YEAR B: PENTECOST 12
August 23, 2009
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
The long story of David and Solomon which the lectionary readings have been tracing this Pentecost season comes to a conclusion this week with the story of Solomonís dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. This is, of course, not the end of the story of Solomon in the Books of Kings. Following this episode we read of Solomonís great wealth and then of his downfall (1 Kings 10-11). The kingdom which had been united under David and Solomon then splits in two, into the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. This split was principally due to Solomonís son, Rehoboam, oppressing the tribes of the north with heavy taxes and scant regard for their wishes (1 Kings 12). However, there is ample evidence on a closer reading, that the seeds for the division of the kingdom were sown during Solomonís reign. In the lectionary, though, we do not hear of this story, at least not in Year B. The emphasis is on the fulfilment of the promise of the Lord to the house of David (2 Samuel 7; see Pentecost 7) and on the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, the sign of the Lordís presence among his people.
1 Kings 5-7 describe in great detail the plans for the construction of the temple and the execution of the work. This focus on architectural detail might seem a curiosity to the modern reader. We need to remember, however, that beside the royal palace temples were the most important buildings in ancient cities. The temple was not just a building where people would worship, and its architecture of secondary interest except for those who are concerned for budgets. This building was a symbol of the presence of God with the people. As Solomonís prayer makes clear (esp. 1 Kgs 8:27-30), the people knew that the Lord resided in the heavens. Yet the earthly temple was the place where the Lordís name resided (cf. vv. 16-20). This was a way of speaking about the presence of the Lord while recognising that God was of another dimension, neither defined nor confined by the material world. That is not to say the temple was of little importance. On the contrary it was extremely important, functioning in the way all true symbols do, at once pointing to a reality beyond itself but also participating in that reality.
1 Kgs 8:1-13 describe how the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to Jerusalem from the city of David, or Zion (cf. Psalm 132). This was a very important event as the elaborate celebrations make clear. It was also important theologically from the writerís point of view. There is not only reference to the Ark in these verses but to all the elements related to the Lordís presence with his people in the exodus out of Egypt and on their journey in the wilderness: the tent of meeting, the holy vessels in the tent, the priests and Levites, the cherubim, the tablets of the law, Moses, Mt. Horeb and the covenant, and the cloud which descended on the tent. In the next section (vv. 14-21) Solomon begins his dedication prayer with reference to the Lord who brought his people out of Egypt (v. 16). It is important theologically that a strong connection be made between the wilderness traditions and the later temple tradition. This was also, no doubt, of great importance for the Davidic dynasty as it strove to cement its place in Israelís history.
But while there is reference to these older traditions it is clear that this passage shows signs of later priestly editorial work. The mention of Ďpriests and Levitesí (v. 5) is a case in point since this was a later distinction between priestly offices. It most likely indicates a post-exilic editor, as does the reference to the autumn festival in the seventh month (v. 2). The account of the dedication of the temple is thereby preserved not just as a record of a past event, however significant, but as a story which speaks to a later Ďpresent timeí.
Solomonís prayer of dedication is an acknowledgment and celebration of the Lord who has kept the covenant with his people and is faithful to his promises (vv. 23-24). Verses 22-26 confirm Solomonís belief in this God, and the hope, expressed in an entreaty, that God will continue to provide successors to the throne of Israel.
Verses 27Ė30 recognize the Lordís greatness and, as mentioned above, unlimited presence. Not even the highest heaven can contain the God whose presence is symbolised by the temple now dedicated (v. 27). The implication is also that nothing can control this God. Solomon takes on a humble attitude as he pleads that the Lordís attention be turned toward the house he has built. In particular, the king asks that the Lord will hear his own prayers, as he Ďprays toward this placeí (v. 29).
The prayer develops through vv. 31-53 in a series of petitions asking the Lord to hear his people when they pray in various circumstances towards the temple: when they sin against a neighbour (vv. 31-32), when they suffer defeat (vv. 33-34), when there is drought (vv. 35-36), when there is famine (vv. 37-40) and when they go to battle (vv. 44-45). Solomon prays, in a passage set for today, that even the foreigner who prays toward this place will be heard (vv. 41-43). The prayer finishes with a longer petition asking that even when the Lordís people are carried away captive to foreign lands that if they repent and pray toward the temple the Lord will hear them and grant them compassion (vv. 46-53). This last section brings the prayer full circle with another reference to the exodus (v. 51). Even the exile, which is alluded to in these verses, would not prevent either the people praying to the Lord, or the Lord hearing their prayers.
The last section is clearly an editorial expansion reflecting post-exilic theology. Such development understands the Lord as everywhere, not contained within one land. While in exile some of the Israelites encountered the Lord in a foreign land, many miles from the Lordís supposed dwelling place in the temple in Jerusalem. At this time the practice of praying towards Jerusalem developed (vv. 29-30). It reminded the people of their God, their homeland, and their heritage as the chosen people of God. It was a practice maintained for millennia by Jews exiled from the land of Israel.
Verses 41Ė 43 are even more revealing concerning the understanding of prayer. The Lord is not just the property of the people of Israel. Alongside this growing understanding of the Lord is the generous view of foreigners expressed in these verses. The experience in exile acquainted the Israelites with many foreign peoples and their common humanity. Some foreigners were even attracted to the religion of the Israelites. Solomonís prayer (updated to encompass this new situation) calls on the Lord to regard the prayers of foreigners toward the temple in Jerusalem as of equal importance with those of the people of Israel.
Solomonís prayer of dedication of the temple is important in understanding prayer. Even in those situations where the people have sinned, Solomon asks the Lord to give attention to their prayers, requesting that the Lordís eyes might be open to the plea of his people (v. 52). This is no small petition given the fact that Solomon has described the Lord as one whom not even the highest heaven can contain (v. 27). Solomon alludes to the incomparable grace of the Lord which extends from heavenly realms beyond imagination down to the disagreements between neighbours. The temple, which he is dedicating, is not only a symbol of the Lordís presence among his people, but of the grace of one who hears the pleas of those in need.
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