Jerusalem 3000
Lecture 3 - The First Temple Period - 1

By: Alick Isaacs

This week we continue the story of the city of Jerusalem into the period which we refer to as the 'First Temple period'. Despite the name of the lecture, we shall begin our discussion with events which occurred well before the construction of the Temple itself. We are still dealing with stories which are told in the Bible, but this week from the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. These stories are qualitatively different from the Genesis narrative. Moreover, archeological finds testify to the growth and prosperity of the city during the First Temple period and even verify some of the names of relatively minor characters in the Biblical story.

As opposed to the book of Genesis, which tells of individuals, the later books are about the growth of the Jewish nation. In many ways, the Bible's description of how this nation grew parallels the stages of an individual's journey towards personal maturity. Genesis portrays a small family unit which embodies the still embryonic qualities of the nation. The stories are symbolic. The traits of the sons of Jacob represent the roles which are later to be played by the tribes. Abraham's journeys through the land of Israel, and in particular his presence on Mount Moriah, consecrate the ground and impart it with national symbolism. The exodus from Egypt is the birth of the nation; and the wanderings in the dessert are the years of early childhood. In turn, settling in the city of Jerusalem is the symbol of Israel achieving national maturity. We shall begin however, with the People of Israel as they struggle with their national "adolescence".

2. Joshua
On entry into the Land of Israel, the People of Israel begin the process of weaning. Their total dependence on God for every need, which characterised the years of wandering in the dessert, gradually comes to an end. The conquest of Jericho was concluded with a miraculous and triumphant victory which heralded the conquest of the entire land. This bestowed on the Israelites the image of a nation who enjoyed the visible support of a powerful God. After the walls of Jericho came tumbling down the occupation of the Promised Land continued gradually. The subsequent battles concluded with far less dramatic, natural, military victories. The tribes then part ways, each one setting off to conquer its own territory.

3. Judges
The Book of Judges tells of the adolescence of the Israelites. They are rebellious and troublesome, squabbling amongst themselves. Internal strife makes them vulnerable to the ever growing military threat posed by the Philistines in the south. "Judge" is a collective appellation given to a non-consecutive stream of local leaders each of whom contributes to averting the Philistine threat at the same time inspiring those under his influence to return from idolatry to the ways of God.

Throughout the Book of judges a number of important themes are stressed:-

  1. The connection between the service of God and military strength. This of course includes the reverse of the equation i.e. idol worship = vulnerability.
  2. The lack of tribal unity which is emphasised by the identification of each of the Judges with his tribe of origin.
  3. The absence of central leadership:- "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21,25) - Anarchy!

4. Samuel and Saul
Samuel is the last of the Judges. He deserves a separate book because his life story marks the period of transition from unstable local leadership to centralised monarchy. The two qualities which define stable monarchy in the Bible are 1. The King must come from the tribe of Judah. 2. The capital city chosen by the king must be the city of Jerusalem. Essentially, the primary purpose of the monarchy is to build and maintain the Temple on Mount Moriah. The failure of King Saul is inevitable on two counts.

  1. Saul comes from the weak tribe of Benjamin, the tribe which had sparked up a furious civil war after the incident of the "Pilegesh Ba Givah" (concubine of Gibea) described in Judges 19-24.
  2. His capital, though near Jerusalem is not in Jerusalem. It was perhaps a deliberate move of Samuel's who was reluctant to relinquish his power to a monarch, to appoint a king who stood no chance of success.

5. The City of David
The Foundation of the Jewish city of Jerusalem is usually dated at 1006 BCE. David who became king seven and a half years previously ruled over his tribe of Judah from the city of Hebron. David's achievement was the reversal of the unstable and anarchic situation described in the Book of Judges. Already in his youth he began his campaign against the Philistines, inflicting the infamous lethal blow to Goliath's forehead with his sling shot. He united the tribes of Israel and was a true and loyal servant of God. But among his many achievements his most significant move was probably the establishment of his capital in Jerusalem.

What was David's reason for choosing Jerusalem as his capital? Of course there were many. The one which you chose will reflect where your sympathies lie with regard to the different perspectives which we discussed in our first lecture. Let's consider David's choice of capital carefully.

The city of Jerusalem was built at the foot of Mount Moriah; though David was never permitted to build the Temple. He was a soldier whose hands were stained by the blood of war and the construction of the Temple was a privilege destined for a man of peace. David built his city running down the side of the hill. His own palace stood at the top, the homes of his generals were beneath his own, below them the prophets then the scribes and so on. The city utilised the natural topography of the hillside to represent its internal hierarchy. The essential feature of all this was the sense that the presence of God himself watched over the city from the summit of Mount Moriah. David was God's anointed king who ruled over the united tribes of Israel with God's favour. He was a messianic figure, the ruler of the tribe of Judah and the ancestor of the Messiah who, according to the prophets (who of course post date David), will redeem the world from sin at the end of days. This monarchy drew its force from the proximity of its capital to the foot of the stairway.

