IT WAS NOT LONG after the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai that the Lord told Moses to "speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take My offering." Ex. 25:2. This offering was to consist of "gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, and rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood, oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate." Verses 3-7. It was to be used in the construction of a "sanctuary; that I may dwell among them." Verse 8.
The sanctuary here mentioned is usually called the tabernacle. It was really a tent with wooden walls, the roof consisting of four layers of material, the inner being of fine-twined linen, the outer of "rams' skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers' skins." Ex. 26:14. The building itself was not very large, about eighteen by fifty-four feet, with an outer enclosure called the court, about one hundred feet wide by two hundred long.
The tabernacle was a portable building so made that it could be taken apart and easily moved. At the time it was erected, Israel was journeying through the wilderness. Wherever they went, they took the tabernacle with them. The boards of the building were not nailed together as in an ordinary structure, but were separate, each set upright in a silver socket. Ex. 36:20-34. The curtains surrounding the court were suspended from pillars set in brazen sockets. Ex. 38:9-20. The furniture of the tabernacle was so made that it could be easily carried. The whole construction, while beautiful and gorgeous in design, showed its temporary nature. It was intended to serve only until such time as Israel should settle in the Promised Land and a more permanent building could be erected.
The building itself was divided into two apartments, the first and larger one called the holy; the second apartment, the most holy. A rich curtain or veil divided these apartments. As there were no windows in the building, both apartments, especially the inner one, if they had been dependent upon daylight, must have been dark. Because of its temporary structure, some light may have penetrated; but at best it could have been but little. In the first apartment, however, the candles in the seven-branched candlestick gave sufficient light for the priests to perform the daily service which the ritual demanded.
There were three articles of furniture in the first apartment, namely, the table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, and the altar of incense. Entering the apartment from the front of the building which faced the east, one would see near the end of the room the altar of incense. To the right would be the table of shewbread, and to the left the candlestick. On the table would be arranged in two piles the twelve cakes of the shewbread, together with the incense and the flagons for the drink offering. On it would also be the dishes, spoons, and bowls used in the daily service. Ex. 37:16. The candlestick was made of pure gold. "His shaft, and his branch, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, were of the same." Verse 17. It had six branches, three branches on each side of the center one. The bowls containing the oil were made after the fashion of almonds. Verse 19. Not only was the candlestick made of gold, but also the snuffers, and snuff dishes. Verse 23.
The most important article of furniture in this apartment was the altar of incense. It was about thirty inches in height and eighteen inches square. This altar was overlaid with pure gold, and around its top was a crown of gold. It was on this altar that the priest in the daily service placed the coals of fire taken from the altar of burnt offerings and the incense. As he put the incense on the coals on the altar, the smoke would ascend, and as the veil between the holy and the most holy did not extend to the top of the building, the incense soon filled not only the holy place but also the most holy. In this way the altar of incense, although located in the first apartment, served the second apartment also. For this reason it was put "before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee." Ex. 30:6.
In the second apartment, the most holy, there was only one piece of furniture, the ark. This ark was made in the form of a chest, about forty-five inches long and twenty-seven wide. The cover of this chest was called the mercy seat. Around the top of the mercy seat was a crown of gold, the same as on the altar of incense. In this chest Moses placed the ten commandments written on two tables of stone with God's own finger. For a time, at least, the ark also contained the golden pot that had the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded. Heb. 9:4. On the mercy seat were two cherubims of gold, of beaten work, one cherub at one end and the other cherub on the other. Ex. 25:19. Of these cherubim it is said that they shall "stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be." Ex. 25:20. Here God would commune with His people. To Moses He said: "There will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." Ex. 25:22.
Outside in the court immediately in front of the door of the tabernacle was a laver, a large basin containing water. This laver was made of brass from the mirrors which the women had contributed for this purpose. At this laver the priests were to bathe their hands and feet before entering the tabernacle or beginning their service. Ex. 30:17-21; 38:8.
In the court was also the altar of burnt offering, which had a most important part to serve in all sacrificial offerings. This altar was about five feet high and the top eight feet square, hollow inside and overlaid with brass. Ex. 17:1. On this altar the animals were placed when offered as burnt sacrifice. Here also the fat was consumed and the required part of the meat offering placed. At the four corners of the altar were hornlike projections. In certain of the sacrificial offerings the blood was placed on these horns or sprinkled on the altar. At the base of the altar, the rest of the blood not used in sprinkling was poured out.
