Solomon’s Prayer at the Dedication of the Temple
Read 1 Kings 8:22-53, 2 Chronicles 6:12-42
When David died the people of Israel could look for a big change in the government of the land. The "man after God's own heart" had left the scene. Israel had prospered and had been victorious under the reign of David. What kind of a son will now succeed him to rule over this great people?
A Momentous Occasion
Solomon felt his own inadequacy. When the Lord gave him a choice of various gifts he might have, he chose wisdom. This wisdom is soon revealed when a mother comes to him with another woman, each claiming the same child as her own. It is again clearly shown when the queen of Sheba comes and asks him all manner of difficult questions and he has ready answers. But, perhaps his wisdom is nowhere shown more clearly than in the building and dedication of the temple of God. It is an immense undertaking for that day to build such a building as the temple. All of the most skilled craftsmen in Israel are required for the construction. The overseer of all is Solomon! When the building is now finished there is a great celebration of dedication and Solomon utters a prayer which has become a classic. The two records of this prayer are too long to do them justice but the beauty of the prayer and the evidence of the deep spirituality of the one who is praying will become clear.
For this occasion Solomon has had a platform built which was five cubits wide and five cubits long and three cubits high. This was made of either brass or copper and Solomon took his position on this platform. In this way he would be visible to all the people and they would all be able to hear him. He now assumes a posture in prayer of which we have not read earlier in the Biblical account. He kneels as he prays and spreads out his hands to the heavens. What a sight! The ruler of the people is going to lead the whole nation in prayer! The ruler is on his knees before One who is the great Ruler of the universe (2 Chronicles 6:13)! The temple will be a delight to the children of Israel for many years and the impressive ceremony at its dedication will linger with them as long as they live.
There will be seven distinct petitions in this prayer of Solomon. However, before one petition is uttered he extols the greatness of the God to Whom he is praying. There is no God to be found anywhere who may be compared to the God of Israel. There is no other God. The heathen may think that their deities will be able to help them in certain situations, but their hopes are futile. The greatness of Israel's God is seen in the facts that He has made all things and that He keeps covenant! No other God ever makes a covenant with the people whom he rules. Israel's God does make covenant. He keeps His promises and shows lovingkindness. This is a God who enters into communion with His people. Solomon mentions the fact that God has been faithful to the promise which He made to his father David. And, at this point in the history of Israel, he prays that all the promises made to David may go into effect. The Lord had promised David that his would be a dynasty, i.e., his children should sit on the throne of Israel through generations if they would fear Him and keep His commandments. Solomon here prays for the faithfulness of all of his own posterity. Only if they are faithful will they rule.
But, who is Solomon and what is it which he has built that he should think that Jehovah, the God of Israel, will dwell with men? Will God dwell on the earth? The heavens, Hebrew — heaven of heavens, because this language has no comparative or superlative degree — cannot contain Him! He is too great to be limited to any created place. How then shall this house which Solomon has built house Him? Suddenly this great and beautiful temple becomes very small and insignificant in comparison with the One for Whom it is built. However, He has promised that His name would dwell there. Oh, let God now hear the prayer of His servant! Also when the whole people of Israel come to this place to offer their prayers, Lord hear them. Now is introduced the refrain which we will hear throughout this prayer: hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place; and when Thou hearest, forgive. In this refrain he speaks of the riches of the experience of faith. With Him hearing is forgiving and forgiving is hearing.
Now we come to the seven petitions which Solomon speaks. He is here following an example clearly taught us by our Lord Jesus Christ in the perfect prayer. There is room for petitions, but first we are to realize to Whom we come and we must also realize our own limitations.
Removal of Sin
The first petition which Solomon utters is rather difficult to understand. He speaks of a situation in which a man has sinned but the sin cannot be proved. He does not say what manner of sin it is because that is immaterial to what he has in mind. Even though men cannot prove the sin which has been committed by this "someone," God does know. Such an individual must then come to the altar of God. He must there confess his sin so that the sin does not rest on the whole people! God will then judge the one who has committed the sin and the taint of sin which exists as long as the real sinner is not known will be removed from the whole people. So shall sin be done away and the righteous will not suffer for the unrighteous.
A Defeated People
In the second petition the king pleads with his God concerning his people when they are defeated by enemies. The many difficulties which arise out of this state of affairs are, of course, well known. Whenever a people is defeated, great suffering comes upon them. There is suffering in every part of life. They were defeated because they had sinned against God! Otherwise they could not be defeated in this "theocracy"! But, when a segment of the people then turn to the temple and seek the name of God and ask forgiveness, may He bring each one back to the land he has received in his family inheritance. If God's people only repent!
