© 2003, J.W. Carter
What is a Church? Many people, if asked to describe a church, would provide a description of a building. There are many different styles of church buildings, but most would probably visualize a large assembly center with stained-glass windows, a steeple, and a large front entrance with columns and a staircase. People see the church building as a sanctuary, a place of safety and security that is protected from the outside world by its assignment as a "holy" place.
When we consider the culture of ancient Israel, their sensitivity to the sanctuary of the church building, the tabernacle, is profoundly heightened. Ancient cultures, including the Israelites, had a very localized view of God. They felt that there were many gods, and each influenced a geographical area. It was easy for them to believe that God had a place of residence. They had witnessed the pillar of fire, the demonstrated Shekinah Glory of God, for 500 years as it stood over the tabernacle and descended into it once each year on the Day of Atonement when it would consume the sacrifice given to God in its innermost chamber, the Holy of Holies. Consequently, it is natural that the culture would center around the tabernacle. The modern church of today similarly centers around the church building; so much so that much of the modern world does not differentiate between the church building and the church it houses.
However, the church building is not the church. It is simply a structure of brick, mortar, steel, and wood that is used by the church as a facility for worship and ministry. The church is the body of believers that meets there. When we consider the church itself, we often speak in terms of two forms of the body, the "Capital-C Church" that refers to all of the redeemed souls for all ages, and the "Little-C church," that refers to the local body of believers, or the cluster of such bodies that associate in various denominations and make up the Christian Church today.
What is the basic purpose of the church? One might answer that question by observing what churches do. Many, such as the Salvation Army, are well-known for their beneficent service to people in need. Most, however, are silent members of their communities, known for no activity other than to come together quietly on Sunday mornings for a one-hour meeting, only to disperse afterwards to attend area restaurants. To the community, these are little more than exclusive social clubs with a Christian theme. It is not surprising that the church is not as effective as it could be.
The church is that body of Christian believers who are commissioned to (1) reach people with the gospel of God's grace, (2) nurture those who have turned to Christ, and (3) minister to the needs of both people groups. It is through obedience to the commission (Matt 19:28 ff) that the church honors God. Brick, mortar, steel, and wood cannot complete that task. It is a task for the true church, the body of faithful believers in Jesus Christ. If a modern church today is not actively engaged in these three areas of work, it is of little more use than the brick and mortar building they meet in. It is not honoring God, but rather meeting only the social needs of its members. A social fraternity such as the Lion's club, Optimists' club or a sporting club can meet that need.
A church can honor God whether it meets in a tent or in a palatial mansion. Still, the place where the church meets can largely define its facilities, and provide many of the opportunities for accomplishing its task. We see churches open its doors to the community as they use the facility for a variety of social services such as soup kitchens, counseling centers, sports facilities, and many other ministry-related functions.
This Bible study lesson focuses on Solomon's building of the Jerusalem temple as a permanent tabernacle of the Lord, and his desire to Honor God through that project.
And Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon; for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the room of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover of David.
As we study the history of Israel, we see that it was frequently at war with its neighbors. However, casual observation might reveal that those nations in conflict were, for the most part, those made up of tribes if Ishmael (Abraham's first son, by Hagar), and tribes of Edom (Jacob's brother Esau). When one looks to the nation to the south, Egypt, and to the north, Phoenicia and what would later become Turkey and Greece, we see no such conflict. Hiram was the King of Tyre and Sidon, the primary cities of Phoenicia. The culture of these communities was quite tolerant of philosophical, religious, and political ideas, and did not perceive Israel and Judah as a threat. Consequently, we see no record of battles between the Phoenicians and Israel. David developed a close and mutually respectful relationship with Hiram, so when Solomon became King, it was only natural that Hiram would send an entourage to welcome the new king and seek to continue their peaceful and profitable relationship.
And Solomon sent to Hiram, saying, 3Thou knowest how that David my father could not build an house unto the name of the LORD his God for the wars which were about him on every side, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. 4But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent. 5And, behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD spake unto David my father, saying, Thy son, whom I will set upon thy throne in thy room, he shall build an house unto my name.
