I Kings 8
Solomon's temple was magnificently built. No expenses had been spared. King David left behind most of the gold for the ornamentation. Much had been given in tribute from surrounding kingdoms. Even though Solomon had bartered for the lumber, we still have to expect there was great expense involved in the employment, housing and feeding of so many artisans, skilled and manual laborers. In last week's lesson, Lynn had pointed out that, if they had paid each laborer just $1.00 a day, this temple would have cost $28 billion.
The temple was impressive to the people. They could take great pride in their accomplishment of building this beautiful building for the God of the Israelites. This was Israel, the King and the people at their best. Israel had come of age. This building put Jerusalem and Israel on the map, establishing this group of past wanderers and land-grabbing people as a permanent part of this region of the world. I am sure you have heard that Salem in the word Jerusalem means "peace." Do you know what Jeru means? It is derived from the word Yeru that means "foundation of" So the name Jerusalem means "Foundation of Peace."
(I Kings 5:17) At the king's command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. Remember, they had 80,000 hewers of stone. That must have been some foundation. The foundation was laid upon Mount Moriah, almost tripling the size of the little town that David chose as his capital. The temple sort of said, "We're here to stay." People at war don't build fantastic buildings. Only a people at peace with its neighbors and with a future-focused leadership will build anything of permanence. I think Solomon's heart was right when he dedicated this temple to God in our lesson today. I wonder if he later forgot that he had dedicated himself to God, also?
But we have the blessing of time. We know that as magnificent as this building was, it wasn't permanent. Built around 957 B.C., the temple lasted not quite 400 years when it was totally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 B.C. (In contrast, the great pyramids of Egypt had been built before Abraham had visited, yet they are still standing today.) Fifty years after the Babylonian exile, Zerubabel and others began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and eventually the temple. But the old folk, who could remember the magnificence of Solomon's temple, felt sickened when comparing what was being built with the great temple that Solomon had built.
Four centuries later, King Herod undertook the magnanimous job of rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem in an even greater state of glory than King Solomon had. It was magnificent. It took over 46 years to build this temple for the third time. The courtyard walls were greatly extended and although he kept much of the original floor plan as Solomon's temple, instead of using an Egyptian/Canaanite motif, the new temple had more of a Greek architectural construction with 162 Corinthian columns, over 100 feet in height. It was larger, grander, more solid and magnificent - but it lasted only 77 years. The Roman general Titus destroyed it when his army took Jerusalem.
The temple was to be symbolic. Solomon said God could not be contained even by heaven, much less this little house that he had built. Yet the people were to pray toward the temple when they found themselves in distress. The magnificence of the temple was to remind the people of the magnificence of God. The filling of the temple with a cloud was a reminder of the glory of the Lord. The people came to view Judaism as an external, physical religion. "Pray at or toward the temple." "Go to the altar and shed the blood and sacrifice the life of an animal because of sin committed by people." Soon the symbolism became lost and the physical became the reality to the majority of the people. "Go through the rituals and God will bless our nation to honor the covenant. We'll win the battles with our enemy. And I can cheat my neighbor, because God has provided the means of sacrifice to atone for my sins at this magnificent temple that is the glory of all Israel. The Lord is with us. I'll do my part and God will do His part." The foundational idea seemed solid.
Imagine the devastation of the nation when the magnificent temple was destroyed. Had God forsaken them? How many realized that it was they who had forsaken God. The foundation that had seemed so solid had crumbled. As Solomon got older he seemed to have forgotten the point that he has heard for the fourth time in our lesson today, that it is the integrity of the heart and not the rituals that God looks upon when He says, "Walk before Me." With all his wisdom, Solomon's work did not stand. With the support of the mighty Roman empire, Herod's temple did not stand.
It has been said that this temple is the forerunner or foreshadow of Jesus. Instead of thinking of a temple as the place to approach God, today we approach God through Jesus. Instead of praying toward a temple, we pray through Jesus. Instead of sacrificing the blood of innocent animals, Jesus became the ultimate, final sacrifice. Jesus says in John 10:9, "I am the door, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." Instead of laboring to build a magnificent temple and paying taxes for the upkeep of the glory of a nation, we labor in love, ministering to our fellow man, our hearts being molded by the Greatest Artisan. We become the work ourselves, the building material - our heart, our mind, our attitude ready to bend and to be shaped into whatever God requires of us to bring Him glory.
This foundation is solid. II Timothy 2:19, "God's firm foundation stands." Throughout our 11 years of this class, we have repeatedly seen that God keeps His promises. (It may take awhile.) It is the heart of man that so often breaks the covenant. The foundation is solid. The foundation is Jesus. I Corinthians 3:11-14, "No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - each man's work will become manifest for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
As Christians, we are building our temple, our lives, on that foundation. The great Day will disclose the worth of the material we are using - the integrity of our heart given to God for His glory.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR