A House for God
1 Kings 8:22 – 61
A House for God
Solomon knows his God – 3 truths
If you’ve ever been at the opening of some new church building,
Or perhaps a building for a Christian organization, or a Christian school.
I wonder if there were any similarities between what you witnessed and what we find here in 1 Kings 8.
You might like to compare and contrast those over lunch or something,
Not so many cattle and sheep being slaughtered, I imagine, but, a big gathering of people, some ritual and symbolism, no little red curtain being drawn back from a plaque here,
But probably some sort of prayer of dedication.
But what I find interesting about Solomon’s prayer of dedication is that not really a prayer about the building.
It is but it isn’t.
He mentions the temple all the way through,
But really the prayer of dedication, is a prayer that, just as God has kept his promises,
And been faithful to Israel,
And been merciful, and gracious, and forgiving, in the past,
Solomon prays that he will continue to do so in the future,
And he prays that the temple might be part of the means by which that happens.
And so where I’d like us to start this morning, is with 3 truths that Solomon teaches about God,
3 truths that shape Solomon’s prayer, and give him the confidence to approach God.
God is incomparable
Look at verse 23 with me if you will, Solomon begins his prayer saying God is incomparable,
O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below
Now, to say there is no God like you, doesn’t mean that actually there are some other gods, and it’s just that the God of Israel happens to be the top of the heap.
No, Solomon prays down in verse 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.
We sing a song that reminds us of this, sometimes on Sunday mornings, It’s called Indescribable, and it picks up the words from Job 38 among other places, reminding us that God is unique, incomparable, that what God sees,
And holds in his hand,
No one else is like that, there is no other god, like our God.
That in itself give us great confidence for prayer, doesn’t it?
Why do you pray to God?
Why are we praying for non-Christian friends?
Why don’t we just invite them to debate with us,
Or why not introduce them to our smartest Christian friend, who will answer all their questions.
We pray to God, because there are some things that only God sees,
And only God knows,
And only God can do something about.
In the staffroom of our daughter’s school, someone has taken to writing “inspirational quotes” on the whiteboard, and I can see them through the window, as I go down to Heidi’s class.
And last week someone had written a classic Ghandi quote, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Which, you know, as much as it tells you to get off your backside and do something, is fair enough.
But those words just perpetuate that humanist fantasy, that all humanity needs to do is set its mind to something, set our minds to something, and we’ll achieve anything.
But there is some change that is impossible for us to bring, no matter how desperately we want it,
Some change that no human, or philosophy, or religion, or activity can bring about, and so a God who is incomparably beyond any earthly power is a wonderful God to know, and a wonderful God pray to.
In fact, I was tempted to sneak into the staffroom, and underneath the Ghandi quote, write Jesus’ words from Luke 18:27, What is impossible with people in possible with God. But I was too chicken! Even when you’re a grownup, the staffroom’s pretty scary!
But Solomon launches into his prayer, confident that God is incomparable, and one of the specific areas in which he knows that God is without equal, is in his faithfulness to his promises.
God is Faithful
“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you - you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.
God is consistent and faithful.
He doesn’t say one thing with his mouth, and do something different with his hand.
These are called “anthropomorphisms”, just a fancy way of saying, talking about God as if he had actual human body parts.
We say “God’s mouth”, meaning that he speaks,
We speak of “God hands”, as a way of saying, he does things, and Solomon’s confidence is that God’s words and actions match up.
There’s never a case of God’s left hand, not knowing what his right hand is doing, to .. further the anthropomorphism!
And so Solomon prays, knowing that God is faithful to his word,
And faithful to his people.
He asks that God will continue to act for his people in the future, just as he has acted for them in the past.
See verse 26, And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.
Solomon’s saying “In the past, You made promises, and you fulfilled them, you were faithful to your word.
And now I’m calling on you to keep fulfilling your promises.
Because the 7 petitions in this section, they’re not new prayers.
When we put together our prayer points for Sunday mornings, we call the people in the ministries we’re praying for, and we say, “can you send us some prayer points so we can pray for you.”
Sometimes they don’t get around to sending us the prayer points, and then we have to think of things to pray for them.
But Solomon hasn’t done that.
He hasn’t sat down, and thought “hmmm, 7’s a good number, I’ll pray for 7 things.