It was initially David's desire to build a permanent tabernacle for the Lord. David had worked with Hiram to obtain materials and workers to build his own palace ( 2. Samuel 5:11) while observing that "God's house" was simply a tent, though a rather extravagant one. The use of the tent of the tabernacle was appropriate when its location was continually changed as God led Israel through the wilderness following the captivity. The tent was moved as the pillar of fire moved, and by so doing, God led the nation in its travels. The tent of the tabernacle was moved a few times after Israel entered the promised land. However, the nomadic period of Israel had ended with the establishment of the kingdom under Saul and its developing worldly tradition of kingly palaces. Israel copied its neighbors in its politics and religion (syncretism). As David built his palace, he was concerned that the home for God was not as palatial and desired to build a permanent structure. God allowed for the building, but did not want David to build it. Since the tabernacle is to be a house of peace, God did not want David, a man of war to build it (1 Chronicles 22:8-10). David's desire to build was based entirely on his sincere desire to honor God with something tangible and meaningful to the people. He had a vision of how such a facility would bring glory to God, serve as a testimony of God's presence to the people, and provide a facility for worship that would be both practical and ornate beyond his own palace.
Solomon was the man of peace that would build the temple that David desired. Though God was satisfied with the use of the tent, He demonstrated love and grace to David by allowing him to build the temple, through his son, Solomon. Solomon's vision was no less than David's, and the relationship that David established with the builders of Phoenicia coupled by the peace and prosperity of Solomon's reign, would facilitate the realization of that vision. The original vision to honor God through the building of the temple was Davids, and during his reign, David started gathering materials. However, it would be up to Solomon to fulfill his father's vision and desire.
6Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar trees out of Lebanon; and my servants shall be with thy servants: and unto thee will I give hire for thy servants according to all that thou shalt appoint: for thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber like unto the Sidonians. 7And it came to pass, when Hiram heard the words of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly, and said, Blessed be the LORD this day, which hath given unto David a wise son over this great people.
Solomon is best known for the godly wisdom that he possessed. Secondly, he is known for his great wealth. When asked by God what he would most desire (1 Kings 3:6ff), rather than asking for wealth and power, Solomon asked for the discernment needed to govern the people. God had given him that discernment and as a reward for his sincerity, gave him the wealth and power that his discernment would give him the ability to administer. Out of gratitude to God and a desire to bring him great honor, Solomon provided the very best materials he could find to build the temple. He asked Hiram to provide him with cedars from Lebanon for the wood. Cedar may be well-known for its aromatic qualities, and as a shaped wood is one of the most beautiful. It is also one of the most robust woods available, as it is resistant to rot and insect damage. In ancient times there were no wood preservatives, so because of this characteristic of cedar, it was very expensive to use.
Solomon's choice to involve the Phoenicians resulted in a far better quality result than he could ever do with the resources of Israel alone. He also benefited both nations by establishing a very profitable market for his northern ally. In his project to honor God, he gave testimony of the name of the Lord to his pagan neighbors and involved them in his work. Oftentimes Christians tend to make their church into an exclusive club that shuns such relationships with others. Solomon demonstrated godly wisdom when he took this opportunity to draw the Phoenicians into his work, and by so doing, became a witness to God's glory and goodness. We honor God when we are unabashed in our testimony to the lost of his grace and goodness. We honor God when we establish relationships with those who do not know Him in a context that allows for them to see and hear of God's grace.
Some churches are in the midst of building programs that are not entirely dissimilar to Solomon's project in intent and purpose. Growing churches desire facilities that can meet their growing needs and opportunities. However, in such programs we should never wander from the purpose of David and Solomon in building: to honor God. When the purpose of building is to meet only the desires of the congregation for their own internal use, it becomes a club house. When the purpose of the building is to honor God and to be used for ministry both within the church and without, God is glorified and the work of His kingdom is enhanced. As Solomon used the building as an opportunity to spread the news of the goodness of God to his pagan neighbors, the modern church can also use the building to reach the lost both in its construction and in its use. Every stick, every block, and every nail that goes into the building of the building carries with it the anointing of the purposes of God to which the facility is to be used. As we observe Solomon's building of the temple, we see that truth demonstrated.
