14 August 2010

It was Always Solomon's Temple, Sometimes God's

From 963 to 586 BC--377 years--a temple crowned the hill above Jerusalem.

Its bronze pillars, named Jakin and Boaz, gleamed in the rising sun. Its courtyard swarmed with the activity of sacrifice and religious vigor. At least three times a year, the king left his wood-paneled palace next door, strode across the courtyard, and offered sacrifices before the high, bronzed doors.

It was sight renowned in Judea, an edifice meant to draw the attention of heaven itself.

In his prayer of dedication, the builder-king Solomon had asked, "May [God's] eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there" (2 Chronicles 6.20)

Yet God's eyes would be averted over time. His name would be desecrated in the Holy and Most Holy Places many times over the following 377 years. This temple would be ravaged by foreign troops (including Israelites from the ten northern tribes, as well as Egyptians, Edomites, Bedouin and Babylonians). Its treasuries would be emptied often to buy off aggressors from Syria, Egypt and Babylon. More disturbingly, it's courts and its holy places would sometimes host idols of Baal and Asherah.

A careful study of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles begs the question: was this a Temple of God or a Temple of Baal?

I just had to find out, so I spent two weeks pouring over these biblical sources, tracing the lines of the Jewish kings, searching for information about the Temple. The further I studied, the more the story of the Temple came to life, and hidden battles for control--of Judea, of Israel, of God--emerged.

First, I want to post a history of the Judean kings from Solomon to Zedekiah. This covers the time from which the first temple was built to its destruction by the Babylonian army. I wanted to know the political affiliation of the kings (God Party or Pagan Party) and explain any additional notes I learned. I have purposely left out any kings who ruled for two years or less like Abijah, Aram, and Jehoash.

King (Dates)

Party (reference)


Solomon (963-930)

Mixed (see 1K 9.25 and 1K 114-6)

Built hundreds of temples to accommodate his wives (1K11.8)

Rehoboam (930-910)

Pagan (1K 14.22-23)

Pharaoh Shishak invaded in 925, the first foreign ruler to pillage the Temple (1K 14.24-26)

Asa (910-869)

God (1K 15.9-10)

Paid off Ben-Hadad with money from the temple treasury to avert a Syrian invasion (1K 15.18-19)

Jehosophat (869-848)

God (1K 22.43)

Jehoram (848-841)

Pagan (2K 8.18)

Arabs invaded and looted the palace (no mention of the temple) (2Ch 21.16-18)

Ahaziah and Athaliah (841-835)

Pagan (2K 8.27)

Married the daughter of Jezebel, killed during a visit to his in-laws in Israel as part of a coup (2Ch 22.7-9). First recorded sacrifices to Baal offered at the temple during his reign.

Joash (835-796)

God (2K 12.2)

Raised a lot of money for the temple but kept poor accounts (2K 12.13-16), and used much of it to avert Syrian invasion (2K 16.8). Tolerated foreign gods.

Amaziah (796-767)

Mixed (2K 14.3, 2Ch 25.14)

Israel looted the temple during his reign (2K 14.14), worshipped idols captured from Edom (2Ch 25.14)

Azariah/Uzziah (767-740)

God (2K 15.2)

Cursed with leprosy when he tried to burn incense in temple, a role restricted to priests (2Ch 16.16-20)

Jothan (740-735)

God (2K 16.34)

Ahaz (735-715)

Pagan (2Ch 28.1-2)

Put an alter of Baal in front of the Temple (2K 16.10-14), he himself removed the temple furnishings and locked the doors (2Ch 28.24-25)

Hezekiah (715-686)

God (2K 18.3)

Restored Passover celebration and used Temple as a place to pray (2Ch 30.1; 2K 19.3), emptied Temple treasury to avert invasion by Sennacherib (2K 18.15-16)

Manasseh (686-642)

Pagan (2K 21.9)

Set up shrines in the Temple to Asherah (2K 21.3) “and all the starry hosts” (2Ch 33.3-4)

Josiah (642-609)

God (2K 22.2)

Removed idols from temple as well as dormitories for Temple prostitutes and other articles from father’s reign (2K 23.7-11), rebuilt Temple doors (2Ch 29.3)

Jehoikim (609-598)

Pagan (2Ch 36.5)

First looting of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar (2Ch 36.6-7), the second looting takes placed ruging the three-month reign of his son, Jehoiachin

