Studies in the Book of Kings 1 Kings 7:1-51


1 Kings 7:1-51

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In the middle of the account of the construction of the temple comes a shorter account of the construction of Solomon’s palace complex, consisting of at least five buildings. These buildings furnish the spaces both for the living accommodations of the royal family and the business of government.

Text Comment

v.4

Like many details in these architectural descriptions, it is not entirely clear where these “windows” were or how they were situated in the walls.

v.5

The “House of the Forest of Lebanon,” so named because of the many enormous cedar pillars that held up the roof and divided the space, perhaps two rows of fifteen down the outside walls and two rows in the center of the hall. It was, apparently, whatever else it was used for (perhaps as an assembly hall), something of a state treasury, as we read later (10:17) that gold collected as tribute and tax was stored there, perhaps displayed there.

v.6

There is much uncertain, not only because many of the architectural terms are translated by guesswork but because we are not given detailed accounts of the uses to which each separate space was put. So we don’t know what the “Hall of Pillars” was for. Was it for official audiences? Was it a waiting area? Did it connect one building with another as a kind of colonnade or roofed arcade?

v.7

The “Hall of the Throne” was the hall of justice, the royal courtroom, where judicial decisions were rendered.

v.8

The fact that Pharaoh’s daughter receives a separate palace for herself means either that she was the primary queen or that Solomon understood that her father, among all his fathers-in-law, was the one he could least afford to offend. [House, 130]

v.9

Stones were being cut, or at least trimmed, with saws. So they had by this time learned how to apply a hard abrasive to the saw blades to make a fine cut and create a finished or polished stone surface. Native limestone was likely the stone being used and it is not terribly hard. [DeVries, 101] Precisely what the “great court” was and how it was situated within the palace complex remains uncertain.

Now the narrator returns to the temple to describe the remainder of its construction and the manufacture of the furniture and implements necessary for conducting the ritual and worship of God’s house.

v.14

This is not Hiram, the king of Tyre, mentioned earlier, but an architect and artisan of the same name whose skill obviously exceeded anything that Solomon could find among the Israelites. The fact that his mother was an Israelite was obviously important to mention! In the case of an artisan wisdom is the ability to see what it is you want to make and actually produce it with your hands and your tools. The great skill of this man is reported in a very similar way to what was said in Exodus of Bezalel and Oholiab, the men who made the furnishings for the tabernacle (Exod. 31:1-11).

Hiram fashioned four items and their accessories: each cast in bronze. The first is the two pillars that stood on either side of the main door of the temple. The second a large tank or reservoir for holding the water – some 11,500 gallons – necessary for all the washing the ritual required. The third was ten moveable stands or water carts, which held water taken from the reservoir and provided water at various places in the temple court for the purposes of the ritual. Each of these stands holding a bronze basin provided about 230 gallons of water. Fourth, Hiram made the implements of the ritual: shovels (for removing the ashes, as the altar fire was burning constantly), sprinkling bowls, pots and so on.

v.18

These were enormous structures to cast in bronze, more than 30 feet high. Artisans in those days had remarkable skill. They had learned how to make things beautiful in bronze. Sculptors today who use bronze still struggle to make large objects while managing to keep the exterior surface smooth. In keeping with the realities of casting, one cannot cast the pillar and the capital or the capitals and their decoration at the same time in the same mold. You would never be able completely to fill the mold and eliminate air pockets and the bronze would harden in a very imperfect state. They had learned long since how to do this in parts and pieces so to make the sculpture beautiful and particularly to make it smooth on the outside surface.

v.21

Precisely what these names signify is hard to determine. Commentaries go on and on about the possible meaning of these names and why those names were chosen for these particular pillars located at that particular place.

v.23

In a lecture at the University of Aberdeen years ago I heard a biblical scholar actually argue against the inerrancy of Scripture from this verse. His argument was that if you do your calculations based on these numbers you don’t get π (pi) as 3.14 but only as 3, as if somehow or another 3.14 is accurate without the next 100 or 200 numbers that would follow the decimal point. It is an approximation, like most measures.

v.25

It was an enormous weight. A gallon of water weighs about 8 lbs. and this was 11,500 gallons. So no wonder the base of twelve oxen. Did the twelve oxen or bulls symbolize the twelve tribes or Solomon’s twelve administrative districts? No one knows.

v.27

Remember you are multiplying everything by 1.5 to get the appropriate number of feet in each case. So 4 cubits would be 6 feet, 3 cubits would be 4.5 feet, etc.

v.30

Remember that the fellow writing this account was an eye witness. He knew exactly what he was describing and to anyone who had been there it would have been a perfectly clear description of what Hiram had made. It is just for us who have never seen these things that the descriptions are as opaque as they are.