In the land of Palestine the people were totally dependent on the "former" and the "latter" rains in order that there might be crops. Israel did not have a Nile river which made the whole land fruitful. If the rains do not come — because the people have sinned — the livelihood of the majority of the people will be affected at once. Solomon does not attribute the lack of rain to mere natural phenomena, but to the sins of the people. God is able to send rain and He is able to withhold it. However, if they pray "toward," not at this place or in this place, but in their homes with their faces toward Jerusalem, may the Lord forgive the sins of the king and of the people and send rain so that they may again be able to live in the land the Lord has given them.
Besides war and drought, there are various other calamities which may come upon a land. King Solomon mentions several of them. If there be famine, often the result of drought, or if there be pestilence, blasting or mildew, locust or caterpillar, siege by an enemy or any other plague or sickness — if they repent and ask for forgiveness, may the Lord hear them. Famine came upon the land of Canaan several times during the course of sacred history despite the fact that this land was to be the land "flowing with milk and honey." When the king mentions pestilence he is referring to a very contagious disease of that day (such as the black plague of the middle ages?) which revealed itself in boils. Blasting refers to the singeing of the grain by the dry hot wind blowing from the desert. Mildew was another disease of the grains. Solomon mentions locust and caterpillar, grasshoppers and other creatures which denude the fields of all vegetation. One land would often invade the other, besiege its cities and take the inhabitants captive. Finally the king does not distinguish between the various evils which may come but sums them up by speaking of whatsoever plague or sickness there be. But, if anyone or if the whole people turn to God in repentance, may He forgive. The speaker speaks of each experiencing the plague of his own heart — his sin. Then he prays,
Lord, render to every man according to all his ways. Let the penitent be spared.
God knows what is in their hearts. The hearts determine their actions.
And now follows something different:
that they may fear Thee all the days that they live in the land which Thou gayest unto our fathers.
This "fear of God" is a concept which we find frequently in the Old Testament. It is our "faith" with its own connotation.
When the Old Testament speaks of the "foreigner" it does not always refer to the same kind of people. The king is here not referring to the stranger who makes his home in Israel, but to the foreigner who comes and goes. He becomes acquainted with the ways of the Israelites and with their history and he also finds out about the greatness of Israel's God. When such a person prays toward this place, may God hear him too. How ecumenical! That all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name!
If His people go to battle against their enemies, whether at home or in other countries, when they pray toward this place, may God hear them and maintain their cause. Give them victory!
In the last petition Solomon deals with the worst situation which can befall a people. Previously there was not an indication of a complete captivity of His people, but that is considered in this petition. If they are taken out of their land because of their sin! He adds, "for there is no man that sinneth not."
This sentence has been explained in various ways. Surely, he does not mean it as an excuse. It is necessary to add these words because Israel may well be over-confident at the time when it is the strongest notion in that part of the world. If they in captivity come to a different insight and repent, if they acknowledge their sins before God and turn to Him with all their hearts and soul, if they then pray toward this land, toward this city and toward this house, may the Lord hear them and forgive, maintain their cause, and bring them back from captivity.
This is Solomon's prayer. Let God now hear Solomon. The temple is dedicated and let God now arise to His dwelling place! This king does priestly work without violating the office of the priest as Uzziah later did. Solomon intercedes. That is his privilege and his duty. If this king will continue in this way, he may be sure that the Lord his God will remember His covenant and all the loving kindness which He had promised David. He will then not lack a son to sit upon his throne. Alas, Solomon didn't stay on this height of commitment to God. This beautiful prayer must be applied to his heart as well as to the hearts of all who read this prayer.
Questions for Discussion:
- How does Solomon overcome the difficulty of doing priestly work and not sinning by doing so? How were the kingly and priestly offices kept separate?
- Does the temple in Jerusalem have more significance than our church buildings? Why, or, why not?
- Does the enormity of the sin have anything to do with the possibility of forgiveness? Can a murderer, if he repents, be saved? Can one who is condemned by the state to the death penalty still be a "worthy partaker of the table of His Son"? How would this be possible?
- Are there more ecumenical passages in the Old Testament? If there are, why are they so few?
- Seeing God always forgives upon His people's repentance, can this forgiveness become rather common place to us?