Early History Of The Temple Mount

by Lambert Dolphin

Before The First Temple

There is an outcropping of starkly bare rough limestone rock in Jerusalem which for thirty centuries past has gripped the minds and hearts of sons of men as being the most sacred spot on earth. Known to the Jews as the Temple Mount and to the Moslems as the Noble Sanctuary. Tradition and legend blend together where it is difficult to separate the two. . . Few places in the world have been . . . as sacred as this city, this flattened mountain and this rock. While the world lasts and as long as the sons of men believe that one spot on it is more sacred and hallowed than another, this will remain so. (Ref. 1)

Earliest Legends about the Promised Land

No one knows exactly where the Garden of Eden described in the Bible was located. The general area is generally thought to be in the Tigris-Euphrates Valleys. Sedimentary deposits from the flood of Noah are thousands of feet deep now in the entire area, so the "ruins" of the Garden of Eden are not likely to turn up by accident.

However, Adam after he was created was placed in the Garden which lay to the East. Because of this statement Jewish sages have long claimed that Adam was created in what is now the land of Israel. Adam's footprint in stone is said by Muslim guides to still exist in the bedrock of the Macpelah in Hebron. Early Jewish legends state that Adam himself was buried in the Cave Abraham later purchased for burying his wife.

On Mt. Moriah, the present-day Temple Mount in Jerusalem the exposed bedrock under the Dome of the Rock is known as "the Foundation Stone"in Hebrew Even ha-Shetiyah. Although the Jewish Temples were later built on the same foundation stone, or an extension of this same bedrock elsewhere on Mt. Moriah, the term "foundation stone" refers to the creation of the earth by God on the First Day.
And it was called the Foundation Stone because the world was founded on it. For Isaiah the prophet said, "Thus saith the Lord, 'Behold I lay in Zion a foundation for a stone...a costly corner-stone of sure foundation."' The Almighty, blessed be He, dropped a rock in the waters, and from thence the world expanded.

The Almighty created the world in the same manner as a child is formed in its mother's womb. Just as a child begins to grow from its navel and then develops into its full form, so the world began from its central point and then developed in all direction. (Ref. 2)
The Foundation Stone in known in Arabic es-Sakhra (and the Dome of the Rock, Kubbat es-Sakhra). On the western facade of the Dome of the Rock is the following Arabic inscription, The Rock of the Temple from the garden of Eden. The northern gate of the mosque facing the foundation stone is named the Gate of Paradise, Bab ej-Jinah. On the floor in front of this gate is a stone of green jasper about half a meter square called by the Arabs "the Stone of Eden."

From the Muslim tradition

The Rock of the Temple is of the stones of the Garden of Eden. At resurrection day, the Kaaba Stone, which is in holy Mecca, will go to the Foundation Stone in holy Jerusalem, bringing with it the inhabitants of Mecca, and it shall become joined to the Foundation Stone, When the Foundation Stone shall see the Kaaba Stone approaching, it shall cry out, "Peace be to the great guest!" (Ref. 2)
Even more interesting than the legends concerning the Foundation Stones are the stories about the Abyss which is supposed to lie beneath.

The Zohar relates,
"When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to create world, He detached one precious stone from underneath His throne of glory and plunged it into the abyss; one end of it remained fastened therein, whilst the other end stood above...out of which the world started, spreading itself to the right and left and into all directions."

Some of the Jewish sages say that this stone was called Shetiyah, which in Hebrew also means "drinking" because beneath it is hidden the source of all the springs and fountains from which the world drinks its water. An Arab tradition also states that all the fresh waters of the world have their origin under this rock.

In the floor of the small cave (measuring about 14 feet square with a six foot ceiling) under the great foundation stone in the Dome of the Rock is round marble slab closing a well shaft known as "the well of the souls" (Bir al Arwah). A Muslim tradition holds this is the entrance into the bottomless pit, the abyss. The souls of the dead awaiting judgment are said to be audible beneath. The Talmud claims that this is the abyss above the primeval waters of creation and of the Flood. During the illegal Parker expedition of 1911 the marble cover was lifted and found to cover just a depression and not a well shaft. However there are other traditions that suggest this part of Mt. Moriah may once have been a burial place, or possibly a Canaanite High Place. Either of these stories, if they proved true would be reasons for the site to have been disqualified as a location for Solomon's Temple because of the required Jewish sanctity of the temple site, as discussed below.

The Land: Settled Originally by the Sons of Canaan

The cataclysmic flood of Noah (Gen. 7, 8; 2 Peter 3) destroyed the entire population of the earth - probably many billions of inhabitants - leaving only eight survivors. These four couples were all righteous, that is, all believers in the one true God, all had been "justified by faith," (as the term is interpreted in the New Testament). Noah's three sons and their wives were given the opportunity of repopulating the earth by raising their children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. The human family, all three branches, managed to mess things up very quickly, within one generation in fact.

In the line of Ham a special moral weakness was noted by Ham's father Noah at the time of Noah's drunkenness, (Gen. 9:20-27). Noah observed further that this inherited moral weakness in his son Ham was already present to an even greater degree in the young grandson, Canaan. Noah thus predicted that moral perversion and lust would especially plague the descendants of Canaan. This so-called "curse" on one branch of Ham's family became true in history. We know quite a bit about the Canaanites from the Biblical records and from archaeology. These peoples became known for their sexual promiscuity (heterosexual and homosexual), for their extreme idolatry, for endemic venereal diseases and for their sensuous, hedonistic life-styles.

Because the earliest known inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jebus) were Canaanite peoples there are good reasons to believe that pagan shrines dedicated to Baal and Ashtoreth were to be found in the city in the earliest period. Traditionally these shrines were located on the higher peaks and mountains - hence the common name "high places." (Ref. 3)

The Israelites were commanded by God to eradicate the Canaanites when they entered the land.
And the LORD said to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, "Say to the people of Israel, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places; and you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your families; to a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; wherever the lot falls to any man, that shall be his; according to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit. But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as pricks in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them." (Numbers 33:50-56)

The incomplete obedience that took place during the conquest of Joshua left pockets of Canaanites surviving, (see Judges 1:22-2:5). The pagan influences of these peoples on the Jews was the cause of much later degradation of the worship of the God of Israel. Some of the kings of Judah - Solomon was the first - incorporated pagan rites and rituals into the worship of Yahweh. To their credit, a few kings of Judah (such as Josiah, about 630 B.C.E.) removed these "high places" and restored the First Temple to its prescribed furnishings and forms of service and worship (Ref. 3).
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the graven and the molten images. And they broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence; and he hewed down the incense altars which stood above them; and he broke in pieces the Asherim and the graven and the molten images, and he made dust of them and strewed it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and purged Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins round about, he broke down the altars, and beat the Asherim and the images into powder, and hewed down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel... (2 Chronicles 34:1-7)
In considering the possible location of the Temples on Mount Moriah it will be necessary to raise the possibility that the site of the Dome of the Rock was, in an earlier period, one of these notorious Canaanite High Places. Consideration will also be given to the possibility that very early tombs were located in the caves beneath the "sacred rock." Either of these considerations would preclude the First Temple being located on the site of the present Dome of the Rock Islamic Shrine.

Because pagan temples and shrines were traditionally placed on the tops of the highest hills and mountains, there is also reason to believe the Jewish First Temple may well have been deliberately located well below the summit of Mt. Moriah.

More Early History After the Flood

The famous "Table of Nations" in Genesis Chapters 10 and 11 gives us an amazing and accurate account of the first few generations of the human race after the great flood of Noah. From this table and the root names listed there, many of which have survived to this day we know that the descendants of Japheth migrated largely to the North and West, populating what is now Europe as well as Russia. (One branch of Japheth's family colonized what is now India). The Shemites, (Semites), stayed largely in the Fertile Crescent area and Arabia. The Hamites were the progenitors of the Egyptians, Africans, New World Indians, and Oriental peoples. Many Hamites moved into Persia, China, and Africa.

Ham's son Canaan's family took up residence in what is now the land of Israel:
The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan...Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These are the sons of Ham, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations. (Genesis 10:6-20) (See Ref. 4).
It is difficult to place a firm date on the time of the flood. Based on a "tight" reading of Old Testament genealogical listings (few gaps) in the names in the line of promise between the First and Second Adam, the flood could have occurred as recently as 3500 BC, about a thousand or twelve hundred years before the birth of Abraham. Little is known about the Land of Canaan during this time period, but ten or twelve centuries are more than enough for small families of nomads to build up cities and tribes numbering many thousands of people in the region.

Since the Hebrew term "son of so-and-so" can mean grandson or even great grandson it is quite possible that the date of the Flood can be moved backwards at least several hundred years. This would bring the Biblical record into closer harmony with what is now fairly certain about ancient civilizations such as Egypt.

God had plans made much earlier, long before the flood, to give this plot of land - Canaan - to Abram, son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Eber, son of Shem.

Jerusalem: Chosen by God from Antiquity

A number of Psalms speak boldly and forthrightly about God's choice, in antiquity, of Jerusalem and Mount Zion as His permanent dwelling place:
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has shown himself a sure defense. For lo, the kings assembled, they came on together. As soon as they saw it, they were astounded, they were in panic, they took to flight; trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in travail. By the east wind thou didst shatter the ships of Tarshish. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes for ever. [Selah]

We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God, in the midst of thy temple. As thy name, O God, so thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Thy right hand is filled with victory; let Mount Zion be glad! Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of thy judgments! Walk about Zion, go round about her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels; that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God for ever and ever. He will be our guide for ever. (Psalm 48. A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah)
Though occupied by the children of Ham, Canaan, the Promised Land, had been promised to another son of Noah, to Shem, and one of Shem's unique descendants who was to be the Savior of the world.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam---the world's three great monotheistic religions all owe their earliest traditions to this one Semitic man, Abraham. Every religion has an outstanding figure who is credited as one a leader of central importance. To the Jews it is Moses, the giver of the Law. To the Moslems it is Mohammed, the last and greatest of the prophets. To the Christians it is Jesus, the Son God and the promised Savior of the world. Actually, Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed all were, paternally, flesh and blood descendants of Abraham, all were of Semitic stock. Forty centuries ago, God had called this man Abram out of a pagan culture to the East, Ur of the Chaldees (in what is now Iraq).

Now the Lord said to Abram:
"Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father's house, to a land I will show you - I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3).
God showed Abraham the borders of the land that was to belong to him and his descendants:
And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look to the place where you are---northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise and walk the land through its length and width, for I give it to you." (Genesis 13:14-17).
Moreover, as we have seen the promises made to Abraham and his descendants are everlasting:
"And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. And I will give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:7-8).
This covenant, or agreement, that God made with Abraham's descendants could not, nor cannot be revoked.

God's Promises to Abraham

In these passages God made the following promises to Abraham and his descendants: Against all odds, these promises have been literally fulfilled. The fact that they all continue to come true in history as promised demonstrates the character and faithfulness of God.

Promise of a Unique Seed

Among the promises God made to Abraham was that of a son. The Bible says that the Lord appeared to Abraham when he and his wife Sarah were advanced in age and promised they would have a son the next year. Sarah laughed when she overheard the promise:
And Sarah was listening in the tent door behind them. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:11-14).
As God had promised Abraham and Sarah indeed had a son they named him Isaac, which means "laughter."

Centuries later the Apostle Paul commenting on the promised seed, or heir, of Abraham tells us that all the promises of God to the Patriarch were to find their fulfillment in one unique Seed, Yeshua, the promised Messiah. Paul wrote these words,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many; but, referring to one, "And to your offspring," which is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)
Thus it was God's intention from before the creation of the universe to bring the promised Messiah into the world as the biological, genetic, flesh and blood descendant of Abraham.

Abraham Meets the King of Jerusalem

Lot, Abraham's nephew had made an unfortunate choice in choosing to dwell in Sodom, a choice he would regret not only for time but also eternity. He had more than one opportunity to move. Genesis 14 tells of five marauding kings from the East (Babylon) who overran Sodom and the other Canaanite cities of the plain, taking Lot temporarily captive. Abraham and a mere 318 of his men pursued these bad guys the full length of the country, rescuing Lot and returning him "home" again to Sodom.

It was after these events that Abraham, stopping at Canaanite Jerusalem on his way back to Hebron that the Patriarch was served bread and wine and blessed by the King of Salem, a man who was not only the local King but also a Priest of El Elyon, "God most High."
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him (Abraham) at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Gen. 14:17-20)
It is beyond the scope of this essay to dwell at length on the mysterious meeting between Abraham, the progenitor of God's chosen people Israel, and a certain righteous gentile believer who served the true and living God in the Canaanite city of Jebus that would one day be Jerusalem, the capital city of the world. It should be noted that Melchidezek is the subject of a lengthy discussion in the letter to the Hebrews in connection with a later and better priesthood that the Messiah would one day institute, (see Psalm 110, Heb. 7-10). Ordinarily the Bible does not speak much in the Old Testament about God's gracious and merciful dealings with peoples other than Israel. Yet the case of Melchidezek shows clearly that God had His man, His priest, in Jerusalem even before the Jewish people came into existence!

Testing on Mt. Moriah

God tested and proved Abraham's faith as He does with all those who believe. This is to grow us up into mature, whole, complete persons fit for eternity. The most severe of all of God's tests of Abraham's faith came when Isaac had grown into a man, Abraham was asked to take this long-awaited, beloved son of promise and offer him as a burnt offering.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And he said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (Genesis 22:1-2).
Abraham acted in obedience to God and went on a three days journey to the site which God had chosen. The site that God brought Abraham would later become the City of Jerusalem The exact location on Mt. Moriah is believed to be the Temple Mount:

When they reached the mountain that God had chosen, Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac:
But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said . . . "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering. And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering." (Genesis 22:7, 8)
At the last moment, God stayed the hand of Abraham as he was about to sacrifice his son. Instead, Abraham offered a ram as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. There Abraham appropriately named the spot:
And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide (Yahweh-Jireh); as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided. (Genesis 22:14).
Abraham looked forward to the day when God would provide another and better sacrifice on that same Mountain.

The New Testament speaks of Abraham's great faith which became fully pleasing to God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Abraham had come to the conclusion that God was obligated to raise Isaac from the dead should the sacrifice be made:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named." He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Jesus was to comment later on Abraham's obedience at Mount Moriah, "Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (John 8:56)
Here Jesus claims to be the Intimate of God, the One who thoroughly knows God because he has been with him from the very beginning. "Abraham is my credential, my proof of that," he declares. "Abraham looked forward, saw my day, and approved of me 2,500 years before I came. He understood who I am and what I am here to do, and when he saw it he rejoiced." (Ray C. Stedman)
Twenty centuries after Abraham another Father was to give up His only begotten, beloved Son on the same Mount Moriah. This time the offering would not be averted:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16, 17)

Promise fulfilled

As God had promised, a great nation sprung from Abraham through his son Isaac. From Isaac came the next son of the promise, Jacob. Jacob's name was changed to Israel and from Isaac were born the twelve Patriarchs of Israel:

Isaac - not the servant Eliezer, not Ishmael

Jacob (Israel) - not Esau, then:

Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph (sons: Ephraim and Manasseh), Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.

Abraham had not passed each and every test God had given him, his lapses and failures are recorded for our learning in Genesis. Some of his failures brought serious consequences, but all that have taken place was woven into the plan of God for his chosen people the sons of Israel:
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites (i.e., the Canaanites) is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:13-15)
So the descendants of Israel, some 70 persons, (Gen. 46:27) went down to Egypt and spent four hundred years there as slaves. They would increase in number to several millions in the time of their exile from the Promised Land.

The Biblical record, Old and New Testaments alike, tell us that the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt under Moses marks the time the people of Israel became a nation under God.
And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, gives you...For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?.. For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut. 4:1-34)
Under Moses' leadership in the wilderness, God began to reveal to Israel that had been called out of Egypt on a pilgrim journey to the land promised four centuries earlier to their forefather. They were dealing with no ordinary God, they were told, Yahweh was a holy God and could not dwell with an unclean, profane people. The character of this God was revealed in the Decalogue, the Law of Moses, made known to them at Mt. Sinai. At the same time their sinful failings began to be evident, (see 1 Cor. 10:1-11). Rather than showing justice, God displayed his mercy, patience, loyal-love and longsuffering. A priesthood, a Tent of Meeting, and an elaborate system of animal sacrifices were given them to show that this God was prepared to make provision for every kind of and every manner of human sin whether it was directed against Him or against one another, or against the community. The first great lesson of redemption through blood sacrifice and deliverance by power had been shown to them at the first Passover, (Exodus 12). Sins could be covered by the blood sacrifice of unblemished animals, and "passed-over" until Messiah came to take sins away forever.

It was in the wilderness of Sinai after the crossing of the Red Sea that God revealed how it was He planned to meet in fellowship with His people.

A Tabernacle in the Desert

Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8).
Moses did not suggest to God that a Tabernacle should be built and then God agreed to occupy it. God lovingly looked down upon His people as He directed them toward the Promised Land. He would not only guide them, He would dwell with them to give them constant assurance of His shepherdly care. Yahweh instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle in the midst of the camp, just as a Bedouin chieftain would pitch his tent in the midst of an encampment. Furthermore the complete blueprints for this strange tent, courts, and furniture were given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Tabernacle itself was basically a huge elaborate tent about forty-five feet long divided into two parts by a curtain, or veil. The first room, upon entering - called "the Holy Place" - was about thirty feet by fifteen feet in size. In the center of the room, before the veil was the ark of incense standing about three feet high. On it was placed charcoal and a mixture of incense and aromatic resins. This incense was burned twice a day.

