Researched and studied by HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Solomon’s Prayer at the
Dedication of the Temple.
1 Kings 8
The ceremonial by which the temple of Solomon was dedicated to the name and the service of God is one of the grandest recorded in the Scriptures: it was not unworthy of the splendid edifice it was designed to consecrate, and a not unfitting homage to the Great Being for whose glory it had been reared. All the great and venerable in the congregation were then assembled to do honour to so grand an occasion, and thousands from all parts of the land formed the vast multitude of worshipers, while the wisest and richest of the kings of Israel presided over the whole. Yet, grand and imposing as the ceremonial was, considered as a whole, it was essentially Jewish in its character. The long line of priests carrying the ark of the Lord, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle, and the slaying of sheep and oxen that could not be told nor numbered for multitude, formed a spectacle and a religious service that were adapted only to produce a holy impression on the mind of one who lived under a dispensation that was typical and shadowy. In the magnificent address and prayer of Solomon, there are indeed, even in the plain literal sense, some great truths—truths that belong exclusively to no one age or dispensation but are of universal application. The infinity of God—His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence is clearly and powerfully expressed; sin, repentance, and forgiveness are fully recognised; and the Divine clemency and mercy are acknowledged as abounding to the penitent. While, in the fullness and fervour of his pious joy, Solomon was able to say, “I have surely built You an house to dwell in, a settled place for You to abide in forever;” his just views of the Divine immensity led him to exclaim, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less is this house that I have built?” Entreating the Divine forgiveness for the sins of his people, he regards actual sinfulness as not only a possibility, but as an unavoidable result of the condition of our nature as fallen creatures; and this condition is such, that there is no man that lives and sins not. And when praying for the Divine justice to give to every man according to his ways, he trusts, for an unerring judgement, to the searching truth, “You, even You only, know the hearts of all the children of men.” Still, notwithstanding these admirable marks of catholicity, by which the address and prayer of Solomon are distinguished, considered as a whole it is essentially Jewish. It is not unreasonable, but rather necessary, to suppose that his views of the immensity of God, of the nature of sin and forgiveness, partook of the character of the Church to which he belonged, in which Divine truths of every kind were but dimly perceived. The general tenor of the prayer justifies this conclusion and shows that a temporal idea pervades the whole. He speaks of human sinfulness and of Divine forgiveness, but both the calamities and the blessings are of the body and the world. Spiritual life and immortality, future happiness or misery, have no place in it.
But is this grand and solemn service less deserving our attention, and less instructive to us, on this account? Could we look no deeper than the surface—were we able to take no more unworldly a view of the subject than did those who took a part in the august solemnity, it would profit us but little. But when we are able to see that under the outward grandeur of the letter there lies a series of truths, spiritual, heavenly, and practical, which tends to true edification in the highest Christian principles, the whole ceremonial assumes anew aspect. Under the splendid Jewish garb we are able to discern a living Christian form, displaying the grace and breathing the spirit of heavenly and eternal life. It is, therefore, to direct attention to this ” body.” so much more to us than the “clothing” that covers it, that we purpose to enter on the consideration of the dedication service of the temple of Solomon.
In the first place, we have to recall the typical character of the temple itself. We have to think of the temple of Solomon as representative of the temple of the Lord’s body. This is the temple of which Jehovah has said, “My name shall dwell there;” this is the habitation of which Solomon, speaking in the name of the Messiah, could truly say, “I have surely built You a house to dwell in, a settled place for You to abide in for ever;” and it is to this house that the eyes of Jehovah are open day and night. In this glorious temple the Infinite and Eternal, otherwise invisible and incomprehensible, is to be approached and worshipped as the visible God. It was for this reason—to represent this all-important truth—that the children of Israel were not permitted to offer sacrifice in any other than the one appointed place—in the house where the holy ark dwelt in the thick darkness, under the overshadowing cherubim. But still more to our present purpose, it was towards this house that every Israelite in his own distant dwelling turned his face when he offered his thanksgivings or addressed his prayers to his God, who had there inscribed His name. This he did, whether in freedom in his own land or in captivity in the land of an enemy. So we find Daniel, with the windows of his chamber open towards Jerusalem, kneeling upon his knees three times a day, and praying and giving thanks to God.
To God in the Holy Temple of His Divine Humanity, His people are to turn in heart and mind when they pray and give thanks—when they supplicate the Divine mercy or praise the Divine bounty. As the Israelite turned the eyes of his body to the holy hill whence came his aid, the Christian is to turn the eyes of his mind to Him that is able to succour him in all his trials, to strengthen him in all his weakness, and deliver him out of all his distresses.
