The Temple of Solomon was the crown of art in the old world. There were temples on a larger scale, and of more massive construction, but the enormous masses of masonry of the oldest nations were not comparable with the artistic grace, the luxurious adornments, and the harmonious proportions of this glorious House of God. David had laid up money and material for the great work, but he was not permitted to carry it out. He was a man of war, and blood-stained hands were not to build the temple of peace and righteousness. Solomon was the providential man for such an undertaking. He had large ideas, a keen sense of beauty, generous instincts, a religious nature, a literary training, and a highly cultivated mind. He was in peaceful alliance with surrounding nations, many of whom would be drawn into requisition for the suitable materials. They had to supply the cedar wood, iron, copper, brass, tin, gold, silver, and the rich fabrics which have made proverbial the sumptuous and beautiful raiment and decorations of those times, with the rarest marbles that the quarries of Lebanon and Bezetha could contribute. So with the thousands of busy builders and artificers,
"Like some tall palm, the graceful fabric grew,"
until it stood complete on Mount Moriah, an inspiration to the people, a continual benediction to the nation, and the envy of many a covetous conqueror.
The name of one man only has been handed down the ages as having specially signalised himself in the decoration of the temple. Solomon must procure the best of human talent and genius for the perfection of the work he meditated. Therefore he not only made a treaty with Hiram, King of Tyre, for supplies of material, but of workmen, and chief of these, one whose artistic productions were to be the best adornments of the House of God for succeeding centuries. He was a tried veteran in decorative work, an expert in almost every kind of art, and fit to be placed in the position of chief superintendent of so superb a building. The King of Tyre sent to Solomon a testimony which was eloquent in his praise: "I have sent a cunning man endued with understanding . . . . the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, his father was a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device" (2 Chron. ii.13, i4). Another record says: "He was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass" (1 Kings vii.14).
It is a significant fact in the history that Hiram, this expert artificer, bearing the same name as his king, should have had an Israelitish mother, and a Gentile father who had also been a worker in metal. Thus he got his artistic taste and training from the father, his religious knowledge and sympathy from the mother. Religious feeling and sympathy he certainly had, as his magnificent work in the temple fully demonstrated.
Hiram constructed of bright, burnished brass, an immense laver, called "a molten sea," to be used for the ablutions of the priests. It was capable of containing from fifteen to twenty thousand gallons of water, and the ornamentation was elaborate exceedingly. Under the brim were two rows of balls or bosses, encircling the laver. Twelve oxen, three looking in four different directions, supported it, and the brim was wrought like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies. Beyond this, there were ten lavers, smaller in size, for the washing of such things as were offered in sacrifice. These were carefully decorated with lions, oxen, and cherubim on the borders of the ledges. They stood upon bases, measuring 6 feet by 4 1/2 feet, ornamented carefully on each side with garlands hanging in festoons, literally, "garlands, pensile work." Each base had brasen wheels attached, with brasen axletrees, and brackets which stretched from the four upper corners of the bases to the outward rim of the laver. All the furnishings were also made by Hiram, such as pots, basons, shovels; probably also the golden altar, and table, with the seven-branched lamp stands, of which there were ten, of beautiful construction and ornamentation. But the most glorious work of Hiram was the construction of the two majestic brasen pillars, called Jachin and Boaz, They were stately in height, the shaft of each measuring 27 feet, a base of 12 feet, and two capitals of 13 1/2 feet, thus the whole height of each pillar being 52 1/2 feet. The decoration was equally graceful and elaborate, especially upon the capitals. The lower capitals had a fine network over the whole, and chain-work hanging in festoons outside. There were also pomegranates wrought upon them. The upper capitals, forming a cornice to the whole pillar, were ornamented with lily-work. At Persepolis there still stands a pillar, the cornice of which is carved with three rows of lily leaves. These pillars were esteemed the most important ornaments in the magnificent temple, the erection of which was the best feature of Solomon's reign. They were of such prominent importance that a name was affixed to each of them. One was called "Jachin," which means, "he will establish," the other was called "Boaz," which means "in strength." The ideas involved are stability and strength. Possibly the Psalmist had these pillars in his mind when he wrote, "Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary" (Ps. xcvi.6); strength first, then beauty; strength as the foundation of divine work, then beauty, graceful finish, and ornament.
Hiram was an inspired artist and artificer. He was "filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work." We are told the same as to the great decorative workers of the Tabernacle, concerning whom the Lord said: "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship" (Exod. xxxi. 2-5). So also it is written of Aholiab, Ahisamach, and other Tabernacle workers.
It is instructive to find that in Scripture, genius as displayed in literary insight and facility, in ingenuity and inventiveness as to the various arts, and even in the conception of instruments of husbandry, is attributed to Divine inspiration. It may not be the same order of inspiration by which "men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost"; "Searching what time or manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them" (2 Peter i.21; 1 Peter i.11); but the fact is clear, whether it was inspiration of a different nature or in a different degree, that on men of special gifts in various departments and of the highest order, wisdom and understanding are a direct gift of the Holy Spirit. This truth was acknowledged in earliest times, and skilled experts in art or handicraft were reckoned to be under the inspiration of God. Among the heathen this belief lingered long. The ancient poets invoked the aid of their deities when entering on some great composition, and the devout earnestness of some recorded prayers is remarkable. There should be a line of demarcation drawn in this connection between a man of talent and a man of genius. Talent may be a matter of cultivation and perseverance. A man of ordinary intelligence may, by determined resolution, push his way to power in many directions, and the one talent may become ten talents. But genius is not mere cleverness, however well directed and carefully developed. Genius is creative and inventive; it has insight, it has imagination, it "bodies forth the forms of things unknown," and "gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name." Isaiah speaks of the inspiration of the inventor of the agricultural instrument: "His God doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him . . . This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom" (Isa. xxviii.26-29).