When Solomon began to reign, the old tabernacle must have been in a somewhat dilapidated condition. It was several hundred years old, and had been exposed to wind and weather for that long time. David had purposed to build the Lord a house, but had been told that because he was a man of blood he would not be permitted to do so. His son Solomon was to do the building. This temple "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." 1Kings 6:7.
The temple proper was about thirty feet wide by ninety feet long. At the front entrance, which faced the east, was a porch some thirty feet long by about sixteen feet wide. Around the other sides of the temple three tiers of chambers were built, some of which were used as sleeping rooms for the priests and Levites officiating in the temple, and others as storerooms for money and other dedicated gifts. The temple was lined inside with cedar overlaid with gold and engraved with figures of cherubim, palms, and open flowers. 1Kings 6:15,18,21,22,29. Of this it is stated, "So Solomon built the house, and finished it. And he built the walls of the house with boards of cedar, both the floor of the house, and the walls of the ceiling: and he covered them on the inside with wood, and covered the floor of the house with planks of fir." 1Kings 6:14,15.
The original tabernacle had no floor, but in the temple, Solomon built "both the floor and the walls with boards of cedar: he even built them for it within, even for the oracle, even for the most holy place." Verse 16. After having covered all the inside of the temple with cedar so that "there was no stone seen," "Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold: and he made a partition by the chains of gold before the oracle; and he overlaid it with gold. And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until he had finished all the house." Verses 18,21,22.
In the oracle, or the most holy place, the ark of the covenant of the Lord was placed. The original ark had two cherubim made of pure gold. Now, however, two more cherubim were made and set on the floor, and between these the ark was placed. They were made of olive wood, each about fifteen feet high. "Both the cherubim were of one measure and one size." 1Kings 6:25. "They stretched forth the wings of the cherubim, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house." 1Kings 6:27. This would give the two cherubim a combined wingspread of about thirty feet. These cherubim were also overlaid with gold, and on the walls of the house round about were carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers within and without. Even the floor was overlaid with gold. Verses 29,30.
In the first apartment of the temple several changes were made. Before the oracle, and mentioned as belonging to it (1Kings 6:22, RV), stood the altar of incense as in the tabernacle. Instead of one candlestick there were now ten, five placed on one side and five on the other. These candlesticks were of pure gold, as were also the bowls, the snuffers, the basins, the spoons, and the censers. 1Kings 7:49,50. Instead of one table containing the shewbread, there were ten, "five on the right side, and five on the left." 2Chron. 4:8.
The altar of burnt offering, or the brazen altar, as it is called, was considerably enlarged in Solomon's temple. The old tabernacle altar was about eight feet square. Solomon's altar was nearly four times that, or thirty feet square, and about sixteen feet high. The pots, shovels, fleshhooks, and basins used for the service of the altar were all of brass. 2Chron. 4:11,16.
The sanctuary had had a laver for bathing purposes. In the temple this was much enlarged. It was a large basin of bronze, fifteen feet in diameter, eight feet high, with a capacity of about sixteen thousand gallons of water, and was called the molten sea. 1Kings 7:23-26. The bronze of which it was made was a hand's breadth in thickness. The brim was wrought like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies. The whole sea rested upon twelve oxen, "three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east: and the sea was set above upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward." 1Kings 7:25. Besides this large sea there were ten smaller lavers placed upon wheels, so that they could be moved about from place to place. 1Kings 7:27-37. These lavers contained each about three hundred gallons of water and were used for washing those parts of the animals which were to be burned upon the altar of burnt offering. 2Chron. 4:6. Each of these lavers was put on a base of brass; the wheels were "like the work of a chariot wheel: their axletrees, and their naves, and their felloes, and their spokes, were all molten." 1Kings 7:33. The sides were ornamented with figures of lions, oxen, cherubim, and palm trees, with "certain additions made of thin work." Verses 29,36. The size of the court is not given, but it must, of course, have been considerably larger than the court of the tabernacle.
