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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 81 (Part 1)

Psalm 81

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPse (vv. 2-3 [1-2]); 11QPsd (vv. 5-11 [4-10]; MasPsa (vv. 2-17 [1-16])

This Psalm has a curious hybrid character: part hymn, part prophetic oracle, and a composition that may have had a place in the Israelite liturgy for the celebration of the festivals (esp. Passover, cf. the discussion below). Like other of the Asaph Psalms that we have recently examined, Ps 81 appears to have a northern provenance (indicated by the Israel/Joseph pairing in vv. 5-6).

There is a definite two-part structure to this Psalm, and here the Selah (hl*s#) pause marker serves as a legitimate structural indicator. The first part (vv. 2-8) is a hymn to YHWH, functioning as a call to worship. Within this framework, the historical tradition of the Exodus provides the setting for the prophetic oracle that follows in the second part (vv. 9-17). The words of YHWH begin at v. 6b, and this fact has led commentators, incorrectly I believe, to treat vv. 6b-17 as a coherent division of the Psalm; it is the Selah marker the provides the correct structural point of division, as noted above.

Metrically, this Psalm follows the typical 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, though there are a few exceptions (which will be noted). The heading gives the musical direction tyT!G]h^-lu^, as in Pss 8 and 84; the term tyT!G] could refer to a type of instrument (perhaps a harp), or to a particular melody (or mode).

Psalm 81 is one of the best attested Psalms among the Dead Sea manuscripts, including a MS from Masada where it fully represented. All of the manuscripts are quite fragmentary, however it is perhaps worth noting that there are no variant readings of substance in the portions of the text that are preserved.

As with all of Pss 7383, this composition is attributed to (and/or associated with) Asaph. The second half of this Psalm is presented as a prophetic oracle, and, as we have seen, a number of the Asaph-Psalms have certain prophetic features; for more on Asaph, and the tradition that he and his descendants were prophets, cf. the earlier study on Ps 50).

PART 1: Verses 2-8 [1-7]

Verse 2 [1]

“Ring out (praise) to (the) Mightiest, our Strength,
give a shout to (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob!”

The opening couplet is a call to worship, calling on the people to sing/shout praise to YHWH. The basic religious and theological principle is that YHWH is the God (Mighty One) of Israel (Jacob); as a result, He is considered as the ultimate source of their strength (zou) and protection. The suffixed word “our strength” is a bit unusual, and it is possible that here the noun zou connotes “stronghold”. Dahood (II, p. 263) reads parallel construct expressions in both lines (i.e., “Mighty [One] of…”) and treats the final <– of <yh!l)a$ as an interposed enclitic <-; in such a case the expressions would, indeed, be parallel: “Mighty (One) of our strong(hold) / Mighty (One) of Jacob”.

Verse 3 [2]

“Lift up music and give (it on the) tambor(ine),
(on the) sweet lyre (together) with (the) harp.”

The call to worship continues with this direction for the people to take up their instruments, in order to sing out praise to YHWH (as directed in v. 2). They are to “lift up” their music (hr*m=z]); curiously, the regular term (romz+m!) designating the Psalm as a musical composition is absent from the heading of Ps 81. The adjective <yu!n` means “sweet, pleasant”, here referring to the sweet sounds that can be produced on the lyre and harp.

Verse 4 [3]

“Blow (the) horn on the (day of the) new (moon),
on the full (moon), for (the) day of our festival.”

The call to worship continues, with the praise being located at the time of a public festival. The term gj^ came to designate the great pilgrimage festivals, such as Passover and Sukkot. Here the timing of the festival coincides with the beginning of the month—the expressions “new (moon)” (vd#j)) and “full (moon)” (hs#K@) are obviously parallel, marking the transition from one month to the next. The Exodus context of vv. 6-11 suggests that the festival in question is Passover.

Verse 5 [4]

“For this (is) an engraved (decree), O Yisrael,
an edict from (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob.”

This couplet refers specifically to celebration the festival (gj^) mentioned in v. 4. If the context is the celebration of the Passover, then the solemn declaration here would be particularly appropriate (cf. the instructions and tradition regarding Passover in Exodus 12). The order to celebrate the festival is here treated as an edict or decree sent down by a king (YHWH), using the terms qj) (denoting something engraved or written) and fP*v=m! (a decision given down by a ruling figure which has the force of law).

This verse demonstrates the wide range of meaning that attaches to the simple prepositions l= and B=. Here, the first prefixed –l is best treated a vocativel (“O Israel”), though most translators render it flatly as “for Israel”; the vocative better fits the context of a call to the Israelite people to praise YHWH and celebrate the festival. The second –l clearly refers to the decree as coming from YHWH, though it also possible to translate the preposition in this instance as “belonging to”.

