It is biblical texts like the one before us this evening that pose most starkly the issue of how sermon texts and subjects should be chosen for preaching. Believe me, most Christians will never hear a sermon on these two chapters and, frankly, there are a great many passages like them in the Bible on which they will never hear a sermon preached. Most of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – though absolutely fundamental to the teaching of the Bible and to a biblical worldview – is terra incognita to most Christians today. So are large portions of the prophets. Those that read the Bible programmatically may pass through Kings from time to time but they will pay little attention to chapters such as 5 and 6. The only way such texts will be made the subject of a sermon is if the preacher’s plan is the consecutive exposition of books of the Bible. The general disappearance of the Sunday evening service guarantees that even fewer Christians will hear sermons on such texts than was the case in years gone by. Obviously if there is but one sermon preached of a Lord’s Day, it is not likely to concern arrangements made for the building of the temple in Solomon’s day. But let’s think together about this for a moment. I am far from thinking that we should spend ten weeks in 1 Kings 5 and 6, but I am equally sure that we could spend that much time very profitably examining these texts and the issues they raise. The Lord has put this in his Word and that makes this text important whether or not we can immediately identify its importance.
Think, for a moment, about how important the temple was, not only as an artifact of the history of Israel but as a representation of her faith in the living God. The temple was the embodiment of God’s presence with his people. In the new epoch it is used again to describe the church itself; we are the temple of the Lord because the Lord is with us. The structure of the temple and the worship that fit into that structure taught Israel the evangelical faith and by frequent observation and repeated ritual was designed to bury the gospel deep in her heart. The tearing of the temple curtain at the time of the Lord’s death on the cross meant something of immense importance only because that curtain itself stood for something of great importance. So much of our faith is represented throughout the Bible in images taken from the temple and its worship. Prayer is like the fragrant smoke of incense floating up to God. We are, Peter tells us, living stones being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In many places we read of how Christ’s sacrifice was the eternal redemption of which the sacrifices of the temple were but figures or anticipations or prophesies. Christians must know something about the temple or they cannot fully understand the Word of God. Though we no longer have a temple in the way Israel had a temple – a single grand sanctuary that served the purposes of the entire people of God – the principles of the temple and of its representational worship are still very much the warp and woof of our life as Christians.
The two kingdoms had been at peace through David’s reign and enjoyed flourishing trade. Hiram had what Israel didn’t: timber fine enough and large enough to provide the wooden parts of the temple, including the large beams that would span the temple ceiling. What we have in the verses that follow is a quite typical specimen of ANE diplomatic correspondence. In 9:19 we read that Lebanon was part of Solomon’s empire. The diplomatic language makes it sound as if this were an agreement between equals, but that is often the way of ANE treaty-making.
If you compare these numbers with those for Solomon’s own provisions (4:22), you’ll see that Hiram received only perhaps 25% less each year than Solomon did.
That is, the arrangements were formalized in standard diplomatic fashion.
It is unclear whether this represents a detail unmentioned before or a change in the arrangements Hiram had originally proposed. Hiram seems to have proposed that his own men do all the cutting of the timber and transporting of it to Israel. But it would seem that Solomon ignored that suggestion and sent his own men to augment the timber harvest. It took a lot of men to move huge trees from mountain sides in the interior to the coast. But that may be only an impression created by the compression of the narrative. If not, this is another indication of the fact that, notwithstanding the diplomatic courtesy, Solomon is in a position to dictate terms. But he does so wisely, giving enough to Hiram to make it worth his while to provide Solomon what he wants in a timely way.
Taking all the evidence together, it appears that the 30,000 who worked in Lebanon four months of the year were Israelites. The 150,000 forced laborers were Canaanites remaining in Israel, as we read in 2 Chron. 2:17-18.
The 480 years gives a mid-15th century date for the Exodus. Solomon’s fourth year would be 966 B.C.