Incidentally, the hierarchical structure of the city which we have just mentioned explains David's famous sin with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was one of David's generals and as such his home was positioned under the roof of the Royal palace. Privacy, in the city of David was only up hill. Uriah's home was clearly visible to those few who were above him in social stature. Hence David got a look at his general's wife and fell in love when "it came to pass at eventide, that David rose from his bed and walked upon the roof of the king's house; and from the roof he saw a woman bathing and the woman was very beautiful to look upon".

The city of Jerusalem was never conquered by the tribes when they entered the land of Israel. The Canaanite Jebusites still continued to occupy the city throughout the rule of King Saul. David conquered the city in order to make it his capital:-

    "The king and his men set out for Jerusalem against the Jebusites who inhabited the region. David was told, "You will never get in here! Even the blind and the lame will turn you back." But David captured the stronghold of Zion; it is now the city of David."

Jerusalem lay on the boundary between the territories of the tribes of Benjamin (the tribe of Saul) and the tribe of Judah (David's own tribe).

As such, it was border territory which belonged to neither of these warring tribes. Jerusalem's centrality and its "Jebusitality" granted it the essential quality of neutrality. It was on the border of the two important tribes but belonged to neither. This feature was the source of the secret of Jerusalem's success as a capital and of David's success in achieving the unification of the tribes. Modern examples of the same phenomenon are Canberra, the capital of Australia and Washington D.C.

Both citwere founded in order to resolve the conflicts between Melbourne and Sydney in Australia and New York and Philadelphia in the USA; all of which competed for the status of Federal capital. Jerusalem was centrally located. It was strategically well positioned, and was close to an essential water supply, the Gichon spring which flowed through the Kidron valley.

6. The Ark of the Covenant
David's intention was to build a Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. He was restrained from doing so. But it is clear that he resolved to pave the way for the performance of this all important task by his son Solomon. The Ark of the Covenant (which I am told was recently discovered by a certain Dr.Indiana Jones) was brought to Jerusalem and housed in the holy city. The Ark was a symbol of God's presence among the Jewish people. It contained three relics all of which had descended directly from heaven:- A Jar of Manna; the broken tablets of stone; and the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. The Ark was a symbol of God's presence among the Jewish people, but it was also a painful reminder of the wanderings of the nation; the lack of sedentary stability. Without a Temple, the Ark of the Lord could not come to rest.

David insisted on purchasing with money, the threshing floor of Arnuah The Jebusite which was on Mount Moriah,

    "So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar unto the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings." (Samuel II 24,24-25)

The Temple was perceived as a home for God and its construction was to mark the achievement of maturity of our Biblical child - Israel.

7. Solomon Builds the Temple
After David's death the wise King Solomon ascended the throne of Jerusalem and lead the city into an age of prosperity and growth. He extended the borders of the City of David encompassing Mount Moriah, the site where the Temple was to be built. Solomon's wisdom; which fills the three books of the Bible which he composed; and his good taste, have made him a colourful figure in our national memory. Countless legends and tales have been told of his beauty and wisdom. The Bible tells us that he ruled for forty years as did his father before him. Forty, which is a typological figure, symbolises prosperity, stability and good favour in the eyes of God.

Solomon married no less than seven hundred wives and kept three hundred concubines. If that isn't daunting enough consider briefly the prospect of keeping a thousand mothers in law happy! The purpose of his multiple marriages though was not his mothers in law but their husbands. Solomon married the daughters of the kings of the neighbouring empires establishing valuable diplomatic contacts and trade ties consecrated through marriage. These brought much wealth to his Kingdom, averted war and allowed for the work of building and glorifying the city to be done.

Solomon's temple, the details of which are described in the Book of Kings, was a magnificent edifice. It stood at the top of the city of David, casting the protective shadow of God's presence on all who beheld it. The great king Solomon, the king who built it, enjoyed absolute power and loyalty. His rule was an era of absolute peace. The spirit of the Lord was finally given a permanent home. The Ark of the covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies and the daily and annual cycles of Temple ritual began. The Priests (Kohanim) of the tribe of Levi presided over the sacrificial ritual and daily miracles were reported to occur within the walls of the great Temple. This Temple was to stand on Mount Moriah for an era of 400 years.

    "The House which Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. The protico in front of the Great Hall of the House was twenty cubits long along the width of the House and ten cubits deep to the front of the House - the outside walls of the House enclosing the Great Hall and the shrine - he built a storied structure and he made side chambers all around...When he finished building the House, he paneled the House with beams and planks of cedar. He built the storied structure against the entire House each story five cubits high, so that it encased the House with timbers of cedar." (Kings I 6,1-10)



Share              PRINT   
23 Aug 2005 / 18 Av 5765 0