The circumstances in which the Divine aid is to be sought are as various as the states and experiences of human life—more especially those of the Christian life, considered as the life that is to be formed and matured by labours and trials as well as by tranquil study and virtuous •enjoyment. The present subject leads us to consider these circumstances as described in the prayer of Solomon.
In the prayer of Solomon, there are seven different petitions, relating to as many different circumstances, six relating to the Israelites themselves, and one to the sojourner that is amongst them. The first petition is for him who trespasses against his neighbour; the second is for the people when smitten in battle; the third is for relief when the heaven is shut up because there is no rain; the fourth is for succour when famine is in the land; the fifth is for the sojourner; the sixth is for success in divinely sanctioned wars; and the seventh is for the people when they have been carried into captivity. In every series of events or circumstances that occurs in the Divine Word, there is a connection between the parts, however independent of each other they may be in the historical relation. The circumstances or conditions of the people which are enumerated in this prayer, in which the Divine aid is implored for those who see their sins, and repent, and turn in earnest supplication to God in His temple, describe states of the spiritual life that follow in succession during the progress of regeneration. It may not be essentially necessary to see this connection to derive instruction from several petitions. Our various individual states may find in someone of the circumstances something that comes home more immediately and forcibly to ourselves; but if there is nothing in our own hearts or understandings, in our words or works, that strike us, while considering these petitions, with a sense of sin or a feeling of penitence, we may be sure that the train of spiritual ideas that the series contains will afford us little satisfaction or yield us little profit of a spiritual kind. Trusting, however, that our contemplation of these various petitions may find for them an inward witness and response, we will proceed to consider them at such length as our space will permit.
- In his first petition Solomon prays, “If any man trespass against his neighbour and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before your altar in this house: then hear You in heaven, and do, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.” This petition evidently refers to the law delivered in the twenty-second chapter of Exodus, in which it is enacted, that if anyone delivers anything or beast to his neighbour (or companion) to keep, and it be stolen, or be driven away, or die, no man seeing it, “an oath of the Lord shall be between them, that he has not put his hand to his neighbour’s goods.” That which is given by one man to another to keep is that which has been given by the internal to the external man and is laid up in the mind as a means of preserving and supporting the spiritual life of the soul. This may be lost or may pass away from the mind, which may result either from evils of intention or evils of infirmity. When the question is brought to God or submitted to the decision of Divine Truth, a true judgement is obtained. If it has proceeded from an evil intention, and thus from wickedness, the evil is seen and condemned; but if it has only proceeded from infirmity, or has resulted from the error of judgement, no wickedness is imputed. The case supposed by Solomon seems, however, to refer further to a judgement between two, one of whom has actually trespassed against his neighbour; and the Divine decision brings to light the guilt of the one and the righteousness of the other. Such a Divine judgement is that which enables us to distinguish and to separate between good and evil, and truth and falsity in ourselves. And this is the first act of saving truth in the mind that has entered on the regeneration. The unregenerate have no clear distinction between spiritual good and evil in themselves. They call that good which they love, and that truth which favours their own ends; and on the other hand they call that evil which they do not love and that falsity which is unfavourable to their own ends. It is Divine Truth alone—it is God—that enables us to see what is evil in itself and what is good in itself; for that only is good which comes from God and leads to Him, and that is evil that comes from self and leads to self. The first of our petitions to the throne of grace should, therefore, be, to receive into our minds the judgement of eternal truth, which will enable us to distinguish and to sever between the righteous and wicked in ourselves.
- Although the first act of the spiritual life is to distinguish and to sever between good and evil in the judgement, many other acts are required before they can be entirely and finally separated in life. Evils, although seen and acknowledged, cannot be removed but by actively resisting them, and this resistance is compared in Scripture to warfare. The second petition of Solomon, therefore, has relation to the people when contending with and smitten down before the enemy. In our first conflicts with the enemy of our own heart, we fight very much in our own strength, and in the confidence of the victory, and thus sin against Him who alone can strengthen us with strength in the inner man to overcome our corruptions. Our weakness is made manifest to us by defeat, and defeat begets humility and dependence. When we turn from ourselves to the Lord, and confess His name, and pray, and make supplication to the Lord in His house, then does He hear and forgive, and bring us again into the land that He gave to our fathers, by bringing us into some degree of spiritual goodness, as the result of submission to the will and wisdom of our Divine Deliverer. In the earlier stages of religious life, there is the inexperience of the difficulties and dangers of attending real progress in truth and goodness. For these principles have not only to be known and understood but to be made our own by being admitted into the life of the understanding and will. They are not received into the inner life without trial and temptation respecting them. These temptations are described in the next two subjects of Solomon’s prayer. Truth and good are the water and the bread of the soul’s true life, and famine for bread and water are spiritually famine for the inward spiritual hearing of the Word of God.
