1 Kings 8:1–2 (ESV)

1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.

When we come to 1 Kings 8, we come to what is arguably the most important chapter detailing the reign of King’s Solomon. It is not the prayer of dedication alone, but the addresses that Solomon gives to the people both before and after his prayer of dedication that make this chapter important. Even that does not exhaust the importance of the chapter. For the descent of the glory of God in the form of a cloud is perhaps the most important thing that happens. These things we ought to keep in mind as we look at this chapter.

The chapter opens with Solomon gathering the leadership of Israel together. This is illustrated in the language that speaks of the elders of Israel, the leaders of the tribes, and the leaders of individual extended families. The leaders of fathers' houses of the people of Israel may refer to the heads of the clans that existed in the twelve tribes of Israel. Or it may refer to some smaller grouping of the people. In whatever manner we choose to interpret this, we would be correct in believing that the assembly was a very large one. Later in the chapter the phrase all Israel is used.

The writer tells us that the purpose of the gathering was that the ark of the covenant should be brought into the temple that was now erected. We ought to remember that the ark of the covenant had been separated from the tabernacle ever since it was taken to be with the army of Israel that was later defeated by the Philistines, when Samuel, the prophet was still a young boy. That takes us back to a period of time, many years, indeed many decades, before the time of Solomon.

The separation of the ark from the place of sacrifice indicated that in Israel’s worship there was during that time a great irregularity. It is a matter of some doubt whether during that time the Day of Atonement could have been celebrated at least in the manner in which the law of Moses required it to be done.

One thing we see in these two verses that begin the chapter is a separation in time between the finishing of the construction and furnishing of the temple and its dedication. The writer tells us that this assembly to bring the ark into the temple took place in the month of Ethanim, but earlier we had been told that the temple-building was complete in the eighth month.

Most commentators believe that this means that the temple sat empty, at least empty of the Ark, for almost a year. Some go so far as to suggest that it was empty for over twenty years. They believe there is reason to believe that the construction of Solomon’s palace did not take place concurrently with the building of the temple but took place after the temple was constructed. They also believe, however, that Solomon waited for his house to be complete before he was ready to dedicate the temple. This latter view is a matter of speculation, and there is nothing in the text that would require it to be accepted.

Why, we may ask, should there be an eleven-month hiatus between the completion of the building project? This question is meant to help place our attention on the reason for the delay rather than on the issue as a mere problem of interpretation.

The writer says that Solomon assembled the leadership together at the feast that took place in that particular month. What was the feast? It was the Feast of Booths. That feast was established for Israel to remind them that they wandered in the wilderness living in tents. With the dedication of the temple and the change from a tent to a building, the period of instability was marked to be completed when the ark of the covenant found a permanent resting place that symbolized that Israel had come to a place of rest.

But there is something more that ought to be said. Israel still needed to remember her origins. It was necessary that the people remember that for forty years they travelled through a wilderness and did not live in permanent dwellings. The juxtaposition of a feast of booths and the dedication of the temple that would take place at this time combines these two ideas. It combined the demonstration that God had given Israel rest and the idea that they must remember that such was not always the case. But still further, it was a sign that true rest was not to be located in a permanent dwelling but in the presence of Almighty God with his people.

Finally, we should see in this juxtaposition a pointer to the Lord Jesus Christ who declared, I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28) In Jesus’ Person the two concepts meet. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14), while John 2:21 declares that Christ’s body is the temple.