Visiting Solomon’s Temple
EACH year great throngs find it very worth while to visit the notable buildings of the world. By virtue of its being man’s tallest structure, New York city’s Empire State Building is a favorite, especially because of the view it presents from its 102d story on a clear day. London’s Westminster Abbey and St. Peter’s at Rome, owing to their religious and historical associations, also attract large crowds. Patriotic sentiment attracts many to national capitals, shrines and monuments. Then again, the Taj Mahal at Agra, India, is a favorite among travelers in the Orient because of its reputation of being one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
Of far greater interest to us today than any of the foregoing, however, is the house of Jehovah that King Solomon long ago built at Jerusalem. Made chiefly of limestone and cedarwood and decorated with gold and precious jewels, it, without doubt, was one of the most beautiful and costly buildings ever erected by man; upward of $5 billion in gold and silver being contributed for its construction. Though it was destroyed 2,565 years ago, we can, with the help of the Bible record and of our imagination, pay it an armchair visit.—1 Chron. 22:14.
What made Solomon’s temple such a noteworthy structure? Not merely its material beauty and costliness but first of all the fact that its architect was Jehovah God himself. King David, we are told, received “the architectural plan of everything . . . by inspiration,” and he turned it over to his son Solomon. Secondly, this temple is so noteworthy because it was dedicated to the worship of the one true God Jehovah. And thirdly, because of its prophetic significance. It foreshadowed a far more glorious spiritual temple standing on heavenly Mount Zion and consisting of Jesus Christ and his congregation of 144,000 members “who have been purchased from the earth.”—1 Chron. 28:11-19; 2 Chron. 7:12; 1 Pet. 2:4-6; Rev. 14:1, 3.
BUILDING THE TEMPLE
Concerning the temples built at Jerusalem, it is said that although built by a people considered feeble, “yet these temples are better known and their records more fully preserved than is the case of any other ancient temple, Egyptian, Assyrian or Indian.” The first of these, Solomon’s temple, may with some reason also be called David’s temple. It was David who first thought of building such a temple; it was he who by inspiration received its plans; it was he who supervised the collection of the precious materials, gold, silver, and so on, and it was he who provided the temple site, purchasing it from one Ornan.—1 Chron. 17:1; 21:24-26; 22:14; 29:1-19.
King Solomon began to build this temple in the fourth year of his reign and completed it after seven and a half years. For its construction he conscripted all the temporary residents of the land, 153,600 of them. Additionally, he drafted 30,000 Israelites, who served in relays of 10,000, working one month out of three. While these figures may seem large, they compare favorably with those given for the time and workers it took to build one of the pyramids of Egypt, the temple to Diana at Ephesus and the Taj Mahal in more recent times.—1 Ki. 5:13-15; 6:1, 38; 2 Chron. 2:17, 18.
To appreciate how much work was involved it is necessary to remember that the temple was built on Mount Moriah, where Abraham many years previously was told to offer up his son. To have room on this hill for the temple and its courts required the building of limestone walls hundreds of feet high. Some of these walls stand to this day and among them are found stones thirty feet long, seven feet high and weighing well over a hundred tons.
On the other hand, greatly helping in the quarrying was the fact that this limestone in its natural state is so soft that it can be cut with a saw. When exposed to the sun and air, however, it becomes as hard as marble and is capable of a very high polish. “Indeed, it is a kind of marble,” we are told. On some of the stones are even found the markings of the ancient Phoenician quarry workers.
In this great building program King Solomon enlisted the aid of neighboring King Hiram of Tyre, a good friend of his father King David. Among other things, Hiram’s workmen felled cedars of Lebanon and floated them down to the port of Joppa in rafts. From there Solomon’s workers transported them to the temple site. In payment Hiram received annually several hundred thousand bushels of wheat and about two thousand gallons of very fine and costly oil. Included in the agreement between Kings Solomon and Hiram were the services of a highly skilled Phoenician workman, half Hebrew, Hiram-abi. He is described as one “experienced, to work in gold and in silver, in copper, in iron, in stones and in timbers, in wool . . . and at cutting every sort of engraving and at designing every sort of device that may be given to him.” Truly a most gifted workman!—2 Chron. 2:14-16.
THE TEMPLE COURTYARDS
There were two temple courtyards, the inner one or the courtyard of the priests and the outer courtyard or great enclosure. Though their size is not given, there is good reason to believe, from what is known about the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and the courtyards of Herod’s temple, that the inner courtyard covered some two acres, and the great courtyard an even larger area.—1 Ki. 6:36.
