The House of the Lord was Finished

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 7:13-51 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/1/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 7:13-51

The House of the Lord was Finished

We return again today to yet a further passage about the construction of the temple.  However, at this point the structures had been built.  We might have thought we had finished learning about the temple construction.  But today we learn about many of the furnishings that were made for the temple.  Our passage ends with a reference that the temple was finally finished.  Next chapter will get into the dedication of the new temple.  But this points out an obvious point that we could have easily missed.  The temple was not actually finished until it was furnished with what it needed to function as a temple to the LORD.  Just like today people don’t typically buy a house and then just move in and live in an empty house.  No, we also furnish the house and then live in it. So then, Solomon’s temple would not be complete without the necessary furnishings – especially those items that fulfilled the requirements God gave for the worship in the tabernacle – their equivalents would need to be made for the temple.

I’d like to begin again today by talking about how to apply all this.  On the one hand, this is a passage about real human history among God’s people.  Solomon built a temple for their old covenant worship including these furnishings.  It was important and useful for their worship.  Yet, on the other hand, what application should we draw now, today, when that temple is long gone, and more importantly that we now worship under the new covenant with some significant differences?  I will give three main avenues of application that we can derive from this passage.

A first approach toward application about these temple furnishings is to think of what “furnishings” God now give us to support our worship.  The old covenant had a physical temple, but now the Bible says we are the new covenant temple.  So then, as God gave furnishings to support their old covenant worship in the temple, we should think of what things God gives us to support our new covenant worship.  What does God “furnish” us with so that we as his temple can worship him? His Spirit of Adoption which prompts us to prayer is one thing that immediately comes to mind.  Bibles and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and the waters of baptism also especially come to mine.  This is an avenue of application to reflect on: what things does God provide us to facilitate his worship?

A second approach toward application is to think of how we ourselves are temple furnishings.  We just mentioned that God furnishes us with different things to facilitate our worship.  Well, amazingly that includes each of us Christians.  This imagery of us being the furnishings of the temple is actually what Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:20-21.  There, Paul describes Christians as vessels in the house of God. He says that because of this we should seek to be holy vessels for honorable use.  So, we can relate ourselves to these temple furnishings. Now, if it seems funny that we can be described at one point as the temple itself and then at another point as the furnishings of the temple, remember that Scripture often uses various imagery to describe us.  We could also mention how Scripture describes us as priests who serve in a temple, as well as offerings given by a priest in a temple.  We just need to take each analogy on its own terms to understand what truth it’s trying to convey to us.  So then, we can make application from the nature of these furnishings by seeing how in some sense Scripture likens us to these furnishings. How then are we to be used to facilitate the worship of God?

A third approach of application for these furnishings is to see how God uses us in the making of these furnishings.  Here we find this Hiram well suited and skilled for all this bronze work in the temple.  Solomon had Hiram make all these finely crafted furnishings.  By the way, though they have the same name, this is a different Hiram than Hiram king of Tyre.  Here, this Hiram, should call to mind Bezalel and Oholiab whom, in Exodus 31, God raised up to make all the furnishings of the tabernacle.  What’s stated there explicitly is surely implied here, that Hiram’s great skills of craftsman ultimately come from the Lord.  Likewise, we can think of how each Christian has been given different spiritual gifts for the building up of God’s people and for the work of the church.  Given the imagery that we’ve already described – that God’s people are likened to the temple furnishings – we can rightly make this application.  Christians should use their God-given talents and abilities to build up the church and its worship and its ministry.

Related to this application is that not everyone has the same skills and gifts.  Hiram was skilled in ways that most people were not.  Likewise, another different role we see in this passage is that of Solomon.  He’s credited for the overall building of this, but his service was obviously more in the realm of administration.  Hiram and Solomon both contribute in their own ways, according to their own God-given abilities.  Likewise, we see in verse 59 how even the late King David got to help.  There it references what we see in, for example, 1 Chronicles 29.  There, David told the people how he provided for the future temple construction, not only through government resources, but from his own personal treasury.  In other words, David gave generously of his own wealth to contribute to this future temple construction. And then 1 Chronicles 29 describes how they took an offering and the people themselves gave generously and freely for the future temple construction.  In other words, even if someone in the church doesn’t have skills like either Hiram or Solomon, giving is certainly and important way to help in the building up of the church. That’s also an application from this passage.

