The Tabernacle and temples recorded in scripture provide us with a wealth of historical and symbolic information about man’s relationship with God. Most Christians have little interest in the mechanical details of the construction of the Tabernacle and temples, much like the genealogical lists in scripture, failing to find relevance in their Christian walks.
Some Biblical scholars have spent a large portion of their lives researching every detail of these buildings, leaving us a treasure trove of facts and symbolic wealth that is still useful to all who follow in their footsteps. Much of what they have left has been of great value to me when compiling this study. I do not intend to parrot dissertations of what my predecessors have already published.
I want to take a different approach in this article about the temples by looking at them as a combined historical account, a biography. Each temple has its history, but we will use each as a stopping point compiling the life of all the temples forming one account. We will examine each one in just enough detail to assemble this biography, illustrating the role the tabernacle and temples have played, indicating man’s relationship with God historically, currently, and in the future.
The temples show the decline of man’s relationship with God through their construction, furnishings, and rituals. The temple’s physical features and the surrounding activities provide valuable clues to this relationship. I plan to focus on only three structures: the original Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and Herod’s temple. We will not be looking at the temples at the time of Ezra, Antiochus Epiphanes, or the Maccabean revolt. Detailed inquiry into them is not necessary for the point of this article.
During our historical journey, we only make brief stops at the Tabernacle and two temples. We will return to each a couple of times, gleaning specific facts and compiling and comparing the spiritual conditions surrounding each one. By this, we hope to construct a timeline, not so much of their physical importance, but of their spiritual significance. Think of this as an inquiry into the cause or causes of a disaster. In our case, the tragedy I’m referring to is the temple’s total destruction in 70 AD. and the facts that culminated in this disaster.
We know from history the Roman army destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, yet Israel was already a vassal state under Roman rule since 37 BC, so why was it not destroyed then? Was it because of a revolt of the Jewish people around this time? Yes, it was—a revolt that began in 66 AD. and culminated in a crushing defeat seven years later. The midway point, or 3 ½ years in, marked the final temple’s destruction date.
Was it a fulfillment of Prophecy? Yes. Foretold by the prophets and emphatically foretold in great detail by Jesus Himself.1 So from this brief account, more than one factor culminated in the temples’ destruction. The temple’s destruction in 70 AD. was not the first time the Temple at Jerusalem had been looted or destroyed. Initially built by Solomon, the temple’s succeeding history contains incidents of looting, ransacking, partial destruction, abandonment, and rebuilding on two other occasions. Then it was desecrated and then ritually cleansed on others. This fact begs the question -‘ why keep rebuilding the temple?’ It must be because the temple represented something more significant than just a building around which to gather for worship.
The temple was the focal of Jewish worship, a physical location to commune with God. The temple provided a place to conduct ritual worship, symbolic of spiritual truths. The Hebrews repaired or rebuilt the temple several times because they thought a physical location was necessary for worship. God, in His mercy, time and time again, would allow the restoration of the temple and meet with His people there. But each time between destruction and repair, the spiritual power, the closeness of communion with God diminished until finally; it was no more. This ebb and flow of intimacy with God are why we are considering the temples as a whole, and by doing so, we can track this growing separation between God and His people.
We will begin at the beginning with the Tabernacle of Exodus. Most Christians have a basic knowledge of the Tabernacle. It was a portable structure housed under a protective tent constructed shortly after the delivery of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, surrounded by courtyard 150 feet by 75 feet bordered by a fence comprised of wood posts and linen panels 7 ½ feet tall when assembled.
There was no gate in the courtyard fence, just an opening shielded by another linen panel of a different color and of much finer composite, slightly wider than the opening, effectively marking the courtyard entrance. I believe, as well as other Biblical scholars, this panel was not directly connected to the rest of the courtyard wall but stood out from it a few feet (approximately 15), providing an entrance on both sides of the rear of the screen while maintaining a border.
I often wondered the why of the design of this entrance. Shmuel Elisha so eloquently explains it this way:
“Unlike a city gate which can be closed to protect the people and is part of the walled complex, the screen of the gate to Elohim is not so. The Gate to Him is always open never closed and is not part of the tabernacle wall. Why? Because the Holy One defends His gate. He does not need men to defend it. This is understood in the Hebraic understanding of the sentence.”
In the courtyard, other than the tent-covered tabernacle was the alter of sacrifice, which burned continually, and a bronze laver placed between the alter and the tabernacle where the priests were to wash their hands and feet before entering into the Holy place (the first interior room of the tabernacle).
The altar of sacrifice was 4-1/2 feet (3 cubits) high, requiring some portable steps or incline for the Priest to work the altar’s surface effectively. There is no mention of such an article, so it is a practical speculation as to precisely what it was. Most Hebrew scholars believe this was a small platform with a ramp. The use of steps approaching an altar was forbidden, based on a related command2.
