It has been several weeks since we were in Kings, so remember where we are. We have read of Solomon’s wisdom and of how he built the sanctuary of God in Jerusalem and furnished it with everything necessary for the worship that would take place there. Now we move on to the dedication of the temple which is the climax of this section of the narrative. All that has so far transpired was in anticipation of this day! The ceremony began with the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant – the great symbol of God’s presence with his people – from its temporary setting in the City of David – that is, walled Jerusalem as it existed then – up the hill to the new sanctuary in an area that was now enfolded in a larger Jerusalem. Then followed a dedicatory statement by Solomon to the assembled elders of the people; that, in turn was followed by a dedicatory prayer, which was itself followed by a benediction of the people and the offering of sacrifices. Each part of that ritual is described in the long chapter we are about to read.
As is typical in such contexts, “the elders” is the equivalent of “all the men of Israel” in v. 2 and “all the congregation of Israel” in v. 5. The elders represent the people and so when the elders are gathered, the people are regarded as present.
That is the Feast of Tabernacles in the Autumn (September/October). Comparing this verse with 6:38 it seems the dedication of the temple was a year later than its completion. Our new building was occupied, if you remember, before it was dedicated! V. 65 may suggest that, on this special occasion Solomon added a second week of festivities to the annual feast or it may simply mean that the dedication took place as part of an especially elaborate Festival of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles.
This indicates that there is a strict continuity between tabernacle and temple. The permanent sanctuary has replaced the temporary. There will not be two sanctuaries but one, the temple!
Are these sacrifices to protect the people from any impurity in the transportation of the Ark of the Covenant? Remember the disaster that occurred when the first attempt was made to bring the Ark to Jerusalem! Are these sacrifices taking care to respect the intense sanctity of the ark and to remove any sin that would defile the Ark or the sanctuary at this critical moment?
This phrase “they are there to this day” occurs twelve times in Kings but, interestingly, as here and in at least one other instance, this would not be true and obviously not true at the time the book was finished, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Israel to Babylon. Indeed, the Ark of the Covenant had long since been taken by conquerors from the temple before the Babylonians captured and destroyed Jerusalem. So, clearly, the book includes material written earlier, material founded on eyewitness testimony.
The presence of the tablets of the Law underscores a point later to be made, viz. that Israel still stands under the covenant God made with her at Sinai. And her fidelity to God’s Word will tell the tale.
The cloud is often associated with the Lord’s presence and the same thing happened, you remember, when the tabernacle was dedicated in the wilderness. The cloud indicates that the Lord approves of the new sanctuary and its being readied for worship. His presence will be found here as it was in the old, temporary sanctuary. Now follows the king’s “declaration” of dedication, if you will.
“Blessed” in this context could suggest the equivalent of a benediction but, perhaps more likely, it indicates only that Solomon formally greeted the people.
In v. 13 the temple was described as a place for the Lord to dwell in forever. But, as Solomon will say in his dedicatory prayer, the Lord God, the eternal and infinite Majesty, is hardly confined to a sanctuary in Jerusalem. This may explain why “name” occurs so often in the following verses. The temple is a house where the name of the Lord dwells. It is a way of avoiding the implication that God himself dwells in the temple as if he were localized there. There was a bed in the most holy places of ANE sanctuaries, but ther is no bed in Israel’s temple! God’s presence is real enough, to be sure, as the cloud indicates, but the reality of God’s transcendence is that he is always everywhere. [Provan, 76-77]
A platform had been built in front of the altar for mass services such as this one (so 2 Chron. 6:13). According v. 54 Solomon actually delivered the prayer on his knees. The “stood” here may refer only to his position before the altar or that he stood before falling to his knees.