So the temple was some 90 feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high, by modern standards a relatively small sanctuary, but considerably larger than the tabernacle that had served Israel to this point. Mr. Simpson and I walked off 90 feet down the hallway of the new wing, from the north door toward the narthex, and that hallway is more than 90 feet long. In the front of the temple, as we learn elsewhere, was a portico the same width as the building. Around the outside of the temple on three sides and attached to it were three stories of side and store rooms, accessed by stairs opening on the southeast corner of the building.
The Lord appeared to Solomon to remind him that however impressive he may make the temple, the Lord’s blessing will rest upon him and upon Israel only if they continue to be faithful to the Lord’s covenant with them.
It took seven and a half years to complete the temple, a building that would last for nearly 400 years. It is also the only building from Solomon’s time that the Israelites would rebuild after the exile. [House, 129]
Okay, admitting that this is not a text most folk would ever hear preached, what are we to do with it? What would your sermon be on the text we have just read? Well, let me suggest some possible themes.
- First, we could talk about how a wise man, a godly man such as Solomon, got along with his neighbors. This may not be the most important theme of these verses, but getting along with people is here, very clearly, a demonstration of that wisdom that all Christians are to seek from the Lord, and, as we all know, getting along with people is one of the things we Christians must do and ought to do better than others! Solomon was operating from a position of strength, but, then, so do we! Indeed, the larger context seems to suggest that if Solomon had simply wanted to take Hiram’s cedar he could have done so. But he was careful to pay and to pay enough to make his friend feel that the exchange was a benefit to him as well as to Israel. Ought that not to be the case in our dealings with others: that they come away feeling that we have done them a good turn and that we have treated them fairly and with respect, even if they remain unbelievers? Remember the Lord Jesus advising us to use our wealth to gain friends for ourselves! In our relationships with our neighbors we too operate from a position of strength. If the Lord is for us, who can be against us? If we act toward others so as to honor the Lord, do we not have his promise that he will honor those who honor him? That is our position of advantage! There is any number of sermons to be preached on that theme. Indeed, if you think about it, this may be one of the most important texts in the Bible on managing friendships; after all, how to make friendships and how to keep them is a very important part of biblical wisdom. We read a lot about that in Proverbs. And the Apostle Paul, in our text this morning from Romans 14, was talking about the same thing. How different life in the kingdom of God would be if only we all had this wisdom and handled our relationships with grace and kindness and a gospel spirit. Solomon is an exemplar of this most important part of wisdom.
- Second, we could talk from chapter 5 and 6 about the proper sort of appreciation that believers should have for the abilities, the art, and the accomplishment of unbelievers. It is no accident, surely, that the temple of Yahweh was not built by Jews alone or with materials obtained from the Holy Land alone. Gentiles, even unbelievers, contributed to the creation of what was to be the place where God’s presence with his people was most powerfully represented. As the saintly Bishop Joseph Hall remarked on this passage,
“Even pagans have their arts from heaven; how justly may we improve their graces to the service of the God of heaven! If there be a Tyrian that can work more [beautifully] in gold, in silver, in brass, in iron, in purple, and blue silk, than an Israelite, why should not he be employed about the temple? Their heathenism is their own; their skill is their Maker’s: many a one works for the church of God, that yet hath no part in it.” [Contemplations, 256-257]
Think of the composers whose music has graced the worship of God in the Christian church but who themselves had no living faith in Christ. We are being taught here that the Lord lays claim to every skill and art in the world and the church has every right both to appreciate the beautiful and valuable products of human genius and artistry and to exploit them for her own holy purposes. There is a theology of the world and its work in this passage and an outlook on the world – positive and cheerful and appreciative – that goes together with our condemnation of the world’s unbelief and disobedience to God. No one ought to be more appreciative of the accomplishments and the artistry of unbelievers than Christians, who know where those gifts and skills come from!
Indeed, this point about the appreciation of human culture in general can be made still more strikingly. There was nothing particularly unusual about the architecture of the temple. It was in its basic form and features quite like other ANE sanctuaries. If you are interested, look up the reports of the excavation of the temple at Ain Dara in northern Syria. This temple was built at about the same time as Solomon’s and on a strikingly similar plan. So much is this the case that scholars are now able to explain some of the architectural features of Solomon’s temple – a building that was completely destroyed by the Babylonians and whose description in the Bible leaves many details unexplained – because the buildings are so alike. They were built in the same rectangular shape, they had two rooms, an inner and innermost sanctuary in the temple itself, two large columns on either side of the main door of the sanctuary, and a portico or porch that ran the width of the front side. In both temples spectacular reliefs decorated the walls and so on.
