1 Kings 8:12-9:14
First Kings 8 is the centerpiece of the books of 1 and 2 Kings. Literarily it represents the climax of the picture of Solomon's wisdom that has been presented since 1 Kings 3. Theologically, the prayer of dedication, though prayed by Solomon, represents the central teaching of the author of 1 Kings. The structure of chapter 8 is well balanced. The chapter begins with the narrative of the ark being brought into the temple in verses 1-11. The chapter ends with a narrative of the final sacrifices at the conclusion of the dedication in verses 62-66. Sandwiched between these two narratives is a major speaking section.
The speaking section is also formed by a sandwiching effect. The prayer of dedication stands at the center in verses 22-53. Before the prayer proper Solomon explained the background of the temple in verses 12-21. Following the prayer Solomon blessed and exhorted the people in verses 54-61. The prayer proper is composed of four sections: verses 22-26 pray for the continual rule of the Davidic dynasty, verses 27-30 are a prayer of consecration of the temple, verses 31-51 present the main section of the prayer - seven circumstances of prayer, and verses 52-53 offer a closing prayer for God's continued attentiveness to Israel.
1 Kings 8:12-21 - Solomon's Introductory Comments
Solomon's opening comments can be divided into verses 12-13, a general statement of dedication, and verses 14-21, an explanation of why the temple was built by him rather than David.
A comparison of verse 12 in the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible with most other versions shows an interesting textual question. The oldest translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek (Septuagint) translates verse 12, "The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in thick darkness." Our oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible omit the first part and only speak of God's dwelling in thick darkness.
That longer sentence in the Greek version creates a more balanced statement by Solomon. It contrasts God and the sun in several important ways. First, since it is God who placed the sun in the sky, God is infinitely more powerful than the sun. This would have been an important statement in Solomon's time. The Egyptians worshipped Ra, the sun as a god. The Canaanites also considered the control of the weather to be under Baal (see Baal Worship in the Old Testament). To describe God as creator and manager of the sun placed Him above the gods of the surrounding nations.
Second, the description of God as creator suggests that He is much greater than the sun; the sun is a relatively small object for God. Likewise, there should be no confusion that God is as small as the temple. It too is a relatively small place. Even though He will dwell there the temple should not be thought of as containing God.
A third comparison is between brightness and darkness. Though the New Testament (1 John 1:5) will use light as the symbol of God, the figure of speech is reversed by Solomon. Brightness is clear and obvious; there is no mystery. We feel in control in the light. Darkness is mysterious and uncontrollable. Solomon declares that God has chosen to dwell in thick darkness. God is mysterious. He is there but we can't see Him. We are not in control of the situation when we deal with God. Our response is one of awe, perhaps fear, and even apprehension.
The temple itself illustrated the statement that God would dwell in the thick darkness. The inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, was the place where God's presence was thought to be in its power and essence. God would sit enthroned upon the cherubim. And that inner sanctuary had no windows. It was a closed, dark room. It would powerfully symbolize the mystery and fearful nature of God.
Verse 13 shifts to a direct address to God. Solomon, as builder of the temple, formally announces to the Lord before all the people that this great structure is for Him. Sometimes we fail to state the obvious because we think that everybody already knows it. However, with all the innovation of Solomon's reign and with the influence of the surrounding cultures, it was important that the temple be formally and publicly presented to God. Sometimes our children do not understand the obvious God-centeredness of worship because we never make public statements about it.
Solomon then blessed all the assembly of Israel that had gathered there. Verse 14 states that Solomon blessed the people. Verse 15, however, begins, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel who has fulfilled what he promised." The blessing received by Israel was the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to David. Solomon was apparently referring to the word to David given in 2 Samuel 7:5-16. There David is promised that his descendants would rule Israel forever if they would remain obedient to the Lord. David's desire to build a temple was denied; but he was promised that his son would build it. Another theme of Solomon's words come from Deuteronomy 12:5-11. Deuteronomy spoke of a place that God would choose as a place for His name to dwell.
