The Architect’s Plan
Principles of architecture.
The temple as Solomon built it is more than a physical building. It is an expression by our Creator of His perception of mankind. “…ye are the temple of God…” (I Corinthians 3:16) Solomon’s temple was not a building devised by human intellect.
“Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern…” I Chronicles 28:11
The passage goes on to list all the parts of the building that David gave Solomon the pattern for. But, who gave David the pattern?
“All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” I Chronicles 28:19
The design of the temple, which was given to David, was an expression of the Spirit of God. As the Bible is the expression of the Spirit of God in the medium of the written word, the temple was an expression of the Spirit of God manifested in the medium of architecture. That it was so is validated by the preservation in the Bible of the description of the temple as God had specified it.
To explore the temple design is to explore who we are and how God views us. Many in the world vainly search their whole lives trying to discover who they are. For those who come to know Him, the search for oneself is satisfied by God. We can discover who we are as we search out what is pictured by our position in the temple. Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Questions so mysterious and troubling to so many are addressed by the design of the temple.
“…ye are the temple of God…” (I Corinthians 3:16) God chose a building as the emblem to represent mankind. When you think about buildings in relation to mankind it is clear that a building is an appropriate choice. Birds build nests. Bees make honeycomb. Ants make anthills with intricate tunnels. Beavers build dams and make lodges. Mankind builds buildings. Buildings are the natural thing that mankind does. They are the mark that man leaves behind. This has been true throughout all history and in all cultures. Just as it would be appropriate to use a nest as an emblem of birds, so it is appropriate to use a building as the emblem of man. It is the building more than anything else that shows mankind’s instinctive ability to have dominion over nature as he was commanded by God. Within buildings mankind is able most completely to control nature. Architecture, by manipulating the way the environment is controlled, allows mankind to express the spirit of how he views who he is. For those who have trusted God, the temple is God’s statement, in a medium that we can relate to, of who we really are.
What is the reason to have a building in the first place? What is the most elementary function of a building? What is mankind’s reason for building them? The most basic reason that buildings are built is to set aside a space as special. Perhaps the building will need to be designed in a unique way to accomplish the desired special conditions for that space. For instance, a cold storage warehouse sets aside a special space in which to store food. That type of building will need extra insulation and refrigeration equipment to accomplish the desired special conditions needed to keep food fresh. An auditorium for an orchestra, which sets aside a special space for performing and listening to music, will need a special shape and special materials to accomplish the desired acoustical conditions. A castle, which is a special place where the king lives, needs guard towers and thick walls with a moat around them, in order to be able to accomplish the special condition of protection of the king from the enemy.
That buildings set aside a space as special is probably best illustrated by the saying, “There’s no place like home.” There’s nothing particularly unique about the buildings where most people live with their families, and yet they hold a special place in our hearts. Our homes are special to us, not because of the actual building, but because of the special conditions that space allows. The special condition that people’s houses allow is for a family to live together and share their relationships together in relative comfort. It is the relationships that go on in the building that make home special, not the building itself. Likewise, it is the relationship that goes on within the temple that makes the temple special, not the building itself. Our hearts are a special place which has been set aside as a place where a relationship between God and mankind can occur. Mankind, as God’s temple, has been designed to be capable of providing the special conditions which are necessary for the relationship with God to occur. For those who have trusted in God, “There’s no place like the temple.”
God is the Master of Design. This becomes very apparent when one considers His creation. With even a casual glance at the things He has designed, His character comes shining through. We see incredible attention to detail even down to the molecular level. We see complexities that man with his best computers cannot begin to comprehend, and yet the whole seems so simple. We see designs that are so incredibly innovative, that to us, they look unorthodox and unlikely to work at all; but yet they function flawlessly for thousands of years. We see God’s wisdom, authority, unchangeability, and almighty power in the design of the laws of physics. We see his sense of playfulness when we watch a puppy play with a ball. We see His elegant intellect and absolute truth in the logic of mathematics applied flawlessly throughout the solar system He created. We see His sense of beauty in the changing clouds, weather and seasons all around us. We see how boundless His ingenious creativity is as we study the world of insects. We know that we serve an infinite God when we gaze into the sky with the best telescopes that man can devise and still cannot see the end. We see the design of all the living things around us and know that our God is a living God.