Each courtyard had a wall surrounding it, consisting of “three rows of hewn stone and a row of beams of cedarwood,” gates permitting access from one to the other. While the record is silent regarding the contents of the outer court, upon entering the inner courtyard the first thing one saw was the great altar for the sacrificing of animals. It was made of wood covered with copper and was thirty feet long, thirty feet wide and fifteen feet high. To appreciate its size, note that its over-all measurement was the equivalent of a Kingdom Hall seating a hundred persons. Such a large altar was needed, in view of the many animals that had to be sacrificed upon it at one time; on special occasions their number running into the thousands.—1 Ki. 7:12; 2 Chron. 4:1, 9.
Another striking object in the courtyard was the “molten sea,” an immense copper bowl for storing the water needed by the priests to wash themselves and the sacrifices. It stood seven and a half feet high and its opening on top had a circumference of forty-five feet. With its thickness of three inches it must have weighed upward of thirty tons. From a careful examination of the Scriptural record it appears that the usual amount of water it held was close to 20,000 gallons, whereas it had a capacity of close to 30,000 gallons. No doubt it was able to hold such a large quantity of water because of its bulging sides, its forty-five-foot circumference referring only to its opening on top and not to its maximum circumference.—1 Ki. 7:26; 2 Chron. 4:5.
This molten sea was resting on the backs of twelve copper bulls that were looking outward, three in each direction. In the forepart of the inner courtyard we also see ten smaller copper bowls resting on ornamented copper wagons or carts, which bowls had a capacity of some four hundred gallons each. These bowls were filled from the molten sea and moved about to where water was needed. No doubt the sea had a faucetlike arrangement for the filling of these bowls.—1 Ki. 7:27-39.
THE TEMPLE ITSELF
The copper altar doubtless stood in the center of the inner courtyard, which would also be in front of the temple, and the molten sea stood to one side. Passing between these we come to the temple itself. It faces east, and the first thing that strikes us are two immense copper pillars, twenty-seven feet high, six feet in diameter and the copper itself three inches thick. These two pillars stand free and have ornamental tops, capitals decorated with forms of lilies and pomegranates. The pillars bore names, the one Jachin, the other Boaz. From the wording in the accounts of Kings and Chronicles it appears that the two pillars were cast in one piece and afterward cut in two.—1 Ki. 7:15-20; 2 Chron. 3:15-17.
In passing it might be noted that Bible critics have questioned the accuracy of the record telling of the casting of such huge copper objects as these pillars and the molten sea. Modern archaeology, however, has effectively silenced all such critics. It has uncovered evidence showing that Solomon was a veritable “copper magnate” or king. Says the American archaeologist Nelson Glueck: “Ezion-geber was the result of careful planning and was built . . . with remarkable architectural and technical skill. In fact, practically the whole town of Ezion-geber, taking into consideration place and time, was a phenomenal industrial site, without anything to compare with it in the entire history of the ancient Orient. Ezion-geber was the Pittsburgh of old Palestine and at the same time its most important seaport.” Ingeniously “a forced draft system for the furnaces was employed, and later abandoned and forgotten, to be discovered only in modern times.” No doubt Solomon’s wisdom accounted for this ancient industrial marvel. Concerning this activity the Scriptural record states: “In the district of the Jordan it was that the king cast them in the clay mold, between Succoth and Zarethan.” “And there were ships that King Solomon made in Ezion-geber . . . And Hiram kept sending in the ships his own servants, seamen, having a knowledge of the sea, along with the servants of Solomon.”—1 Ki. 7:46; 9:26, 27.
The front of the temple consisted of a “porch” 180 feet high, thirty feet wide and thirty feet deep. It was, in fact, a tower or steeple-like structure. Some have questioned the height of this porch, but again without good reason, as even today there are many buildings that have comparable towers, several times as tall as the rest of their structure.—2 Chron. 3:4.
The temple itself was an oblong structure, its inside measurements being thirty feet wide, ninety feet long and forty-five feet high. This made it twice as long and as wide as that tent of meeting in the wilderness but three times as high. It also consisted of two rooms, a Holy and a Most Holy; the first twice as long as the second, sixty and thirty feet respectively. The Most Holy, however, was a perfect cube and therefore must have had a ceiling of its own. Whereas a curtain separated these two rooms in the tabernacle, swinging doors separated them in the temple. Round about the temple on three sides were annexes or side structures three stories high.—1 Ki. 6:4-6, 17, 20; 2 Chron. 3:3.
The limestone blocks were cut to their right size and fully beveled at the quarry and the timbers and other lumber used were also previously cut to size and finished so that, “as for hammers and axes or any tools of iron, they were not heard in the house while it was being built.” The walls, ceiling, floors and doors of the porch, Holy and Most Holy were covered with cedarwood, which, in turn, was plated with gold. More than that, the walls were engraved with figures of cherubs, palms, “gourd-shaped ornaments and garlands of blossoms.” Precious stones also figured in the ornaments.—1 Ki. 6:7-35.