- Solomon, therefore, prays, “When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain because they have sinned against You; if they pray, hear You in heaven, and give rain upon Your land.” And again—
- ” If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there be; what prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all Your people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: then hear You in heaven Your dwelling-place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart You know.”
Heaven is shut up, and no rain descends to refresh the earth when the inner man is either temporarily or permanently closed, and no truth flows down into the outer man to refresh and fructify him. When this continues, famine, or defect of goodness, must follow, for a defect of the one produces a defect of the other. But when good fails, how many evils spring up to desolate the mind! With the want of rain, no other evil is connected in the prayer of Solomon; but when famine is the subject, pestilence, blasting, mildew, caterpillar, and the besieging army follow in its train. Goodness is the staff of spiritual life; and when this fails, the gate is opened for the entrance of every pestilential, consuming, and destructive principle. Above all things is it, then, important for every man to know the plague of his own heart; and this we do spiritually when we know not only our general sinfulness, but our particular evils, and include that knowledge in the general confession of our sinfulness.
5. Those experiences which give the mind a sense of its inherent deficiencies in goodness and truth, inspire it with a desire to increase in the knowledge of these essential elements of eternal life. One who desires to be instructed in the knowledge of these principles, and, in the abstract sense, the desire itself to receive instruction, is signified by a sojourner; for those who came from a far country for the Lord’s name’s sake were in search of the wisdom which the children of Israel possessed. The fifth petition of Solomon’s prayer is, therefore, for the sojourner, that the Lord might do for him when he prayed towards the temple, all that he might call for. And the object of this request was not merely for the sake of the sojourner himself, but “that all people of the earth might know the name of the Lord, and fear Him, as the people Israel; “that is, that the influence of the Divine love and wisdom may be diffused over the whole mind—that the whole natural mind may yield a willing obedience to the Lord’s will, as well as the spiritual.
6. The sixth petition of the prayer of Solomon has, like the second, relation to war, but in this instance the people are spoken of as going out to battle against their enemy by the command of the Lord— “whithersoever You shall send them.” And here the prayer is that the Most High will maintain their cause when they pray towards the city which the Lord had chosen and the house that had been built for His name.
7. The seventh petition has also a relation to war, but the prayer in this is on behalf of the people when they sin, and when the Lord is angry with them and delivers them to the enemy so that they carry them away captives to the land of the enemy far or near. If they bethink themselves and repent, and make supplication, the Lord is entreated, not only to forgive them but to give them compassion before them that carried them away. All this literally happened to the people afterwards, when they were carried away captive into Babylon. And this captivity, like that of Egypt, represented the complete end of one state; and their deliverance and re-establishment in their own land represented the beginning of another. The Divine Being by whose inspiration Solomon delivered that beautiful prayer at the dedication of the temple foresaw the captivity of the people which was thus comprehended in it. But as that captivity was representative of the last and severest temptation which the spiritual undergo, in one state and stage of the new life, and through which they pass into another, it formed the last subject of that supplication which was designed to include all possible states in which the mind can feel the necessity of drawing near to God and seeking conjunction with Him. And here it is not deliverance that is immediately prayed for, but the compassion of their enemies towards them; as if the last stage was to subdue enmity itself, and turn their very captivity into freedom and their sorrow into joy.
When Solomon had made an end of praying, he rose from before the altar of the Lord from kneeling on his knees, with his hands spread up to heaven, and he stood and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice. One part of that blessing may well form the subject of our ardent desires: “The Lord our God be with us; let Him not leave us, nor forsake us: that He may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His commandments.”
God is truly with us in His Holy Temple: let it be our earnest desire that He may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways— those ways that He has Himself walked in while Himself a sojourner on the earth. These are ways of self-denial, integrity, holiness, meekness, mercy. He learned obedience by the things that He suffered. He fought, He thirsted, He hungered, He was led into captivity, even becoming captive to the last enemy, which is death. His captivity was but the last stage of His earthly life and was the gate of His glorious resurrection, by which He overcame death, and became, even as to His humanity, life itself, and the Author of life, spiritual and eternal, to all who follow Him in the regeneration.
If the Jews rejoiced at the consecration of the temple in which the Divine name might dwell in the midst of them, infinitely more may we rejoice that the Lord has opened up for us a new and living way of access to Himself, which He has consecrated through the evil, that is to say, His flesh. And if their fidelity and obedience were to be made more perfect as an offering of gratitude and a means of protection and blessing, immeasurably more should ours become so, when we have so much more to call forth our gratitude, and far more precious blessings to secure. While we offer up to our merciful Saviour the sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving, for grace so free and mercy so unbounded, let “our hearts be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes, and to keep His commandments, as at this day.”