Posted by foryourfaith on May 19, 2011
So great was the fame of Solomon’s Temple that it lives on in the world’s imagination more than 2,500 years after its destruction by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Begun within four years after Solomon’s rise to power, the Temple was completed in the remarkably short period of seven years. Later legend told that none of the workmen fell sick or died during the construction, nor did any tool wear out.
Solomon’s Temple was the first permanent sanctuary built as a “house of Yahweh.” It was intended as a sanctuary for the Ark of Covenant, and it provided a focus of worship for all Israelites.
The Temple was built on a site that harked back to the reign of King David. According to 2 Samuel 24, he had seen a vision of an angel of the Lord “b the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” David was instructed by a seer named Gad to build an altar on this spot as a means of averting a plague on Israel. David purchased the site and raised the altar. It was here, then, that Solomon built the Temple. Perhaps equally significant, the location was traditionally identified as the mysterious place where, centuries earlier, Abraham had taken his son Isaac to be sacrificed in accordance with God’s command.
This site is now the location of one of the most sacred shrines in Islam. It is from this place that Muhammed is said to have ascended to heaven. A mosque, known as Dome of the Rock, was built over the site in the seventh century AD.
Because of it continuing religious significance, the site is not open to archaeological excavations. Some scholars believe that even if it were, few remains from the First Temple could have survived on that stony hilltop. Hence, our knowledge of Solomon’s Temple comes principally from the descriptions in 1 Kings 6-8 and 2 Chronicles 2-4.
The interior of the Temple was rectangular, about 35 feet wide and 140 feet long. It was divided into three parts. It seems that a priest would have ascended a flight of ten steps at the eastern end of the structure and passed between two massive bronze columns nearly 21 feet in circumference. The columns were named Jachin and Boaz. Some 40 feet high, they were topped with elaborate capitals. The priest would have entered into a vestibule, or porch, which was about 17 feet deep. He would then have passed through gilded cypress doors decorated with flowers, palm trees, and cherubim, and entered the main room of the Temple – often called the “holy place.”
Beyond a set of gilded olive wood doors lay a room that no ordinary priest would ever see. This was the Holy of Holies. It was a perfect cube, with each side measuring nearly 35 feet, the darkness of which was penetrated only once a year, when the high priest on the Day of Atonement made expiation for the people. In is was the Ark, containing the “two tables of stone” of the Ten Commandments. The room, in Hebrew, was called the debir, possibly from the verb meaning “to speak.” From this chamber Yahweh would speak to his people.
The outside of the Temple, except for the vestibule, was surrounded by side chambers, which were probably used for storing the treasures of the Temple. These rooms were arranged in three stories around the exterior wall and may have been reached through a door from the main room.
No expense was spared in the decoration of the Temple. The interior was lined with rare woods – the floor with cypress, and the walls with cedar. All was lavishly carved and overlaid with gold. There were altars, tables, and other furniture of gold, bronze, or gold-covered wood. Finally, the Temple was illuminated by 10 golden lamp stands.
In the court was a bronze altar for burnt offerings and “the molten sea” or “the bronze sea.” This was a bronze basin measuring about 17 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 30 tons. It rested on 12 bronze oxen (grouped in four triads, each facing a cardinal point of the compass). It could hold over 10,000 gallons of water, which may have been used for ritual cleansing.
The dedication ceremonies for the Temple were part of a great celebration attended by elders, tribal heads, leaders of clans, and “all the assembly of Israel.” Two events dominated the proceedings – the installation of the Ark in the Holy of Holies and Solomon’s long, impassioned prayer, in which he besought continuance of God’s covenant with Israel. When the priests had deposited the Ark in the sanctuary, a cloud – “the glory of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11) – filled the chamber and the Temple, preventing the priests from ministering further. The cloud marks the presence of Yahweh in his house. It is interpreted in the narrative by contrasting the sun, which Yahweh set in the heavens as a light for humanity, and his choice for himself “that he would dwell in thick darkness.”
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