Jerusalem has not been captured from the Canaanite natives during the Conquest under Joshua or the Judges. It was not until David's reign, less than forty years earlier than the dedication of the temple, that Jerusalem was captured and belonged to Israel. David made it his capital. Solomon then fulfilled both the promise of Deuteronomy that God would choose a place for His name and the promise of 2 Samuel 7 that David's son would build the temple. By reference to the promises of God Solomon has given the reason that he built the temple. Like any change in people's way of worship, the building of the temple was sure of caused some resistance and criticism. But what can the critics say? The temple is the fulfillment of the plan that God had been working on since Deuteronomy and the specific promise made to David.
There are four references to the temple as a house for the name of the Lord in 1 Kings 8:16-20. As Solomon would pray in verse 27, God cannot be contained in all of the heavens and the earth. Much less will the small temple Solomon built contain Him. But, how do you speak about a house for the Lord, and about the presence of God in this house of worship without giving the wrong idea that God is somehow confined or localized by the temple? This problem created a dilemma for Israel.
One of the ways they attempted to prevent misunderstanding was by referring to the name of the Lord. Occasionally, the Old Testament speaks of God dwelling in the temple, but more frequently it speaks of His name dwelling there. In Hebrew thought a person's name represented the character and essential personhood of that person. The name would bring to mind all the reality of the person without their physical presence. As Gene Rice states, "God's name is God in his known, addressable nature, suggestive of a person of the Godhead. To say that God's name is present in the temple denotes his real presence but preserves the mystery of his transcendence." By His name God could be totally present in the temple, but also be totally free to be elsewhere in the universe.
1 Kings 8:22-53 - The Prayers of Dedication
There are four main parts to Solomon dedication prayer. Verses 22-26 pray for God to continue to fulfill the promise of 2 Samuel 7:5-16. Verses 27-30 are a prayer of consecration of the temple as a place of prayer. Verses 31-51 contain seven circumstances that represent typical prayers that would be prayed in the temple. Verses 52-53 conclude the prayer with the petition for God's continued attention to the temple and to Israel.
Solomon's actual prayer begins in verse 23. Verse 22 states that he stood in front of the great altar with his hands lifted to heaven. Job 11:13 and Isaiah 1:15 suggest that it was customary to pray with one's hands stretched out toward heaven appealing to God. Solomon also stands which is the customary posture of an inferior addressing his superior who remains seated. It is interesting that sculptures found by archaeology from this time period portray people with hands outstretched to pray.
Solomon addressed God as "Yahweh," the God of Israel and declared that there was no God like Him (most modern translations translate this proper name with small capitals, Lord to distinguish it from other Hebrew words that mean God or Lord). While Solomon might have acknowledged the existence of other gods in the heavens or on the earth, none could compare with the Lord, the God of Israel. The uniqueness of Israel's God was that He kept covenant and steadfast lovingkindness (or steadfast love; Heb: hesed). Literally, the Hebrew states that God keeps covenant and hesed - that steadfast love or covenant faithfulness.
This is one of the great emphases of the Bible that we often fail to properly appreciate because we don't think in terms of polytheism. One of the universal characteristics of polytheistic religions is conflict between the gods. Since the gods are always at war a worshipper never knew what mood the god(s) would be in. One day a god might be angry and vindictive. The next day he might be generous and giving. But the worshipper never knew.
One of the great blessings of the monotheistic faith of Israel is that God was faithful and reliable. You could always count on Him to keep covenant and to show hesed, covenant lovingkindness. Israel did not have to figure out Yahweh's mood; the Lord was always committed to them. When the writer of Hebrews penned the words, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever," (Heb. 13:8), he was not introducing a new thought. Jesus incarnated the steadfastness of the God of Israel. This does not mean that the LORD is inflexible or rigid or boringly unchanging. He sometimes surprises us. But God is never capricious; He always seeks the best for us.
Having noted that steadfast love of Yahweh Solomon mentioned that the promise made to David had been fulfilled by the construction of the temple. Solomon then asks that the promise that a descendant of David rule Israel forever also be fulfilled. This prayer would have a deep emotional impact on the first readers of 1 Kings if they were in Babylonian Captivity when this book was written.
Verses 27-30 express the heart of Solomon's prayer and of his understanding of God. God cannot be contained in the heavens and the earth. God is omnipresent - present everywhere and He is transcendent - above everything that is. The idea that such a God could be contained in a temple is rejected. The temple is not to be understood as a limitation or localization of God. Rather, the temple is focal point at which God and His people may meet. When they are there He is there. When they pray toward the temple God will be there to hear their prayer. Simon DeVries gives the analogy of a listening-post or a sounding board. Gene Rice compared it to a communications satellite. These comparisons illustrate how difficult it is for us to speak of God being present without limiting His presence to where we are present.
