CHAPTER 24. —DAVID AND THE REIGN OF SOLOMON
David not only proceeded to arrange for the building of the temple as regards the accumulation of materials, but he handed over to Solomon the plans of the edifice, which were themselves the exhibition of the visible hand of God. They were plans that David got ready, but they were not plans of David’s contriving. They were plans communicated to him by inspiration. Of this we are informed by those same records which tell us plainly of David’s faults, and which have a right to be listened to when they speak to us thus—
“David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof . . . The pattern of all that he had by THE SPIRIT. . . . All this, said David, Yahweh made me understand in writing BY HIS HAND UPON ME, even all the works of this pattern”
(1 Chronicles 28: 11, 19).
The plans for such a building must have been very elaborate, and have involved an amount of skilled knowledge rarely to be met with in those days, and least of all, in a warrior-king like David, who had spent most of his days in the field. The nature of the case called for inspiration, even as regards the natural difficulties of the case—how much more the purpose of the building. It was to be used as a dwelling place of the divine name and honour: a place where Israel should acceptably approach Yahweh in worship. How could such a building be of human contrivance? How could man know what would please God? When Israel came out of Egypt, the portable tent or tabernacle of worship that went with them in their wilderness journeyings was of divine contrivance, down to the very pins for holding the cords which held the court-curtains in their place. How much more needful was it that an immense and solid structure like the temple should be of divine workmanship? These considerations become especially urgent, in view of the fact that both tabernacle and temple were but architectural parables of the final temple-state which Yahweh purposed in Christ to establish among men, as the normal and everlasting relation between Himself and the population of the earth. Man could only mar such a plan in any contribution to its architecture. Man consults only the taste for the beautiful, whereas this structure, though not lacking in the beautiful, was to embody, in allegorical architecture, the relations between God and man, which are only truly perceived from the divine standpoint. This is not the place to trace the allegory, but merely to point out the necessity for divine authorship of the temple plans, and to emphasise the fact that, in a certain sense, Solomon’s temple was itself the visible hand of God in the midst of the earth.
Not only was David the architect of the temple, Solomon himself, was wisdom-filled in the same way:
“God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore, and Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the East, and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4: 29).
This was no mere excess of natural endowment; it was the result of express divine communication in fulfilment of promise.
“Yahweh gave Solomon wisdom, as He promised him” (Chapter 5: 12).
The promise was precise. It was given in answer to Solomon’s choice. Solomon, at the beginning of his reign, when asked “what shall I give thee?” had said,
“Give Thy servant an understanding heart.”
“And the speech pleased Yahweh that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life . . . behold I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee” (1 Kings 3: 5, 12).
Thus, in the builder of the temple, also, we have an exhibition of the visible hand of God. How else could the temple have been carried to a divine completion? The divine doing of the work was a necessity. And the divine presence in the doing of it was manifested in all the large-hearted, enterprising, opulent arrangements of the Kingdom of Solomon throughout. It was not only that the work of the temple was so exactly planned that every block of stone, and every piece of carpentry was brought to the spot ready for its place in which it was noiselessly fitted, without work of chiselling, planing, or finishing,
“So that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building” (1 Kings 6: 7);
But the labour of the work was organised in a way to be a pleasure to everyone concerned. A levy of 30,000 men was divided into three relays of 10,000 men each, and these were sent to Lebanon, 10,000 a month by course; “a month they were at Lebanon, and two months at home” (1 Kings 5: 14). The same beautiful division of labour was observed in the furnishing of the royal provision.
Twelve purveyors “provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision” (1 Kings 4: 7).
By a wise direction of commerce, Solomon diverted the treasures of the east into the land of his dominion, so that—
“Silver came to be as plenteous as stones, and cedars as sycamores of the vale.”
“All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver; it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.”
Peace, plenty, and wisdom were on every side,
“And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree.”
In all this, we have the manifest effects of the visible hand of God in the inspired direction of two most illustrious heads and leaders of Israel. It is an historical sketch that presents those brilliant features to us. It is no picture of the imagination. The reigns of David and Solomon are as undoubted episodes of history as those of Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth; and these are authenticated particulars of the two reigns—authenticated, we need not say, in how many ways that have in past times been passed before the reader. And they are particulars not to be explained except on the principle of their truth. And their truth is beautiful, and having the beauty that there is about no other historical truth, namely, that they illustrate for us beforehand the glories of another age of promise—an age in which both the temple and the architect and builder will have their converging significance focalised in the person of their “wonderful” descendant, Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God. He is now absent, but the word that has attested to us his birth, his crucifixion, and his resurrection, has also attested his destined return to the earth, to re-establish the fallen Kingdom of David in power and great glory. The Spirit that photographed the temple plans on David’s brain, and guided the hand of Solomon in all the wise and wonderful arrangements of his building and of his kingdom of peace, will in the coming age be manifest again, but in an abounding plenitude that will fill and ennoble a multitude—the reigning friends and body of Christ with Christ at their head. The glory of architecture that will again exemplify the visible hand of God has been shadowed in Ezekiel’s specifications; while the wisdom of government springing from the same source working peace and plenty to all the families of the earth, shines on every prophetic page that tells us of the earth filled with Yahweh’s glory, war banished from the usages of mankind, and death itself abolished from the ruling classes of the nations.