An interesting statement is found in 1Kings 6:22 concerning the altar of incense. The preceding verses describe the oracle, or the most holy. The ark containing the ten commandments is mentioned as being there, and in connection with this "the altar which was of cedar." Verses 19,20. This altar, verse twenty-two states, "belonged to the oracle." ARV This may have some bearing on the question raised by the wording of the ninth chapter of Hebrews, where the altar of incense is omitted in the description of the furniture in the first apartment, and a censer is mentioned as being in the second apartment. Verses 2-4. The American Revised Version has "altar of incense" instead of censer, though the marginal reading retains censer. Whatever may be thought of this disputed reading, it is noteworthy that Hebrews 9:2 omits the altar of incense in the description of the holy place. The reading in 1Kings 6:22 that the altar of incense, while located in the holy place, "belonged" to the most holy, is generally considered the correct rendering. We therefore understand the statement of Exodus 30:6 to be that the altar of incense was located before the veil in the holy place "before the mercy seat," and that its use was such that it also in a certain sense "belonged" to the most holy. As it is a fact that the incense filled the most holy as well as the holy place, this seems, on the whole, the best view of the matter. (See Ex. 40:26.)
The temple built by Solomon was destroyed in the invasions of Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C. Rulers and people had gradually departed from the Lord and gone farther and farther into idolatry and sin. Despite all that God could do to correct evils, Israel persisted in apostacy. God sent His prophets to them with warnings and entreaties, "but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought unto them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: He gave them all into his hand." 2Chron. 36:16,17.
In this destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar "burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof." Verse 19. "Them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia." Verse 20. Thus began what is called the seventy-year captivity "to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths, for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years." Verse 21.
The splendor of Solomon's temple can be seen from the spoil which Nebuchadnezzar took from Jerusalem. An enumeration in Ezra gives "thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives, thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand. All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred." Ezra 1:9-11.
Israel was in captivity seventy years. When the days were fulfilled, permission was given for them to return, but by that time many had been in Babylon so long that they preferred to stay. However, a remnant returned, and in due time the foundation of the new temple was laid. "And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." Ezra 3:11. However, it was not all joy, for "many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off." Ezra 3:12,13.
The temple thus built was called Zerubbabel's temple, after the name of the leader in the work. Not much is known concerning its structure, but it is supposed, and perhaps with good reasons, that it followed the lines of Solomon's temple. There was no more any ark. That had disappeared at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. Tradition states that holy men took the ark and secreted it in the mountains to save it from falling into profane hands. In any event, the most holy was vacant except for a stone which served as a substitute for the ark on the Day of Atonement. This temple continued in use until near the time when Christ appeared. Then Herod's temple took its place.
Herod became king in 37 B.C. One of the first things he did was to build a fortress, Antonia, north of the temple grounds, and connected with the temple court by an underground passage. A few years later he decided to rebuild the temple on a grander scale than ever before. The Jews were distrustful of him, and would not let him proceed with the building until he had proved his good faith by collecting the material necessary for the structure before any of the old was taken down. This he willingly did. The priests also insisted that no common person should work on the temple, and that it would be necessary for the priests themselves to erect the temple structure. For this reason some years were spent in training a thousand priests to be masons and carpenters to work on the sanctuary. They did all the work connected with the two apartments of the temple. Altogether, ten thousand skilled workmen were employed in the course of construction. Building operations began about 20B.C. The temple proper was finished in a year and a half, but it took eight more years to complete the court and the cloisters. John 2:20 states that the temple at the time of Christ had been forty and six years in building; in fact, it was not until about 66 A.D., just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, that the temple was completely finished.
Herod's temple was a most beautiful structure. It was built of white marble covered with plates of gold, set on an eminence with steps leading up to it from every direction, constituting a series of terraces. It rose to a height of four hundred feet above the valley below and could be seen from a great distance. Josephus likens it to a snow-covered mountain. It was a thing of beauty, especially when seen from the Mount of Olives in the morning as the sun shone upon it. It was one of the wonders of the world.
The size of the two apartments, the holy and the most holy, was the same as in Solomon's temple; that is, the temple proper was about ninety feet in length and thirty in width. The holy place was separated from the most holy by a partition about a foot and a half in thickness with an opening before which hung the veil mentioned in Matthew 27:51, which was rent at the death of Jesus. There was no furniture in the most holy, but only the stone left over from Zerubbabels' temple, upon which the high priest placed his censer on the Day of Atonement. The furniture in the holy place was probably the same as in Solomon's temple.