The “toward this place” should not be taken to suggest that somehow Israelites were being taught to believe that a prayer, to be effective, had to be offered in a certain physical direction. You remember that in Babylon Daniel regularly offered his prayers toward Jerusalem. The practice is simply a way to embody a confidence in the presence of the Lord with his people Israel. After all, in the petitions which now follow, the Lord is asked to hear from heaven, not hear from the Ark or the temple toward which the people pray. In our case, of course, there is no longer a central sanctuary for the people of God where the Lord’s presence is embodied, but we do the same thing when we regularly think and speak as if God is above us in heaven. As if we knew where heaven was where God is hearing our prayers. We ask him to look down on us; we lift our hearts to him, and so on. Indeed, the main effect of the phrase “toward this house” or “toward this place” is to ensure God’s people that they do not have to be at or in the temple to be heard. They can be heard by the Lord no matter where they are! In any case there is nowhere in the Bible a command to pray with the body pointed in a certain geographical direction.
In the opening verses of the prayer the Lord is addressed in his incomparability, his faithfulness, and his transcendence or majesty. No wonder we should address our petitions to him who, unlike anyone else, is both able and willing to hear and answer.
It will not surprise you that as the prayer turns to the specific petitions there should be seven of them in this representative prayer. In each case there is a similar form. When or if such and such a thing happens – in each case it is an instance when a man would need God’s grace and help – the Lord is asked to “hear from heaven” and give help in keeping with the need. Most of the specific cases to be mentioned in the prayer are taken from the list of covenant curses – that is the judgments the Lord promises his people in the event of their unfaithfulness to him – as you find them listed in Deut. 28 and Lev. 26. In other words, the prayer takes its point of departure from God’s covenant with his people Israel.
The first instance is the case of a man who has wronged his neighbor or has been accused of doing so. The lack of evidence makes the resolution of the case in the normal way impossible. [Provan, 79] The oath is the oath required in the Law of Moses (Exodus 22:7-12) that the accused man swear to prove his innocence. Either way God is asked to vindicate the innocent and punish the guilty.
Again and again the assumption here is that these disasters that befall the people of God are the consequence of their sin and Yahweh is asked to forgive them as they repent and return to him. And, again, in each case the prayer may be offered by the people as a whole or, as in v. 38, by an individual Israelite.
There is no specific mention of anyone’s sin in the case of the prayer of a foreigner. But here too we learn, as often in the OT, that while the door was not yet thrown wide open to the world to find salvation by faith in Yahweh the door was certainly ajar!
Again, no mention of the people’s sin, but of their need in the day of battle. All our problems and times of need are by no means the fruit of sins that we have committed. Sometimes life becomes difficult and we become needy in some way because we are doing the work of the Lord not because we are failing to do it.
The last case of the seven concerns the people when they have suffered the maximum penalty of the covenant for their unbelief and disobedience and have lost possession of the Promised Land.
Remember, when Kings was finished and published, its readers were the very people described in the last petition of Solomon’s prayer. They had lost the Promised Land! This prayer becomes, therefore, a theological interpretation of the destruction of Israel, the northern kingdom, and of the Babylonian exile, the two terrible climaxes of the history still to be recounted in Kings.
The following “blessing” is not a benediction properly so called, nor is it entirely a prayer, but a mixture of thanksgiving to God, an expression of desire and a further prayer for his continued blessing, and a challenge to the people.
As before in v. 43, the concern is that through Israel all the world might know the Lord God. This is about as close to a great commission as one finds in the OT and it is something and utterly unlike anything else in the religious teaching of the ANE!
The dedication ceremony was followed by days of worship in which king, priests, and people offered sacrifices to God. We have pointed out a number of times that the “peace offering” or “fellowship offering,” the offering in which the food was shared by priests and people alike, is the direct OT antecedent of the Lord’s Supper. It is to the ritual of the peace offering that the Lord refers in the institution of the Supper in the Upper Room the night of his betrayal.
There was always flexibility to God’s ritual regulations. There were so many sacrifices that the bronze altar couldn’t handle them so the courtyard in front of the temple was consecrated and brought into service for making sacrifice.