v.37

What is perfectly clear in all of this material is that the Second Commandment, the law against making graven images, was not understood to forbid artistic representation altogether, but only such as would be used for idolatrous purposes. It did not prohibit representative art and the proof of that is that you have so much of it in the temple and obviously with God’s approval. This is not an unimportant point because it is sometimes a controversy among conservative, Bible believing Christians and Reformed Christians among them.

v.38

Now we have the stands and the basins that sit on the stands.

v.39

If you are visualizing this, remember that the temple opens to the east. It is facing the Mount of Olives which runs to the east. The west is toward the Mediterranean Sea, the east is toward the Jordan River and then the Desert of Arabia beyond. North goes toward the Sea of Galilee, south toward Judea and the Sinai Peninsula. So think of the Temple facing east and then on the north and south side of the court are these large stands with their basins.

v.40

These implements were for handling the sacrificial portions, for cleaning the stone court and perhaps the altar itself of meat and ashes, and for washing away excess blood. Every day a large number of animal sacrifices were brought to be slaughtered in the temple court. They had to be killed there. Some of these were brought by private worshippers, others given by the government on behalf of the people as a whole. Much of the meat, butchered there and then cooked on the altar, was consumed on the spot by those worshipping or was offered to the priests as their portion. The fat was burned. An unavoidable result was an abundance of excess blood and ashes. The ashes could be shoveled up and carried away, but the blood required water and it is for the washing away of all that blood that so much water was required in the temple court. As the water carts were furnished with wheels, some argue that they could be moved or rolled from the reservoir, where they were filled, to the various parts of the temple court where the water in them would be used to wash blood from the priests, from the worshippers, from the carcasses, and from the pavement. Others think that their weight, especially when filled with water, required them to be fixed in position. How the water was transferred from the reservoir, the sea, to the stands, in such a case, is not told us and remains unclear. [DeVries, 111-112; Wiseman, 116]

v.46

The process used to cast the bronze objects, perhaps the larger ones like the pillars in individual pieces, is called the cire perdue, or “lost wax” process that is still used today. Clay molds were shaped around wax in the shape of the piece to be cast. The wax was then melted and ran off. The bronze was then poured into the now empty clay mold and once it had cooled and hardened, the mold was broken off.

v.47

To say that the material was left unweighed is a common oriental way to emphasize the amount of it. There was enough that the temple would remain a constant temptation to other nations, so much valuable metal did it contain.

v.48

Now, at last, the furniture and implements to be placed and to be used in the temple itself. Much of this was made of gold not bronze. The golden altar is the altar of incense that stood in the Holy Place.

It is interesting that no mention is made so far of the altar itself and I have no explanation for it, no one does. We read of the bronze altar in 8:64 but there is no mention of it here. One would think certainly the first thing that Hiram would have made or at least considered to be the most important thing would have been the altar itself.

Now the historical and cultural distance from this scene – the temple finished and furnished – and our own day and life is so great that we have real difficulty filling in the picture. But imagine a hot day – and there are many hot days in Israel – and the temple busy about its work. In the large court before the sanctuary itself you see perhaps hundreds of people, a great many priests and Levites, as well as worshippers, come from all over the country. You see over there, animals being pulled into the courtyard, bellowing and shying away because they smell the blood. They make it a noisy place. Over there a man has his hands on the head of a goat or sheep or bull. He is confessing his sins. Over there another animal is having its throat slit and the blood is spurting out as the animal’s heart beats its last few times. And over there a just killed animal is being butchered, its skin removed, its meat being separated from the entrails, blood everywhere on the pavement. Priests and Levites and worshippers are using water by the gallons to wash everything, themselves included. You don’t butcher an animal and remain clean and neat! You also have to have a strong stomach, at least if you have never seen it done before. I’ll bet not a few young Israelites and some older ones, men and women alike, added their vomit to the pavement when the animal bled to death right before them and was then cut up. And over there, by the altar, blood is being sprinkled by the priest and the meat is being cooked on the altar. And over there a family is eating a meal with roast lamb or beef the centerpiece of the feast. And here is a priest coming from the upper floors of the temple with a big bowl of flour, preparing to knead it and cook bread. And everywhere men are cleaning up after themselves. The pavement glistens first with blood and then with water. Such was an ordinary day at the temple.

And remember how this all fits into the total teaching of the Bible. The bleating animal, its life ebbing from him as the blood squirts from the arteries in its slit-open neck, the entrails and blood steaming in the near eastern sun, that is sin. And the death of the sacrificial animal the blood on the altar, the meat cooking on the fire, the pleasing aroma ascending heavenward, that is the Lamb, that is the sacrifice, that is Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of man giving his life a ransom for many.

