Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple

Having completed our recent series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, set on the occasion of the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple, it is worth considering the broader interpretive implication of the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH.

The Centralization of Worship

An important religious and theological issue in 1 Kings 8 is the centralization of worship for the Israelite people. By this is meant the central place of Jerusalem and the Temple for the religion of the kingdom of Israel/Judah, a principle rooted in the developing royal theology of the kingdom period. Religious unity is essential for unifying the kingdom, and the presence of the Temple was a focal point for this goal of unity. The centrality of Jerusalem (and the Temple) is a fundamental theme of the entire Deuteronomic history, being established in the book of Deuteronomy itself (cf. 12:5-6ff; 14:23-25; 16:2ff; 17:8ff; 26:2; 31:11), but naturally coming into much greater prominence in the book of Kings. In 1 Kings 8, this centrality is expressed two different ways:

    • In the surrounding narrative (vv. 1-11, 62-66), people from all over the kingdom come to Jerusalem, to the Temple precincts, for the festival of Sukkot/Booths, according to the directive given in Deut 31:10-11ff. Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals, during which all adult males were required to “appear before YHWH” (Exod 23:14, 17; 34:23); in the Deuteronomic tradition, this meant traveling to “the place which YHWH will choose” (16:16, etc)—that is, to Jerusalem.
    • Within the Prayer (vv. 12-61), the Jerusalem Temple becomes the focus of the people’s prayers. Regardless of where the people are throughout the kingdom (or even far away in exile), they are to pray in the direction of the Temple.

It is interesting to consider how the religious significance and symbolism of the Temple developed in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and how these lines of tradition ultimately were inherited by early Christians in the first century. A particularly important line of tradition is eschatological—the Temple played a key role in Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought during the first centuries B.C./A.D. I discuss this subject at some length in an earlier article.

It is thus not surprising that the relation of Jesus to the Temple was a theme of some prominence for early Christians, being expressed and developed at various points in the New Testament. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, who was ushering in a New Age for God’s people, meant that the eschatological (and Messianic) significance of the Temple had to be applied to the person of Jesus in some way.

I have discussed Jesus’ relationship to the Jerusalem Temple in the series “Jesus and the Law”, examining it within the broader context of his view of the Law (Torah). The Temple ritual is an important part of the commands and ordinances in the Law, and Jesus’ relation to it is an important aspect of this subject. My study of the subject, in the aforementioned series, was divided into three areas:

    1. Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple
    2. The “Temple saying” of Jesus
    3. Other sayings and teachings related to the Temple

The first two are discussed in Part 6, while the third is examined in Part 7.

In particular, the Temple-action and Temple-saying(s) by Jesus have eschatological (and Messianic) significance, both at the level of the original historical event/tradition, and the way that these have been narrated and presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus consciously responding to the traditional line of eschatological thought—viz., that the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time would involve a new/restored Temple (cf. my previously mentioned article)? I believe that the answer must be regarded as affirmative, though with some qualification. From the earlier studies on the eschatology in the Sayings and Parables of Jesus, we have seen how Jesus repeatedly began from the point of the traditional expectation, but then proceeded to re-interpret it, giving it a deeper meaning in relation to his own person and identity (as Messiah and Son of Man). The same appears to be true with regard to the Temple action, and also the Temple saying (in John they are combined together).

Three distinct strands can be found in the Gospel tradition:

    • The destruction of the Temple in terms of the end-time Judgment
    • A new/restored role and purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The identification of Jesus himself as the new/true Temple, which also marks the end of the old Covenant and the beginning of the new (in Christ)

Early Christians developed all three strands, though it is the last of these which came to dominate by the end of the New Testament period.

