5.45 1 Kings -- The Builders
The labor force required in Solomon's monumental public works, including the Temple, was drawn from three sources: temporary Israelite conscripts who served in rotating shifts (1 Kings 5:13), a permanent slave labor force from conquered nations (1 Kings 5:15-16, 1 Kings 9:20-21), and skilled masons and builders from Tyre and Byblos (1 Kings 5:18). Solomon also imported from Tyre a man named Huram as chief metal-worker and designer of all the elaborate pillars and furnishings of the Temple (1 Kings 7:13-14, 2 Chron 2:13-14). Huram was mixed-race, son of an Israelite woman and Tyrian father. Huram corresponds to Bezalel, the man who made the original sanctuary and the ark itself (Ex 36-39). But Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God (Ex 35:31), whereas Huram was only "highly skilled."
This was a massive public works project. 30,000 Israelite men were conscripted for service in Lebanon: 10,000 sent every month, then given two months off (1 Kings 5:13-15). In addition, 150,000 Canaanites were forced to do the dirty work and heavy labor (1 Kings 5:15, 1 Kings 9:20-21, 2 Chron 2:17-18). Wait! -- haven't we encountered this before in the Bible? How ironic that 500 years after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were put to work doing compulsory labor under a domestic Pharaoh, who even had an authentic Egyptian bride! The analogy is even more accurate if we consider the status of the Canaanites. As the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites and made them toil as slaves in building their cities, so Solomon enslaved the Canaanites and forced them to build the Temple and palaces of Jerusalem. The races have changed, but not the relationships, nor the oppression. All that was lacking was a Canaanite Moses.
The enslavement of the Canaanites apparently did not end with the construction of the Temple. Chronicles tells us:
All the people left from the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites), that is, their descendants remaining in the land, whom the Israelites had not destroyed -- these Solomon conscripted for his slave labor force, as it is to this day (2 Chron 8:7-8).
On the other hand, there was an evident partnership between the Phoenicians and the Israelites. This occurred in Lebanon, where the timber was cut and and the building stones were quarried:
The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and the men of Gebal cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple (1 Kings 5:18).
This partnership also took place in Jerusalem, where the half-Israelite Huram had authority over all the craftsmen and workers.
This brings us to what is perhaps the most significant aspect of the construction of the Temple, though it is not mentioned in Scripture itself: and that is that God's Temple was a joint undertaking of Israelite and foreigner. There was a foreign "investment" in its construction, far beyond supplying the raw materials. Nor was it just the coerced labor of slaves. Both of these were present, but the signficant aspect is that freeborn Phoenician and Israelite worked side-by-side. Even more, skilled Israelites worked under the direction of a "half-breed" from Tyre, a man who would have been rejected by the full-blooded community (as Jephthah was in Judg 11:7). Thus the Temple assumes a prophetic significance, as a "firstfruits" of the time when Gentiles will have full participation in the work of God in history. The Temple is a witness in time of what God has planned for the future: when the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile will be torn down, so that both might cooperate in a common task for the extension of God's Kingdom among men.
It is true that once erected, the Temple was closed to many of the very men who sweated and struggled for seven years to build it (1 Kings 6:38). That was because it would take a further work of God (in Jesus Christ) to open the way for full Gentile inclusion. But we must not minimize the participation of Hiram and his subjects in the task of building God's House -- it was an offering of the Gentiles that was acceptable in its time. And it was a denial of the rigid exclusionary practices that some schools of Jewish thought derived from Levitical precepts.
But the building of the Temple did not merely anticipate a future development of God's plan of redemption. It also addressed the past sins of mankind. For the Temple was an anti-type of the tower of Babel, when men united to build a great memorial to human pride (Gen 11:1-9). At that time God humbled men by confusing their language and scattering them across the earth. But in the construction of the Temple, this primal sin was reversed. Men of different languages and even different religions came together to build a memorial to the glory of God. It was not perfect, the cooperation did not last. But in this common work and common aim, mankind took a step towards recovering the true purpose of our existence. For what is the meaning of history itself if it is not the combined actions of millions of people on all continents and in all centuries to build a dwelling place of God in our midst?