IN THE EARLY years of Solomon's reign the top of Mt. Moriah began to look much different than it did about a decade before. Then there was only a threshing floor there. The threshing operations had been removed so that David could build a special altar. (II Samuel 24:15-25.)
Lay a Firm Foundation
In Solomon's reign the altar was removed and the top of the small mountain was leveled off to make a much wider area. The leveled mountain had to receive the huge foundation stones that were laboriously moved in to form the base of the temple and its surrounding flat area. All this was encompassed by a stone wall. Within it came into being some of the most elaborate and ornate structures that had ever been built. (I Kings 6.) These beautiful buildings and their highly decorative interiors had been planned by David, but God had forbidden him to carry out their construction because David had so often relied on his army to protect Israel instead of relying on God. (I Kings 5:2-3.) The chief architect and skilled metal worker on this great project was a man from Tyre by the name of Hiram, the same name as that of the king of that country. Besides putting plans for the temple into workable order, he also designed and labored on much of the decorative work and on such things as vessels, tables, lamps and pillars (I Kings 7.) Ever since the tabernacle had been constructed when the Israelites had been at Mt. Sinai, it had consisted mainly of fabric and skins so that it could be taken down and carried. Now, at last, the tabernacle was replaced by a beautiful, solid structure of stone, timber, gold, silver, precious stones, carved figures, dazzling colors of linen and carved palm trees, flowers and fruit. As in the original tabernacle, there was the outer area, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant was later placed in the Holy of Holies. To the sides and back of the main buildings were added chambers for the priests and attendants, and rooms for storing treasures. The portable brass laver for the priests to wash in, made at Mt. Sinai, was replaced by a round brass, bowl-shaped container twenty-one feet across and supported by twelve large brass bulls. The main sections of the temple were much larger than similar sections of the tabernacle. The outer part, or porch, was about forty-two feet wide. The main building was floored with fir and had inner walls of cedar. Both were then covered with gold. Aside from the priest's chambers, this building was about a hundred and twenty-six feet long, forty-two feet wide and sixty-three feet high. That wasn't a huge building, but with other structures, stone-paved court, towers and walls, the whole establishment covered several acres. The furnishings of the temple were many, including chains, candlesticks, tongs, bowls, snuffers, basins, spoons, and censers to burn incense in. All these were fashioned from brass, gold or silver, and in a style and skill that made them outstanding in appearance and quality. (I Kings 6 and 7; II Chronicles 3 and 4.) The temple was finished, along with its furnishings in the eleventh year of Solomon's reign. (I Kings 6:1, 37-38; II Chronicles 3:1-2.) In the next several months Solomon placed in the temple the very fine furnishings that David had dedicated for the temple.
Almost a year after the temple was completed, when abundant crops had been harvested and it was time for the Festival of Tabernacles, Solomon invited the leaders of all the tribes of Israel and all of the chiefs of the clans to come to Jerusalem. (I Kings 8:1-2; II Chronicles 5:1-3.) It wasn't necessary for the king to invite anyone to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles, because that was an assembly commanded by God, just as it still is. (See Leviticus 23:33-35, 41; Zechariah 14:16-19; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.) Observing God's annual Holy Days is as important to God and to obedient people as is the observance of the weekly Sabbath. (John 4:45; 7:10; Acts 18:21.) Solomon knew that Israelites who respected their Creator would come to the Fall Festival at Jerusalem of their own accord. But on this occasion he invited them to arrive a week earlier to attend the dedication of the temple. (II Chronicles 7:8-9.) Thousands upon thousands of Israelites poured into Jerusalem to attend the greatest occasion since the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. There was an elaborate parade in which the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the place where David had housed it. The priests and their assistants followed, bearing the costly equipment, such as bowls and candlesticks, with which the tabernacle in the wilderness had been furnished. The ark was carefully and ceremoniously deposited beyond the holy veil in the Holy of Holies, where had been constructed two cherubim of olive wood, overlaid with gold. Standing side by side, each was twenty-one feet high and with two wings ten and a half feet long, so that their four wings extended out from the figures for a distance of forty-two feet. The ark was placed