Chapter 8 is a very important text in Kings and, for that matter, in the Bible. It is an account of the relationship between theology and life as Israel was taught that relationship and what makes that so important, of course, is that it is the same relationship that exists for us today. Upon that relationship between theology and life, between faith as trust in God and faithfulness as obedience to him, is based the practice of our faith and the fruitfulness of our lives, as those things are measured in heaven. As so often in the Bible, the practice of our faith is described here in the terms of a prayer, that act above all other acts that expresses a life lived in dependence upon the presence, faithfulness, and grace of God. Just as worship can be described as prayer in the Bible, and just as a godly life can be described as worship, so the Christian life can rightly be thought of as an unending enacted prayer. That is because no one can live the Christian life rightly who is not always depending upon the Lord for his grace and help.
I won’t spend time on this but remember that the worship of the temple in Israel was evangelical worship. Its principle was the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ who would be, of course, the fulfillment of all the sacrifices ever offered in the temple. Years after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Jewish Christians were still participating in temple worship – the Apostle Paul did himself – precisely because that worship so beautifully expressed their Christian faith. So there was nothing sub-Christian about that worship. And, in the same way, there is nothing sub-Christian about the dedication of the temple; it was a profoundly, uniquely, and entirely a Christian event. God the Son was present with his people and they were confessing their faith in and dependence upon him for his grace!
When his disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them a prayer – we call it the Lord’s Prayer – that was in all its essential features a typically Jewish prayer. There was nothing in that prayer that a pious Jew wouldn’t have been familiar with from the prayers of his family and the prayers of the synagogue and of the temple. It begins, as you know, with a confession of the holiness of God and of his sovereignty, and then proceeds through several standard petitions: for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins, and for grace to live a godly life. Christians have been saying that prayer in the quiet of their bedrooms, in storms at sea, on battlefields, in hospitals and in cemeteries, and in the worship of God’s house ever since.
It is a model prayer much like the prayer that Solomon prayed and, accordingly, like the Lord’s Prayer, and perhaps, because it is longer, even more so, Solomon’s prayer teaches us the principles not only of prayer but of the life of faith as an enacted prayer. There is so much to say about this prayer, but I want to highlight just two key features of Solomon’s prayer.
- First, you will have noticed that it is a theological prayer.
This prayer is based on things that God had said and done. I was struck in reading recently a fascinating history of the battle of the Little Bighorn that the Sioux prayed earnestly before the battle. The night before Sitting Bull and his nephew One Bull climbed a high, flat-topped hill on the other side of the Little Bighorn river from the enormous Indian encampment, spread out over two miles below them. He knew that a great battle was looming, and he sought solitude for prayer. There he had brought his pipe, some buckskin-wrapped tobacco tied to sticks of cherry, and a buffalo robe. These he presented as offerings to Wakan Tanka and then stood and chanted his prayer.
“Great Spirit,” he said, “pity me. In the name of the tribe I offer this pipe. Wherever the sun, the moon, the earth, the four points of the winds, there you are always. Father, save the tribe, I beg you. Pity me, we wish to live. Guard us against all misfortunes or calamities. Pity me.” [Nathaniel Philbrick, The Last Stand, 125, 127]
Much of that prayer is exactly right, of course. All men have a sense of the living and true God who, as Solomon puts it here in his prayer, cannot be contained by the highest heaven. He knew he needed help and asked God for it. But at its heart the prayer, as every prayer that is not a Christian prayer, is wrong, fatally wrong. Its basis is false. It lacks a foundation. They did not know the living God, were not members of his covenant people, and could not appeal to him on the strength of his having redeemed them or of his having made promises to them. Sitting Bull was talking to a God he did not know and upon whose help he had no claim or, whose help he did not know how to claim. There were no sin and forgiveness in Sitting Bull’s prayer. The Sioux, of course, will have believed that they received Wakan Tanka’s help in destroying Custer’s seventh cavalry. But they would learn soon enough, alas, how little help had really been given them.