So then, having touched on how to approach application here with these temple furnishings, let’s proceed with looking at the details of them in the text.  First he describes two pillars that were made in the front of the temple, verses 15-22.  Then he describes a huge water basin in verses 23-26 typically referred to as the Molten Sea or Brazen Sea.  Next he describes ten bronze stands in verses 27-37, which were to hold the ten bronze basins described in verses 38-39.  Then he briefly describes pots, shovels, and basins made of bronze in verses 40 and 45.  Lastly, in verses 48-50, there are a number of gold items mentioned.  This included the golden altar of incense, the table for the bread of the Presence, and ten lampstands.  Since there are so many items and so many details, I’m going to just make three main observations about these furnishings.  They involved beauty, they involved function, and they involved symbolism.

As to their beauty, we note that there is a lot of detail given here about their ornate design.  Like how the two pillars had the bowl shaped capitals that looked like lilies with extensive pomegranate lattice-work.  Or, then you have this huge Brazen Sea that was so much more than just a gigantic container for water.  It had these twelve oxen that faced the four corners of the earth.  It’s brim also was like a lily.  Just the size alone of this Brazen Sea would have been breathtaking – something like 15 feet in diameter and 7.5 half feet tall, holding somewhere around 12,000 gallons of water!  Again, we see with the ten stands of bronze such detail given to us about the paneled design of lions, oxen, and cherubim, with wreaths at each side.  Likewise, even the small details of the pots, shovels, and bowls were not just bronze, it was burnished, or polished, bronze.

Now as we read through these details, you might have been tempted to find it a bit laborious.  Sometimes passages like this have been likened by some as just slightly easier to read than a genealogy.  We could be tempted to be bored by such a detailed description.  But surely the author was not bored as he wrote this.  It’s been noted that such descriptions are not architectural blueprints.  You couldn’t go and build these identically off these descriptions.  But that’s surely because the author is not trying to convey something for you to go build.  He’s excited to convey to us something of the beauty and excellent craftmanship of these items.

This point about the outward beauty should be considered in light of how the old covenant placed an emphasis on physical and earthly things.  However, the New Testament repeatedly shows us that it did so in order to point beyond such to spiritual and heavenly realities.  Accordingly, when we think in terms of application regarding the beauty of these furnishings, we should remember the emphasis of the new covenant.  The outward and physical emphasis of the old covenant is replaced with an inward and spiritual emphasis in the new covenant.  That’s why a physical temple gets replaced with a spiritual temple made up of believers.  So then, beautiful, craft temple furnishings under the old covenant should call us to seek spiritually beautiful equivalents under the new covenant.  As King Jesus builds and furnishes the temple of his people, surely his efforts involve such beauty.  Think of our sanctification.  He is making our souls and character beautiful.  We are his craft workmanship.  Likewise then, as we serve in his temple, and assist him in its building, we should look to do all things well.  So, for example, should we serve as a bronze shovel in the house of the Lord, so to speak, let us shovel in excellence and to the best of our God-given abilities.  As we use our gifts to edify the church and support its worship, let us look to do all things well in the spirit of serving a God who cares about beauty in the best sense of the word, the beauty that comes from the inner person.  Likewise, as that reference by Paul in 2 Timothy said, let us then look to serve as temple furnishings in holiness.  As Paul says there to Timothy, that means we need to cast aside all those former worldly ways of living in sin and instead pursue the holiness of righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  By the grace of God we look to beautify ourselves as is fitting as “items” used in divine worship.

Looking next to the function of these temple furnishings, we can note the various purposes that these furnishings served.  For the most part, there was a high degree of practical purpose associated with these furnishings.  (The two pillars are a possible exception to this, which are often thought to be free standing and not actually bearing up any load.)  But in general, there was a lot of practical function and purpose associated with these items. For example, this huge Brazen Sea is said in the 2 Chronicles account to be used for priests to wash in.  Likewise, it says there that the ten basins on the stands were used to rinse off the burnt offerings.  If we reflect on all the regulations of the law that would involve water and cleansing ceremonies by the temple priests, we can think why they needed lots of water available.  And of course, we can remember that their various washings were only skin deep with regard to the water.  But they point them and us to the washing and cleansing of our souls that we need by the blood of Jesus.

Likewise, we can think of the rather practical value of bronze pots, shovels, and basins.  When dealing with so many sacrifices, there is going to be a lot of ash.  These tools would have allowed for the cleanup of the ash.  Or going through the list of the various gold items here.  The golden altar, which would have been placed in front of the Most Holy Place, is where the priest would daily offer incense unto the Lord, per the instructions of Exodus 30.  The table for the bread of the presence served the practical purpose of holding the bread which the law said needs to be placed on display every week and to supply for the sustenance of the priests.  The lampstands housed the lamps which the priests were required to maintain their light.  Besides fulfilling this act of worship, this served the practical benefit of giving light to the temple too.

