“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” — 1 Kings 8:27
Teachers: Scroll down to find teaching resources and Tony’s video.
Prayers for Now and Later
Have you ever heard anyone use a prayer as an opportunity to preach? Sometimes it happens when someone who wanted to preach at a particular occasion is asked to pray instead, or when someone with a favorite agenda makes a point of bringing it up whenever the opportunity to pray arises.
The shift often goes like this:“ … and Lord, may we always remember to do so and so,” or “may you bless us as we do such and such,” with “so and so” or “such and such” representing sins to avoid, behaviors to practice, or positions the pray-er hopes the congregation will support.
We sometimes say that a preacher has stopped preaching and gone to meddling. This is a case when someone stops praying and has gone to preaching. Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8 is a prime example of a sermonic supplication.
A celebration to remember(vv. 1-11)
The text is centered around the dedication of the temple, the construction of which is detailed in chapters 5-7. After overseeing seven years of construction involving more than 180,000 workers, it’s not surprising that Solomon would host a huge service of dedication as the temple began operations. To emphasize continuity with the past, leaders from every tribe and ancestral family were invited to join a triumphal entrance procession and witness the final act that would establish the temple as the “house of the LORD” – the installation of the Ark of the Covenant in the sacred room at the back of the temple, the Holy of Holies.
When David had first brought the Ark into Jerusalem, he did so with great care, many sacrifices, and joyful celebration (2 Sam. 6:12-19). Solomon followed suit, but with a grander sweep. As the priests and Levites brought the Ark and other sacred items from the old tent to the new temple, “King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel” were “sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered” (v. 5).
The priests carefully positioned the Ark in the holy place, and as they emerged, “a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (vv. 10-11).
A promise kept(vv. 12-21)
The appearance of the thick cloud was understood as a visible mark of heavenly acceptance: a sign that God had indeed chosen to dwell in the “house of the LORD” and imbue the holy place with the divine presence, or glory.
Solomon himself pronounced an invocation, one fraught with theological overtones. Verses 12-13 are poetic in form, and some scholars consider them to be an excerpt from a temple hymn. The “thick darkness” in which God was said to dwell could refer to the heavy cloud, or to the Holy of Holies, where the Ark was closed off by a heavy curtain and thus kept in darkness.
The word translated as “dwell” in v. 12 is shaken, which means “to sojourn,” a word typically used to describe God’s presence moving about with the Israelites during their journey through the wilderness. But Solomon now claims to have brought an end to God’s wandering days. “I have built you an exalted house,” he said, “a place for you to dwell in forever” (v. 13). The verb used here is yashav, which suggests a more permanent dwelling: Solomon intends the temple to be a place for Yahweh “to dwell in forever.”
Following the invocation, Solomon turned to the people and reminded them of God’s dynastic promises to David. Recounting the divine promise in a fashion closer to Psalm 89 than 2 Samuel 7, Solomon said God had praised David for wanting to build a temple, but that the job would go to his son (vv. 15-19). Solomon then praised God for fulfilling the promise to David while congratulating himself for having done his part:
“I have risen to the place of my father David; I sit on the throne of Israel … I have built the house for name of the LORD … I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our ancestors …” (vv. 20-21)
A prayer for the future(vv. 22-61)
With v. 22, Solomon adopted a posture of prayer and praised God’s unmatched majesty and God’s reputation for “keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (vv. 22-23). Returning to a more self-focused concern, Solomon thanked God for having shown faithfulness to David, and prayed for God to confirm that promise by remaining true to David’s descendants who walked faithfully before him (vv. 25-26).
Verses 27-30 backtrack a bit by affirming that God’s presence cannot be limited to the temple, indeed, even to all heaven and earth. Still, the temple serves as a portal of prayer through which people facing various trials could come to God in search of solace (v. 30).
The prayer continues by naming several categories of potential petitions the Israelites might bring, echoing the belief that troubles often result from sin (Lev. 26:14-39, Deut. 28:15-68). The temple would be an appropriate place of prayer for those seeking justice (vv. 31-32); for petitions seeking deliverance from enemy oppression after national sin (vv. 33-34); for those suffering from drought as divine punishment for sin (vv. 35-36); and for pleas for aid during times of famine, pestilence, or plague (vv. 37-40).
Though Israel-centric, the prayer asked further that God would hear the prayers of foreigners who come “from a distant land because of your name” and respond to them in a way that all peoples would fear God and “know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built” (vv. 41-43).
But what of times when the distressed are far from the temple, such as when soldiers are away at war? Even then, Solomon insisted, the temple remained important as a portal of prayer. He asked that God would also hear and respond to fighters on the battlefield who faced Jerusalem and prayed in the direction of the temple (vv. 44-45).
More pointedly, the prayer then turns to the possibility of exile. If the people should sin, Solomon prayed, so that God allowed them to be defeated and carried into captivity … if the exiles should “come to their senses” and “repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies,” praying toward “the city that you have chosen, and your house that I built for your name,” God should hear their prayer and forgive (vv. 46-53).
This is where the narrator most clearly leaves off praying and goes to preaching. While the prayer purports to reflect the words of Solomon at the temple’s dedication, the words may well derive from the hand of a writer during the exile itself, when the large unit from Joshua-2 Kings reached its final form.
The primary audience of 1 Kings 8 was not a free nation contemplating captivity, but actual exiles who believed that God had given them over to the Babylonians because of the nation’s deep and persistent sin. They could draw hope from Solomon’s prayer that if they turned their faces toward the temple in Jerusalem, and turned their hearts back to God, that forgiveness and restoration might come.
The prayer attributed to Solomon may have gone to preaching, but it is a welcome message of hope. Even though the temple had been destroyed in 587 BCE, the people could still look toward Jerusalem and pray for the day when the temple would be rebuilt and God’s presence would once again bless the grateful Hebrews.
With the temple long destroyed – including its replacement – and Christian people living under a new covenant, what are we to make of this account? The parts of the prayer that emphasize a connection between royal power and religious establishments call to mind a temptation the church has faced through the years, one in which kings and cathedrals are closely connected and access to God is guarded by church authorities. If we believe the claims of Jesus, heeding God’s call and following God’s way are far more about service to others than about exercising power over them.
Many people still hold to the common belief that success or failure is a direct result of piety or perversion, but we know that the righteous often suffer while the wicked prosper. For followers of Jesus the point of faith is not to be rewarded, but to be faithful – not to be blessed, but to be a blessing.
As king of the country and builder of the temple, Solomon had a vested interest in promoting the temple as the locus of Israelite religion and the gateway to God, but even his self-serving prayer acknowledged that God cannot be limited to a sacred box, a holy place, or a designated city. Nor is God limited to the church, neither the institution nor any building associated with it. God is approachable from any place, at any time.
There is one area of the prayer that continues to speak plainly: Humans are sinful, but God is merciful. It is not a turning toward Jerusalem that matters, but a turning toward God, who remains willing to hear and to forgive.
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for August 23, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 1 Kings 8:1-53
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
Church happens. It’s a phrase that I first heard a while ago about what was happening in a local congregation, but since then I’ve used this phrase to describe when I think “church” has happened. More often than not, I’ve uttered this phrase when I haven’t been in a church building but out with people and catch glimpses of what people are doing for God. We need to remind our students that while they come to a church building to learn, and grow closer to God, they aren’t to grow closer to church but grow closer to God. We have to remember not to point our students back to our ministries and programs but to continue to point them toward God. We can hope that our ministries and programs are avenues by which students can find God and not a god in and amongst themselves.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Knighting Scene” from A Knight’s Tale
Read Scripture online: 1 Kings 8:1-53