Now, there are, as I pointed out last Lord’s Day evening, a number of ways to take our text for this evening. There is more here than at first may meet the eye! Are you aware, for example, that the Apostle Paul refers to this text – or, at least, makes use of facts similar to those reported here concerning the temple, in his exhortation to us to live holy, useful and fruitful lives as Christians. In 2 Timothy 2:20-21 we read:

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

We could talk about the vessels of bronze and of gold in the temple, the use to which some were put in comparison to the use of others, and fairly draw a number of lessons about the mutual but diverse giftedness and calling of the people of God. What are you: a shovel for the cleaning up of meat and ashes, a water basin, or one of the gold candlesticks? And what difference does it make?

But I want instead to consider with you the question that is most discussed in the commentaries on 1 Kings 7, viz. whether Solomon was at fault for the thirteen years it took him to build his palace complex in comparison with the seven years it took to build the temple. Is the juxtaposition of 6:38 and 7:1 meant to trouble us? Are we being told in a somewhat subtle way that Solomon was already at this early stage of his reign a worldly man, or, at least, too much of a worldly man?

We’ve noticed already, in regard to statements in chapter 4 regarding the accumulation of wealth and particularly of horses that Solomon seems to be acting in some respects in direct violation of the law for the king as we read it in Deuteronomy. Is there more of that here? Most commentators think so. They detect here at least the implication of excess. And, perhaps, that cannot be entirely denied. But, on the other hand, there is a good bit here that leads me to think that the narrator has no real problem with Solomon’s palace complex or the thirteen years it took to build it.

  1. For example, there is no suggestion anywhere that the temple was too small or that it was not built with the full commitment of the royal wealth. There is gold everywhere in the temple, but not in the palace buildings.
  2. Indeed, v. 12 of chapter 7 suggests that everything the palace complex had in terms of materials and workmanship, the temple had as well, but the temple also had much more, gold covered walls in particular.
  3. The placing of the account of the construction of the palace complex where it is, in the midst of the account of the building of the temple, further suggests that the narrator does not view Solomon’s building of the palace as taking back with the left hand what was given right, as if Solomon cared more for his palace than he did for the temple. Quite the reverse it would seem. The narrator sticks the palace construction into a short parenthesis in the middle of the account of the building of the temple. He seems to be saying that the temple is the main thing and the palace less important in comparison. He says something about the palace but hurries on to get back to the temple.
  4. What is more, the palace would be, in the nature of the case, a larger complex requiring a variety of buildings. The halls of government in a great nation, such as Israel had become, would be and should be impressive.
  5. In any case, there is nothing in Deuteronomy that would suggest that the building of the palace for the king was in some respect sinful and nothing here to suggest that the narrator thought it was.

He may be hinting that there was already in Solomon’s behavior an inappropriate concentration on worldly success and outward show, perhaps – he has, in fact, virtually said as much before in chapter 4 – but, even then, there is little here or later to suggest that Solomon should not have built a palace complex or should not have built it as largely and grandly as he did or that it should not have taken him more than seven years to build. That is, if Solomon had a spiritual defect it is not revealed in the comparison of temple and palace.

And, if so, then there is an important principle here that is worth our considering. The glory of God is not a zero sum calculation. I want you to think about this for a moment. You spend much more of your time at work, whatever your work may be, than you do at church. Is that wrong? Are you, for that reason, worldly? You spend more of your time at home with your family than you do worshipping God or directly involved in some ministry? Is that wrong? Are you, in that way, demonstrating that you care more about other things than you do for the glory of God?

No; of course not. We would say, and rightly, that to be a faithful worker, to support our families, to build in our homes a happy and holy life for our children is not being worldly. To do such things, in fact, is to glorify God because it amounts to fulfilling his will for our lives and the callings that he has given us as his children. Solomon was not belittling God by serving Israel as her king; he was not showing himself more interested in his work than the worship of God by building a palace complex. He was glorifying God by doing and doing well the work God had given him to do.

This is everywhere the Bible’s perspective: whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all to the glory of God. Solomon was no doubt right to think that he was giving glory to God not only by building for him the most glorious, costly, and beautiful sanctuary in the world but as well by building an impressive complex of government halls, offices, and palaces. Israel was Yahweh’s people and he was Yahweh’s king! The palace should reflect that fact as the temple did. He would not have thought, and we should not think, that if we work at our calling we are subtracting from God’s glory.

Perhaps the best illustration of this given us in the Bible is Paul’s instruction about staying single or getting married in 1 Corinthians 7. You remember what he says there. He wishes that all Christians could remain single as he was and so remain free to devote themselves to the greatest possible extent to the work of the Lord. But he knows that this is not possible. One man has the gift of celibacy and another does not. Indeed, most do not. But the way he puts it is very interesting and revealing.

