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the great two pillars of solomon's temple


part II - Symbolism and the Teachings of Freemasonry

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Two decorated pillars were set up in the porch of the temple as sacred obelisks. 

Prelude – the Israelites in Egypt

The two great pillars that King Solomon erected in the porch at the entrance to the temple at Jerusalem were sacred obelisks, which were symbols of the greatest significance to the Israelites. To appreciate how important the temple and its two pillars were in the lives of the Israelites, from early in the first millennium BCE, the preceding millennium in the history of the Israelites must be seen in proper perspective. Of particular importance were the strong cultural and intellectual links developed between the Israelites and the Egyptians, during the 430 years or so while the Israelites lived in the delta region of Egypt prior to their Exodus. The history of the Israelites records that they suffered enslavement for the last century of their residence in Egypt, but their enslavement was not harsh when compared with the usual standards of that era. The Hebrew word for a slave is Ayin Beth Daleth, or eved in English, a variant of Ayin Waw Beth Daleth, or oved in English, the root word that is used when referring to a worker in general. The Hebrew language is most closely related to the western Semitic language of Ugarit in northern Syria. The Hebrew script was derived from the Phoenician in about 710 BCE. As Heth Beth Resh, or habiru in English, the name Hebrew originally did not have an ethnic or racial connotation, but literally meant to be bound or joined together.

The word comes from Heth Pe Resh, or hapiru in English, a word of Arabic origin that literally means a digger, originally referring to foreign servants, in particular the Indo‑Aryan Hurrians who migrated into the Fertile Crescent from the north during the third millennium BCE. The habiru were a class of people who made their living carrying out manual work, often under contract. An interesting cognomen in the biblical texts is the genteel ibri, also meaning Hebrew, which is used as a patronymic for Abraham and his direct line of descendants. The use of ibri in the Old Testament is consistently ethnic, which suggests that the expression may have had a derogatory nuance. However the designation ibri later become an exclusive epithet, claimed with pride by those Jews whose cultural and religious heritage had not been modified by the consecutive influences of Greek and Roman rule that began in 336 BCE with Alexander the Great and continued until the Roman Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all free residents around the Mediterranean in 212 CE.

In Exodus 1:7-14 we are told why the Israelites were enslaved and what work was required of them:

“And the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people,  .  .  . Come on let us deal wisely with them:  .  .  . Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh the treasure cities Pithom and Raamses.  .  .  .  And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour; and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick and in all manner of service in the field;  .  .  . ”

Thus, although the Israelites were primarily relegated to working on the land and constructing cities during their period of enslavement, the livelihoods of most of them did not differ substantially from what they had been previously. Their memory of their enslavement and its outcome is revealed in the exhortation given in Deuteronomy 15:15, which says:

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you.”

There can be no doubt that the exposure of the Israelites to Egyptian culture, for more than four centuries, profoundly influenced their lives and was an important element in shaping their religion. This was especially significant with respect to Moses. It is generally agreed by biblical historiographers that Moses was brought up in the Pharaoh’s courts, where he received a substantial education and is credited with having obtained the “wisdom of the Egyptians”. The cultural influence of the Egyptians on the Israelites did not cease during their period of enslavement. Indeed, it continued to be felt long after the Exodus of the Israelites under the leadership Moses. Until a few decades ago the beginning of the Exodus was dated at about 1440 BCE. However, more recent archaeological investigations have enabled biblical events to be correlated better with other relevant records than was possible using only the biblical genealogies, on which basis the Exodus that heralded the foundation of Israel as a nation probably commenced in about 1280 BCE, during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II. Thus the new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph”, mentioned in the passages from Exodus 1:7-14 quoted above, would have been the Pharaoh Seti I who, according to the most recent chronology, would have ruled from 1312 BCE to 1298 BCE. Moses would have been born at the beginning of Seti I’s reign, during the period when the Pharaoh’s edict was in force that every Hebrew son should be cast into the river at birth. Ramses II was the Pharaoh who succeeded Seti I and ruled for sixty-seven years.

