This Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Old Testament contains a portion of King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:22-53).
- Begins by praising the God who keeps his promises.
- Recalls God’s dynastic promises to David through the prophet Nathan.
- Acknowledges that God is bigger than the temple. The whole universe cannot contain him or constrain him.
- Affirms that God has condescended to establish a house where his name might dwell.
- Asks God to:
- Hear the prayers of his people when they face toward the temple and pray. Most of the petitions make it sound like people pray in the direction of the temple, not necessarily in the temple.
- Forgive the people when they repent; lead them to fear God and do what is right; and keep them safely in the land promised to their ancestors. These requests pop up repeatedly throughout the prayer and qualify many of the petitions.
- Render justice in disputes brought to the temple for adjudication, presumably through some act of divination.
- Bring God’s people back to their covenant homeland whenever they are defeated militarily and taken into exile. This petition is repeated twice, with the second petition being the longer.
- Deliver relief from drought, famine, plague and military threats whenever they occur.
- Grant military victory when God sends the people to war.
- Hear and answer the prayers of foreigners who come to the temple because of God’s name, so that his renown might spread throughout the whole world.
- Closes with an appeal to God to hear Israel’s prayers based his election of them as his inheritance, and the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt under Moses.
Overall, the prayer affirms that God has chosen the people of Israel in a singular way, that he delivered them from Egypt and gave them the land of promise, that he expects them to live according to his law, that all people sin, that sin has consequences, that there is no hiding the truth from God, and that God can forgive and restore the penitent.
The most surprising petition of Solomon’s prayer is his appeal on behalf of foreigners. The postexilic tenor of the prayer in its current form is obvious. Given that the text came to us through people who survived the exile, this petition is remarkable. Even when the nations of the world wreaked havoc on the people of God, their tradition reminded them of God’s hope for the nations, that the Gentiles might be drawn to the glory of God’s name and that he would hear their prayers.
This petition of Solomon’s prayer finds its completion in Jesus. In Ephesians, Paul says that the unification of all humanity under God’s saving covenant was God’s purpose all along, fully revealed and achieved only in the death of Christ.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22
Through faith in Jesus Christ, the people of the nations are no longer just welcome to pray in the temple’s outer courts. Instead, they have become part the family and living members of God’s new and holy temple.