Zedekiah (598-586)

Pagan (2Ch 36.12)

Rebels against both Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah, leading to total destruction of the temple and palace complex (2Ch 36.17-19)

In that list of kings one finds a struggle between the God Party and the Pagan Party, as it swayed kings and brought houses to wealth or ruin. If we split up the Temple's lifespan between service to God, service to idols, and the mixed affections of Solomon and Azariah, we end up with this:
  • Worship of God: 195 years
  • Worship of idols: 120 years
  • Mixed Worship: 62 years
When I think of how much emphasis that Jews place upon the Temple--or the lily-white understanding of its history that Christians acquire from the Old Testament--I'm shocked by the reality of the first temple's history. Of the 377 years it looked out over Jerusalem, it served the interests of the God Party just over half the time.

When the Temple Was God's
Solomon set up the traditions of the Temple and assigned duties that would extend down through the kings that followed. We find in 2 Chronicles 8 a description of the services he ordained.

(This may have been a result of a moral crisis brought about by Solomon's marriage of Pharaoh's daughter in verse 11. Initially Solomon is careful to keep her away from the Temple, in a palace separate from his father's--in the long run, he would build temples for her gods as well as the gods of many, many other foreign wives.)

Solomon inaugurated a tradition--passed down from his father, David--where he presided over sacrifices on "Sabbaths, New Moons and the three annual feasts--the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles" (verse 14). He also set Levites in charge of the Temple services, leading out in praise, guarding the gates, and overseeing the treasury.

After a generation of paganism, led by Solomon's son, Rehoboam, Asa would reconsecrate the Temple and the people of his kingdom, close to the 70th anniversary of the Dedication of the Temple (2Ch 15.10-15). Asa's son, Jehosophat, carried on with the God Party. Preparing for battle with Moab and Ammon, he gathered the people before the Temple, begging God's leading (2 Chronicles 20.1-21). God responded by granting a prophecy to one of the Levites, Jahaziel, giving away the secret plans of the enemy. The people left the temple courts for the battlefield...and they were singing. Asa and Jehosophat would lead a 58-year renaissance for the God Party that would be disrupted economically, spiritually and militarily by those arch villains of the Old Testament: Ahab and Jezebel.

The next renewal would be led by the boy-king, Joash--a grandson of both Jehosophat and Ahab. He would inaugurate a 100-year reign of the God Party, albeit a time when idolatry would be condoned. An initial wave of fundraising by Joash brought some repairs, but also was diverted by corruption and an outright bribe to prevent a Syrian invasion. The Temple would bring the final king to a miserable end, when Uzziah tried to burn incense, only to be cursed with leprosy for appropriating a Levitical duty. One more mark of Joash's reforms was the way the priests were empowered, beginning with Uncle Jehoida, who had protected the prince from his murderous grandmother, Athaliah.

There would be two more renewals in the final 150 years of the Temple's history. Hezekiah would celebrate Passover (2 Chronicles 30) and carefully retrace Solomon's footsteps by establishing regular sacrifices and duties for the Levites (compare 2 Chronicles 31.2-19 with 2 Chronicles 8). Josiah, Hezekiah's grandson, would undo the terrible desecration enacted by his father, Manasseh, and successfully use Temple funds to rebuild and restore it. At the time of Josiah's untimely death, the Passover and Temple rites were so refined that the chronicler admitted they "had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel" (2 Chronicles 35.18).

The chronicler described Hezekiah's reign with an accolade that I wish would have described all of Judah's kings:
"In everything that he undertook in the service of God's temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered" (2Ch 31.21).
When the Message was Mixed
Two kings didn't know whom to serve. They did great things for God that were matched by appalling choices. I place both of them in the Mixed Party.

After setting up the Temple rituals and assigning roles to the Levites in 2 Chronicles 8, Solomon set off in search of treasures from Ophir, met the Queen of Sheba, and left the Temple behind him. As he added more wives to the harem, he added more idols to his devotions. "He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done" (2K 11.5-6) [See the image of Ashtoreth at right].

The second mixed monarch was Amaziah, son of Joash. The writer of Kings notes, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done" (2K 14.3). He just wasn't "as right" as David? Amaziah would win a terrific victory over the Edomites, but he would follow that victory by worshiping idols he had captured (2Ch 25.14). Following his victory over Edom, he challenged the kingdom of Israel, only to be defeated, captured in battle, and pillaged as the army of Israel broke into Jerusalem and looted the Temple (2K 14.14). Amaziah claimed membership in the God Party, but his actions betrayed him.

