1 Kings 6 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

1 Kings 6
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Chapters 6 and 7 form a section almost technically descriptive of the Temple and other building works of Solomon, (a) The general account of the building of the Temple occupies 1 Kings 6; (b) to this succeeds a briefer description of the other works of Solomon (1 Kings 7:1-12); (c) lastly, we have a full and detailed description of the work of Hiram for the ornaments and furniture of the Temple (1 Kings 7:13-51). The whole may be compared with 2 Chronicles 3, 4, with the account in Josephus (Antt. viii. 3), and with the descriptions (in Exodus 25-27, 35-38) of the Tabernacle, which determined the construction of the Temple in many points. With some variations, depending on the nature of the prophetic vision, it may also be illustrated from Ezekiel 40-46. On the details of these chapters there has been much learned discussion; but most light has been thrown on it by the articles in the Dictionary of the Bible (TEMPLE, PALACE, JERUSALEM), written by Mr. Fergusson, who unites with antiquarian learning extensive acquaintance with the history and the details of architecture.

And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
(1) In the fourth year.—This date, given with marked precision, forms a most important epoch in the history of Israel, on which, indeed, much of the received chronology is based. In the LXX., 440 is read for 480, possibly by an interchange of two similar Hebrew letters, or, perhaps, by reckoning from the completion of Exodus at the death of Moses instead of its beginning. The Vulgate agrees with the Hebrew text. Josephus, on the other hand, without any hint of any other reckoning in the Scriptural record, gives 592 years. The date itself, involving some apparent chronological difficulties, has been supposed to be an interpolation; but without any sufficient ground, except Josephus’s seeming ignorance of its existence, and some early quotations of the passage by Origen and others without it; and in neglect of the important fact that, disagreeing prima fâcie with earlier chronological indications in Scripture, it is infinitely unlikely to have been thus interpolated by any mere scribe.

These indications are, however, vague. The period includes the conquest and rule of Joshua, the era of the Judges down to Samuel, the reigns of Saul and David, and the three years of Solomon’s reign already elapsed. Now, of these divisions, only the last three can be ascertained with any definiteness, at about 83 years. The time occupied by the conquest and rule of Joshua, cannot be gathered with any certainty from Scripture. The same is the case with the duration of some of the subsequent Judgeships. Even the numerous chronological notices given in the Book of Judges are inconclusive. We cannot tell whether they are literally accurate, or, as the recurrence of round numbers may seem to suggest, indefinite expressions for long periods; nor can we determine how far the various Judgeships were contemporaneous or successive. The tradition followed by St. Paul (Acts 13:19-21), assigning to the whole a period of 450 years, agrees generally with the latter idea. The genealogies given (as, for example, of David, in Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 2:3-15, and elsewhere) agree with the former. Hence, these vague chronological statistics cannot constitute a sufficient ground for setting aside a date so formally and unhesitatingly given at an important epoch of the history, corresponding to the equally formal determination of the date of the Exodus in Exodus 12:40-41. The omission of the date in quotations, again, proves little. The different date given by Josephus, without any notice of that which we now have, presents the only real difficulty. But it is possible that he may have been inclined tacitly to harmonise his chronology with some other reckoning known in his time among the heathen; and in any case it is doubtful whether his authority can outweigh that of our present text and the ancient versions. On the whole, therefore, the grounds assigned for rejection of the chronological notice of this verse, are insufficient.