The Holy Place, the first and larger room of the temple itself, had openings or windows, but these seem to have been more for ventilation than for light. Illumination was furnished by ten golden lampstands. The room also contained ten tables for the bread of presentation, and a golden incense altar. There were also the various golden utensils used, such as the fire holders for carrying the coals with which to burn the incense.—1 Ki. 7:48-50; 2 Chron. 4:7, 8.
In the smaller second room, the Most Holy, there was but one piece of furniture. It was the ark of the covenant, a chest or oblong box on which was a slab to which were fastened two cherubs with wings outstretched. But Solomon made a pair of large cherubs to stand one near the north wall and one near the south wall, to overshadow the ark of the covenant and its cherubs with their great wings. These wings were each seven and a half feet long and so made that they reached from wall to wall, their wing tips touching in the center. The sole means of illumination for this room was a supernatural glow indicating Jehovah’s presence and was known as the Shekinah light.—2 Chron. 3:10-13.
THE TEMPLE’S DEDICATION
The temple’s dedication took place with ceremonies in keeping with its purpose and splendor. All Israel assembled at Jerusalem for the occasion. A fitting procession escorted the tent of meeting, its furnishings and ark of the covenant, to the temple. Next a mammoth choir and a large orchestra began to praise and thank Jehovah. As they all “were as one,” the “glory of Jehovah filled the house of The true God.”—2 Chron. 5:1-14.
Then King Solomon, kneeling on a copper platform, with arms outstretched toward heaven offered a moving prayer of praise, thanksgiving and petition to Jehovah God. He took note of the fact that even the heaven of the heavens could not contain Jehovah, much less this house Solomon had built. In particular did he plead for mercy to be shown his people and asked that Jehovah would answer the prayer of the foreigner directed to this temple so “that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and . . . that your name has been called upon this house.” At the conclusion of his prayer fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices.—2 Chron. 6:12–7:1.
This feast of dedication lasted seven days. During it King Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. It was followed by the feast of tabernacles, which kept the Israelites in Jerusalem for seven more days. It was a truly thankful and joyous Israel that Solomon sent to their homes after those two weeks.—2 Chron. 7:5-10.
After the death of Solomon the temple had a checkered career. The division of the kingdom into two and ten tribes and the calf worship set up at Dan and Bethel doubtless kept most of the ten tribes from worshiping at this temple. Faithless kings allowed the temple to go into a state of disrepair and even to be closed for a long period of time. At times some of its treasures were used to pay tribute to pagan kings. After many backslidings “the rage of Jehovah came up against his people” and “there was no healing.” In 607 B.C., after a varied existence of 420 years, the temple was razed to the ground and it, together with all the land of Judah, lay desolate for seventy years.—2 Chron. 36:15-20; Dan. 9:2.
Since Solomon’s temple served the same purpose as the tent of meeting in the wilderness, it contained largely the same prophetic patterns. Thus the courtyard of the priests pictured the righteous standing before God of the Christian congregation, whereas the congregation’s condition as spirit-begotten sons of God and priests of His new covenant was pictured by the Holy Place. The services rendered by the furnishings of this place foreshadowed the ministry of these priests. The Most Holy stood for heaven itself, where atonement is actually made by God’s High Priest, Jesus Christ, and where God truly resides. The multiple of ten in the measurements suggests completeness, even as the square and cube of the Most Holy picture perfect balance, foursquareness. As a whole, the Christian congregation is also likened to a temple. Like Solomon’s temple, the spiritual temple of God is constructed according to the specifications provided by God. As a temple it also serves as a meeting place between God and man, to further pure worship in the earth and to bring praise to Jehovah.—2 Cor. 6:16.
Solomon began building his temple in the fourth year of his reign, even as Jesus Christ, the Greater Solomon, began to erect his spiritual temple in the spring of 1918, in the fourth year after the beginning of his reign in 1914. And as all the stones were prepared so that no sound of a hammer was heard when the temple of Solomon was being erected, so also the symbolic stones of the spiritual temple are first fitted by discipline and require no further trimming at the time of their being laid in the great spiritual temple in heaven.—1 Cor. 15:50-54.
Further, as the temple itself was a thing of dazzling splendor, the walls, ceiling, floors and interior furniture all being of gold, so also is the resurrected Christian congregation. As things copper picture human nature, so the divine is pictured by gold. In their resurrection the members of the Christian congregation are resplendent reflections of God himself.—Heb. 1:3; 1 John 3:2.
The completion of the temple marked a time of great rejoicing, and the reign of King Solomon was one of peace and prosperity. Likewise the completion of the spiritual temple of God will be a time of rejoicing earth-wide, and Christ’s reign will be a time of peace and prosperity. As the temple stood beyond the reign of Solomon, so also this spiritual temple as Jehovah’s “palace” will stand beyond the thousand-year reign of Christ; in fact, it will stand forever.—1 Ki. 4:20-25; Isa. 11:9; Rev. 21:4.