By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
The Lodge Master is said to occupy the Chair of King Solomon. It is possible that the idea owes something to the Gospel reference to the scribes and Pharisees sitting in the Seat of Moses (Matt. 23:2), though this verse may be meant symbolically.
The Bible is austere in its reference to Solomon’s throne – “Then Solomon sat upon the throne of the Lord” (I Chron. 29:23) – but what the Bible does not spell out, rabbinic fancy filled in. It is the Targum Sheni, an Aramaic paraphrase/homily on the Book of Esther, where much of this material is to be found. On the verse, “In those days, when King Ahasuerus sat upon his royal throne which was in Shushan the capital” (Esth. 1:2), Targum Sheni proceeds to laud the uniqueness of the royal throne of Solomon in Jerusalem.
This throne was so magnificent that other rulers were lost in admiration and envy. Covered with fine gold, it was studded with jewels and inlaid with marble. It was reached by six steps. On each stood two golden lions and two golden eagles. The first step also had a golden ox and lion, the second a wolf and a lamb, the third a leopard and a goat, the fourth an eagle and peacock, the fifth a falcon and a cock, and the sixth a hawk and a sparrow. In each pair one beast was wild and one tame; on the top step, a dove resting upon a hawk represented the belief that peace would finally prevail over destructiveness.
Suspended over the throne was a golden candelabrum with seven branches on each side. The branches to the right depicted seven patriarchs; those to the left showed seven pious men. Atop the candelabrum were a golden bowl and basin of pure olive oil. Around the throne were 70 chairs for the Sanhedrin, with two more for the high priest and his deputy. When the king, high priest and judges sat in justice, the machinery of the throne whirred; the wheels turned, the lions roared, the leopard growled and the cock crowed, striking awe in the witnesses to ensure they would not pervert the truth.
When the king ascended the throne, a golden dove handed him a scroll, to enable him to fulfil the Biblical requirement to have the Divine law with him every day of his life (Deut. 17:19). The lesson was reinforced by seven heralds. As Solomon ascended each step, a herald declaimed verses about his duties to God and the people. The king learned from these verses to avoid material and sensual excess, conduct himself with integrity and honesty, and know that he stood before God (Deut. 17:16-20).
For a time Solomon fulfilled his responsibilities with wisdom and equity, and his judgments made him world famous. It was this that brought the Queen of Sheba to test him with riddles (I Kings 10:1). Then he lapsed into materialism, sensuality and self-pride, and began to think he could solve everything on his own without acknowledging God, even applying to himself the words of the Psalmist, “Let the King of Glory come in” (Psalm 24:7).
Jewish interest was kindled by the throne story because a dispersed and downtrodden people needed a feeling of national pride. Criticisms of Solomon’s excesses showed the importance of what Matthew Arnold called Hebraic strictness of conscience. Sitting “in the Chair of King Solomon” reminds a Master to use his status with responsibility.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.