And the house which king Solomon built for the LORD, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.
(2) The length.—By comparison with Exodus 26:16-23, we find that the Temple itself was in all its proportions an exact copy of the Tabernacle, each dimension being doubled, and the whole, therefore, in cubical contents, eight times the size. It was, therefore—whatever measure we take for the cubit—a small building. Taking the usual calculation of eighteen inches for the cubit, the whole would be ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high—not larger than a good-sized parish church, and in proportion not unlike a church of Gothic construction. It is, indeed, curious to note that this likeness is carried out in the existence of the porch (which is even represented in 2 Chronicles 3:4 as rising into a lofty entrance tower), the division of the house into two parts, like a nave and chancel, the provision of something like aisles (though opening outwards) and of clerestory windows, and the high pitch of the roof. This resemblance is probably not mere coincidence; for in the old Freemasonry, which had a great influence on mediaeval architecture, the plan of Solomon’s Temple was taken in all its details as a sacred guide. The “Oracle” or Most Holy place, was lower than the rest, forming an exact cube of thirty feet; the height of the Holy place (sixty feet long and thirty feet wide) is not given, but was probably the same, so that there would be an upper chamber over the whole under the roof—which, like that of the Tabernacle, appears to have been a high-pitched roof—fifteen feet high along the central beam, with sloping sides. This is apparently alluded to in 2 Chronicles 3:9, and possibly in 2 Kings 23:12, and in the remark of Josephus, “There was another building erected over it, equal in its measures.” The Temple was, in fact, only a shrine for the ministering priests—the outer court, or courts, being the place for the great assembly of the congregation—and it relied for magnificence not on size, but on costliness of material and wealth of decoration.

And the porch before the temple of the house, twenty cubits was the length thereof, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was the breadth thereof before the house.
(3) The porch was thirty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. The height is not here given; but in the present text of 2 Chronicles 3:4 (followed by some MSS. of the LXX., and by Josephus) it is made 120 cubits, or 180 feet. This height is hardly in accordance with anything else known on ancient architecture. It is, however, not at all unlike the western tower of a Gothic church.

And for the house he made windows of narrow lights.
(4) Windows of narrow lights.—The marginal reading, “windows broad within and narrow without”—splayed as in ordinary Gothic architecture—is supported by very good authorities; but the most probable meaning is “windows with fixed beams”—that is, with fixed lattices, like jalousies, useful for ventilation, but immovable, so that no one could look out or in.

And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the oracle: and he made chambers round about:
(5-10) The general meaning of these verses is clear, though some of the words are doubtful. Round three sides of the Temple was built a kind of aisle, opening, however, outwards and not into the Temple, having three storeys of low chambers (each only five cubits high), so arranged that the beams of their roofs were supported on rests on the outside of the wall (each rest being a cubit wide), leaving the wall itself intact. Thus the chambers of the lowest storey were narrowest—five cubits broad; the second storey six cubits, and the highest storey seven cubits broad. The higher storeys (see 1 Kings 6:8), in which the chambers no doubt opened into one another, were approached by a staircase, having an external entrance on the right side of the building; the chambers of the lowest storey probably had external doors of their own. Above the highest storey were still five cubits of wall, which would give room for the windows (like clerestory windows) previously mentioned. Nothing is said of the use of these chambers; but they would be, no doubt, for residence of the priests, stores for the Temple, and furniture.

The word rendered “chambers” in the former part of 1 Kings 6:5 is a singular noun, signifying the whole of this aisle or side building; the “chambers” in the latter part of the verse—properly, “side pieces.” or “ribs denote the separate apartments, or perhaps each of the storeys of the building.

The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house.
And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building.
(7) Neither hammer nor ax . . . heard.—This striking provision, involving much labour, and requiring no little skill, was one of reverence. It may have been suggested by the prohibition (see Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5) of the use of tools on the altar of the Lord. But the idea implied in this prohibition was rather different—viz., the use for the altar of stones in their simple, matural condition, without “pollution” by the art of man. It has been chronicled in Heber’s well-known lines:—

“No workmen’s steel, no ponderous axes rung;

Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric sprung.”

The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.
So he built the house, and finished it; and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar.
(9) And covered—that is, roofed the house with a roof of cedar beams and boarding thereon. Some have supposed that he “covered” the outside walls with cedar, so that the whole should still look like a wooden tabernacle; but this is not necessarily implied, and is in itself unlikely.

And then he built chambers against all the house, five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.
And the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying,
(11-13) In the midst of this architectural description is inserted a brief notice of the Lord’s promise concerning the Temple; which may be compared, and in some degree contrasted, with the fuller utterance given (see 1 Kings 9:3-9) after the consecration was over. Unlike this latter, it is one of simple promise of blessing, with no note of warning. But it is to be observed that, in accordance with the general principle laid down in Jeremiah 18:5-10, the promise—repeating the promises already made to David in 2 Samuel 7:10-15, and to Moses in Exodus 25:8, but with special application to the newly-built Temple—is made strictly conditional on obedience. In its main points, indeed, as working out the great covenant with Abraham for the blessing of all families of the earth, it was to be in any case fulfilled. But for each generation the enjoyment of the blessings promised was contingent on faith and obedience, and for the whole nation it was from time to time forfeited, until the final destruction of Israel as a nation. Yet even now, St. Paul (Romans 11:29) teaches that for Israel there is still some hope of the ancient promise of blessing.

Concerning this house which thou art in building, if thou wilt walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments to walk in them; then will I perform my word with thee, which I spake unto David thy father:
And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.
So Solomon built the house, and finished it.
And he built the walls of the house within with boards of cedar, both the floor of the house, and the walls of the cieling: and he covered them on the inside with wood, and covered the floor of the house with planks of fir.
(15) Both the floor.—The true reading is that of the margin, agreeing generally with the LXX. and the Vulgate: that “from the floor to the walls of the ceiling” (including in this phrase the surface of the ceiling itself) “he covered all with cedar, and laid the floor with planks of cypress.”

And he built twenty cubits on the sides of the house, both the floor and the walls with boards of cedar: he even built them for it within, even for the oracle, even for the most holy place.
(16, 17) These verses describe the division of the Temple, by a partition from floor to ceiling of cedar wood, into “the Oracle,” or Holy of Holies, occupying twenty cubits of the length, and the rest of the house, exclusive of the porch, occupying forty cubits. The cedar panelling was carved throughout with (see margin) “gourds and open flowers,” probably festooned, as usual in ancient architecture. In all this the influence of the Tyrian architects was probably felt.

And the house, that is, the temple before it, was forty cubits long.
And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops and open flowers: all was cedar; there was no stone seen.
And the oracle he prepared in the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD.
And the oracle in the forepart was twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and twenty cubits in the height thereof: and he overlaid it with pure gold; and so covered the altar which was of cedar.
(20) In the forepart.—Although this is a literal translation of the original, the sense is clearly (as the Vulgate renders the phrase) “in the inner part.” Gesenius supposes the meaning to be properly, “the wall facing the entrance;” thence the opposite, or “inner,” wall or region.

Covered the altar . . .—Our translators have been misled by the context to anticipate what is said below (1 Kings 6:22). The meaning is “he covered the altar” (presumably of stone) “with cedar.”

(20-22) These verses describe the overlaying with pure gold of the panelling of the house and of the Oracle, the partition dividing them, and the altar of incense. Even the floor was similarly covered. (See 1 Kings 6:30.)

So Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold: and he made a partition by the chains of gold before the oracle; and he overlaid it with gold.
(21) He made a partition by (the) chains of gold before the oracle.—This phrase is difficult. The LXX. and Vulg. have wholly different readings; but our translation appears to be substantially correct, and to signify either that Solomon made a chain-work decoration on the partition, or (perhaps more probably) that he made a golden chain to go across the entrance in the partition before the Oracle, in front of the veil, so as to be an additional guard against intrusion.

And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until he had finished all the house: also the whole altar that was by the oracle he overlaid with gold.
(22) The whole altar that was by (or belonged to) the oracle.—This is the altar of incense, which, although it stood (see Exodus 30:6; Exodus 40:26) before the veil, and therefore in the Holy place, was considered to belong in idea rather to the Holy of Holies; since the offering of incense on it signified the approach by worship to the unseen presence of God, symbolised in the darkness and silence of the inner shrine; and the taking of the censer from it was a condition for the actual entrance into the Holy of Holies on the great Day of Atonement. Hence in Exodus 40:5 the altar is said to be “set before the ark of the testimony,” and here to “belong to the oracle.” Probably this is the explanation of the well-known passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (1 Kings 9:4), where the Holiest place is said to have “had the altar of incense” (wrongly rendered “censer” in our Authorised Version).