Ummm, forgiveness is good, I’ll pray for forgiveness,
Getting back in the land if we ever get kicked out, that would be a good thing, yep, I’ll pray for that.
Foreigners, pray for foreigners, nice thing to do.
What’s that, that’s 3, ”
Solomon’s not making up prayer points.
These aren’t words off the top of his head.
This whole prayer, is lifted straight out of promises from God’s own mouth.
So Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 27 and 28, if you read those chapters, you’ll see that God has already promised to do the things that Solomon now asks him to do.
Convinced that God is faithful,
That what his mouth speaks, his hand brings about, Solomon prays, and asks God to act in accordance with his word.
Again, a great model for prayer.
Praying that God will bring about the things he has promised his people.
Praying for things that God has said are important,
Praying for yourself and others, that we would be the people God has said he wants us to be.
God is Both Immanent and transcendent
Solomon’s prayer depends also on his assurance that God is both immanent and transcendent.
They’re kind of .. weird words, let me explain:
Immanence is God’s presence and activity within creation. Specifically here, Solomon is mindful of God’s presence in the temple.
See the second part of verse 28, Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.
Solomon knows he is in the presence of God.
Or jump down to verse 35, when there’s a drought, because of sin, what are the people to do?
They pray toward this place, pray towards the temple, or verse 38, the people spread out their hands towards the temple.
Why the temple?
Why not just face a tree? God made the tree, why not just pray to that?
They pray towards the temple because that is where God’s presence dwells in a unique and special way.
That’s where Israel went to meet God, to stand before God.
Solomon knows that God has provided an actual physical place where he will meet with his people.
That’s immanence, and we’ll come back to that.
Transcendence is the other side of the coin.
Transcendence is the understanding that God is independent of and superior to .. all of creation,
There is nowhere that God isn’t, and yet at the same time, creation can’t possibly contain God.
And Solomon understands this, better than most “religious” people in his day or in our day.
Look at verse 27, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
There’s no way that God could be contained in the temple,
And so his prayer, is not that God would kind of pack his bags and move in to the temple, but that God would have his attention on this place, and hear the prayers that are offered towards it,
And offer forgiveness when it’s needed.
God will still be in heaven, but he will receive the prayers of his people in the temple, verse 30, Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray .. toward this place. Hear from .. heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.
Because he knows that God is transcendent and can’t be contained anywhere, Solomon prays for this meeting place between God and people.
Somehow, the human needs, have to meet God’s mercy.
And if people are sinful and rebellious and living here,
And if God is holy and righteous, and transcendent, there needs to be some kind of meeting place,
And Solomon prays that the temple will be place.
It’s easy today even to fall into the trap of thinking that God dwells here somewhere, in a building.
Like the little boy drinking his glass of milk one day, and he asks his mum, “Mummy, is God everywhere?”
And his mother replies, “yes, God is everywhere.”
And he asks again, “Is God in our house?”, and mum replies, “Yes, God is in our house.”
The little boy drains his glass of milk and holds it out at arm’s length, looking at it quizzically, “Is God in this glass?”
Mum’s a bit more hesitant this time, seeing a metaphysical minefield opening up before her, but, “yes, God is in that glass.” At which point the boy slaps his hand over the top of the glass and cries “got him!”
See we like to have a God where we can find him,
A God we can manage,
A God who will be accessible to us on our terms.
A God we can go and visit in his building!
A God who will stay in his box,
I heard someone saying the other day, they were sitting in their kitchen, and they heard this “help me, help me, help me.” So they went to investigate.
It seemed to be coming from their lounge room, “help me, help me, help me”, but they couldn’t see anyone,
So they got a bit closer, “help me, help me, help me”, it was coming from inside their couch!
The couch was a sofa bed, and it turns out the older brother in this family had tricked his little sister into getting into the sofa bed, and then he’d folded it back up and put the bed away, with her inside!, “help me, help me, help me”
And there’s lots of Christians who think that’s what God is like, confined in some church building somewhere,
He can’t get out!
He’s stuck in the box,
“help me, help me, help me”
And so we have to go there, and open the doors, and find God inside there somewhere.
But that’s never been the way to relate to God,
That’s never been the way God dwells with his people,
It wasn’t in the time of Solomon, and it’s not now.
See Solomon’s words that God’s presence doesn’t depend a physical building, is good news for the people of Israel who get exiled from the land, cut off, from this place.
