The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the LORD, and an house for his kingdom.2Chronicles 2:1-10.
1. And Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the Lord [the "name of God" in Scripture is nearly equivalent to the presence of God. God is in his name; and what is done to or for his name is done to him], and an house for his kingdom.
2. And Solomon told out threescore and ten thousand men to bear burdens, and fourscore thousand to hew in the mountain, and three thousand and six hundred to oversee them.
3. ¶ And Solomon sent to Hiram the king of Tyre, saying, As thou didst deal [comp. 1Chronicles 14:1; 2Samuel 5:11] with David my father, and didst send him cedars to build him an house to dwell therein, even so deal with me.
4. Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense [Literally "incense of spices." Comp. Exodus 30:7, where the burning of such incense—every morning and evening—is commanded as a necessary part of the worship of Jehovah; and see Exodus 30:34-36 of the same chapter for the composition of the "incense of spices." The symbolical meaning of the rite is indicated in Revelation 8:3-4], and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel.
5. And the house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods.
6. But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?
7. Send me now therefore a man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in iron, and in purple, and crimson, and blue ["Purple, crimson, and blue" would be needed for the hangings of the temple, which, in this respect, as in others, was conformed to the pattern of the tabernacle (see Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:1; etc.)], and that can skill to grave with the cunning men that are with me in Judah and in Jerusalem, whom David my lather did provide.
8. Send me also cedar trees, fir trees, and algum trees, out of Lebanon: for I know that thy servants can skill to cut timber in Lebanon; and, behold, my servants [see 2Chronicles 2:18. Solomon employed 80,000 of his own subjects as woodcutters, who, no doubt, did the coarse work, while the finishing and all the finer work was executed by skilled Phoenicians] shall be with thy servants.
9. Even to prepare me timber in abundance: for the house which I am about to build shall be wonderful great [Literally "great and wonderful" (on the really moderate size of Solomon's temple, see footnote, post, p. 174)].
10. And, behold, I will give to thy servants, the hewers that cut timber twenty thousand measures of beaten wheat, and twenty thousand measures of barley, and twenty thousand baths of wine [the barley and the wine are omitted in Kings. The Speaker's Commentary gives the opinion of learned commentators explaining the difference in this respect, but holds that it is better to regard the author of Chronicles as filling out the statement which the writer of Kings has given in brief; and to gather from the two passages combined that the return which Solomon made for the timber and the services of the Phoenician workmen consisted of 20,000 cors of wheat, 20,000 cors of barley, 20,000 baths of wine, and 20,000 baths of oil, 200 of which (=20 cors) were of the finest "beaten" oil. The wheat and the fine oil were consumed by the court; the barley, wine, and ordinary oil were applied to the sustenance of the foreign labourers], and twenty thousand baths of oil.
"And Solomon determined" (2Chronicles 2:1).
LITERALLY: "and Solomon said." The word "said" seems to be quite a small word beside the word "determined," but it is just as good in quality and in music, if we understand it rightly. We have gone backward in the use of words; we try to make up by many words what used to be expressed by one; in this regard, civilisation is not improving, education is enfeebling our expression. In the old time, when a man said what he was going to do, he had half done it; he never spoke about it until his mind was made up: now we vapour about what we are going to do, and therefore we seldom do it; our speech has become a variety of the process known as evaporation. In other places, the word rendered "determined" is rendered so as to give energy, full purpose, settled and unchangeable resolution. There was no need for such expression in this case: Solomon was born to do this work. There is no need for the rose to say, Now I am going to be beautiful and fragrant. There is no need for the nightingale to say, Now I have fully made up my mind to be musical and tuneful, and to fill the air with richest expression and melody. The flower was born to bloom, and to throw all its fragrance away in generous donation; the nightingale was made in every bone and feather of it for the sacred singing throat to sing to astonish the world with music. Solomon came into this work naturally, as it were by birth and education. His father could latterly talk about nothing else; the old man nearly built the temple himself, although distinctly told he should not do it; yet he could not let it alone; if he awoke in the night-time it was to consider what the length of the temple should be; and if he suddenly came upon his son Solomon it was to deliver an extra charge as to the building of the holy house. When he wrote to his friends it was to ask for material for the temple. He would speak upon no other subject; when he lay upon his bed for the last time he signed and motioned and talked about the temple that he wanted to build. There is always something we want to do next, and although God has expressly told us that we should not touch the work we cannot keep our hands quite still. We will build in the air if we cannot build on the ground; we will talk, if we cannot actually carve the ivory and prepare the gold. It is infinitely pathetic to watch David in these later hours; he is told that he should not do a thing, and he says, I am sure I will not do it; and then he talks about it, and prepares for it, and offers suggestions respecting it; and if he could get up in the night-time without God seeing him he would in very deed begin to build what he had made up his mind he would not build, because God had told him he should not do it The wondrous pressure there is upon us! The marvellous bias that our life takes in certain directions which are forbidden! Would God some understood this a little better! Would God some men would almost try to pray! they might succeed. In one respect it is the hardest, in another it is the easiest of the miracles, but a miracle it is, that a man trained in a mother tongue in his infancy to talk nonsense and frivolity, should actually open his lips in prayer. What greater miracle is there, when it is rightly measured, fully grasped, and really enjoyed? When we say we will build, we ought to have begun to build. The word "determined" is a weak word in comparison with the word "said." A man's word should be his bond; he should not require to speak loudly in order to be believed: when he says in the simplest tone that he has done some miracle of faith, love, service, he should not be required to make oath and say; his word, his whisper should be his oath.
"And Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the Lord, and an house for his kingdom" (2Chronicles 2:1).
That latter expression is not always clearly understood. Solomon built a house for the name of the Lord, and a house for his own residence. That is the prayer in action. This is what true men are always doing. No man can build God's house without building his own at the same time. We have forgotten that immortal inspiring truth,—"Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine." No man can give a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple without having his reward. Yet we must be on our guard against the subtle play of selfishness even here: for if any man should say he will build his own house by building God's, he will never have a house of his own to live in. There must be no investment of consecration; there must be no folly at the altar. If a man should say he will spend all his life in the church, and let his own house take care of itself, that house will come to ruin. Here we see the play of wisdom; here is the need of sentiment being guarded by discipline: otherwise we shall have life frittered away in an infinite fuss about nothing. Everywhere we must see the wise man; then shall there be a steady preparation, attention to the perspective of nature and of life, and a response to all those obligations which touch it at every point, and which are intended for its development and education and final consolidation in righteousness. Yet here is the compound action:—Because thou hast asked wisdom and not riches, thou shalt have riches. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you": therefore, when thou art building my house I will be building thine. We must not have these things taken out eclectically, and set in rows like specimens; we must from all the facts draw the inclusive inference, and that inference must be the basis of our life. God helps those who help him. He never forgets the man who waits in his house; he is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love: if you have given him water, he will give you wine; if you have spent a day at his house for his sake, there is no green pasture in all heaven's boundless paradise to which you shall not be welcomed. We never can be before God, greater than God, in gift and eulogy and blessing.
Solomon having begun to build grew in the idea of what was due to God, and he laid down the great principle which underlies all true religious enthusiasm—
"And the house which I build is great" (2Chronicles 2:5).
Why is it great? For the sake of vanity, display, ostentation; to make heathen people stare in blankest wonder because of the greatness of thy resources? No—"The house which I build is great: for great is our God." That is philosophy. He has really now received the wisdom; he talks like a sagacious king; he has seen the reality of things, and how nobly he talks—"the house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods." That is the explanation of all honest enthusiasm. A volume is needed here, rather than a suggestion:—The house which I build is great; for great is our God: the sacrifice which I offer is great; for great is the God to whom it is offered: the consecration is great; for great is the cross: the missionary toil and effort is great; for great is the love of God which it represents. The religious must always be greater than the material, and must account for the material. However stupendous the temple, we must write upon its portals, Here is One greater than the temple. However magnificent the oblation we lay upon the altar, we should say, The fire that burns it, in every spark, is greater than any jewel we have laid upon the altar to be consumed. Here is a rational consecration. Why do you build your little hut? Because you have a little God. If the hut is all you can build, if it is the measure of your resources, and if all the while you are saying concerning it, Would God it were ten thousand times better than it is! then it shall be as acceptable as was the temple of Solomon. But it you are seeking to evade sacrifice by the plea that God needs not any effort of yours, or is not pleased with any expenditure or display of yours, then renounce your Christian name and preface your surname by the word Iscariot. Let us have no lying in the sanctuary I Let us go out rather into the broad wilderness in the night-time, and babble our lies to the careless winds,—but do not let us tell lies in the house of God! How often has the Christian cause suffered in the village, in the little town, because some man has said he is opposed to display. He is not opposed to the display of his selfishness, he is opposed to the display of some other man's unselfishness. Solomon here must be regarded as the wise man. "The house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods." Our theology determines our architecture. Our theology determines our expenditure. Search in the garden for a flower for Christ—which will you bring?—the one you can spare the best? Never! He stands there waiting the flower. How your eyes quicken into new expression! What eagerness there is in your whole gait and posture! How you turn the flowers over, so to say, that you may gather the loveliest and the best! and how on the road to him you pray God that even yet it may grow into some fairer loveliness, and be charged with some more heavenly fragrance.
Let us take another view of this verse.
Solomon's conception of his work was great and worthy—"And the house which I build is great"—Why? "For [because] great is our God." Here is more than a local incident; here indeed is the whole philosophy of Christian service. A great religion means a great humanity; a great God means a great worship; a great faith means a great consecration. Solomon's temple therefore was an embodied theology; it was no fancy work, the creation of dainty fingers, meant merely to please an eye that hungered for beauty. Solomon was not gratifying an aesthetic taste when he sent for a man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in iron, and in purple and crimson and blue; or when he sent for cedar trees, fir trees, and algum trees out of Lebanon: his æstheticism, as we should say in modern phrase, was but an aspect of his theology. The sweet incense was not for a pampered nostril; the ceiling panelled with fir was not merely a picture to look upon; and the gold of Parvaim was not a mere display of wealth, a merely ostentatious show of civic plate. When the house was garnished with precious stones for beauty, and the beams overlaid with gold, and the walls were engraved with cherubims whose wings all but moved, and when the images of the cherubims outstretched their wings one towards the other, and when Jachin and Boaz were reared before the temple, there was but one meaning, one interpretation: so also with the chain, the altar, the mercy seat, the myriad oxen, the ten lavers, the ten candlesticks of gold, the pomegranates, and all the founders' work cast in the clay ground between Succoth and Zeredathah, there was but one purpose, one thought, one answer—the house is great, because the God it is meant for is great. We have forgotten the reason, and therefore we have descended to commonplace—any hut will do for God! This enables us to get rid of a plea that is often adopted by an idle sentimentalism, to the effect that any house, how frail and unpretending soever, will do for divine worship: God does not look for finery; any place, however simple, and however poor, and however small, will do to worship in. So it will, if it be all that the worshippers can offer; then the offering shall be as the widow's mites, and as the cup of cold water; the gift shall be glorified by the receiver: but where it is the fault of idleness, indifference, avarice, coldness of heart, worldliness, a misgiving faith, it will be as a house without light, a skeleton unblessed and rejected. God will judge between poverty that wants to give, and wealth that wants to withhold. Solomon's policy in temple building was rational. Solomon had a great conception of God, so he, having an abundance of resources, would build no mean house for him. The king of one nation will not receive the monarch of another in a common meeting room, but will have it decorated and enriched, and the metropolis of his country shall yield treasure and beauty, that the eye of the visiting monarch may be delighted with things pleasant to behold. England is not affronted because a foreign Court prepares sumptuously to receive England's Queen but for a moment's interview. There is a fitness in all things. God will meet us under the plainest roof, if it is all we can supply; he will make it beautiful; but if we say, "Any place will do for God," you may make the appointment but he will not be there.
Then Solomon feels that he has begun to do the impossible. We never come to our best selves until we come to this kind of madness. So long as we work easily within our hand-reach we are doing nothing: there must come upon us persuasions that we have undertaken a madman's work if we are to rise to the dignity of our vocation; we must feel that any house we can build is utterly unworthy of the guest who is to be asked to accept the unworthy hospitality.
"Who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him?" (2Chronicles 2:6).
The man who has that conception will build a house sooner or later; he is under the influence of the right degree and quality of inspiration; he does not come pompously forth from his throne, saying, I will do this with the ease of a king: when he looks upon his wealth he sees only its poverty; when he counts his weapons he counts but so many broken straws. Who can do it? Yet even here Solomon is as wise as ever, for he says, All I can do is to burn sacrifices before him—"save only to burn sacrifice before him:" it will only be a little useful place after all: when my father and the allied kings and myself and my counsellors have done all that lies in our power, it will simply come to a place to burn sacrifice in. Woe be unto us when we think the house is greater than the God. Yet in this "only," we have all we want. Here is the beginning of piety, here is the dawn of worship, here is the daystar that will melt into the noonday glory. We build God a house, and it is only to sing hymns in, but in the singing of a hymn a man may see Christ; it is only to hear a brother man explain so far as he can, poor soul, what he reads in the infinite word, but when the infirmest expositor is true to his text a light flashes out of it that dims the sun; it is only a meeting house where we can lay hand to hand in brotherliness and fellowship, and bow our heads in common plaint and cry and prayer. That is enough. We are not to be discouraged because we can only begin: we should be encouraged because we can in reality make some kind of commencement. Blessed is that servant who shall be found trying to make the best of God's house when his Lord cometh. This is but decency and justice, that we should plainly say in most audible words that we have in God's house received benefits which we could not have received in any other place: what upliftings of heart, what sudden illuminations of mind, what calls from the spirit world! What a glorious house! So much so that, amid much frivolity and much merchandise that ends in nothing, we have come back after all to our earliest memories, and men who have fought the world's battles and won them have asked in the eleventh hour of their existence to have sung to them the little hymns which they sung in the nursery. Thus we come home, thus we come back to the starting-point; we begin with the cradle, and we end with it. We are born into some other world, not at the point of our deceptive illusory greatness, but at the point of our childlikeness when we have little and know how little it is. Let the house of God make this claim for itself, and nothing can destroy it. We do not come to God's house for new revelations, for intellectual excitements and entertainments; we come to it—save only to burn incense or sacrifice, save only to confess sin, save only to look at the cross, save only to begin our lesson, save only to rehearse our lesson with a view to its more perfect utterance otherwhere: but it is enough, it is a line to start with. No man can dislodge you out of your simplicity. When your faith becomes a metaphysical puzzle some controversialist may break through and steal it: when it is a sweet rest on Christ, a child's trust in God, moth and rust cannot corrupt, and thieves cannot break through and steal. If we claim too much for the house of God our claim may be disputed and finally extinguished; but if we accept the sanctuary as but a beginning, any temple we can build here as but a doorway into the true temple, no man can take from us our heritage.
Then Solomon falls back and says the best is but poor—
"But who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him an house" (2Chronicles 2:6).
That is not despair; that is the beginning of greater strength. Solomon once more shows the true wisdom when he says, "save only to burn sacrifice before him"; that is the little I can do, and that I am prepared to do; when the whole house is set up, all I can do is to burn the little incense; I would do more if I could, I would sing like an angel, I would be hospitable as God himself; I would see all mysteries, and solve all problems, and reveal the kingdom to all who wish to see it; but at present I am the victim of limitation, and my whole function comes to incense-or sacrifice-burning: but that little I will do; I shall be here early in the morning and late at night and all the time between; this altar shall smoke with an offering to God. Let us do the little we can do. Our best religious worship here is but a hint: but therein is not only its littleness but its significance. When a man stumbles in prayer, and proceeds in prayer, notwithstanding all stumbling, he means by that effort—Some day I will pray. When a man lays down a religious dogma and says, It is badly expressed; now I have written it I do not like it, because it does not tell one ten-thousandth part of what is in my heart, yet that is the only symbol I can think of or invent or create; well then, let it stand. God will take its meaning, not its literary totality. Looking at it, he will say, It is an emblem, a type, a symbol, a hint, an algebraic sign, pointing towards the unknown and the present impossible. Do what you can, and God will do the rest.
Solomon can do everything himself, we should imagine, because he is so great a man. Probably there never was so great a king in his time and within the world as known to him. Solomon therefore will begin, continue, and end, and make all things according to his own will without the assistance of any one. So we should say, but in so saying we talk foolishly.
"Send me now therefore a man" (2Chronicles 2:7).
What, king Solomon wanting a man! Why does he not build the temple himself? No temple should be built by any one man. Blessed be God, everything that is worth doing is done by cooperation, by acknowledged reciprocity of labour. Your breakfast-table was not spread by yourself, although it could not have been spread without you. Thank God there are no mere monographs in revelation. Sometimes we may almost bless God that we cannot identify the authorship of some books in the Bible. It is better that many hands should have written the Book than that some brilliant author should have retired into immortality on the ground of his being the only genius that could have written so marvellous a volume. We do not read Hamlet because William Shakespeare wrote it; we need not care whether Bacon or Shakespeare wrote it: there it is. No one man could have written what Shakespeare is said to have written. Thank God we are not yet permitted to see omniscience gathered up and focalised in any one genius. All good books are rich with quotations, sometimes acknowledged, and sometimes not acknowledged because unconscious. Every man has a hundred men in him. One queen boasted that she carried the blood of a hundred kings. Solomon therefore sends to Hiram king of Tyre, saying, "Send me now therefore a man." Has Tyre to help Jerusalem? Has the Gentile to help the Jew? Has the Englishman to feed at a table on which the Chinaman has laid something? Are our houses curtained and draped by foreign countries? Wondrous is this thought, that no one land is absolutely complete in itself: we still need the sea; we cannot get rid of ships,—"we will cut wood out of Lebanon, as much as thou shalt need: and we will bring it to thee in flotes by sea to Joppa; and thou shalt carry it up to Jerusalem." We are not permitted to enjoy the narrow parochial comfort of doing everything for ourselves. When the man comes from Tyre he will be as much a king as Solomon; not nominally, but in the cunning of his fingers, in the penetration of his eye, in his knowledge of brass and iron, and purple and crimson and blue, and in his skill to grave things of beauty on facets of hardness. Every man has his own kingship. Every man has something that no other man has. A recognition of this fact, and a proper use of all its suggestions, would create for us a democracy hard to distinguish from a theocracy, for each man would say to his brother, "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" and each man would say for himself, "By the grace of God I am what I am."
The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him. Because thou art holy we are afraid; because thou art love we take heart again; through thy love we will advance to thy holiness. We have no answer to thy claim, we have no defence of ourselves against thy righteousness; but when thou dost bend thyself in tender love, when we feel thy tears drop upon us in pity, we begin to feel that even we, though chief of sinners, may be pardoned at the cross of Christ; then the day dawns, then the summer wind breathes upon us, and then we feel all heaven coming down with welcomes and assurances of infinite salvation and defence. Such experience we would now enjoy; we would feel that the temple of God is not made of common clay, that in it there is an altar, and that on the altar there is an ark of the covenant that speaks not of law only, but of grace and mercy, and before that mercy seat we fall, crying, God be merciful unto us sinners. Thy mercy is great, it extendeth over all thy works, it endureth for ever, it becomes tender mercy by long uses and great endurances, and thy kindness becomes loving kindness, the very bloom and fragrance of love: may we enter into the sanctuary of thine heart, and find rest there, having entered by the living door, the living Christ. How precious are thy thoughts unto us! they are not of the earth earthy; they fill all heaven, they reveal infinity, they dwell upon the sublimities of the eternal state, and whilst we follow thy thoughts we are lifted up in noblest elevation, and forgetting earth and time and space we see heaven opened, and the whole creation gathered in worship around the feet of Christ Then thou dost permit us to return from these great sights of glory that we may do a good day's work upon the earth, helping the helpless, leading the blind, blessing those who have none to speak to them the words of comfort; yea, thou dost permit us to tell somewhat of the glory we have seen. We speak of the risen Christ, the interceding Son of God, the blessed one who is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him. Such has been our elevation, such the clearing of our vision, that we hesitate not to say that we have seen the Son of God and have been transfigured by his likeness. Thou knowest the weariness of earth, the littleness of the cage in which we now work; thou knowest the limitation of our faculties, and the severity of our discipline, thou knowest our inexperience and infirmity, and thou hast measured all things accordingly, so that the little child may be in thy Church, so that the feeblest voice may contribute some tone to the heightening of thy praise, so that the weakest believer may prove his trust by clinging most closely to the eternal Saviour. Thus thou hast set among the days of time one glad day, resurrection morning, the very zenith and glory of time; may we enter into its spirit, and be glad: may we feel upon us its sacred genius, and dwell in triumph, scorning all fear and danger, and looking upon loss as gain, and upon pain as the guarantee of blessing. Thus let thy miracles be multiplied day by day; in our delightful experience may we, finding our centre of rest and trust in the cross of Christ, enjoy the liberty of the universe. Amen.