Solomon's Temple

Any prominent public space needs a rationale and a dedication.

Psalm 23
"Psalm 23," John August Swanson. Used by permission from the artist. Image © by John August Swanson.  Artwork held in the Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

October 27, 2013

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Commentary on 1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13

Any prominent public space needs a rationale and a dedication.

1 Kings 5:1-5 and 8:1-13 provide both of these for the Temple. The distillation of 1 Kings 5-8 begins with the pledge to build the temple (1 Kings: 5:3-5) and ends with the statement of conclusion. (8:12-13)

Chapters 5 and 8 are embedded in the Solomon materials in Kings (1 Kings 2-11). The temple material is the heart of the Solomon story. Most of the depiction of Solomon in popular culture focuses on wisdom and wealth, but the authors and editors of Kings give the pride of place and the most words to his role as the builder of the temple.

The writers of the books of Kings may have been ambivalent about Solomon. He married outside of the Hebrew community (exogamy). He is accused of putting persons in the northern regions of his rule into forced labor (1 Kings 5:13-14). The writer/editor has little interest in the building of the palace except to make the case that Solomon spent more time on that than he did on the building of the temple (1 Kings 6:39-7:1). These indictments serve as an expression of the ambivalence toward Solomon.

The ambivalence toward Solomon in no way rubbed off on the Temple. 1 Kings 5 begins with Hiram, the king of Tyre. Hiram sends his servants to Solomon when he heard that Solomon had been anointed king. Hiram’s act of solidarity arose out of Hiram’s love for David. Hiram sent messengers to David. Hiram was king of major sea ports in antiquity. Tyre and Sidon were cities associated with the culture of the Phoenicians. An alliance between Solomon and Hiram indicates a cosmopolitan Solomon. However, remember that while cosmopolitanism is a virtue today, it was one of the ambivalent elements of Solomon’s legacy at that time.

Solomon’s response to Hiram explains why his father David did not build a temple. The military threats to David prevented him from building a temple. In other words, this speech by Solomon is a short apology for David. Solomon went on to comment that God intervened to bring peace to David. More importantly, God allowed Solomon to begin his reign in a peaceful situation, which allowed him to build a temple. This is the context in which Solomon promises to build a temple.

The emphasis on God as the star of story is clear in chapter 8, where we get the “great reveal” of the new building. The material in 1 Kings 8 describes the liturgical installation similar to 2 Samuel 6:1-15. It is also a covenant renewal like those in Joshua 24 and Nehemiah 8. The installation and covenant renewal require a coalition central to the establishment of an effective reign. Solomon assembles the key constituents: elders, heads of the tribes, and leaders of the ancestral house.

Chapter 8 describes the installation of the artifacts of past worship, namely the Ark, the tent of meeting, and all the vessels. David brought the Ark to the City of David, which is Zion; now it finds a new home, along with the Tent of Meeting and all the vessels: the new home is the Temple.

The Temple differs from the places of the covenant renewals of Shechem and Nehemiah at the Water Gate. The Temple is about sacrifice. The writer ensconced sacrifice between the movements of the Ark (see verses 4 and 6). King Solomon and the community sacrificed so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted (see verse 5). The writer does not tell us about the type of sacrifice. The careful reader may wonder what contemporary analogies exist for the sacrifice in today’s liturgical spaces.

Verse 6 outlines the placement of the Ark in the Temple complex. The Ark is tucked away. The writer returns to a three-beat rhythm: the inner sanctuary, the holy of holies, and under the wings of the cherubim. The inner sanctuary is also known as the holy of holies (1 Kings 6:5, 16). The assumption in the building of the Temple was the transition from the everyday to the sacred as concentric rings. The inner sanctuary, holy of holies, and wings of the cherubim were the final ring of the sacred space.

The cherubim (see 1 Kings 6:23-28) locate the Jerusalem Temple in the iconographic context of the ancient Near East. The Hebrew term cherub has parallels in Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian artwork. They seem to have been winged protective deities who were often in pairs at the opening of a sacred space. Often they are depicted as a hybrid: a king’s head, lion’s body, and eagle’s wings.

The Ark was a point of contact to the giving of the Law. The writer points out that only the stone tablets given to Moses were in the Ark. The giving of the Law is preceded by a theophany. Likewise, 1 Kings 8:10 contains a cloud theophany. It was as if the pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:21 and forward; Exodus 14:19-24; Exodus 33:9 and forward; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 31:15) that directed them through the Wilderness had now taken up residence in the holy of holies in the Temple.

The final speech (1 Kings 8:12-13) observes that the presence of God is in the midst of thick darkness. The writer of Job will interpret this as a metaphor for inaccessibility (see Job 22:13; 38:9). The passage begins with Solomon’s statement of his intention to build the Temple (1 Kings 5:5). It closes with his statement that he has in fact built the Temple, a long term place for God to reside.



Mighty Lord,
The splendor of Solomon’s temple cannot compare to the majesty of your heart. Show your heart in this place, that we might worship you with joy and gratitude. Amen.


Built on a rock   ELW 652
A mighty fortress    ELW 503, 504
Open your ears, O faithful people   ELW 519


God’s Son has made me free, Edvard Grieg