When man required in the old time direct teaching of great religious truths and realities, God inspired prophets and seers, but the world required also to be educated, regulated, civilised. Therefore poets, painters, litterateurs, artists, and artificers were called for, by deep needs of humanity. God answered the need by giving the marvellous gift in various forms and degrees to men who had understanding of their times, and who by special insight were able to give impulses to progress in every direction. This truth is powerfully stated by a German metaphysician: -- "Nothing calls us more powerfully to adore the living God than the appearance and embodiment of genius upon the earth. Whatever in the ordinary course of things we may choose to attribute to the mechanical process of cause and effect, the highest manifestations of intellect can be called forth only by the express will of the original Mind, independent of second causes. Genius descends upon us from the clouds precisely where we least look for it. Events may be calculated, predicted -- spirits never; no earthly oracle announces the appearance of genius: the unfathomable will of the Creator suddenly calls to it -- Be!"
The Apostle Paul says concerning the Christ, "IN HIM were all things created" (Col. i.16). Everything in the universe became objective, because they were first subjective in Christ, the second Person in the adorable Trinity. All things were made from forms and types which were in Himself before they were impressed on Creation. The infinite glories of sky, and air, and sea, the beauties of the tree, the flower, the bird, and all forms of life, the fleeting and recurring grandeurs that paint the seasons and the years, are all but revelations of the boundless resources and the ineffable beauties and qualities of the mind of Christ, our Master and Teacher. Our craving of genius, and its never-dying ambition, is to come ever nearer to the perfection of the Infinite Artist and Architect. The inspiration which filled the soul of Bezalel or Hiram may not be so elevated or elevating as that which enabled Isaiah to soar to the throne of the Eternal in speechless rapture, or which enabled Michael Angelo to represent in form and colour his vast conceptions of the beautiful and sublime; but it was as real, and in some aspects as serviceable in suggestion and realisation, as these. "God fulfils Himself in many ways." As the Divine Spirit plays on the minds of special men, one is turned to music, another to painting, another to sculpture, another to architecture, another to mechanics, and another to a smith's imaginings; but it is still the same Spirit that worketh in all and through all, and each may be perfected instruments by which He accomplishes His wise and gracious purposes in the uplift of men.
What a living force among men is the true poet, the man who can take words and weave them into forms of perfect rhythm, rhyme, and measure, and then fill them with thoughts so suggestive and burning, as that they become for ever a force in the hearts of men, thrilling the souls of men and women with lofty ideals, prompting them to noble deeds, nerving them to patience in suffering and courage in battle. What may not the artist accomplish by throwing on the canvas landscapes or seascapes, like Turner, Scripture scenes, like Raphael, or heroic deeds, like Millais? Do these things not speak to the heart through the eye effectually? And what refining influences may not be silently absorbed into the nature by the artificer, who works in metals, or in pottery, in glass, or in wood, producing shapes of graceful contour, and decoration of delicate beauty, so that the articles of the household or the warehouse may be an education to the mind, and become to it patterns of things in the heavens. The command to Moses on the Mount was, concerning all the furniture of the Tabernacle, which Bezalel and Aholiab had to construct was, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Heb. viii.5). The beautiful things were in the mind of God first, and then had to be produced by the inspiration of the artist, in the house of prayer by the wisdom and deftness imparted by the Spirit.
It is possible, we sorrow to think, to misuse the Divine gift of artistic inspiration. The poet may devote his genius to animalism, like Byron, or to teach immoral license, like Swinburne; the painter may crowd his canvas with degrading ideas and vulgar representations, and the artificer may be ingenious in the production of forms of ugliness and degrading grotesqueness. Such desecration of great endowments is alike displeasing to God and ruinous to the man. Of such it may be said: "He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" (Isa. xliv.20).
Thank God, that we may say truly that generally the superlatives might have been found sitting at the feet of Jesus. The heavy, dull masses of meaningless masonry which belonged to Egypt or Assyria, flowered into the pure, delicate, ideality of the Greek builders, and this again developed into the warm, spiritual, suggestive style of Christianity which has covered Christendom with consecrated buildings like the cathedrals of Cologne or Chartres. The art of twenty centuries has been proclaiming the Christ as perfect in beauty, in grace and refinement, as He is perfect in love and in sacrifice. The music of the past, in all its highest reaches from Gregory to Mendelssohn, celebrates His grand redemption. The most gifted poets, from Dante, pealing his threefold anthem from the topmost peak of Parnassus, to Shakespeare, with "his woodnotes wild"; from Milton, with his "sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies," to Tennyson, with his "happy bells," which
"Ring in the valiant man and free,
but chief of all which
"Ring in the Christ that is to be,"
are resonant with loyalty and devotion to Him. Thus, all voices and all gifts, as they come from Christ, and are claimed by Christ, should be used for Him and Him alone. The lofty reach of genius is called to glorify Him, and the humblest gift of the peasant in the cottage, or the workman in the mill, or the little child at the mother's knee, are all due to Christ, to be devoted to Him, and also to be appreciated and rewarded by Him.
Gustav Schwab, quoted by Ullmann, in The Worship of Genius.