Two massive golden cherubim stood on either side of the Ark of the Covenant. Each cherubim stood 4.6 meters [15 feet] tall with 15 foot wingspans [1 Kings 6:23 – 28].
Inside the Ark of the Covenant and between the two huge cherubim was nothing but the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where God made a covenant with the Israelite nation [1 Kings 8:1 – 11, 2 Chron. 5:2 – 14].
The nave [or Holy Place] was 18 meters [60 feet] long and 9.1 meters [30 feet] wide overlaid with gold [1 Kings 6:15 – 18, 2 Chron. 3:5 – 7]. It contained the alter of incense; the golden table for the bread of the Presence; and the 10 golden lamp stands, five on the north and five on the south [1 Kings 7:48 – 49, 2 Chron. 4:7].
King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was the Jewish place of worship. Unlike modern churches though, it was not designed for communal use. Its inner chamber was a focal point for The deity’s presence, and entrance was strictly prohibited to ordinary people.
Only those chosen from within the Levitical priesthood had access and only at certain times.
The First Temple was a long-room temple with a vestibule hall and a separate room for the Holy of Holies. There were two columns in the vestibule hall, and splendid furnishings and fittings. The walls were covered with cedar panels embellished with gold-leaf overlay.
King Solomon completed the First Temple, the exiles returning from Babylon built the Second Temple, and Herod the Great completed a rebuilding of the Temple during the Roman era. The First Temple was completed in about 959BC, the Second Temple in 515BC, and Herod’s Temple was completed in 26AD.
The Temple building faced east. It was oblong and consisted of three rooms of equal width: the porch or vestibule, the main room of religious offering, or Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies in which the Ark rested. A storehouse surrounded the Temple except at its front (east) side.
The First Temple had five altars: one at the entrance of the Holy of Holies, two others within the building. It had a large bronze one in front of the porch, and a large tiered altar in the courtyard. A huge bronze bowl in the courtyards was used for the priests’ ablutions. Within the Holy of Holies, two cherubim of olive wood stood with the Ark. This innermost sanctuary was considered the dwelling place or focus of the Divine Presence and could be entered only by the high priest, and then only on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
The Ark of the Covenant
In the religion of Israel the Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred object. The “cubit” measure was the length of a forearm, standardized in English measure as about 45 centimeters [Exodus 25:10-22]. On the assumption that this must also have been the approximate length of a cubit in the Old Testament, the Ark must have measured about 114cm by 69cm by 69cm [or 45 by 27 by 27 inches]
(see vs. 10).
It contained the Ten Comandments of the Law on tablets given to Moses on the mountain (vs. 16; 1 Kings 8:9; Deut. 10:5) and a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod (Heb. 9:4; see Exod. 16:33 and Num. 17:10).
The Ark, of course, symbolized God’s presence and had profound place both in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple at the innermost and holiest location. The “mercy seat,” a rectangular plate on top of the Ark and of similar dimensions, underscores the fact that the Ark represents the Presence. At either end of the mercy seat were cherubim between which was the Presence (vs. 22; see Num. 7:89; 1 Sam. 4:4; II Sam. 6:2; II Kings 19:15; Pss. 80:1 and 99:1; Isa. 37:16). The cherubim were winged creatures, basically winged animal bodies with human heads. Two cherubim, each fifteen feet high, stood in Solomon’s Temple on either side of the Ark within the Holy of Holies (I Kings 6:23).
The mercy seat symbolises a profound awareness of human sinfulness was characteristic of Israel’s tradition. In the Holy of Holies, at the centre of the centre, there stood the seat of God’s mercy. A place of forgiveness.
Under the New Covenant which came into effect through Christ, this temple and centre of the centre, is now the human heart.
In 604BC and then again in 597BC Jerusalem was attacked and taken by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The city was sacked, the Temple treasure was stolen, and the Temple itself was totally destroyed. A large section of the Jewish population, including all the educated and wealthy people, were deported to Babylon – Nebuchadnezzar had a policy of population resettlement.
This might have been the end of it, but in 538BC Cyrus II, founder of the Achaemenian dynasty of Persia, issued an order allowing the Jewish population to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. This they did, but on a more modest scale than Solomon had been able to do.
The rebuilt Temple, for which there is no exact description, was surrounded by two courtyards with chambers, gates and a public square. It did not have the ritual objects of the First Temple. The Ark had been lost, and money was short, since the whole of Jerusalem had fallen into a state of ruin and had to be rebuilt. To compensate, ritual became even more elaborate than before, and it was conducted by hereditary families of Levites.