Precursors of the temple at Jerusalem

Because the Egyptians had played such a significant role in the development of the Israelites, it is understandable why it had been assumed for centuries that the temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem would have been based on a model of Egyptian origin. However, modern research has revealed that the layout of the temple in Jerusalem was essentially the same as the pattern that had been adopted in the many older temples constructed in Syria, Iraq and the adjacent regions. As those older temples were the true predecessors of the temple in Jerusalem, some knowledge of them will establish a better understanding of the significance of the two great pillars that King Solomon erected at the porch or entrance to the temple at Jerusalem. The extensive archaeological excavations that have been carried out in Iraq and Syria since the 1930s provide strong evidence that King Solomon’s temple did not have an Egyptian heritage, but that it was in fact a continuation of a line of tradition that had been firmly established in the countries bordering the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean Sea, long before the temple in Jerusalem was built.

Investigations have shown that this line of tradition reflected significant changes in human attitudes to the divinity, which had been taking place during a period of about 2,000 years before the construction of the temple at Jerusalem was commenced. The first temple discovered in this line of tradition was a small sanctuary adjacent to the ancient royal palace at Tell Ta'Yinat in northern Syria, which was excavated during the early 1930s. This find was followed by the discovery of a Canaanite temple in the same line of tradition, which was unearthed during archaeological excavations that were being carried out in the ancient lower city of Hazor during the 1950s, in northern Palestine. Hazor had only been occupied for about 500 years when it was completely destroyed and burnt. The destruction of Hazor occurred about 500 years before construction of the temple at Jerusalem began, but Hazor was never inhabited again.

During the 1970s, while excavations that were being carried out on the banks of the Euphrates River before constructing the dam wall that forms Lake el-Assad, four similar temples were revealed, that had been built at Emar between 200 and 400 years before the temple at Jerusalem was built. Other temples of similar design have since been discovered at Ebla and Moumbaqat in Syria, predating the temple at Jerusalem by about 800 years. The oldest known temples of this type so far discovered are three at Tell Chuera, which is in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains of Asia Minor, all dating from about 2500 BCE. The temples in Syria and Palestine are not like the Egyptian temples of that period, but their characteristics are similar to those of the temple at Jerusalem. These temples are elongated about 3:1 in plan and are subdivided into compartments like the temple at Jerusalem, with a single entrance at the eastern end of the building and a holy place at the western end.

Notwithstanding the similarities in the temple layouts in Palestine and Syria, it is evident from the diversity of their dimensions and details that King Solomon's temple was not copied from a single design, but rather that it followed a general type that allowed for a logical progression from the profane outside world to the sacred inner sanctum. The deep significance of this is reflected in the Bible by the names given to the various parts of the temple. The temple at Jerusalem had a single entrance at the eastern end, which was reached by passing through the ulam, an open porch or entrance flanked by two columns, one at the north-eastern corner and the other at the south-eastern corner. The ulam opened into the hekhal, the hall for daily worship by the priests, the presentation of offerings and the performance of ritual. The hekhal gave entrance to the debir at the western end, which was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where God was said to dwell.

Historical background

When humans first emerged from their Stone Age existence and learnt to erect primitive shelters, they developed a desire to build shrines or temples wherein they could worship the supreme being in the “Lord's house". Modern research, supported by archaeological discoveries in the countries bordering the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, indicate that the original Tower of Babel probably would have been in existence by about 4800 BCE. It is the first structure mentioned in the Bible and is named after Babel, one of the chief cities founded by Nimrod in the land of Sumer, which was ancient Babylon. No direct archaeological evidence has yet been found that positively confirms the existence of a city and tower at Babylon before about 1800 BCE. However there is a text of Sharkalisharri, the king of Agade who ruled in about 2250 BCE, which mentions that he had restored the temple-tower or ziggurat at Babylon, which implies that there was an earlier sacred city on the site. It is now believed that the ziggurat built by Ur-Nammu, who was king of Ur in about 2100 BCE, replaced much earlier Towers of Babel. These ziggurats comprised a series of superimposed platforms, each of which was from 10 to 20 metres in height and progressively smaller in area. A temple was erected on the top platform, to which it was thought that God would descend to communicate with mankind. Access to the temple was gained by a series of ramps or stairways.