On the left of this altar was the seven branched golden candlestick (the Menorah). On the right was the Table of Showbread where twelve loaves of bread were placed in two piles of six. The bread, a memorial to the twelve tribes of Israel, was renewed every Sabbath day.

The Holy of Holies

Beyond the veil was the holiest place known as the Holy of Holies. The dimensions were 15 cubits on a side - approximately 22 feet on a side. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. And above the Ark was the Mercy Seat.

The Ark was a wooden chest made to Divine specifications to contain the two tablets of the Law, Aaron's rod that budded and a pot of manna. Made out of acacia wood, this strange cabinet-like box with carrying poles was also known as the Ark of the Law. It was about four feet long and two and one half feet high. The Ark was covered inside and outside with gold. There were four rings fixed to its side through which two carrying poles were passed. The Ark was placed under the care of the Levites, who were exempt from military duties.

On the top of the Ark was the mercy seat that had two golden cherubim with outstretched wings at its ends. The Cherubim, of which little is known, were winged celestial creatures whose purpose was to guard and protect.

The Mercy Seat received its name because the High Priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, sprinkled it with the blood of the sacrifice. This was the most sacred place in the entire Sanctuary. It was to symbolize the visible throne of the invisible presence of God.

How God Communicated to Man

It was from the Holy of Holies God spoke to His people:
And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:22)

And the Lord said to Moses: "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at simply any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat." (Leviticus 16:2)
The Tabernacle was erected each time God indicated to the children of Israel they were to temporarily halt from their march in the wilderness. The imagery is clear - this tent was only a temporary structure, looking forward to the day when a permanent house of the Lord could be built.

Numerous Bible commentaries have commented in detail on the symbols of the Ark, the sacrifices, the furnishings, the courts and the Tabernacle. These matters can be studied with great benefit by believers today for the principles of God's dealings with His people are the same in every generation even though the coming of Messiah has brought a fulfillment of the many types and pictures portrayed by the Tabernacle of Moses.

The Jordan Crossed at Last

Under the leadership of Joshua, Moses' successor, the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, the Promised land. The Book of Joshua describes in some detail the conquest of the land and the new lessons God taught his people Israel about living in the land that had been given to them four hundred and forty years earlier. After the conquest of Canaan, the tent of meeting remained in Shiloh through the time of the Judges, a period of time which totals approximately another 400 years. Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines (1050 BC) and never rebuilt.

Joshua and Jerusalem

More information about early Jerusalem is contained in the record in the book of Joshua at the time of the conquest. Jerusalem was then under the control of the Jebusites under a king whose name (or title) was Adonizedek (Lord of righteousness").
When Adonizedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty. So Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, "Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel." Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it. And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, "Do not relax your hand from your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the hill country are gathered against us." So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands- there shall not a man of them stand before you." So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the LORD threw them into a panic before Israel, who slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the ascent of Bethhoron, and smote them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Bethhoron, the LORD threw down great stones from heaven upon them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the men of Israel killed with the sword...

Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. These five kings fled, and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. And it was told Joshua, "The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkedah." And Joshua said, "Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them; but do not stay there yourselves, pursue your enemies, fall upon their rear, do not let them enter their cities; for the LORD your God has given them into your hand." When Joshua and the men of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were wiped out, and when the remnant which remained of them had entered into the fortified cities, all the people returned safe to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah; not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel. Then Joshua said, "Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave." And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, "Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings." Then they came near, and put their feet on their necks. And Joshua said to them, "Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and of good courage; for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight." And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day.(Joshua 10:1-27)
In attempting to understand what appears at first glance to be the ruthless destruction of innocent men, women and children, it is important for us to understand that Israel was, at this time in her history, the instrument of God in bringing divine judgment on a thoroughly corrupt, pagan, wicked people, (Numbers 21:1, 2; Deut. 7:2,13:15, 20:17; Josh 10-11). The inhabitants of Canaan had, in fact, had 400 years to mend their ways and turn to the living God who owned the land, (Gen. 15:16). Instead they had grown only more corrupt and beyond the hope of salvation. To allow them to continue and propagate would only spread the cancer of their idolatrous ways further.

