|God's Temple in Prophecy
HOW LONG IS THE TEMPLE CUBIT? It seems that almost no one really knows the correct length of the temple cubit. This most important problem must now be solved. All the measurements of the temple are directly related to this unit of measurement.
Some of the authorities have said that the exact length is not known now. Others have various theories or ideas and have come to conclusions which are unproved.
Most scholars have come to accept the 18 inch cubit as being the one which is correct. However, there are still others who insist on cubits ranging in length from 10.8 inches to 25.2 inches. Which, if any, of these are correct? Just how long is this temple cubit?
This is a question we must solve and prove without doubt, or it will be impossible to view this magnificent building in its true perspective and grandeur.
Three Different Cubits? One scholar in his work on the temple, insists that there were actually three different cubits relating to the temple. There was one cubit which was used for interior furnishings of 10.8" (inches), another for building measurements of 14.4", and a third cubit of 18.0" for land measurements.
Using this particular author's conclusions we are left with some difficult problems. Here is one. The side chambers are 5 cubits high (I Kings 6:10).
"And he built the stories of the side-structure against all the house, each five cubits high; and they rested on the house with timber of cedar" These chambers are for various offices and were referred to by Christ (John 14:2). They were a physical type of the spiritual offices or positions of the saints during the time of the millennium. These rooms would only be six feet in height according to this authority. Such a conclusion is immediately seen as unsatisfactory.
Please note that scriptural texts will be from The Holy Scriptures, The Jewish Publication Society of America, unless otherwise noted.
Another such problem would concern the stairways leading to the second and third floors of these side chambers. The place God has left for these stairways are five cubits square (Ezekiel 41:11). They are also stated to be winding stairs (I Kings 6:8). With exactly six feet only, you would have a difficult job to construct a circular stairway that would be in any sense of the word adequate. The conclusion therefore of a 14.4" cubit is obviously impractical.
This is an example of reasoning by some men who have disregarded certain keys that have been left in the scriptures to determine the correct length of the Temple cubit! God has not left this important question unanswerable. The solution and the proof is indeed amazing.
The common basis for the cubit is considered to be the forearm. There is a problem with this in that everyone has a different sized forearm. And another thing, the length of the arm may have changed (on an overall average) since ancient times.
If you are going to use this basis, only an uncertain figure can result. That is just what the conclusions have been — uncertain.
Because of the universal confusion which exists, many have had less understanding on this subject after studying into it than when they started. But investigate it we must, so that this can be proved once and for all.
Bible Shows Change of the Cubit To start with, we must first investigate the scriptural record. There is no record in the scriptures that plainly links the cubit to modern measurements, as our measurements were not in use then. But there are a few measurements given in scripture that lead us to the answer.
We read that there were a "thousand cubits on the wall unto the dung gate," from the "valley gate" (Nehemiah. 3:13). But who can prove where the "valley gate" and the "dung gate" of Nehemiah were located for sure? Here the authorities are uncertain and divided. For the time being this appears to be a blind alley.
Another measurement of four hundred cubits between two other gates is also given (II Kings 14:13), but again, for the same reason, the answer is not evident. The two points cannot now be located with certainty.
Ezekiel also gives certain measurements of land that could be of help in this matter. They do not give the answer to the problem, however, they do help to prove the answer once it is found. Those details will be given in proper time.
Except for these possible points, no exact measurement is given in scripture that can now be proven.
The measurements of the temple as recorded in the book of Kings are given without any mention regarding the length of the cubit, or what cubit was used. When we come to the book of Chronicles, a new element is added. Here we find that the cubit measurements of the temple were according to the "ancient measure" (II Chronicles 3:3, Jewish translation). Why this distinction between Chronicles and Kings?
In the book of Ezekiel where the temple is also described, we find that the inspired writer emphasizes two times that this particular cubit was "a cubit and an hand breadth" (Ezek. 40:5 and 43:13).
From these scriptures it becomes plain that there was at one time a change in the length of the cubit. The book of Kings was compiled before the captivity. Ezekiel was written during the captivity. Chronicles was compiled after the captivity. From these facts it becomes plain that there was a cubit, which was standard and well known before the captivity, which was different than the Babylonian cubit, or the one in common use during and after the captivity by the Jews. But that is getting a little ahead of the story. We will come back to it later.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (Eleventh Edition) has an extensive article on the subject of the cubit. It is found under the article regarding "Weights and Measures." At least eleven different basic cubit lengths are given, with many variations of these particular basic lengths.
From this article it is apparent that the cubit has varied with different ancient nations and time. That does not solve our problem but instead complicates it. We need to know the length of the cubit used for the temple, and not the length of the other cubits.
Even when it comes to Israel, the Encyclopedia lists at least four different lengths. Which of these is the correct one?
One cubit that is discussed by this authority is the cubit of 18.23". Here in part is information on this particular cubit.
