete restoration of the temple from supposed analogies in Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, or Egyptian monuments, are of doubtful value. Such analogies are of the first importance in the study of comparative architecture, and will greatly help in determining some of the principal parts of the temple; but a restoration of the whole edifice from those sources must be to a great extent conjectural. Our principal authority is the Hebrew text of the Scripture; and a careful study of this, together with the aid of comparative architecture, will enable us to present a substantially correct ground-plan, and some other important features, both of the temple and the palace of Solomon. Beyond this it seems not wise to go; for one might as well attempt to portray a living man from a tolerably well preserved skeleton, as to restore all the details of an ancient Jewish building from a mere verbal description compared with the remains of Persian, Assyrian, and Egyptian architecture — especially when the architects employed belonged to neither of these nations.

The SITE of the temple was Ornan’s threshingfloor on Mount Moriah, where the angel of Jehovah had appeared to David. 2 Chronicles 3:1. There is no question but it stood somewhere within the present enclosure known as the Haram Area, but the exact part of this area has become a matter of dispute. Fergusson, Lewin, and Thrupp locate the temple in the southwest corner; but the older opinion, which seems to be confirmed by the most recent research and the nature of the ground, places it nearly on the site of the Haram esh Shereef, which occupies what must have been the rocky ridge of the ancient mountain. Captain Warren observes: “It seems incredible that the temple, a building which was so conspicuous, and which was to perform such an important part in the fortifications of the city, should have been placed down in a hole, or even along the sides of the hill, or anywhere except on the ridge, where there is just room enough for it to have stood.’ It is well-known that threshingfloors in Palestine are so placed on the ridges of hills, or on the highest points, that, by exposure to every puff of wind, the corn and chaff may be separated.” — Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 245. See, also, note introductory to chap. 7.

Verse 1

1.Four hundred and eightieth year — From this verse it clearly appears that both the year of the exodus from Egypt and the year of the foundation of the temple were memorable epochs in the history of the Hebrew race. See on Exodus 12:40-41. Accordingly, the statement of this verse has been a matter of great interest, and the subject of much dispute among chronologists. Most modern chronologers reject the number four hundred and eighty as an early interpolation. The Septuagint reads four hundred and forty, and Josephus five hundred and ninety-two. St. Paul’s words in Acts 13:18-21, seem clearly to show that the Jews of his time reckoned this period in a way which is inconsistent with the statement of this verse. But, with the exception of the Septuagint, the ancient versions and the Hebrew manuscripts are uniform in support of the present Hebrew text. In view of the involved and conflicting attitude of the many systems of chronology, the question is, perhaps, beyond the possibility of exact decision. Ewald suggests that the four hundred and eighty is a round number made up by assuming twelve generations of forty years each. (40x12=480.) He supposes that to every forty years a great hero and an important event were assigned, something like the following: 1.) Moses and the desert. 2.) Joshua and the elders. 3.) Chushan’s oppression and Othniel’s rule. 4.) The Moabites and Ehud. 5.) The Arameans and Jair. 6.) Jabin and Deborah. 7.) The Midianites and Gideon. 8.) Tola and his foes. 9.) Jephthah and Samson and their foes. 10.) The Philistines and Eli. 11.) Samuel and Saul. 12.) David.

The month Zif — Corresponding with our May, or more generally, extending from the new moon of April to that of May. The Hebrew Ziv means brightness, blossom, and so becomes appropriately the name of May — the flower month. According to Rawlinson, (Herodotus, vol. i, p. 506,) Zif is the same as the Assyrian Giv, which means bull, and answers to the zodiacal sign of Taurus. The names of the Jewish months, and the approximately corresponding months with us, are as follows:

1. Abib (Nisan) April.

2. Zif (Iyar) May.

3. Sivan June.

4. Tammuz July.

5. Ab August.

6. Elul September.

7. Ethanim (Tisri) October.

8. Bul (Marcheshvan) November.

9. Chisleu December.

10. Tebeth January.

11. Sebat February.

12. Adar March.

Verse 2

2.Length’ threescore cubits — Reckoning the cubit at eighteen inches the length would be ninety feet. These dimensions are probably to be understood of the walls on the inside. See note on 1 Kings 6:10.

Breadth’ twenty — Thirty feet, just one third of the length.

Height’ thirty cubits — Forty-five feet, just half the length. Josephus says the height was sixty cubits, but most of his statements on the dimensions of buildings are untrustworthy. A comparison with Exodus 26:15-23 shows that the dimensions of the temple were exactly double those of the tabernacle. The latter, as described in Exodus 26, 27, was the model after which David and Solomon planned the temple.


