Solomon’s Temple must have been magnificent. Fine stones and delicate woods, gilded and clothed in rich fabrics, and on a scale which most people would never have seen before – unless they’d visited Solomon’s own palace, of course.
In a way, the building of the Temple sets the seal on the great change Israel has made from being a nomadic, weak people to being a powerful nation with a king in charge. While David, the warrior king, was still on the throne, the Ark of the Covenant was still moving around and housed in a tent. Now Solomon, the philosopher king, rules a very different nation, and Israel’s faith and religious structures have a very new role at the heart of this new kind of Israel.
It’s magnificent, certainly. But from the point of view of hindsight on the horrors that can follow when religions become ideologies and are allied to power, I can’t help feeling that something has been lost while much glory has been gained. I started to get uneasy when it’s clear that, because only the best will do for the LORD, the paid skilled work is largely done by foreign experts, while the people of Israel are conscripted to do the hard work by forced labour. I can’t help thinking of the making of the Tabernacle, the tent which is replaced by the Temple, back in Exodus 31 and 35. The people are called to use their own skills of craft and art to make the tent beautiful, guided by the two inspired artist – craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiab. And the materials come not from deals with foreign kings but from the gifts of the people; gifts offered so generously that Bezalel and Oholiab have to ask Moses to get people to stop bringing gold, silk and so on because they can’t use it all!
I know in which I’d rather worship, at least in principle. The Tabernacle feels a lot more straightforward and ‘honest’. But on the other hand, the Temple must have been an incredible sight. And it probably had comfier chairs and better coffee…
For all my misgivings, Solomon has a wide perspective on what the Temple will be for.
- It’s to be a place where the presence of the LORD is focused, but not where he is contained. The whole earth is not big enough to hold him, so the idea that he can be confined in one building, however wonderful, is ridiculous.
- The Temple is to be a reminder to Israel of the presence of the LORD, and a place to which people and the nation as a whole will turn to pray in times of need.
- It’s also to be a place for all nations to come in prayer. I was struck by Solomon’s prayer that when someone from another nation travels to pray at the Temple, that prayer will be heard and answered just as the prayers of Israel.