The tabernacle itself was a portable structure measuring 45 feet (30 cubits) long by 15 feet (10 cubits) wide, divided into two rooms, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, separated by a veil (curtain). The Holy of Holies contained the ark of the covenant and its contents. It was the place the High Priest would enter once a year and meet the presence of God. The other priests could only visit the outer room or Holy Place daily to perform their various duties.
We will not discuss these rooms, their contents, the rituals, and their meanings in great detail, but we will note some liberties taken by the builders. We will begin with the construction details and ordinances, looking for God’s approval or disapproval of their completed design.
So here’s the first question in three parts: who ordered the Tabernacle complex’s construction, who decided its specifications, and who was in charge of its construction? The immediate answer to all of these questions is God Himself.
Moses receives the construction blueprints while on Mount Sinai. “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”3 God gives Moses a mental set of plans for building the Tabernacle, the courtyard, its furnishings, and what materials to use in crafting each item, and reminds Moses of the exactness required three additional times.4
We further find God selects who is to be foreman over the artisans constructing all of these components. Bezalel, Uri’s son, is chosen as the foreman and Aholiab as his second. God equips them to carry out their assigned tasks.
“I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship,”5.
As to Aholiab and his workmen, “And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you:”6
God creates the design, chooses the men and women who would do the work, and equips each of them with the gifts and talents necessary. How great is our God! God gives us all that is required to carry out the task appointed at the same time He calls us, yet how often do we fail to go because we lack faith in the abilities God has provided for us?
God expresses His approval once all the work is complete and the sanctuary sanctified as instructed. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”7
The design given, the plans followed, the workers chosen and given the insight and abilities to complete the work correctly, culminating in God’s approval. Under these conditions, God could dwell among His chosen people, and His presence would continue, signified by fire by night and a cloud during the day.
Moving forward in time, after the Hebrews settled in the promised land, King David desires to build a permanent house for God, “that the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.”8
Remembering King David as a man after God’s own heart, one would think this would be a natural course of events. God’s people now reside in the land promised to Abraham’s descendants, and they have a king who has successfully gained peace for the Hebrews. But David was denied that desire.
God instructed Moses to build a sanctuary; David sought permission to build a house for God. The reason for denial is given in the Biblical narrative by David himself; “But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me.” 9 During the denial, God tells David a descendant of his will be appointed to build the House of God.10 It will be a man of peace, not of war. David assumes God’s decree refers to his son Solomon, whose name means peace.
Understanding Solomon is God’s designated builder, David relays the plans to Solomon. Then in preparation for its construction, assembles and warehouses the materials necessary for the temple’s completion. Knowing vast amounts of stone will be needed to construct the temple and that quarrying and shaping the stone blocks is one of the most time-consuming parts of the temple’s construction, David begins this process in advance.
When completed, this temple would be a thing of beauty. Its dimensions (inside) are 90 feet long X 30 feet wide X 45 feet tall. A 15-foot deep porch spanned the entire front of the temple, flanked by 2 27 foot pillars of bronze. The temple is wrapped on three sides by three stories of rooms for storing goods required for ritual and various priestly functions.
The inside of the temple, the Holy Place, was overlayed with cedar and adorned with decorated gold panels. In the Holy of Holies, 30 feet X 30 feet X 30 feet, the walls and ceiling were also covered with cedar and overlayed with gold plating. The floor of the temple is covered in cypress. Two massive cherubim would occupy the Holy of Holies along with the ark of the covenant. Each cherub had two wings; with one outstretched wing, they would touch one another. With the opposite wing, they would touch the wall. The Ark of the Covenant would reside under the two wings that meet together.
Two doors made of olive wood are now used in conjunction with the veil, which separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The entrance to the Holy place, where woven curtains once were used, is now replaced by massive bi-fold doors. Just outside is the portico (or porch), and opening into the inner court (Court of Praise), the laver the priests used for washing before entering the temple was replaced by an enormous bronze sea (or shallow bowl, in shape similar to a bird bath) 15 feet across. Its size required smaller carts with lavers to keep the sea full of water, 10 in all.
Beyond the laver, we find the bronze altar of sacrifice 30 feet X 30 feet X 15 feet high. A courtyard surrounds all of this. The temple, constructed on Mt Moriah, approximately 2400 feet above sea level, would make it visible for miles. Unlike the original Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple is manned by an army of priests, musicians, singers, gatekeepers, and others.
Posing the same question as I asked regarding the Tabernacle, who ordered the temple’s construction? And who participated in its construction?