The dedication of the temple was signalised by the exhibition of the visible hand of God, as was suitable to the divine origin and superintendence of the building. The work having been finished (in seven busy years), Solomon assembled the heads and representative men of the tribes of Israel to inaugurate the use of the temple by the ceremonial transfer of the ark from the tabernacle that David had pitched for it in Zion, and where it had been stationed for the closing years of David’s reign. The ceremony was very imposing. The whole population appears to have turned out and taken joyful part. The priests in their official robes, with Solomon at their head, took a prominent part. With feasting and every demonstration of joy, the ark was conveyed from the south-western quarter of Jerusalem (known as Zion, or the city of David) to the south-eastern plateau or elevation known as Moriah, on which the newly-finished temple reared its glorious form in the splendour of Eastern sunlight. Reaching the holy edifice, the procession entered the open-air courts of the building, which were soon filled by a densely-packed assembly of the thousands of Israel. The priests then conveyed “the ark of the covenant of Yahweh” into the oracle or most holy place in the heart of the inner building, which had been prepared as its final resting place.
They were not long before they hurried back again into the open air. Why?
“A cloud (of glory) filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud.”
Thus was intimated the divine adoption of the house erected by a divinely-inspired building king to plans divinely communicated to his divinely-chosen predecessor. God had taken possession of the building by the angel of His presence. The fact having been thus publicly manifested in the presence of all Israel, Solomon humbled himself before the oracle of the house and responded thus:
“I have surely built Thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for Thee to abide in for ever.”
Then turning himself to the standing assembly, he blessed Yahweh, and rehearsed the circumstances that led to the building of the temple, concluding with the words—
“Yahweh hath performed His word that He spake; and I am risen up in the room of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel as Yahweh promised, and have built an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And I have set a place there for the ark, wherein is the covenant of Yahweh, which He made with our fathers when He brought them out of the land of Egypt;”
The “covenant” of this statement being the tables of stone divinely engraved at Sinai, as stated at verse 9:
“There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when Yahweh made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”
He then took up a position before the great altar, “in the presence of all the congregation of Israel,” and, lifting his arms towards heaven, addressed God in a lengthy petition perfectly suited, both as to its length and substance, to the great occasion.
The most notable feature of this prayer is perhaps the recognition of the illimitable immensity of Yahweh, in conjunction with the idea of localising His presence in a temple.
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven, and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house which I have builded.”
This is a complete confutation of the modern suggestion that would degrade the Jewish system of worship to a level with the heathen mythologies in neighbouring lands. In Solomon’s eyes, the God of Israel was no local God such as the deities of the surrounding nations were to these nations, and such as the surrounding nations imagined the God of Israel to be. The great difference between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations is constantly recognised. As David says:
“All the gods of the heathen are vanity (that is, nothing), but Yahweh made the heavens.”
Could there be a greater contrast? Hezekiah, Solomon’s successor, gave very pointed expression to this discrimination in very trying circumstances when standing probably on the very spot where Solomon now spoke. The King of Assyria, in an insulting summons to surrender, had drawn a parallel, in his heathen blindness, between the God of Israel and the gods of the surrounding nations. He had said:
“Behold thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the children of Eden, which were in Telassar? . . . Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods of these lands that have delivered their land out of mine hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?”
Hezekiah, having received a letter in such blasphemous words of blindness, went up into the house of Yahweh, and spread it before Yahweh, and in tearful words spoke in his great strait, and said,
“Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their countries, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand that all the kings of the earth may know that THOU ONLY ART THE LORD, even Thou only.”
The Being thus addressed by Hezekiah, and by Solomon in the case before us, was not the ark, nor the cherubic figures wrought in gold, that covered the ark with their wings, nor anything in the temple nor limited to the temple at all, but a Being whose illimitable vastness could not be more forcibly expressed than in Solomon’s own words,
“The heaven, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Thee, how much less this house that I have built.”
