So in 1 Kings 8, there’s this fabulously beautiful speech Solomon makes to dedicate the temple. It definitely makes the most impact when read out loud, because then you can hear the rhythm and repetition: “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, hear in heaven….When heaven is shut up and there is no rain, then hear your people….If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates…whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act.”
He goes on like this for eight paragraphs before he comes to his benediction, imploring the Lord to come and inhabit this house, be shrouded in darkness no longer but to hear his people when they cry, even when they make mistakes, even when all seems lost, if they even stretch out their hands in the direction of his temple–hear, O God.
And this is amazing to me because in the Old Testament they didn’t yet have a new covenant; they had to go through priests and rituals and sacrifices over and over and the priest had to wear a bell in case he be struck dead in the presence of God and yet they were confident in their prayer, God dwell among us, God hear us. And yet even though we do have the new covenant and we don’t have the constraints of the Old Testament, the curtain was torn and the sacrifice completed, sometimes we still feel like God doesn’t hear. That he’s still so far away. That he is distant and unknowable and unreachable and unaffected and unimplorable. Right?
But this is amazing to me, because when I read Solomon’s prayer it gives me chills because God has fulfilled the promise, he has heard his people’s cry. He has been faithful and he has never let us go. He told Isaiah, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Come, gather together, and draw near, you fugitives of the nations.” In Thessalonians Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
This passage is amazing to me, because it shows how the promise has been fulfilled. Look back at your own life–can you see it? Maybe not yet–but you will.
And remember, this is Solomon praying this. I remember growing up in Sunday School, learning about the first three kings of Israel, right? Saul was bad, David was good, Solomon was wise but he had too many wives. Boom, I just summarized I Samuel through the first half of I Kings for you right there, right?
We do this, don’t we? Make these men into legends, epitomizing them as good or evil? But we forget that these aren’t just characters in a story meant to teach us a lesson. They were real people, living real lives and so their choices and actions are just the fleshing out of a complex consciousness as real and full as yours.
There was a study once that found that people tended to describe others in terms of absolutes. “He’s really attractive,” “She’s hilarious,” “He’s a jerk,” as if that characteristic were a constant feature of their personhood. But when they described themselves, they tended to speak in relative terms: “I’m having a bad day today,” or “It’s a good hair day.”
I feel like we do this with the Bible, too. Like when we read the story of how Solomon’s brother Adonijah was setting himself up as king (1 Kings 1). A lot of times, this is painted as a deceitful power grab. And yeah, Adonijah was jumping the gun a little. But he was the oldest, and he had good reason to expect the throne. It’s partly on David for not sorting this out until, like, the day he was about to die. But you can see how this would happen, too. It’s not exactly a fun conversation. And Adonijah might’ve suspected, based on who he left off the guest list. But maybe he was just playing his cards wisely.
It’s the same with Solomon. He’s the epitome of following God…some of the time. And we say that so judgmentally, like, of course he should have followed God all the time with his whole heart. But how many of us can say the same?
For instance, look at the time he spent building the temple (7 years) versus his own palace (13 years). In fact, he paused the temple once the construction was completed and didn’t furnish it until he was done building his palace, oh, and one for his Egyptian wife he wasn’t supposed to take. It’s easy to look at that and be like, Solomon! What are you doing, man? Get your priorities straight! But how many of us find it easy to put God on hold, just for a little while? How much time are you spending on your palaces, and how much in the temple?
Once these actions are written down and crystallized into factual Biblical text, it’s easy to not think about the internal thought process behind them. Did Solomon care about the temple? Of course! 1 Kings 8 is full of this incredible passion and humility for God’s house, and an awe of who God is. But sometimes, he let his palaces get in the way of his passion for the temple.
How often do you do the same?