Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:44-53

1 Kings 8:44-53

Solomon’s Prayer in 1 Kings 8 concludes with two contrasting situations for the people (and the kingdom) involving warfare. The situations each begin with the particle yK! followed by an introductory verb:

    • “When [yK!] your people goes out [ax@y@] against its enemy…” (v. 44)
    • “When [yK!] they do wrong [Waf=j#y#] to you [i.e. sin against you] … and you give them (over) to (the) face of (the) enemy…” (v. 46)

In each instance, the people go out to battle a foreign enemy. In the first instance (vv. 44-45), it is assumed that the people, as a whole, have been faithful/loyal to the covenant with YHWH (and its Torah); as a result, the expectation is that, when they pray to YHWH (in the direction of the Temple), He will hear their prayer and answer them (that is, give victory to them).

In the second instance (vv. 46-50), when the people have sinned against YHWH, transgressing against the covenant (as a people/nation), then they will be defeated by the enemy in battle. As is typical in the Old Testament, such a military defeat against God’s people is viewed as a manifestation of Divine judgment. The wording here makes it clear that defeat comes from YHWH’s initiative: “…you give them (over) to (the) face of (the) enemy”. The same basic situation was described briefly in vv. 33-34, along with an allusion to the exile of the population; the theme of exile is given much greater prominence here:

“…to (the) face of (the) enemy, and they take them captive (as) their captives to (the) land of the enemy, (whether it is) far or near” (v. 46b)

The dual-use of the verb hb*v* (“take captive”) is emphatic, emphasizing the captivity of the defeated people, being exiled off to a foreign land. Many commentators feel that this emphasis on exile is an indication of a Exilic date for the Prayer; at the very least, it does seem likely that the reality of exile played a role in the literary shaping of the Prayer (in the context of Kings) as it has come down to us. However, this need not mean that the Babylonian Captivity (of Judah) had already taken place when the Prayer was composed (and/or edited). If the reign of Josiah is the primary setting for the book of Kings (and the editing of the Deuteronomic history as a whole), then the Judean kingdom would still have been intact (along with Jerusalem and the Temple), but the reality of exile would have been experienced through the earlier Assyrian conquests (including the conquest/exile of the Northern Israelite Kingdom).

In any case, the prospect of exile for a defeated population would have been natural enough at any time in the ancient Near East. It is not necessary to make any definitive judgment regarding the background and composition of the book of Kings (or the Prayer in particular), in order for this passage (and the situation it describes) to be relevant for the audience. As in vv. 33-34, here the promise is that, if the people genuinely repent, confess their sins, and pray to YHWH, then He will forgive their sins and eventually restore them to their land (vv. 47-50).

Again, a sign of their faith and devotion is that, when they pray to YHWH, they pray in the direction of the Temple:

“And (if) they return to you with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and they make prayer to you (on the) path (to) [i.e., in the direction of] their land that you gave to their fathers, (and) to the city that you chose, and the house that I have built for your name…” (v. 48)

The Temple as the unifying focal point of prayer for the people has been emphasized throughout vv. 31-50, being specifically mentioned in each of the examples given. As I have noted, the importance of this symbolism lies in the idea that YHWH’s name resides in the Temple. Even though God actually dwells in heaven (where He hears the prayer), the prayer itself is made in the direction of the Temple, as a symbolic point on earth where God’s people can direct their worship and devotion to Him.

The presence of God’s name also indicates ownership and possession. That is to say, it is an indication that the Temple belongs to YHWH; the Temple is the focal point at the center, but the sign of ownership radiates outward, encompassing the city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and the entire land/kingdom of Israel (along with its people). All of it belongs to YHWH, even as Israel is God’s own people. This is the theological point emphasized in the concluding verses 51-53:

“For your people, they indeed are your inheritance, which you brought forth from (the) land of Egypt, from (the) midst of (the) pot for (smelting) iron, (so that) your eyes (are) to be open (to the) request for favor by your servant, and (to the) request by your people Yisrael, to listen to them in every (moment) they call to you. For you separated them for yourself, for an inheritance, from all (the) people of the earth, just as you spoke (it) by (the) hand of Moshe your servant in your bringing forth our fathers from Egypt, my Lord YHWH.”

The Prayer closes much as it began, with a reference to the Exodus (v. 16). This defining moment in the history of Israel, essentially marking the beginning of their ‘birth’ as God’s people, frames the Prayer. It provides the backdrop for the choice of Jerusalem and the centralization of worship focused on the Temple building. The name of YHWH that resides in the Temple properly symbolizes the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—they are His people (belonging to Him), and He is their God.

The same essential symbolism applies, even when the concept of being God’s people has shifted and expanded to include all believers in Christ. The idea of the unifying presence of God’s name, as an abiding sign of the covenant bond, continues for us today as believers. In the next study, we will begin to explore this line of interpretation further, even as we examine the concluding verses of 1 Kings 8, looking again at the Prayer in its narrative context.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:41-43

Before proceeding with the next section of the Prayer of Solomon (in 1 Kings 8), it may be worth considering several points of interpretation, established from our study thus far, as they might apply to Christians (both in the New Testament era and today).

In terms of the religious and historical background of the Prayer, a key theme is the centralization of worship for the Israelite people, focused on the kingdom-capital of Jerusalem and the site of the Temple (Zion). This theme runs throughout the entire Deuteronomic history, beginning with the book of Deuteronomy and climaxing with the religious reforms in Judah under Josiah (2 Kings 23). For people all over the kingdom, Jerusalem (and the Temple) was to be the focal point of their religious devotion. Sacrificial offerings were to be presented only at the Jerusalem Temple, adult males were to travel to Jerusalem for (at the very least) the three great pilgrimage festivals, and, as expressed here in 1 Kings 8, prayers were to be directed toward the Temple.

The Temple filled the ritual and symbolic role as YHWH’s dwelling place among His people, His “house”. And yet, as the Prayer makes clear, God does not actually reside on earth in the Temple sanctuary, but in heaven. This important theological principle is made repeatedly, in spite of the reference (in vv. 10-13) to the older conception of God’s manifest presence residing within the sanctuary (of the Temple, and earlier Tent-shrine).

It is only God’s name that truly resides in the Temple. The name represents the person, if only in a symbolic and ritual sense; it also signifies ownership—i.e., the Temple building belongs to YHWH, just as the city of Jerusalem belongs to Him, and also the Israelite/Judean people (as His people). It is for these reasons, that the people are to demonstrate their devotion and loyalty to YHWH by praying in the direction of the Temple, to the place where His name resides.

This idea of the centralization of worship, focused on the Temple, has important implications for Christians, in light of the Christological principle that Jesus Christ essentially replaces the Temple, fulfilling in his own person the symbolic and ritual significance of the Temple building. For more on this subject, cf. my earlier articles in the series “Jesus and the Law” (part of “The Law and the New Testament”). This shift in focus is already evident early on in the New Testament, within the historical traditions of the Gospels and Acts, emphasizing the Temple as a place for prayer (and teaching/preaching), rather than sacrificial ritual. In this regard, early Christians were essentially developing the very emphasis we find here in the 1 Kings 8 Prayer.

The focus on the name of God also is significant in this regard. We may mention, for example, the well-established early Christian tradition that prayers were to be made in Jesus’ name. Even more important, from a theological standpoint, is the idea that Jesus (the Son) makes the name of God the Father known to believers. This is a prominent theme in the Gospel of John, particularly in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). It serves as another key example of how Jesus fulfills the role of the Temple as the dwelling place for God’s name.

Finally, we should mention the related idea of believers as the dwelling place for God’s presence—now no longer symbolically, but through the reality of God’s own Spirit. The image of believers—both individually and collectively—as the Temple of God is most prominent in the Pauline letters. Paul applies the image to individual believers in 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, while in Eph 2:21 it is applied to believers in a collective sense. The presence of God—both manifest through His Spirit, and through His name—in believers (as His Temple) demonstrates that we belong to Him and bear His name.

These points will be discussed and developed further as we approach the end of our notes on 1 Kings 8.