The answer to the first question is both simple and complicated. Undoubtedly, David ordered the temple’s construction, being his desire for quite a while. Acutely aware of all of the beautiful things God had done for him, David wanted to do something for God. Some would consider it an act of penance, others of love. Unfortunately, even our best intentions have spiritual consequences that are more harmful than good. And today, those who love God want to do something in recompense for all He has done for us.
One of the many facets of the manifold grace of God is He allows and even supports our efforts. But those efforts are both conditional and consequential. So you see, David ordered the temple’s construction, and God, by His grace, allowed it. And the first condition of this allowance is that Solomon would build the temple.
God’s allowance comes with another condition in the form of a warning -since the people would consider the temple the focal point of communion and, in some ways, replace personal communion with ritual. It would become Israel’s spiritual barometer, showing, in physical form, the spiritual pleasure or displeasure of God with the Hebrews.11
David passes the plans on to Solomon, leaving him ample materials to begin its construction. David quarried an abundance of stone and stockpiled vast quantities of timber, silver, gold, and bronze, which would be at Solomon’s disposal. So the answer to the second part of the question, who built the temple? Men who are chosen by Solomon, not God.
After requesting and receiving wisdom from God, Solomon realizes that to make David’s dream a reality, specific skills would be required to complete the temple’s furnishings and decor, which the Hebrews didn’t possess. Alfred Edershiem puts it this way “Israel, as a nation, was not intended to attain preeminence either in art or science. If we may pronounce on such a matter, this was the part assigned, in the Providence of God, to the Gentile world.” 12
Solomon, therefore, called on King Hiram of Tyre to provide the additional materials and artisans necessary to make the temple unmatched in ornate beauty. The scripture tells us of intricate carvings of cherubim statues and detailed carvings on the temple’s interior walls—the complex metalwork in the gold that overlaid these carvings. There were castings of bronze, gold chains, and gold vines bearing fruit. Elaborate lattice work in wood would cover the window slits in the temple. There had never been, and never would again be, a temple like this one. The cost of the materials alone staggers the mind.
Solomon strikes a deal with King Hiram. King Hiram would provide the talent and materials in exchange for his kingdom’s provisions (foodstuff and the like). Solomon would assemble a workforce totaling 160,000 men. Thirty thousand of them were slaves. Not a good thing considering they were building a house for God. This fact alone would forever be a stain on this and future temples.
Were are told of two men with the architectural and artistic abilities required to make David’s vision a reality. The first man, Huram-Abi,13, whose father was from Tyre and whose mother, a Hebrew from the tribe of Dan, would oversee the works of wood, gold, ceramic, and cloth. The second man, Hiram,14, whose father was also from Tyre and whose mother, a Hebrew from the tribe of Naphtali, would oversee the heavy works in bronze.
This monumental achievement, this temple of unrivaled magnificence, would forever change the relationship between the Hebrews and God. The temple would also become a symbol of national pride. A feeling very human, very natural. Who wouldn’t be proud of such an achievement in their nation? The Hebrews failed to recognize the danger of the spiritual harm of the two words national pride. The temple would become an inseparable link to the Hebrews from this day forward.
Thus far, the differences between the original Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple are apparent. God ordered the Tabernacle’s construction and selected the workers responsible for it. Solomon’s temple was allowed by God and constructed by men chosen by Solomon, many of which were slaves, overseen by men provided by the King of Tyre, a non-Hebrew. In the following sections, we will look at other differences and indicators of note. But for now, we will mention but two.
The first is the funding of the temple versus the Tabernacle. The scriptures tell us an offering by the people funded the Tabernacle. The offering was so great that what they offered exceeded the requirements for completion. With Solomon’s temple, there was no offering; its funding came from taxation.
While it is true that King David left most of his fortune to Solomon for the construction of the temple and much of the building materials, this was still tax money or money acquired from conquest. Because Israel was a theocracy, taxation for religious purposes was proper, but was any inquiry made to the people about their supporting the effort? Or was it mandated? And how did the citizenry feel about the costly extravagance of the temple’s construction?
The second difference is in the form of a question; who thought it appropriate to place the two cherubim in the Holy of Holies along with the ark of the covenant? Graven images set in the Holy of Holies flanking the ark of the covenant? I cannot help but believe this was not only an unwanted design but purely an act of arrogance by Solomon.
The high Priest was the only person who would see these massive gold-covered cherubim after the construction completion, so what is the point of their addition? Vain works—self-inspired efforts having dire spiritual consequences.
More on this matter later. Now we will turn our attention to the next temple in our journey, King Herod’s temple, standing at the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The temple itself would be a completely new construction on the original sight of Solomon’s temple. A little about Herod is in order and will, by the facts given, provide the apparent contrast between this builder and the previous ones.
