A Priceless but Poor Substitute for God

40 Hiram also made the pots, the shovels, and the basins. So Hiram finished all the work that he did for King Solomon on the house of the Lord: 41 the two pillars, the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars, and the two latticeworks to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars; 42 and the four hundred pomegranates for the two latticeworks, two rows of pomegranates for each latticework, to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the pillars; 43 the ten stands, and the ten basins on the stands; 44 and the one sea, and the twelve oxen underneath the sea.

45 Now the pots, the shovels, and the basins, all these vessels in the house of the Lord, which Hiram made for King Solomon, were of burnished bronze. 46 In the plain of the Jordan the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarethan. 47 And Solomon left all the vessels unweighed, because there were so many of them; the weight of the bronze was not ascertained.

48 So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, 49 the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; 50 the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; and the sockets of gold, for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the Most Holy Place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple.

51 Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and stored them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 7:40-51 ESV

Hiram was a busy man. The list of items he hand-crafted for use in Solomon’s temple seems endless. From large basins cast from bronze to smaller shovels and pots, Hiram was responsible for the creation of each and every vessel that would be used in the worship of Yahweh. And they were all adorned with fine detailing and intricate designs worthy of the God of the universe. Once placed in the temple, they would be consecrated to God, set apart for Him alone, and dedicated to one purpose alone: To bring Him glory.

Each of these items would have been made according to the specifications provided by God to Moses when He ordered the creation of their original counterparts. These detailed instructions can be found in Exodus 25-30. It seems that the only article of furniture that Solomon did not have recreated was the Ark of the Covenant. According to 1 Kings 8, when the temple was completed, Solomon had the Ark transported from the old city of David and moved into the new temple. For years, the Ark had been kept in a special tent located in a lower section of Jerusalem, called the City of David. The book of 2 Samuel describes how David supervised its relocation after he had prepared a proper place for its keeping.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.… And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15, 17 ESV

The Ark was considered the throne of God because it was topped by the mercy seat. In the original tabernacle, the cloud of God’s glory would hover over the mercy seat, signifying His presence and power among the people of Israel. After having given Moses the specifications for constructing the Ark and the mercy seat, God had promised him, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22 ESV).

But besides the Ark of the Covenant, everything else Hiram made was new and improved. And the author reveals that so much bronze was used to cast all these items that it was impossible to measure the quantity of metal required to complete them. This fact was intended to emphasize the sheer scope of the project and the great cost incurred by Solomon to ensure that the temple to Yahweh was of the highest quality.

Precious metals, expensive lumber made from cypress, olivewood, and cedar, and painstaking craftsmanship went into the making of these holy objects. And the closer their proximity to the Holy of Holies, the more costly they became. The Holy of Holies was the innermost area within the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was off-limits to everyone but the high priest, who was allowed to enter only one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement. It was in this place that God had promised to reveal His presence.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

So, any items that were located in close proximity to the Holy of Holies were made of pure gold.

So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; and the sockets of gold, for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the Most Holy Place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple. – 1 Kings 7:48-50 ESV

What’s important to consider is that most of these items would never be seen by the average Israelite. Because of their locations in the restricted areas of the temple, they would have remained unseen by everyone but the priests. And yet, Solomon spared no expense in their making. He cut no corners. While they would remain out of sight and out of mind to most Jews, He knew that God would see them. He was not willing to do anything that might diminish the glory of the temple or bring dishonor to his God. Solomon dedicated more than seven years of his life and a large portion of his royal treasury to the construction of the temple.

For Solomon, the temple was intended to represent the glory of God. Sitting atop Mount Zion, it would become a permanent symbol of His unsurpassed greatness. But as significant as this structure would become in the lives of the people of Israel, it would also become a distraction. In time, the people would begin to put more trust in the temple than they did in Yahweh. Rather than viewing this building as a symbol for God, they would make it a substitute for Him. And the prophet Jeremiah would have strong words to say regarding their misplaced trust in a building.

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie!’” – Jeremiah 7:1-8 NLT

The temple was meant to be a priceless tribute to a holy and glorious God. But it was never intended to become His substitute. Yet how easy it is for human beings to place their hope and trust in what they can see. Because God is invisible, they look for something or someone on which to set their eyes and place their hope. Sadly, it would not be long before the nation of Israel made the temple a poor substitute for the sovereign God of the universe. And Jeremiah would have to bring them the sobering message of God’s displeasure that would result in the temple’s destruction and their own banishment from the land of promise.So just as I destroyed Shiloh, I will now destroy this Temple that bears my name, this Temple that you trust in for help, this place that I gave to you and your ancestors. And I will send you out of my sight into exile, just as I did your relatives, the people of Israel.” – Jeremiah 7:14-15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson