14. Solomon’s Temple Prayer

Praise and Prayer

THE PRAISE AND PRAYER at the dedication of the temple of Solomon is, like the building itself, a magnifical fabric of gold and silver and incorruptible thoughts, more valuable and indestructible than any other work in the worship of ancient times. This inaugural petition, when compared with its fulfillment as recorded in later history and prophecy, will help us much to perceive the place of prayer in God's dealings with His creatures. Wherever it calls for human cooperation, it fails to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, after man's impotence has been manifested, then God steps in and brings about a grand and glorious conclusion, as the final fulfillment.

The prayer of Solomon ascends to Jehovah in the crisis of a divine demonstration. God is staging the tragedy of Human Government in the land of Israel for all the world to see. And He has had it recorded for all future generations to read. It was not enacted to merely entertain, nor written for pious edification. It is God's means of teaching us a vital lesson that men and messengers must learn in order to enter into the joy and satisfaction of God's grand ultimate.

The two introductory scenes in the tragedy of Human Government, as revealed through the nation of Israel, had already been staged. They epitomized all that was to follow. Saul was a man's man. David was a man of God. Saul depicted the glory and energy of the flesh. He towered tall above the heads of all the people. Physically he was the superior of everyone. He should have fought and conquered Goliath. Instead, his physical inferior, the little lad, David, is given the kingdom and promised it in perpetuity to his descendants, because he did not rely on his own strength, but on the help of God.

In Solomon, we reach a climax and a turning point. He brings the kingdom to its highest glory, yet leads it to a cataclysm from which it has not yet recovered. Nor will it ever be restored to the power and splendor of the days of David and Solomon until the Messiah, David's greater Son, brings it back to God in the eons of the eons. There are two significant facts which should not escape us if we desire to get a grasp of the great lesson which the kingdom is intended to teach. The first is that Christ is not presented as the Son of Solomon, but of David. The second is that the kingdom was not restored by David's fleshly descendants, but will be by Him Who is also the Son of God and Who is anointed, not only with oil, but by God's holy spirit.

Another point is important and in perfect harmony with this lesson. The idea of building a temple, a magnificent house for the worship of Israel's God, did not originate with Solomon. It was David who desired to honor God in this way. His spiritual instinct made him uncomfortable in his house of cedar, while the God Whom he adored lived in a temporary tabernacle. Spiritually speaking, it was the temple of David rather than Solomon. He planned it and prepared for it. So to say, he was both the owner and the architect, while Solomon was only the builder. Even in this, he was much helped by David's friend, the king of Tyre.

We cannot repeat too often the striking fact that the greatness and glory of Solomon's reign was based upon the temple, not the throne, marvelous and magnificent as that was. Prosperity and power in the political sphere must rest on the spiritual basis of worship of the Deity, to be real and lasting.

The ideal is government by God Himself, as it will be in the consummation. But there is a gradual approach to this during the eons. To begin with, God gave Israel priests, but no king. He Himself intervened by means of “judges” or rulers, when necessary. A king was not given until the people clamored for one. So we see that kings, as well as priests, are only a temporary expedient, a passing provision, until all these functions are superseded by direct submission to God and immediate worship of the Supreme. There are intermediate stages in which priesthood and rule are strictly separate, yet other times when they are combined. This was foreshadowed by Melchizedek, who was both priest and king, and will be clearly exemplified by the Messiah, Who combines the two offices during the thousand years of His reign over Israel and the earth. Then they also will be a nation of priests.

In order to appreciate the perfection of Solomon's prayer, we must see its place in God's plan. There is something very remarkable in the fact that Solomon, a king, should pray at the dedication of the temple. It is highly suggestive that there seemed to be no special building to house the seat of government in Jerusalem, such as the capitol in Washington, or the Parliament or Whitehall in London. Indeed, King David had built a palace for himself, corresponding to the White House, and Buckingham Palace, and the Quirinal in Rome, and the Schloss in Berlin, but these are not the seat of government, only the residence of the ruler. In Israel, the center around which the nation was gathered was God's house, not man's.

Although Solomon did not actually infringe on the legal functions of the priesthood, in spirit he seems to have anticipated the union of the two to some extent in this prayer to Jehovah. Indeed, the reigns of David and Solomon over all Israel are a type of the glorious kingdom of our Lord, in the future. Strictly speaking, his business was to rule the people, not to pray to God. But he was wise enough to see that both must go together, for no one can rule acceptably unless God be with him. Indeed, if we learn nothing else from Solomon's prayer and his reign, we must be impressed by the close connection between the worship of God and the prosperity of the people. Notwithstanding the terrific drain upon their resources which it entailed, they enjoyed welfare as at no other time in their history.

In the present secret celestial administration, the separation of church and state is much to be preferred, although it is contrary to the ideal. We are nearing the climax of man's rebellion against the Deity, and it is not the time for the ideal, except in our private experience. We must be subject to the political authorities, but we are not obliged to submit to the ecclesiastical powers. Whenever these have usurped control, it has been very trying for men of God. Priests may be much more merciless than politicians. The very word “inquisition” reminds us of the misuse of political power by religious potentates.

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Most of the Lord's people are like the man who could not see the forest because of the front trees which barred his view. In order to survey all of it, he should have ascended a high hill or a mountain, where he could gaze on the whole with a single glance. In Stepenitz, where I spent some years working on the German version, there was a tremendous forest, which supported the “Stift,” or retreat for titled ladies, in which we lived. One day we walked in it until I was tired and had to turn back, so I never learned its extent or shape. I might easily have become lost in it. If I had been given a map of it, with some notation of its salient features, I would not be so ignorant and vague in my thoughts about it. So it is with the saints and the Bible. They need a map to orient themselves in it.

These skeletons are often of great practical value. Nearly a half-century ago, when Dr. Bullinger was first writing on “the mystery,” and did not differentiate between the secret of the evangel and that concerning the joint body, he was strongly inclined to think that the last few verses of Romans belonged at the end of Ephesians, because he saw no “mystery” in Romans. But a glance at the skeleton of Romans would have shown him that the last verses, on the secret evangel, were indispensable to balance the evangel of God in the first verse. Moreover, they would have nothing to correspond with them, should they close the epistle to the Ephesians.

Even Solomon's prayer, short as it is, compared with the whole Book, is a blur in the minds of many. So we have prepared a “map,” or rather “skeleton,” so that the whole can be comprehended at a glance, and its message may be firmly impressed upon the mind and memory. As such a skeleton is, perhaps, the most powerful evidence for the inspiration of the Scriptures, and may be an enormous help in grasping the exact significance of its details as well as its general scope, we hope to be able to prepare one for every part as well as for the Scriptures as a whole. Much has been done in this direction by others, but no one seems to have noticed the fact that the written word is planned as though it is a living creation, in which there is a balance of parts.

As the skeleton of a living creature is composed of two complementary sides, such is also the usual literary structure of God's revelation. A very effective form is to deal with a subject in lengthy detail and then retrace the steps, in reverse order, in a short summary. This is the case with Solomon's prayer. He presents a prolonged petition concerning The House of David, then the Others, and The House of God, and then summarizes them. In a brief conclusion, He reverts to The House of Jehovah, the Priests, and The House of David. It is not easy to grasp the relation of each of these to each other as presented in this paragraph, so we arrange them so as to express their spiritual position in the skeleton.

But the corresponding parts are not exact duplicates. Because of the confirmation of our bones, we cannot put the right shoe on the left foot, or the left glove on the right hand. They are complementary. They correspond. In Solomon's prayer, he elaborates on the past promises to The House of David at the beginning, but refers briefly to God's future remembrance at the end. Within these extremes, Solomon prays for all the rest of mankind who may contact the temple. There may seem to be an imbalance in the amount of space given to each. There are eighteen verses about the worshipers and only half of a verse about the priests. But this objection vanishes when we weigh the two. I would have no hesitation in saying that, for us, Paul's epistles have more weight than all the rest of the Scriptures put together. So also, the priests are far more important to the temple than all the worshipers.

The same principle can be seen in the central part of the prayer. So far as the temple is concerned, it is much more momentous than the rest. They deal with the human aspect, this with the divine. It is not only a house of prayer for all people, but, first of all, the habitation of Jehovah God. If He will not see and hear, if He will not rise and rest there, it is all a vain and vapid perversion. This, the heart of the whole prayer, is near the end, and has no bulk at all, yet it is the core and kernel of his petition. I have often thought that an exposition of such a passage should start as God did in dealing with the tabernacle--—from the center to the circumference. For this once we will base our study on the skeleton, and start at the central peak and consider each zone, on both sides, so to speak, at the same time.