Verse 3

3.Porch — The vestibule, or entrance way, in front of the temple, marked A in plan. The height of the porch is not here given, but, according to 2 Chronicles 3:4, it was one hundred and twenty cubits, four times the height of the rest of the building, so as to form a sort of steeple or high tower in front. But the number one hundred and twenty is undoubtedly a corrupt reading. It was supported in the lower part by two massive brazen pillars (a a in plan) named respectively Jachin and Boaz, (see on 1 Kings 7:15 and 2 Chronicles 3:17,) so that the whole front, with its pillars and ornamentation, must have presented a most imposing and splendid facade.

The temple of the house — The temple, as thus distinguished from the house, is to be understood of the pronaos, or holy place (B in plan) before the oracle. Compare 1 Kings 6:16-17.

According to the breadth of the house — Rather, before the breadth of the house. That is, the length of the porch extended before the breadth of the house, and was precisely equal to it, namely, twenty cubits.


Verse 4

4.Windows of narrow lights — Septuagint, holes of concealed network. Vulgate, slanting windows. The Hebrew is, windows of closed bars; that is, of lattice work. They served both for ventilation and for light. The position of these windows is not stated, and we are left to infer that they were set wherever needed, and wherever they would help to enhance the architectural finish and beauty of the building. Hence they were probably both in the upper part of the main building and also in the side-chambers. Compare Ezekiel 40:16.

Verse 5

5.Against the wall — On the outside of the main building, as the sequel shows, and built up against it, as a lateral building, or lean-to.

Chambers — The Hebrew word thus rendered, (יצוע, here and in 1 Kings 6:10 construed as masculine, and taken collectively, as the plural rendering shows, but feminine in 1 Kings 6:6, where it is rendered in the singular,) comes from a root signifying to spread out, as in spreading a couch, and is used in the sense of a couch or bed in Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1; Job 17:13; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 132:3. It is evidently here used as an architectural term, and designates a wing or side-building, containing three stories of chambers, and extending around three sides of the entire building, namely, on the south, west, and north. Rawlinson translates it a lean-to. Margin, floors. Perhaps the nearest equivalent in our language would be a wing.

Against the walls — This expression is repeated, with walls in the plural, to introduce the more precise statement that the wing extended around the entire building; that is, the walls both of the temple and of the oracle. The oracle was the most holy place, the innermost apartment of the house. (C in plan.) See on 1 Kings 6:16. Its Hebrew name is דביר, Debir, derived by a number of scholars from דבר, to speak; hence the speaking place; the place where Jehovah spoke with his people. But Gesenius, Furst, and most recent critics, derive it from an Arabic root signifying to be behind; hence the hindmost or inner apartment; the adytum. It is often thus distinguished from the holy place before it, (B in plan,) in which case the latter is called, as here, the temple, (compare 1 Kings 6:3; 1 Kings 6:17,) “the house,” or “the greater house.” 2 Chronicles 3:5.

Chambers — This is in the Hebrew a different word from that rendered chambers above. The margin gives the literal meaning, ribs, (צלעות,) but there is little doubt that the word, as used here and in Ezekiel 41:6, means side-chambers — the different apartments into which the wings above described were partitioned. (c c c in plan.) The purpose which these side-chambers was designed to serve is nowhere stated in the Scriptures. According to Thenius, they were expensively furnished sleeping apartments for the priests. They may also have been used as store-rooms for depositing consecrated gifts and sacred relics.


Verse 6

6.The nethermost chamber — That is, the lower story of the wing, containing the first floor of side-chambers.

Five’ six’ seven cubits broad — So, as in Ezekiel’s temple, there was an enlarging of these side-chambers upward, (Ezekiel 41:7,) so that those of the upper story were two cubits broader than those of the nethermost. This was caused, as is immediately stated, by the narrowed rests, or rebatements, (מגרעות, used only here,) which he built around three sides of the house outside of and against the main wall. The addition by our translators of the walls and the beams is somewhat confusing. The latter half of this verse is as follows: For rebatements he gave to the house round about on the outside in order not to fasten in the walls of the house. That is, these rebatements were purposely built that the several stories of side-chambers, by resting on such ledges of exterior wall, might not in any way penetrate or detract from the strength and wholeness of the main wall of the temple.

