Monday of week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13

As we begin today's reading Solomon has completed the building of his magnificent temple as a permanent dwelling place for the Lord. The building is described in 1 Kings 6 and we are told it took seven years, not really very long by the standards of the time for what seems to have been a very large structure. Many of Europe’s great churches took much longer to complete.

Chapter 8, from which today’s reading is taken, describes the dedication of the Temple and the installation there of the Ark of the Covenant.

At the instructions of King Solomon, the elders, leaders and princes of the people brought the ark up in solemn procession from the city of David, also referred to as Zion. As we saw in a previous reading, David had previously brought the ark from the house of Obed-Edom to Jerusalem, where it had been temporarily placed.

During the festival in the month of Ethanim all the people of Israel gathered in the presence of Solomon. Ethanim was a month in the Canaanite calendar which corresponded to the 7th month of the Jewish year. The feast which took place in this month was that of the Tabernacles (or Tents). This was eleven months after the completion of the Temple and the 12th year of Solomon’s reign. This feast was an appropriate time for the transition of God’s dwelling among formerly nomadic (tent-dwelling) tribes to a permanent abode among a now settled people.

When all the elders had assembled, the priests then carried the ark and the Meeting Tent with all the sacred vessels which were inside. The Tent of Meeting was where the Ark was kept. It was called the ‘Tent of Meeting’ from the days in the desert when Moses used to ‘meet’ there with Yahweh. Solomon and all the people then offered a sacrifice of sheep and oxen “too many to number or count”.

The Ark was carried by the priests to its place beneath the wings of the cherubim in the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies in the Temple. These cherubim are described earlier in chapter 6:23-28. The passage says in part: “In the sanctuary were two cherubim, each ten cubits high, made of olive wood. Each wing of a cherub measured five cubits so that the space from wing tip to wing tip of each was 10 cubits. The cherubim were identical in size and shape and each was 10 cubits high. The cherubim were placed in the inmost part of the temple, with their wings spread wide, so that one wing of each cherub touched a side wall while the other wing, pointing toward the middle of the room touched the corresponding wing of the second cherub. The cherubim, too, were overlaid with gold.” (A cubit was about 0.45 metres or 1.5 feet.)

The cherubim had their wings spread protectively over the Ark, sheltering it and its carrying poles.

Inside the Ark were just the two stone tablets containing the Law, which Moses had received from Yahweh on Mount Sinai and which Moses had placed there at Horeb.

As soon as the priests had left the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the place was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could no longer minister there. “The Lord’s glory had filled the Temple of the Lord.” It was a clear endorsement of everything that had been done and a confirmation of his presence, just as a visible manifestation of the presence of the Lord had descended on the tabernacle at Sinai (see Ex 40:33-35).

Our reading finishes with a brief prayerful poem spoken by Solomon:

The Lord intends to dwell in the dark cloud,
I have truly built you a princely house,
a dwelling where you may abide forever.

The image of the Lord dwelling in a dense cloud is one often found in the Scriptures. And we see it in the Gospel during the experience of the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).

Solomon's temple was later replaced by the massive structure erected by Herod the Great. Today, except for the fragment of the Wailing Wall, it is no more and its place has been taken by an Islamic mosque.

But, long before that, as Jesus died and said "It is finished", the veil of the Holy of Holies, where the Ark was kept, was torn open to the common gaze. God was no longer present there. Instead, under the new covenant, signed in Jesus' blood, he is now present in his people. The temple now is not a building but the community of disciples. And that is where we are both to find him and reveal him. "As often as you do or do not do it to the very least of my brothers and sisters you do or do not do it to me."

As Teilhard de Chardin put it so beautifully, we are living in a "divine milieu". God is in the very air that we breathe and in every person and experience that we encounter.

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