When Abraham was born, probably in about 1900 BCE in Ur of the Chaldees, he was called Abram meaning high father. Abram, who was a son of Terah and a descendant of Shem, was the ancestor and a patriarch of the Hebrew race. Although Abram lived in idolatrous times he was a man of outstanding faith who believed in one God, Yod He Waw He or Yahweh, meaning “He who creates”. Abram’s people came to know him as “the friend of God". After his father died Abram moved to Harran in the far north of Syria, where he received God's call when he was 75 years old. It was then that Abram received Yahweh’s promise that he would inherit the whole of the land southwest of the Euphrates River. After Abram had received God's promise he journeyed south into Canaan, where he rescued his nephew Lot and defeated the Amorites led by Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam. On his return from the rout of Chedorlaomer and his allies, Abram was greeted by Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who was called a priest of the “God Most High”, that is of El Elyon. Melchizedek presented Abram with bread and wine and blessed him in the name of the “God Most High”. In return Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils as a tithe, by which he acknowledged Melchizedek’s greatness. He then declined Melchizedek’s proposal that Abram should keep all of the spoils, but said that those who had accompanied him should keep their spoils. This was when God renewed his covenant with Abram and Abram changed his name to Abraham meaning “father of a multitude”.

Within a year of that event, when Abraham was 100 years old, his son Isaac was born, but Abraham lived for another 75 years. A severe and extended famine in Canaan and the Negeb was the reason why Isaac's son Jacob, who was known as the “father of the chosen people", led the Israelites into Egypt. This migration of the Israelites into Egypt was made at the invitation of Jacob's son Joseph, who had been sold into slavery in Egypt many years before, but later became a viceroy there. Moses was born in Egypt into the tribe of Levi, who were priests from birth. We have already seen that Moses was born at the time when a decree was in force in Egypt, requiring all male Hebrew children to be slain at birth. Notwithstanding the decree, Moses was saved by the compassion of a daughter of the Pharaoh, previously often identified as Hatshepshut, whose father was Tuthmosis I. As the latest chronologies associate Queen Hatshepshut’s rule over Egypt with the period 1490-1468 BCE, there can be no doubt that it was the daughter of a later pharaoh who rescued Moses. As mentioned earlier, it is now believed that Moses was born at the beginning of the reign of the Pharaoh Seti I, in about 1312 BCE. In any event there is general agreement that Moses was brought up and educated in the Egyptian court, later becoming the great leader and lawgiver who delivered the Israelites to within reach of the “promised land” of their forefathers.

It was noted earlier that after the Israelites had lived for about 430 years in the delta area of Egypt, they were being subjected to ever increasing hardship and oppression. To escape slavery they fled from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, in about 1280 BCE during the reign of Rameses II. Their escape is known as the Exodus. During the Exodus they led a semi-nomadic existence for about 40 years, wandering through the wilderness of Sinai and the desert lands of Edom, which culminated with their crossing of the Jordan River to reach their “promised land". Because of their wanderings the Patriarchs could not build a permanent shrine for worship, which had been their custom in every city in Mesopotamia even before Abraham had left there in answer to God's call.

Early in their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites lapsed into idolatry. That was when Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai, where he received the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, which were regarded as a “title deed" of Israel's covenant with God. It was during his forty days on Mount Sinai, that Moses received God’s command that he should erect a portable shrine and construct the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the portable shrine, called the Tabernacle, or tent of congregation. The Tabernacle was the sanctuary of the Israelites during their wanderings through the desert, where they believed that “God dwelt among the Israelites". However, the Tabernacle continued to be used as the provisional meeting place of the people with God long after the Israelites entered Canaan. Under the Judges it was at Shiloh and in Saul's reign it was first at Nob and later at Gibeon.

When King David had consolidated his power and built for himself a permanent palace, the lack of a permanent shrine of Yahweh seemed invidious to him. It was for this reason that King David said, as it is recorded in II Samuel 7:2 of the New English Bible:

"Here I live in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God is housed in curtains".