1 Kings 8:41-43

“And also unto (the) foreigner, he who (is) not from your people Yisrael, but comes from a land far off in response to your name— ” (v. 41)

Verses 41-43 make clear that the role of the Temple, applies, not only to Israel (as YHWH’s chosen people), but to people from other nations as well. The adjective yr!k=n` (cf. also the related rk*n@) is used as a substantive, denoting something that is “(not) recognized”, derived from the root rkn (“recognize, acknowledge”), presumably in a privative sense. From an ethno-cultural standpoint, yr!k=n` refers to a foreigner, to be distinguished, however, from the foreigner who comes to reside among the Israelite people (the word rG@ is used for such a person). Here, the idea is of a foreign visitor to the land of Israel, but particularly one who has traveled to Israel “in response to” (/u^m^l=) the name of YHWH—that is, because he/she has heard about the great things that YHWH, as the God of Israel, has done for His people. This qualification is clearly expressed in verse 42:

“for they shall hear of your great name, and (of) your strong hand and your arm (out)stretched— “

The “hand” and (outstretched) “arm” of YHWH are euphemisms for the exercise of His Divine power and strength, through miracles and mighty deeds performed on behalf of His people. This motif-pair is part of the Deuteronomic language, occurring repeatedly in the book of Deuteronomy (4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 11:2; 26:8; cf. also Jer 21:5; Cogan, p. 286), but the basic imagery is traditional—see, for example, its use in the Song of the Sea (15:6, 12, 16). In that ancient Song, as here, it is assumed that people in the surrounding nations will hear of the mighty things done by YHWH (vv. 14-16), demonstrating that He is far greater than any of the deities they worship (v. 11).

The second half of verse 42 picks up from v. 41:

“…but he comes and makes prayer to(ward) this house”

The fact that the foreign visitor makes prayer toward the Temple demonstrates two important points: (1) he/she recognizes YHWH as God, worthy of worship, and (2) she/he acknowledges the role of the Temple within the Israelite religion (i.e., the worship of YHWH). It is clear that Solomon (and the author of Kings) expects that YHWH will answer the prayers of such a devout foreigner, no less than He will those of His own people:

“you shall hear (him from) your dwelling place (in) the heavens, and shall do (for him) according to every(thing about) which the foreigner calls to you, so that (as a result) all (the) peoples of the earth might know your name, (coming) to fear you (just) like your people Yisrael, and to know that your name is called over this house that I have built.” (v. 43)

The prayer-wish is that, through the witness of such a devout foreigner, many other people, throughout all the surrounding nations, will come to respond in like manner—learning to know and fear YHWH, acknowledging Him (His name) as true God and Sovereign, and recognizing the Temple (in Jerusalem) as the place where His name dwells. This is an early example of a theme that would be developed in the later Prophets (and subsequently in Jewish eschatology)—namely, the prospect of people from the surrounding nations coming to Jerusalem in order to worship YHWH, and even joining with Israel to become part of the people of God. It is a theme that would feature prominently in early Christian thought, and, as a principle, would underlie the entire early mission to the Gentiles (cf. Mk 13:10 par; Lk 2:30-32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 10:35ff; 13:46-47ff; 15:7-11, 14-18ff, etc). A key reference to the Temple, in this regard, is found in Isaiah 56:7, a Scripture cited by Jesus in the context of his Temple-action (according to the Synoptic tradition, Mk 11:17 par); the emphasis, as here, is on the Temple as a place associated with prayer.

Within Old Testament tradition, the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13) is the most notable example of a foreign visitor who comes to Israel and acknowledges YHWH as God (v. 9). Naaman (in 2 Kings 5) also features as a foreigner who recognizes that worship must be given to YHWH alone (vv. 17f); cf. Cogan, p. 286. In the New Testament, in the context of the early Christian mission, Cornelius (Acts 10-11) is the type-figure for the God-fearing non-Israelite who becomes a believer.

References marked “Cogan” above are to Mordechai Cogan, I Kings, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 10 (Yale: 2001/8).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:33-40

1 Kings 8:33-40

Verses 31-32 (discussed in the previous note) dealt with the ritual role of the Temple, in the context of a specific socio-cultural situation. In verses 33-40 that follow, there is a return to the principal theme (and point of emphasis) in the chap. 8 Prayer of Solomon: the Temple as a unifying focal point for the prayers of the people. The idea is that the Israelite people, from every part of the kingdom, should be unified in their focus on the Temple, as the conceptual and symbolic location for the presence of YHWH (specifically, His name). In the vv. 31-32 example, the individuals involved are expected to travel to the Temple precincts in Jerusalem; however, in the examples of vv. 33-40, one simply may look toward (la#) the Temple, praying in the direction of the actual site in Jerusalem.

It is assumed that, while people may respond as individuals, in the face of dangers and crises facing the nation, ultimately the action will be collective—i.e., the entire nation unified in its prayer to YHWH, directing its petition to the place where God’s name symbolically resides.

Three different situations of crisis are given as examples, utilizing a formal pattern (with some variation). The first situation (vv. 33-34) will serve to delineate the elements of the process of the people’s prayer:

“In your people Yisrael being struck before the face of (the) hostile (one), (in) that [i.e. because] they have done wrong to you, and (if) they (then) turn back to you and throw (praise to) your name, and they make prayer and a request for favor to you in this house, then you shall hear (it) in (the) heavens and shall grant forgiveness for (the) wrong of your people Yisrael, and you shall return them to the land that you gave to their fathers.”

The condition is introduced by a construct phrase that is governed by a preposition and verbal noun (infinitive). Literally, it reads “In (the) being struck of your people…”; however, the passive (Niphal stem) verb makes this especially awkward in English, and I alleviate this somewhat above (“In your people being struck…”, i.e. “When your people are struck…”). Clearly, this refers to a military attack by an enemy nation; the verbal noun by@oa literally means “(one) being/acting hostile”, i.e. one who is hostile.

The context of verse 34 implies that the land (and its people) have been conquered by the enemy; this may simply allow for the most extreme example of being “struck” (vb [g~n`) by an enemy nation. However, the idea that the people who would pray are far away (in exile) gives added weight to the principle that, even when the people are dispersed over a great geographic distance, they are still unified in thought and purpose when they pray in the direction of the Temple. The use of the preposition B=, in the expression “in this house” (hZ#h^ ty]B^B^), can be misleading in this regard, since it might suggest that the prayer is to be made within the Temple precincts (as with the example in vv. 31-32). While individuals might, indeed, make prayer at the Temple itself, the real point of emphasis is on praying “in the direction of” the Temple; the preposition B= would then function like la# (“to, toward”). Principally, it is YHWH’s symbolic presence—His name—that resides in the Temple.

The people’s response implies repentance and a return to faithfulness. The verb bWv (“turn (back), return”) is frequently used in this religious-ethical sense. By turning back to God, one also turns away from sin. It is clearly indicated, in this example, that Israel’s defeat is a consequence of the people’s sin. For consistency with vv. 31-32 (cf. the previous study), I have translated the verb af*j* as “do wrong”. In vv. 31-32, a person does wrong to another person; however, here the wrong is done to YHWH, i.e., the sin is against God, implying a violation of the covenant.

It was common in ancient Near Eastern thought to consider military defeats, especially when they involved the destruction of cities and the exile of populations, etc, as a manifestation of divine judgment. The ancient Israelites were no different, and, indeed, the Old Testament typically explains Israel’s defeats in this way. It is an especially prominent theme in the Deuteronomic history, particularly as recorded and presented in the books of Kings. Idolatrous worship of deities other than YHWH is the principal violation of the covenant that brings about catastrophic judgment on the nation.

If the people, collectively, repent of their sin, turn back to YHWH, praising His name and focusing their prayers in the direction of the Temple (where His name dwells), then the expectation is that God will hear and answer their prayers, and will (eventually) restore any exiled populations back to the land. The sin will be forgiven (vb jl^s*), and the covenant bond between YHWH and His people will be restored.

In verses 35-36, a different kind of national crisis is referenced: an extended lack of rain (drought). This is introduced in the same way as the condition in v. 33, with a construct phrase using the preposition B= and a verbal noun (infinitive):

“In (the) closing up of (the) heavens, and there is (thus) no rain, because they have done wrong to you…”

The syntax overall is very similar to the earlier passage; it continues:

“…and (if) they pray to(ward) this standing place [i.e. where the Temple stands], and throw (praise to) your name, and turn back from their wrong (so) that you would answer them, then you shall hear (in) the heavens and shall forgive (the) wrong of your servants, even your people Yisrael…”

There is some variation in wording, but the formula here in the Prayer definitely follows the pattern from vv. 33-34. The expected response by YHWH, however, is given in a more expanded form:

“…(so) that you might instruct them (in) the good way in which they must walk; and you shall give (then the) rain upon your land that you gave to your people for an inheritance.”

Clearly, the drought, like the military defeat/conquest of the people, is viewed as the consequence of sin against YHWH (i.e., violation of the covenant). In the ancient world, for agricultural and pastoral societies, a lack of rain could be just as devastating (and life-threatening) as a military attack. Repentance from sin, accompanied by faithful worship and prayer to YHWH, will bring about a return of the needed rains.

