1 Kings 8: 1-26 The Dedication of the Temple Begins
1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. 2 All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. 3 And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. 4 So they brought up the ark of the LORD, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 5 King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. 6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 7 For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 8 The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 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.
12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
14 Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 15 He said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying, 16 ‘Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.’ 17 My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. 18 But the LORD said to my father David, ‘You did well to consider building a house for my name; 19 nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 20 Now the LORD has upheld the promise that he made; for I have risen in the place of my father David; I sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. 21 There I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.”
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
The Construction and dedication of the temple of Solomon covers three long chapters of First Kings and this is the high point of the royal-temple establishment. To mark the beginning of the era of the temple of Solomon we have a complex interweaving of prayer and cultic leadership bringing together multiple theological perspective in this one recorded action. The generation of scholars who looked to discern the source material could easily find distinct theological voices which were brought together in this critical moment in the history of Israel. All wrapped up within this long celebration are things reflective of Israel’s past, the celebration of the completion of this massive project under Solomon, but it also foreshadows the future that Israel will encounter as Israel begins the long decent from this moment of jubilation.
The dedication of the temple occurs almost an entire year after its completion. This likely occurs to dedicate the temple during the festival of Succoth which marks the ending of the harvest and enables the people to be away from their fields for an extended period. The leaders of the tribes are the first people listed along with the elders of Israel, but as we have seen Solomon has also been replacing the traditional tribal leadership with a different set of leaders over the twelve regions of Israel. The ark of the covenant is brought to its new home in the temple with the priests bearing it like they did in previous ages, but now instead of a tent that travels with the ark there is a ‘permanent’ resting place. However, the poles extend beyond the dimensions of the inner sanctuary and their continued presence in the ark may highlight both the inability of the sanctuary to contain the LORD the God of Israel as well as the continued mobility of the God of Israel.
Yet, there is a shift of gravity taking place in Solomon’s dedication from the time when God did not choose any city or any tribe to build a house to the location of the temple in the city of David. Jerusalem now becomes Zion, the city of David and the city of the house of the LORD. The temple is intended to be a resting place for God and Solomon at his most audacious declares that this exalted house is to be a place where the LORD can ‘dwell’ forever. Yet, even within verse twelve and thirteen there is a tension not reflected in English. The LORD has declared that God will dwell (tabernacle-Hebrew sakan) in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell (be enthroned- Hebrew yasab) forever. (NIB III:70) The subtle change in wording may not seem like much but the divine promise to tabernacle or dwell among the people in their movement where the divine freedom is preserved, and God’s dwelling is conditional upon the people’s obedience to the commandments, ordinances, and statutes God has given them. Solomon’s enthroning notion in relation to God in the temple has the connotation of sitting permanently. Yet, as we saw in God’s words to Solomon in 1 Kings 5: 11-13, God’s presence and blessing is always conditional upon the obedience to the covenant. Despite the royal claims for God to be the patron of the Davidic regime, God’s presence is never to be taken for granted. The ark of the covenant cannot contain God, only the tablets of the covenant. This costly temple cannot contain God or permanently decide God’s favor.
Yet, in the moment when the ark of the covenant is placed within the inner sanctuary of the temple the presence of God makes itself felt. The cloud which fills the space echoes the presence of God in the dedication of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40: 34-35) and now the priests, like Moses, are unable to enter in this moment. This moment marks the culmination of the priestly hope for the presence of God among the people, and the temple now replaces the tabernacle as a place where Israel and the nations can come to seek out God. Now the city of David and the temple mountain are lifted up as a place for Israel and all the world to direct their prayers and their appeals to the God of Israel.
Solomon views this moment as a culmination of the promises made to his father David and as a demonstration of the faithfulness of the LORD toward David and himself. Solomon has already been informed that this covenant faithfulness requires both the LORD and Israel to keep faith, but Solomon asks for God’s continual provision of the monarchical line of David. The temple and the monarchy are two symbols that will be important for the people of Israel (or later the people of Judah) and often Zion/temple theology and royal theology are intertwined in this era of king and temple. However, there is always a countervailing covenant/Torah tradition within Israel’s relationship with their God. No matter the beauty of the temple, or the line of the ruler covenantal faithfulness remains the continual condition for the LORD’s presence among the people. As Walter Brueggemann can aptly state, “Yahweh’s presence among Yahweh’s people is much desired, but never easy, never obvious, always a problem.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 107)
1 Kings 8: 27-53 A Forward-Looking Prayer
27 “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! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
31 “If someone sins against a neighbor and is given an oath to swear, and comes and swears before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven, and act, and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing their conduct on their own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding them according to their righteousness.
33 “When your people Israel, having sinned against you, are defeated before an enemy but turn again to you, confess your name, pray and plead with you in this house, 34 then hear in heaven, forgive the sin of your people Israel, and bring them again to the land that you gave to their ancestors.
35 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, and then they pray toward this place, confess your name, and turn from their sin, because you punish them, 36 then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk; and grant rain on your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.
37 “If there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar; if their enemy besieges them in any of their cities; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is; 38 whatever prayer, whatever plea there is from any individual or from all your people Israel, all knowing the afflictions of their own hearts so that they stretch out their hands toward this house; 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts you know — according to all their ways, for only you know what is in every human heart — 40 so that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our ancestors.