Mr. T.O. Paine, in his work on “Solomon’s Temple,” propounds a new and ingenious plan of the whole edifice by making these wings and side-chambers consist of galleries on the inside of the house, and supported on the outside by three rows of pillars, the pillars varying in height according to the several galleries. But one of his principal arguments is a misinterpretation of Ezekiel 41:7 by making the “enlarging upward” refer to the entire building rather than to the interior of the side-chambers. And his entire plan is open to many and insuperable objections, only a few of which we need here mention: 1.) It is difficult to conceive what purpose such open galleries served; and, so far as we can find, they have no counterpart nor analogy in ancient architecture. 2.) The making of the side-chambers a part of the entire visible interior conflicts with the obvious import of 1 Kings 6:5-6; 1 Kings 6:10 of this chapter, according to which they were built against the outside of the wall. 3.) Mr. Paine’s plan makes the walls more of a breastwork or substructure than a wall — a low enclosure running round the central part of the building, and not reaching half-way to the roof. Accordingly, the height of the walls was not thirty cubits, (as we naturally infer from 1 Kings 6:2,) and the width of the building was not, properly, twenty cubits, but varied with every gallery. 4.) Finally, the whole plan is chiefly drawn from the temple seen in vision by Ezekiel, (chap. xli,) and depends upon the assumption that that temple of vision was an exact pattern of Solomon’s temple that had been destroyed by the Chaldeans.

This assumption, we think, Mr. Paine utterly fails to establish. It is a theory which is quite generally rejected by the most careful modern expositors, and is therefore, at best, too uncertain and unreliable a guide to a satisfactory restoration of the ancient temple.

Verse 7

7.Stone made ready before it was brought thither — Literally, Stone completed at the quarry; that is, hewn and shaped for the very spot it was known to be designed to occupy.

Neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard — This further attests the consummate skill of the Sidonian builders. But this fact, so noticeable in itself, is also deeply symbolical. It indicates the silent but sure and mighty growth of the kingdom of Christ. In his personal ministry he did not cry nor lift up his voice in the street; and his Church, like the silent increase of the mustard seed, rises and spreads, and thus goes on to its completion, every day disclosing more and more the consummate skill and infinite wisdom of the Great Architect, “in whom all the building fifty framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:21.

Verse 8

8.The door for the middle chamber was in the right side — The middle chamber of the lower story is here meant. The right side of the house would be the south side, and is to be understood of a person facing the same way as the temple, namely, the east. So far as the scripture text gives us any information, this one door in the south side seems to have been the only entrance into all of the side-chambers. (D in plan.)

They went up — That is, persons who entered the upper stories went up these stairs.

Winding stairs — Marked s in plan.

Middle — That is, the middle chamber of the middle story.

Out of the middle into the third — Out of the middle chamber of the middle story into the middle chamber of the third story. So the staircase was not on the outside of the house, as is usual in the East, but on the inside. No mention is made of windows in the side-chambers, but this is naturally inferred from 1 Kings 6:4, where see note.

Verse 9

9.Covered the house — Made the roof, or covered with a roof, of beams and boards of cedar. On the durability of cedar roofs, see note on 1 Kings 5:6. The form or shape of the roof is left entirely uncertain. Many conclude, from the silence of the text, that, like Oriental buildings generally, its roof was flat. Others maintain, that, as it was modelled after the tabernacle, (compare Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 1 Kings 9:8,) its roof was a gable, like that of an ordinary tent.

Verse 10

10.Chambers’ five cubits high — Literally, Five cubits its height; that is, each chamber or story was five cubits high from floor to ceiling. “Their flooring and roofing being added, they reached together to about eighteen or twenty cubits in height; so that there would be room for the windows of the temple to be opened out, like clear story windows, above them.” — Wordsworth.

Rested on the house with timber of cedar — Rather, were fastened to (אחז ) the house by means of cedar beams set into the side-walls or rebatements described 1 Kings 6:6.

Verse 11

11.The word of the Lord came to Solomon — At first sight this and the next three verses seem like an interpolation, or a slightly changed form of what is stated 1 Kings 9:4-5. But a closer study will show that this is the manner of the sacred writers. They seem ever conscious that they are writing sacred history, and so a communication of this kind, coming to Solomon during the building of the temple, must not be omitted, and is well introduced at this point, where the description turns from the outer to the inner walls.

Verse 14

14.Solomon built the house, and finished it — This verse need not be understood as a resuming of the description broken off at 1 Kings 6:10, but rather as referring to the word of the Lord as told in 1 Kings 6:12-13. In accordance with that word of encouragement and promise, Solomon went on to build and finish the sacred edifice.