In addition to the restoration of the pre-sin condition (i.e., abundance of rain), mention is made of the idea that YHWH would give instruction/direction (vb hr*y`) to His people, once they have repented, so that they would be able to remain faithful to the covenant in the future. This particular promise underwent development in the later Prophetic writings (of the exilic and post-exilic period), being specifically tied to the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. The Instruction (Torah) will come to be written on the heart of the people, so that they might fulfill the covenant without needing to be taught or disciplined (as in the past) any longer. For a list of the key Prophetic passages, with links to detailed notes, cf. the introduction to the recent series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

The final example (vv. 37-40) involves a famine (lit. “hunger,” bu*r*) in the land. Drought and famine are often closely related; however, life-threatening hunger can be caused by other circumstances, such as a military attack/siege, forced migration, displacement of populations, the shifting of rivers, and so forth. Verse37 actually mentions some of the agricultural conditions that can lead to failed crops (and thus hunger/famine): pestilence/disease, blight, mildew, locust (using two different terms, hB#r=a^ and lys!j*), and the siege (of a city) by a foreign enemy. This suffering from famine/hunger is broadened to include the idea of any “touch” (of disease) or “sickness/weakness” (the terms ug~n# and hl*j&m^, respectively).

Again, prayer to YHWH, directed toward the Temple, will bring forgiveness, and (it is implied) a restoration of healthy conditions. This example does differ from the previous two, as it implies that certain individuals or communities may experience suffering that others do not (v. 38). However, the expectation is that, for anyone who repents and prays earnestly to YHWH in this manner, the prayer will be answered (v. 39). This focus on the individual provides an important counterbalance to the collective/national emphasis in vv. 33-36:

“Indeed, you shall give to (each) man according to his ways, (in) that you know his heart—for you alone know (the) heart of every (one) of (the) sons of man” (v. 39b)

As in verse 36 (see above), Solomon’s prayer here also includes the hope that the Israelite people would learn from any such discipline, however painful, so as to remain faithful to YHWH (and the covenant) into the future:

“…so that they might fear you all the days that they live upon (the) face of the land that you gave to our fathers.” (v. 40)

Next week, as we continue our study on the Prayer (looking at vv. 41-45), we shall begin drawing some exegetical conclusions, based on our analysis thus far, which can be applied to the life-situation of Christian believers today.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:31-32

1 Kings 8:31-40

Verses 31-40 of the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8 (cf. the previous studies) illustrate the principle of the centralization of worship for Israel/Judah, involving the Jerusalem Temple. The newly-built Temple (in the context of the narrative) clearly is intended to have a central position in the religious and cultural life of the people, continuing the tradition established with the earlier Tent-shrine (vv. 3-4ff). While the Tent-shrine was portable, moving along with the people, the Temple is built at a fixed (permanent) location. This has important implications for the religious experience of the people, and reflects the royal theology of the Kingdom. The people experience and relate to God, in a fundamental way, through the framework of the Temple and its ritual.

1 Kings 8:31-32

While most of the examples in vv. 31-40 emphasize the Temple as the focal point for the people’s prayers, the initial case involves social relations among the people. The ‘vertical’ relationship between the people and God has a corresponding ‘horizontal’ relationship of one person to another. Both need to be maintained, at both a ritual and ethical level, and the Temple plays a central role in this process.

However, with the specific example given in vv. 31-32, it can be a bit difficult to discern the precise situation being described. It is introduced with the substantive particle ta@, followed by the relative particle rv#a&. The particle ta@ often marks a predicate accusative (or direct object), but it can be used for other purposes as well; here it introduces a subject for discussion, and the combination rv#a& ta@ can be translated something like “in a situation where…”, “regarding (times) when…”. The specific situation in vv. 31-32 is summarized simply:

“when a man does wrong to his neighbor…”
ohu@r@l= vya! af*j$y# rv#a& ta@

The verb af*j* means “miss (the mark)”, often in the general sense of “fail to do (something)”, or with the specific ethical-religious nuance of “fail  to do (what is right)”, i.e., “do (something) wrong”. It corresponds to a(marta/nw in Greek, with both verbs being translated (in most instances) as “sin”. The phrase here can be rendered “sins against a neighbor,” but a somewhat more accurate translation is “does wrong to a neighbor”. The noun u^r@ denotes an associate, someone living or working close to another person; “neighbor” captures the general social situation.

The nature of the wrong done to a person is not specified, and it presumably could cover a wide range of offenses. It is serious enough, however, that the person who was wronged wishes to clear himself of any wrong-doing (on his own part) that could have justified such mistreatment by his neighbor. This touches upon a ritual aspect of life in the ancient world that is largely lost and foreign to us today. It involves the swearing of oaths, with the religious-magical force that such binding oaths were thought to possess. A formal action is described here in verse 31:

“and (if) he should impose on him a curse [hl*a*], to make him swear (under force of) the curse [vb hl*a*]…”

The principal verb is av*n`, which is typically used in the context of money-lending, and can refer to the imposition of a debt (and/or the exaction of it). Here the verb would presumably mean that an oath (with a curse) is imposed upon the person (who wronged his neighbor). However, some MSS read the visually similar verb ac*n` instead, which means “lift/take up” —i.e., take up an oath/curse.

The noun hl*a* denotes an imprecation or curse, typically in the specific context of a binding oath, etc. The related verb, in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicates the forcing of someone to take such an oath—i.e., making them swear, under the force of a curse. The curse is an essential part of the oath, as it is intended to compel truthfulness and the fulfillment of any binding obligation. If a person violates the oath (or swears falsely), then the curse will come about against him/her. This is built into the magical character of the oath-idea: whatever the person utters in the curse-formula will come to pass if the oath is violated (or made falsely). Moreover, the deity thought to witness the oath will ensure that the curse comes about, as a form of divine punishment against the violator. In the context of Israelite monotheism, of course, it is YHWH who brings about the curse-punishment.

Thus, it is necessary that YHWH witnesses the oath (and its curse), and, for this reason, the oath is made, in a ritual (and symbolic) manner, in the presence of YHWH—that is, within the Temple precincts, in His “house”:

“…and he should come (and) utter the curse [vb hl*a*] before your slaughtering-place [i.e. altar] in this house”

The oath, with its curse, is made in front of the altar (lit. the place of [ritual] slaughter, j^B@z+m!) in the Temple courtyard. Based on the other examples given in vv. 33-40, one might suppose that it would be enough for the oath to be made in the direction of the Temple; however, at least in this situation, as it is described, the individuals are present at the Jerusalem Temple itself. The altar is a symbolic point of contact between the people and YHWH, a place where, in a ritual manner, they encounter His presence (the inner sanctuary being off-limits to the general population). By making the oath before God’s altar, the person makes the oath (and utters its curse) before God Himself.

Yet God is not actually present in the Temple, since His true dwelling is in heaven (cf. the discussion in the previous study); still, the request (and expectation) is that YHWH will hear the oath, and will respond accordingly:

“then you will hear (it in) the heavens, and you will act, and you will judge (between) your servants—to declare wrong (the one who is) wrong, (so as) to give (him) his (wicked) way (back) on his head, and to declare right (the one who is) right, (so as) to give to him according to his righteousness” (v. 32)

The prayer is that God will act to make clear who is right and who is wrong, punishing the wicked one and clearing/blessing the righteous. The adjectives uv*r* and qyd!x* are typically translated, in a religious-ethical sense, as “wicked” and “righteous”, respectively; here, however, the legal-judicial aspect of being “wrong” and “right” needs to be emphasized as well. The force of the curse, uttered in the oath, will come down upon the person shown to be wrong, and it is YHWH who will ensure this, as a matter of divine punishment against wickedness (and the false swearing of an oath).

In the ancient world, the swearing of oaths was a natural and normal component of social-relations, and served as an effective means of resolving disputes, securing truthful/honest dealings, and so forth. The magical-religious dimension of binding oaths (and their curse formulas) may be foreign to us today, with only a faint vestige remaining (associated with jury trials and other legal proceedings) in our culture; however, they played an important role in regulating interactions and relationships within society, helping to maintain a level of justice, fairness, and equity throughout. It is only natural that such oaths would be made, symbolically, in God’s presence, at the altar in the Temple. For the different approach to oaths that we (as Christians) are to follow, according to the teaching of Jesus, cf. my earlier article discussing the ‘Antitheses’ in the Sermon on the Mount (spec. the fourth ‘Antithesis’, Matt 5:33-37).

In the next study, we will survey the examples given in vv. 33-40.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:27-30

The Monday Notes on Prayer feature for the remainder of Summer (in August & September) is focusing on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. Verses 22-26 were discussed in the previous study.