In fact Israel's incomplete obedience of God in allowing remnants of the Canaanites to live was the cause of much subsequent heartache and disaster for centuries to follow, (Joshua 17:13, Judges 1:22ff-3:6).

The Fate of the Tabernacle

The Books of Samuel tell of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines and give us also the subsequent story of the wanderings of the Ark for some years until it was brought to Jerusalem by David. After the fall and destruction of Shiloh in 1050 BC the tabernacle and its furnishings - minus the Ark - were brought to Jerusalem, and, according to tradition eventually set up there on Mount Moriah by King David. When the Ark was at last recovered it was evidently returned to its proper place in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. Now the Ark and the Tabernacle had come to rest permanently at God's chosen destination for His people Israel.

According to 2 Samuel 5 David, in the eight year of his reign had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites:
And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, "You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off " - thinking, "David cannot come in here." Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, "Whoever would smite the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, who are hated by David's soul." Therefore it is said, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built the city round about from the Millo inward. (2 Sam. 5:6-9)
The first rightful king of Israel was David. David captured the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites and was crowned king of Israel in the city of Hebron. David solidified the nation by making Jerusalem its capital. He brought the Ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and placed it in the tabernacle.

King David observed that while he lived in a house of cedar, God's presence still was in curtains (the Tabernacle). Hence David conceived a plan for a more permanent structure to be built, a Temple.

God told king David that a Temple was to be built, but not by him. David was not to be the one who would build the Temple because he was a man of war. That job would belong to his son Solomon. The original command for building the Temple was given by God, "He shall build a house for my name" (2 Samuel 7:13).

The fact that other nations had temples and Israel did not is not the reason it was built. The Temple was to be a memorial to Israel to turn her heart away from the idols of their contemporaries. The Temple would provide them for an incentive not to practice the same evil things as the Canaanites.

After the Temple was built the Tabernacle was dismantled. Its fate is unknown. But, it may well have been stored in a room under the Temple Mount were it remains to this today. Quite a few Jewish leaders in Israel today will tell you that this is so!

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever.
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,
so the LORD is round about his people,
from this time forth and for evermore.
For the scepter of wickedness
shall not rest upon the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous put forth their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside upon their crooked ways
the LORD will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be in Israel!

(Psalm 125. A Psalm of David. A Psalm of Ascents)

End Notes

1. Solomon Steckoll, The Temple Mount, London, Tom Stacey Limited, 1972, p. 9.

2. Zev Vilnay, Legends of Jerusalem, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1973.

3. Mention of the "high places" is found in 1Kgs. 3, Kgs. 12:31-32, 1Kgs. 13, b1Kgs. 14:23, 1Kgs. 15:14, 1Kgs. 22:43, 2Kgs. 12:3, 2Kgs. 14:4, 2Kgs. 15:4, 35, 2Kgs. 16:4, 2Kgs. 17:9-11, 2Kgs. 17:29-32, 2Kgs. 18:4, 22, 2Kgs. 18:22, 2Kgs. 21:3, 2Kgs. 23:5-9, 2Kgs. 23:13 2Kgs. 23:19-20, 2Chr. 11:15, 2Chr. 14:3-5, 2Chr. 15:17, 2Chr. 17:6, 2Chr. 20:33, 2Chr. 21:11, 2Chr. 28:4, 25, 2Chr. 31:1, 2Chr. 32:12, 2Chr. 33:3, 17-19, 2Chr. 34:3, Ps. 78:58, Prov. 9:14, Eccl. 10:6, Isa. 15:2, Isa. 36:7, Jer. 19:5 ,Jer. 32:35, Ezek. 6:3, Ezek. 6:6, Hosea 10:8, Amos 7:9, Micah 1:3, and Hab. 3:19.

4. Other ancient peoples are named frequently in the Old Testament records. These include: (a) The Philistines, present in the land from early times, invaded the coastlands in force in 1200 BC. They were fierce warlike Hamitic peoples descended from Mizraim (Egypt). (b) The Ammonites, descended from Lot through his son Ammon. Ammon was born out of Lot's incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. (c) The Moabites sprang from Lot's relationship with his other daughter resulting in the birth of his son, Moab. (d) The Edomites are descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. (e) The Midianites were peoples descended largely from the sons of Abraham's second wife, Keturah.

Early History of the Temple Mount

Lambert Dolphin
Lambert Dolphin's Library
The Temple Mount Web Site
Revised April 9, 1996.