Chapter 1 Section A
CHAPTER I A Pre-View of the Subject Both by derivation and common usage the term “temple,” in its literal application, is of restricted and specific meaning. The essential idea of a temple is and ever has been that of a place specially set apart for service regarded as sacred, and of real or assumed sanctity; in a more restricted sense, a temple is a building constructed for and exclusively devoted to sacred rites and ceremonies. The Latin Templum was the equivalent of the Hebrew Beth Elohim, and signified the abode of Deity; hence, as associated with Divine worship, it meant literally the HOUSE OF THE LORD. Structures regarded in their entirety as sanctuaries, or enclosing apartments so designated, have been reared in many different ages, both by worshippers of idols and by the followers of the true and living God. Heathen temples of antiquity were regarded as abiding places of the mythical gods and goddesses whose names they bore, and to whose service the structures were dedicated. While the purlieus of such temples were used as places of general assembly and public ceremony, there were always inner precincts, into which only the consecrated priests might enter, and wherein, it was claimed, the presence of the deity was manifest. As evidence of the exclusiveness of ancient temples, even those of heathen origin, we find that the altar of pagan worship stood not within the temple proper, but in front of the entrance. Temples have never been regarded as places of ordinary public assembly, but as sacred enclosures consecrated to the most solemn ceremonials of that particular system of worship, idolatrous or Divine, of which the temple stood as visible symbol and material type.
In olden times the people of Israel were distinguished among nations as the builders of sanctuaries to the name of the living God. This service was specifically required of them by Jehovah, whom they professed to serve. The history of Israel as a nation dates from the exodus. During the two centuries of their enslavement in Egypt, the children of Jacob had grown to be a numerous and powerful people; nevertheless they were in bondage. In due time, however, their sorrows and supplications came up before the Lord, and He led them forth by the outstretched arm of power. No sooner had they escaped from the environment of Egyptian idolatry, than they were required to prepare a sanctuary, wherein Jehovah would manifest His presence and make known His will as their accepted Lord and King.
The Tabernacle, which from the time of its construction in the wilderness and thence onward throughout the period of wandering and for centuries thereafter, was sacred to Israel as the sanctuary of Jehovah, had been built according to revealed plan and specifications. It was a compact and portable structure as the exigencies of migration required. Though the Tabernacle was but a tent, it was made of the best, the most prized, and the costliest materials the people possessed. This condition of excellence was appropriate and fitting, for the finished structure was a nation’s offering unto the Lord. Its construction was prescribed in minutest detail, both as to design and material; it was in every respect the best the people could give, and Jehovah sanctified the proffered gift by His divine acceptance. In passing, let us be mindful of the fact that whether it be the gift of a man or a nation, the best, if offered willingly and with pure intent, is always excellent in the sight of God, however poor by other comparison that best may be.
To the call for material wherewith to build the Tabernacle, there was such willing and liberal response that the need was more than met: “For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.” Proclamation was made accordingly, and the people were restrained from bringing more. The artificers and workmen engaged in the making of the Tabernacle were designated by direct revelation, or chosen by divinely appointed authority with special reference to their skill and devotion. The completed Tabernacle, viewed in relation to its surroundings and considered in connection with the circumstances of its creation, was an imposing structure. Its frames were of rare wood, its inner hangings of fine linen and elaborate embroideries with prescribed designs in blue, purple, and scarlet; its middle and outer curtains of choice skins; its metal parts of brass, silver, and gold.
Outside the Tabernacle, but within its enclosing court, stood the altar of sacrifice and the laver or font. The first apartment of the Tabernacle proper was an outer room, or Holy Place; and beyond this, screened from observation by the second veil, was the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, specifically known as the Holy of Holies. In the appointed order, only the priests were permitted to enter the outer apartment; while to the inner place, the “holiest of all,” none but the high priest might be admitted, and he but once a year, and then only after a long course of purification and sanctification.
Among the most sacred appurtenances of the Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant. This was a casket or chest, made of the best wood obtainable, lined and overlaid with pure gold, and provided with four rings of gold to receive the rods or poles used in carrying the Ark during travel. The Ark contained certain objects of sacred import, such as the golden pot of manna, preserved as a remembrance; and to this were afterward added Aaron’s rod that had budded, and the tablets of stone inscribed by the hand of God. When the Tabernacle was set up in the camp of Israel, the Ark was placed within the inner veil, in the Holy of Holies. Resting upon the Ark was the Mercy Seat, surmounted by a pair of cherubim made of beaten gold. From this seat did the Lord manifest His presence, even as promised before either Ark or Tabernacle had been made: “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.”
No detailed description of the Tabernacle, its appurtenances or furniture, will be attempted at this place; it is sufficient for our present purpose to know that the camp of Israel had such a sanctuary; that it was constructed according to revealed plan; that it was the embodiment of the best the people could give both as to material and workmanship; that it was the offering of the people to their God, and was duly accepted by Him. As shall yet be shown, the Tabernacle was a prototype of the more stable and magnificent Temple by which in course of time it was superseded.
After Israel had become established in the land of promise, when, after four decades of wandering in the wilderness, the covenant people possessed at last a Canaan of their own, the Tabernacle with its sacred contents was given a resting place in Shiloh; and thither came the tribes to learn the will and word of God. Afterward it was removed to Gibeon and yet later to the City of David, or Zion.