Solomon's prayer is itself only a segment of a larger section dealing with The Dedication of the Temple. This in turn is only a part of the whole book of Chronicles. So, also, there are smaller parts in some of the portions. The Promise concerning The House of David consists of two complementary parts in which a Plea (14-15) and a Petition (16-17) concerning David'’s House are balanced by another Plea (18) and Supplication (19-20) concerning Solomon himself. The first one is based on God's faithfulness, the second on His condescension.

The Worshipers (21-39) is a reversal dealing with Israel (21-31), the Foreigner (32), balanced by the Foreigner (38), Israel (34-39). One set emphasizes worship, the other fear.

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Jehovah is the God of Israel, and of no other nation. It is the eonian nation, predestinated by God to be the head and ruler, and the channel of blessing to all the rest. He is bound to them by His promises in the past and their fulfillment in the future. No other nation has had such a God. By His revelation of Himself in the past and His promises for the future, He has made of Israel a unique nation, altogether different from the rest. As has been fully explained elsewhere, His Name covers and comprehends their whole history, for they are welded into a special people by His dealings with them in the past, His discipline of them in the present, and His promises to them for the future.

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As the opening section of Solomon's prayer (14-20) is summarized in the closing words of the prayer, we will quote these in order to grasp its general outline: “Jehovah, God, Thou must not turn back the face of Thine anointed. Remember the kindness of David, Thy servant” (2 Chron.6:42). David, that marvelous type of the coming Messiah, was promised a “house,” or dynasty, of which Messiah will be the flower. Yet the fulfillment of the promise was not dependent on Jehovah alone, but upon the faithfulness of David's successors. Solomon was a wise man, and he seemed to sense the insecurity which this implied. He was fearful of himself, although he had been anointed, and had a large measure of God's spirit. So he throws himself upon Jehovah. He does not say “let me not turn back my face,” as we would expect. He asked that God would not do the turning, not on his account, but because of the kindnesses He had shown to David.

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Christendom prays to a distant God, Who is in heaven. Their God is further from them than Jehovah was from Israel in the wilderness, or in the land. God dwelt in the midst of His people, in the tabernacle and in the temple. His home was on the earth, not in the heavens. All Israel came to Jerusalem to worship Him, and even foreigners, from other lands, could make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem to do homage to Him. After the glory had departed, however, when the Ethiopian eunuch came, he did not find Him there, but on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). Saul of Tarsus had doubtless been in the court of the temple many a time, but he did not meet God, through Christ, in its precincts, but on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He it Was who told the Athenians that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Though far from the land, among the nations, he assured them that God was not far from each one of us (Acts 17:24-29).

There are many examples for praying to the Father in heaven, in the Scriptures. It is in the popular formula, the so-called "“Lord'’s prayer,"” which He gave to the disciples at their request (Matt.6: 9-13). Indeed, our Lord often spoke of their Father in the heavens (Matt.5:16,45; 6:1; 7:11; 18:14). Most of us are blind to the unbridgeable distance implied in this seemingly harmless phrase. God should have been very near to our Lord's disciples. Not merely on the earth, but in the land, in the holy city that they so often visited, in the temple. The Shekinah should have shone above the cherubim in the holy of holies. Instead, Jehovah had become a distant God, more unapproachable even than when He dwelt behind the courts and curtains of the sanctuary. They could approach the inner courts of the temple, and the priests could go into the holies of holies, but who could ascend to the heavens? Such is the true background of our Lord's ministry, especially in the account given by Matthew.

Christendom has been led astray by failing to recognize that heaven is a place of distance, in contrast to the normal nearness of the Deity to His earthly people Israel. Is it not remarkable that the heavens are mentioned four times as often in Matthew than in all of Paul's epistles put together? And this notwithstanding the fact that Matthew presents a kingdom on the earth and Paul alone deals with a heavenly destiny? Christians have sought to mimic the temple on Mount Moriah, by erecting vast cathedrals and building lesser “Churches” and try to envelop these with a false sanctity which is abhorrent to the Deity, Who seeks no habitation made by human hands, but only in that grand spiritual structure which consists of those who are hallowed by His spirit.

