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).
“…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).