Sermon preached on 1 Kings 5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/4/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 5
To Build a House for the Name of the LORD
Here Solomon begins his preparations to build the long-anticipated temple. To some, this might seem a common thing for kings of the world to do at that time – build temples to their deities. Such a chapter might even seem a bit mundane from that perspective. Yet, this really wasn’t a common thing at all. Yes, the pagan kings built many temples to their gods – but those were false gods. And we should remember that God said long before through Moses that he would only have one central place among Israel for his presence to be manifested on earth. So, this was not only a temple to the one true God, but it was to be the only temple on earth to God. Here, in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, God’s presence would be established among his people through this temple. There, God would meet in fellowship with his people. There, and there alone, would God’s footstool be on earth. I hope we can appreciate the significance then of such a building.
As we dig into this chapter, realize then how we should approach applying it. This amazing, unique temple that Solomon was just preparing to build here, was ultimately built, and frankly has already been destroyed. The Scripture is clear that God allowed its destruction because God’s people broke covenant with him in sin and idolatry. But God promised that one day he would make a new covenant under which he would raise up a Messiah who would rebuild a temple for his name here on earth. Those promises find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. And the Scripture is very clear that the temple Jesus is building is made up of his redeemed people. That is a temple Jesus is currently building, and we are a part of it. Not only are we a part of it, but we Jesus’ servants are helping him in the construction of it. So then, in so far as the principles of this first temple built by Solomon look forward to the final temple built by Jesus, we can find applications today.
With that approach for application today, let me then mention a unifying theme for today’s passage on temple building. I want us to think of all Solomon’s preparations under the theme of wisdom from God. We see in verse 12 a reference to this, that God gave Solomon wisdom as he had promised. It seems to imply that this God-given wisdom was utilized in these plans for the temple. So then, let’s keep that in mind as we look at the specific steps Solomon takes in beginning this magnificent building project. By keeping this wisdom from God in mind, it reminds us to see that God’s work and design is behind this, so that we ultimately praise and bless God in what he’s doing here, instead of making it about Solomon.
Let’s begin then by seeing wisdom in this gentile partnership in terms of working on the temple. The chapter shows Solomon contracting with Hiram king of Tyre for help with lumber and stones. Think then about what makes the interesting. We have a heathen people helping to build the temple to the one true God. We see referenced with Hiram both Tyre and Sidon – two key cities of the Lebanon region. That was to the northeast of Israel along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and such peoples were collectively known as the Phoenicians. We see here that Hiram had been at peace with David, Solomon’s father. We see here how that peace is continued and even advanced under Solomon’s reign. But despite the good relationship in terms of international diplomacy and trade, the Phoenicians were by no means known for being worshippers of the one true God. They worshipped their various false gods. Hiram himself is credited in history with building various temples to their pagan gods, including a massive temple in Tyre to their god Melqart. And so, it might seem interesting, if not strange, to solicit help from such pagans in building the one true temple for the one true God.
But we must remember that the wisdom of God often surprises us. Why bring such people to work on the temple? The most immediate reason is given by Solomon himself in verse 6. He tells Hiram, “For you know there is none among us who had skill to cut timber like the Sidonians.” In other words, Solomon wants the best for the temple to the LORD, and knows that the most skilled people to do the job, in this case, happen to be these Sidonians, even if they don’t personally know the LORD. (This is a reminder that God’s common grace means that still today whether or not someone is a Christian has no bearing on whether they are skilled or not at a specific job – a non-Christian might easily be the best in the area for a specific skill. But I digress.) We might also add here that not only were the Sidonians the best at their craft, but they would be able to draw from the renown cedars of Lebanon. So, clearly Solomon’s wisdom finds that contracting with these Gentiles would be the wisest choice in terms of producing the best final product.
We can and should also see the wisdom of God here in terms of the forwarding moving progression of redemptive history. Scripture shows that God has a concern beyond his chosen people of Israel. We find a desire for the LORD to bring the nations unto himself as well. Though far from the complete work among Gentiles that God would ultimately do, here we have some beginnings along these lines. We might remember in Psalm 2 how the kings of the earth are called to come and kiss the Lord’s anointed king at Zion. Well, here, Hiram pays his respects to the Lord’s anointed king at Zion. Verse 1 says that Hiram had loved King David, and now he is showing his love for King Solomon. Likewise, one of Solomon’s own songs, Psalm 72, prophesies of Gentile kings coming and bringing gifts to the King of Israel, and even of all the kings of the world coming to serve the Israelite King. True, Hiram’s actions here aren’t that by any means, but they are surely a small but fitting beginning. In fact, we should read Hiram’s tidings to Solomon in verse 1 in light of the final verse of the previous chapter which talks of other kings coming to visit Solomon. As we do that, we see that Hiram is just an example of several kings who were beginning to pay their visit and respects to King Solomon. And notice the other positive elements with Hiram in this regard. In verse 7 he is greatly delighted to be able to service Solomon in regard to the temple. He rejoices. He even blesses the name of the LORD – the one true God. I don’t think we can assume this means that Hiram was converted to the one true faith. But it is an amazing thing to see such a Gentile king taking up the name of the LORD like that. It’s certainly taking things in the right direction of redemptive history.
