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The outside of the temple 6:1-10
1 Kings 6:1 is one of the most important verses in the Old Testament chronologically. The dates of Solomon’s reign (971-931 B.C.) are quite certain. They rest on references that other ancient Near Eastern king lists corroborate. Solomon began temple construction about 966 B.C. According to this verse the Exodus took place in 1445 or 1446 B.C. Most conservative scholars who take statements in Scripture like this verse seriously hold this date for the Exodus. The more popular date of about 1280 B.C. rests primarily on the assumption that Ramses II was the pharaoh of the Exodus. Those who hold this view believe historical similarities between conditions during Ramses’ reign and the biblical description of the Exodus support their theory. There are some first-rate otherwise conservative scholars who hold the later (1280) date. [Note: E.g., Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, pp. 57-75.]
Why did the writer of Kings tie the building of the temple to the Exodus? It was evidently for the reason explained above. With the building of the temple Israel would have an opportunity as never before in her history to realize the purpose for which God had formed and freed the nation. That purpose was to draw all people to Himself.
Even though we have some information about the general specifications and appearance of the temple, the omission of other data makes the reproduction of a complete detailed model impossible. Essentially it followed the pattern of both the Mosaic tabernacle and other ancient Near Eastern temples. [Note: See William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, pp. 142-56. V. Hurowitz, I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in Light of Mesopotamian and Northwest Semitic Writing, is a thorough survey of ancient temple buildings. See also B. Halpern, The Constitution of the Monarchy in Israel, pp. 19-24.]
The temple was 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It had about 2,700 square feet of floor space. Its large open front porch added 15 more feet to its length. It was about twice the size of the Mosaic tabernacle, and it faced east, as did the tabernacle and other ancient Near Eastern temples. Solomon’s temple was similar to other ancient Near Eastern temples in both size and design. [Note: See Hurowitz, pp. 251-546.] This is an example of acculturation: God giving revelation of Himself in forms that were familiar to the original recipients. The exterior of the temple was limestone, cedar, and gold, so it must have been extremely beautiful.
On two or three sides there were narrow clerestory windows above the three stories of side rooms that projected from the outer walls. The priests used these side rooms for storage and service purposes. They were smallest on the first floor where there were also hallways and stairways, larger on the second floor that also had halls and stairs, and largest on the third floor. The offset ledges were apparently supports for the upper floors that fastened to the walls of this surrounding structure. Measurements in the text are probably inside dimensions.
Evidently Solomon wanted to preserve the sanctity of the temple even while it was under construction by eliminating as much noise as possible (1 Kings 6:7; cf. Deuteronomy 27:5-6).
2. Temple construction ch. 6
After arrangements for building the temple were in order, construction began. This building took seven years to complete (1 Kings 6:38).
"In an earlier era scholars debunked the reality of a temple in Israel like Solomon’s because nothing similar was known from the ancient Near East. However, at ’Ain Dara (and earlier in Tall Ta’yinat), Syria, a temple from the tenth century B.C. came to light that bore a remarkable similarity to the temple of Jerusalem. The size is approximately the same; it consists of two chambers, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place; and it clearly accommodated cultic features like those described in the Bible. Thus the notion that Israel had a temple in the tenth century rests on firm ground." [Note: Eugene Merrill, "The Veracity of the Word: A Summary of Major Archaeological Finds," Kindred Spirit 34:3 (Winter 2010):13.]
God’s promise to bless Solomon’s obedience 6:11-13
Probably this word from the Lord came to Solomon during temple construction. Note that this was a conditional promise based on obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. God would establish Solomon’s kingdom forever (i.e., it would remain intact; 2 Samuel 7:13). He would also continue to dwell among the Israelites and not forsake them. Unfortunately, because Solomon did not continue to obey the covenant completely, God divided his kingdom after he died. Because the nation forsook the covenant, God ceased to dwell among the people and forsook them temporarily to captivity (cf. Matthew 28:20).