Herod became king of Judea around 40 BC through an appointment by the Roman leader Mark Anthony. Herod was not a Jew; he was an Edomite—Edomites, the enemies of Israel since ancient times, originating with Esau. Herod wished to be accepted and adored as a proselyte Jew, but his wishes could not erase the fact his heritage was that of a people who were enemies of the Jews. Image your enemy building a house of worship for you!
Many might consider Herod’s efforts a noble reconciliation between the ruler and the ruled. Still, it seems to be a purely political move, which will be born out in the construction details. Herod was a megalomaniac and expressed his megalomania in his never-ceasing construction of temples, palaces, seaports, fortresses, and entire cities.
The Jewish religious leaders, all too aware of Herod’s desire to be an accepted proselyte, used this to their advantage. Once Herod informed the Jews of his intention to build the house for God, the Jews insisted that the Holy of Holies be constructed solely by Levitical priests. Herod complied. But since the Levitical priests were neither carpenters nor masons, they would have to be trained to complete their tasks.
This training took two years of preparation, and a further requirement was these same construction priests would have to wear the sacerdotal robes of the priesthood described in the book of Exodus while construction took place. Again Herod complied and had clothing made for the 1,000 priests who were to build the Holy of Holies.15
After two years of training and preparation, construction began in 18 B.C. The building would follow the rules laid down during the construction of Solomon’s temple, meaning the stones were quarried and sized off-site, then brought to the site and assembled, so there would be no noise of chiseling, hammering, or sawing on the temple site itself.
While the footprint of the temple would be the same as that of Solomon’s temple, it would be ten cubits higher, making it 60 feet tall. The Holy of Holies was, as was Solomon’s temple, 20 cubits x 20 cubits x20 cubits high. The difference between the inside and outside dimensions meant another large room above the Holy of Holies. Some evidence suggests Herod had designs for using this room for his occupation. And while this was impossible to accomplish because he was not a Levitical priest, it would be possible because he was a king.
But Herod never pursued the matter, and as far as we know, the space above the Holy of Holies remained empty. The most remarkable difference between Solomon’s and Herod’s temples, other than the lack of exquisite gold ornamentation and the now-missing ark of the covenant, was the size of the courtyard. While Solomon’s courtyard had 500 cubits on each side (approximately 14 acres total), Herod’s courtyard was a trapezoid-shaped walled platform covering about 36 acres.16
The size and number of various courtyards surrounding Herod’s temple would speak to the political more than their spiritual importance. Herod’s temple was nearing completion just before his death. The scripture indicates the temple’s completion took 46 years. However, these 46 years only count from the beginning of construction until Jesus made His prophetic statement about the temple’s eventual destruction.
The construction of Herod’s temple is complete to the point it’s functional for purposes of worship. Just before his death, Herod placed a giant golden eagle over the gate to the temple complex, much to the chagrin of the Jews. Herod’s son Archelaus took over his father’s place as the new king of Judea. But while he was in Rome seeking to secure his kingship, the Jews tore down and chopped up Herod’s golden eagle.
A revolt ensued, and the Roman army arrived to quell the uprising. As a result of the confrontation, 1200 feet of the portico are destroyed. In addition to this destruction, thousands of Jews were either butchered on the temple grounds or crucified. This uprising eventually resulted in Archelaus’s removal from power and his brother Antipas installed as Tetrarch of the Judean region.
Herod Antipas was not interested in using state funds for the temple mount’s repair, and those repairs would be at the temple treasury’s expense. Because of the reduced revenues available, this rebuild would stretch the construction or rebuild time to the 46 years mentioned in Mathew. Workers only completed the finishing details of Herod’s temple some five years before its final destruction in 70 A.D.
Now that we have outlined the construction details of the Tabernacle and two temple’s lets return to the Tabernacle. We will glean specific facts and details which will form a picture of the temple and how these details culminate in the temple being an indicator of the spiritual condition of God’s people.
This article is not a deep dive into the Tabernacle’s symbolism of the coming Messiah. That is a study of its own. But I do want to point out the instructions God gave to Moses to make the dwelling of God amongst His people possible at the time. We will also note other liberties the builders took in the Temple of Solomon construction, distorting the original symbolism and indicating the sliding away from God.
To recap – God orders the Tabernacle’s construction, relaying its plans, furnishing designs, and ordinances to Moses. God also chooses the master artisans and gives them the knowledge and ability to carry out the techniques described. The materials required for its construction were either locally available or donated by the people. Donations from the Hebrews underwrote the cost of the entire structure. The offerings the people gave were so great they finally had to be stopped.
Once Moses completed the work on the tabernacle, and Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests, immediately, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” And “For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”17
Note there were no long prayers of dedication, no formal commencement of the ceremony, just completion of God’s instruction, and God’s stamp of approval signified by His Glory filling and resting on the tabernacle.