During the 4th-3rd centuries BC, the Temple was respected by Judea’s foreign rulers. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, desecrated it by offering sacrifice to Zeus on the altar in 168BC, sparking the Hasmonean revolt, led by the Maccabees. Judas Maccabaeus cleansed and rededicated the Temple, and this is celebrated in the annual Jewish festival of Hanukka.
During the Roman conquest, Emperor Pompey entered the Holy of Holies but did not damage or steal from the Temple. However, in 54BC Emperor Crassus plundered the Temple treasury.
Most people know Herod the Great as the king who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents at roughly the time of Jesus’ birth. But as well as this he was one of the greatest builders of the ancient world. Probably acting out of political expediency decided to rebuild the Temple on a grand scale. Despite his efforts the people did not accept him as fully Jewish.
Construction began in 20BC and lasted for 46 years. The area of the Temple Mount was doubled and surrounded by a high wall with massive gates. The Temple was raised, enlarged, and faced with beautiful white stone. Its courtyards served as a gathering place and its shaded porticoes sheltered merchants and money changers.
A stone fence and a rampart surrounded the inner consecrated area which was forbidden to Gentiles. The Temple itself began with the Court of Women, each side of which had a gate. The court was named for a balcony running around the courtyard from which women watched the annual celebration of Sukkot.
The western gate of the courtyard, approached by a semicircular staircase, led to the Court of the Israelites, open to all male Jews. Next came the Court of Priests which contained the sacrificial altar and a copper laver or basin for the priests to wash in. The Temple building was wider in front than in the rear. Its eastern facade had two pillars on either side of the gate to the entrance hall. Within the hall, a great door led to the sanctuary, and the western end of which was the Holy of Holies.
The Temple was not only the center of religious ritual. It was also the place where the Holy Scriptures and other important Jewish literature was held. It was the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the High Court of Jews during the Roman period.
This event among others had been predicted by Christ. [Matthew 2:1 – 2]. All that remains to this day is a portion of the Western Wall. Today it is called the “Wailing Wall”. This spot is the focus of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer.
On the other side of the “Wailing Wall” is the “Dome of the Rock”. The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque, but a Muslim shrine built over a sacred stone. This stone is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. It was considered holy long before the arrival of Islamic religion in around 610AD when Muslims believe the angel Gabriel visited prophet Muhammed with a message from Allah.
It was Holy before hand because the Jews believe this rock to be the very place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. This event the Muslims place in Mecca. Regardless of this, Islam’s Dome of the Rock is believed by both sides to stand directly over the site of the Holy of Holies of both Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple, a fact of which is of paramount importance to Jews. This is the cause for profound tension in this part of the world today as both Nations struggle to retain for them selves this holy and symbolic place.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ was sacrificed and suffered on the cross once and for all for the sins of men. This effectively means that there is no need for altars and temples since the temple is in fact an individual’s heart after they have humbled themselves and demonstrated obedience to God and continue in the faith.
The modern day pre-occupation in placing religious importance on relics and places, sacred rocks and commandments on stone tablets is not what God seems to want for today. Christ, when talking about his new covenant with men, spoke of how His father would write His laws in their hearts [Matthew 8:10 – 12].
Jerusalem is one of the oldest existing cities in the modern world. There were people living there as early as the 4th millennium BC, but the fortress / city began to be famous after King David captured it and made it his capital. Map detailing Jerusalem in King Herod’s time and King Solomon’s Temple.
At King David’s death, the city was still quite small. David had been too busy with court intrigue and hard-fought battles to think about renovations. His son was more ambitious. King Solomon used Phoenician craftsmen to carry out the great construction program that resulted in the building of the First Temple and the palace in Jerusalem [1 Kings 7.52, 5.27]. Nothing but the best for his God. He imported wood (cedar) from Lebanon, and the Temple was embellished and elaborately decorated.All these buildings are destroyed either in war or demolished to make way for later buildings. The only part left from David and Solomon’s reigns may be ramparts from the city wall. Excavations have revealed a stepped stone structure, possibly foundations, dating from the 10th century BC.
When King Solomon died, the ten northern Jewish tribes broke away from the federation, setting up their own kingdom in the north. Solomon’s son Rehoboam was left with sovereignty over only two remaining tribes and the city of Jerusalem.