The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.The Dedication of the Temple
1 Kings 8
IT is remarkable in connection with the dedication of the temple how the leading part was taken throughout by king Solomon. One would have thought that in the dedication of a sanctuary the leading men would have been the priests, Levites, scribes, and other persons distinctively identified with religious functions and responsibilities. We find, however, that exactly the contrary is the case. The priest occupied a second and tributary position, but it is the king who consecrates the sanctuary, and it is the king who offers the great prayer at its dedication. The question arises, Was not Solomon in reality more than king? Or, being a king, was he not, according to the divine ideal of Israel, a priest unto God? Did he not indeed occupy a kind of typical position as being in anticipation none other than the great high priest Jesus Christ himself? The kingship and the priesthood are combined in the Christian character of the later dispensation: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation." This is precisely what Solomon was, namely, a "royal priest!" We are not, therefore, to look upon Solomon as merely in some official capacity superseding all the officers, and dignitaries of the nation, but as in a mysterious way overshadowing the system of things that was to be under the reign of the true Melchisedek. This is further illustrated by the circumstance that "king Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel, that were assembled unto him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude" (1Kings 8:5). The counterpart of this we find in the epistle to the Hebrews, where we read that "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;" and again, "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." We take it, therefore, that in the instance before us there is no authority for kings merely as such, that is to say, in their strictly official capacity, to take a leading part in religious ceremonials. Bright indeed will be the day when every king as a man, a Christian, a loyal servant of Christ, shall take part in everything that concerns the sanctuary; but this is a very different thing from calling upon a royal personage simply on the ground of his royalty to sanctify a religious occasion by the exercise of royal prerogatives.
Solomon and his associates having done all in their power to bring the temple to a completion, we read, as in the case of the tabernacle erected by Moses, that "it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord" (1Kings 8:10). So intense was the manifestation of the divine presence, "that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord" (1Kings 8:11). It was precisely the same in the case of Moses, concerning whom we read, "And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." The conclusion of man's work would seem to be the beginning of God's; in other words, when man can go no further, God takes up the line of revelation, and continues it to the limit of human capacity. As we saw in the case of Moses, so in the case of Solomon we see that we have no right to expect the divine presence until our human resources have been exhausted. This indeed is the condition upon which the Almighty has worked in all the dispensations of providence. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." We know, therefore, the way by which to secure the divine revelation amongst us: sighing, repining, moaning, rebuking one another, criticism of methods may all be dismissed as utterly futile; we can only rely upon the disclosure of the divine presence by doing all that within us lies to fulfil our own personal religious duty. We have seen how Solomon and his associates worked, how heartily and lovingly they laboured together in the construction of the temple; and now when we read that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, and the glory of the Lord was dazzlingly shown, we feel as if we had concluded, not an ebullition of sentiment, but a process of logic. The glory of the Lord follows sequentially, as if by a gracious necessity, upon all the labour which Solomon and his colleagues had laboured to do.
Now we approach the great prayer by which the temple was dedicated. The house itself was nothing. It was but a gilded sepulchre, an elaborate and costly vacancy. First of all, therefore, we stand convinced that however much we may do technically, it can only be regarded as in a preparatory or introductory capacity. We can build the house, but we cannot supply the tenant. Solomon and those united with him in this holy labour did not walk round about the temple saying, Behold how beautiful a thing we have created, how lavish has been the generosity of Hiram, and how skilful have been the men whose hands fashioned all this beauty! Not a word of praise do we hear concerning their own work; they seem rather to hasten into the house that they may behold some manifestation of the divine presence and rejoice that God was still king and ruler in Israel. It is beautiful to notice that even at this early period of religious development the spiritual ruled over the material, and the revelation of God even in the mystery of a cloud was considered an infinitely greater thing than all the architectural wonder which had been embodied by the genius and munificence of kings.
Solomon's conception of the personality and dignity of God stands out quite conspicuously in the pages of history for its unrivalled sublimity. He speaks as one who was well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom. In this prayer of Solomon's there is what some persons often mistakenly call preaching even in the language of devotion. We are tempted to form too narrow a conception of prayer, and then to exclude from prayer much that in reality belongs to the very spirit and essence of communion. Solomon here tells God what he is, magnifies his attributes, adores his personality, as if giving God information regarding his own Deity; this would be the shallow criticism passed upon the prayer by those who do not understand what prayer is in all its scope and grandeur. Prayer is not request only, it is fellowship, communion, identification with God; it is the soul pouring itself out just as it will in all the tender compulsion of love, asking God for blessings, praising God for mercies, committing itself to God in view of all the mystery and peril of the future. When we enlarge our idea of prayer so as to take in all its meaning, we shall find that many a man has been praying who thought he was only preaching or discoursing upon the attributes of God. It is marvellous how in the Old Testament darkness is brought in as if it had been specially chosen for sacred purposes by the living God. Thus Solomon: "The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness." Thus the psalmist: "He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies;" and the psalmist again: "Clouds and darkness are round about him;" and Isaiah says, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself."