And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.
(23) Cherubim.—These were copied from the Tabernacle, but apparently with some differences, over and above the necessary increase of size, and the change of material from solid gold to olive-wood overlaid with gold. In Exodus 25:18-20; Exodus 37:7-9, they are described as having their faces towards the mercy-seat, and covering the mercy-seat with their wings. Here, from the careful description of the outstretched wings, of ten cubits in width for each cherub, meeting in the midst of the house and touching the walls, it would seem that they must have been turned so as to face the entrance. The cherubim over the ark are described only in three places in the Old Testament—in the passages in Exodus, here, and in the parallel 2 Chronicles 3:10-13, and in those great visions of the priestly prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4-25; Ezekiel 10:1-22) which have determined the imagery of the Apocalypse. In no case is their form distinctly mentioned, unless, by comparison of Ezekiel 10:14-15 with Ezekiel 1:10, it may be inferred to have been the form of a winged bull; whence would be naturally derived the golden calves of the idolatry introduced into Israel in the time of Jeroboam. Josephus, indeed, in his description of the Temple (Antt. viii. c. 3, § 3), expressly says that “no one can tell, or even conjecture, of what shape the cherubim were.” The tradition, therefore, must have been lost in the Second Temple, where there was no ark; and this is the more strange, because in Exodus 26:1 the cherubim are said to have been represented in the embroidery of the curtains, and here (in 1 Kings 6:32; 1 Kings 6:35) to have been similarly carved on the walls.

But, whatever the cherubim were, it is certain that they were in no sense representations or emblems of Deity, like the winged figures of Assyria or Egypt, with which they have been often compared. They appear to symbolise the great physical forces of the universe, as guided by superhuman angelic intelligence to serve the supreme will of God. Thus, when first mentioned in Scripture (Genesis 4:24), the cherubim are associated with “the flaming sword, turning every way, to guard the tree of life”; in Psalm 18:10, the Lord is said “to ride upon the cherubim,” and “come flying upon the wings of the wind”; in Ezekiel 1:10, the four living creatures, or cherubim, sustain the throne of God, and bear it away upon their wings; in Revelation 4:6-8; Revelation 5:8-9, the same living creatures unite with the elders representing the Church of redeemed humanity, in worship of the Lord upon His throne. The representation, therefore, of the cherubim in the Temple simply expresses the claim for Jehovah, the God of Israel, of such lordship over all creation as is hymned in the seraphic song of Isaiah 6:3. Possibly the change of attitude of the cherubim in the Temple denoted a change of idea, characteristic of Solomon and his age. The old attitude is clearly that of worship of God: the new rather of manifestation of His glory to man.

And five cubits was the one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the other wing of the cherub: from the uttermost part of the one wing unto the uttermost part of the other were ten cubits.
And the other cherub was ten cubits: both the cherubims were of one measure and one size.
The height of the one cherub was ten cubits, and so was it of the other cherub.
And he set the cherubims within the inner house: and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubims, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.
And he overlaid the cherubims with gold.
And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.
(29) And he carved.—If we take this literally, we must suppose that this carving of the cherubim and the palm-trees, in addition to the general decoration of the “gourds and open flowers,” was spread over all the “walls of the house.” Otherwise we might have supposed it confined to the Oracle “within,” and to the partition “without,” which would seem more appropriate, as the cherubim belonged especially to the Oracle.