beneath these towering, gleaming statues. At that time there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. They had been there since Moses had put them in the ark at Mt. Sinai. (I Kings 8:3-9; II Chronicles 5:4-10.) During the parade and the ceremonious furnishing of the temple and even long afterward, sacrifices were made at many places in Jerusalem by priests who weren't otherwise occupied. So many sheep and oxen were sacrificed and eaten in the next several days that the number was never known or recorded. The multitudes of people who had come to the city showed such an enthusiasm for making offerings that Solomon was quite pleased. What was much more important was how much God was pleased. He must have been in some measure, or the next awe-inspiring event wouldn't have taken place. Priests were coming in and out of the holy area. At a brief interval when all were outside for a musical portion of the dedication, a strange, thick glowing cloud suddenly filled the temple. Nearby were the many singers and musicians performing at the time, possibly rendering the 136th Psalm written by David. When they noticed what was taking place, it was difficult for them to continue. Some of the priests tried to get back inside the building, but quickly retreated when they found that the mysterious cloudiness was more than just an ordinary mass of vapor. Then other people who were close to the temple saw the strange cloud. The festive noise and music died down to be replaced by an awed silence. (I Kings 8:10-11; II Chronicles 5:11-14.) Solomon was standing facing the altar, which contained wood and flesh laid on it for a burnt offering. He turned to the crowd and enthusiastically pointed to the cloud-like mass that wafted through the doors and windows of the temple. "This is a sign that God is with us!" he exclaimed loudly to the people. "The Eternal — Yahweh — the God of Israel has accepted the house we have built for Him! This has become His dwelling place!" While the crowd stood in respectful awe Solomon ascended a brass platform erected especially for the occasion. From there he reminded the people how merciful God had been to them ever since their ancestors had left Egypt, and how the temple had at last come into being. Then the king dropped to his knees, held his hands toward the sky and voiced a prayer with such volume that it could be heard by thousands. He praised God for how great He is. He observed that the temple wasn't much of a residence, compared to the whole universe, for a Creator who was great enough to fill all the universe. Solomon asked that God would put His name on the temple nevertheless, as a place where He would come to be close to His people, and that God would listen to their prayers, forgive their sins when they repented, and rescue them from their enemies, famine, disease, drought and pestilence. (I Kings 8: 12-53; II Chronicles 6:1-42.)
The Eternal Answers
Right after Solomon had spoken the last words of the eloquent and moving address to God, a blinding bolt of fire hissed down from the sky, followed by a sharp, deafening crack of thunder. The fire struck squarely on the altar. There was a burst of thick smoke. When it cleared away only seconds later, the wood and animal flesh that had been there were entirely gone! God's dramatic manner of showing that He was pleased with the temple, the sacrifices and Solomon's prayer caused the thousands of startled onlookers to bow with their faces to the ground in reverence. (II Chronicles 7:1-3.) To encourage the crowd, Solomon waved to the musicians and singers to continue. They soon regained their composure and went on with their playing and singing with more zest than ever. Gradually the people got to their feet and joined them in song. The sound of their spirited voices could be heard for miles. Meanwhile, the vapor-like cloud continued slowly swirling through the temple, still delaying the priests in carrying out many of their intended duties. A great part of them joined the musicians with instruments of their own, adding to the volume of the music. The people were so inspired by the unusual events at the dedication of the temple that they moved into the days of the Festival of Tabernacles with an exceptionally happy and worshipful attitude. There was much activity, including informative addresses from the king and from the high priest, musical concerts, periods of mass worship and prayer, dancing, visiting, dining and the sacrificing and eating of many animals. It was a happy time. The occasion is one commanded by God for the benefit of His people. It is to be observed by God's New Testament Church also, although there is now no need of sacrificing animal flesh because Christ is the sacrifice for those who repent, believe and obey God's laws. Twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep were sacrificed and eaten at the temple dedication alone. Because the main brass altar was too small to handle the offerings that were to be consumed, another temporary altar was erected nearby. (I Kings 8:54-64; II Chronicles 7:4-7.)
