Dedication of Solomon's Temple
Martin, David, 1639-1721
Otto Elliger engraving shows the dedication of the Temple with large numbers of animals sacrificed on the altar, trumpets blown, and a cloud filling the house of the Lord.
Great Slaughter at the Dedication of Solomon's Temple
After the priests departed the temple because of the dark cloud of the Shekhinah one should notice that Solomon took the lead acting in the capacity of a priest at this assembly. First, he blessed the whole assembly of Israel - another thing that ought not to have been done. Next, Solomon stood in front of the altar of the Lord, and then knelt, in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven and offered a prayer of dedication. He also stood on a new brass platform that he had had made for this ceremony. After this, Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. It should be apparent that only the Levites were allowed to serve at the altar.
1 Samuel 13:6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait--for the people were distressed--then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in holds, and in pits. 7 Now some of the Hebrews had gone over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead; but as for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. 8 And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed; but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. (JPS)
1 Samuel 13:9 And Saul said: 'Bring hither to me the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings.' And he offered the burnt-offering. 10 And it came to pass that, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. (JPS) (Emphasis added)
1 Samuel 13:11 And Samuel said: 'What hast thou done?' And Saul said: 'Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together against Michmas; 12 therefore said I: Now will the Philistines come down upon me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of the Lord; I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering.' (JPS) (Emphasis added)
1 Samuel 13:13 And Samuel said to Saul: 'Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which He commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. 14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the Lord hath sought him a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath appointed him to be prince over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.' (JPS) (Emphasis added)
After Solomon performed the duties at the altar, he then consecrated the middle part of the courtyard and made offerings there because the altar he built elsewhere was too small to hold all of the offerings - irrespective of the fact that the main altar was not built in the courtyard. Nevertheless, this is a massive slaughter of animals.
1 Kings 8:62 And the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the Lord. 63 And Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which he offered unto the Lord, two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. 64 The same day did the king hallow the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord; for there he offered the burnt-offering, and the meal-offering, and the fat of the peace-offerings; because the brazen altar that was before the Lord was too little to receive the burnt-offering, and the meal-offering, and the fat of the peace-offerings. 65 So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entrance Hamath unto the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days and seven days, even fourteen days. (JPS)
2 Chronicles 7:1 Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. 2 And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house. 3 And all the children of Israel looked on, when the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord was upon the house; and they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves, and gave thanks unto the Lord; 'for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.' 4 And the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the Lord. 5 And king Solomon offered a sacrifice of twenty and two thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the people dedicated the house of God. 6 And the priests stood, according to their offices; the Levites also with instruments of music of the Lord, which David the king had made, to give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever, with the praises of David by their hand; and the priests sounded trumpets over against them; and all Israel stood. 7 Moreover Solomon hallowed the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord; for there he offered the burnt-offerings, and the fat of the peace-offerings; because the brazen altar which Solomon had made was not able to receive the burnt-offering, and the meal-offering, and the fat. 8 So Solomon held the feast at that time seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entrance of Hamath unto the Brook of Egypt. 9 And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly; for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. 10 And on the three and twentieth day of the seventh month he sent the people away unto their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the goodness that the Lord had shown unto David, and to Solomon, and to Israel His people. 11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord, and the king's house; and all that came into Solomon's heart to make in the house of the Lord, and in his own house, he prosperously effected. (JPS)
This all sounds really great doesn't it? Why would God take pleasure in the killing of hundreds of thousands of animals? After all, he created the animals as well as mankind. Apparently, He doesn't. If one carefully looks at the way that the sacrificial system was supposed to work, most of the meat from the sacrifices was supposed to have been eaten, not wasted. Except for a few special offerings, the altars were used to cook the meat. The sacrificial system was supposed to be more of a barbecue before the Lord than the wasting of countless animals and here the author's use of the word barbecue encompasses all of its meanings including its social aspects. Hence, some types of sacrifices are called fellowship offerings, etceteras. Most sacrifices were supposed to be similar to barbecues - or feasts - before the Lord, not a mass killing of animals. There are exceptions to this and in some cases only the priests were allowed to eat the sacrifices - like the principle time involved here. Compared to what is described here as being sacrificed by Solomon, only a few animals were to be sacrificed. All that aside, there were certain holy days where the sacrifice was prescribed through edict. In those cases, the sacrifice was to be carried out according to the prescription with nothing more and nothing less.