Sitting Bull’s prayer, in fact, was very like the prayer of ANE peoples who begged their gods for help with this or that. There was no foundation of theological reality beneath their prayer either. They asked for help but had no particular reason to believe that they would receive it, apart from gifts they offered in hopes of greasing the skids. There was absolutely no sense of God’s holiness or of the immense significance of human sin, both of which are fundamental to Solomon’s prayer. They didn’t know the living God; they didn’t know his character; they had not learned how one could be a friend, even a child of this God. And so they could assert no claim on his favor. Most prayers offered by human beings are prayers of this kind. Utterances hanging in mid-air, based on little more than a vain hope that one might receive some help in this way.
How different Solomon’s prayer. You may have noticed that this long prayer of dedication begins with the covenant that God made with David. Solomon begins his plea to God by referring to the promise God had made to David his father. We read of that in vv. 22-30. Then perhaps you noticed that the prayer ends in vv. 50-53 with the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. Why will God hear Solomon’s prayer? Because he promised himself to the house of David. Why will God hear Solomon’s prayer, because God himself chose Israel to be his own people, his heritage. God has created a relationship with Israel and with Israel’s king on the basis of which they may rely upon him to be faithful to them and to the covenant – the relationship – that he established with them.
That is why Christian prayer so often in the Bible becomes an argument – not a conflict or a disagreement – but a process of reasoning. Premises are put forward and conclusions are reached and this in a conversation with the living God. How can a mere human being dare to do this? Reasons are given and a conclusion is contended for because God has himself provided the materials with which to make such an argument.
Solomon’s prayer, like so many others in the Bible is an argument, a reasoned appeal to God. All of it is based on God’s having revealed himself to Israel and having brought them into covenant with himself. This extraordinary condescension on God’s part, stooping down to take a sinful and unworthy people into family fellowship with himself is the foundation and the motivation and the confidence of Christian prayer.
Solomon knows what to expect of God because God has told him, as he told Israel, what to expect of him. Unlike Sitting Bull Solomon knew precisely to whom he was speaking and upon what terms he might appeal to the living God. Solomon knew that God had made promises that he would certainly keep and so he appealed to those promises. In his past relations with his people God had proved himself loving (as we read in v. 23), faithful (as we read in vv. 25 and 25), and inviting of his people’s trust (as we read in v. 30). The prayer takes the particular shape it does – and our prayers are to take their shape – from what God has done for us, his people, what he has promised us because we are his people, and from what we know God is like.
Solomon’s prayer is an elaborate demonstration of the same principle that is compressed in the opening two words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our father…” That God is our father makes all the difference in the world. You don’t come to your father – or you shouldn’t, something is very wrong with that father if you do come to him – with uncertainty or even fear or doubt that he will be at all interested in your life or your problems or your need.
I have been reading Paul Johnson’s Jesus: A Biography from a Believer of late. Like all of Johnson’s books it is a treat to read, but it is hardly a reliable account of the theology of the Gospels, much less of the Bible as a whole. At one point, in summarizing Jesus’ teaching, he says:
“Essentially, in Jesus’ teaching, the entire human race was ‘the children of God.’”
No! That isn’t Jesus’ teaching. It was the belief of the Sioux, that they were the children of God for natural reasons, that they had descended from God and were his creatures. It was the belief of all ANE idolatry, a fundamental piece of ANE mythology, that they were descended from the gods and that they bore a natural relation to him. In Jesus’ teaching those who are his followers and only they are the children of God. The human race does not belong to the family of God by reason of being human – we do not belong to God’s family naturally – but only by reason of God’s grace and our faith in Christ. Who better to know the teaching of Jesus than the Apostle John, one of his nearest and dearest disciples? And what does John say?
“No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.”