On a similar note, we can remember that God would later refer to his temple as a house of prayer for all the nations, Isaiah 56:7. In other words, God did not intend for his temple to only be used by the Israelites. It was also to be available for all the Gentiles to come and seek him in prayer. That is why Jesus cleansed the temple when the people had essentially turned it into a market – he quoted that it was supposed to be for the nations. And so, it’s fitting that this one temple on earth were God would meet with humanity would be made not only by Israelites but also Gentiles. That point only confirms the broadest application to us today in this first point. Jesus today is building his temple with the aid of both Jew and Gentiles. And the temple consists of both saved Jews and Gentiles.
Let’s turn now to our second point and consider here the wisdom Solomon used in assembling a labor force. Obviously, there would need to be workers to build such a massive undertaking. As we noted, some of those workers were the Gentiles under contract through Hiram king of Tyre. But we see there were also many other people that Solomon conscripted to serve in the temple construction. In verses 13-14 we see that he raised up a labor force from Israelites in the number of thirty thousand men. Now, that’s not a great translation. That language of “labor force” is better translated as “forced labor”. These were Israelite citizens who like being drafted into an army are being drafted into this labor for the tabernacle. This is something known as corvée and was a fairly common practice among the kings of the world at that time. We essentially still do it today with things like jury duty. We read here that Solomon would require these conscripted laborers from Israel to work one month out of every three on the temple. That would give them two months of every three for them to work their normal jobs and provide for their own needs.
Now in terms of the wisdom in all this, I mentioned last week the concern of Solomon demanding forced labor from the people and how that later became a complaint among the northern tribes of Israel – that Solomon’s demands in this regard were too much and too burdensome. Well, indeed that may have become the case, just as God had previously warned long before through the prophet Samuel that a human king would conscript some of the people into such forced and burdensome labor. As we keep reading in 1 Kings, Solomon goes on after the building of the temple to use forced labor to construct many other big buildings, and that surely was an issue to some degree. As for here, it’s hard for us to judge at this point how burdensome this forced labor would have been on Israel since the text merely reports that this happened. But if anything, the text suggests that Solomon was wise in how he went about this. Accordingly, what we can say is that it was only a small subset of the people since at David’s census the fighting men alone were well over one million in number. And even of these conscripted, 1 Kings 9 will clarify that they weren’t treated like slaves compared to the other slaves the Solomon did conscript from the Canaanite peoples. And of course, we might even, for comparison, think of how Solomon’s conscripting of Israelites for such service is not that different from what we have in the United States today. It’s my understanding that the average American has an overall effective tax rate somewhere around 30% of his income. In other words, about one third of the average American’s work goes to the direct financial benefit of the government. Comparatively, Israel’s situation here was not that bad at all. And think about it – if you were one of the few conscripted into such service – you got to be a part of building the temple of the LORD! What an honor! So, surely there was some wisdom being used here in how Solomon ordered and arranged this work force.
We should also note that verses 15-17 mentions additional people used in carrying burdens and quarrying and in overseeing such. The number there adds up to 153,300. Based on descriptions elsewhere, including 1 Kings 9, it seems this refers to a permanent slave workforce that Solomon made out of surviving Canaanite peoples in the land. Recall, that when Israel first conquered the Promised Land they were told to kill everybody in the land during the battles. This was in judgment for their great wickedness and idolatry. God told Israel that if they let them remain in the land they could end up turning Israel toward their idolatry. Well, Israel didn’t fully obey God in this regard and some number of surviving Canaanite peoples were left in the land and gradually over time become subjugated to Israel. These, Solomon turned into full time slaves and that seems to be the number of 153,300 referred to here, distinct from the 30,000 mentioned before of Israelites. As to God’s wisdom in use here, surely this is part of that same trajectory with regard to Gentiles and the kingdom of God. Overtime, God was working a plan to turn even guilty Gentiles who were as good as dead dogs into servants of God’s kingdom, and eventually even into full citizens of his kingdom. Such was not there yet at Solomon’s time, but it’s starting to move in that direction according to the wisdom of God who works in his own surprising ways.
