Summary: Solomon finally gets to build the Temple that David had planned - a place where God will be with his people but it's still just a building.
By Rev Bill Stewart
You could be forgiven for thinking that a report of the Building Committee has been subtituted for today’s reading by mistake. To most of our ears today's reading from 1 Kings sounds like a technical report; dull and boring for everyone except the people who do that sort of thing for a living. And it's probably the last thing in the Bible you want to hear a sermon about – except perhaps the genealogies: "Abraham was the father of Isaac" and so on. If you are like me, in this area a picture speaks a thousand words, so hear are a few I pictures I prepared earlier. Well actually biblical archaeologists had them prepared but I'll show them to you anyway. The site of Solomon's temple had been successively destroyed and rebuilt so we have no archaeological remains. But based upon the description in the Bible and comparisons with the remains of other temples from the ancient Middle East we can say that it looked something like this (slides not included, see under “Temple” in a Bible dictionary).
Ancient temples were not places for worshippers to go into – they were too small. Where we read in our English translations the word "temple", the original Hebrew language has "house". Temples were literally a "house" for the gods to live in. The famous temple of Solomon was no cathedral. From our perspective it was not much more than a chapel measuring about 90 feet (or 27 metres) long by 30 feet (9 metres) wide. That is, about 240 square metres in total (Note: in the reading a cubit = approximately 18 inches or 0.5 metres). How does this compare with our own buildings? Geoff might correct me but by my rough calculations the space we gathered in here at Station Street/Broughton is about 170-180 square metres.
So what? We know that it is important that our architect get the details of the new building right or it might fall in on our heads! But what does is matter how the Temple of God built in the reign of King Solomon nearly 3000 years ago was built? I want to draw our attention to just one feature of the description of Solomon's temple. Verse 7 says:
"The house [= temple] was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built."
Why in the middle of all these construction details does the author specifically mention that tools made from iron were not used? The short answer is that the Law of Moses prohibited the use of iron tools for the making of altars:
Exodus 20:25: "But if you make an altar of stone, do not build it of cut stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it."
Deuteronomy 27:5: "And [when you have crossed the Jordan into the promised land] you shall build an altar there to the Lord your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. You build the altar of the Lord your God of whole (= uncut) stones."
OK. But why were iron tools banned? You certainly can't say it was the latest fashion. This was the middle of what we now call the "Iron Age" – iron was state-of-the-art technology in those days! So why does the author of 1 Kings stress the absence of iron tools from the temple construction? Were the Jews old fashioned technophobes...? It comes back, doesn't it, to the second of the Ten Commandments:
Exodus 20:4-5: "You shall not make for yourself an idol (= a hand-crafted image of a god), whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..."
The author of Kings is making it clear that the temple was built in accordance with the most important building regulation of all: the law prohibiting using iron in constructing the altar was to make sure they didn't make something that might be worshipped as an idol. There was some decoration allowed around the buidling but not the altar which was at the centre of sacrificial worship.
Mel and I are reading through Exodus in our devotions and just this week we read in Exodus chapter 32 where Moses was up the mountain getting the Ten Commandments, including, of course, the second commandment prohibiting the worship of idols. At the very same time, down on the plain, the people decided that he was taking a bit too long and so they replaced the living God with a metal god – the golden calf.
Exodus 32:3-4: "So all the people took off their ear-rings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt'."