Solomon having thus addressed the God of Israel, turns to providence as revealed in the history of the chosen people, goes back even so far as the bringing-forth of Israel out of Egypt, and indicates point after point, at least suggestively, until David was elected to reign over the people Israel, and purposed as king to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. Solomon does not take the whole credit to himself for the origination of this idea of the temple. He connects his action with the purpose that was in the heart of David his father—"And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord. God of Israel" (1Kings 8:17). Solomon could not but remember this, for David had made a special communication to him upon the subject—"And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God." In his prayer Solomon does not refer to the reason which had formerly been given by himself to Hiram for God rejecting the purposed temple on the part of David. Solomon puts the case with exquisite delicacy: "And the Lord said unto David my father, Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart"(1Kings 8:18). Thus the purpose was commended as if itself had been a temple. We must not neglect the great principle which is suggested by this commendation. We shall be credited with doing many things which we only purposed to do. If we make a vow and indolently fail to fulfil it, then that vow shall be reckoned against us, and it shall be turned into an element increasing the severity of our judgment; but if for some reason, over which we have no control, we are unable to complete our wishes, or embody our intentions in actual fact, God will look upon those intentions as being themselves acceptable, and he will commend us as if we had brought them to maturity. "The Lord is very pitiful and kind." The Lord is infinitely generous in all his construction of human motive and purpose. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he reading the heart; and knowing how human life is limited by uncontrollable circumstances, it shall be found at the last that many who were by no means conspicuous for Christian activity have really been amongst the leaders of the age in which they were unknown. A purpose will be regarded in heaven as equivalent to a prayer, and the answer to that prayer may come through others rather than to and through the suppliant himself. One man prays and another receives the answer, as one man sows and another reaps; thus the interblending of human interests and relations is again and again illustrated from a thousand various points.
The temple, so beautiful and so costly, is not to be associated with anything that is merely religiously mystic. This is not a tent of superstition, nor a habitation created for the purpose of indulging spiritual romances which can never have any bearing upon actual human life. Throughout his prayer we discover on the part of Solomon how thoroughly he identifies the house of God with all human interests. We have seen before that the house of God is really the house of man, and that being in the largest sense the house of man, it becomes through that very circumstance the house of God. The sanctuary should always be regarded as the home of the people. It is in the sanctuary that human life should be interpreted in all the meaning of its pain and tragedy. Men should be able to say, Now that we are baffled and perplexed by the things which are round about us in this world, and now that we find ourselves utterly unable to solve the problems which crowd upon our distracted minds, let us go unto the house of the Lord, for there we shall feel upon our souls the breath of eternity, and there we shall hear music which will quiet the tumult which carnal reason can neither explain nor control. Dark will be the day when men can hear nothing in the sanctuary but words which they cannot understand, references which have no bearing upon immediate agony, and discussions which simply titilate the intellect and the fancy but never reach the dark and mortal sorrows of the heart.
In the twenty-seventh verse Solomon raises the question of all-ages:
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (1Kings 8:27)
How natural it is that human imagination should be confounded by the impossibility of the infinite God locating himself within finite space. We do not consider that it is because God is infinite that he can so to say thus become finite. The finite never can become infinite, but it would seem to belong to infinite perfection to adapt itself to human limitation and necessity. God himself has addressed the ages in a tone precisely coincident with the language of Solomon: "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?" Solomon was therefore strictly within the line of revelation when he propounded the solemn inquiry. Everything depends upon our point of view in considering this great question of God's condescension. Working from the point of our mere reverence, it would seem to delight us to put away the idea that God can trouble himself with any creature, how radiant and noble soever, which he has created: between the highest angel and himself there must always be the distance of infinity: so our very reverence may be turned into an instrument of temptation, or may be so perverted as to exclude from us all the blessings of heaven. This is a very subtle temptation, and is to be guarded against with no ordinary watchfulness. Strange as it may appear, man may think himself able to evade certain responsibilities by reducing his own dignity to a minimum and commenting in a tone of self-deprecation upon his littleness and worthlessness. On the other hand, the Christian teacher must insist that the very greatness of God constitutes no small part of his ability to accommodate himself to all the circumstances which mark the history of right. Let us therefore rather dwell upon the goodness of God than upon his majesty: upon his purpose in creating us, rather than upon his contempt for the things which he has created: whilst it is right to suppress anything like vanity concerning our own importance, it is also right to suppose that the purpose of God in our creation is his best warrant for coming to us in our insignificance and humiliation.
