Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Neither hammer nor ax nor tool

My friend Matt Anderson, who just published a book called Earthen Vessels, a much-needed resource on the theology of the human body from an evangelical perspective, reminded me recently of a biblical text that has always fascinated and confused me. When King Solomon is building the temple of the Lord in the first book of Kings, the text includes this little verse:

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. 1 Kings 6.7

As the temple for the worship of the Lord was built, Israel could not hear the construction that was taking place. All the pounding and chipping took place at the quarry the stones originated from. It's a little detail, yet I can't shake the feeling that it is a significant detail. I have gone back and forth on the meaning of this text. As far as I can see, the significance rests in one of the following interpretations:

1. This verse is emphasizing the ordinariness of human tools, even possibly hinting at their profaneness. The emphasis in this reading would be on the "neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron" part, suggesting that human tools, while necessary, can not be considered sacred nor can they ever be used to some "construct" the presence of God. God's presence will rest in the temple but it is not human labor or effort that makes that possible.

2. The verse is emphasizing the silence of the construction process on the temple location. The important part is the fact that no tool "was heard." In the hearing of the people of Israel, the construction was noiseless. If this reading is correct, it could indicate that the temple was so sacred that only silence could bear its weight. The sounds of pounding and metal-on-metal actually desecrated the holiness of the place. Or, it could downplay the fact that humans were building the temple and an imaginative people could envision it dropping down from heaven, built by divine hands.

So, I'm dying to know what you think. Do you agree with one of these interpretations, or do you find a third option or perhaps a middle road?