The lovely church that sits next to the property of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Dehra Dun, India does not remotely resemble an Indian building, far less an Indian temple. It looks just like a parish church one might find in a small English village. Isn’t it possible that the importation of foreign architecture has contributed to the impression that rests in hundreds of millions of Indian minds that Christianity is not Indian but Western; it does not belong in India but belongs back where it came from? But Solomon built an ANE temple for the worship of Yahweh. To be sure, the worship in Solomon’s temple was utterly different from that in other ANE temples. In them worshippers came to buy favors from their gods. In Jerusalem sinners came to appeal to the grace of God and to commit their lives to him. But the buildings were quite similar. We have an important piece of a biblical view of culture here, in other words, and of a Christian appreciation of culture and of the culture of unbelieving societies. You young people who find yourself enjoying music and art that your parents don’t think much of: so long as there is nothing actually sinful, you are free to enjoy. That is the implication of this text. The next time someone criticizes your taste in music take them to 1 Kings 6!
- Third, we could talk about the biblical practice of embodying spiritual realities in physical forms. Why does Solomon spend so much time and so much money on building a temple? Couldn’t that money have been devoted to the care of the poor? There are plenty of Christians nowadays who think that it was part of the defect of Mosaic religion that Solomon built this temple. Oh, he was supposed to build it, but only because believers in those days couldn’t yet grasp the truly spiritual character of the gospel and biblical religion. We now know, these people say, that you don’t need a church building in order to worship God and you certainly don’t need a fancy church building. I have a book on my shelf that argues that it is positively unchristian to build sanctuaries. Churches should meet in homes as the early Christians did.
But architecture is one of many ways in which faith is embodied and continued to be embodied in the new epoch inaugurated at Pentecost. There is something transcultural and transtemporal here and it was not only inevitable that the church after Pentecost should begin to build sanctuaries as soon as she could but right that she did. Sanctuaries serve the worship of God in ways a living room or a gymnasium can’t and virtually every Christian recognizes this. Think about Solomon’s temple. It was designed to communicate the presence of Almighty God, the holy and living God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the redeemer of his people. That is what explains the perfection of its design, the quality of the materials that went into it, the lavish adornment in gold, and so on. It was 45 feet in height. That’s not as high as the ceiling of the nave in a Gothic cathedral, but it is considerably higher than our ceiling here; indeed, almost twice as high. Height is often used in the Bible as a way of communicating the transcendence of God – he is high above us – and so sanctuaries typically have higher ceilings, much higher than the ordinary rooms in which we spend our days at home and at work. It is fascinating to me that in Hebrews 8 we read that Moses was required to construct the tabernacle, which, of course, had the same basic plan as that of the temple, according to the pattern that God showed him while he was on the mountain. And the reason for that was that the earthly sanctuary was to be a copy of the sanctuary in heaven!
I don’t presume to know precisely what that means. But it means at least this: there is something about the sanctuary Moses and then Solomon built that in appropriate ways conveyed the reality of God and the unseen world to the believing heart. There was something about those structures that represented what is in heaven itself. Heaven was, in this way, brought down to earth and made known on earth.
But the temple is only one illustration of this principle. Think of others. We kneel in this house for prayer, and when we do so we all point ourselves in the same direction. We don’t do that because we know that the Lord happens to be sitting somewhere in the front of the church, only that our posture communicates in a physical form both our belief that we are coram Deo and that, given who He is and who we are, we ought to humble ourselves before him. Kneeling expresses that without at all conveying the idea that God is in one place. Kneeling is a physical embodiment of a spiritual reality. So is the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. So is virtually every action of our worship service.
