In the process of building the Temple, Solomon wanted algum wood, also known as almug wood (Mock, 2003). Algum wood was not available in Israel and possibly King Hiram of Tyre did not have the quality of wood that Solomon had in mind. Solomon determined to send ships to Ophir to obtain the algum wood. Solomon had a fleet of ships built at Ezion Geber near Elath. Elath was a harbor on the southern tip of Israel located on the northeastern Red Sea. King David is believed to have established his southern most defensive line at Elath. In modern Israel, Elath is at, or near, the city of Eilat, situated on the Gulf of Aqaba. Evidently Israelites were not adept sailors because Solomon contracted with Hiram to use Tyre sailors to serve on Israelite ships (1 Kings 9:27).
Scholars are not sure where Ophir was located; however, the Bible recorded that only once every three years did ships return from Ophir (1 Kings 10:22). The ships from Ophir carried gold, silver, ivory, apes, and baboons in addition to algum wood. Most likely, Ophir was located in India or the far-east. Some writers suggested that Ophir was located in Arabia or western Africa; however, these areas would not have taken three years for a round-trip from Elath.
During Solomon’s reign, more algum wood was imported than ever seen previously in Israel. Algum wood was used to make stairs and banisters for the Temple and royal palace complex. It was used extensively in the stringed instrument section of the Temple, e.g., in harps and lyres (Mock, 2003). The musical instruments were so beautiful that they were a marvel in Judah. The almug tree yields heavy, fine-grained wood that is notably black on the surfaces yet polishes to a rich ruby or garnet color. In addition to being strong, it is antiseptic which makes it impervious to most insects, e.g., termites, as no insects will live inside the wood.
Algum Trees and Wood
The algum tree of the Bible was from the Pterocarpus santalinus known as red sandalwood, Red Saunders and Red Sanders. Sandalwood is native to southern India and does not naturally grow in Israel. The algum is a deciduous tree between 33-65 feet tall. The red sandalwood is considered endangered because its natural habitat in India is subjected to human encroachment. The algum tree has a number of useful products. The hard, heavy heart wood can be used for carpentry and for fence posts. Bark and stems are made into a red dye which gives a deep ruby red color to silken and woolen clothes. Currently, the dye is used as a brightening substance in tea mixtures and a coloring agent in toothpaste.
The symbolism of the algum trees used in the Temple was praise. The harp and lyre, made with algum wood, were used to praise God (Psalm 33:1-3). After having a magnificent Temple built to worship God, it is natural that Solomon spared no effort or expense when it came to having musical instruments crafted to praise God. In contrast to worship which is done with words and actions, praise is expressed with words. Praise expresses approval, esteem, and perfection; praise is a commendation and a statement of value and merit (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2002). Everything that has breath should praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). The challenge for Christians is why, when, where, and how we should praise God.
For the Israelites 3000 years ago and for Christians today, the why of praise is clear. First, we praise God because he tells us to do so; e.g., “let everything that has breathe praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). Second, we praise God because he deserves to be praised. The Psalmist (48:1) wrote that the Lord is greatly to be praised, and that he is good and his mercy endures forever (136:1). John averred that God was worthy to receive praise, e.g., glory, honor and power, because he created all things and all things exist through God’s will (Revelations 4:11). Third, we praise God because it benefits us to do so. Praising God gets our thoughts off of ourselves and our problems and sets them on God. When we praise God, we are reminded of how powerful he is and that we are his special people whom he loves. When the Temple was dedicated with prayers and praise, the entire assembly offered praises to God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14; 7:1-3). God’s response was to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices. His glory filled the temple in the form of a cloud that was so dense that the priest could not enter the temple and perform the services.
For answers to questions of when and where God wants his people to praise him, we can turn to the Bible. The Bible tell us to praise God at all times (Psalm 34:1; Philippians 4:4), while we live (Psalm 63:3-4), and from the rising to the setting of the sun (Psalm 113:2-3). Where should we praise God? Should we praise God in church formal worship services or in prayer meetings? What about when we have our devotions – is that the time to praise God? Again, the Bible has the answer to “where should we praise God? We should praise God in the house of the Lord and sanctuary (Psalm 134:1-2; Psalm 150:1). Because Christian’s bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are a sanctuary (I Corinthians 6:19-20); therefore, Christians can and should praise God in our bodies and in our spirits wherever we are (I Corinthian 6:19-20).
The answer to how we should praise God is sometime difficult for Christians and has been a basis for divisions among believers. God tells us we should praise him with our whole heart and we should be glad and rejoice (Psalm 9:1-2). We can praise him with the sound of trumpet, with tambourine, dance, stringed instruments, flutes, and cymbals (Psalm 150:2-5). It is okay if we make a joyful shout when we come into his courts with praise and if we lift up our hands (Psalm 100:1, 4; Psalm 134:2). Probably, God does not care is we sing traditional hymns with an organ or use contemporary praise music with keyboard and drums. I believe that God hears both of these praise styles with a joyous heart.
Reflection: In preparation for writing this section on praise, I spent part of the morning (while I was cleaning house) praising and thanking God for all he does. It felt good at the time and my body and spirit still feels uplifted. Try it and see what effect praising God has on you.