1 Kings 8:27-30

With verse 27, the focus of the Prayer shifts to the role and purpose of the Temple. This is significant, since the purpose indicated in the Prayer differs noticeably from the emphasis earlier in vv. 10-13. The shift in emphasis began already in vv. 16-17ff, with the statement that the “house” (i.e., the Temple) was built specifically for the name (<v@) of YHWH. The distinction is between a dwelling for YHWH Himself and a dwelling for His name.

In vv. 10-13 (cf. the earlier study), the clear implication is that YHWH personally comes to dwell in the “house”, being present through the theophanous cloud. This reflects an older line of religious (and theological) tradition, drawing upon anthropomorphic and cosmological-mythic concepts—i.e., the Deity is personally present and manifest in the theophanous cloud, with the Temple building (esp. the sanctuary) serving as His dwelling-place on earth.

While this line of tradition is acknowledged in vv. 10-13, it disappears completely from the remainder of the narrative. Indeed, within the Prayer proper, there is no mention at all of YHWH Himself dwelling in the Temple, but only His name. This is especially clear here in verse 27:

“But (is it) that (the) Mightiest can truly sit [i.e. dwell] upon the earth? See, the heavens—even (the) heavens of the heavens—can not contain you, (and) even (less) that this house which I have built (could do so)!”

The theological point is that the Creator El-YHWH cannot truly, in a metaphysical sense, dwell in a building on earth. His true dwelling is in heaven—and yet, even the heavens cannot actually contain him. The verb lWK has the concrete meaning “contain” (as in a vessel), implying that a physical/material substance is involved. This is one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the transcendence of God, expressed in terms of size. YHWH is simply too great and vast to be contained in any physical space.

The expression “heavens of the heavens” (<y]m^V*h^ ym@v=) is idiomatic; it follows a pattern—e.g., “holy of holies”, “king of kings”, “song of songs” —in Hebrew (and other Semitic languages), using this particular mode of construct expression as a superlative. The particular meaning of the expression here is “the greatest heaven,” “the highest heaven”, etc.

The ancient Near Eastern cosmology was geocentric, with the surface of the earth dividing a cosmos that tended to be seen as spherical in shape, the upper half certainly being hemispheric. There were layers—commonly three layers (i.e., three ‘heavens’)—to the upper hemisphere. Eventually the concept of a concentric spherical cosmos, with seven layers/heavens, came to be adopted on a widespread scale throughout the ancient world. According to this traditional cosmology, YHWH would be seen as dwelling in the ‘highest’ heaven.

Clearly, if YHWH cannot be contained in the vastness of the heavens, he certainly cannot be contained in a single building (built by human beings) on earth. In spite of this, Solomon continues:

“Yet may you turn to (the) prayer of your servant, and to his request for favor, O YHWH my Mighty (One), to listen to (the) cry and to (the) prayer which your servant prays before you th(is) day, (and for) your eyes to be opened to(ward) this house, night and day, to(ward) this standing place of which you said ‘My name shall be there’, (and) to listen to (the) prayer which your servant shall pray to(ward) this standing place.” (vv. 28-29)

The basic request, at the heart of the entire prayer, is that YHWH would pay attention to prayers made in the direction of (la#, “toward”) the Temple. As becomes clear in the remainder of the prayer, the Jerusalem Temple is to become the focal point of Israelite worship—in particular, for the prayers made by the people. Solomon (as king) represents the people in this regard. At the beginning of the request (in v. 28), Solomon refers to himself as YHWH’s loyal servant (“your servant”); but, at the close of the request (in v. 29), the same expression “your servant” stands for any faithful Israelite who prays to YHWH (as is clear from v. 30, cf. below).

There is a symbolic and ritual aspect to prayer, in relation to the Temple building. The location of the Temple (lit. its “standing place,” <oqm*, i.e., the place where it stands) has a unifying role for the people, and as a religious expression of their faith and devotion to YHWH. By praying in the direction of the Temple, the place where YHWH’s name dwells, this demonstrates that a person’s heart is directed toward God. Such prayer can be made at any time (“night and day”); according to Solomon’s request, YHWH’s eyes will constantly be open, attentive to any such prayer, and listening to (lit. hearing, vb um^v*) it. In the traditional religious idiom, for God to “hear” a prayer means that He will answer it.

The root llp is used several times in vv. 28-29, both the verb (ll^P*) and the related noun hL*p!T=; it is the basic Hebrew root denoting prayer to God. Prayer here is also defined specifically as a request made to God that He would show favor—i.e., respond favorably, giving help and bestowing blessing or benefits, etc. The noun signifying such a request is hN`j!T= (from the root /nj), which is formally parallel to hL*p!T=. Another word used is hN`r!, which means a ringing cry or shout; it can connote either a desperate plea (i.e., cry for help), a joyful expression of praise, or a confident shout (of triumph, etc).

From a theological standpoint, it is most significant that it is YHWH’s name, specifically, which “dwells” in the Temple. While YHWH Himself dwells in the heavens, His name dwells on earth among His people. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represented and embodied (in a quasi-magical way) the essence and nature of the person. This was equally true in a religious context, when applied to a deity; to know a deity’s name meant knowing the deity. This name-theology represented a more abstract and rational/intellectual way for a person to relate to a deity. In this regard, it is particularly meaningful that YHWH’s name is related to the act of prayer. This is the aspect of the Temple’s purpose that is being emphasized here, rather than its role in the sacrificial ritual, for example.

The name of YHWH was important in Israelite religious tradition from the earliest times, but the name-theology took on special prominence in the book of Deuteronomy (and the subsequent Deuteronomic History, of which 1-2 Kings is a part). Beginning in chapter 12 (vv. 5, 11, 21), and then throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the implicit location of Jerusalem (and the Temple site) is repeatedly referenced as the place chosen by YHWH to set His name. The names of the Canaanite deities are to be removed from the land (Deut 12:3), replaced entirely by the name of YHWH, the one true Creator God, with whom Israel is joined in a special covenant-bond. His name is thus closely connected with the covenant, as is clear implicitly from the references here in vv. 9, 21. The people belong to Him, and this is symbolized by the Temple which bears His name, indicating a sign of ownership, etc. God’s faithful vassals (“servants”) will pray in the direction of the Temple—that is, toward His name—as a sign of covenant loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign.

The people, collectively, as YHWH’s servant(s), are emphasized in verse 30:

“May you indeed listen to (the) request of your servant for favor, and of your people Yisrael, when they shall pray to(ward) this standing place; you shall listen at (the) place of your sitting [i.e. dwelling] (in) the heavens, and (when) you listen you shall forgive.”

As noted above, the expression “your servant” refers not only to the king, but to the people as a whole; this point is made quite clear here in v. 30. Solomon’s request is that whenever the people pray toward the Temple, YHWH will respond favorably to them, answering their prayers, even to the point of forgiving (vb jl^s*) their sins.

The preposition la# has a dual-meaning in this verse; on the one hand, the directional aspect of praying “to(ward)” the Temple is in view (continued from vv. 28-29), but in the second half of the verse it also is used in the locative sense of YHWH’s dwelling in the heavens. This dual-use may be intentional, as a subtle way of juxtaposing the dwelling-place of YHWH’s name (i.e., the Temple) with the place where He Himself dwells (in heaven). For more on this, see the discussion above.

In the verses that follow (vv. 33-44), a number of examples are given of circumstances under which the people might pray to God, using the Temple as their religious focal-point. In the next study, we will begin examining these.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:22-26

The Monday Notes on Prayer feature for the remainder of Summer (in August & September) is focusing on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. The narrative introduction (vv. 1-11) and opening of the address (vv. 12-21) were discussed in the previous study.

1 Kings 8:22-26

The Prayer itself begins in verse 22, with a brief description of the ceremonial setting; the Temple as a focal point for prayer will be developed in the remainder of the chapter. It is mentioned that Solomon “stood before (the) altar” facing (lit. “in front of,” dg#n#) the assembled people (lh*q*)—a large gathering (vv. 1-3) representing the people of Israel as a whole. It is further stated that Solomon “spread out” (vb vr^P*) his palms toward the heavens (i.e. toward YHWH) in a gesture of worship and supplication (cf. Exod 9:29, 33; Ezra 9:5; Psalm 44:20; 88:9; Isa 1:15). A corresponding idiom in Akkadian is to stand with “open hands” (id£ petû); cf. Cogan, p. 283. The idea of the heavens as the true dwelling place of YHWH is an important theme in the Prayer, and is alluded to here.

