The first temple dedicated to YHWH in Jerusalem was constructed under King Solomon in the tenth century BC at the top of Mount Zion; where it stood until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 585 BC. Solomon’s Temple was symbolic as the dwelling place of Israel’s god, a restored Eden, a microcosm, the cosmic centre, a bulwark against chaos and the story of Creation in stone. This essay will consider two of these categories in greater detail and the contribution to biblical theology and spirituality they make.
The house of YHWH
The account of the construction of the temple, called the house of YHWH, is recorded in 1 Kings 5-8 and 2 Chronicles 3-4. The rock, upon which the temple was built, is significant for a number of reasons according to Jewish tradition. Margaret Barker explains “that this rock was the beginning of creation, the fixed point from which the land was formed.” From there the dust was gathered to form Adam, Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac and, Barker continues, “Jacob slept there when he saw the ladder which reached up to heaven.”
Barker describes, “The temple was a rectangular building, twenty cubits wide and seventy long. It was divided into three parts; the porch or vestibule (the ´ûlām), which was ten cubits long; then the temple or palace (the hêkāl) which was forty cubits long; and finally the holy of holies (the dͤbîr) which was twenty cubits long.” The hêkāl and dͤbîr together were called the house. The dͤbîrformed a perfect cube and was overlaid with gold. In the dͤbîr were two cherubim, each ten cubits high and with a wingspan of ten cubits, made of olivewood and covered with gold. Under the cherubim was placed the Ark of the Covenant.
Surrounding the house on three sides were store chambers. In front of the ´ûlām were two bronze pillars, eighteen cubits high, with capitals on top that were five cubits high. The names of the pillars were Jachin (yākîn) meaning ‘YHWH will establish’, and Boaz (bō‘az) which means ‘in strength.’ Around the house was the temple courtyard containing an enormous bronze basin called the Sea (yām) and ten smaller bronze lavers; each filled with water. In front of the house was the bronze altar for burnt offerings.
The temple as the Garden of Eden
Garden imagery filled the temple, evoking the idea of Eden. Barker writes, “Solomon built the temple as a garden sanctuary; the walls of the hêkālwere decorated with golden palm trees and flowers, set with precious stones; the bronze pillars were decorated with pomegranate patterns and the great lamp was a stylized almond tree.” Victor Hurowitz suggests the pillars, which drew the eye heavenward, “may be stylized trees, bringing to mind the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge which stood in the centre of the Garden of Eden.”
This imagery spoke of abundant life, a theme picked up by the psalmist.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give to them to drink the river of your
9 For with you is the fountain of life (mᵉqôr ḥayyı̂m);
in your light we see light.
Crispin Fletcher-Louis highlights the Edenic language in Psalm 36; the wings suggest those of the cherubim, the root of the Hebrew word ‘adānêkā, meaning your delights, is ‘ēden, the fountain of life is a picture of the rivers that run from Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). Gordon Wenham draws a parallel between the two cherubim that guarded the entrance to the garden east of Eden with the cherubim who guarded the entrance to the dͤbîr, which is also entered from the east.  Wenham also notes that the language used to describe Adam working the garden is the same as that used to describe the Levites’ duties in the tabernacle, the forerunner of the temple, suggesting that “perhaps Adam should be described as an archetypal Levite.”
The meaning of the garden symbolism
The aforementioned garden imagery in the temple, and other parallels, demonstrate that Solomon was in some way recreating Eden in the location, according to Jewish tradition, of the original garden. Eden represented the ideal that was to be attained, and the temple represented a restored Eden. Gregory Beale identifies the Garden of Eden as the first temple. He writes, “Israel’s temple was the place where the priest experienced God’s unique presence, and Eden was the place where Adam walked and talked with God.”
God placed Adam in the garden to “serve as a priest-king” and to subdue the entire earth.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:28, ESV.
Beale suggests that Adam and Eve were to “extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth.” Beale notes that this is similar to the idea in Babylonian and Egyptian tradition where the people would serve their god by enlarging the size and influence of their temples. Adam was created to continue the work of creation; the image of God taking the presence of God throughout the whole earth. However, Adam and Eve did not subdue the serpent and so failed in their task and were cast out of the garden.
Beale traces the Adamic commission being passed first to Noah, then to Abraham and Jacob and on to David and Solomon. Elizabeth Bloch-Smith suggests the bronze Sea in the temple courtyard represents the “primordial waters issuing forth from Eden” and, together with the house, they display to the people YHWH’s defeat of the “chaotic forces of nature” and his endorsement of the king and people. The task had been passed to Solomon to continue the work left unfinished by Adam.
