Age of Silver

David’s plan for the temple is partly a floor plan. He gives Solomon the pattern for the “porch” and its associated buildings, treasuries, rooms, courts (1 Chronicles 28:11-12). The plan also includes instructions for organizing the priests and Levites (28:13a) and for the utensils of service for the temple (13b-18). In Exodus, the word tabnit is directly applied only to the tabernacle and its furnishings (25:9) and specifically the lampstand (25:40). In Chronicles, priests and Levites are more explicitly included as part of the design. Priests have become part of Yahweh’s furniture, living parts of His house.

The latter includes designs for lampstands and lamps (v. 15), tables (v. 16), forks, basins, and pitchers (v. 17), the altar of incense (v. 18a), and the cherubic chariot (v. 18b). In each case, presumably, David’s plan describes the form and shape of the utensils of service, but the accent falls on the weight of the materials (mishqal, “weight,” used 8x). The tabnit prescribes both form and material.

David’s summary of the contents of the tabnit is arranged chiastically:

A. tabnit/tabnit, 11-12

B. Rooms and buildings, room for kapporet, v. 12

C. Priests and Levites, v. 13a

D. Utensils, v. 13b-14

E. Lampstands and lamps, v. 15

E’. Tables, v. 16

D’. Utensils, v. 17

C’. Altar (where priests turn incense to smoke), v. 18a

B’. Cherubim spread wings over ark, v. 18b

A’. tabnit/tabnit, vv. 18-19

One of the striking changes from the tabernacle is the new prominence of silver. The tabernacle had silver sockets that held the posts and boards (e.g., Exodus 26:19, 21, 25, 32), as well as silver hooks and bands on the pillars (Exodus 27:10). Silver was an intermediate metal between the bronze of the courtyard (altar, laver) and the gold of the inner sanctuary (table, menorah, incense altar, ark). There were silver hooks at the top of the pillars in the bronze-dominated court, and silver sockets at the base of the gold-dominated sanctuary. Silver was the icing between the two layers of tabernacle cake.

With the temple, as described by the Chronicler, the use of silver dramatically expands. Solomon makes additional golden utensils, and silver ones (1 Chronicles 28:13). He expands the number of golden lampstands from one to ten, but also adds silver lampstands with silver lamps (28:15). The Mosaic table of showbread was gold, but Solomon’s temple has silver as well as gold tables (28:16). In Kings, Solomon’s age is a golden age, when silver was worth no more than common stones. For the Chronicler, Solomon’s is a golden age because it elevates silver into the sanctuary itself.

What does this change mean? We can get a clue from the placement of silver in the tabernacle, where silver, unlike bronze and gold, doesn’t have its own space, serving only a thin barrier between bronze and gold. And the bronze and gold spaces are the spaces of people and priests respectively. Only priests can enter the golden regions of the holy and most holy places; lay Israelites are confined to the bronze courtyard. In this construction, Levites form the “silver” cordon between, guards of the sanctuary who are not allowed to enter, ordained to draw nearer to the tent than lay Israelites but not as near as priests.

If this is right, then the elevation of silver in Solomon’s temple is a material representation of the elevation of the Levites. That latter elevation is obvious in Chronicles: Levites are still deacons to the priests, but they are responsible for purifying holy things, doing the work of the house, taking care of baked offerings, and offering ascensions of praise morning and evening (1 Chronicles 23:28-31). They are still gatekeepers, but now they offer sacrifice – not the sacrifices of the altar but the new sacrifices of song. That elevated status is symbolized by the inclusion of silver furniture. David doesn’t indicate where the silver lamps and tables are placed; perhaps they are in adjoining buildings and not in the sanctuary proper. Still, the fact that there are silver furnishings means that they are represented in the temple plan as lights and tables, as those who illuminate and feed.

Solomon’s was an age of silver because it was an age when the Levites came into their own.

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