- Fourth, we could preach from this text a sermon on how everyone has gifts to contribute to the house of God. Some cut timber or stone, some transported it, some did the work of artisans and some did the work of laborers. It sounds very much like Paul in 1 Cor. 12 talking about everyone having gifts to contribute, some of the more public sort, some of the more private, or, as Paul puts it, some with the more presentable gifts, some with the less presentable. But the artisan could not carve the wood had it first not been cut and transported to the worksite. And so it is in the church of God: something for everyone to do in building the temple of the Lord!
You get my point. We have before us tonight a text that is never preached but, the fact is, it fairly crackles at every turn with the most interesting and important lessons of faith and life. There are no “boring” parts of the Bible, only parts that must be studied before they yield their treasures.
But let me finish with another “use” of this text, another of its lessons, more important by far, I think, than the ones I have already mentioned. The temple was a lesson in holiness: the holiness of God and the holiness that man would require in order to find fellowship with God. You are well aware of this, I know. So many of the regulations of the temple, its furniture, and its liturgy had to do with the special holiness of the place. The Most Holy Place, the innermost sanctuary – that is, the place where the presence of God was embodied in the most concentrated form, the place where the ark of the covenant stood – could not be entered except once a year by the high priest and he had to have the atoning blood with him. Only priests could serve in the outer room of the sanctuary. And the court of the temple was used for sacrifice, the atoning rituals by which Israel’s sins were forgiven and God’s holy anger at her sin was turned away.
The holiness of the temple is given a special emphasis in this text with the requirement, mentioned in 6:7, that “neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” Clearly this was a sign of reverence, respect for the sanctity of the site and of the building that was being constructed there, and of the purpose of the building, and of the fact that God’s presence would reside there in a special sense. [cf. Deut. 27:5]
Holiness is a central fact of biblical religion, a key part of its foundation. Its denial or its diminishment leaves the great message of the gospel hanging in mid-air, without purpose or point. God is holy, which is to say that he is pure and perfect goodness. That requires him to hate sin and in our best moments as human beings, we completely agree with this connection. He who is truly good must, in the nature of the case, hate what is really evil. The temple was a grand study in this fact, requiring the presence of God among his people to be maintained only through substitutionary acts of propitiation in which God’s righteous anger against sin was turned away by the death of a substitute. The whole elaborate apparatus of temple worship constantly reinforced this fundamental reality: that God could be approached, could be known, that men and women could be at peace with God and enjoy fellowship with him only if his holiness were served and our sin were atoned for and taken away. The seriousness of sin, the absolute necessity of atonement, and the holiness of God and how respecting those facts together fashioned the way to the presence and the blessing of the living God, these were the great lessons of the temple.
And, of course, it would be Israel’s forgetting of all of this that would lead to her abandonment by God and it would be the church’s forgetting all of this that again and again would lead to spiritual ruin through the ages up to our present day. It is the failure ever to believe in or the loss of the conviction of the holiness of God that perhaps more than any other leads to spiritual ruin for those in the church and those outside. It makes the gospel of Christ irrelevant. It makes the sacrifice required to live a distinctively Christian life unnecessary. And surely, it is this loss that explains so much of what we see of even evangelical Christianity in our day. Listen to this from an article published a few years ago in Touchstone [Jan/Feb 2006, 3]:
“A front-page article in the New York Times last September featured an inside look at the daily workings of an abortion clinic in Little Rock. The piece communicated the calloused yet tortured consciences of the women involved. They don’t wish to be seen, or to make contact with others in the waiting room. Even more striking, though, are their religious commitments.
One Baptist college student, having her third abortion, is quoted in the article as saying: ‘My religion is against it. In a way I feel that I am doing wrong, but you can be forgiven. I blame myself. I feel I shouldn’t have sex at all.’
‘I’ve done this once and swore I wouldn’t do it again,’ said a woman named Regina. ‘Every woman has second thoughts, especially because I’m Catholic.’ Regina noted that she went to confession. ‘The priest didn’t hound me,’ she reported. ‘He said, “People make mistakes.”’