And the floor of the house he overlaid with gold, within and without.
And for the entering of the oracle he made doors of olive tree: the lintel and side posts were a fifth part of the wall.
(31) Doors.—The two doors of olive wood, from the Holy place into the Oracle, which as a rule stood open, showing the veil and the golden chains, were of moderate size. If our version (as is probable) is correct, the outside measure of the lintel and post was a fifth part of the wall, that is, four cubits, or six feet. Each door, therefore, would be something less than six feet by three. The description of the gilding states with minute accuracy that in overlaying the whole of these doors with gold, gold was “spread,” that is, made to cover the carvings in relief (the cherubim of 1 Kings 6:35); in the other doors the gold was fitted, probably beaten into shape, over the carved work.

The two doors also were of olive tree; and he carved upon them carvings of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubims, and upon the palm trees.
(32) The two doors.—Those into the Holy place from the porch, of cypress wood, were naturally made larger. The posts were a fourth of the wall. Hence, according as the wall is taken to be 20 cubits square, or 30 cubits high by 20 wide, the height would be 5 cubits (7½ feet), or 7½ cubits (11¼ feet). The width is not given; possibly it is taken to be the same as that of the other doors. As these doors would be much heavier, and more frequently opened and shut, each leaf was made to fold again upon itself.

So also made he for the door of the temple posts of olive tree, a fourth part of the wall.
And the two doors were of fir tree: the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding.
And he carved thereon cherubims and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work.
And he built the inner court with three rows of hewed stone, and a row of cedar beams.
(36) The inner court (probably the “higher court” of Jeremiah 35:10) is described as built round the Temple proper, evidently corresponding to the outer court of the Tabernacle. As this was (see Exodus 27:9-13) 50 cubits by 100, it may be inferred, that by a duplication similar to that of all dimensions of the Temple itself, Solomon’s Court was 100 cubits (or 150 feet) by 200 cubits (or 300 feet), covering a little more than an acre. The verse has been interpreted in two ways: either that the floor of the court was raised by three courses of stone, covered with a planking of cedar, or (as Josephus understands it) enclosed by a wall of three courses of stone, with a coping of cedar wood. The latter seems more probable. For in this court stood the altar of burnt offering and the laver, and all sacrifices went on, and this could hardly have been done on a wooden pavement; and besides this we observe that the whole arrangement is (1 Kings 7:12) compared with that of the great outer court of the palace where the wooden pavement would be still more unsuitable. It was what was called afterwards the “Court of the Priests,” and in it (see Ezekiel 40:45) appear to have been chambers for the priests.

The mention of the “inner court” suggests that there was an outer court also. We have in 2 Kings 21:5; 2 Kings 23:12, a reference to the “two courts” of the Temple, and in Ezekiel 40:17; Ezekiel 42:1; Ezekiel 42:8, a mention of the “outward” or “utter court.” Josephus (Antt. viii. 3, § 3) declares that Solomon built beyond the inner court a great quadrangle, erected for it great and broad cloisters, and closed it with golden doors, into which all could enter, “being pure and observant of the laws.” Even beyond this he indicates, though in rather vague and rhetorical language, an extension of the Temple area, as made by Solomon’s great substructures, forming a court less perfectly enclosed, like the Court of the Gentiles in the later Temple. Of these outer courts and cloisters the tradition remained in the assignment of the title of “Solomon’s Porch” to the eastern cloister of the later Temple. It has been thought that in this outer court were planted trees (in spite of the prohibition of Deuteronomy 16:21); and this may have been the case, till the association of idol worship with them made these seem to be unfit for the House of the Lord. But the passages usually quoted to support this view are from the Psalms (Psalm 52:8; Psalm 92:13), of which the former certainly refers to the Tabernacle, and the latter may do so.

In the fourth year was the foundation of the house of the LORD laid, in the month Zif:
(37) Zif (the “brightness of flowers”) corresponds to about May;

And in the eleventh year, in the month Bul, which is the eighth month, was the house finished throughout all the parts thereof, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he seven years in building it.
(38) Bul (the month of “rain”) to about November. The whole time occupied was, therefore, seven years and a half.

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