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God had a covenant with Israel. If they kept His law, He would bless them. They thought they could keep it, but they failed miserably. Nevertheless, whenever they did so in some measure by the help of His spirit, He was faithful to His covenant, and they prospered, only to fall back into failure again. When they have learned the lesson that they cannot keep the law in their own strength, then He will write it on their hearts, and fulfill it by the power of His spirit in the day of Jehovah.

God's covenant with David and his dynasty is almost a perfect parallel to this. David himself, however, did not have the self-confidence of the people. He took it as an undeserved favor. That is why he was able to please Jehovah, and to sing His praises, and received such a special measure of blessing during his lifetime. Yet even he was disciplined, and the penalty for his sins was extended to his descendants (2 Sam.12:10). Like the law, this covenant was conditioned on their conduct. As a result, the history of the kingdom is a record of division and declension and apostasy, with a few intervals of restoration, until the kingdom was taken from them and Israel was deported and scattered among the nations, who were given their place of rule at the head of earthly dominion.

But, at the same time that God fulfills the law by placing it in their hearts, He will also give them a King, a Son of David, the Messiah, Who was begotten by God and anointed with His spirit, hence is fully able to meet the conditions and bring to Israel all the blessings which they failed to win in the past because of their disobedience.

Solomon prayed, “Keep with thy servant David, my father, that which Thou didst speak to him, saying, ‘No man of yours shall be cut off from before Me while sitting on the throne of Israel, should your sons be keeping their way to walk in My law, as you walk before Me.’” We can only too well understand Solomon for saying this, for the history of his descendants became one great demonstration of the faithlessness of David's line and its disastrous consequences, ending in the destruction of the magnificent building itself and the loss of the throne, which lasts until this day. Yet it is overwhelming to realize in what far more wonderful way God will, in the end, answer this prayer and fulfill His promises to David, notwithstanding the sins of his descendants and his people. He will send His Darling [David], the Messiah, and overfill His covenant, in spite of their failure.

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Solomon's wisdom and humility was displayed in his next plea and petition. He had just finished what was probably the most marvelous temple ever built. No other God ever had such a magnificent place of worship. But Solomon was well versed in nature. He had been awed by the grandeur of the heavens. He reveled in the visible creation of God. In comparison with His handiwork, what was this temple that he had built? How could the God of the celestial realms come down to earth? How could He Who was high above the hosts of heaven condescend to dwell among men? Here is a note of wonder and adoration that may find an appropriate place in any prayer. Far more marvelous, however, is it that He should home in our hearts, for our base bodies cannot compare with the house that Solomon built in size or splendor.

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Solomon himself and the people of Israel were to pray “to” or toward the temple with which God's name was connected. It was to be the place, the center, to which all should turn, in appealing to the Deity. His glories were represented there in tangible form for the eye to see and the ear to hear and the nose to smell; and all this was in accord with His own instructions. It is the elementary method which must be used with soulish creatures who must learn through their sensations. The walls which surrounded it indicated His holiness, the path through the curtains, past the altar and the laver revealed His salvation, the lampstand His illumination, the showbread His provision, and the golden altar with its incense the way of worship. Above all, in the holy of holies, the shekinah glory proclaimed His presence, even to the material man. In full accord with this was the instinctive desire to turn toward it when praying to the God Whom it housed and hid.

But Solomon was too wise to reason about God as if He were a man like himself. If one of us, or even Solomon were to take up our residence in the temple he had built, we would be forced to leave the place where we had been. We cannot be in more than one place at the same time. Yet the wise king realized that not even the heavens were vast enough to accommodate Him. How then could He forsake them entirely and dwell in a single place upon the earth (2 Chron.6:18)? Hence, throughout his prayer, he speaks of God as dwelling in heaven as well as on the earth. But the house that Solomon had built is distinguished as the place on earth where Jehovah has placed His “name.” This is a most expressive figure of speech, in Hebrew, and denotes the location where the greatness, of His glory and manifold magnificence is revealed, where His essential virtues are disclosed to the senses, by means of which mortals are able to realize and appreciate what He is to them in spirit.