When the Temple Belonged to Idols
Rehoboam, the son of one of Solomon's foreign wives, was the first to wholly endorse the Pagan Party. Idols appeared in high places and male prostitutes enlivened pagan ceremonies. Of course the greatest offense against the Temple was an invasion by Pharaoh Shishak, who stripped the Temple and the Palace of the Forests of Lebanon just five years after the death of Solomon (1K 14.25). (It will take another blog to trace the sins of Judah's kings to their mothers--and believe me, it's coming.)

The second era of Pagan Party rule coincided with the rise of the Omrides in Israel--the rule of kings Omri through his grandson, Ahab, a time when Israel reached its heights of prosperity and cultural dominance. Jehoram married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel named Athaliah. During Jehoram's reign, Bedouins would raid Jerusalem and sack the Temple. His son, Ahaziah ruled for a short time, leaving Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, in control. Her sons offered the first recorded sacrifices to Baal inside the Temple (2Ch 24.7) This era ended with the interference of a priest, Jehoida, the rise of Joash, and the renewal of the God Party (I have written about the dominance of the priestly class already).

Three more eras of Pagan Party rule followed the 100-year reign of Joash-Amaziah-Uzziah. Each coincided with the cultural dominance of first Assyria, then Egypt.

Ahaz ruled in Jerusalem at the time Assyria extinguished the northern kingdom of Israel (721). His conversion to the Pagan Party had a lot to do with placating the Assyrians. He himself looted the temple and sent the gold to Tilgath-Pileser, begging him to invade Aram (Damascus) and Israel. On a visit to Damascus, Ahaz saw an altar, which he sketched. On his return to Jerusalem, he ordered that a copy be built in front of the Temple, moving Solomon's great altar in order to complete the new project. He gutted the Temple, trying to convert it to the worship of Assyrian gods:
"King Ahaz took away the side panels and removed the basins from the movable stands. He removed the Sea from the bronze bulls that supported it and set it on a stone base. He took away the Sabbath canopy that had been built at the temple and removed the royal entryway outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria" (2K 16.15-16)
When Hezekiah took power and began renewal, it took 2 1/2 weeks to clean out all of the pagan artifacts that Ahaz had installed in the Temple (2Ch 29.16-17).

A second Assyrian peon was Manasseh, the most notorious Pagan to rule in Judah. "He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, 'In Jerusalem I will put my name'" (2K 21.4). These included an Asherah pole (for fertility rites) and an altar of Baal. In the courts around the Temple, "he built altars to all the starry hosts" (verse 5). He even sacrificed his children in the fire.

The tragic death of Josiah would begin the final era of the Pagan Party. At this point Judah was a geopolitical football, punted back and forth between empires in Egypt and Babylon. Josiah's son, Jehoash, may have been in the God Party, but Pharaoh Neco deposed him shortly after his victory over Josiah, and replaced him with the hopelessly pagan, Jehoiakim. Jehoash would end his days in exile--later joined by Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem. The final two kings, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah tried paganism, but failed to placate Babylon, which destroyed the Temple in 586.

Like an Object in the Rear-View Mirror
While the spiritual significance of the Temple that Solomon built never wavered for members of the God Party, it was also the political centerpiece of a tug-of-war between factions within the ruling elite of Judah. On the one side stood the God Party: descendants of David, prophets, the priestly class. On the other side stood the Pagan Party: descendants of foreign wives, proponents of alliances with Israel, Assyria and Egypt.

The Temple was looted five times by foreign kings, one time by Ahaz. Its treasures rose and were lost with the fortunes of the kingdom. Just consider its greatest treasure, for example--the Ark of the Covenant. There are six different possible forces that could have taken it away.

Yet the idea of the Temple--a place in Jerusalem where God's holy name would dwell--endured for a thousand years, from the time of Solomon through the time of Christ. I have a few more temple-related threads in the Old Testament that I want to clear up--the Temple in the Psalms, the role of mothers in the party affiliations of the Kings of Judah, and the Temple in the Prophets--before I move on to the second temple of Ezra and the third temple of Herod. It is both the Temple Idea and the reality of what the Temple actually achieved that I want to explore further.

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