Directly above the holy and the most holy were chambers or halls where the priests met on stated occasions. The Sanhedrin also met there for a time. In the floor of the room above the most holy were trap doors through which a cage could be let down into the most holy place below. This cage was large enough to hold one or more of the workmen who at times were needed to repair the temple. The cage was open toward the wall, so the workmen could work on the walls without stepping out of the cage, or, in fact, looking about them. As only the high priest could enter the most holy place, this plan provided for making needed repairs without having the workmen enter, or be in, the most holy as such.
On the side of the temple proper were rooms for priests and also for storage purposes, the same as in Solomon's temple. There was also a porch in front extending thirty-six feet beyond the side of the temple, making the total breadth of the porch about one hundred sixty feet.
The outside court in Herod's temple was a large enclosure, not entirely square, about a thousand feet each way. This court was divided into smaller courts, such as the court of the Gentiles, the court of women, and the court of the priests. In one part of this court, upon an immense trellis or grill, rested a golden vine of which the bunches of grapes, according to Josephus (who, however, cannot always be trusted), were the height of a man. According to him, the vine extended about forty feet north to south, and its top was more than a hundred feet from the ground. Here Herod also placed a colossal golden eagle, much to the displeasure of the Jews. He was at last compelled to remove the eagle from the sacred precincts.
About forty feet in front of the porch of the temple, and east of it, stood the altar of burnt offering. This altar was larger than the one in Solomon's temple. Josephus says it was seventy-five feet square, but others more conservatively place it at fifty. It was built of unhewn stones, and was about eighteen feet high. An incline, also built of stones, led up to within a few feet of the top of the altar. Around the altar, near the top, was a projection on which the priests could walk in administering the prescribed sacrifices.
In the pavement near the altar were rings to which sacrificial animals could be tied. There were also tables containing vessels, knives, and bowls, used in the sacrificing. The altar was connected with a kind of sewage system so that the blood poured out at the foot of the altar was carried into the stream below. Everything was kept scrupulously clean, even the sewage system being washed out at stated times.
Inside the walls surrounding the court were porticoes or cloisters, sometimes called porches. The one on the east side was called "Solomon's porch." The north, west, and east sides had double porticoes with two rows of columns, and a roof of carved cedar. On the south side was the royal porch with 162 columns. These columns were so arranged as to form three aisles, the two outer ones being each thirty feet wide, the middle one, forty-five. In these porches public meetings could be held. It was here the early church gathered when they went to the temple to pray. It was the usual meeting place of Israel whenever they went to the temple.
The part of the court nearest its entrance was called the court of the Gentiles. A stone parapet separated this court from the rest of the enclosure. No Gentile might go beyond its confines. On the parapet was the inscription, "No stranger is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sacred place. Whoever is caught will be answerable for his death which will ensue." It was because the Jews thought Paul had transgressed this ordinance that he was seized in the temple and arrested by the Romans. Acts 21:28. In 1880 this very sign was found and is now in a museum.
Herod's temple was perhaps the most beautiful structure the world has ever seen. It was the pride of the Jews. Yet it was destroyed. "There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down," were the words of Christ. Matt. 24:2. This prophecy was literally fulfilled. Not one stone was left.
The temple is no more, and the temple service has ceased. But the lesson remains. It would be well for us to study carefully the service carried on in the sanctuary on earth. This will give us a better appreciation of what is now going on in the sanctuary above.
The original sanctuary and the three temples here mentioned had certain things in common, though they differed somewhat in details. They all had two apartments, the holy and the most holy. All had an altar of incense, an altar of burnt offering, a laver, a table of shewbread, and a candlestick. The first two had an ark, which disappeared about 600 B.C. The priesthood was the same throughout, as were also the sacrificial offerings. For more than a thousand years Israel gathered about the sanctuary. What a blessing might have come to them had they discerned in their sacrifices the One promised in the Garden of Eden, the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world! Let us fear, lest a. promise being left us, we likewise should seem to come short of it! Heb. 4:1.