However, we are told in I Chronicles 22:8 that the Lord had expressly forbidden King David to build a temple, because his hands were stained with the blood of his enemies. We are also told that the Lord said to King David that he would have a son, Solomon, who would be known as “a man of peace" and that he would build the temple.

King David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite as the site of the temple, which is within the area now called Haram es-Sherif, the highest point on Mount Moriah at the eastern side of the Old City of Jerusalem. Although the precise location of the temple on Mount Moriah is uncertain, the available evidence suggests that the Holy of Holies was at the highest point, which is now the location of the mosque known as “The Dome of the Rock”. The biblical records tell us that King David also gathered treasure and collected materials for the building of the temple. It is recorded in the scriptures that when King David was on his deathbed he entrusted the building of the temple to his son and successor, King Solomon, who became renowned for his wisdom. In I Chronicles 22:6 we are told:

"He sent for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord the God of Israel".

The background to the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, the events that occurred during the Exodus, the wars that consolidated of power by King David, the building of the temple by King Solomon and its subsequent chequered history, are all recounted in graphic detail in two books that approach the subject from different perspectives. The first is an account of the Hebrew people and their trials and tribulations over fourteen centuries of human turmoil and change, which Joan Comay vividly portrays in The World's Greatest Story, which is subtitled The Epic of the Jewish People in Biblical Times. Her narrative brings into focus the whole spectrum of human activities that influenced the Jewish religion, leading to the establishment of the tabernacle during the wanderings of the Israelites in the deserts of Sinai and ultimately to the construction of the temple at Jerusalem. The second is The Bible and the Ancient Near East, by Cyrus H Gordon and Gary A Rendsburg, which has been progressively updated since 1953 and correlates the results of continuing archaeological investigations with history as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Some of the more esoteric aspects of the evolution of the Hebrew people are examined by Laurence Gardner in his recent thought-provoking book entitled Genesis of the Grail Kings, which is subtitled The Pendragon Legacy of Adam and Eve. Gardner begins the history of the Israelites with their Mesopotamian origins, but surprisingly his tabulation of events during their residence in Egypt is not based on the latest chronology. He dates the beginning of the Exodus as 1330 BCE, instead of about 1280 BCE. As a result, his account of the early days of Moses in Egypt and the conclusions he reaches are not the same as those given earlier in this chapter.

The temple at Jerusalem

King Solomon commenced the actual construction of the temple in the fourth year of his reign and completed it seven years later, in about 950 BCE. He had entered into a treaty with Hiram King of Tyre, whereby Hiram permitted Solomon to obtain cedar and cypress wood and blocks of stone from Lebanon. Furthermore, Solomon's workmen were permitted to fell the timber and quarry and hew the stones under the direction of Hiram's skilled workmen. In addition, Solomon also had the services of a skilled Tyrian artisan named Huram, or Hiram Abif, who took charge of the castings and the manufacture of the more valuable furniture and furnishings of the temple. In return, Solomon sent supplies of wheat, oil and wine to Hiram King of Tyre.

The temple at Jerusalem was 60 cubits long and 20 cubits wide, with its axis oriented from east to west. The ulam or porch at the eastern end of the temple was 10 cubits long on the axis of the temple and 20 cubits wide. The hekhal, or Holy Place, had a length of 40 cubits along the axis of the temple and a width of 20 cubits. Contrary to popular conception, the Holy Place was accessible only to the priests. The members of the public were only admitted into the surrounding courtyards, but were segregated according to their status. The inner sanctuary at the western end was the debir, or Holy of Holies, which was a perfect cube with sides 20 cubits long. It is probable that the Holy of Holies was only accessible to the high priest during the atonement ceremony, once a year.