A Palace, Too
The cloud departed from the temple after the seven-day festival — plus an eighth day that was a Holy Day — was over. The Israelites returned to their homes in a joyful and thankful state of mind. It had been a prosperous year for them, and they had been brought closer to God because of their experiences at the temple and the inspiration and instruction they had received from God through Solomon and the priests. (I Kings 8:65-66; II Chronicles 7:8-11.) Years later Solomon wrote, among his many wise observations, one that fitted the occasion well: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." (Proverbs 29:2.) The cost of the temple was more than paid for by the offerings set aside by David for the project, and by other offerings made to God over the early years of Solomon's reign. Solomon's next project was the building of a palace for himself. It was thirteen years in construction! It took longer to build than the temple because fewer men worked on it and the king wasn't as anxious to finish the palace as he had been to finish the building dedicated to God. The main section was a beautiful structure of costly stone and cedar more than two hundred feet long, over a hundred feet wide and as high as a modern six-story office building. In this part was Solomon's sumptuous throne room, furnished with costly objects and decorated with precious stones set in lavish areas of gold. Here was where thousands of problems were brought to him, and where he made so many of his wise judgments and decisions. Another section was built for Solomon's wife, the Egyptian princess who had been brought up from her native land years before. (I Kings 7-89:24; II Chronicles 8:11.) Other areas contained dining rooms, game rooms and guest quarters. One ancient authority refers to Solomon's palace as being a somewhat mysterious place, inasmuch as the exact number of rooms remained a secret. Many of them were allegedly underground, some connected by obscure passages to vaults. Whatever the facts, the outstanding one was that Solomon's palace was a most unusual residence. It was surrounded by vast porches built of huge blocks of stone. Beyond the porches were beautiful gardens embellished with unique sculpture. Porticos, pillars, walls, towers and gateways were supported, connected or bedecked by hundreds of cedar beams. As with the temple, much of the material for the palace came from Tyre or nearby territory in exchange for produce from Israel. And again Solomon hired the expert artisans from Tyre.
"Obey Me and I Will Make You Great"
After Solomon finished building the temple and palace, God contacted him a second time. Again it was in the same manner in which He had appeared to Solomon after he had become king and when he had made special sacrifices at Gibeon. He was awakened from a deep sleep by a firm, commanding voice speaking his name. Perhaps he was only dreaming that he had awakened. However it happened, he realized later that it was God's voice or the voice of an angel bringing a message from the Creator. "When you dedicated the temple to me," the voice uttered, "I answered your prayer by hallowing that place. I put my name there and occupied the temple with the desire to remain there on and on into the future. "If you will obey me as well as did David your father, and if you will live according to my commandments, statutes and judgments, men from your family will be on the throne over all Israel forever. I made the same promise to your father. But if you or your children turn from my laws to follow pagan religions, I will cut off Israel from the land I provided. Your nation will become only a word spoken in mockery and derision. I shall leave that high temple. It will fall into ruins, and People passing will ask what I have done to it. They shall learn that it happened because Israel forsook their God, who had rescued them from Egypt. If they choose to follow other gods, those gods won't be able to rescue the people from the evil I shall bring on them." (I Kings 9:1-9; II Chronicles 7:12-22.) After this reminder, Solomon renewed his determination to continue to obey God. His intentions and attitude at that time were right. He was thankful for his personal prosperity and that of his nation. But the king had certain strong desires that could cause trouble for the whole nation unless they were controlled. When the complete cost of Solomon's palace and his other public buildings was finally summed up, it was evident that produce from Israel wasn't enough to fairly pay the king of Tyre for all he had provided for king Solomon's projects. Solomon decided that the difference could be generously made up for by giving the king of Tyre twenty towns in the north border region of the territories of the Israelite tribes of Asher and Naphtali. These towns were inhabited by Canaanites, living in the nation Israel. King Hiram of Tyre was anxious to learn just what he had obtained. He set out on a tour of his reward, pleased that his small kingdom could be enlarged by so many towns. Hiram was somewhat shocked when he found that the towns were inhabited by mostly rather poor farm workers. Because he preferred to deal in other kinds of commerce, he was disappointed that there was so little activity except in agriculture. The message Hiram soon sent to Solomon was not a happy one for the king of Israel. "I have decided that it would not be to the best interests of either of us for me to accept the proffered towns. Undoubtedly they are of much greater value to Israel than to my nation. For you they could be necessary fortifications. For me they are a bit too far inland to be of sufficient benefit." (I Kings 9:10-14; II Chronicles 8:1-2.) This refusal of the towns, a matter which Solomon considered somewhat of an indignity, meant that some other way would have to be found for paying Israel's debt to Tyre. Possibly the king could have come up with some means besides that he finally chose. (I Kings 9:15.) It had a part in the eventual downfall of his nation. It has been a cause of other nations failing financially. Our nation is burdened heavily with it. Solomon decided that he would pay Israel's debt on the palace and other public projects simply by demanding more taxes from the people.