Verse 28 contains three different Hebrew words for prayer. The most common word, usually translated prayer, speaks of intercession. The word often translated supplication or plea denotes an earnest plea for mercy. The word cry implies the idea of petition with the intensity of a child wailing for its need to be met. Part of the privilege of relationship with God is prayer. No single word can express all the aspects of prayer. The full range of communication that we use in our relationships with each other is also used in expressing our relationship with God. To think of prayer as only a ritual or set expression of words is to miss out on most of richness of a personal relationship with God.
Four times in verses 28-30 Solomon described himself as "your servant." The Old Testament frequently described the person who represented Israel before God as the servant of God. Moses, David, Solomon, and the prophets were all described as servants of the LORD in their role as representatives of Israel. The early church often spoke of Jesus as the true Servant of the LORD because he represents us to the Father. The application of the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 53 to Jesus is but one aspect of this larger understanding of Jesus' role.
It is noteworthy at this point that Solomon is the one who prays this prayer of dedication. The Old Testament clearly describes the role of the priests in representing Israel before the LORD in Exodus and Leviticus. The Old Testament never specifically defines a priestly role for the King. However, Solomon clearly functions as the priest of Israel in the dedication of the temple.
Verse 29 contains a beautiful phrase. Solomon asked that the Lord's eyes might be open night and day toward the temple. Psalm 34:15 says, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry." Second Chronicles 16:9 states, "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him." The figure of speech is a beautiful expression of God's vigilant watch-care over His people. Like an ever attentive parent God's eyes are making sure that His children's needs are recognized and met. That His eyes would be open night and day suggests that God never sleeps and never has a vacation in His concern for us. Psalm 121 expresses the same idea.
Verse 30 functions as an introduction to the following section. Three times Solomon entreats that God hear and the final phrase of the verse is, "Hear and forgive." Verses 31-51 then present seven different scenarios in which prayer might be made toward the temple. In each scenario Solomon asks that God would hear from heaven and in most of them he asks that God would forgive. Most of the cases have some connection to the curses listed in Deuteronomy 28.
The first scenario that Solomon presents involves a special judicial oath that is described in Exodus 22:7-12. In cases where a person has property or money delivered to them for safekeeping and the property is stolen or (in the case of an animal) dies or runs off, then the owner and the person given the property were to be brought before the Lord and to take an oath to allow the Lord to determine guilt or innocence. The oath was a curse formula in which each party asks God to bring evil consequences on them if they are lying in the matter. Now that people will begin to come to the new temple for such a purpose Solomon's prayer is that God would really be present and hear and bring the curse into reality on the guilty party and show the innocence of the innocent party. The prayer is that God will be faithful to the system that He established to bring justice in cases where no human wisdom can determine the truth of a case.
The prayer has tremendous application for our lives. Solomon recognizes that injustice must not be allowed to prevail or Israelite society will disintegrate. However, there are cases that human processes cannot determine. In those cases Solomon calls upon God to bring justice to bear. In our society we frequently face circumstances in which we cannot determine guilt or fault (the allegations of sexual harassment against Judge Clarence Thomas illustrate this). Instead of shrugging in resignation, "We'll never know the truth about this," and leaving it at that, we need to turn to the Lord. We may not need to know who was guilty or who was more at fault. We do need to pray that God will faithfully bring the consequences of sin to bear in people's lives so that justice may prevail. Then, we need to live in the confidence that God will hear and will vindicate the right.
The second circumstance is if Israel is defeated in battle. Solomon assumed the context of Deuteronomy 28:25 where defeat in battle is the promised consequence of sin. Since the defeat comes as a result of sin the only remedy is to repent of the sin, submit again to God, and to pray. If those conditions are met Solomon asks that the LORD will hear and forgive and restore them to the land which He had given them. The proposed solution to sin is important. It requires repentance. The Hebrew word literally means "to turn around." This is not just admitting fault. It is changing the direction of one's life. Then one confesses or acknowledges God again. That is, one pledges true allegiance to God rather than to oneself. Forgiveness and restoration always depend on our re-directing our lives.