It’s a disaster that’s seen on the horizon twice in Solomon’s prayer.
It would be bad enough to be kicked out of the land that God promised to your ancestors, but imagine if that also meant .. no more communion to God?
If relating to God depends on a building, and the building is no longer there, or you can’t get to the building, you can’t relate to God.
It’s a funny word, but transcendence is a wonderful reality.
The temple is the place for forgiveness
And so if you look down at the 2nd part of the passage, you’ll see Solomon’s prayer, made up of these 7 petitions,
And because Solomon knows that Israel is going to wander from God, and need some means of reconciliation, most of these petitions are about God making the temple a place of forgiveness.
You wonder if the people were quite surprised, in the midst of this happy, for Solomon to start praying about sin and exile and punishment.
It would be like if you got a new job, and your friends throw you a party, and someone proposes a toast, and they say, “And when you get fired from this great new job, because you’ve been embezzling funds, and defrauding the shareholders, and stealing from petty cash, we’ll still be here for you!”
Even so, Solomon is confident that when the people are taken from their land, God won’t abandon them.
God is in heaven, not in the building after all!
Solomon has heard God’s warnings about sin and rebellion, and he looks at the people and he looks at his own heart, and says, “Yeah, we’re going to have problems with this stuff.”
Some of you will have done Behavioural or Personality Type profiling, like DiSC or Myers-Briggs, or something. And often you do it and you think “that was a complete waste of time!”
But occasionally you do one of those things, answer all the questions, and then you get the report back, and you read it, and you think “Has someone been following me around for the last 20 years of my life?
This is exactly me!
This is who I am!
And it’s as if Solomon has done that, as he’s read the Law of God in the books of Moses,
The king was required to hand-write a copy of the Law.
And it’s as if he’s read the things God has said about when the people turn away,
And turn to other gods,
And sin against God,
And he’s said, “Yeah, that’s us alright,
We’re going to have a problem with that,
And we’re going to have a problem with that,
And we’re going to have a problem with that”
And so you’ll see there’s a pattern,
Each prayer follows the same kind of form,
When, such and such thing happens,
And when the people pray,
Then hear from heaven, and forgive.
So look at the third one .. just for example, which starts in verse 35,
When, the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you,
and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin,
then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants,
That’s the pattern that’s repeated
Now you might know that 7 is a significant number in the Bible.
It signifies completeness.
And we didn’t read it, but we’re told earlier on,
That this temple had taken 7 years to build,
And this dedication is taking place in the 7th month of the year,
The festival to mark the dedication lasted for 2 lots of 7 days,
And the climax of that is Solomon praying this prayer in 7 parts.
I take it then, that these 7 petitions, are intended to represent the sum total of every prayer that could ever be prayed.
No matter what the situation, you could pray in or towards the temple, confident this was the place that God had established as the place where his forgiveness was offered.
The point of the story being, isn’t God good, providing a place and a means of forgiveness.
Jesus Christ is the true temple
But what does this all mean for us?
By the time of the New Testament this temple’s been destroyed, it’s 2nd replacement is destroyed at the end of the New Testament era, 70 AD.
But even more significant in shaping our understanding of forgiveness and relating to God, are Jesus’ claims that he himself is the temple of God.
Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days, Jesus said, in John 2, much to everyone’s confusion, but the Apostle John records for us the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22
Or we turn somewhere like Hebrews 10, and we’re told that the tabernacle originally,
And then the temple,
And all the sacrifices and everything that went along with that,
They were all merely shadows of a greater reality,
And that reality is Christ.
Jesus’ life and death and resurrection are the only means of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. All the sacrifices offered in Solomon’s temple, simply pointed forward to his sacrifice.
All the prayers for forgiveness prayed in that place, anticipated the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross.
In Solomon’s day, what was the means of prayer, the way that God had provided for prayer,
It was to pray Towards the temple wasn’t it?
They prayed through the temple, in a sense, to God.
But Christian people, people who trust in the forgiveness that Jesus offers by his death and resurrection, how do we pray? What’s the means that God has provided for our prayers?
We pray in Jesus’ name don’t we?
Jesus is the way we approach God.
Jesus is the “place” if you like, where we enter God’s presence.
See one thing hasn’t changed since the time of Solomon, somehow human needs, still have to meet God’s mercy, and it’s at the cross of Christ where that happens.