Early Christian Views of the Temple

The last two themes mentioned above were applied and developed by early Christians almost immediately, indicating that they followed naturally from Jesus’ own teaching; this pair of themes may be summarized:

    • The Temple as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The Temple fulfilled in the person of Jesus

Both aspects involve the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, allowing for the Temple idea to continue among believers long after the historical Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Already in the Gospel tradition, several statements by Jesus identify the Temple with his own person, and thus imply that following him effectively takes the place of fulfilling the Temple ritual (Matt 12:5-8; John 2:19ff, etc; cf. Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”). This came to be made more explicit by early Christians, and two areas of the New Testament may be highlighted:

    1. The sacrificial ritual is fulfilled and completed (i.e. put to an end) by Jesus’ own (sacrificial) death. This is expressed all throughout the body of Hebrews (4:14-10:18), as well as in passages such as Rom 3:25; Eph 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
    2. Believers in Jesus are priests, able to touch the holy things and to enter, in a spiritual manner, the sacred shrine through our union with Christ. Cf. 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; also Rom 15:16.

Combining both ideas leads to the core image of believers, collectively and in community, as the body of Christ—i.e., the (true) Temple and House of God. This is found numerous times in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; and especially Eph 2:19-22. In 2 Cor 5:1, it refers to the eternal life awaiting believers following death and resurrection. In this regard, there is a clear echo of the Temple-saying of Jesus (in Mk 14:58), with its use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”; cf. also Col 2:11 and the wording in Acts 7:41, 48, 50 [referring to Temples]). In John 2:19ff, the Temple-saying of Jesus was interpreted precisely in terms of his death and resurrection, in which believers now have a share. The idea of believers as the (spiritual) house of God is also found in 1 Pet 2:5; cf. also Rev 3:12.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:62-66

1 Kings 8:62-66

Verses 62-66 comprise the narrative conclusion to the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8 (cf. last week’s study on vv. 54-61). Together with the introduction in vv. 1-11, these verses frame the Prayer itself and constitute the core historical tradition upon which the overall literary work was based. Verses 62-66 could be read after verse 11 without disruption or without the sense that anything was missing.

Interestingly, while the Prayer itself makes virtually no mention of the Temple cultus (i.e., the sacrificial ritual), emphasizing instead the Temple as a focal point for the people’s prayers, the surrounding narrative has a ritual emphasis. The festival setting (Sukkot) is established in vv. 1-2ff, and, in vv. 62-64 the associated sacrificial offerings are described. Verse 62 presumably refers to the prescribed offerings outlined in Numbers 29:12-38. Bulls, rams, and yearling lambs were all to be presented, collectively by the people, as burnt offerings. In all likelihood, the number of burnt offerings for the seven days (combined) is meant to have symbolic importance: 70 bulls, 28 rams, 98 lambs; additionally, there was to be the sin offering of a goat each day (7 in all, with another on the eighth day), along with grain and drink (libation) offerings. On the eighth day, the burnt offering would be: one bull, one ram, and seven lambs.

The offerings described in vv. 63-64, presented specifically under the king’s supervision (cp. 2 Sam 6:18; 1 Kings 12:32; 2 Kings 16:12-15), would have been separate from the offerings prescribed for Sukkot. They are specifically referred to as <l#v# offerings. The term <l#v# is often translated flatly, and somewhat misleadingly, “peace offering”. In actuality, the word defies easy translation into English; some translators render it “offering of well-being”, and this is rather closer to the mark. The root <lv denotes “fullness, completion”, and is frequently used in the context of a binding agreement (covenant) between two parties—and, specifically, of the covenant between YHWH and Israel. The <lv word-group, in this context, refers to the “fulfillment” of the covenant-bond—i.e., of maintaining and reinforcing the binding relationship between YHWH and His people (and of the people with one another). Only a portion of the <l#v# offering (i.e., the blood and fat) was devoted to God, with certain meat-parts (right thigh and breast) reserved for the priest(s); the rest of the animal could be used/eaten by the worshiper in a votive meal.

As would be fitting for the spectacle of the occasion (the inauguration of the Temple), Solomon supervised an enormous number of sacrificial offerings. Most commentators view the sheer number as an unrealistic exaggeration. Be that as it may, the author (and his underlying tradition) clearly intends to bring across the grandeur of the scene, being appropriate for the occasion: “And (so) the king and all (the) sons of Yisrael inaugurated (the) house of YHWH”. The verb En~j* denotes the beginning or initiation of something; in this context, “inaugurate” would be a proper translation of the verb.