"Throughout the Solomon stories the author presents an activity, then waits until later to state God’s approval or disapproval of it. For example, 1 Kings 3:1-15 expresses approval of Solomon’s rise to power in chaps. 1-2, and 1 Kings 5:12 explains that the decisions in 1 Kings 5:1-7 demonstrate God-given wisdom. This strategy continues here, where, through some unspecified manner, Solomon receives God’s word about the temple." [Note: House, pp. 127-28.]
The writer evidently inserted this section of text (1 Kings 6:11-13) in his description of Solomon’s building activities to emphasize the centrality of obedience to the overall success of the project.
The inside of the temple 6:14-36
The altar (1 Kings 6:19; 1 Kings 6:22) refers to the altar of incense (cf. 1 Kings 7:48). This altar evidently stood in the west end of the holy place (cf. Exodus 30:6; Exodus 40:5; Leviticus 16:2; Hebrews 9:4; Hebrews 9:7). The cherubim were figures of angels carved out of olive wood (1 Kings 6:23-28). They may have resembled "winged sphinxes." [Note: Auld, p. 44.] Since there were cherubim attached to the mercy seat of the ark, these were two additional freestanding cherubim. In addition to the inner courtyard (1 Kings 6:36), there was also an outer one (2 Chronicles 4:9) that was slightly lower in elevation (Jeremiah 36:10). [Note: For more detailed explanation of these verses, see Thomas L. Constable, "1 Kings," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 501.]
One problem that continues to puzzle scholars is the difference in height between the holy place (30 cubits or 45 feet, 1 Kings 6:2) and the most holy place (20 cubits or 30 feet, 1 Kings 6:20). Was the floor of the most holy place higher, and were there steps up to it from the holy place? Was the ceiling of the most holy place lower than that of the holy place? Was the most holy place a room within the holy place? [Note: Jean Ovellette, "The Solomonic Debir according to the Hebrew Text of 1 Kings 6," Journal of Biblical Literature 89:3 (September 1970):338-43.] We do not know.
Scholars also debate what relationship the row of cedar beams had to the rows of cut stone (1 Kings 6:36). [Note: H. C. Thomson, "A Row of Cedar Beams," Palestinian Exploration Quarterly 92 (1960):57-63.] The cedar beams may have been cedar coping on top of the stone. They may have been cedar that lined the stone interior of the temple. Possibly cedar beams alternated with rows of stone. All of these are possibilities.
Summary of the construction 6:37-38
Seven years is a round number (966-959 B.C.). Actually, completion took seven and one-half years, since Ziv (lit. flowers) is late March and early April, and Bul (lit. moisture) is late October and early November. Probably since most ancient Near Easterners regarded seven as a number symbolic of perfection, the Israelites viewed their temple as a perfect structure.
Why did not God give us more detail? All that the writer recorded of the temple tells us two things about it. We have enough information about the structure so we can find our way around it as we continue reading about it. Furthermore its magnificence as a fitting house for Yahweh, the only true and great God, should impress us.
Archaeologists have never been able to pinpoint the exact location of Solomon’s temple. Since Herod built his temple on the site of Nehemiah’s temple, and since Nehemiah built his temple on the site of Solomon’s temple, there is little question about the general site. It must have been somewhere on the esplanade on which the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) now stands. Modern Jews pray at the wailing (western) wall because they believe it is the closest site to the holy of holies that is accessible to them. Their rabbis discourage them from walking on the temple esplanade for fear of inadvertently treading on the actual site of the holy of holies. One writer believed the site of the second temple was just north of the Dome of the Rock. He concluded that the site of the holy of holies corresponds to that of the present Dome of the Tablets (also called the Dome of the Spirits). [Note: Asher Kaufman, "Where the Ancient Temple of Jerusalem Stood," Biblical Archaeology Review 9:2 (March-April 1983):40-59.] Others believe it was closer to the site of the Dome of the Rock. The "second temple" refers to Nehemiah’s temple, which Herod renovated, in contrast to the first or Solomonic temple.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19