Isaiah 66:3 He that slaughtereth an ox, smiteth a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, breaketh a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, [it is as] swine's blood; he that presenteth a memorial of incense, [is as] he that blesseth an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations, 4 I also will choose their calamities, and will bring their fears upon them; because I called, and none answered, I spoke, and they did not hear, but did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delight not. (Darby)
Leviticus 19:5 And when ye offer a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto the Lord, ye shall offer it that ye may be accepted. 6 It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow; and if aught remain until the third day, it shall be burnt with fire. 7 And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is a vile thing; it shall not be accepted. 8 But every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the holy thing of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from his people. (JPS)
There are more indications that God takes little pleasure in sacrifices. If one looks at the story of Jonah, God specifically mentions that he does not want to destroy Nineveh because of the 120,000 people and many cattle that live there (Jonah 4:11). The exact circumstances that the following passage addresses are different, but this word was spoken through Samuel during the time of Saul, the first king of Israel. This verse addresses the demise of King Saul's reign. The whole story is found in 1 Samuel 15 and the following passage of Isaiah 1:11-17 is included for comparison, but may have broader application beyond King Solomon's time.
1 Samuel 15:22 And Samuel said: 'Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in hearkening to the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.' (JPS) (Emphasis added)
Isaiah 1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. 12 When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; it is an offering of abomination unto Me; new moon and sabbath, the holding of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity along with the solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed seasons My soul hateth; they are a burden unto Me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (JPS)
After considering the vast quantity of sacrifices, it is also interesting to consider that it does not appear that any of these sacrifices - or any subsequent sacrifices on that altar - would have been acceptable because it was never properly dedicated. No fellowship or peace offerings were acceptable before the eighth day of following the prescribed method for dedicating the altar. If it is unclear as to whether or not the altar was dedicated properly, there is no question that the middle part of the courtyard that King Solomon consecrated that same day was not dedicated because he offered there that very day.
2 Chronicles 7:8 And at that time Solomon held the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entrance of Hamath unto the torrent of Egypt. 9 And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly; for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. (Darby)
Ezekiel 43:18 And He said unto me: 'Son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD: These are the ordinances of the altar in the day when they shall make it, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, and to dash blood against it. 19 Thou shalt give to the priests the Levites that are of the seed of Zadok, who are near unto Me, to minister unto Me, saith the Lord GOD, a young bullock for a sin-offering. 20 And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of it, and on the four corners of the settle, and upon the border round about; thus shalt thou purify it and make atonement for it. 21 Thou shalt also take the bullock of the sin-offering, and it shall be burnt in the appointed place of the house, without the sanctuary. 22 And on the second day thou shalt offer a he-goat without blemish for a sin-offering; and they shall purify the altar, as they did purify it with the bullock. 23 When thou hast made an end of purifying it, thou shalt offer a young bullock without blemish, and a ram out of the flock without blemish. 24 And thou shalt present them before the Lord, and the priests shall cast salt upon them, and they shall offer them up for a burnt-offering unto the Lord. 25 Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin-offering; they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without blemish. 26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it; so shall they consecrate it. 27 And when they have accomplished the days, it shall be that upon the eighth day, and forward, the priests shall make your burnt-offerings upon the altar, and your peace-offerings; and I will accept you, saith the Lord GOD.' (JPS)
Ezekiel mentions the correct procedure for dedicating the altar. He also mentions that only the priests are to offer the sacrifices on the altar, just as it had always been. Count the animals. Nine young bulls, eight goats and eight rams, a total of 25 animals, no more and no less, that was what was required - not 142,000 animals. This does leave one exceedingly great problem as to the number of animals involved, however, because some of the dates in question here had very specific requirements of their own. The dedication sacrifice was to be done before any other sacrifices such as fellowship offerings - or sin offerings - were offered. Any sacrifices that were offered before the altar dedication was completed were not acceptable and probably desecrated the altar.
Isaiah 1:13 Bring no more vain oblations! Incense is an abomination unto me, -- new moon and sabbath, the calling of convocations -- wickedness and the solemn meeting I cannot bear. (Darby)