In these three chapters, we see Solomon bringing the ark of the covenant into the new Temple, then consecrating the building. I apologize in advance because it’s all painfully boring. I had steeled myself for the early chapters of 1 Chronicles, having been warned that it would just be a list of names. However, I actually found myself enjoying them. Comparing the lists to their occurrences in other books of the Old Testament was actually quite fun, like a scavenger hunt. This chapters about the Temple, however, are making my eyes fuzzy.

Bringing Home the Ark

With the construction finished, Solomon’s first order of business is re-homing the ark. The narrative takes up all of 2 Chron. 5, and largely matches up with the same narrative found in 1 Kgs 8:1-11.

The ark isn’t alone. First, Solomon moves in all the knick-knacks and bits-and-bobs he and David had collected for it. Then, in the 7th month, he assembled the elders and leaders of Israel. They formed a procession before the ark, making sacrifices along the way. The Levites (who are called “priests” in 1 Kgs 8:3) carry the ark, as well as the tent of meeting and holy vessels.

When they get to the Temple, the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary, in its spot beneath the cherubim wings. The poles, which remained with the ark, are so long that they can be seen from the inner sanctuary’s antechamber (but, the Chronicler assures us, not from outside!).

The poles, we are told, “are there to this day” (2 Chron. 5:9). Except that they clearly aren’t. I mean, obviously they aren’t to this day, but they weren’t to the Chronicler’s day, either. So why is this sentence here? Did our Chronicler just zone out for a bit while copying from his sources? Is there some broader theological point that I’m missing? To quote Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare In Love, it’s a mystery.

The ark, we learn, contains only Moses’s two tablets, which had been placed there at Horeb. The location of the covenant’s reception is consistent with the Chronicler’s source, 1 Kgs 8:9, as well as Deuteronomy (see Deut. 29:1). It does not, however, match Exodus (see Ex. 31:18 or Ex. 34:4), nor Leviticus (see Lev. 26:46 or Lev. 27:34), where the covenant was received at Sinai.

When I read here that there was nothing else in the ark, I narrowed my eyes and hissed “gotcha!” As, apparently, I also did when I read the same thing in 1 Kings 8. See, I’m very clever to have remembered Aaron’s staff and the pot of manna, but not quite clever enough to remember that neither of these items is ever described as having been placed in the ark, merely in front of (see Ex. 16:33-34 for the manna, and Num. 17:10 for the staff). My sole consolation is that my error is a common one. So common, in fact, that the author of Hebrews 9:3-4 did it as well. So I suppose I can say that I made an error of biblical proportions.

While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that neither the staff nor the manna is mentioned here, either in the ark or in its accompanying luggage.

After the priests had all been sanctified, they and the musicians (who are mentioned only in the Chronicler’s version of events) were forced to stop their ministrations when the Temple filled with smoke.

As I read this, it occurred to me that the ark could have doubled-up as a large censer. It’s often associated with clouds (see Ex. 24:16, Ex. 40:35, Num. 10:34), so perhaps something was burned inside the ark in order to, literally, create a “smokescreen.” If that’s the case, it might be the basis of the story of Nadab and Abihu, told in Lev. 10:1-3. In that story, the two priests incorrectly load their censers, and both are burned to death as a result. It could be that the story originated as a cautionary tale for priests tending the ark, as whatever they burned there could be quite volatile. (Where as the immediate death in Num. 2:40 seems to be more about protecting the cultic mysteries.) Perhaps the fuel used in the ark was a little unstable, and sometimes it would smoke too much and force the priests out of the Temple. This is all unsubstantiated fancy, of course, but fun to think about.

Dedication and Consecration

2 Chron. 6-7 mostly follow 1 Kgs 8:12-66. I’ll note content changes as we go along, but I’m given to understand (via Dr. Joel Hoffman of God Didn’t Say That) that there are quite a few grammatical differences between the two accounts, suggesting that the Chronicler wasn’t just copying mechanically from his source. To me, this suggests that what is left the same is meaningful, as it was done so with intention.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

The ark carried into the temple, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, early 15th cent.

