Connections 08.22.2021: A Broad Focus

1 Kings 8:25-30, 41-43

The construction of the Jerusalem temple had been completed. King Solomon was presiding over a dedication ceremony. He addressed the people of Israel who had gathered for the occasion.

Solomon spoke of the temple as the locus of Israel’s prayer life. But he talked about it in a nuanced way. He made it clear that while the temple was to remind the people of God’s presence, God didn’t actually dwell in the temple. The people may pray toward the temple, but God will actually hear their prayers in heaven. The presence of the temple may call and remind the people to pray, but they pray to God in heaven who hears in heaven and answers from heaven.

We need to remember that the purpose of Solomon’s speech was to dedicate the temple. Its construction had taken many years, required much work, and consumed much wealth. It was a magnificent structure that no doubt produced great pride among the people. It would be the focus of the people’s religious life for centuries. The construction of the temple was one of the signature achievements of Solomon’s reign.

In other words, the temple was a big deal. And yet Solomon cautioned the people against making too big a deal of it. They needed to remember that while the temple was an impressively beautiful building, it was still just a building. It should remind them of God and it should remind them to pray to God. But they should remember that they need ultimately to focus on God.

Most of Solomon’s speech was a prayer. He spent a lot of time asking God to hear the prayers of the people of Israel when they got themselves into various predicaments and asked God for help. The people no doubt thought this emphasis appropriate.

One wonders what they thought when Solomon prayed that God would hear the prayers of people from other countries. But Solomon prayed for that too. Sure, he assumed that those people would be drawn to God by what they saw God do for the people of Israel, but he also assumed that God’s desire was for people from all over the world to come to know God.

In short, Solomon prayed that the people of Israel wouldn’t think of the temple in provincial terms—that they wouldn’t think of it too narrowly by believing that God was limited either to it or by it. They needed to remember that while God had a special relationship to the temple, God is far too great to be confined to any building. They also needed to remember that while God had a special relationship with the people of Israel, God’s love and grace is far too great to be confined to one group of people.

It probably wouldn’t take much effort for us to apply Solomon’s prayer to the church, would it?

Discussion

  • Why do you think Solomon asked God to keep the covenant God had established with Solomon’s father David?
  • Why might it have been easy for the people to emphasize the temple too much?
  • What in the subsequent history of Israel shows that the people did in fact put too much trust in the temple?
  • Solomon assumed that people from outside Israel would be drawn to worship God when they saw what God did on Israel’s behalf. How do we bear witness to what Jesus does on our behalf?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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