The prophets foresaw a future Edenic idyll which was reflected in some of the temple imagery. Hurowitz identifies in the bronze lavers a link “to the ideal world of the future [because] they were decorated with lions, cattle and cherubs. The combination of lions and cattle recalls Isaiah’s prophecy of the idyllic future when the calf and the lion cub will graze together, and when the lion will eat straw like the cattle.” Ezekiel, prophesying twenty five years after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, had a vision of a future temple where a river flowed from the temple threshold to the east. The river brought abundant life, to the animals and plants on its banks and into the Dead Sea, in the same way as the river that flowed from Eden.
The temple as microcosm
The temple was also symbolic as a microcosm; that is a model of the universe. Fletcher-Louis quotes the psalmist who says:
‘He built his holy place like the high heavens, like the
earth, which he has founded forever.
His holy place, the temple, is modelled on the heavens and earth. Jon Levenson writes “the Temple is the epitome of the world, a concentrated form of its essence, a miniature of the cosmos.” He adds, “[it] is not a place in the world, but the world in essence.” Fletcher-Louis and Levenson point out the poetic parallelism in the Psalms which highlight this.
YHWH is in his holy place (hêkāl),
YHWH’s throne is in heaven.
1 YHWH answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary,
and give you support from Zion.
6 Now I know that the LORD will help his
anointed; he will answer him from his holy
heaven with mighty victories by his right hand.
Psalm 20:1-2, 6
The holy place, the hêkāl, and the most holy place, the dͤbîr, are identified as the heavens. The psalmist is saying that when YHWH is in the house he is in heaven.
In the temple courtyard was the “altar of earth (mizbaḥ ’ᵃdāmâ),” which represented the earth and was made of uncut stone to symbolise it was made by God.  Ezekiel called it the “mountain of God (ha’ᵃri’êl).”
The bronze Sea represented the sea, gathered together into one place as the waters were in Genesis 1:9. The courtyard was the space that humans could occupy. The Sea was “chaotic-water conquered.” It was fruitful, signified by the twelve bronze oxen which supported it, and peaceful, signified by the lily work around its brim.
The meaning of the microcosm symbolism
During the temple’s construction “neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” This indicates that the temple was created by a god rather than made by human hands. God created the heavens and earth and, as there was no sound of metal tools during the building of the house, that too was created by God.
In other ancient Near Eastern temples there would be many shrines to the pantheon of gods that were worshipped in them. Unusually, compared to the Egyptians and Babylonians, Israel only worshipped one god and their temple had only one shrine to Israel’s god.
YHWH has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
1 Kings 8:12 (cf. Ps. 18:11, 97:2).
The dͤbîr, which was without windows, was where YHWH was enthroned, in the middle of the temple. Therefore God is enthroned in the centre of all creation.
The temple as microcosm is the perfectly ordered creation. Fletcher-Louis notes that the dimensions and the ratio of the measurements of the house add up to twenty eight, which is the seventh perfect number. Since the house represents heaven, it is fitting that its dimensions are perfect. The Sea represents vanquished chaos that provides the irrigation of the earth, leading to fruitfulness and abundance of life. The priests represent true human beings in a perfectly ordered world. The entire temple is flawlessly ordered.
This is a picture of the Kingdom of God; the perfectly ordered cosmos, with God enthroned in the centre; a perfectly ordered world, with everything in its place. In the temple, the Kingdom of God is breaking into this earth.
Further, Fletcher-Louis suggests the pictures of trees and living creatures on the walls of the house are alive and praising God. This is illustrated by the psalmist:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament above proclaims his
The temple is therefore also created, rather than made by human hands, because it is thought of as being alive. The human worshippers in the temple are surrounded by the praises of the rest of the cosmos.
3 Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!
9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Psalm 148:3-4, 7-9
Here the Edenic symbolism in the temple reinforces the temple as a microcosm. The abundance of life and the reality of Eden permeate the reality of the whole temple and therefore creation. The temple as microcosm is the world and cosmos as it should be, with God enthroned in the centre; which is the Kingdom of God.
The contribution to biblical theology and spirituality of the cosmic symbolism
Solomon’s Temple stood for over four centuries before being destroyed. A second temple was rebuilt following the exile and extended by Herod, before that too was destroyed by the Romans. However, the Adamic commission to subdue the entire earth, extending the geographical boundaries of Eden, remains incomplete.
The book of Revelation looks forward to the realisation of this commission. John has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, followed by a vision of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, garden-like and which is in the shape of a cube, like the dͤbîr. The new heaven and earth bring to mind the language of temple symbolism. Beale writes “the new creation and Jerusalem are none other than God’s tabernacle, the true temple of God’s special presence.” He adds, “Everything of which Old Testament temples were typologically symbolic, a recapitulated and escalated Garden of Eden and whole cosmos, will have finally been materialized.”