The Prayer begins with an invocation that gives honor and praise to YHWH:

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of Yisrael—there is not like you (any) Mighty (One) in the heavens up above or upon the earth below, guarding the binding agreement and the goodness for your servants, the (one)s walking before your face with all their heart” (v. 23)

This expression of the incomparable nature and character of YHWH is a reflection of ancient Israelite monotheism, though not necessarily the absolute monotheism of later times. The idea that there is no deity “like” (omK=) YHWH would seem to allow for the possibility that other divine beings exist, but that these are inferior to YHWH and subordinate to His rule (cf. Exod 15:11; Psalm 86:8; 1 Sam 2:2). However, the Deuteronomic theology does seem to go somewhat further than this, in the direction of a stronger monotheistic confession (e.g., Deut 4:39; 32:39; cf. 2 Sam 22:32); this attitude was sharped by the Prophets, through a harsh anti-polytheistic polemic that informs the later statements, for example, in Isa 45:5, 18, 22; 46:9.

The focus here in the Prayer is on the incomparableness of YHWH, particularly in regard to the binding agreement He established with His people. The word tyr!B= is typically translated “covenant”, but properly refers to a binding agreement, in a manner fully in keeping with ancient Near Eastern tradition and culture. The idea of such an agreement being cut directly between the Deity and a people is unique to Israelite tradition—particularly with regard to the religious application of this covenant-concept in its comprehensive theological, ethical, and social aspects.

Here tyr!B= is coupled with the noun ds#j#, a term which fundamentally means “goodness” or “kindness”, but which often is used specifically in the context of the covenant, where it connotes faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant bond). In particular, YHWH demonstrates His loyalty to the agreement by fulfilling His obligation of bestowing “goodness” (benefits and protection, etc) to the other party. The agreement between YHWH and Israel has much the character of a suzerain-vassal treaty; God, as the sovereign, is obligated to provide protection, reward, and blessing to His faithful/loyal vassals (here “servants,” using the noun db#u#). The loyalty of His servants is shown by the way that they “walk before” Him with all their heart. This alludes to the distinctive religious-ethical idiom of “walking” (vb El^h*) in the ways of God’s Instruction—that is, according to the regulations and precepts of the Torah, which represents the terms of the covenant; cf. the important use of this idiom earlier in 2:4; 3:6. The central Deuteronomic statement of this covenant-principle is found in Deut 7:9ff.

The opening invocation continues in verse 24:

“…(you) who guarded for your servant Dawid my father what you spoke to him; and (as) you spoke with your mouth, (so) also you have fulfilled with your hand, as (it is so) this day.”

Just as in vv. 14-21 (cf. the previous study), the Judean royal theology—including the building of the Temple and the centralization of worship in Jerusalem—is aligned with the earlier binding agreement (established at Sinai) between YHWH and Israel. That is to say, the Judean monarchy (centered at Jerusalem) represents the natural and legitimate extension of the covenant-bond. This is especially clear by the repeated language from v. 23 here in v. 24:

    • As YHWH has guarded (vb rm^v*) the covenant, so also He guards (same verb) His promises to David.
    • David, like the faithful/loyal Israelites, is referred to as YHWH’s servant (db#u#, “your servant”)

The promise that YHWH “spoke” to David refers, principally, to the oracle delivered by Nathan in 2 Samuel 7. The bulk of the oracle (vv. 2-13) deals primarily with the “house” that will be built for YHWH by David’s son; as Solomon declares, this has now been fulfilled. The language used further legitimizes the entire enterprise of building the Temple (as opposed to continuing with a portable Tent-shrine), by affirming that it was both done according to God’s own word (i.e., what He spoke with His mouth) and through His own power (i.e., with His hand). Solomon may have organized the building project, but, in so doing, he was essentially acting out and fulfilling God’s own work.

“And now, YHWH, Mighty (One) of Yisrael, may you guard for your servant Dawid, my father, that which you spoke to him, saying: ‘There shall not be cut off for you from before my face a man sitting upon (the) throne of Yisrael—(but) only if [i.e. as long as] your children guard their paths, to walk before my face according to (the way) that you have walked before my face.'” (v. 25)

Here in verse 25, Solomon calls on YHWH to complete the remainder of the promise given to David in 2 Samuel 7. In verses 12-16, God promises David that his “kingdom” (i.e., his royal line) will be established in his son Solomon, and then continue unbroken with his descendants. In the Nathan-oracle, this promise appears to be more or less unconditional—i.e., if David’s descendants sin, they will be disciplined (v. 14), but the kingdom will not be taken from them (vv. 15-16). Here in 1 Kings, by contrast, the conditionality of the promise is rather clearly stated—it depends on David’s descendants continuing to walk in faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH (that is, to the covenant and the Torah). This explanation simply repeats what was stated earlier in 2:4.

For emphasis, in verse 26, Solomon repeats his request to YHWH:

“Indeed, now, Mighty (One) of Yisrael, let be made firm, I ask, your word that you spoke to Dawid my father!”

The verb /m^a* essentially refers to something that is fixed or set firmly in place. Solomon asks that YHWH, who is faithful to the covenant with Israel, will also be faithful to the promise made to David (cf. above). For the author(s) of the Books of Kings, in retrospect, it would have been clear how tenuous the survival of the Davidic line would be. Indeed, the condition for its survival, linked as it is to the more general idea of faithfulness to the covenant, is central to the entire Deuteronomic history, reaching its tragic climax in the Books of Kings. The chief lesson for future generations is that the Kingdom was lost because the people (and its rulers) did not remain loyal to the binding agreement with YHWH. Indeed, God remained firm in His devotion the covenant; the people, on the other hand, did not.

References marked “Cogan” above (and throughout these notes) are to Mordechai Cogan, I Kings, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 10 (Yale: 2001).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:12-21

The Prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 8)

For the remainder of the Summer, in the Notes on Prayer feature, we will be looking at the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. The focus will be on the version in the book of Kings, rather than the parallel in 2 Chronicles 6; the Chronicles version will be referenced only occasionally, where significant differences are worth noting.

The setting of the Prayer is the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple—the construction of which was described in chapters 5-7. The historical tradition of the inauguration is presented in the narration (vv. 1-10, 62-66) that frames the Prayer. In spite of the apparent chronological discrepancy, between the information in 6:38 and here in 8:2, 65, there is little reason to doubt the historicity of the basic tradition. The harvest festival (Sukkot, v. 2) would have been an appropriate occasion for a large-scale celebration involving dignitaries and military-age adult males from all over the kingdom.

The focus in the narrative introduction (vv. 1-11) is on the transfer of the golden Chest (/ora&, i.e., the ‘Ark’), which functioned as the ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH, into the newly built Temple. However, in some ways, the key thematic detail in this narration is the specific mention of the old Tent-shrine (i.e., Tabernacle), which was brought up along with the Chest (vv. 4ff). The presence of the Tent-shrine—called the “tent of (the) appointed place [i.e., for gathering]” (du@om lh#a))—serves, at the religious-cultural level, to legitimize the new Temple building in Jerusalem.

This is clear, symbolically, by the way that “the Cloud” (/n`u*h#), representing the theophanous presence of YHWH, fills the Temple building (vv. 10-11), just as it did at the inauguration of the old Tent-shrine (Exod 40:34ff). This sense of continuity belies a certain tension, preserved in the Deuteronomic History, between the construction of a fixed “House” for YHWH (in Jerusalem), and the earlier tradition of the portable Tent-shrine. This tension is expressed most clearly in the narrative of 2 Samuel 7, where the oracle given by YHWH to Nathan seems to affirm both the idea that a portable Tent (rather that a permanent structure) is the proper dwelling for YHWH (vv. 5-7), and also recognizes the validity of the House that would be built by David’s son Solomon (vv. 3, 13ff). For a summary of the critical issues involved in this complex passage, cf. Cross pp. 241-61.

1 Kings 8:12-13

Compared with 2 Samuel 7, the tension between these two concepts of the proper dwelling-place for YHWH is only briefly indicated here in 1 Kings 8, with the short poetic quotation that begins Solomon’s address (vv. 12-13):

“YHWH said (He was) to dwell in the storm-cloud;
(yet) building I have built an exalted house for you,
a fixed place for your sitting (into the) distant (Age)s.”

The specific use of the term “house” (ty]B^) and “fixed place” (/okm*) clearly present a conceptual contrast with the temporary dwelling of a portable tent-shrine. But the portable tent-shrine also reflects the movable presence of YHWH in the theophanous form of the storm-cloud. The term lp#r*u& denotes a thick/dark cloud, referring quite clearly to the rain/storm-cloud(s). The term occurs in the Old Testament primarily as a description of the manifest presence of El-YHWH—cf. Exod 20:21; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Ps 18:10 [par 2 Sam 22:10]; 97:2; cf. also Job 38:9, and the references to Divine manifestation of Judgment in Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:15.