Obviously, much more could be said about the function and purpose of all this.  But this quick overview simply acknowledges that these various furnishings generally had very practical purposes that allowed the priests to carry out the various acts of worship God commanded in the law for the old covenant.  Likewise, the worship and service that we are called to will involve various things we’ll each do unto the Lord.  As we each play our different parts or roles in the worship and service of the church, we are used by God in his own worship.  Jesus assembles us and then equips us by his Spirit to be used in such ways in the worship of God.  Worship involves various practical matters that all come together.  Whether it be in the physical setup of the church beforehand, to the active participation in the singing and prayers of the service, to the attentive receiving of the preached Word, to the cleanup of the service afterwards, let us be about the various practical functions that execute the worship of the church.  (The deacons thank you in advance for returning your hymnals and Bibles to the cart each week!)

Finally, let’s talk about the various symbolism employed by these furnishings.  sThe use of pomegranates and lilies along with cherubim and likely oxen and lions again reminds of the paradise imagery that we had spoken of in past weeks with the temple.  Again, to have God’s presence among the people is a return to a paradise and beyond.  The pomegranates and lilies are sometimes suggested as having more romantic overtones given their use in the Song of Solomon – it might suggest God with his people as his bride dwelling together in a garden paradise.

Symbolism is especially seen with these two pillars.  If, in fact, these pillars didn’t hold up any physical structure, then their function would have been strictly symbolic.  In other words, they would serve like a monument or a memorial to communicate truth.  Given the names that are chosen, this symbolic use is certainly here.  One is named Jachin.  That doesn’t seem to refer to any person in Scripture, but the translation of the name is “He establishes.”  It should remind us of the language God gave King David in the Davidic covenant.  There God promised to establish David’s kingdom.  This pillar surely reminds us of this truth and the general notion that the kingdom of God’s people is founded upon God.  Every time the people came to the temple, this grand pillar would remind them that God establishes the kingdom.  Similarly, the other pillar is named Boaz.  While David did have a Boaz in his lineage, and there might be some connection intended there to highlight his lineage and the promise given to his lineage, the word Boaz is a reference to strength.  It translates from Hebrew as “By Him He is Mighty.”  In other words it’s a reference to how the strength of God is shown through his king, or possibly through the temple.  The royal messianic psalm 21 starts and ends with a reference to Boaz, i.e. the strength of God.  That would help make the connection here with God’s strength and his anointed king.  Certainly, these truths find very direct application to us.  The Lord continues to establish his kingdom, and he does it in the strength of his anointed one, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Time fails me here to tell of more symbolism.  The Brazen Sea with its chariot like wheels and its amount of water with its oxen have been seen by some as suggestive of themes of Egypt and the Exodus with the Red Sea – how on the one hand God’s use of water in judgment like with the flood can also be for his people at the same time a representation of their cleansing and salvation.  How the vessels such as the pots were made from the clay and then brought to the temple have had some think of how God fashioned man out of the ground and then brought him to the Garden.  Scripture speaks in various places how the incense that came from the altar was likened unto the prayers of God’s people wafting up to him.  The bread of the presence on this temple symbolized not only God being with the people but his supplying of their sustenance.  The lampstands remind us that God shines into the darkness of this world to shine the light of his countenance among his people.  The use of gold for some items instead of the bronze likely suggests the greater degree of holiness and glory for those items that were either more central to the worship or in closer proximity to the Holy of Holies.  

Again, much more could be said, but I hope you get the sense of the symbolism involved in these temple furnishings.  That reminds us that even back in the old covenant, these physical and external things pointed beyond them to something far greater and of more wonderful substance.  These symbols remind us to look beyond these things to Christ and the fulness of the promises of God that he holds to us in the age to come and the future paradise that awaits when we will dwell with God in eternity in the New Jerusalem.  All our labors in building this house right now have that goal in mind.

Consequently, that is how I will end our message for today.  This passage brought to a finish the work in building the temple.  Next chapter they’ll bring in the ark and dedicate this all to the LORD and start using it.  But in contrast, we recognize that the temple God is now making of us is not yet finished.  And yet, unlike here, God has us already using this temple even while it is not yet finished.  God has us worship as a temple under construction.  But rest assured, one day it will be finished.  As certainly as Solomon finished his temple, one day Jesus with us will finish building this most glorious house of the LORD.  Then it’s completion will be even more noteworthy and glorious than the finishing of Solomon’s temple.  We are God’s workmanship and his workers who work with what he supplies.  What glorious things are spoken of us and for us in Jesus Christ! To God be all the glory in Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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