Upon the completion of building the temple, Solomon prays an extraordinary prayer. Solomon’s prayer extolls Yahweh for keeping his promises to David, expresses his astonishment that Yahweh would condescend to dwell among them, and petitions Yahweh to act on behalf of his people. Let’s see what we can learn from this extraordinary prayer of heaven meeting earth with some help from the Teaching the Bible series. This series is a fantastic help in understanding the Bible for yourself and for helping you explain the Bible to others.

Introduction

This is the high-water mark of Solomon’s story, especially in his great dedication prayer. This prayer goes right to the heart of who God is and how, though enthroned above the cherubim, He condescends to live with His people. This anticipates the time when the Word would become flesh and take the form of a servant.

Here is one of the great prayers of the Bible and of crucial importance both in the unfolding story of Solomon and of the book as a whole, with its emphasis on the nature of God, the place of the temple, and covenant blessings and curses. This is a prayer of an individual, but that individual is the anointed king and thus is offered on behalf of both his family and the whole nation. Also, its great truths teach us many important lessons about praying, both in its content and manner. Verse 22 shows us Solomon’s approach to Yahweh. He stands before the bronze altar in the outer court where large numbers gathered to worship. Spreading out his hands shows the solemnity of the occasion. The prayer develops in two parts: first the nature of Yahweh (vv. 23-30) and then petitions on behalf of Yahweh’s people (vv. 31-53).

Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication – Part One (1 Kings 8:23–30)

The Nature of Yahweh

Incomparable

The first part of the prayer is full of great and life-changing truths about God. He is the God of Israel bound to them by covenant promises, but more than that He is incomparable: ‘there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below’ (v. 23). If you are looking for a sound bite (which, of course, you’re not!) to sum up the Old Testament’s picture of God, you could do worse than ‘the incomparability of Yahweh’. This great truth is developed particularly in Isaiah 40, but is everywhere in the Old Testament. This is no abstract idea; it means that there is nowhere in heaven and earth where His writ does not run and this brings both tremendous reassurance and profound challenge.

Faithful

Here, more specifically, His incomparability is linked to his total trustworthiness and complete fidelity to His covenant. His faithfulness in the past is the reason for confidence in the present and future. Faithfulness is not an accidental characteristic of God; it is at the heart of His being. It is encapsulated in Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:9 – ‘God is faithful’; not ‘God is sometimes faithful’, not even ‘God is mostly faithful’, but absolutely and to all eternity He keeps His promises. This is totally different from pagan gods who are fickle, capricious, bear grudges and are often malicious.

So, with Yahweh we can praise Him for all that is past, and trust Him for all that is to come. Probably, in another Exodus echo, Solomon is recalling the great hymn of praise after the crossing of the sea: ‘Who among the gods is like you, O Yahweh, who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?’ (Exod. 15:11).

Transcendent and Immanent

In many ways verses 27 and 28 are the very heart of who Yahweh is as Solomon blends transcendence and immanence; God up there and God down here. This is the picture of God established right at the beginning of the Bible. Any student from Cornhill, Scotland – where I teach – will tell you about the God of Genesis 1 and the God of Genesis 2 and further tell you that what we read there is the key to understanding biblical theology. Not that there are two gods, but rather one God who is both transcendent (Gen. 1) and immanent (Gen. 2). He is big enough to control the universe and the sweep of history, but also comes right down into His creation. He is no absentee landlord.

In Genesis 1, God up there speaks and creation bursts into life: light shines; birds sing; earth, sea and sky are filled with His glory and all this because He speaks. In Genesis 2, that same God comes down into history and takes dust and shapes it into humanity. Take one or the other and you have a God of power, but do not know if He cares; or a God of compassion, but do not know if He has the power to carry out His purposes. Put the pictures together and we have the God who one day will become incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Majestic

So here Solomon looks at this magnificent temple on which so much work has been done and so much wealth lavished, and it all dwindles to insignificance in the presence of Yahweh. Indeed His majesty dwarfs the universe and our minds boggle and our hearts fail as we think of the myriad galaxies, the unthinkable distances and the insignificance of our most splendid projects. The words of Job 26:14 are a fitting expression of the immensity of this God: ‘These are, but the outer fringe of his works, how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?’

So what hope is there for us? There is a way to approach a God like that, and Solomon in verse 28 speaks of ‘your servant’s prayer and plea for mercy’. He cannot be confined to the temple or any other box, but ‘this place’ (v. 29) is where He will listen and will keep a watchful eye and will do this continually, night and day. Just as He came down to Eden and to the lowly cattle shed so in wonderful grace He will come to His people. We cannot understand God fully, but by grace we can know Him, listen to Him and speak to Him. That is an immense God and I keep on saying to students that one of the most important words in theology is ‘Wow!’ This is a ‘wow’ passage.

Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication – Part Two (1 Kings 8:31–53)

The second part of the prayer (vv. 31-53) consists of seven petitions which envisage different scenarios in which grace and mercy would be particularly needed. These are especially related to the covenant curses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. This is inevitable for ‘there is no one who does not sin’ (v. 46). This prevents the tremendous truths about Yahweh simply being pious phrases; there is a cold dose of realism here. In each petition there is both a reference to ‘hear from heaven’ and ‘towards this place’; the twin truths of transcendence and immanence are at the heart of true prayer. A brief look at each of these situations show us circumstances in which people would pray.

Petitions for Yahweh’s People

The first petition (vv. 31-32) is about justice in society and a case is envisaged where there is a lack of evidence (such a case as Solomon had handled so brilliantly back in 3:16-28). Possibly some kind of priestly ritual would be involved as in the case of the unfaithful wife (Num. 5:11-31). However the emphasis is on neither the king nor priest but on God the Judge of all the earth.

The second petition refers to defeat in battle (vv. 33-34) and echoes the defeat of Joshua’s army because of the sin of Achan (Josh. 7:11-12). But it also envisages the Exile – ‘bring them back to the land’.

The third (vv. 35-36) and the fourth (vv. 37-40) refer to calamities often associated with war. Drought is the spur for the Elijah stories in chapter 17 and is mentioned in Deuteronomy 28:23-24 as one of the punishments for covenant disobedience. Famine and plague are also signs of divine displeasure (Lev. 26:19-20 and 25; Deut. 28:21-22 and 32:24); Yahweh is Lord of creation and what we call ‘natural forces’ obey Him.

The fifth (vv. 41-43) moves us out from Israel to ‘the foreigner’, reminding us of the promise to Abraham that the blessing was to extend to all the nations on earth (Gen. 12:3). The foreigner would have heard of the Exodus for the phrase Yahweh’s ‘great name, mighty hand and outstretched arm’ echoes Deuteronomy 4:34 and 5:15. Since Yahweh is the incomparable God, all nations are summoned to worship Him.

The Final Two Petitions

The sixth (vv. 44-45) and the seventh (vv. 46-51) petitions deal with two mirror-image situations: the sixth, where God uses His people to defeat their enemies; and the seventh, where He uses their enemies to defeat them. The seventh is the longest and focuses on the danger of exile; although an earlier example of potential exile occurs in 2 Kings 5 where Yahweh uses Naaman, the Syrian general to punish His people. Here the Exile is seen (as in Dan. 1:2) as an act of Yahweh Himself.

However, it is this seventh petition which brings together the twin emphases on mercy and judgment which underlie all seven. Repentant prayer would lead to restoration and forgiveness. Daniel prays ‘towards the city and temple’ at a time when they were both still in ruins (Dan. 6:10) and Daniel 9:1-19 gives us such a prayer of repentance. The earlier cursing passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy had also given assurance of restoration if there was repentance. This flows from the nature of the incomparable God who punishes Israel for her sins but provides a way back, unlike the petty and capricious godlets of paganism. Again the foundational words given to Moses are emphasized (v. 53).

Summary and Suggestions for Preaching

‘The Lord of heaven and earth … does not live in temples built by hands’ (Acts 17:24). These words of Paul to the Athenian philosophers are already anticipated in this chapter in 8:27-30. Solomon, at the peak of his glory and in touch with Yahweh, shows us the very heart of what this temple-building is about. No more than Paul does Solomon believe that God lives in man-made buildings (8:27). Indeed, God cannot be limited even by the vast universe He has made. The temple does not confine God; a point Jeremiah was to make forcefully in the temple sermon (Jer. 7:1-11). Thus, the temple only gains its significance when Yahweh is there. Heaven is God’s dwelling place and it is to there that Solomon addresses his prayer.

Yet God is gracious and, as in Eden, He does provide a place where His servants on earth can meet Him (8:29). One day, in the new creation, heaven and earth will blend, and the reality to which the temple points will permanently live with redeemed humanity (Rev. 21:3, 22). Ultimately these chapters are about God in His majesty and mystery, but also in his condescension as He reveals Himself to humans.

Suggestions for Preaching

It would be possible to preach several sermons on this chapter on such topics as: The mystery and nearness of God; The True Temple; The prayer that reaches heaven. However, if you are preaching a series on the book, it probably would be better to preach on it as a whole.

Sermon: Heaven meeting earth or God coming down

An introduction needs to cover the place of the temple in the Bible story (Eden, Tabernacle, Temple, New Covenant, New Creation). It also can make the point that we are witnessing the high-water mark of Solomon’s story, especially in his great dedication prayer.

  • True obedience to the Word of God: Here we see the ark as not only the place of revelation (containing the tablets of law), but as pointing towards the Living Word.
  • True understanding of God’s covenant: There is significance in highlighting both Moses and David. We see divine initiative and human response (especially vv. 31-53).
  • True understanding of who God is: both a sense of awe and transcendence, and a sense of nearness.

Preaching and Teaching Help with the Teaching the Bible Series

This post only included about half of the material for 1 Kings 8 in the Teaching the Bible series. The material we didn’t adapt includes more comments on the text, thoughtful ideas to apply the text, and a variety questions to answer in teaching the text. Visit our store to see all the volumes available in this excellent series!

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