One might well think that the millennium had set in with the solemn dedication of the temple, and that all things would begin anew, and certainly that the time of tragedy, rebellion, and suffering had for ever passed away. We find however that Solomon orders his prayer in such a manner and tone as to recognise distinctly the fact that all things which had ever occurred which could try the faith, the patience, and the virtue of men would occur again and again to the end of the chapter. Thus we find in the prayer such words as these:—"If any man trespass against his neighbour;" "When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy"; "When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain; "If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities;" "If thy people go out to battle against their enemy;" "If they sin against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not)" (1Kings 8:31-46). These are remarkable words to have been used upon such an occasion as the dedication of the temple. They show a wonderful conception of human life on the part of the royal suppliant He does not say, Now that this temple is erected there will be no more plague, nor sin, nor war, nor difficulty in human life: God will now from this point of time so order things that there will be no more sin, nor crying, nor pain, nor death; this temple shall be as heaven upon the earth. No; on the contrary: though the temple stands as a monument of human piety and as a fulfilment of a divine promise, human life will go on in all the variety of its experience much as it had gone on from the beginning. What then, is there nothing in the point of history thus established by the building of this holy house? Henceforth it is to be understood that whatever happens admits of religious treatment, and is to be taken to the temple itself for consideration and adjustment God does not prevent many things which are even evil and distressing; but he overrules all things to high ends. We cannot enter into the reasons which limit what may be termed the preventive ministry of God: we wonder indeed that Satan is permitted to live: that he is not slain in the night-time and prevented from ever going about as a roaring lion: why this does not take place we cannot tell: to such enigmas there is no reply. Our satisfaction is to know that even Satan is in the hands of the living God, and that he may be used in some mysterious way for assisting the spiritual education of the world. It is something to know that our real necessities are named in prayer, and are regarded by wise and great men as subjects for divine treatment and blessing. It does the heart good to hear one's own peculiar sorrow named in the prayer which is offered in the great congregation. A tender nearness is thus realised without the irritation of conscious personality. We feel that the pastor who thus prays understands human nature, looks upon human history with wise eyes, and knows exactly what blessings to ask for when he pleads with the king of heaven. Prayers that consist exclusively of adoration may exalt our sense of reverence; but prayers that descend into the details of personal suffering and loss come most healingly to the heart with all the gracious comfort of heaven. Such was the prayer of Solomon. The people who heard it heard their own history treated from a religious point of view; and they must have been conscious that judgment did not lie far from the language of entreaty.
Solomon recognises God as the ruler of providence and the controller of all nature. He is not afraid to trace the absence of rain to an ordinance of the Most High. A perusal of the history of his own people would make it clear that from early times God had been recognised as ruling over the elements of nature—"I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass." "Thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron." "Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains." Not only is God regarded as ruling over providence and nature, but as penetrating human hearts and reading human motives—"Give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men)." If there is one truth in the holy record presented more consistently than another it is this power of God to read the human soul. "The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts." "The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men." "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off." Nor is this a discovery on the part of man, it is a distinct revelation on the part of God himself—"I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." "All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works." Thus is the dominion of God enlarged by the religious imagination of Solomon; and thus, from the other point of view, is the revelation of God confirmed by the testimony of those who have most profoundly studied his ways and purposes in the earth.
Let us rejoice in view of all this historical detail, and in view of all the ceremonialism embodied in the temple of Solomon, that we "are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest;" we "are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." The great mystery of sacrifice for sin has been accomplished once for all. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. We are not to rest in this assurance as in an abstract doctrine, but are to apply it to practical uses—"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." We have also come to greater simplicity in prayer. Compare the prayer which Jesus Christ offered as an example unto his disciples with the prayer which Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple, and mark in the contrast the development in spiritual thought and religious feeling which is thus indicated. But every man must pray in his own tongue wherein he was born; it is natural for some men to use the language of highest adoration, almost to sing psalms in the midst of their religious exercises before the throne, to dwell with minuteness of detail upon all the care and love of God as shown in the providence of life; in all these matters each man must be faithful to his own constitution and temperament. In this, as in all other things, the fear of man bringeth a snare; so when we pray we must forget human criticism, and in our own way come to the throne of the heavenly grace, telling God all that is in our hearts, and asking from him such things as we think we have need of.
