Solomon’s Temple – Part 2

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The temple courts

Solomon’s temple and palace were part of a large complex of courtyards and buildings, linked by guarded gates and built upon a foundation of large, carefully hewed stones.1 The other buildings included: ‘the house of the forest of Lebanon’ -which doubled up as an arsenal, Isa. 22. 8, and a storehouse for the golden targets and shields;2 a porch of pillars, 1 Kgs. 7. 6, the porch of judgement - where Solomon placed his extravagantly constructed throne;3 and the house which Solomon built for Pharaoh’s daughter.4 The ‘winterhouse’, where Jehoiakim burnt God’s word, Jer. 36. 22, 23, was probably ‘not a separate dwelling, but a warm apartment in a sheltered part of the palace facing the winter sun (cf. Amos 3:15)’.5 There was a prison, where Jeremiah was held.6 When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Zedekiah and his men of war fled by the king’s garden, near to the pool of Siloah.7

The inner court

The temple was immediately associated with two main courts, whose doors were overlaid with brass.8 The first was called the inner court, the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, the court of the priests, and the higher court (as it was elevated).9 This court held the temple, its brazen altar, the sea, ten brazen lavers, and, when Solomon dedicated the temple, a three-cubit high brazen platform. ‘The covert for the sabbath’, which Ahaz removed, 2 Kgs. 16. 18, was possibly ‘a covered place, stand or hall in the court of the temple, to be used by the king whenever he visited the temple with his retinue on the Sabbath’10 or ‘for the comfort of the outgoing Kohanim (Priests) . . . whose duties ended on Sabbath morning, but who could not travel to their homes until after the Sabbath’.11 When Jeremiah saw ‘two baskets of figs were set before the temple of the Lord’, they were probably in this inner court, Jer. 24. 1.

The inner court was enclosed by a wall ‘with three rows of hewed stone, and a row of cedar beams’, 1 Kgs. 6. 36, within which were chambers. It had at least three gates, the first and most prominent being the north facing ‘higher gate of the house of the Lord’, built by Jotham, 2 Kgs. 15. 35; 2 Chr. 27. 3.

This was also called the ‘high gate of Benjamin’ - where Jeremiah was pilloried, Jer. 20. 1, 2 - and ‘the new gate’ - where priests and prophets vilified him, Jer. 26. 1-11. It was ‘the gate of the altar’ and ‘the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy’, Ezek. 8. 5, 3, and ‘the higher gate, which lieth toward the north’, through which six destroying angels entered and ‘stood beside the brasen altar’, 9. 1, 2. King Zedekiah sat in this ‘gate of Benjamin’ when Ebedmelech appealed to save Jeremiah from the dungeon, Jer. 38. 7. Jewish women wept for Tammuz at this gate, Ezek. 8. 14. Second, ‘the king’s gate eastward’, 1 Chr. 9. 18, was where Ezekiel prophesied against twenty-five of Judah’s leaders, Ezek. 11. 1-13. The ‘ third entry that [was] in the house of the Lord’ was where Zedekiah met Jeremiah secretly, Jer. 38. 14.

The brazen altar12

The brazen altar was twenty cubits square and ten cubits high, 2 Chr. 4. 1. When the ark was brought into the oracle, Levites ‘stood at the east end of the altar’ praising and thanking the Lord, 5. 12. During his dedicatory prayer, Solomon knelt before this altar on a brazen platform, 1 Kgs. 8. 22-54; 2 Chr. 6. 12, 13; afterwards, ‘fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices’, 7. 1. At the dedication of the temple, Solomon temporarily hallowed the middle of the inner court for sacrifice; 1 Kgs. 8. 64; 2 Chr. 7. 7.

When collecting money to repair the temple, Jehoida set a chest ‘beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord … without at the gate of the house of the Lord’, 2 Kgs. 12. 9; 2 Chr. 24. 8. Between the temple porch and this altar, Zacharias was slain, 2 Chr. 24. 21; Matt. 23. 35, and Ezekiel saw twenty-five men (perhaps the high priest and representatives from the twenty-four priestly courses) worshipping the sun, Ezek. 8. 16.

The centre of Jewish worship became a place of murder and idolatry. Even a Christian’s devotions to the Lord can be marred by angry thoughts, (which are the first seeds of murder, Matt. 5. 21-24), and ‘covetousness, which is idolatry’, Col. 3. 5. God help us to keep our minds pure when we praise Him.

The brazen sea13

The round brazen sea, which had a capacity of 3,000 baths (66,000 litres), usually contained 2,000 baths (44,000 litres) of water. Its brim was a hand breadth thick, widening at the top ‘like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies’, 1 Kgs. 7. 26.

The ten-cubit diameter and thirty-cubit circumference were likely measurements at different levels of its five-cubit height, not a mathematical error. Its outer surface had ten shapes per cubit in two rows, either ‘gourds’, 1 Kgs. 7. 24 NASB, or oxen, 2 Chr. 4. 3. The sea rested southeast of the temple, 1 Kgs. 7. 39; 2 Chr. 4. 10, upon twelve oxen, three facing each cardinal direction, their hinder parts being inward. Its water, with which the priests cleansed themselves, typifying priestly sanctification, could have come out of the oxen’s mouths, v. 6.