There can be no doubt that King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem was a magnificent edifice, surpassing anything that had preceded it. The temple was noted for the lavish beauty of its detail and finish, not for its size. The walls of stone were lined inside with cedar carved with cherubim, palms, garlands and opening flowers. The ceilings also were lined with cedar and the floor was planked with cypress. The floor, walls and ceiling were all overlaid with thin plates of gold. The Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by double doors of cypress and screened with a veil. The doors probably were left at least partly open to provide light, because there were no windows in the inner sanctuary. Within the Holy of Holies there were two cherubim carved from olive wood and overlaid with gold, standing 10 cubits high with the tips of their outstretched wings touching over the Ark of the Covenant. In the north and south walls of the Holy Place, close to the ceiling, there were latticed windows to provide light during the hours of daylight.

The main temple building was enclosed on its northern, western and southern walls by a series of chambers that were three stories high. These chambers served as storerooms and offices and may also have provided accommodation for the priests. There was no entrance to the chambers from inside the temple, but there were two external doors, one near the southeastern corner of the main building and the other near the northwestern corner. Each of these doors gave access to an internal spiral staircase leading to the upper floors. The building complex was on a platform, which was elevated above the terraced courtyards that completely surrounded it. Access to the porch of the temple was gained by ascending ten steps from the upper or inner court, to which access was gained by ascending eight steps from the great or outer court that surrounded it. The brazen altar, the brazen sea and the lavers were in the upper court, where the sacrifices and other ceremonials took place. The public could watch the ceremonials from the outer court, but they were not allowed to mingle with the priests participating in the ceremonials. The outer court was enclosed within walls comprising three courses of hewn stone, surmounted by a row of cedar beams. Access to the outer court, from the surrounding environment, was gained by ascending seven steps. It is believed that porticos and vestibules were provided in the surrounding environment, near to the gates that gave access to the outer court.

The two great pillars

Hiram was responsible for casting the two great pillars that were set up at the porch of the temple, one on each side. The porch did not have a roof and the two pillars at the entrance to the temple were free standing. In operative freemasonry there is a tradition that when King Solomon named the two pillars he was standing in the Holy Place and looking through the entrance door towards the east. Thus the right pillar, called Jachin, was at the southeastern corner of the temple and the left pillar, called Boaz, was at the northeastern corner of the temple, which is consistent with the description given in the sacred writings. The pillars were hollow, 18 cubits high and four fingers thick. They were cast hollow to save scarce materials and also to reduce their weight for handling and transportation. The suggestion that the pillars were used as archives to store the constitutional rolls is an embellishment that is not founded on fact.

The pillars were cast vertically in moulds that were dug in the ground, using the “lost wax" method that the Assyrians had developed during the Bronze Age, probably in about 1200 BCE during the reign of King Shalmanesar. When castings are made using the “lost wax” process, the outer mould is formed concentrically around an inner mould of sand or other suitable material that is coated with wax. When the molten metal is poured into the mould, most of the wax melts away leaving a thin skin of slick material, which allows the casting to be removed easily when it has cooled. Because pillars, like those at the porch of King Solomon’s temple, were common in Syria, Phoenicia and Cyprus at that time, the “lost wax” method of casting was well known to the Tyrian artificers. Each pillar in King Solomon’s temple was surmounted by a double capital, which had a combined height of 5 cubits and probably was cast in two parts. The lower section of each capital, called the chapiter, was embellished with lotus work comprising four open and everted petals, each petal being 4 cubits wide. The upper sections of the capitals were not spheres, as is usually stated, but were large bowls. They did not represent what was then known of either the terrestrial globe or the celestial sphere. Modern research has revealed that the bowls surmounting the pillars almost certainly were vessels to contain oil, which could be ignited and would burn steadily.

Archaeological investigations reveal that similar decorated pillars were used in Palestine and Cypress during the period 1000 BCE to 900 BCE, which spans the period during which the temple at Jerusalem was under construction. The bases of similar pillars have been uncovered at the sites of the temples at Hazor and Tell Ta'Yinat, each of which also had two columns at their entrances. The Greek historian Herodotus (c.484-425 BCE), who was called the “Father of History", travelled widely throughout the lands that bordered the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. In his treatise called Histories, Herodotus described two great pillars near the temple of Hercules at Tyre, making special reference to the fact that they “shone at night". The two great pillars that stood at the porch of King Solomon's temple were erected and dedicated before the temple was completed. In I Kings 7:21, in relation to Hiram's work, we read the following:

"And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple; and he set up the right pillar and called the name thereof Jachin; and he set up the left pillar and called the name thereof Boaz."