Solomon, having ended his prayer, "arose 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," and in that blessing he made one declaration which cannot but be quoted from age to age with increasing emphasis and joy,—"there hath not failed one word of all his good promise." This is the continual testimony of the Church. "There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass." "Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you and not one thing hath failed thereof." Thus with hardly any variation of language is the continuance of the divine goodness reaffirmed. This is matter of personal experience. Every man can examine his own life, and see wherein he has been faithful, and wherein he has been faithless, and say distinctly whether faithfulness has not been followed by benediction, and faithlessness by disapprobation. Many promises remain yet to be fulfilled. Specially there remains the promise to be fulfilled that God will be with his people in the valley of the shadow of death. There is no discharge in that war! Every man must fight that tremendous battle alone; there comes a moment when human friendship and human love can do nothing for him but pray and watch and hope: let us so live that when we come to the hour and the article of death we may be surprised by the gentleness of God in his way of taking up his people unto himself, and may the only question which we have to ask of death be, Where is thy sting? and of the grave, Where is thy victory? These triumphant conditions can only be realised by continual and growing faith in him who is the resurrection and the life. Let us be thankful for temples and sanctuaries of every name whilst we are upon the earth, and so live, and think, and grow in grace that all these things shall appear to us as small compared with the revelation which is yet to be made of the infinite spaces, the radiant heavens, the everlasting liberties of celestial citizenship.
After seven years and a half the work was completed, and the day came to which all Israelites looked back as the culminating glory of their nation. Their worship was now established on a scale as stately as that of other nations, while it yet retained its freedom from all worship that could possibly become idolatrous. Instead of two rival sanctuaries, as before, there was to be one only. The ark from Zion, the tabernacle from Gibeon, were both removed (2Chronicles 5:5) and brought to the new temple. The choirs of the priests and Levites met in their fullest force, arrayed in white linen. Then, it may be, for the first time, was heard the noble hymn, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in." The trumpeters and singers were "as one" in their mighty Hallelujah—"O praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever" (2Chronicles 5:13). Throughout the whole scene the person of king Solomon is the one central object, compared with whom even priests and prophets are for the time subordinate. Abstaining, doubtless, from distinctively priestly acts, such as slaying the victims and offering incense, he yet appears, even more than David did in the bringing up of the ark, in a liturgical character. He, and not Zadok, blesses the congregation, offers up the solemn prayer, dedicates the temple. The solemn day was followed by a week of festival, synchronising with the Feast of Tabernacles, the time of the completed vintage. Representatives of all the tribes, elders, fathers, captains, proselytes, it may be, from the newly-acquired territories in Northern Syria (2Chronicles 6:32; 2Chronicles 7:8)—all were assembled, rejoicing in the actual glory and the bright hopes of Israel. For the king himself then, or at a later period (the narrative of 1 Kings 9 and 2 Chronicles 7 leaves it doubtful) there was a strange contrast to the glory of that day. There was a danger near at hand.
Almighty God, we bless thee that thy tabernacle is with men upon the earth. Thou hast a house even here, in the very world which has been spoiled and darkened by sin. Thou hast not forsaken the prodigal earth; still there remain upon it proofs of thy daily care, thy continual and abounding love; still, therefore, may we say, The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, and the fulness of the sea is also thine. We thank thee for the house which is as a strong tower to which we may continually resort. When thou dost shut the door, no man can open it; when thou hast enclosed us within the rock of thy protection, no enemy can come nigh unto us. Have us ever in thy holy keeping; give us to feel that thou dost so value us, through Jesus Christ thy Son, that no hair of our head shall be hurt, nor shall the smell of fire pass upon us in the furnace of trial. If thou wilt thus comfort us, thy comfort will become our strength; we shall be inspired by it, and repay all the tender solace by fuller obedience and more urgent industry; so shalt thou have answer to thine own reply: we pray unto thee, and thou dost answer us, and we return our reply in life well spent because of the inspiration and sustenance of the Holy Ghost. Our whole life is thine: the shape and purpose thereof thou knowest, and the end of it, soon or late, stands clearly before thee. Thou dost see the end from the beginning. There is no beginning to thee, nor is there any end. Thou sittest upon the circle of eternity. All things are set before thee now and evermore. Enable us, therefore, without urgency and impatience, to await the will of God, and to do that will with all love, simplicity, and earnestness; knowing that whether the Son of man come early or late, at midday or at midnight, we shall be ready, by the grace which he has given, to begin the eternal feast at his bidding. We commend one another to thy loving care. Thou knowest what a trial life is to many: how heavy its burdens, how entangled its perplexities, how stinging its disappointments, and how its fairest buds are often blighted and withered ere they be fully shaped. Thou knowest all these things. Thou knowest what medicine we have need of to heal our diseases, what comforts we specially need to overcome the severest distresses, and nothing wilt thou withhold from us that is good for the upholding and strengthening of our frail life. The Lord's own morning shine upon us; the light that is above the brightness of the sun make day for us, and that day shall be as the summer of heaven. We pray now and always in the sweet name of Jesus, the great name Jesus Christ, the glorious name: Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Herein we know not the meaning of all we say, but the saying of it, under the inspiration of thy Spirit, makes our hearts warm, and makes life worth living. Amen.