And Peter says the same thing: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” [1 Pet. 2:10] And Paul teaches the same thing: that we were once slaves but by Christ’s redemption and through faith in him we have become sons. “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” [Gal. 3:26; 4:7]
Well, it was same for Solomon. He knew that Israel was God’s son, as we often read in the Old Testament, and that Israel was not God’s son because she had descended from the gods as in the ANE myths, but because God had adopted her, taken her into his family, made her is child. That fact then becomes the basis of Solomon’s plea. He knows Yahweh cares for Israel; he proved that times without number. He knows what God will do because God has made very specific promises to his children. And he knows what God is like because God has revealed himself to his people.
We have a heavenly father, we are part of a family chosen by grace, we have had wonderful promises made to us, and we have seen our God in action on our behalf, most dramatically in our redemption through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Lamb of God. So we have a right and reason to speak to God as our father and to make our requests known to him and to depend upon his kindness and love. That is the lesson of Solomon’s prayer. Our prayers are to be like this prayer, full of the knowledge that has been revealed to us, full of argument based upon what God has said to us and done for us. And our lives are to be an enactment of such a prayer.
- Second, if Solomon’s is a theological prayer it is also a deeply personal prayer.
By that I mean it is not at all a formal recital of facts, a prayer that takes its shape from the supposed virtue of merely reciting certain words. How different is this prayer from the prayer of Islam, for example, or from the recitation of the rosary. How different from the prayers of so many people who pray, for almost everyone prays sooner or later. This is a prayer that originates in life, in the daily heartbreaks of human existence, in the moral lapses and failures that darken our experience of this world. It is a prayer that appeals to God as the only one who can help us in our need, as our only recourse. It is the prayer of a child to a much loved and trusted father.
Faith in Christian theology is said to consist of three things: knowledge, assent, and trust or confidence. That is, there is something one must know in order to be a Christian believer (that is knowledge [scientia], one must agree that this body of knowledge is in fact true (that is assent [assensus]), and finally one must place his or her personal confidence in that truth and actually rely upon it (that is trust [fiducia]). Well you have all three aspects of faith here in Solomon’s prayer, but preeminently you have fiducia, trust, reliance, confidence, assurance. Solomon is taking his stand on Israel’s behalf in the confidence that God’s love is immutable, his word is perfectly reliable, and his covenant will never be broken from his side.
Solomon is in his prayer! This is a real conversation between two persons, a real exchange of the thoughts of the heart. Solomon is expressing an active dependence upon the Lord. He is looking to him, appealing to him. Call it what you will, we usually call this a relationship, the communication between two persons who know one another, God in his great grace and a man in his great need; God in his love and a man in his grateful affection in return.
You know what most beautifully reveals to me this facet of Solomon’s prayer, that it is, as John Knox said prayer ought to be, “an earnest and familiar talking with God”? It is the statements, the clauses that are put in parentheses or separated by dashes in our English translations. In v. 39 we have such a parenthesis:
“…then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)…”
We have another in v. 42:
“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm)…”
We have another in v. 46:
“If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin –…”
This isn’t the mere recital of a formula; this is a man who is really talking to God and making an argument. He is appealing to his heavenly Father. He is seeking to persuade because he has confidence he can! He is, we say, into this conversation and, as always in a real conversation, thoughts suddenly occur in the mind, afterthoughts clamor to be spoken. This is a man who is talking to God like he talks to someone else, though with a greater reverence certainly. The conversation is not stilted and formal, but real, authentic, life-like. Something occurs to him, a thought that makes the point more clearly, and he adds it to what he had planned to say.
This is not Sitting Bull’s prayer; this is not the prayer of the ANE, but it is biblical, covenantal, faithful, Christian prayer. It is utterly unlike most of the prayers that are prayed every day in this world. And, it is to be our commitment as Christians to make our prayers as much like this prayer as we can and then our lives like our prayers! Profoundly theological – the expression of our confidence in God, in his electing and redeeming love, in the promises of his Word – and deeply personal, the expression of our own hearts, our own love, our own need, in sincerity and seriousness.
When Israel’s prayers ceased being like this prayer she lost her life! When God’s people address him in this way they ride on the heights of the land!