The wording of this text is unusual in some respects, because it allows for more than one translation. The expression “he set up", which is repeated three times, appears at first sight to be used to add emphasis to the statement, but there is another equally valid interpretation. This is because the Hebrew word that is used for a column or pillar is 'mwr, which is a derivative of the root word 'mr meaning to found, to lay the foundation of, to establish, to stand or to set up. Moreover, a pillar is frequently used in the scriptures in a symbolic sense, when it can have a variety of meanings. On at least one occasion 'mwr is used to signify the house of the living God, as it does in I Timothy 3:15. The possibility of an alternative translation is supported by the fact that the two names given to the pillars are also common words that would usually be translated with their ordinary meanings. For these reasons a portion of the text could be translated as “I establish God's House in strength", from which may be derived the following expression:

"For the Lord said, in strength will I establish this Mine House that it shall stand firm forever."

God's promise to King David and King David's response to God are both relevant. They are recorded in I Chronicles 17:12 and I Chronicles 17:24 of the New English Bible in the following words:

“It is he shall build me a house and I will establish his throne for all time."


“Let it stand fast, that thy fame may be great forever and let men say 'The Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, is Israel's God'."

It has often been said that the pillars were named with the intention of enshrining the memory of King David's ancestry through his maternal line, because Jachin occurs as a Simeonite name and was a name used in a priestly family, as well as through his paternal line because Boaz was a wealthy landowner of Bethlehem and the great grandfather of David. However, experts have shown convincingly that the names of the pillars were key words used by oracles who sought to bestow power on the dynasty of David and to express Solomon's gratitude to the Almighty prior to the dedication of the temple, when the oracles would have used words such as “Yahweh will establish (yakin) thy throne for ever" and also “In Yahweh is the king's strength (boaz)", which are consistent with the alternative translation given above. The pillars set up at the porch of the temple at Jerusalem have also been interpreted as sacred obelisks with their blazing, smoking wicks recalling to the worshippers the pillars of fire and cloud that led Israel of old through the wilderness. These immense fire altars or incense stands were similar to their Phoenician counterparts and would have illuminated the facade of the temple on Mount Moriah at night, whilst also catching the first glint of sunrise in Jerusalem and producing a cloud of dark smoke during the day. Hence both interpretations would have been equally valid.

Subsequent history

In ancient times, temples not only were the focus of religious activity. Often they were the real centres of power in a region, especially when the priesthood was in the ascendancy. Temples also served as state treasuries, being filled with booty when the nation was powerful and overrunning its enemies, or emptied to pay tributes to its overlords when in a state of oppression. King Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem was no exception. After the temple was completed there were many years of affluence while King Solomon was at peace with the neighbouring peoples. Throughout that period of affluence King Solomon used forced labour and imposed excessive taxation to carry out his many building projects, during which huge quantities of treasure were accumulated in the temple. Rehoboam, King Solomon's son by the Ammonite princess Naamah, assumed power in about 930 BCE. Spurred on by his rebellious and demanding contemporaries, Rehoboam told the people that they would be taxed and punished even more severely than before, which soon brought an end to the loose confederation of tribes that ostensibly had been a united kingdom. With the encouragement of Shishak, the King of Egypt, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel revolted under the leadership of Jeroboam, who previously had incurred the wrath of Solomon. After the revolt Jeroboam became the first king of the separated kingdom of Israel in the north.