The third circumstance is prayer in case of drought. Once again Solomon is thinking in terms of Deuteronomy 28:23-24 where drought is mentioned as a specific punishment for Israel's sin. The Canaanite culture that surrounded Israel believed that Baal controlled the rain and that the weather could be manipulated by the use of temple prostitutes. Israel's faith was that the LORD God controlled the rain and that He would withhold it because of the nation's sin. The point for us is not that we figure out who sinned when we experience drought. God has not included the weather under the covenant of Christ. The point is that sin will always lead to a loss of productivity and the fullness of God's blessing. When we sin, and recognize those consequences, repentance, confession of God as God, and prayer will be necessary before God will restore our lives.
The fourth circumstance that Solomon brings up is famine and famine producing calamities. This is also built on the covenant of Deuteronomy 28:21ff. The point is essentially identical to the matter of drought.
The fifth circumstance seems unusual in the Old Testament. Gene Rice called it a "delightful surprise," that Solomon prayed that God would hear and answer when a foreigner (a Gentile) came to the temple to pray. We are accustomed to thinking of the Jews and of the Old Testament as exclusive against all Gentiles. Here, Solomon shows that occasional insight that we find in the Old Testament that God intended Israel to be a light to the nations (Isa 42:6). Her election was not to privilege but to responsibility to bring the knowledge of God to others.
Solomon does not speculate on what the foreigner might pray about. The person has simply heard about the God whose name dwells at this temple and he (or she) has come in faith. Solomon generously entreats that the Lord would grant whatever the foreigner might pray to receive. The result that Solomon sees of God's attention to the foreigner's prayer is that all the people of the earth would come to know and to reverence the LORD. In that way the temple would become a house of prayer for all nations, the very point of Isaiah 56:6-7. If Solomon, in the Old Testament, can rise to that level of concern for those outside the covenant, how much more ought we be concerned for those who have never heard the gospel or who have never entered the community of faith?
The sixth circumstance, described in verses 44-45, envisions God sending His people out to battle. When that happens and God's people pray, Solomon urges that the LORD answer their prayer and give them the victory. He recognizes the important fact that the size of army is not nearly as important as the presence and support of God Himself.
The seventh and final circumstance is treated in twice a much detail. It envisions the possibility that Israel's sin might be so severe that in His anger God would send them away from the land into captivity. This too has roots in Deuteronomy 28:36-37. It is especially pertinent to the original readers of 1 Kings who, in fact, were in captivity in Babylon suffering the punishment for their nation's sins. Three times the Hebrew text speaks of them repenting or coming to their senses. This is a powerful invitation to the original readers in Babylonian captivity to repent with all their heart and soul and to plead their case to the Lord.
Solomon prays that God will be compassionate then and that Israel's captors will be compassionate. He does not express the hope of restoration directly. He simply reminds God in verse 51 that Israel is His people and that He has brought them out bondage before. The fact of the Exodus from Egypt is the basis for hope for the release from Babylonian captivity.
Solomon closes the prayer in verses 52-53 by again asking that God's eyes be open to Israel's needs and His ears be listening to her prayers. After all, Solomon reminds the LORD, "You have made a significant investment in this people already by bringing them out of Egypt. They belong to you; they have been set apart for you. LORD, don't fail your people now."
1 Kings 8:54-61 - Final Blessings
The author envisions Solomon rising from his knees at this point. Verse 22 had indicated that Solomon was standing as he began the prayer. Did he fall on his knees somewhere in the middle of the prayer as a sign of his fervent heart? Or was the author simply portraying both of the typical postures for prayer? Much more important than the posture is the content of this blessing that Solomon turned to give to the people.
The blessing recalls God's faithfulness, much like the blessing before the prayer. Then verse 57 invokes God's presence to be continually with His people. This is the whole purpose of worship and the temple. Some scholars believe the central theme of the whole Bible is the presence of God with His people. If He is with us, we need not fear.
Verse 58 presents another important part of Solomon prayer of blessing. He asks God to incline (or turn) Israel's hearts toward obedience. Here is a clear understanding that the highest good for Israel is God's presence, but that His presence requires obedience. But obedience is not just gritting our teeth to obey. God's grace enables obedience. He can incline our hearts toward obedience. Verse 61 concludes the section with an exhortation to the congregation of Israel to devote themselves completely to the Lord and to obedience to Him.