The same great God who designed all this also designed the temple. As with creation, when we look at the temple, we see the character of the Designer. The design of the temple has meaning. Just as the feeble minds of our best scientists cannot fathom all of creation’s intricacies, we cannot possibly understand all of the design of the temple. There are areas of the temple that this book does not address because, frankly, God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and this author doesn’t understand it all. Just after our daughter was born, it was interesting to see her perception of the world change as she discovered more and more. At first she did not notice much of anything other than what her physical needs were; then she started to notice faces and objects which were very close to her, things with vivid contrasting colors, and then she started noticing her hands and things which were a little more distant. It is a progression; she noticed more and more all the time. She did not notice things that would be perfectly obvious to us, such as when our pet cat came into the room and laid down next to her. Sometimes I think God views our intellect in much the same way as we saw our daughter’s. Our minds are so dulled with sin that at first we can only see the very obvious themes in God’s Word. As we practice and use the Bible and meditate on it, we begin seeing more and more; but how childlike even the most mature and knowledgeable person in the Word must seem to Him! We can see enough of the picture of the temple, however, to know that every facet of this building, every square inch, glistens with the radiant glory of God!
Location of the temple.
Selection of the building site can be of great importance in the design of a building. To put a log cabin in downtown Chicago would not be an appropriate building site for the cabin. To put a skyscraper next to a lake in the middle of the woods in the wilderness is also out of character for the type of building that it is. The site that God chose for the temple that Solomon built was very carefully selected and is in character with the type of building that the temple was.
First, the building site was significant because it was located on Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah is where Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, had demonstrated his willingness to be obedient to God no matter what. Abraham demonstrated his obedience by placing his only son Isaac, whom God had blessed Abraham with in his old age, on the altar. Following God’s instructions, Abraham then prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Isaac also demonstrated his willingness to be obedient to God and his father no matter what. Our hearts as the temple of God are to be a place of total obedience no matter what He might ask us to do. God supplied a substitute sacrifice of a ram caught in the thicket for Abraham to use for the sacrifice instead of his son. The temple, which was built on that same mountain, was also a place of sacrifice where the blood of animals was offered up to God on the altar. We as the temple of God are the place where the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is applied to the altar of our hearts.
Jerusalem, the site where the temple was located, was on a major commerce route. God wanted the whole world to see this grand edifice as a testament to the God who was worshipped there. David said, “and the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries.” (I Chron 22:5b) The city was located such that people from many nations would have to pass through it to get to their destination.
If you look at a map of the world, you will notice that the continents of Asia and Europe are part of the same landmass; they are not separate islands. Now, find Africa and notice that it is connected to the Europe/Asia landmass by a narrow area of land. The city of Jerusalem is located on this connecting land. If you simply look at the shape of the continents, it makes perfect sense why God would choose to put Jerusalem where He put it. God wanted the world to know who God is, not just His chosen people Israel. He placed the temple in a strategic location where the gospel could be most efficiently distributed to the largest number of people. The Europe, Asia, Africa landmass had more people populating it than the North and South American landmass. God placed Jerusalem in the middle of the largest connected landmasses on the globe. Jerusalem was located strategically so that when God sent His workers forth from Jerusalem to carry the message of salvation, they could travel the shortest distance possible to reach the most people possible. You might say that Jerusalem is as close to the center of the world as you can get.
Our placement as God’s temple is much the same as Solomon’s temple. God wants our relationship to Him to be at the center of our world, so that the whole world will be able to see what He has done in our lives. He wants the whole world to know who He is. He has placed us in strategic locations. Are we, as God’s temple-being, visible to the world as God intends, or are we hiding what God wants all men everywhere to know?
This was an issue in my own life. I had been accumulating thoughts on the temple for quite some time when I realized that I needed to share them with others. I began feeling God’s call to write a book. As I began writing this book, I became convicted of sin in my heart, of pride and disobedience that I needed to turn from. I became so convicted of this sin that I could not continue writing. The book was not worked on for quite some time. I felt like such a hypocrite. Through teachings I heard in a Sunday school class, I began to realize how important it was that the world should know who God is. It was more important than my pride. It was more important than I am. Many times in the Bible, when a person was victorious, they had prayed and asked for the victory that the world might know who God is. For instance, when Elijah prayed calling down fire from heaven, he said, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God…” (I Kings 18:37a) I began praying to God that He would give me victory over this pride and disobedience that I might be able to write this book with a clear conscience and in the power of the Spirit, that the world might know who God is, through seeing the beauty of the work He has done in the temple. Praise God, He heard my prayer! Is there something in your heart today that is keeping you from being able to share who God is with others? I challenge you to pray that God would give you the victory over it that you might be able to tell the world who God is.