Moving on to Solomon’s temple, we recall King David’s desire to build a ‘house for God.’ And we find God’s response to this desire in II Samuel 7:7 via the prophet Nathan, “Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of Cedar?” God refused David’s request but would allow his son Solomon to build it.
God denied David because he was “a man of war” and “had blood on his hands.” You may ask yourself, ‘Why would this disqualify David?’ There’s an ancient tradition that victorious warriors would build temples dedicated to whatever God or goddess that warrior worshiped. Win a battle and build a temple. Victorious generals continued this practice even past Roman times.
God would have none of that. The victory of the Hebrews in their conquest and occupation of the promised land was solely by the grace of God and not of any significant accomplishment on their part. Surely they would be active participants, as is required in any act of faith, but the victory was God’s alone. No, the temple’s construction would only be allowed while Israel was at peace under the kingship of Solomon.
We have already mentioned a few differences between the construction of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Here are some others on our second round. I previously mentioned the arrogance of the building and the inclusion of cherubim statues in the Holy of Holies, but there is more. This decision was a mistake in calculation, which resulted in not only a construction blunder but changed some of the symbolism of the Holy of Holies by the positioning of the ark of the covenant.
The ark alone occupied the original Holy of Holies. The mercy seat, which is a space overshadowed by two cherubim, which formed its base and a lid for the ark. Now we find the addition of two more cherubim above the mercy seat, adding a layer of separation. Two giant cherubim stretched their wings over the existing cherubim. To put it another way, a layer of religion has been added.
The two cherubim statues each have a wingspan of 10 cubits. With one wing each, the cherubim touched the opposing wall, and with the other wing, they joined one another over the ark of the covenant. Their entire wing span was 20 cubits, the same width as the Holy of Holies. Their bodies faced the Holy place, yet their faces turned inward. The space between the two was ten cubits, and the ark was to be placed between them, allowing their joined wings to shelter the ark.
Here’s when the mistake is recognized and alterations made. The ark’s length, including its poles, measured at least 10.5 feet, more likely 12 feet long. Their length had to be adequate so that those who bore the ark could do so without the risk of touching it, which was forbidden, and they were never to be removed. The ark was supposed to be placed between the cherubim, but it wouldn’t fit! Not only was the temple’s layout specific, but the placement of the articles in the temple was also specific. The ark’s long side was to face the holy place. Since it wouldn’t fit, the ark had to be rotated 90 degrees leaving the poles protruding from behind the veil.18
Another construction detail reflects the inclusion of pagan design, as if the addition of two cherubim wasn’t bad enough. We now find there are two free-standing pillars at the entrance to the temple. Each pillar, made of bronze, was 18 cubits (27 feet) tall, with a capital five cubits (7.5 feet) high, and topped with a four-cubit (6 feet) high capital shaped like a lily.19
While pillars used in the construction of temples and buildings were not uncommon, they were always used as decorative supports for roofs and lintels. We find these pillars are free-standing, which is of pagan origin. Solomon even names the pillars. The one on the right he names Jachin (meaning to establish). And the one on the left he names Boaz (meaning strength).20
Now at first glance, and some have argued, this meant God was establishing the strength of His kingdom through the lineage of David. However, the literal implication of this naming actually means, ‘God will establish this temple and make it firm,’ or ‘Through it (the temple), Israel will be strong.’21
This revelation directly indicates the Hebrews tying their spiritual being to a physical structure. And named pillars are not only pagan; God instructs the Hebrews to destroy such objects of pagan worship. “And you shall destroy their alters, break their sacred pillars.”22
Even at this, God was gracious and accepted Solomon’s temple, confirmed by the consummation of the sacrifice on the altar by fire and the Glory of the Lord filling the temple. But the Shekinah would not remain in this house as was the case with the Tabernacle. It came once and would not return.
But Solomon (who is not a priest) led a vast and costly dedication ceremony. Thousands of sheep and oxen were offered up as sacrifices spanning the 23 days of dedication. Afterward, the people departed. A large and lavish religious convocation involving hundreds, if not thousands, of participants. At the same time, the priests were to handle the sacrifices and the placement of the temple furnishings, which were far more numerous than the original Tabernacle’s furnishings.
Solomon’s temple will be the hinge point in our study, a visible indicator of the spiritual condition of God’s people, a barometer, if you will. Looking back to the Tabernacle as the ‘gold standard’ compared to those which followed. Forward to Herod’s temple, we have no record of any dedication ceremony, possibly because Herod’s temple remained incomplete until just before its destruction long after Herod the Great had died. And there is no scriptural evidence God’s glory ever appeared there.