In order to offer the sacrifices (by fire) to YHWH, it was necessary specifically to consecrate (vb vd^q*) the altar, along with the area around the altar (in the middle of the courtyard), because of the consecrated space needed to support the size and scope of this ritual celebration (v. 64).

The concluding verses 65-66 form an inclusio for the narrative with vv. 1-2, emphasizing again the celebration of the Sukkot festival. Apparently, the festival was held over a 14-day period, rather than the normal 7-day period, thus doubling the length of time. According to the parallel in 2 Chron 7:9, the first seven days were devoted to the inauguration of the Temple, with the second seven days belonging to the festival (cp. 2 Chron 30:23ff); in any case, the final (eighth) day of the festival would have occurred at the end of the 14-day period.

With the king (Solomon) having fulfilled his role overseeing the celebration, the focus at the close of the narrative shifts to the people. They bless the king (parallel to his blessing of the people in vv. 54-61), after which—

“…they went to their tents, (being) glad and good of heart over all the good that YHWH had done for Dawid His servant and for Yisrael His people.” (v. 66)

The closing reference to David brings to mind again an important point of emphasis in the Prayer—namely, that of defining the established covenant-bond between YHWH and His people in terms of the Judean royal theology. This theology particularly involves the person of the king and the royal city of Jerusalem. The location of the Temple in Jerusalem, as part of the palace-temple complex on the ancient hilltop site of Zion (i.e., the “city of David”), firmly roots the covenant within this royal setting. Compare this same emphasis as it is expounded in vv. 15-26.

As I have previously noted, a key purpose of the Temple was to unite the hearts and minds of the people, unifying the kingdom from a religious and spiritual standpoint. There are two main aspects of this process: (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the emphasis on the name of God. In next week’s study, the concluding study in this series on 1 Kings 8, these aspects will be discussed in more detail, and we will also attempt to apply the principal results of our exposition to the religious identity and experience of believers in Christ today.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:54-61

1 Kings 8:54-61

With the conclusion of Solomon’s prayer to YHWH (cf. the previous study) in verse 53, it is narrated that the king “stood up” (vb <Wq), from the position of worship in which he had delivered the prayer (according to v. 54): i.e., kneeling before the altar, with his hands (lit. palms) “spread out” toward the heavens. Such a gesture with the hands (cp. verses 22, 38) is a traditional element of worship and prayer, indicating a person’s devotion to God (cf. Job 11:13; Psalm 44:21[20]; 143:6; Isa 1:15). The additional act of kneeling reflects an attitude of submission, prostrating oneself before God, as one would before royalty. Solomon, though king, acknowledges YHWH as his Sovereign; this idea of the king as a faithful/loyal vassal to God (and to the covenant) is a vital component of the Israelite/Judean royal theology. Solomon’s position in prayer, kneeling with hands outstretched to heaven, is matched by Ezra in 9:5ff, where he likewise prays to YHWH as a leader representing the people.

In vv. 56-61, Solomon blesses the gathering of the people, much in the manner of the blessing to be uttered by the priests during times of public worship and sacrifice (cf. Lev 9:22-23; Num 6:23-27; cp. the setting in Lk 1:10, 21-22). The blessing is introduced as follows:

“And he stood (there) and blessed all (the) assembly of Yisrael (with) a great voice, saying…” (v. 55)

The verb Er^B* is usually translated “bless”, but it can also be synonymous with the verb ur^K*, used in v. 54, meaning “bend the knee, kneel”. The noun Er#B# means “knee”, and it has been thought that the verb Er^B* may be denominative, derived from this noun; more likely, perhaps, is that the range of meaning reflects a fundamental connection between the act of kneeling and the receiving of a blessing. In any case, Er^B* only rarely carries the strict meaning “kneel” in the Old Testament; in the vast majority of the 330 occurrences, it refers to the utterance of words intended to bring well-being and prosperity (i.e., blessing), or to the bringing about of such a condition of well-being.

The spoken blessing, like the curse (cf. the prior note on v. 31-32), had a quasi-magical character in ancient Near Eastern thought—i.e., the blessing uttered in speech was expected to come to pass. In the context of a binding agreement (covenant), where blessing and curse formulas were utilized, it was thought that the blessings would ensue if the agreement was upheld, while the curses would be realized if the agreement was violated. Cf. the famous examples in Deuteronomy 27-28.