In ancient Near Eastern religious thought, the storm—with its awesome clouds, fearsome thunder/lightning, and powerful (life-giving) rains—was especially appropriate as a manifestation of the Divine presence. In the Canaanite world, it was applied to Baal-Haddu, while the ancient Israelites applied it equally to El-YHWH. The control over the waters was a particularly important sign of YHWH’s power as Creator and King of the cosmos; cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The imagery of the storm-theophany is seen most frequently in ancient Hebrew poetry (e.g., Psalm 18, 29), but it is also a major component of the theophany at Sinai, when YHWH established the covenant with His people (cf. the Exodus and Deuteronomy references above).

In the Exodus/Wilderness traditions, YHWH traveled along with His people, moving across the skies in the numinous form of the cloud, only stopping when the people set up camp; He would dwell/reside at the location of the Tent-shrine, which essentially served as His own tent-dwelling among the people (cf. Exod 40:34-38; Num 9:15-22, etc). This same symbolic image of YHWH’s presence among His people is expressed by the scene of the dark-cloud filling the Temple building (vv. 10-11, cf. above).

The term lb%z+ (z®»¥l) marks, at the religious level, another point of similarity between El-YHWH and Canaanite Baal-Haddu, as zbl (“exalted one,” i.e., prince) is used as a divine title for Baal (“Prince Ba’al of the earth”, zbl b±l °rƒ). The construction of a grand Palace-House for Baal-Haddu is an important theme in the Ugaritic Baal Epic. From his newly-constructed Palace, Baal rules (sitting enthroned) as king over the world; much the same idea is expressed here of El-YHWH in v. 13. The noun lb%z+ occurs, in a similar context, in Isa 63:15 and Hab 3:11.

Interestingly, however, after this reference in v. 13, the idea of the Temple as YHWH’s dwelling disappears from the chapter. Indeed, throughout Solomon’s address, beginning at v. 27, it is repeatedly emphasized that YHWH’s real dwelling-place is in heaven, not in the Temple sanctuary. This is important because it indicates that, despite the earlier tradition of the Tent-shrine (and thus also the Temple) as God’s dwelling-place, the purpose of the Temple is given a very different emphasis in the remainder of the narrative. This can be summarized according to three key themes:

    • The Temple sanctuary specifically as the dwelling for the name of YHWH
    • The symbolic place of the Temple sanctuary as an embodiment of the covenant between YHWH and His people, and
    • The role of the Temple as a focal-point for the religious devotion and prayer of the people

All three of these will be discussed as we proceed through an exegesis of the passage in the upcoming studies.

1 Kings 8:14-21

Following the poetic statement in vv. 12-13, the remainder of the opening portion of Solomon’s address (vv. 14-21) functions as a short summary of the Deuteronomic History, emphasizing the Judean royal theology, centered on the person of David (as king) and the location of Jerusalem (as the holy/royal city). The Temple building is at the heart of this royal theology, with verses 16-20 echoing 2 Sam 7:3-13 (cf. above).

Solomon’s address here is presented as a blessing to YHWH, but is properly directed toward the people. By framing this theology in the historical-traditional context of the Exodus (v. 16), the (Judean) royal theology is firmly aligned with the covenant promises made by YHWH to His people. This is expressed in vv. 20-21, where two of the aformentioned themes of the Prayer are established—(1) the Temple as a dwelling for the name of YHWH, and (2) the Temple as symbolizing YHWH’s covenant with His people. The two declarations by Solomon in vv. 20b-21 state this directly:

    • “I have built th(is) house for the name of YHWH, the Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Yisrael” (v. 20b, see vv. 16-17)
    • “I have set there a standing-place for the Chest [i.e. Ark], which therein (resides) the binding-agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant] which YHWH cut with our fathers, in His bringing them out from (the) land of Egypt.” (v. 21)

The Instruction (Torah) which YHWH gave to Moses represents the terms of the covenant, which the people are obligated to fulfill. The “Ten Words” are at the heart of this Instruction, having been engraved on stone tablets (the second set, Exod 34:1, 28ff; cp. 32:15ff). The Deuteronomic version of this tradition is found in Deut 10:1-5, along with the specific notice that the tablets were placed within the Ark (v. 5; cf. Exod 40:20). There is thus a strong point of connection between the Temple sanctuary and the covenant.

In the next study, we will begin our examination of the Prayer proper, looking at the initial section in vv. 22-26.

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35

After a short hiatus this Spring, the Monday Notes on Prayer feature returns. This week I offer a short discussion on prayer for one’s enemies, in light of the past Sunday Psalm Study on Psalm 72. In that particular Psalm, the poet presents a prayer to God on behalf of the king. In the opening verse, YHWH is asked to give sound judgment and right decision-making to the Israelite king, so that the king’s reign will be peaceful and prosperous, characterized by justice and righteousness, especially on behalf of the poor and oppressed in society.

I have to wonder how many Christians today actually pray for the nation’s leaders and governing officials, in a similar way, asking that God might grant to them wisdom and sound judgment. In the vicious partisan climate of modern politics—which characterizes the darkness of the world, and not the light of God—it is much easier to speak ill of people in positions of government, mocking and berating them. The tendency (and temptation) to respond in such a way is all the greater when the governing officials hold views and positions that are opposite to those which we, as Christians, might hold. In that regard, the nation’s leaders could be considered opponents, or enemies, and one might well be inclined to speak ill or evil of them. But this is not the way of Christ, who taught his disciples to pray, even for their enemies—on behalf of all those who might be hostile to them.

Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28, 35

Jesus’ clearest sayings in this regard are found in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and the parallel Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ —that is, part of the so-called “Q” material. In the Sermon on the Mount, the sayings occur within the “Antitheses” of 5:21-47, so-called because of the way that Jesus contrasts a customary/traditional saying with his own teaching—e)gw\ de\ le/gw u(mi=n (“but I say to you…”). Jesus’ argument differs in each Antithesis; the customary saying may reflect a distortion of the original meaning and intent of the Law, or he may argue that simply following the letter of the Law is insufficient. The six Antitheses may be divided as follows:

    1. On murder/anger (vv. 21-26)
    2. On adultery/lust (vv. 27-30)
    3. On divorce (vv. 31-32)
    4. On swearing (an oath) (vv. 33-37)
    5. On revenge/retaliation (vv. 38-42)
    6. On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

The sayings in question are part of the six and final Antithesis, on showing love toward one’s enemies.

On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

    • Customary saying:
      “you shall love your neighbor [lit. the one near] and (you shall) hate your enemy [lit. the one hostile]” (v. 43)

    • Jesus’ saying:
      “love your enemies and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the ones pursuing [i.e. persecuting] you” (v. 44)

Relation to the Law:

The saying is extracted from Leviticus 19:18 [LXX], a verse frequently cited in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:9, cf. below); however here the phrase “as yourself” (w($ seauto/n) is not included as part of the citation, presumably to better fit the second part of the saying. The second half of the saying does not come from the Old Testament Scripture at all, but should be regarded as a customary and natural (logical) extension—if one should love one’s friends and neighbors, the opposite would seem to follow: that we should hate our enemies. For the principle expressed in ethical-philosophical terms, see e.g., the Delphic aphorism (“to friends be of good mind [i.e. be kind], with enemies keep [them] away [i.e. defend against, ward off]”) and the famous maxim in Xenophon Mem. 2.6.35 etc. (“a man is virtuous [on the one hand] in prevailing [over] friends in doing good, and [on the other] [over] enemies in [doing] ill”).

Jesus’ Exposition:

Jesus flatly contradicts the conventional wisdom, commanding his disciples instead to love one’s enemies and to pray to God on their behalf. This relates both to personal enemies and to those who persecute [lit. pursue] Jesus’ followers (cf. in the Beatitudes, vv. 10-12). Of all Jesus’ statements in the Antitheses, this represents the most distinctive Christian teaching, and the one which is perhaps most difficult to follow. As in most of the other Antitheses (see above), Jesus extends the Torah command and gives it a deeper meaning—in addition to loving one’s friends and relatives, one must also love one’s enemies.

Example/Application:

As the basis for this command, Jesus cites as an example (verse 45) God the Father himself who:

    • makes the sun to rise upon the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people alike
    • sends the rain upon the ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ people alike

In some ways this is a curious example, drawing from simple observance of natural phenomena, apart from any ethical or religious considerations—for certainly, we see many instances in Scripture where God brings evil and judgment against wicked/unjust people. However, the emphasis here is on the more fundamental nature of God as Creator—giver and preserver of life.