The facility’s operating room supervisor, Ebony, whom the article chillingly describes as rinsing ‘the blood off aborted tissues,’ could understand Regina’s story. Ebony, too, has had an abortion. ‘As a Baptist, she still considered abortion a sin, but so are a lot of things we all do,’ she said. The article closes with the Baptist’s words to the Catholic undergoing the abortion: ‘No problem sweetie. We’ve all been there.’”
Well what is lacking there is any true and living sense of the holiness of God, of the terrible danger of offending that holiness, of the impossibility of thinking that one could exploit God’s grace by using it to justify one’s sin. But those paragraphs are an almost perfect description of the theological vision of modern Americans. They presume on God’s forgiveness because they have virtually no sense whatsoever of the holiness of God. There is, as the Bible says, “no fear of God before their eyes.” They do not believe that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. They do not worry about offending God; they worry only about the complications of their lives. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to keep hammers and chisels from the temple worksite, because that would have made everything more complicated and difficult and, surely, God wouldn’t want that!
A few weeks ago, Larry King interviewed some prominent Christians on his Larry King Live television show. [April 23, 2010] One was Jennifer Knapp, whose name you older folk will not recognize, but who will be familiar to the younger set. A Christian music artist, Grammy nominee and Dove award winner, Jennifer has admitted that she is living in a lesbian relationship though maintains that she remains a Christian. Another guest of the show was Ted Haggard, disgraced Colorado Springs pastor and one-time president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Both gave Larry King precisely what he wanted. Jennifer Knapp isn’t sure whether her behavior is sinful because, after all, the Bible is subject to different interpretations. But, typical of many modern young evangelicals nowadays, she has a very privatized faith. She spoke of “my faith” and “my journey,” and so on, as if she is entitled to her own faith and not required to affirm the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and so to affirm that her body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that without holiness no one will see the Lord. Mr. Haggard rightly affirmed that God is love and that everyone can have a personal relationship with him. But, when discovered to have consorted with a homosexual prostitute on a number of occasions, Haggard argued that it was unloving for his church to discipline him.
What King did not hear was any serious confession of the holiness of God, of the impossibility of true and living communion with God without a heart and life commitment to moral purity or holiness, of the fear of sin and of its capacity to destroy the soul because it separates the soul from God, or that Jesus said that one cannot be his disciple unless he is willing to deny himself or she is willing to take up her cross to follow him. Divine grace, salvation itself, faith, the Christian life, all become something very different and very much less when the holiness of God is forgotten or diminished.
Brothers and sisters, hear me. The only thing that finally matters is whether you are at peace with God. Everything else in life is a detail compared to this. The prospect of eternal years stretching beyond our life in this world means that this is inevitably so. And no one finds true peace with God – I’m not speaking of a feeling but the reality – who does not appreciate the holiness of God and what that holiness required of Jesus Christ and what it requires of us who trust and follow him.
There is an email circle of presbytery clerks in the PCA and I get lots of emails generated by it. A clerk in some presbytery somewhere will inquire about how to do this or whether he has to do that and emails will come flying in from all sides with advice or opinion. A recent one caught my eye. Bruce Howes is the clerk of the Heritage Presbytery, a presbytery most of whose churches are in Delaware. He made his contribution to the particular discussion underway, but added this P.S:
“Brethren, as you think about it, please pray for me. Last round of Chemo did not work & they have run out of options for me.”
A man is going to die, as we all must in due time. And he must face God, as we all must. He must face a holy God of perfect justice and infinite moral perfection, a God, the Bible says, who is angry with sinners every day. What must he do? How can he stand in the face of that holiness with a life such as his? Well, he stands, he must stand in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice for sin, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. But no one can claim that sacrifice or that savior for himself who is not himself or herself committed to God’s holiness, to living for it and according to it. It is very simple: no one can love God or trust him who does not admire and love who and what he is!
All of that truth – the most important truth in the world – is beautifully compressed in the plan and the ritual of the temple and even in its construction: not the sound of a hammer or an axe on the worksite. And as soon as Solomon began to build the temple the Lord appeared to him to remind him that the temple and the presence of God that it mediated to Israel would be lost if they did not revere God’s law and keep his commandments. Such is the holiness of God and such the reverence of a wise man’s heart.