The various structures built in the ancient world always impress. The pyramids of Giza created a distinctive landmark that other nations have long attempted to imitate. The Great Wall of China, though utilitarian in design, speaks to the history of that great country. Even the various ruins of Greece and Rome capture the imagination, especially when reading of them in classical literature. In the modern era, we marvel at skyscrapers and sports venues. When placed in this architectural and engineering context, no matter how often I read the description of Solomon’s temple and no matter how many renderings I see, whether pictures or models, the powerful beauty of a building constructed almost three thousand years ago continues to astound me. By most standards, it was tiny, approximately thirty feet by ninety feet (2 Chr. 3:3), yet it proved more than impressive to those who saw it. This simple, but elegant, rectangular building expressed humble adoration and was designed to do so for centuries. Yet, however well Solomon built it, using the best materials and the best craftsmen available and overlaying the wood of the entire structure with gold, the small things contributed to both its value and its meaning.
The wisdom behind Solomon’s temple designed it to carry on the functions of the tabernacle but also to appear almost as a work of art, with all the symbolism that this implies. Built on the site of an historic sacrifice (2 Chr. 3:1-2) and following the basic pattern of the divinely designed tabernacle, Solomon built the temple with great height compared to its floor plan, which intentionally would have made the priests who entered feel small by comparison (1 Kings 6:2). The artwork of palm trees on the porch suggested an oasis of peace (2 Chr. 3:4-5) while precious gems sparkled all around to enhance its pure beauty (2 Chr. 3:6). The gold overlay would have magnified the lamplight on the candlestick or censor (2 Chr. 3:7) for the priests to see pictures of cherubim, the guardians of the garden and reminders therefore of entering the presence of the LORD (2 Chr. 3:7). All of this was magnified in the Holy of Holies, dominated by two enormous cherubim carved from wood and covered in gold, standing beside one another, covering the chamber, facing inward, showing their own reverence for God (2 Chr. 3:8-13). Separating the two rooms hung a costly veil, woven with the finest materials, with cherubim once more part of the design, as one last reminder before entering of the significance of being in God’s presence (2 Chr. 3:14). Much of this, of course, the people would never see. But outside Solomon placed two pillars with supporting capitals decorated with chains of pomegranates in suggestion of the provision the LORD made for His people (2 Chr. 3:15-16), giving them significant names, Jachin and Boaz—“He establishes” and “In Him is strength” respectively—as a testimony to the One for whom that building stood and why the people should come before Him in worship. And it is this same One that, with simplicity and yet high purpose, we worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24).