The mistakes made in the Holy of Holies and the subsequent modifications of the placement of the ark of the covenant was not the only compromise made. During the construction of the temple and the king’s house, Solomon needed additional gold (120 talents). So he makes a deal with King Hiram. Hiram is to assist in obtaining the required gold. In return, Solomon would give him 20 cities in the Galilee region.23
What a terrible comprise by a king who was the wisest of the wise. Solomon gives Hiram 20 cities of the promised land in exchange for gold. The promised land, given to the Hebrews by God via the promise made to Abraham, was sold as common property. These 20 cities, in Asher’s portion, were a land very close to where our savior would grow up.
Recalling God denied David’s desire to build a house for God because he was a man of war with blood on his hands; Herod was worse. And there is no historical account of Herod seeking the counsel of God. Herod the Great, responsible for the massacre of the infants in and around Bethlehem to prevent the coming Messiah, would be the man whose temple this was. Herod is also guilty of having members of his own family executed.
And lest you think Herod the Great was making an effort of reconciliation towards God by his temple building for the Jews, you should know he also built three temples of worship for Augustus Caesar, one of which is in Caesarea Philippi. The exact place where the Lord Jesus would post His famous question to His disciples, “Who do the people say the Son of man is?”24
No, the motivation for Herod’s temple was purely political. An opportunity to satisfy his obsession with building monuments to himself, impressing Caesar, and maintaining peace in the region he was responsible for. None of the details about what kind of man Herod was was a determent to the Jews. They were all too willing to accept this temple no matter how much Jewish blood was on Herod’s hands.
While Herod would make concessions on the temple structure itself, namely the Holy of Holies, the exterior, and the courtyards were all his. Five separate enclosures make up this massive 36-acre complex. That’s where the political notoriety would come from. The expansive courtyards, designed to ensure everyone was in their proper place and is how organized religion is supposed to be, right? By this time, the caste system of the priesthood was well on its way to becoming established and rejecting any changes to caste or authority.
First, there was the Court of the Faithful. Both Jews and Gentiles were allowed. Our Lord Jesus would spend most of his time at the temple in this court. With the faithful. The commoners. As we move closer to the temple building, the next court is the Treasury Court or the Court of Women. Both men and women were allowed in this court as long as they were Jews.
Third was the Court of Israel, where only Jewish men were allowed. Forth is the Priests’ court, in which only members of the priesthood were allowed. Then finally, the court of the High Priest. These various courts are positionally closest to or away from the temple itself. The closest being the High Priest’s court and ending with the court of the Faithful.
Solomon’s temple grounds only had two courts. The Court of the Priests and the Common Court, otherwise known as Solomon’s court. You can see from the Tabernacle to Herod’s temple the increase of religious complexity, the layers of types and stations of service, the growing isolation between God and His people, the corruption of the builders, and the compromise of the faithful.
We have already discussed the liberties Solomon took in building the temple and the construction mistakes made. Let us now turn our attention to the conversations God has with Solomon regarding the temple he is constructing. The first is, “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in my statutes, execute my judgments, keep all my commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and not forsake my people Israel.”25
Not one single word has anything to do with the temple construction, design, ordinances, officiating, singers, priestly hierarchy, gold, silver, or brass. It’s all about obedience and carrying out God’s will personally and the rest of the people vicariously through Solomon. There is no room for error; God is speaking directly to Solomon, so he is without excuse for understanding God’s will regarding himself and the rest of Israel.
This temple, which seems to be an appeasement to God by the efforts of men, which God did not request but allowed, will reflect the obedience of God’s people to Him from the time of dedication forward in the temple’s physical condition. The following temple’s condition reflecting God’s pleasure or displeasure is not symbolism I contrived. It is a historical fact. At any time, from this temple’s dedication forward, if you want to know what Israel’s precise spiritual condition was, you need only look at the condition of Solomon’s temple. God’s instruction and warning to Solomon would come again at the dedication.
I invite you to read the entire section of I Kings 9:1-9, but we will only site portions for our purposes. “Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and judgments, then.” 26
“But if your sons at all turn from following Me,” 27
“And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and will hiss and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and this house?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the Lord their God.” 28
From historical and scriptural accounts, we know this forsaking is precisely what would and did take place. When the nation of Israel turned away from God, the temple reflected it. There is one other warning relayed to Solomon by God in his second encounter: “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night and said to him: ‘I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.” 29
What are we to surmise from this? Is it God who desires the ordinance of the sacrifice He established during the time of Moses? Or is sacrifice necessary because of man’s sin so that God may dwell with his people whom He loves? The answer to this question is found numerous times in scripture and echoed by our Lord Jesus. David, Solomon’s father, was acutely aware of the ordinance of sacrifice and its place in the hierarchy of importance.
Sacrifice was a necessary ordinance because of sin, but all of the animal and grain sacrifices in the world would not bring man closer to God. The sacrificial offerings were symbolic reminders of man’s sinful condition, but they had their limits. God sought and still seeks for us to realize there is a stark contrast between ceremony and obedience.