Think of those words from John chapter 1 and verse 14, 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We know in the context of John 1, this means the eternal Son of God, became flesh.
And if you’ve been around church for a while, you might be familiar with that phrase,
But in the Latin Bible that was used for most of the history of the church, that word for flesh was the word “carne”, literally .. meat. As in chili con carne, chili with meat.
The eternal God, became meat.
It sounds a lot less glamorous doesn’t it?
God became meat.
And the other thing of particular interest to us today is that the word translated made his dwelling, is literally, tabernacled, to dwell in a tent. The tabernacle being just a temporary version of the temple.
The immanence of God takes on a whole new meaning when God becomes meat!
For Solomon, the high point of his relationship with God was that he could pray towards a building, that he knew didn’t contain God, but at least he knew God’s presence dwelt there.
Well he would have just been beside himself, wouldn’t he, with God himself becoming meat, and moving into the neighbourhood.
And if you read the description of Solomon’s temple, its appearance was so shining and radiant, dazzling, covered in gold, with bronze.
It was so magnificent as to be almost repellant,
It created a sense of awe, and fear and distance.
I mentioned last week about my trip to the UK a few years ago, and we visit Canterbury Cathedral, and I can remember, standing in these huge stone archways, looking up at the vault and the ceiling, wondering what on earth some 12 Century peasant farmer would have thought and felt as he looked up at these very same stone walls ... and I think the answer the cathedral designers were hoping for, was awe and fear and insignificance.
That was Solomon’s temple. Remember down in verse 63 they sacrificed 120,000 sheep and goats, this was a massive, awe-inspiring complex, that reminded you of your sin and your distance from God.
And yet the eternal Son of God, become flesh, become meat, God with us, as he presented in the gospels,
Talking to people,
Offering himself on the cross for people,
He isn’t so much awe-inspiring, and magnificent and frightening, as attractive, gentle, personal.
He awakens in people not fear and trepidation, but trust, hope, adoring love.
Jesus is a far better temple,
A far better place to meet God,
A far better means of praying to God,
A better place to find forgiveness, than even this temple for which Solomon and his people are so thankful.
The people of Christ are the true temple
But the New Testament authors go one step further.
Not only is Jesus Christ the temple,
The place where we meet God,
The means of prayer,
The place of forgiveness,
The people of God, united with Christ through faith, .. Christian people, are called the temple of God.
It’s actually quite surprising how often this point is made in the Bible.
We don’t have time to look at them all now, but I’ve noted a few places on your outline, but let’s pick one. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Once we understand that Jesus is the true temple, and by extension, the people of God, gathered around Jesus are the temple, that will help us think more helpfully about things like church buildings.
Do you have a theology of buildings?
We’ve probably never asked that question, but we should have a theology of buildings. And all I mean by that is we should make sure we understand where buildings fit in our relationship with God,
And in our Christian life,
And in the ministry of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us.
See if we have a right understanding of Christ and his body as the temple of God , we won’t drive past a church building, and think that’s the place where God is kept, “help me, help me, help me”,
We won’t think we need to be in that place in order to meet with God, or for God to be present with us,
That right understanding of Jesus and .. his body as the temple will also help us have a right appreciation for the people of God, the people who we gather with on Sunday.
Who’s sitting next to you?
Someone who is part of, the holy temple in the Lord.
Who’s that person who sings a little off-key or a little too loudly?
Someone who is a member of the temple of the living God!
The person who handed you a Bible when you walked in, or who smiled at you when you sat down, living stones being built up as a temple to God,
People among whom God is dwelling,
And people through whom, God is making himself known to the world.
Even though we live 3000 years after Solomon built his temple, a right understanding of temple will literally shape the way we treat each other.
See it’s really important that we read the Bible Christianly, and even if you’re not a Christian here today, to understand the Bible, you need to understand it as a story that is fulfilled in Jesus.
But the trap for us, can be to think that God did a massive U-turn in the year zero, and previously it had all been about buildings, and after that it became about people.
But the reality is, even in Solomon’s time, it was all about the people, and the buildings were secondary.
What was important to God was always a people, not a building.
We didn’t read verse 16, but let me read it for you now. God says.
‘Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built for my Name to be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’
God’s goal for his people has always been, to have his chosen king rule over them,
That they might be his people,
And he their God.