The art of architecture.
Besides being an engineering science, architecture is an art form. The engineering aspect of architecture is often just a means that allows achievement of the desired art form. The creative expression of architects is on display in many buildings around us.
The design of the temple is art, and by that I mean more than to say that it was a skillfully executed craft. A person can produce some craft that looks nice without putting original thought into it. If a person skillfully copies some existing work done by someone else, this is not art in the sense that I am describing. Art goes deeper. Art makes an original statement, often a very bold and startling statement. The artist vividly sees what others do not and expresses it in what he makes. There is some mission involved. Art reveals who the artist really is inside. Art gives the person beholding it something to think about. Art somehow changes the recipient.1 It causes them to see things differently than they did before, often confronting them with the truth about themselves. This is the kind of work we behold when we look at the design of the temple.
The greatest of art, when you view it, gives you a sense of mystery. The artist doesn’t reveal everything, but leaves you something to wonder about. For instance, the Mona Lisa is arguably the world’s greatest painting, but why is that? Well what is she looking at? Why do her eyes seem to follow you? What is she thinking about that she has that smirk on her face? If you study the painting further, you will find that there are actually a great number of other mysteries about it. The Mona Lisa is great art, at least in part, because the mystery that accompanies it stirs our curiosity. Throughout this book you will find that a number of times I make statements that we are not specifically told the meaning of some things in the temple. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t appreciate the art and think about what it might mean. It doesn’t mean we should think any less of the art piece or the Artist. It doesn’t mean you should reject this book as merely conjecture. But rather this mysteriousness is a reason to appreciate the mastery of the Artist. It is the mystery of the artwork that lures me to study the Artist’s work for so long and still be intrigued.
The temple goes beyond being a masterpiece of the art of architecture. The temple is also God’s house. The things that are on display in the temple are personally relevant to God. You can learn a lot about someone by looking at how they design and decorate their own house. One can discover a lot about what God is like and what He likes by looking at how He has designed and decorated His house.
Architecture is an expensive art form. For many of us, it takes maybe 30 years to pay for even the nondescript house that we live in. Most of us do not have the resources to express ourselves freely with architecture as an art; certainly not in a way that incorporates the kind of vast treasures used in the temple. God, however, is not limited by resources. He has ways of coordinating things to make them happen. He has all the resources of the world at His disposal. God orchestrated the events of the world to prosper David and Solomon so that they would become two of the richest kings the world would ever know. The immense wealth accumulated by these men was used by God in the grand building. Gold, precious stones and other expensive materials lavishly covered Solomon’s temple. God, as architect, certainly expressed Himself fully through the masterpiece of Solomon’s temple to the maximum extent of what was humanly possible for craftsmen of that day. There was certainly a reason that the materials which were selected were necessary. There is a great deal of meaning communicated by the design of the structure. This book is meant to be a gallery that puts the elegant beauty of the meaning behind the architecture on display. Now let’s get a broad overview of what the art is communicating:
Theme of the temple.
Architects frequently choose a theme when designing a building. If you look at some buildings around where you live, you will be able to pick out some themes. The theme may depict a shape, place, feeling, idea, philosophy, or almost anything else. The theme of the building is communicated through selection of the building site and landscaping, as well as the shapes, proportions, colors, materials, lighting, decorations, and furnishings used in the building.
For example, the theme can communicate a place. Some public buildings in Washington D.C., such as the Supreme Court building, with their tall stone columns and grand stairways in front of the building remind us of Rome.
The theme can communicate a feeling. An airplane museum is designed to be light and airy to bring out the theme of the feeling of freedom. This effect is gained by using many windows, having a large open space, and possibly walkways crossing the wide-open space like a bridge.
The theme can communicate an idea. Banks are frequently designed with large, heavy stone work, massive pillars, and metal detail around the doorways to present the theme of the idea of solid security.
My wife and I went to a band concert in an old restored town hall/theater building in the town where my sister lived. As we came into the building, I noticed that the double doors to the mayor’s office were a normal width, but they must have been twice as tall as normal! We sat in the balcony, and I noticed that the windows went all the way from the ceiling to the floor and were quite narrow. The doors next to the stage were normal width, but were probably ten feet tall. Everything in this building seemed to be tall. I think that by using tallness, the architect was trying to communicate a theme that this was an important building.