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Solomon's prayer was prophetic, for he did not fully follow Jehovah, even under the most favorable circumstances. His glory was great, yet he sinned, and, when he was old, he went after the false gods of the nations, and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah, his God, as the heart of David, his father. We should learn from this that our prayers, be they ever so wise, and even if we seek to throw all the responsibility on God, as every wise man will certainly do, they will fail to be fulfilled if there is the least of self-involved. On the other hand, the appeal to the kindness of David was heard, for Solomon himself did not live to see the results of his defection. It was after his death that the greater part of the kingdom was rent from the house of David. The dire effect of his sins continued throughout the era of the kings. The house of David never again ruled over all Israel, and will not, until they are united in the hands of Messiah, in the future.

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In Solomon, Jehovah fulfilled what He had promised David up to that time (15). But thenceforth his further sons did not come up to the conditions, except in checkered fashion. They seldom kept His way and walked in His law. Consequently, the line was cut off and the kingdom ended and given over to the nations in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. As a whole the line degenerated, but there were occasional returns to Jehovah, with consequent periods of blessing. It was only after the hopelessness of human rule had been fully demonstrated that the line was cut off temporarily, and the Davidic dynasty came to an end.

Nevertheless, even though David's sons according to the flesh had failed, his greater Son, Christ Jesus, will fulfill all that was promised to David, and far more, in the coming kingdom. And the splendors of His glorious rule will be greatly enhanced by the dark background of the past.

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The pardon of that day was conditional, even as our Lord showed when He told His hearers about the ten thousand talent debtor (Matt.18:24). The sacrifices offered on the altar of the temple had no such efficacy as the blood of Christ.

Justification was only for the just. It consisted in a recognition of their righteousness by Jehovah and a suitable reward. Many sought to justify themselves and merit God's blessings, like the Pharisee in our Lord's day (Luke 18:14). But few, indeed, were like the tribute collector, who did the right thing in acknowledging the wrong, and his need of a propitiatory shelter.

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As a nation, Israel was subject to God's judgments. When they sinned, Jehovah sent their enemies against them, who took away some or all of their land. This happened again and again. But when they prayed and supplicated Jehovah, they recovered what they had lost. Yet, eventually, Israel was deported, and never came back. Then Judah was carried to Babylon. But Daniel and others repented, and a remnant was restored. These were in the land when the Jews committed their greatest sin, the crucifixion of their Messiah. For this, they were forgiven, at the request of the Saviour, on the cross, but they did not bring forth fruit suitable to repentance. Hence their pardon was withdrawn. To this day they are scattered among the nations. Those who return to the land are due to endure the great affliction, until their Messiah, the Son of David, will come and give them the kingdom.

All this is in fulfillment of this part of the prayer (36-39): “In case they are sinning against Thee (for there is no man who does not sin), and Thou art angry with them and dost smite them and give them up before the enemy, and their captors capture them and bring them to the land of the enemy, far or near, yet they reverse their heart in the land where they are captives, and turn back and supplicate to Thee in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have been depraved and wicked,’ and return to Thee, with all their heart and with all their soul, in the land of their captors who captured them, and pray to Thee the way of their land which Thou gavest their forefathers and the city which Thou hast chosen and the house which I have built for Thy name, then hearken from the heavens, from Thy established dwelling, to their prayer and their supplication, and execute judgment for them, and pardon Thy people who have sinned against Thee.

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The principal profit in judging such prayers as Solomon's lies in considering their fulfillment. From this, we can see what to expect in our own case. In general, if we crave blessing contingent on human conduct, and not on God, we must prepare to be disappointed in our expectations. If we base them entirely on God, we are safe. Nevertheless, even our selfish wishes will be fulfilled fully and finally, not through our efforts, but in His final favor. We should consider each petition in order and see how it is answered in Israel's history. It is very helpful to have such a long period and so much detail, in which the prayer is worked out in actual practice in the Davidic dynasty, in the worshipers of Jehovah, in Israel as a nation. It will help us to understand the present Jewish crisis, and the struggle for the land of Palestine. God alone is the Source of every blessing, and it comes to His creatures through Christ.

A. E. Knoch

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