Solomon begins with an evocation, in which he states that God has said “he would dwell in thick darkness” (2 Chron. 6:1). It’s impossible to tell, in English, whether God’s statement should be read as an imperative (“God desires to dwell in thick darkness”) or a prediction (“God would one day dwell in thick darkness”). I’d be interested to know if the difference is clearer in the Hebrew. In any case, this and the next verse serve to introduce the Temple.

Solomon blesses the assembly, then gives yet another speech about God’s greatness, his fulfilling of promises, and all the other usual blather. It would be nice if these guys could hire a new speech writer every once and a while.

In his speech, Solomon says that God once had no Temple and no king, but that between David and this lovely new Temple, he now has both (2 Chron. 6:4-6). This pretty strongly implies that, as far as the Chronicler is concerned, there was no king before David (and this is new, the passage doesn’t occur in 1 Kgs 8). Yet, we know that the Chronicler knew about Saul, and that he expected his audience to know about Saul (1 Chron. 10 is devoted to the guy). The point is clearly that David is the first true king, but does that mean that the Chronicler does not believe, as the author of 1 Sam. 9 did, that God chose Saul to be Israel’s first king?

In the 1 Kgs 8 version of events, we get a Quantum Solomon who is both standing (1 Kgs 8:22) and kneeling (1 Kgs 8:54-55) during the dedication of the Temple. Here, the Chronicler fixes up the story by having Solomon stand before the altar, his hands spread out. He then kneels, with his hands stretched up to the sky. The only weirdness that remains is the position of Solomon’s hands, where we seem to get some repetition.

The Chronicler adds another detail: Instead of simply being in front of the altar, Solomon is standing on a special bronze platform. According to my study Bible, this could be meant as a sort of ‘safe zone’, so that Solomon can perform the ceremony on this one occasion even though the spot before the altar was exclusively reserved for priests. This could reflect a change in custom, perhaps as Israel sought to differentiate itself from other nearby religions that did not distinguish overmuch between the roles of king and priest (or, heck, between god and priest, if we’re willing to skip over to Egypt). If so, there may be other clues as to widening gap between the secular and the religious roles – in 2 Sam. 8:18, we are told that David’s sons served as priests.

The emphasis of Solomon’s speech is mostly on the idea that the Temple is not meant to contain God, but rather to serve as a focus for God’s attention. So that vows made at the Temple are particularly binding, and apologies for sins made at the Temple are more likely to be heeded (if, for example, the people want to end a punishment, such as drought, plague, or famine). Solomon also mentions that foreigners are welcome to worship God at the Temple, if they want to.

Solomon also includes provisions for people who are unable to come to the Temple. He asks God to listen to the prayers of soldiers, directed toward Jerusalem, when they are out fighting God’s wars. Lastly, he asks (rather poignantly, given the Chronicler’s perspective) that God listen to the prayers of Israelites who have been taken captive abroad.

The 1 Kgs 8 version of the dedication ends with another reference to the Exodus and to Moses. Somewhat surprisingly, given the Chronicler’s penchant for referencing Moses, he omits this. Instead, he replaces it with a bit about David that follows Ps 132:8-10 fairly closely.

Once Solomon is finally done talking, a fire comes down from heaven to consume the burnt offering (though is it still a burnt offering if God himself burns it? At that point, it’s just an offering that will then be burned). Someone apparently messed up the fuelling of the ark again, however, and God’s “glory” filled the Temple, driving out the priests. The Israelite masses saw the fire and worshipped. This whole bit about the fire, including the repetition of the priests being forced out of the Temple, is not found in the 1 Kgs 8 telling.

The Israelites feasted for seven days, then held a solemn assembly on the 8th day. On the 23rd day of the 7th month, the people were finally dismissed and returned to their homes. In 1 Kgs 8:65, the people are merely sent home on the 8th day, and there’s no mention of a solemn assembly.

The Chronicler tells us that the people returned to their homes with gladness in their hearts because of the goodness that God had shown to David and Solomon (2 Chron. 7:10), though the parallel verse (1 Kgs 8:66) mentions only David.

Wrapping things up, God appears personally to Solomon to let him know that he approves of what’s been done and, of course, issue a few threats. This passage is mostly lifted from 1 Kgs 9:1-9, and includes special concern that the Isrealites not go off to worship other gods (if they do, they will be plucked out of Israel and God will make an example of them, lovely).