Verse 6ab [5ab]

“(As a duty to be) repeated He set it on Yôsep,
in his going out (from) upon (the) land of Egypt.”

The term tWdu@ is parallel with qj) and fP*v=m! in v. 5, referring to the command by YHWH to celebrate the festival; the context here would seem to require that Passover is the festival in view. According to the tradition(s) recorded in Exodus 12, the directions for celebration of Passover were given at the time of Israel “going out from the land of Egypt”.

The noun tWdu@ fundamentally refers to something which is repeated; I take it to be used here with this basic emphasis, referring to the regular/repeated celebration of the Passover festival.

The use of the preposition lu^, in the context of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, is peculiar; one would rather expect /m! as in many other such references (e.g., here in v. 11 of this Psalm). As noted above, many of the Hebrew prepositions have a wide semantic range, and lu^ can occasionally carry a meaning something like “from” in English (cf. Dahood, II, p. 264). Other commentators (e.g., Kraus, Hossfeld-Zenger) translate it here as “against”, but this does not seem appropriate (or correct). I have slanted my translation slightly, to capture the idea of the Israelite people going out from the place where they had been—viz., living upon (or spread over) the land of Egypt.

Verse 6c-7 [5c-6]

“(The) lip of (one) I did not know I heard,
(and) I turned aside his shoulder from (the) load,
and his hands passed over from (the) basket.”

There is an abrupt change of speaker at the third line of verse 6, and it immediately becomes clear that YHWH is now speaking; thus the Psalm shifts to become an oracle, with the Psalmist functioning as a prophet. The setting of the Exodus, introduced in 6b, provides the impetus for this brief but dramatic recounting of YHWH’s role in the Exodus events.

It is, I think, best to treat v. 6c together with v. 7 as a tricolon. It presents a clear narrative progression:

    • God hears Israel’s cry for help =>
      • He responds and takes away the burden =>
        • The people become free from their service/labor

It may seem strange that YHWH would refer to Israel as “(one) I did not know”. This could be an allusion to the sequence in Exodus 2:23-25: the people cry for help in their bondage, and the cry comes up to God, who hears it; the cry prompts Him to remember the covenant He established with Israel’s ancestors (Abraham/Isaac/Jacob). Then in v. 25 we read: “And (the) Mightiest saw (the) sons of Yisrael, and the Mightiest knew (them).” This was the moment when God truly knew Israel as His people.

Verse 8 [7]

“In the (time of) distress you called and I pulled you out;
I answered you (from with)in (the) hiding (place) of thunder,
(and yet) I was tested by you at (the) waters of strife.”

The oracle continues with a second tricolon that further summarizes the events of the Exodus (cf. vv. 6-7 above). The first two lines here may simply be repeating the general idea of Israel’s cry for help and YHWH’s answer; however, I think it probable that the scene has shifted to the more specific setting of the episode at the Reed Sea (Exod 14-15), where the people cried out to God (14:10), and He answered them, through the hand of Moses (vv. 13-14ff). The reference to “the hiding (place) of thunder” is an allusion to the storm-theophany, applied to YHWH as Creator and heavenly Ruler, with his control over the waters; for more on this ancient cosmological imagery, expressed with some frequency in the Psalms, cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. His power over the Sea allowed Israel to escape from Egypt. The thunder-motif, with the theophanous cloud as a ‘hiding place,’ also alludes to the scene at mount Sinai (Exodus 19ff).

The implied reference to the waters of the Reed Sea is paralleled by the reference, in the final line, to the episode at the “waters of strife/Merîbah [hb*yr!m=]” (cf. Exod 17:1-7; Num 20:10-13). Dahood (II, p. 265) is almost certainly correct in his assessment that injba needs to parsed as a passive (Niphal) form with dative suffix (of agency)—i.e., “I was tested by you”. This act of faithlessness by the people is meant as a stark contrast with the faithfulness of YHWH in answering them and rescuing them from their bondage in Egypt (lines 1-2). My translation above brings out this contrastive emphasis: “…(yet) I was tested by you at (the) waters of strife”.

This ending of the Psalm’s first half, on a negative note highlighting the people’s lack of trust in God, sets the stage for the second half (vv. 9-17), in which YHWH, in another prophetic oracle, brings forth a complaint (in the tradition of the ‘covenant lawsuit’) against His people for their lack of loyalty and trust.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).