That is what God is relaying to Solomon and every would-be follower of Christ. Temples, ordinances, rituals, and offerings all have their place, but they are never to replace what God truly desires, and that is to seek Him with all of our hearts through humility and repentance.
“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from there wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 30
And where was the best place to repent, humble themselves, and pray? At the temple, of course, where many could gather in unity and call upon God. But alas, that would not be the case for long. The sacrifices continued daily and annually as the law of Moses dictated, but it became more of ‘doing your bit for God’ and returning to your secular life. Has it changed much today?
While granting the temple’s construction, God warned Solomon and everyone else that neither a building nor any ritual could ever replace the love of and obedience to God. It wouldn’t be long until Solomon and the nation of Israel would turn away from God and pursue idols. Even when he began straying away from God, Solomon continued his ceremonial practice of offering burnt and peace offerings three times a year. Still, there is no record of his praying and seeking God.
Solomon directly heard from God on two previous occasions and, gifted with wisdom beyond other men, would hear from God once more. “Because you have done this, and not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.” 31
Again there is no mention of the temple in this conversation, only failure of obedience. Even at this, we can assume the rituals at the temple continued as designed. Empty rituals, in which there was no communion with God, for God was no longer there. The warning God issued to Solomon pre-construction would come to pass approximately 40 years later.
From the beginning of the construction of Solomon’s temple, corners were cut, mistakes made, and liberties taken, finally culminating in people thinking the temple was what God sought. Never understanding personal or national obedience was of the most significant importance.
Forty years later, the Egyptian king Shishak invaded Jerusalem. The temple, the house of God, would be stripped of its gold, silver, and precious stones, leaving a stone building with a wooden interior and nothing else. Shishak probably didn’t destroy the temple being polytheistic himself, and thought, why anger any god? Once a vassal state to Israel, Egypt had turned the tables and become the ruling state, fulfilling God’s word in I Kings 11:11.
At this time, the most important object, the heart of the Tabernacle and temple, the ark of the covenant, vanishes from history. And to this day, the ark of the covenant has not been found. There are a couple of theories as to what happened to the ark. One is the Jews hid the ark away somewhere to be rediscovered during tribulation times. Another, Shishak took the ark back to Egypt, a theory which inspired a popular movie, Raiders of the lost ark.
The most important matter regarding the ark of the covenant in our discourse is its disappearance. Just as the ark would be missing in the succeeding temples, God’s glory would also be missing in succeeding temples, including Herod’s. Without the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, which sat atop it, the Holy of Holies was now just an empty room.
The temple, viewed as a spiritual barometer, is now clearly visible for all the world to see. One needs only follow the temple to find the spiritual condition of the Hebrews. Sadly, history records God’s judgment falling on the temple. Yet, each time judgment came and God granted a reprieve, it wasn’t long before the nation again abandoned Him.
Following the temple’s history, what do we find when we arrive at Herod’s temple? A massive complex with hundreds of serving priests sacrificing animals on an industrial scale, a slaughterhouse, a house of sacrifice. Orchestrated rituals, as are most elaborate rituals. Conducted in the finest structures, with priests dressed in expensive apparel. All of this splendor must have left the common folk with the impression ‘surely God must be here.’ Yet God was not found amidst this religious splendor.
This impressive building, its massive courtyard, numerous staff, and carefully orchestrated rituals served an empty room. At the center of this activity lay an empty Holy of Holies, which was no longer Holy because it was bare; God was not there. The very reason for the sacrifice, singing, trimming the lamps, replacing the bread, and burning incense is gone, yet sadly, only the genuinely faithful knew it.
We never find any indication of God’s pleasure in this formalized activity. Herod’s temple, constructed by a murderer and manned by a compromised priesthood, would never be blessed with the Glory of God. Even when it came time to notify Zechariah of his fatherhood of John the Baptist, God would send an angel to inform him. When Jesus visited Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, not one of the teachers or priests recognized him as God’s son.
The men who were supposedly the closest to God Himself and served Him dutifully ritually were so blinded they didn’t recognize Him; they scorned Him. They ignored Him when He taught in the temple’s courtyard. They shunned Him because of the power of His teaching. The people were drawn to Him, thereby exposing the empty rituals of the priesthood. And the means of the wealth of the priesthood was threatened by this exposure.
When Jesus overthrew the table of the money changers, it was a direct assault on the income of the priesthood. Those exchanging denari for temple money and those sellers of sacrificial animals all made a profit, and the priesthood received their cut as well. It is a little-known fact that the family of Annas owned the rights to this massive commercial enterprise. It just so happened that Caiaphas, the High Priest during Jesus’s earthly ministry, was Annas’s son-in-law.