Ten brazen bases (mechonah) and their lavers (kiyor)14

Sacrifices were washed in ten brazen lavers, five being on the right [south] and five on the left [north] side of the temple, 2 Chr. 4. 6. Their bases were constructed of a robust brass frame (translated ‘ledges’, 1 Kgs. 7. 28, 29), four cubits square and three cubits high, v. 27. Within this frame was inserted brass panelling (translated ‘borders’, vv. 28, 29), upon which was engraved lions, oxen and cherubim; ‘beneath the lions and oxen were wreaths of hanging work’, v. 29 NASB. Four vertical ‘supports … part of the stand [base] itself’, v. 34 NASB, one at each corner, seem to have extended upwards to support the laver, v. 30, and downwards to form feet, which projected below the panelling, v. 32, for its four wheels and their axles. Every part of these one-and-a-half-cubit high chariot-like wheels, ‘Their axles, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all cast’, v. 33 NASB.

The lid of the chest was possibly ‘dome-shaped’15 (translated ‘a round compass’, v. 35), half a cubit high. In its centre was a one-and-a-half-cubit diameter hole (‘mouth’, v. 31) into which fitted a one-cubit high circular pedestal (‘round after the work of the base [ken, pedestal]’, v. 31), on which the laver rested. This pedestal appears to have been encased within four square brazen panels (‘their borders, foursquare, not round’, v. 31), which were engraved with ‘cherubim, lions and palm trees … with wreaths all round’, v. 36 NASB. ‘Rods’ (‘ledges’ KJV) with strengthening ‘tablets’ (‘plates’ KJV) of brass between them, also engraved with cherubim, lions, palm trees and wreaths, provided additional support, v. 36 TANACH.

While the structure of these brass lavers and bases is exceptionally difficult to decipher, their robust structure and sheer size emphasize just how physically demanding Jehovah’s worship was. Priests worked in harmony to move these massive devices (which were used to wash the bloody carcases) about the court. Christian worship also demands spiritual exercise and can either be conducted in unison with other believers or on an individual basis. Furthermore, every spiritual sacrifice offered to God should be clean.

The great court

The outer, lower lying, great court was surrounded by a wall of ‘three rows of hewed stones, and a row of cedar beams’, 1 Kgs. 7. 9, 12. When Jehoshaphat prayed ‘before the new court’, 2 Chr. 20. 5, it may have been in a newly ‘enlarged or beautified’ great court.16 At Joash’s coronation, one-third of the priests and Levites guarded ‘the gate of Sur [or the foundation]’, 2 Kgs. 11. 6, 2 Chr. 23. 5, possibly ‘a gate in the outer court of the temple, at the hollow of either the Tyropoeon or the Kedron’ valleys.17 One-third guarded ‘the gate behind the guard’, 2 Kgs. 11. 6, ‘which probably formed the principal access from the palace into the Temple [see 2 Kgs. 11. 19]’.18 Athaliah was forcibly removed from the temple precincts, before being slain at the horse gate by the king’s house.19 And the newly crowned Jehoash was brought down ‘from the house of the Lord: and they came through the high gate into the king’s house, and set the king upon the throne of the kingdom’, 2 Chr. 23. 20.

Endnotes

1

2 Chr. 23. 19; 2 Chr. 35. 15; 1 Kgs. 5. 17, 18; cp. 7. 10.

2

1 Kgs. 7. 2-5; 10. 16, 17; cp. 1 Kgs. 14. 27, 28; 2 Chr. 12. 10, 11.

3

1 Kgs. 7. 7; 10. 18-20.

4

1 Kgs. 7. 8; 9. 24; 2 Chr. 8. 11.

5

Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah in F. E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Zondervan, 1986, pg. 607.

6

Jer. 32. 2, 8, 12; 37. 15, 21; 38. 6, 7, 11, 12, 26, 28.

7

2 Kgs. 25. 4; Neh. 3. 15; Jer. 39. 4; 52. 7.

8

2 Kgs. 21. 4, 5; 2 Chr. 4. 9; 33. 4, 5.

9

2 Chr. 4. 9; Jer. 36. 10; cp. 1 Kgs. 8. 64; 10. 5; 2 Kgs. 20. 4.

10

C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996, Volume 3, pg. 289.

11

TANACH footnote.

12

1 Kgs. 8. 22-54, 64; 2 Chr. 4. 1; 5. 12; 6. 12; 7. 1, 7.

13

1 Kgs. 7. 23-26, 39, 44; 2 Chr. 4. 2-5, 10, 15.

14

1 Kgs. 7. 27-40, 43; 2 Chr. 4. 6, 14.

15

C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, op. cit., pg. 78.

16

R. Jamieson, A. Fausset and D. Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, 1961, pg. 323.

17

C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, op. cit., pg. 255.

18

A. Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995, pg. 839.

19

2 Kgs. 11. 15, 16; 2 Chr. 23. 14, 15.

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