Although scripture does not specifically tell us what the theme of the temple is, it is apparent that the temple building does have a theme. The theme is visible in the picture of Solomon’s temple and in many other ways throughout the Scriptures. The theme that the Architect chose is designed to teach us many principles by which we are to live our lives. This author believes that the theme that the architect chose to communicate through the design of the temple is mankind’s relationship to God. We will spend a large part of this book exploring how this theme is manifested in the design of the temple.
Focus of the temple.
Besides choosing a theme, many architects also choose a focus for their design. The focus is what the eye is drawn to. The focus is what you think of when you first think of a building. For instance, when you think of a capital building, usually a building with a dome comes to mind. When you think of a church building, usually a steeple comes to mind.
The focus does not, however, necessarily even need to be a part of the actual building. It may be something that the building is designed to display dramatically. For instance, the focus of a log cabin may be the tree growing through the middle of it that the cabin was built around. The focus of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is the statue of Lincoln seated on a big stone chair. In any case the focus is an extraordinary feature, and the rest of the building is usually designed to act as a frame to highlight that feature. Such is the case with the temple. The Ark of the Covenant, which this author believes to be a picture of Christ, is what the Architect chose to use as the focus of the temple. It was when the Ark entered the building that God’s glory entered the temple. The Ark was clearly at the center of attention on that grand day when Solomon’s temple was dedicated.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God…?” I Corinthians 3:16
- If I am the temple of God, then is not the focus of my life to be Jesus Christ?
- Are there things which are distracting me from focusing on Jesus?
- When people think of me, what comes to their mind?
Function of the temple.
As a tool engineer for plastic injection molds, I am involved in the purchasing of new molds from outside tool shops. Before a mold can be built, our company must define what shape the part will be that the mold is to make. Since our company is paying for the mold, they can specify whatever shape of part they want. The part shape is specified in a 3D computer drawing. The function of the mold is to make a part that is the same shape as our 3D computer drawing. Once the part shape is settled, and the mold is designed, the mold builder will send me the design of the mold so that I can check to be sure that the mold will perform its function of producing the part shape our company had designed. Since I am the one who usually has to figure out how to make it work if it fails to perform its function properly, I try to be very careful to check the design of the mold thoroughly.
Before I can check the mold design however, I must understand the shape of the part the mold is supposed to make. The better I understand the function of the mold, in other words the plastic part it is to make, the better I will understand the mold and will be able to anticipate what the problem areas may be. It is the same way with any design including buildings. The first thing you must do is understand the intended function of whatever you are looking at before you will be able to make sense out of the way it is designed. If you do not understand their function, some buildings don’t make sense.
One type of building seems to be mostly long hallways that split off at odd angles. When you get to the end of the long hallways, there are smaller hallways that split off from them, and these smaller hallways actually move from side to side and up and down. These smaller hallways lead to the outdoors, but are up off the ground with no steps to go down. If you had not known that the function of the building was an airport, this would sound totally bizarre. When you understand the function of the building, however, it all makes sense. When you understand that huge airplanes dock up to the building, and that the building’s function is to allow people to get out to the airplanes safely without having to walk long distances outside in the cold and rain, and that the small hallways move to align themselves with the airplane’s door, the building makes sense.
“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
I Corinthians 6:19-20
Since God has purchased the temple with the blood of Christ and is the owner, it is His right to specify the function of the temple as He chooses. The function that the temple is to perform as specified by the One who purchased it, is to glorify God, both in our body and in our spirit. The better we understand glorifying God in our body and spirit (our basic function) the better we will be able to understand why we, the temple, are designed the way we are.
Once again, the focus of the temple, that extraordinary feature that captures the attention, is Christ. The theme of our life as the temple is our relationship to God, and it is our function to be the frame that highlights Him and makes Him look good. In other words, our function is to glorify God.
- Can others see Jesus in the frame of how I live?
- Am I making an attractive frame to draw the attention of others to Jesus dwelling in me?
- Do I draw attention to myself instead?
- Is my relationship to God the theme of my life? Or is some other theme more prevalent?
Once the basic function of something is understood, to further understand how something works, you start looking at what the individual parts of the assembly are, how each one contributes to the overall function, and how the parts must interact with each other in order to accomplish the function. In the following chapters, we will examine many of the parts in detail to better understand how they contribute to the overall function of the temple. I would encourage you at this point to take a few minutes to read I Kings 5-7 to familiarize yourself with the story.