Verse 15

15.The walls of the house within — The wainscot. The inside of the walls was panelled with cedar boards, so that no stone was visible within.

Both the floor’ and the walls — Rather, From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling. The side walls were wainscotted from bottom to top with cedar wood, and so too, apparently, the ceiling; but the floor was of fir planks. On the fir-tree, see 1 Kings 5:8.

Verse 16

16.Twenty cubits on the sides — Rather, From the two hinder sides, ירכותי, “the hindmost, last extreme space, which is conceived of as two hinder sides.” — Furst. The inner sanctuary was a perfect cube. See on 1 Kings 6:20.

Both the floor and the walls — Here again it should be rendered from the floor to the walls; but the expression seems to imply that all the walls, (קירות ) both of the sides and of the ceiling were covered with cedar boards.

The oracle דבר, the interior place, called also the most holy or holy of belies. The place of greatest sanctity, where the presence and glory of Jehovah were supposed to have their central throne on earth. (C in plan.) See on Exodus 26:33-34. Here in the temple, as in the tabernacle, was set the ark. 1 Kings 6:19.

Verse 17

17.The house, that is, the temple before it — The temple before the most holy place; the anterior part of the main building after partitioning off twenty cubits from the hinder end for the holy of holies. Was forty cubits long, and twenty wide, and thirty high, as stated in 1 Kings 6:2. (B in plan.)

Verse 18

18.Carved with knops — Or, gourds, as in margin, and as the kindred word is rendered in 2 Kings 4:39. The carving was an artificial imitation of wild gourds or cucumbers.

Open flowers — Flowers in full bloom. Hence probably a carved imitation of festoons or garlands.

Verse 20

20.The oracle in the forepart — That is, the holy of holies on the inside measured twenty cubits each way. לפני, here rendered in the forepart, may be taken as the construct state of פנימ, surface, faces; and rendered, As to the faces (that is, the inside surface) of the oracle, twenty cubits was the length, etc. The construction of the most holy place in the form of a perfect cube had doubtless its typical significance. It was an appropriate symbol of perfection. The solid cube, in whatever way it is set, is always upright, a perfect square on every side, and all sides and angles corresponding perfectly to each other. So this form of the inner sanctuary indicated that the Holy One of Israel dwelleth in perfection.

And so covered — Better to leave out so, and the other words here supplied in the English version, and translate literally, covered the altar with cedar. The altar of incense for the tabernacle (see Exodus 30:1-10) was made of shittim wood, and overlaid with gold. This altar of Solomon was built, as is here stated, with cedar, and the cedar overlaid with plates of gold. 1 Kings 6:22. We must not understand that this altar was in the oracle, but, as appears in 1 Kings 6:22, by or at the oracle; that is, on the outside and just in front of it. So Moses was commanded to “put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony.” Exodus 30:6. “The altar of incense is mentioned in connexion with the holy of holies,” says Wordsworth, “because the incense which was burnt upon it was offered before the vail, and with a view to the Divine Presence enshrined in the holy of holies, and had a special relation to the ark in the oracle. On this altar incense was offered morning and evening, the type of continual prayer.”

Verse 21

21.The house within — The interior, or most holy place.

Made a partition by the chains of gold — Literally, He made chains of gold pass through before the oracle; or, he made pass through by chains of gold before the oracle. The meaning is very doubtful. Thenius thinks the word vail has fallen out of the text, and by supplying it reads, he carried the vail by golden chains over before the oracle. Gesenius, Ewald, Keil, and Bahr take יעבר he made to pass through, in the sense of bolting, or fastening: He closed up or bolted by chains of gold before the oracle. “But then the question is, What was bolted? According to Calmer and others it was only the door of the oracle, which had two leaves. But in that case it would have been necessary to take away the chains on the day of atonement — a thing nowhere hinted at, and in itself highly improbable. Obviously the bolting chains were not a movable but a fixed contrivance running across the entire wall. They held together the parts of the wall made of cedar, like the bolts on the planks of the tabernacle, (Exodus 26:26,) and likewise represented the oracle as a barred, closed room.” — Bahr. Some suppose that the partition between the holy and the most holy place was made of cedar beams in the form of a network, and over the whole was hung the great vail mentioned 2 Chronicles 3:14. So the smell of the incense could easily pass from the altar into the oracle.

He overlaid it — Overlaid the oracle — a repetition from the preceding verse.