Paul says that when a man or woman marries, he cannot any longer be completely devoted to the Lord. Rather, he must take of that time and energy and commitment of resources that would otherwise be given to God and give it instead to his wife or to her husband. Paul even puts it more bluntly: a married man’s interests or a married woman’s interests are divided (7:32-35). Now, that would seem not to be a good thing. We remember our Lord’s remark, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Surely our Creator and our Savior has a right to our undivided attention and loyalty.

But then Paul goes on to say that, though it will result in divided interests, if a man or woman wishes to marry he or she is free to do so, there is no sin involved. Now that’s a remarkable statement. Paul knew very well that most Christian adults would marry. He knew that the church would be, almost always and everywhere, a community of families: husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and children. In Ephesians and Colossians, when he speaks to various parts of the church, this is how he divides the congregation up: husbands and wives and parents and children. He doesn’t speak to singles. Not because there weren’t any, there were surely. And Paul had something to say about their lives and the important nature of that calling from God, but they were relatively a minority and so he speaks to the families and the parts of those families. There is no sin, he says, in getting married; far from it. It is the ordinary calling of Christian men and women and had been from the beginning. The Bible makes this clear.

So, when Paul says that the interests of a man are divided when he marries, or the interests of a woman are divided when she marries, he is manifestly not saying that they shouldn’t be divided. He is acknowledging that a husband must take some of the time and attention he might otherwise pay directly to the Lord and give them instead to his wife. The Lord expects this of him. It is what it means for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the church. In other words, the Lord does not begrudge the fact that one of his men or women is now giving to another what might otherwise have been given to him. Quite the contrary, he not only expects that it should be so, he demands that it be so. He does not regard the time and attention given by a Christian man to his wife as anything taken from him in the truest sense. He regards it in fact as something that has been given to him. You do not glorify God by neglecting your wife to work on some church project any more than Solomon would have glorified God by devoting himself entirely to the temple and forgetting about his duties as Israel’s king. You glorify God by worshipping him at church and by contributing to the ministry of the gospel, but you also glorify God by building a happy, holy marriage, by raising your children to love and serve the Lord – a work that takes time and money – and by being the most faithful and hardworking employee at your firm.

Take another example. You glorify God by giving him a tithe of your income. In that way you honor him by, as it were, presenting him the first fruits of your labor. But we are talking about heaven and hell, about the living God, about the last judgment, about true gratitude for impossibly wonderful gifts. Surely he would be entirely within his rights for God to demand 100% of our income. But he doesn’t. Only 10%. The rest we are left to use in the freedom of our own will. And, when we use the 90% wisely and well, we give glory to God that way also. God is not a grasping tyrant. He is a generous heavenly Father. He asks of us what, in his perfect wisdom, he thinks is important for us to give for the benefit of his kingdom and the blessing and  training of our own soul. But he leaves us enormous sections of our lives to devote to him in entirely different ways according to our freedom. I think we often forget how much freedom the Lord has left to us and how many of the decisions that have shaped our lives we have made in the freedom of our will. His commands are very general. “Do what you do so that it gives glory to me,” he says, “but, remember, all sorts of things give glory to me when they are done in faithfulness and love.” He has made us to be free agents and urges us to employ that freedom as we may but in keeping with the loyalties of a gospel man or woman.

“Fulfill the callings that I have given you. Make the most of them. Do the work that I have given you to do. Love your husband or wife. Take the time and devote the energy that it will require to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Enjoy your life, for that too gives me glory: to see my children enjoying the good things I have prepared for them. By all means be about your Heavenly Father’s business, but remember that my business includes virtually every activity under the sun, if only it is done in faithfulness to me.”

We are aware, I’m sure, of people who failed miserably at some very important things and excused their failure by appeal to the work they were doing for the house of the Lord. They were spending all of their time building the sanctuary when they should have been paying attention to the palace as well. Some prominent Christian leaders of the past several generations did precisely this to the spiritual harm of their marriages and families. I am personally familiar with one such case: an honored Christian leader, the builder of a great ministry, but whose family was left in disarray. He spent all his time on the temple and very little to none on the palace. That alas has been the story too often in Christian history. We all love and admire David Livingston, the great missionary, adventurer and explorer in the mid 19th century in Africa, as we should. He was a great man who left behind a great legacy, except for his family. He had one son who never spoke to him after the middle of his life. He spent too much time on the temple and not enough on the palace.

We are to be people of the temple, make no mistake. The life of the church, its worship and work are to be prominent commitments of our lives. Nobody should be able to mistake the devotion we have to the temple of God. Our gold should be there, not our bronze. But it is not only in the sanctuary that we may give glory to God. We have our callings to fulfill, families to support, children to raise, friendships to cultivate, and God’s world to enjoy. God may be served and pleased in doing all of this, if only we do it as unto him.

It is not enough for us to be people of the temple. We are to be people of the temple and the palace, of the Lord’s Day and the whole week, of the tithe and the 90% that remains.