Consequently, while dealing in this narrative with the spectacle of a house dedicated to God, we are dealing with a matter as far separated as possible from heathen ideas and practices in such a case. We are dealing with a case in which the enlightened idea is proclaimed in the foreground that God would only inhabit the house in a representative way; and that His inhabiting it in any other way was an impossibility, because He was the Maker of all things in heaven and earth, and could not, in the mechanical sense, be located at all, though having local manifestation at the centre of His universe-filling existence. The heathen idea confined their gods to their temples, and allowed the existence of other gods. This is, in fact, the corruption and degradation of an originally divine idea—the idea of the divine Being, and the divine worship, as existing in Noah’s family, belittled and distorted with the progress of human ignorance—(for men left to themselves rapidly sink into ignorance)—until it came to be crystallised in the visible mythologies that have prevailed wherever there has been an absence of direct divine illumination. Away from Jewish revelation, all is darkness and hideousness. We are ashamed to have to defend the temple of the God of Israel from all derivative community with such systems of unmixed barbarism. But the tactics of “learning” so-called, impose the attitude of continual defence until the day come which David prayed for, when he said,
“Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: for the foolish man reproacheth thee daily.”
At the close of Solomon’s prayer, the visible hand of God was again exhibited in unmistakeable manner. Sacrifices had been prepared and laid upon the altar before the house; and—
“When Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.”
All which, it will be admitted on the commonest reasonable reflection, was very appropriate and natural to the occasion. The question was, Did God accept this building as the dwelling place of His Name? How was this to be answered in a way striking home to the conviction of Israel, except by some such miraculous demonstration? Many edifices have been reared in the earth for religious uses, and we hear of “pious founders” of the endowments associated with them; but where has there been any divine endorsement? How do we know that they please God? They are nothing but the embodiment of private sentiments. But let God manifest His glory in connection with them as He did on the occasion of the dedication of Solomon’s temple: and all men would then know that the monument of private munificence was also in harmony with the divine will and the object of the divine approbation. Another thought will also occur to reflection. If God did not always accept the public sacrifices of the nation in the visible consumption by fire, there was a reason why He should do it on a great epochal occasion like the opening of the newly-built temple, when it was needful there should be explicit token of His adoption of the edifice. Afterwards, in the daily routine of worship, there was need for the absence of such; for it is God’s pleasure, when once He has given grounds of reasonable confidence, to be approached in an obedient faith which habitually conforms to His revealed will without the excitements of miracle, which would degenerate with repetition into childish sensationalism. There is a time for everything. There is a time to establish, and a time to let remain established. On this principle, having given men abundant evidence of the divinity of Christ in the miracles of his life, death, and resurrection, and having published these to the four winds in the miraculously-attested labours of the apostles, God expects men to exercise a reasonable and unfaltering faith in His Son until the due time arrive for the next display of the visible hand of His glory and power, in the resurrection of the dead at His second appearing.
The only other thing in the reign of Solomon that strikingly illustrates the visible hand of God is the reception of a direct message from God in answer to his dedicatory prayer. The message was as direct as any return telegram, or any royal message in reply to an address of Parliament to the throne. The message was this:
“I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication that thou hast made before me. I have hallowed this house which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. And if thou wilt walk before me as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments, then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever . . . But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them, then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them, and this House which I have hallowed for my name will I cast out of my sight, and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people.
It was a great honour for a man to receive such a response as this, direct from the Deity! But it was also the ground of a special responsibility. This is recognised in the melancholy record of Solomon’s subsequent apostasy.
“It came to pass when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart away after other gods . . . and the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel WHO HAD APPEARED UNTO HIM TWICE” (1 Kings 11: 9).
Men pray now, and have no return message as Solomon had. Prayer is now a “prayer of faith”—prayer spoken into the ear of the Eternal in the confidence inspired by past events, that though no token of hearing is vouchsafed, the prayer is heard and noted, and answered in the granting of our desires (though not necessarily in the form in which perhaps we ignorantly desire an answer). But prayer, in its normal relation, is prayer responded to as friend responds to friend, as it was in Eden, when in His angelic representatives, “The Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the day,” and held open intercourse with Adam and Eve. This is prayer as it will be in the day of restoration, when “the tabernacle of God shall be with men,” and—
“His servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.”
Then, in a special sense, will the promise be fulfilled,
“Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”
This is the day spoken of by Christ, when—
“Ye shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
God hides His face now, because of the state of alienation from Him that prevails; and we pray in the dark, and seem to speak into soulless immensity. But the work of Christ will be done. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and when God, in him, shall have fully accomplished that reconciliation of the world unto Himself, which He proposed in the sending of His son (2 Corinthians 5: 19), there will be an end to the hiding of His countenance, and the glorified saints will experience their highest joy in those direct recognitions of their praise which alone constitute what is truly meant by “communion with God.” Solomon was permitted the high honour and gratification of this actual response. Therefore his sin was great in turning aside from his fealty. We are not so privileged; we tread the dark pathway of probation by the light of the written word alone. Nevertheless that light is clear, and its nature self-manifest to the attentive student. Therefore we may fear to come into great condemnation if we suffer ourselves to be beguiled from our steadfastness. Reason’s steady voice commands a patient continuance in well-doing—an enduring unto the end, even if faithfulness cause affliction. There is an issue from the darkness presently, in the glorious sunlight of Yahweh’s return and manifested presence and kindness in the midst of the house of Israel.