How Could Samuel Have Inhabited the Temple?
Although King David had desired to build a “house to the name of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 22:7; 2 Samuel 7:1-17), God chose David’s son, Solomon, to construct His holy temple. Around the year 950 B.C., after seven years of labor, King Solomon’s workers completed the magnificent temple of God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:38).
It might surprise some to learn, however, that more than a century before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the inspired writer of 1 Samuel recorded that young Samuel slept “in the temple (heykal) of the Lord” in Shiloh (3:3, KJV, emp. added). Heykal is the same Hebrew word used dozens of times in the Old Testament to refer to the temple of God that Solomon built (1 Kings 6:5; 2 Chronicles 3:17). How could Solomon have built the first temple if one previously existed elsewhere?
Although the question of the “first temple” might be troublesome to some at first glance, the answer is really quite simple: the term for temple (heykal, which literally means “a large public building, such as a palace or temple”—“Heykal,” 2006; cf. “Heykal,” 1993) was used in Scripture prior to the days of Solomon to refer to the tabernacle. Though many may have erroneously concluded that the term “temple” was never used prior to the time of Solomon, several scriptures reveal otherwise.
Aside from learning in 1 Samuel 3:3 that Samuel slept “in the temple,” 1 Samuel 1:9 reveals that “Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord” (KJV, emp. added). What’s more, David used this term multiple times in the Psalms prior to the building of Solomon’s temple. In Psalm 5:7, for example, he wrote: “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple” (emp. added). In his song of praise designated Psalm 65, he stated: “We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple” (vs. 4, emp. added).
Though the temporary tabernacle (“tent curtains,” 2 Samuel 7:2) was a totally different building than the more permanent temple that Solomon constructed in Jerusalem, the fact is, God used some of the same names for both structures. Both were called “the house of God” (Judges 18:31; 2 Chronicles 4:11) and “the house of the Lord” (Exodus 23:19; 1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Kings 6:1,37). Likewise, both were referred to as the “temple” of God. Similar to how a woman might wear the name Johnson both before and after she is married (because Johnson is both her maiden name and her newly acquired family name), the dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant was occasionally referred to as God’s “temple,” even during the time of Samuel, long before Solomon’s temple was constructed in Jerusalem.
“Heykal” (1993), Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
“Heykal” (2006), New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).