In the journey through the wilderness, when the nation was living in tents, Israel had a 'tent' shrine, the tabernacle. The basic idea of a portable pavillion is attested in Egypt from before 2000 B.C. Surviving examples have a framework of wooden beams and rids, plated with rpecious material and made with joints and sockets for easy erection. Ancient pictures show how they were once hung with curtains.
Israelite craftsmen trained in Egypt would have known how to make such a structure, and all the materials used were obtainable in Sinai, or already in their possession (the gold and the silver, for example).
The tabernacle was built to a simple plan. A courtyard contained the two.roomed holy place, the altar for burnt offerings and and the basin for ritual washings. The two rooms were about 15 feet wide. The inner one, the 'holy of holies', was square; the outer about 30 feet long. After the conquest of Canaan, the tabernacle was moved from one place to another until Solomon laid it up in the temple.
It was David's great ambition to build a temple, though this was only realised by his son. It was natural for a pwoerful king to honour his Elohim (god) in this way, and the existing tabernacle provided the pattern for a simple central sanctuary. The hilltop David bought is the site now covered by 'Maram es-Shefif', the Mosque of Omar, in Jerusalem. The central rocky crust was perhaps the site of the altar of burnt-offering.
The detailed descriptions in 1 Ki.6-7 (& 2 Chr.3-4), give a fairly complete picture of the temple. This is supplemented by evidence from archaeological discovery. The tabernacle plan was extended by an entry porch, the resulting three rooms forming a scheme similar to some Canaanite temples (e.g. at Hazor and Ras Shamra). This may have been the work of the Phoenician builders whose still Solomon utilised. A series of storage chambers three storeys high ran around the outside of the holiest place and the middle room (the 'holy place'). The doorway was flanked by two giant free-standing pillars whose function is uncertain.
The temple of Solomon soon became a symbol of national unity. It was where the people of Israel gathered to worship Yahweh. By virtue of the fact that it was not mobile like the tabernacle (which had been located variously at Shechem and Shiloh), the temple played its part in centralising Israelite politics, administration, worship, etc.. Its location in Jerusalem conferred upon that city special status that lasts even to this day. Former capitals like Gobeah, Shechem, Hebron, and Mahanaim have since passed into obscurity. Of these only Hebron exists as an inhabited town today.
Theologically the temple is supposed to be the dwelling place of Yahweh. Speaking of the tabernacle, which was a type of the temple, David said: "I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of Elohim (God) dwells within curtains" (2 Sam.7:2). Though forbidden to build the temple because he was stained with the blood of his enemies, David nevertheless gathered the materials together that would be necessary for his son to undertake the venture. Solomon began the construction in his fourth year and completed it after seven. Though ostensibly built for the glorification of Yahweh, the temple also served political purposes too, for scripture makes it clear that Yahweh could not be contained within bricks and mortar, since Yahweh was everywhere, the Elohim (God) of history. Hence His appearance to Abraham outside Mamre, to Moses on Mt. Horeb, etc.. Nevertheless, it is clear that Yahweh sanctioned the use of the temple since He appeared during the dedication by Solomon. And the fact that the temple is still vividly in the minds of Jews and some Christians today indicates that its symbol has contributed to the survival of Israel in the dispersion.