Good morning! In today’s passage (1 Kings 6-7) we read about the building and outfitting of the temple that Solomon constructs in Jerusalem, as well as his palace-building projects. When reading these chapters, it helps to reflect on the similarities and differences with the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus. Solomon’s temple is more permanent than the tabernacle, but is less a manifestation of popular desire or divine inspiration.
Chapter 6 narrates the construction of the temple itself from the supplies that were harvested and gathered in yesterday’s passage. Note that the year of construction is measured from when the Israelites left Egypt, an unusual time reference in this part of the Bible. A cubit is roughly the length from an adult’s elbow to fingertip, so the temple wasn’t actually all that big: 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high. Its 2700 square feet would be dwarfed by our modern temples of big-box stores or suburban homes. Of course there were also adjoining enclosures which added some to the temple’s footprint. The building is impressive yet also simple: stone covered with cedar and cypress, then overlaid with gold. Decorations of the inner sanctuary echo those of the “holy of holies” in the tabernacle: cherubim, gold, palm trees and flowers. (If anyone has a particularly good illustration from your accompanying readings, we’d all benefit from a picture.) I wonder if it is significant that this building is called a “house of the Lord” rather than a temple—perhaps it’s called a temple once it’s dedicated and the ark is in place to signify God’s presence? We only see now (halfway through building) that God endorses Solomon’s actions, promising to reward future faithfulness by dwelling among the people of Israel.
Solomon’s own house and palace buildings took thirteen years, while the temple was built in seven. The dimensions of his palace are much larger than the temple, with various halls for royal functions. 1 Kings 7 emphasizes the number of halls in the palace, as well as the grandeur of their construction (more so than in the temple itself). The rest of this second chapter describes all that Hiram made of bronze for the temple at Solomon’s commissioning. Two ornate pillars of bronze are set up north and south of the temple and given names. Were they gathering places? Furthermore, why the massive “sea” cast of bronze and carried on a dozen bronze oxen (which is mimicked in contemporary Mormon temples)? The skeptical side of me wonders if these elements (absent from the tabernacle descriptions in Exodus) represent sacred practices from non-Hebraic traditions, and Solomon (later criticized for his openness to non-Jewish religious practices) is grafting them into the Hebrew temple.
I find it interesting to reflect on the differences of Solomon’s temple with that of the tabernacle described in Exodus. According to that account, the tabernacle’s construction was made possible by the freewill offerings and talent of all the people, who were sometimes so generous that Moses had to tell the people to cease their offerings. That narrative also cast the tabernacle’s construction as divinely commanded, from the first threads to the final posts, and every cubit in between. In this case, Solomon has the vision and the authority to make this happen on his own power, with funding that presumably comes from the taxes his realm charges on its people. He conscripts Hebrew labor rather than having it freely offered. Solomon’s “house of the Lord” is a more lasting statement of one man’s piety (which also telegraphs political power), but it is less “organic”, movable, and of-the-people than the tabernacle. Do we make anything of this difference theologically? Or does God’s spirit bring about newness and change in different ways according to the changing needs of different times? Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 8-9. Thanks for reading!