41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 — for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm — when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.
44 “If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the LORD toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, 45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.
46 “If they sin against you — for there is no one who does not sin — and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; 47 yet if they come to their senses in the land to which they have been taken captive, and repent, and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned, and have done wrong; we have acted wickedly; 48 if they repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies, who took them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their ancestors, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name; 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you; and grant them compassion in the sight of their captors, so that they may have compassion on them 51 (for they are your people and heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron-smelter). 52 Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant, and to the plea of your people Israel, listening to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you have separated them from among all the peoples of the earth, to be your heritage, just as you promised through Moses, your servant, when you brought our ancestors out of Egypt, O Lord GOD.”
The inauguration of the temple is a critical moment in the narration of 1 Kings and therefore it is not surprising that this moment brings together numerous theological perspectives and unites them under Solomon’s voice. This forward-looking set of prayers foreshadows the remaining narrative of First and Second Kings which has the people frequently encountering God’s judgment for their lack of faithfulness which ends in their captivity. The prayer looks to a future where the people’s lack of faithfulness leaves them with only the option of prayerful repentance and reliance upon God’s hearing and responding to their petitions gracefully.
In contrast to the previous words of Solomon desiring God to dwell in this magnificent house, now the words placed in Solomon’s prayer declare this is impossible. The house, like the ark and tabernacle before it, cannot bear God. The earth and the heavens are not enough to contain God. As Choon-Leong Seow states:
The Temple is neither God’s residence nor the place where the petitioner personally encounters the deity. Rather, it is a place at which the needs of the petitioner coincide with the willingness of the deity to respond. The Temple is not the place where the person of God is; rather it is merely the place where God’s presence may be known, where the authority of God is proclaimed. (NIB III: 75)
The list of troubles that may come upon Israel bear several similarities to the lists in Leviticus 26: 14-39 and Deuteronomy 28: 15-68. Within the Torah there is blessings for obedience and consequences/curses for disobedience. The prayer also shares several similarities to the narrative of Judges where the people continue in disobedience until they call upon the LORD for their God to deliver them. This prayer to the people dealing with famine, defeat, or exile may provide hope that their separation from God’s blessing is not permanent and that despite their unworthiness God will hear and respond in forgiveness, acceptance, and reclaim the people.
Within this prayer the expectation goes to people beyond the boundaries of Israel calling upon God’s name. The non-Israelite calling upon the LORD is the foreigner who does not reside in Israel (nokri) instead of the resident alien (ger). (Cogan, 2001, p. 286) This fits with the prophetic hope of prophets like Isaiah looking at the nations gathering around Mount Zion:
In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all nations shall stream to it. Many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction. Isaiah 2: 2-3
People like Naaman, the Queen of Sheba, the sailors in the story of Jonah, and countless other foreigners are expected to see the obedience and the prosperity of the Hebrew people and want to know their God’s way. This moment of great expectations sees the dedication of the temple as the center of the story of Israel and now the city and the temple are theologically the center of the world because it is a place where God’s presence may be known. The temple may not be able to contain God’s presence, but it still remains an important space in the life of the people.
1 Kings 8: 54-66
54 Now when Solomon finished offering all this prayer and this plea to the LORD, he arose from facing the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven; 55 he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice:
56 “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel according to all that he promised; not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke through his servant Moses. 57 The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he not leave us or abandon us, 58 but incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires; 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. 61 Therefore devote yourselves completely to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”
62 Then the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the LORD. 63 Solomon offered as sacrifices of well-being to the LORD twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD. 64 The same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was in front of the house of the LORD; for there he offered the burnt offerings and the grain offerings and the fat pieces of the sacrifices of well-being, because the bronze altar that was before the LORD was too small to receive the burnt offerings and the grain offerings and the fat pieces of the sacrifices of well-being.
65 So Solomon held the festival at that time, and all Israel with him — a great assembly, people from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt — before the LORD our God, seven days. 66 On the eighth day he sent the people away; and they blessed the king, and went to their tents, joyful and in good spirits because of all the goodness that the LORD had shown to his servant David and to his people Israel.
The commemoration of the temple concludes on a note that echoes the words of Joshua to the people at the completion of the occupation of the promised land: Not one of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21: 45) Now God’s fidelity is linked to the completion of the temple. As mentioned earlier there is the view in 1 Kings that the completion of the temple is the high point of the story that begins with the occupation of the promised land and runs through Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings. Looking backwards upon the story from the end at the exile there is a knowledge that “the royal-temple establishment does not quite work.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 119)
The massive feast that the dedication becomes with the sacrifice of twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep would be a week-long indulgence for the people. On the one hand it is a communal gathering celebrating the completion of the temple and the abundance that the LORD has provided. It is easy from a modern perspective to view this as excessive and a commoditization of religion, but a gathering of the entire population for a week would involve feeding a very large congregation. The number may be an exaggeration, but we also are part of a culture that views life through the lens of scarcity. For the people of Israel who have labored and sacrificed for seven years to come to this moment this is a time of feasting.