Jesus, in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, began to inaugurate this eschatological temple. The New Testament writers speak of a temple of living stones, with Christ as the cornerstone. Beale explains, “Christ is affirming that he is the new Adam and true Israel, and … that he has finally begun to fulfil successfully the commission of Genesis 1:26-28 … by establishing the true temple and increasing its borders throughout the earth.”
The church, as the body of Christ, is the new temple and its role is to extend the garden; continuing the work of creation by subduing it and having dominion over the earth. Not being ruled over by creation or sin, but bringing order from chaos. This is therefore the call on the life of every believer, to live their lives doing the very thing they were created to do, using the gifts they have received and worshipping in a way that connects them as worshippers of God to creation.
Adam’s purpose in the Garden of Eden was to expand it until it filled the entire earth. His failure led to the establishment of first the tabernacle and then the temple. The temple was modelled on Eden and was a microcosm of the whole cosmos. It symbolised the Kingdom of God and points to the future realisation when the presence of God will fill the whole earth.
Barker, M., The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008).
Beale, G. K., The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Bloch-Smith, E., ‘“Who is the King of Glory?” Solomon’s Temple and Its Symbolism,’ in Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King (ed. M. D. Coogan; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1994), pp. 18-31.
Hurowitz, V. A., ‘Ascending the Mountain of the Lord – A Glimpse into the Solomonic Temple,’ in Capital Cities: Urban Planning and Spiritual Dimensions. Proceedings of the Symposium Held on May 27-29, 1996, Jerusalem, Israel (ed. J. G. Westenholz; Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 1999).
Hurowitz, V. A., ‘YHWH’s Exalted House—Aspects of the Design and Symbolism of Solomon’s Temple,’ in Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar (ed. J. Day; London: T. & T. Clark, 2007), pp. 63-110.
Levenson, J. D., Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (New York: Harper & Row, 1985).
Parry, D. W., ‘Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary,’ Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism (ed. D. W. Parry; Salt Lake City: Desert Book Company, 1994), pp. 126-151.
Smith, M. S., ‘Like Deities, Like Temples (Like People),’ in Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar (ed. J. Day; London T. & T. Clark, 2007), pp. 3-27.
Wenham, G. J., ‘Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,’ PWCJS 9 (1986) pp. 19-25, reprinted in G. J. Wenham, ‘Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,’ “I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood”: ANE literary and linguistic approaches to Gen 1-11 (eds. R. Hess and D. T. Tsumura; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), pp. 399-404.
 M. Barker, The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008), p. 5.
 C. H. T. Fletcher-Louis, course notes, ‘5. Solomon’s Temple: Part 2’, OT: Creation & Worship, slide 6.
 Barker, p. 19.
 Ibid., p. 19.
 Ibid., p. 22.
 Ibid., p. 30.
 Barker, p. 57.
 V. A. Hurowitz, ‘Ascending the Mountain of the Lord – A Glimpse into the Solomonic Temple,’ in Capital Cities: Urban Planning and Spiritual Dimensions. Proceedings of the Symposium Held on May 27-29, 1996, Jerusalem, Israel (ed. J. G. Westenholz; Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum, 1999), p. 218.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘5. Solomon’s Temple: Part 2’, slide 3.
 Ibid., slide 5.
 Genesis 3:24.
 G. J. Wenham, ‘Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,’ PWCJS 9 (1986) pp. 19-25, reprinted in G. J. Wenham, ‘Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,’ “I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood”: ANE literary and linguistic approaches to Gen 1-11 (eds. R. Hess and D. T. Tsumura; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), p. 401.
 Ibid., p. 401.
 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 66.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
 Ibid., p. 82.
 Ibid., p. 87.
 E. Bloch-Smith, ‘“Who is the King of Glory?” Solomon’s Temple and Its Symbolism,’ in Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King (ed. M. D. Coogan; Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1994), p. 27.
 Isaiah 11:6-8.
 Hurowitz, ‘Mountain’, p. 217.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 2.
 J. D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 138.
 Ibid., p. 139.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 8.
 Ibid., slide 9.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 15.
 Ezekiel 43:15-16.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 19.
 1 Kings 6:7, ESV.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 14.
 Fletcher-Louis, ‘7. Solomon’s Temple. Part 3’, slide 21.
 Ibid., slide 21.
 Ibid., slide 22.
 Revelation 21.
 Beale, p. 368.
 Ibid., p. 369.
 Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4-6.
 Beale, p. 196.