The Jerusalem Temple

Question: When King David said he wanted to build a temple, he was initially told it was a great idea by the prophet (Nathan), but after checking with God, the prophet told him no. He would not be the one to build the temple because he had blood on his hands. What I don't understand is that Solomon with all his wisdom still turned from God and worshiped idols, yet he got the honor of building the temple, while David, who was only doing God's will with his wars, was not permitted to build the temple.

Discussion: King David had several God-given tasks to accomplish: He needed to unify the Twelve Tribes of Israel, establish neighborly policies, and obtain the sort of peace that made it possible to build the first Temple in Jerusalem. David's success helped his son Solomon and the people of Israel enjoy a time of peace like nothing they had ever experienced or ever saw again. This peace also gave David the opportunity to stockpile building supplies, find artisans, and organize rituals of worship to be later used. So as it turned out, Solomon's reign became the best window of opportunity for a concerted building effort, especially since the kingdom fell apart soon after his death. Undoubtedly, God knew that would happen, but the events also show how God might raise up a person for one job and not another. Surely God knew, too, that Solomon would need to keep his great mind occupied with a great work. However, the most significant aspect of the story may be this: God did not ask anyone to build the Temple in Jerusalem!

According to II Samuel 7, the whole thing was David's idea. God responded by saying, "…the LORD will make you a house" (II Samuel 7:11, RSV, italics mine.) The next few verses go on to show that God made this promise to King David even while anticipating "iniquity" (wickedness) from Solomon: "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He (Solomon) shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him…. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever" (II Samuel 7:12-16, RSV). Since Jesus Christ came through that Davidic line of the Tribe of Judah, this promise continues to be fulfilled in Him.

 Another thought may help our understanding too: i.e., King David's personal and political ups and downs strengthened his faith, thereby producing a spiritual sensitivity beautifully expressed in poetry-writing. So even though David did not build the "permanent" Temple building, which no longer exists, he had the honor of writing about half of the Psalms, all of which have been a consistent part of Judeo-Christian worship for two to three thousand years. As the primary prayer book used by the Jews, by Jesus, and by the first Christians, we continue to worship God today with those same poems, songs, and prayers.

So, God remained faithful to David and his promise to the Davidic line of the Tribe of Judah, but as you said, David's son Solomon eventually turned away. At the beginning of his reign, though, Solomon prayed this wonderful prayer recorded in I Kings 3:7-9: "And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?" (Revised Standard Version, RSV.)  Chapters 8 and 9 of I Kings go on to discuss the building and Solomon's prayer of dedicating the Temple to the Lord. Ultimately, the wise king made unwise choices, but the accounts of him in the books of Kings and Chronicles give us the impression that Solomon may have remained faithful to God until after the first Temple in Jerusalem had been completed.

Question: I just finished reading I & II Chronicles and am now reading Ezra, so I'd like to know more about the Temple in Jerusalem. Where in the Bible can I find the history or main references to the building, rebuilding, and destruction of the Temple?

Discussion: The chapters mentioned in the above discussion refer to the first Temple built in Jerusalem about a thousand years before Christ. However, Exodus 25 records an even earlier episode that occurred about a thousand years before this when God asked Moses, a leader of the priestly Tribe of Levi, to prepare a portable "Tent of Meeting." Not only did God ask for that place of worship, he did so before giving Moses the Ten Commandments, indicating that worship comes before right-and-wrong matters of law.

Centuries later, when King Solomon completed the first Temple in Jerusalem, furnishings from the original tent of worship became the sacred relics mentioned in I Kings 8:4. What was meant to be a "permanent" building, however, did not stay that way. Around 587 B.C., the Babylonians ruined the magnificent structure then took the Jews into captivity. After that exile in Babylon ended, the Jews returned to their homeland and began their rebuilding projects as recorded in Ezra, somewhere around 515 B.C.

Although smaller than Solomon's Temple, this "Second Temple" expanded over the years until Pompey besieged the building around 63 B.C. Then a couple of decades before Jesus' birth, Herod The Great (who had Jewish roots) began renovating and expanding the building that Jesus visited as a child and as an adult. After Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, however, the "Temple" of God once again became "portable" as Christians themselves housed the Holy Spirit, given on Pentecost. By then, though, Jesus Christ had become the final Passover and perfect sacrifice given once for all, thereby making animal sacrifices on the Temple altar no longer needed or desired.

As Jesus had forewarned in Matthew 24, the last destruction of the Jerusalem Temple occurred in 70 A.D., and the structure has never again been rebuilt. Instead, an Islamic mosque stands on the site, while Christians and Jews alike await the Third Temple foreseen by the prophet Ezekiel. Whether this will be a physical building or a spiritual place has yet to be revealed, but for clues, read Ezekiel 40 to 48.

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  • Guest

    Excellent exigesis!  Now, how about taking on the "Lamb of God" issue?  At Mass, the cantor has (and uses, unfortunately), a variety of titles–i.e., Bread of Life, Prince of Peace, etc.–which are followed by "takes away the sins of the world".  Only, "they" DON'T!  It is "The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world"!  To understand that, one needs to understand the background from the Passover.  Please?

  • Guest

    Cookie, I appreciate your encouragement and your question. I've promised to research other topics first, such as the origins of humankind and what it means to "remember" the Sabbath and I'm not sure what else, so I don't know when we'll return to the subject of Jesus as The Lamb of God. However, the September 4 article, "Fulfilling the Jewish Feasts," touches on the topic as does a previous Bible Talk article that's apparently not archived on CE. If you'll email me at the address shown above, I'll be glad to send you a copy. Also, please clarify what you mean by "they." Am I correct in understanding that your concern involves the confusion that occurs when a variety of titles for Jesus are used to refer to his ability to take away the sins of the world? In other words, Bread of Life, which is indeed one of his many titles, has great significance yet does not refer to his ability to take away sin. Thanks for letting me know – Mary. 

  • Guest

    NOTE: According to many Christian resources, "an Islamic mosque stands on the site" of the Jerusalem Temple, but Muslim sources may refer to the same structure as a shrine or "most holy shrine."

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