Monday, February 16, 2015

Bible Commentary - 1 Kings 7

In this chapter, Solomon constructs his palace and the furnishings of the temple.

This chapter contains a long series of descriptions.  I will briefly summarize them here, since I found this chapter a bit confusing when I first read it:
  1. The "Forest of Lebanon", Solomon's royal palace.  More on this below.
  2. The two pillars of bronze.  These have no parallel in the tabernacle of Moses.  I'm not aware that these were used in any religious rituals; to the best that I can tell, these pillars are purely artistic.
  3. "The Sea", a large bronze basin.  More on this below also.
  4. The ten stands and basins.  There is no parallel to these in the tabernacle of Moses as laid out in the book of Exodus.  Their purpose is not explicitly described here.  It's possible they were used for ritual washing (though I don't think they could not be used as a "mikvah", the kind of washing mandated in the book of Leviticus for cleansing ceremonial impurity).  It's also possible they were used for sacrificial offerings.
  5. A bunch of other stuff.  Shovels, bowls, basins, lampstands, etc.  These are nearly all things that were made by Moses as well.  The shovels and bowls are for shoveling ashes from the burnt offerings, the golden altar and golden table are placed inside the temple.  The ten lampstands are new, and probably kept lit similarly to the golden lampstand within the holy place.
  6. Wheels, axles, frames?  Pomegranates, wreaths, chains and capitals?  There is a lot of specific details in here that I don't think are very important or necessary to discuss.  If my readers are confused by any of the descriptions in this chapter, I think they could replace the words with "it looked really nice" without losing much interpretive value.
So, to start off, I noticed that Solomon spent nearly twice as long building his own "house" as he did building the LORD's "house".  Also, Solomon's palace is much larger than the temple.  My first instinct is that this shows Solomon investing more heavily in his own luxury than in the LORD's temple.  Rashi notes that he built the LORD's temple quickly and his own house slowly, as meritorious, showing he was more interested in the LORD's house than his own.

Taken objectively, Solomon invested lavishly in the temple.  He built it out of the most expensive woods and covered nearly every surface with gold.  Even if we could say that he built his own house to be larger and more expensive, I don't think that Solomon was miserly in any way towards the LORD.  Tithing, for instance, is 10% of a person's income.  We can spend 90% of our money on ourselves and still honor the LORD.

Secondly, as a minor note, "Hiram of Tyre" in this chapter is almost definitely a different person from King Hiram who made a treaty with Solomon two chapters ago.  So these two figures should not be confused.  "Hiram of Tyre" is a half-Israelite, son of a man of Tyre and an Israelite woman.

Third, I would like to take a moment to talk about "the Sea".  The word in Hebrew is "yam", literally "sea", but in construction this is a bronze basin.  This is essentially a larger and more elaborate replacement to the bronze basin made by Moses for the priests to wash.  It's called "the sea" as an allusion to its vast size.  We can imagine the Israelites looking at this large pool and poetically referring to it as being like a sea.  This chapter doesn't specifically tell us what the sea is used for, but a later parallel text in Chronicles explains that the ten basins (v. 38-39) were used for washing the utensils and the sea is used for the priests to perform ceremonial washing (which is commanded in Exodus 30:18-21).

Fourth, the "Forest of Lebanon".  As with the Sea, this is a poetic allusion.  In particular, the palace is built almost entirely out of cedar, which would have been cut in Lebanon, and it is built with multiple rows of wooden pillars.  There are also multiple rows of windows which would illuminate "the forest".

Similar to the previous chapter, most of the things that Solomon built (apart from his palace) mimicked the furnishings built by Moses during the Exodus.  However, they are more elaborate and expensive, and Solomon throws in a few extras like the enormous and expensive bronze pillars.  The Sea, also, is a much larger and more artistic version of the bronze altar that was part of the tabernacle worship.  Solomon adds many decorations like the bronze oxen, the pillars, and other various details and carvings.

As a whole, this chapter shows that Solomon is going to build everything in the temple similar to how it was structured before, except more expensive and elaborate, showing off his tremendous wealth and power.  We can also see where Solomon is putting all that cedar he was harvesting a couple chapters ago, and the costly stones become the foundation of his new palace.  To quote myself, "it looked really nice."

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