Verses 46-47 provide a clearer application of Jesus’ teaching, and is parallel to the statement in verse 20. The so-called “love command”, with its extension even to one’s enemies, proved to have immense influence in subsequent Christian teaching, even if the force of it was sometimes softened—cf. Rom 12:19-21 (citing Prov 25:21-22). In Galatians 5:14 Paul refers to the love-command (as represented by Lev 19:18) as “all the Law fulfilled in one word”. There are various forms of Jesus’ saying in verse 44 preserved elsewhere in early Christian writings, which may reflect independent transmission: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; Didache 1:3; 2 Clement 13:4; Justin Martyr First Apology 15.9; Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians 11.1; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 3:14; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:12; Justin Dialogue 35:8; 85:7; 96:3; Clementine Homilies 12:32.

Ultimately the purpose (and result) of following Jesus’ teaching is stated in verse 45a:

“how that [i.e. so that] you may come to be sons [i.e. children] of your Father in the heavens”

This demonstrates a clear connection with the language and imagery of the Beatitudes (esp. v. 9); by following God’s own example (in Christ), we come to be like him—the same idea which concludes the Antitheses in verse 48.

The Lukan Version

In the Lukan version of this material, the contiguous sayings of Matt 5:44-45 are shown to be two separate and distinct sayings. That corresponding to v. 44 is found at Lk 6:27-28:

“But I say to the (one)s hearing (me): ‘Love your enemies, do good [kalw=$ poiei=te] to the (one)s hating you, give good account of [i.e. speak well of, bless] the (one)s bringing down a curse on you, (and) speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the (one)s (hurl)ing insults upon you‘.”

The portions in bold match the shorter Matthean saying, the only difference being that, instead of praying for those who persecute (lit. pursue [after]) them, Jesus’ disciples are to pray for those who “hurl insults upon (them)” (vb e)phrea/zw). However, since e)phrea/zw can also connote putting forth threats against a person, the two versions of the saying may not really differ all that much.

However, the Lukan saying is more extensive, citing four kinds of hostile acts (instead of two in Matthew), thus placing even greater emphasis on the disciples responding with love, and the challenge that is involved in doing so. No matter how such people mistreat us or act as our enemies, we, as believers in Christ, must not respond in a like manner, but instead do good to them and pray for them.

The saying corresponding to Matt 5:45 occurs at Lk 6:35, which includes a separate (second) command to love one’s enemies:

“(But) all the more you must love your enemies, and do good [a)gaqopoiei=te], and lend (to them) without expecting (anything) back from (them)—and (then) your wage [i.e. reward] will be much, and you will be sons of (the) Highest…”

Notes on Prayer: Colossians 1:3; 4:2-3, etc

We conclude our series of studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters with a survey of the remaining letters—beginning with Philemon and Colossians, and then turning to consider the references in the disputed letters of Ephesians and 1 Timothy.

Philemon 4-6, 22

The letter to Philemon was, of course, written to an individual rather to the collective believers of a city or territory. Even so, the references to prayer follow the same pattern of the other letters addressed to congregations. The references occur in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing (exhortation) sections of the letter-body, and are framed specifically in terms of the relationship between Paul and his audience. The prayer references in the thanksgiving (vv. 4-7) could have easily been lifted right out of one of the other Pauline letters.

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor, always making mention of you in my (time)s of speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxai/], hearing of your love and trust which you hold toward the Lord Yeshua and (directed) to all the holy (one)s, so that the communication of your trust might come to be working in (the) knowledge about every good (thing) that (is) in you for (the sake of the) Anointed…” (vv. 4-6)

Several of the features here we have seen repeatedly:

    • Paul refers to making mention of the believers (here, Philemon) to God regularly during his times in prayer
    • He gives thanks because of their faithfulness in response to the Gospel (as it has been reported to him)—trusting in Jesus, demonstrating love, growing in faith and virtue and understanding
    • He expresses the wish that they continue to remain faithful

But Paul’s prayers are only one side of the relationship that he holds (as an apostle) with the congregations—they are also asked to pray for him. And so Paul would request this of Philemon as well, just as he does at the close of the letter:

“…but also make ready for me a place (of lodging) for the stranger, for I hope that, through your speaking out toward (God) [proseuxai/], I shall be given to you as a favor (from God).” (v. 22)

The middle-passive verb xari/zomai means “show favor, give (something) as a favor”; in the passive, it refers to the gift or favor itself. It is related to the verb eu)xariste/w in v. 4, which, in a religious context, refers to the favor shown by God, and the gratitude or thanks that we show to Him (in response) for this favor. Here, the favor God will show, through the cooperation of Philemon in his prayers, is to allow Paul the opportunity to visit him.

Colossians 1:3, 9

The prayer references in Colossians follow the same Pauline pattern. The first references occur in the introduction (exordium), which may be divided into two sections—the first containing the thanksgiving (1:3-8), and the second, Paul’s exhortational prayer-wish for the Colossian believers (1:9-14). The opening reference to prayer in the thanksgiving (v. 3) is virtually identical to the statement in Philemon 4 (cf. above). Notably, the statement in Colossians is given in the first-person plural: “We give thanks to God for (His) good favor…always over you, speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxo/menoi]”. In Colossians, Paul gives particular emphasis to his co-workers and fellow missionaries, and so the plural here is significant (cf. verse 7, and further below).

As is typical for Paul, his thanksgiving effectively takes the form of praise for the faithfulness of the believers he is addressing. Specific mention is made of their trust and love, remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel (vv. 4-5), as also of their growth in virtue and understanding (vv. 6-7), and of unity in the Spirit.

The second prayer-reference in the introduction, correspondingly, comes at the opening of the exhortational prayer-wish in vv. 9ff:

“Through [i.e. because of] this we also, from the day on which we heard (this), do not cease speaking out toward (God) [proseuxo/menoi] over you…” (v. 9a)

Paul’s wish (as a prayer to God) is for the Colossians to continue in faith and virtue, growing further in spiritual knowledge and understanding, etc.:

“…and asking (Him) that you would be filled (with) the knowledge about His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b)

The remainder of the prayer-wish—also to be characterized as an intercessory request—is phrased in the typical manner of early Christian ethical instruction and exhortation, of which there certainly are a number of Pauline examples:

“…(for you) to walk about (in a manner) up to a level (worthy) of the Lord, into everything (that is) pleasing (to Him), bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God, being (em)powered in all power, according to the might of His splendor…” (vv. 10-11a)

Also typical of Paul, is the eschatological aspect of this exhortation—a theme that is developed throughout the letter—but nuanced here with a strong dualistic Christological emphasis:

“…(the Father), (hav)ing made us fit for the portion of the lot of the holy (one)s in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the power [e)cousi/a] of darkness and made (us) stand over into the kingdom of His (be)loved Son—in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the putting away of sins” (vv. 12-14)

On the Christological hymn (‘Christ hymn’) that follows in vv. 15-20, cf. my earlier series of notes.

Colossians 4:2-3, 12

The Pauline pattern continues with the prayer-references in the closing (exhortation) section of the letter (4:2-6). Typically, in these sections Paul emphasizes the other side of the prayer relationship between himself and the congregations—namely, that they should regularly be praying for him. He leads into this with a general exhortation for the Colossians to remain firm in prayer:

“In speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], you must be firm toward (it), keeping awake in it with thanks for (His) good favor” (v. 2)

The verb proskartere/w (“be firm/strong toward [something]”) is a key word characterizing the unity of believers in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13; 10:7). Paul also uses it in Romans (12:12; 13:6), and the prayer context of its use in 12:12 is comparable to what we find here. The noun eu)xaristi/a corresponds to the related verb eu)xariste/w in 1:3 (cf. above), emphasizing again the relationship between prayer and the favor God shows to us. As Paul makes clear, there are two aspects to this relationship: (1) we give thanks for the favor God has shown, and (2) we ask that He will continue to show us favor, and that we will act in a manner that is worthy of His favor.