They were landlords of the courtyards, so every vendor had to pay rent via a percentage. When Jesus overthrew the tables of these vendors, He was serving notice to Annas that He was aware of what they were doing -profiting from the name of God. There was profit in ritual, then and now. This event marked a time when lies were exposed and Prophecy recorded.
All four Gospels record this event and give us some remarkable insights. First, the commercial enterprise of the priesthood is exposed. In Mark’s account, Jesus charges the priesthood, “But you have made it a robber’s den,” and in John, “Stop making my Father’s house a place of business.” In Mathew and Luke, “You have made it a den of thieves.” Then Jesus reminds them of what the House of God should be, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?” But there’s no money for the priesthood in prayer. That was until the Roman Catholic Church created the lie of purgatory.
It’s an eye-opening revelation to discover the link between money and ritual. People were, and are today, willing to pay a priesthood and support a temple, all in hopes of having and maintaining a good standing with God, never fully comprehending it is unnecessary to pay money for God to hear their prayers. At the heart of this enterprise, the exchanges, and the buying and selling of offerings, was the money. At this very time, “And the scribes and chief priest heard it and sought how they might destroy Him;” 32
Due to the divided courtyards, Jesus, the Son of God, was not allowed past the Court of Israel because He was not a priest. The Son of God prohibited entry into the House of God, the priests’ court, and the High Priest’s court! On the night of His betrayal, Jesus is finally admitted to the court of the Priests and the High Priest when He becomes the victim of an illegally-held trial before the Sanhedrin over which Annas presided.
One of the last two times God made His presence known in Herod’s temple was after Jesus completed His sacrifice on the cross, ripping the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, from top to bottom. From this moment forward, the priestly caste has been done away with and replaced by the one and only High Priest, the Lord Jesus. Yet the empty rituals would continue for a while longer.
Even after this, many held on to their religion, continuing to fill the temple coffers with monetary offerings and purchasing sacrificial animals in acts of penance, never grasping the fact it was meaningful only to those offering and the priesthood, which was all-to-willing to oblige and accept the offerings.
God’s second visit to Herod’s temple came in 70 AD. When the Roman army destroyed it. After seven years of Jewish rebellion, the Roman army had enough. Their anger is to the point they would give no quarter, resulting in the slaughter of thousands in the temple’s 36-acre courtyard. And because of a rumor of gold hidden within the Temple’s stone works that found its way through the ranks of the Roman army, they literally threw down every stone in search of this hidden gold, fulfilling our Lord’s Prophecy, “Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” 33
The barometer that was the temple is no longer. Without a temple, there is no sacrifice or need for a priesthood; people would now have to seek God as He has always preferred through personal prayer and sacrifice. Not in luxurious buildings with the finest tapestries, manned by a priesthood girded in elaborate and expensive apparel, well beyond the means of the laity, engaging in well-orchestrated rituals with no spiritual value.
What had this building-a-house-for-God accomplished from Solomon’s temple to its final destruction in 70 A.D.? Had people been drawn closer to God by its existence, or had it become a religious buffer in which man placed their faith in ritual over a relationship? During Stephen’s defense before the Jewish leadership and just before his death by stoning, he clearly distinguishes between the dwelling place God has always sought and a building made by men.
“David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says:” 34
Returning to the Tabernacle, the gold standard, God instructed Moses to build it and furnish it with symbolic articles so that God may dwell among His people.” Yet Solomon builds a house, a place of isolation. A place where people could visit God. A place where men could feel good about themselves by constructing a monument to God, stroking their egos, and deceiving themselves into believing they have made payment for their salvation, exclaiming by their actions, ‘Look what I’ve done for God.’
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”35
What kind of temple have you constructed for God? Is it one for God to dwell in or one that isolates Him? Is it one you occasionally visit for fellowship with God, then exclude Him from the rest of your daily life? If your temple, your life was a barometer of your spiritual well-being, what would it indicate?
2 in Exodus 20:26
4Exodus 25:40, 26:30, 27:8
8II Samuel 7:2
9I Chronicles 22:8
10I Chronicles 17:10-16
11II Chronicles 7:19-22
12Bible History page 844 Alfred Edersheim
13II Chronicles 2:14
14I Kings 7:14
15Herod’s Temple, William Shaw (page 15)
16Mazar, Mountain of the Lord (page 120)
17Exodus 40:34 & 38
18II Chronicles 5:9
19I Kings 7:15
20I Kings 7:21
21Jewish Bible Quarterly vol. 42:4 pg. 223
23I Kings 9:11
25I Kings 6:12-13
26I Kings 9:4
27I Kings 9:6
28I Kings 9:8-9a
29II Chronicles 7:12
30II Chronicles 7:14
31I Kings 11:11
35I Cor. 6:19