1 Kings 8:62-66 - The Conclusion of the Dedication Ceremonies
Following the prayer of dedication further sacrifices and rituals took place. Since the dedication occurred at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles we may assume that the worship moved into the prescribed rituals for that festival which lasted (as verse 65 notes) seven days. This climactic chapter concludes with the note that the people returned to their homes with joyful and glad hearts for all the God had done for David and for the nation of Israel.
1 Kings 9:1-14 - The Follow-up to the Dedication of the Temple
After the dedication and the Feast of Tabernacles were concluded the Lord appeared to Solomon again in a vision like that experienced at Gibeon (1 Kings 3). He assured Solomon that his prayers have been heard. God declared in verse 3, "I have made this temple you have built holy. I have put my name there forever, my eyes and my heart will be there for all time." This is a powerful affirmation of answered prayer.
The LORD then turned to the issue of Solomon's own life and obedience. If Solomon would live in integrity and uprightness before Him, then God would fulfill the promise to David by establishing Solomon's throne forever. However, if Solomon should turn aside from walking with the Lord then the curses of Deuteronomy 28 will take place against Israel. Specifically, Solomon is warned against devotion and worship to other gods. To the readers who know the end result of Solomon's life these are especially pointed words from God. At the high point of his life, after the temple was built and the prayer was prayed and God's presence had been so real, Solomon is given one final warning. It is clear that God knew Solomon's heart and knew what was coming in the years that lay ahead. God could not let that history unfold itself in Solomon's life without one final attempt to warn Solomon of the devastating consequences of idolatry and disobedience.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
These are study and reflection questions to facilitate a weeklong devotional journey into the Books of Kings. As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will breathe spiritual life into your heart through your study and reflection.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 8:12-9:14. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new ideas that struck you as significant.
2. Select one or two spiritual insights that could apply to your life. Describe how they would apply to you.
3. Write a brief prayer thanking the Lord for His faithfulness to you and asking His presence in your life this week.
Second Day: Read 1 Kings 9:1-28. Focus in on 1 Kings 9:15-28.
1. What signs of Solomon's success are mentioned in verses 15-28? What was the cost of these successes?
2. After reading Deuteronomy 7:1-6 and 20:10-18 what do you think of Solomon's treatment of the native Canaanites mentioned in verses 20-21?
3. How do you think God's people today can maintain their holiness in the world in which we live? How can we be in the world but not of the world?
Third Day: Read 1 Kings 10:1-29. Now focus in on verses 1-13.
1. Based on verses 1-13 and the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 9:1-12, what is the biblical basis for the Ethiopian tradition that a son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba became ruler of Ethiopia?
2. What things about Solomon and his kingdom made a significant impression on the Queen of Sheba? Which is most important to you? Why?
3. If someone were to visit you to know you well, what things in your life would catch their attention? What parts of your life do you need to change so that impression you really want to make would be visible?
Fourth Day: Read 1 Kings 10:1-29. Focus now on verses 14-29.
1. What indications of Solomon's wealth do verses 14-29 provide? What positive result of this is mentioned?
2. Read Deuteronomy 17:15-20. What instructions from Deuteronomy does Solomon violate? Why does Deuteronomy make the restrictions it does?
3. What spiritual application would you make for yourself from Deuteronomy 17:15-20? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you live out the application He gives you.
Fifth Day: Read 1 Kings 10:23-11:25. Focus in on 1 Kings 11:1-13.
1. How does 1 Kings 11:1-13 describe the reason for Solomon's downfall?
2. What was the bottom line reason that God was angry with Solomon? How important is the inclination of our heart? How is that connected to obedience?
3. How does God both punish Solomon and show grace to him? Can you think of other Biblical examples where grace and punishment were together? Have you experienced the combination of grace and punishment in your life?
Sixth Day: Read 1 Kings 11:1-25. Now focus on verses 14-25.
1. Why do you think all the details about Egypt are mentioned in verses 14-22? How helpful has Solomon's trust in Egypt been?
2. How do verses 14-25 relate to verse 11? What do you expect to happen soon in 1 Kings? Why?
3. Evaluate the overall impact of Solomon's life noting the good and the bad. What spiritual applications can you draw for yourself? Write a prayer asking God to help you put those applications into effect in your life.