"This cubit or one nearly equal, was used in Judea in the times of the Kings, as the Siloam inscription names a distance of 1728' as roundly 1200 cubits, showing a cubit of about 17.6" (Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 28, page 483). In the Siloam conduit it is difficult to be exact in length. Other authorities mention the fact that this particular tunnel is crooked, and therefore it is difficult to get an exact measurement to use as a basis. Even then it does not prove one way or another the length of the temple cubit.
There is another general cubit length that is referred to by the Jews frequently. It is 21.6" in length.
"This cubit was also much used by the Jews, and is so often referred to that it has eclipsed the 25.1" cubit in most writers. The Gemara names three Jewish cubits of 5, 6, 7 palms, and as Oppert shows that 25.2" was reckoned 7 palms, 21.6 being 6 palms, we may reasonably apply this scale to the Gemara list, and read it as 18, 21.6 and 25.2 inches. There is also a great amount of medieval and other data showing this cubit of 21.6 to have been familiar to the Jews after their captivity; but there is no evidence for its earlier date" (Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 28, page 484). Three Jewish Cubits
Here at last is a clue to our problem. The Jews had more than one length in their method of calculating the cubit. These three different cubits used by the Jews were all based on the palm or handbreadth and not the forearm! We have already seen something about the two shorter lengths of approximately 18" and 21.6", but what about the longer length of 25.1".
"It appears that Josephus using the Greek or Roman Cubit, gives half as many more to each dimension of the Temple than does the Talmud; this shows the cubit used in the Talmud for the temple measures to be certainly not under 25 inches. Evidence of the early period is given, moreover, by the statement in I Kings (vii. 26) that the brazen sea held 2000 baths; the bath being about 2300 cub. in., this would show a cubit of 25 in. … If a lesser cubit of 21.6" be taken, the result for the size of the bath would be impossibly small" (Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 28, p. 483). Certainly these two important points demand a longer cubit of some 25 inches to be the one used in the time of Solomon, in the building of the temple.
We need to go back now and continue a previous quotation taken from this same work regarding the 21.6" cubit. To make the sense clear it is necessary to quote a portion over again.
"There is also a great amount of medieval and other data showing this cubit of 21.6 to have been familiar to the Jews after their captivity; but there is no evidence for its earlier date, as there is for the 25 in. cubit (from the brazen sea)" (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 28, p. 483 — Italics ours). Here again is evidence of a change. A change from a longer cubit to a shorter one. This same point is brought out by another source.
"The cubit in very early times is said to have been 25.19 inches and after the Exile the legal cubits of the Talmudists were 21.85 in." (Peloubet, Bible Dictionary, p. 788, footnote). As stated earlier, Ezekiel said that the cubit he had reference to was one handbreadth longer. With the comments quoted previously it will now become clear why he referred to the handbreadth. It was the basis for the cubit, and not the arm. The Babylonian cubit, and the one to which the Jews changed during and after the captivity was obviously one handbreadth shorter than the original one.
Now it is clear why there was no problem regarding the cubit in the Book of Kings. It was compiled before the captivity, and the cubit was of established length. Ezekiel wrote during the captivity and he had to clarify that the cubit for the temple was not the Babylonian cubit, or one to which the Jews had changed. It was one handbreadth longer than the new cubit. Chronicles was compiled after the captivity so it was necessary to state that the cubit was according to the ancient measure — the one used prior to the captivity.
This fact is further acknowledged by Adam Clarke in his Bible Commentary, volume 2, page 638 (on II Chron. 3:3)
"First measure of Moses (ancient measure, Jewish) contrary to Babylonian cubit of 1 palm less." The palm and handbreadth are the same thing, just different terminology. To have an exact figure of this long cubit, since 25.1", 25.19" and 25.2" are mentioned, the round figure of 25.2" will be used as the basis from here on. The small distance of.01" is so negligible that it need not be of great concern in such measures.
Now we have seen that the basis of the Bible cubit is the palm or handbreadth and not the forearm. With that in mind notice that the original cubit was seven palms. That is the number of completeness!
Judah went into captivity and adopted the Babylonian cubit of six (the number of a man) palms! That is a natural a thing to do. Man has always spurned the ways that God has given and turned to the ways of man instead.
A shorter cubit such as one of five or six palms was apparently used in reference to Og, King of Bashan.
"For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man" (Deut. 3:11). Notice that this cubit was "after the cubit of a man," and not after or according to the Bible cubit God uses.
In examining the various length cubits mentioned, notice that they all fit closely into the basis of a palm or handbreadth of 3.6". Three palms or 10.8". Four palms or 14.4". Five palms or 18.0". Six palms or 21.6". Seven palms or 25.2". This should make it evident that the Bible cubit and the former Jewish cubits were based on the palm instead of the forearm.
Think what the length of this cubit means. It means that the temple of God will be 252 feet high! That is about the height of a modern 25 story building!
It means that the so-called "little side chambers" are not so little after all. These offices are about 10 feet from floor to ceiling. The five cubits left for the circular stairway is about 10 feet, which is ample for such a stairway.
Using this cubit we now can see that Noah's Ark was over 600 feet long and 100 feet wide. It was over 60 feet high, the height of a modern six story building.
Now we can have a better perspective of the lofty height and impressiveness of God's Temple.