The prayer-emphasis shifts in verse 3:

“…at the same time, also speaking out toward (God) over us, that God would open up for us a door for the account [lo/go$], to speak the secret [musth/rion] of the Anointed, through which I have been bound”

The prayers believers are to make on his behalf typically relate specifically to his missionary work, defined in terms of preaching the Gospel. Here, two key terms are used, in a technical sense, for the Gospel:

    • lo/go$, “account,” that is, a spoken account, shorthand for the expression the “account of God” (Acts 4:31; 6:2, et al)—viz., the account of what God has done through the person of Jesus.
    • musth/rion, “secret” —on this usage, cf. the recent discussion on Rom 16:25-26, as well as my earlier word study series. The Gospel of Christ is a “secret,” hidden throughout all the ages past, and revealed only now, at the present time, through the kerygma (proclamation) by the prophets and apostles of the early Christian mission.

This is a regular theme in Paul’s prayer-references—that believers work together with him (and his fellow missionaries), through their prayers. We have seen repeatedly in our studies the importance of praying for the needs of others, rather than simply for our own needs. It is a key New Testament principle that such selfless and sacrificial prayer is assured of being answered by God.

As in the introduction (cf. above), Paul uses the first-person plural. Sometimes he does this in his letters as a rhetorical device, but here he is specifically including his fellow missionaries and co-workers with him. In the closing that follows in vv. 7-17, Paul mentions ten different persons, among them Epaphras in vv. 12-13. He was mentioned earlier in 1:7, and also in Philemon 23 (both in the context of the prayer-references, cf. above). Epaphras apparently was an apostolic missionary in his own right, and one who would have had much more frequent contact with the congregations of the region. Paul refers to him much as he does to himself, as a “slave” (dou=lo$) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1). In 1:7 the word is su/ndoulo$ (“slave together with [me/us]”), while in Philem 23 he is called “one taken captive [lit. at spearpoint] together with (me)” (sunaixma/lwto$), i.e. “co-prisoner, fellow prisoner”.

Like Paul, Epaphras’ role as an apostolic missionary led him to pray frequently (and fervently) for the believers of that area. Paul describes this here in v. 12 as “struggling over you in his speaking out toward (G0d) [proseuxai/]”. The verb is a)gwni/zomai (“struggle”), used, viz., in athletic competitions; it is something of a Pauline term, as 6 of the 8 NT occurrences are in the Pauline letters (elsewhere, 1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). The occurrences of the substantive (verbal noun), a)gw/n, used in a similar context, should also be noted—1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7. In Paul’s usage, the verb alludes to believers (esp. missionaries) laboring—and enduring suffering—for the sake of the Gospel.

 

 

 

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his references to prayer follow the familiar pattern we have noted in his other letters (esp. 1 Thessalonians). The focus on prayer is a prominent element of the introduction (exordium) portion, in which Paul offers thanks to God for the believers whom he is addressing (here, in Philippi):

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor upon every remembrance of you, (at) every time and in every need [de/hsi$] of mine (expressed to God) over all of you, with joy making the need [de/hsi$] (known)…” (vv. 3-4)

Prayer is defined here (as it frequently is by Paul) in terms of making one’s need (de/hsi$) known to God. As Paul does this, he makes mention (bringing to mind/memory, mnei/a) of the believers in the congregations where he has worked as a missionary (such as in Philippi). Indeed, many of the requests he makes to God are “over” (peri/, i.e., on behalf of) these believers. This is an important point of emphasis that we have noted repeatedly in these studies—how the focus of one’s prayers ought to be for the needs of others, at least much (or more) than for our own needs.

Part of Paul’s focus in prayer, and which features prominently in the letter-introductions, is that the believers for whom he prays will continue to grow in faith and Christian virtue. Just as they responded to his initial preaching of the Gospel, so he asks that they will continue to respond:

“…upon your common-bond in the good message, from the first day until now, having been persuaded of this very (thing), that the (One hav)ing begun in you a good work will complete (it) until (the) day of (the) Anointed Yeshua” (vv. 5-6)

As is typically the case, Paul frames this faithfulness of believers in eschatological terms. Given the fact that first-century Christians almost universally evinced an imminent eschatology, this is hardly surprising. The “day of Christ Jesus” —that is, the day when he will return to earth to usher in the Judgment—was expected to come very soon, within the life-time of believers.

In the expression e)pi\ th=| koinwni/a|, the preposition e)pi/ (“upon, about”) should probably be understood in a causal sense (i.e., because of); in English idiom, we might say, “on the grounds of”. The noun koinwni/a is a fundamental word used to express the unity (common-bond, community) of believers (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Jn 1:3ff), and is used with some frequency by Paul (13 of the 19 NT occurrences are in the undisputed Pauline letters). This “common bond” is defined in terms of the Gospel (“good message, good news”). As is often the case in the New Testament, the noun eu)agge/lion is used in a comprehensive sense, extending from believers’ initial response to the Gospel preaching until the present moment (“from the first day until now”).

The “common bond” between believers can also be viewed in the specific (local) context of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations. In this regard, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians’ continued support for his missionary work; this support certainly includes their prayers for him (v. 19). We have discussed this aspect of Paul’s prayer-references in the previous studies.

It is Paul himself who is persuaded (vb pei/qw) of the fact that God is faithful and will complete the work begun among the Philippian believers. As believers, we also have to do our part, remaining committed to the Gospel (and the common-bond of unity), following the example of Jesus (2:5-6ff), and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (2:1ff).

Following the thanksgiving of vv. 3-6, Paul shifts to address the Philippian congregations directly in vv. 7-8:

“Even so it is right for me to have this mind-set over all of you, through my holding you in the heart—both in my bonds and in the account (I give) and (the) confirmation of the good message—all of you being my common partners of the favor (of God). For God (is) my witness, how I long after all of you with (the) inner organs [spla/gxna] of (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

Paul says that it is right (di/kaio$) and proper for him to hold this view regarding the Philippians, because they have already demonstrated their faith and commitment to the Gospel. Indeed, they continue to support Paul through the difficulties and travails of his mission-work, even to the point where he has been imprisoned (“in my bonds”). The noun sugkoinwno/$ (“common [partner] together”) is, of course, related to koinwni/a, and reflects a more active and direct manifestation of the “common bond” of Christian unity—in terms of participation and cooperation in the Christian mission. The bond of unity is also an emotional bond, as Paul describes how he “longs for” the Philippian believers, with a longing that reflects the very “inner organs” (spec. intestines, as the seat of emotion) of Christ himself. This longing is further manifest in Paul’s prayers for the Philippians:

“And this I speak out toward (God) [proseu/xomai]: that your love still more and more would abound, with (full) knowledge and all perception, unto your giving consideration (to) the (thing)s carrying through (as pleasing to God), (so) that you would be shining like the sun, and without striking (your foot) against (a stone), until (the) day of (the) Anointed” (vv. 9-10)

Paul essentially repeats his confident hope (and wish) from verse 6 (cf. above), regarding the Philippians being ‘made complete’ in anticipation of the return of Christ (“the day of [the] Anointed”). The Christian growth in virtue is understood in relation to the fundamental ethical principle of love (a)ga/ph), and it is  this ‘love principle’ (or ‘love command,’ cf. Rom 13:8-10, etc) that informs Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation in the body of the letter (beginning at 2:1ff). If the love of Christians continues to grow and abound (vb perisseu/w), then all other important aspects of Christian life will follow. The ultimate goal of this growth is expressed through the rather colorful pair of adjectives: ei)likrinh/$ (“shining like the sun”) and a)pro/skopo$. The latter term literally means something like “without striking/dashing against,” which, as an idiom, relates to the idea of striking one’s foot against a stone (and thus falling); in simpler English, we would say “without stumbling”. The promise of being made complete in Christ is summarized more succinctly in verse 11 as “having been filled (with the) fruit of righteousness”. How often do make such a prayer—that our fellow believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness”?

This interrelationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations continues to be a key point of emphasis throughout the remainder of the exordium. Paul prays for the Philippians’ continued growth in the Gospel, while they are to pray for him in his continued mission-work of preaching the Gospel. The latter is the focus in vv. 19-26, while the former is emphasized in vv. 27-30. His prayer for the Philippians is expressed as an exhortation to them, marking a transition to the ethical instruction in chapters 2-4:

“Only as it comes up (to the level) of the good message of the Anointed, may you live as a citizen…” (v. 27)

The verb politeu/omai (lit. something like “live as a citizen”) refers, in a comprehensive sense, to a person’s daily life and conduct. The exhortation means that this does not happen automatically for believers—it requires commitment and attention on our behalf. The power to achieve this measure of growth, and to realize the ideal of unity, does, however, come from God (and His Spirit); if we are faithful, and allow God’s work to proceed in our hearts and lives, then we will be made complete. Indeed, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians would be faithful in this regard; let us, too, make such prayer on behalf of our fellow believers, asking (together with Paul):

“…that you stand in one spirit, with a single soul striving together in the trust of the Gospel”