Along these lines we can make a point of application then here for us today. We are farther along that trajectory. So many of us are Gentiles who have been made citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Simultaneously, 1 Peter 2:16 says that we should all consider ourselves as servants and slaves for Christ. Jesus as our master has redeemed us, purchasing us from sin and death. Yet, Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:30). For that matter, though we are rightly his slaves, Jesus also calls us his friends. So then, let us gladly bear the title of “bond servant of Christ”. The Apostle Paul and others certainly have. Let us delight to serve Christ, especially knowing that he is using us to build this ultimate temple and house of the LORD! In fact, I love the language of Psalm 110:3. It speaks of how the Messiah King Jesus will have his people freely volunteer their service to him. Let us indeed be glad to freely volunteer to be his slaves because there is no better master and no better project work to on!
Let’s move then to our final point and consider the wisdom here in terms of Solomon’s timing and circumstances for building the temple. I have in mind what we find in verses 3-5. Solomon notes in verse 3 that the time and circumstances were not right for his father David, despite his desires. Solomon says that Hiram knows this, which is clear because David had himself made some initial preparations for the temple construction including a first purchase of lumber from Hiram as recorded in 1 Chronicles 22. But Solomon says that the time wasn’t right for David because for so much of his reign he didn’t have the peace in the land yet. Obviously, you don’t want to build an expensive temple right along a main battle front that you’re not sure if you are going to hold the line. Furthermore, if your best and brightest men are already drafted and serving in the army, they won’t have time to also serve in the Army Corps of Engineers, so to speak.
So, Solomon knew that David didn’t have the time and circumstance of peace and thus it wasn’t a wise time to try to build a temple. But Solomon also acknowledges here how God had told David that his son would build the temple instead, verse 5. Solomon then sees that everything has fallen into place. Now, Solomon’s kingdom has the peace and rest that his father’s did not. So then, it’s the right time and circumstance for God’s promise to be fulfilled. That’s why Solomon is moving forward with the temple plans here.
So then, in terms of application, we remember our own time and circumstances. The martyr Stephen in Acts 7 referenced this temple that Solomon built but then went on to acknowledge that God doesn’t truly dwell in temples made by hands. That is why the Scriptures tell us of a different kind of temple that Jesus is now building. 1 Peter 2 says that he builds a spiritual house — one of living stones and that we God’s people are the living stones. And that passage says the foundation of that spiritual temple is Jesus, the ultimately Living Stone. So then, in the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of the lineage of David, rightful heir to the throne of David, to redeem a people unto himself. This people he then is making into both a kingdom and a temple for God. He will continue this temple building until the last of the chosen are gathered unto himself in faith.
Think then about the time and circumstances that God did this under. God didn’t wait until his people were in a place of peace and rest. Rather, he sent King Jesus into the exact opposite environment. When his people were the slaves of the heathen – the seeming exact opposite trajectory of redemptive history – that’s when he sent Jesus. And in the manifold wisdom of God he secured peace and rest for his elect through the death of his anointed king! Yet in the wisdom of God, in such times and circumstances he continues to build his kingdom. Even now, as he gathers to himself each stone of his temple – gathering them out of the rocks and crevices of sin and death – he does so in the midst of his enemies. That’s the language of the Messiah’s work in Psalm 110:2: “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” Or in Hebrews 10:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:25 we read how Christ is reigning and ruling from on high until the end of this age when finally all his enemies will be done away with. So, in the amazing, interesting, wisdom of God – a wisdom from God greater than what Solomon had – Jesus builds his spiritual temple on earth by converting souls unto himself, and they become the building blocks of his temple. He then uses those same converts – us – as his servants delighted to serve him in laboring to convert more souls into such living stones!
We could ask the question what is the wisdom for Christ to build a temple in the midst of his enemies – if that was a reason for David not to build? Because the indestructible King Jesus himself is the temple foundation. As Matthew’s gospel says, that if any enemy tries to destroy that foundation stone, they will be crushed and broken to pieces. So then, in the wisdom of God, Jesus can and does build his temple amidst his enemies – now and unto its completion at the day of glory.
And so if in this passage we are excited to see Israelites and Gentiles in King Solomon building an earthly temple made with hands and earthly stones – let us be all the more excited as we today – Jews and Gentiles in King Jesus are the spiritual stones being built up to be the spiritual temple of God for eternity.
So then, dear brothers and sisters, let me come down from such heights of glory to offer a rather mundane but fitting final application. In the ultimate service to this spiritual temple building project for King Jesus, we often have various this-world projects that will need your time and talents. As but one example, while we live in the flesh and worship in the Spirit on this earth, we make use of physical buildings. We make use of many other physical, earthly, mundane things to facilitate the unique worship of spirits who also have bodies and live on this fallen world. Let us use the wisdom God gives us in conjunction with our God-given talents, skills, and abilities, to do all things well. Even as they relate to providing for the physical needs connected to our church’s worship and ministry. See this as a form of stewardship that supports that overarching spirit-temple building project that we have been made a part of in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.