There can be little doubt that the blessing uttered here by Solomon has adherence to the covenant in mind. This is clear by the way that the blessing is framed. The first part features a series of jussive verb forms, indicating what the speaker wishes and expects God will do for the people (vv. 57-58), while the blessing closes (v. 61) with a similar expression of what he expects from the people. This reflects the two sides of the binding agreement, where each side has an obligation to fulfill. The initial blessing, directed toward YHWH (v. 56), establishes the faithfulness that He has shown toward Israel in the past, throughout the people’s history (cf. vv. 15-20, 23-24, 51-53):

“Blessed [EWrB*] (be) YHWH, who has given a place of rest for His people Yisrael, according to all that He spoke—not one word has fallen from all of His good word that He spoke by (the) hand of Moshe His servant.”

The expectation is that YHWH will continue to be faithful to the covenant, and this expectation is expressed through the jussive forms in verse 57:

    • “May He be [yh!y+]…with us, according to the (way) that He was with our fathers—
      may He not leave us [Wnb@z+u^y~-la^]
      and not forsake us [Wnv@F=y]-la^]—”

The continued presence of YHWH with His people reflects the covenant bond—He is their God and they are His people—whereby He will provide both blessing and protection to them. The portion indicated by the ellipsis (…) in the translation above emphasizes this relationship: “YHWH our Mighty (One) [i.e. God]”.

The purpose of this supervising Divine presence is stated in verse 58, through a series of infinitives, comparable to the jussives in v. 57:

    • to make our hearts bend toward Him,
      (for us) to walk in all His ways
      and to guard His commands… which He commanded our fathers”

YHWH’s gracious presence will enable the people to remain faithful, preserving the covenant bond. And yet, the people themselves are still obligated to fulfill their side of the agreement, since God’s presence will not remain if they do not also stay faithful/loyal to him. This is the expectation for the people spoken at the close of the blessing (v. 61); note the formal parallel with verse 57:

    • May YHWH our Mighty (One) be with us…”
    • “And may your heart be complete [<l@v*] with YHWH our Mighty (One)…”

The same imperfect (jussive) of the verb of being/becoming (hy`h*) is used, along with the preposition <u! (“with”). If the people’s collective “heart” is complete(ly) (<l@v*) with YHWH, then He will be with them. The root <lv is frequently used in the context of the covenant, alluding to one’s (complete) loyalty and the fulfillment of one’s obligation. In particular, the people are to observe the terms of the covenant, represented by the various regulations and precepts in the Torah; the same language from v. 58 is used again here:

“…to walk in His decrees, and to guard His commands, as (on) th(is) day.” (v. 61b)

By assembling in Jerusalem for the festival, in an attitude of worship and devotion, the people are showing themselves faithful; the hope and expectation is that they will continue to do so, in all matters, in the future.

The central portion of the blessing occurs in the intervening verses 59-60, where the same wish—again expressed through an imperfect/jussive form of the verb hy`h*—is applied to the words of the Prayer itself:

“And may my words, these (by) which I have made request for favor before YHWH, be near to YHWH our Mighty (One), day and night, (for Him) to make (good the) just (cause) of His servant, and (the) just (cause) of His people Yisrael—(each) word of a day in its day—so (as) for all (the) people of the earth to know [i.e. that they might know] that YHWH, He (is) the Mightiest, (and that) there is no (one) else!”

The blessing for the people thus entails YHWH’s favorable response to their prayers, the expectation of which is laid out in vv. 30-53. Justice (fP*v=m!) will be done for the people in accordance with the rightness and faithfulness of their prayer, in every situation, as it might come about each day. The blessing that YHWH will show to His people, when the covenant bond is maintained, ultimately will lead other nations and peoples to turn toward the God of Israel, recognizing and worshiping Him as “the Mightiest” [<yh!l)a$h*]—the Creator and one true God.

Next week, we will bring this study on the Prayer of Solomon to a close, examining the conclusion of the chapter (vv. 62-66) as well as drawing together some of the insights to be gleaned from the passage, regarding prayer, that might relate to our circumstances as believers in Christ today.


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).