And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things which thou sentest to me for: and I will do all thy desire concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir. 9My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I will convey them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shalt appoint me, and will cause them to be discharged there, and thou shalt receive them: and thou shalt accomplish my desire, in giving food for my household. 10So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his desire. 11And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food to his household, and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to Hiram year by year. 12And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him: and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and they two made a league together. 13And king Solomon raised a levy out of all Israel; and the levy was thirty thousand men. 14And he sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month by courses: a month they were in Lebanon, and two months at home: and Adoniram was over the levy. 15And Solomon had threescore and ten thousand that bare burdens, and fourscore thousand hewers in the mountains; 16Beside the chief of Solomonís officers which were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, which ruled over the people that wrought in the work. 17And the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. 18And Solomonís builders and Hiramís builders did hew them, and the stonesquarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house. 6:1And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomonís reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.
The building of the temple was the largest single undertaking that the Israelites ever would accomplish. The scale of labor and materials was greater than any project yet known, and if considered with other such works would be considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Why did Solomon invest so much time, materials, and labor into this task? Solomon had a discernment of who God is that surpassed anyone of his day. He desired to honor God through every component of the design, and used all of the resources at hand to accomplish this. To cut back from the building design was, to Solomon, to cut back on the recognition of God's glory. Solomon, then, made use of all of the resources he had at hand to accomplish the task. Some might use this as an example to overextend resources in the design of a facility in order to compete with the lavish design of Solomon. However, we can see that Solomon did not overextend, he simply applied what he had in the most glorifying way possible.
When we seek to honor God, what does God expect of our sacrifice? As we observe Solomon's efforts, it is clear that he gave his best. When we seek to honor God, we can do no less than offer our very best in a spirit of gratitude and love for Him. If we give grudgingly or out of any other self-centered motivation, God is not glorified, and the gift does not accomplish its task. We see many examples of sacrifice to God in the scriptures and in all cases, God asks for the first, the best, the most pure, as an acknowledgement that the one honored is The First, The Best, and The Most Pure.
And the house which king Solomon built for the LORD, the length thereof was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits. 3And the porch before the temple of the house, twenty cubits was the length thereof, according to the breadth of the house; and ten cubits was the breadth thereof before the house. 4And for the house he made windows of narrow lights. 5And against the wall of the house he built chambers round about, against the walls of the house round about, both of the temple and of the oracle: and he made chambers round about: 6The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house. 7And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building. 8The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house: and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third. 9So he built the house, and finished it; and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar. 10And then he built chambers against all the house, five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.
Verses 2 - 10 illustrate some of the basic dimensions of the temple building, and the chapters to follow contain much detail as to its construction and contents. Even the building process was organized to honor God. Verse 7 shows that the bustle that accompanies the building of any such structure was maintained in a reverent fashion. Harsh sounds, such as that of a hammer striking stone or iron was not allowed. All shaping of the contents of the building had to take place off-site. Consequently, the purpose of the construction would never be ignored by those involved in its building. Likewise, any task taken on for the purposes of God's kingdom should be characterized by a similar reverence that helps maintain focus on the purpose of the work and on the glory of God for whom that work is accomplished.
And the word of the LORD came to Solomon, saying, 12Concerning this house which thou art in building, if thou wilt walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments to walk in them; then will I perform my word with thee, which I spake unto David thy father: 13And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.
When one engages in any project that is intended to bring honor to God, it is certainly desirable that God be a part of it. The sincerity of Solomon is evident. Still, God reminds Solomon that sincerity in serving Him is not enough. We can build the grandest building and proclaim the greatest God and yet be accomplishing no more than that realized by the builders of the tower of Babel. The Lord reminded Solomon of the importance of obeying His covenant. Likewise we should never lose sight of the covenant of Grace, and God's purposes in the life of His church as we engage in projects and programs that are always to honor Him and further His work.
The sincerity, purpose, sacrifice, and obedience of Solomon as he sought to bring Honor to God through the building of the temple is a great example for the church of today to follow.