Rehoboam remained king of the kingdom of Judah, based in Jerusalem, but he feared the interests of Shishak, the king of Egypt who had supported Jeroboam in his activities. Rehoboam fortified the cities of Judah, including Bethlehem. Judah was also strengthened by an influx of priests and Levites who had deserted the kingdom of Israel, in protest against the breakdown in religious practices that had become prevalent in the northern kingdom. Rehoboam and his subjects prospered for a time, until idolatrous practices gradually corrupted their worship of God. It is recorded in I Kings 14:25-28 that Shishak raided the temple and palace in about 925 BCE, when he took all the treasures of Jerusalem as a tribute and established his rule over the land. The prophet Jeremiah pointed out that these calamities had occurred because the nation had sinned in the sight of God, which led Rehoboam and his people to repent. Several years later, when Shishak had departed, the worship of God was restored. Rehoboam was not a great king and his reign was marked by sporadic wars with the northern kingdom, which continued until his death in about 915 BCE. Nevertheless, he was buried among the “good kings" in the city of David.

Later kings used accumulated treasure to purchase the friendship of allies, or to pay tribute to buy off invaders, including Hezekiah during his reign of about thirteen years as co-regent with Ahaz. Hezekiah became the sole king of Judah in about 715 BCE and became one of its most outstanding kings, renowned for his exceptional piety, his measures for religious reform and his vigorous political activities. Hezekiah reopened the temple and cleansed it of everything that made it unfit for use, then restored true worship. He also reaffirmed the ancient covenant between Yahweh and Israel, when he received the celebration of the Passover on an unprecedented scale. At Hezekiah’s invitation, many Israelites from the northern kingdom also attended the Passover festivities. Hezekiah is also celebrated for building a reservoir and tunnel to supply fresh water to within the city walls of Jerusalem. All of these events are recorded in II Kings 20:20 and in II Chronicles 32:30. Hezekiah’s son, Mannaseh, ruled as co-regent with his father during the last ten years of his father's reign until Hezekiah’s death, probably in about 685 BCE.

Idolatrous kings succeeded Hezekiah. They desecrated the temple and allowed it to fall into decay, until the time of Josiah more than three centuries after the temple at Jerusalem had been completed. The temple was then in need of extensive repairs, which could only be financed by contributions made by the worshippers. Josiah carried out an even more thorough reformation than Hezekiah had, including the destruction of all of the “high places" that had been used in idolatrous worship. He eliminated every vestige of heathen worship and once again reinstated the celebration of the Passover, at a level surpassing even that of Hezekiah. Josiah died in battle at Megiddo in about 609 BCE when Necho II, the king of Egypt, advanced through Palestine to assist the Assyrians at Harran. Despite the strongest of assurances that he had received to the contrary, Josiah thought that the Egyptians were a threat to his kingdom and therefore opposed Necho II. Finally in 587 BCE, during the reign of Zedekiah the last king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon looted the temple and sacked Jerusalem. It is recorded, in II Kings 35:13, that the two great pillars of the temple were broken up and that the metal was carried off to Babylon. It is of interest to note that in Ezekiel's vision of the ideal temple, during his exile in Babylon, he intended to replace the two great pillars with wooden columns.

A universal symbolism

Pillars, or columns, have been symbolic objects used among all communities in all ages of recorded history. Sometimes they stand in solitary splendour, but often they are arranged in groups.  Single pillars commonly serve as memorials, some of the most famous being the obelisks that were erected at the ancient temple complexes in Egypt. As memorials, individual pillars typify two of the fundamental symbolisms of a column or pillar, which are firstly as an emblem of the higher mind that is receptive of the spirit of truth and love and secondly as an emblem of the perfected soul. The latter symbolism especially is reflected in Revelations 3:12, the New English Bible version of which tells us:

“He who is victorious – I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; he shall never leave it. And I will write the name of my God upon him,  .  .  .”

As the two great pillars of the temple at Jerusalem have already been discussed in some detail, it only needs to be mentioned that twin pillars suggest stability and imply strength. Groups of three pillars suggest cooperation and imply perfection, typified by two harmonizing trios of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty together with Faith, Hope and Charity. Four-pillar groups suggest completeness and imply fulfilment, of which the “four pillars of the kingdom of heaven” are typical. They represent four symbolic states that are the foundation for human aspiration towards spiritual being. Those four states are earth, a symbol of the physical state, coupled with water, a symbol of the intermediate plane of nature that connects the physical state with the mental plane, coupled with air, a symbol of the mental plane and also fire, a symbol of the fount of spiritual life.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014