David, the second king of Israel, desired and planned to build a house unto the Lord, declaring that it was unfit that he, the king, should dwell in a palace of cedar, while the sanctuary of God was but a tent. But the Lord spake by the mouth of Nathan the prophet, declining the proposed offering, and making plain the fact that to be acceptable unto Him it was not enough that the gift be appropriate, but that the giver must also be worthy. David, king of Israel, though in many respects a man after God’s own heart, had sinned; and his sin had not yet found atonement. Thus spake the king: “I had in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building: But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood.” Nevertheless, David was permitted to gather material for the House of the Lord, which edifice not he, but Solomon, his son, should build.
Soon after Solomon’s accession to the throne he set about the labor, which, as heritage and honor, had come to him with his crown. He laid the foundation in the fourth year of his reign, and the building was completed within seven years and a half. With the great wealth accumulated by his kingly father and specifically reserved for the building of the Temple, Solomon was able to put the known world under tribute, and to enlist the co-operation of nations in his great undertaking. The temple workmen numbered scores of thousands, and every depart- ment was in charge of master craftsmen. To serve on the great structure in any capacity was an honor; and labor acquired a dignity never before recognized. Masonry became a profession, and the graded orders therein established have endured until this day. The erection of the Temple of Solomon was an epoch-making event, not alone in the history of Israel, but in that of the world.
According to commonly accepted chronology, the Temple was finished about 1005 B. C. In architecture and construction, in design and costliness, it is known as one of the most remarkable buildings in history. The dedicatory services lasted seven days-a week of holy rejoicing in Israel. With fitting ceremony, the Tabernacle of the Congregation and the sacred Ark of the Covenant were brought into the Temple; and the Ark was deposited in the inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. The Lord’s gracious acceptance was manifest in the cloud that filled the sacred chambers as the priests withdrew: “So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.” Thus did the Temple supersede and include the Tabernacle, of which, indeed, it was the gorgeous successor.
A comparison of the plan of Solomon’s Temple with that of the earlier Tabernacle shows that in all essentials of arrangement and proportion the two were so nearly alike as to be practically identical. True, the Tabernacle had but one enclosure, while the Temple was surrounded by courts, but the inner structure itself, the Temple proper, closely followed the earlier design. The dimensions of the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the Porch, were in the Temple exactly double those of the corresponding parts in the Tabernacle.
The glorious pre-eminence of this splendid structure was of brief duration. Thirty-four years after its dedication, and but five years subsequent to the death of Solomon, its decline began; and this decline was soon to develop into general spoliation, and finally to become an actual desecration. Solomon the king, the man of wisdom, the master-builder, had been led astray by the wiles of idolatrous women, and his wayward ways had fostered iniquity in Israel. The nation was no longer a unit; there were factions and sects, parties and creeds, some worshipping on the hill-tops, others under green trees, each party claiming excellence for its own particular shrine. The Temple soon lost its sanctity. The gift became depreciated by the perfidy of the giver, and Jehovah withdrew His protecting presence from the place no longer holy.
The Egyptians, from whose bondage the people had been delivered, were again permitted to oppress Israel. Shishak, king of Egypt, captured Jerusalem-the city of David and the site of the Temple-”and he took away the treasures of the house of the Lord.” Part of the aforetime sacred furniture left by the Egyptians was taken by others, and bestowed upon idols. The work of desecration continued through centuries. Two hundred and sixteen years after the Egyptian spoliation, Ahaz, king of Judah, robbed the Temple of some remaining treasures, and sent part of its remnant of gold and silver as a present to a pagan king whose favor he sought to gain. Furthermore, he removed the altar and the font, and left but a house where once had stood a Temple. Later, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, completed the despoiling of the Temple, and carried away its few remaining treasures. He then destroyed the building itself by fire.
Thus, about six hundred years before the earthly advent of our Lord, Israel was left without a Temple. The people had divided; there were two kingdoms-Israel and Judah-each at enmity with the other; they had become idolatrous and altogether wicked; the Lord had rejected them and their sanctuary. The Kingdom of Israel, comprising approximately ten of the twelve tribes, had been made subject to Assyria about 721 B. C., and a century later the Kingdom of Judah was subdued by the Babylonians. For seventy years the people of Judah-thereafter known as Jews-remained in captivity, even as had been predicted. Then, under the friendly rule of Cyrus and Darius they were permitted to return to Jerusalem, and once more to rear a Temple in accordance with their faith. In remembrance of the director of the work, the restored Temple is known in history as the Temple of Zerubbabel. The foundations were laid with solemn ceremony; and on that occasion living veterans who remembered the earlier Temple, wept with joy. In spite of legal technicalities and other obstructions, the work continued, and within twenty years after their return from captivity the Jews had a Temple ready for dedication. The Temple of Zerubbabel was finished 515 B. C., specifically on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. The dedicatory services followed immediately. While this Temple was greatly inferior in richness of finish and furniture as compared with the splendid Temple of Solomon, it was nevertheless the best the people could build, and the Lord accepted it as an offering typifying the love and devotion of His covenant children. In proof of this Divine acceptance, witness the ministrations of such prophets as Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi, within its walls.