Formations 10.20.2019: Containing God

2 Chronicles 6:18-21; 7:12-18

There are some impressive houses of worship in this world. Some are centuries-old survivors of war, fire, and poverty. Their stonework and artwork immortalize great architects and artists across the ages. Some are gilded with gold and vibrant with stained glass. Some are collections of buildings: the original sanctuary, the new high-tech worship center, the preschool, the youth wing, the Bible study building, and the family life center that includes a full-sized gym. Solomon would have been proud of all of these.

In 1 Kings 6, you can read about the temple that took Solomon seven years to build according to God’s specifications. It was undoubtably a glorious masterpiece—a house fit for the Almighty God!

We certainly want our places of worship to inspire attitudes of reverence, honor, and praise toward God. The people of each congregation must work together to decide what elements to place in their sanctuary, how much money to spend on repairs and upkeep, whether to construct a new building to reach more people, whether to sell the building and relocate the fellowship to a different area, and so on. We want to give attention to the space that we call “God’s house.” We want to respect it, consecrate it, and view it as holy.

But it’s important to understand that God is not in any way bound by our spaces. God is just as evident in the tiny, falling-down country church that can’t afford a new roof, in the movie theater rented for morning worship, and in the pub hosting a “beer and hymns” event. God is evident on the hiking trail in the Colorado mountains, on the downtown street with trash on the curb, and in the dark room at the rehabilitation center. God is evident by the ocean and in the cave and in the hospital bed and at my kitchen table. Our worship spaces are important, even essential to our spiritual health, but we can never contain God in any one place.

Let us be humble enough to pray with Solomon, “…will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!” (2 Chr 6:18).

And, no matter where we are at any moment, may we listen for God’s response: “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (2 Chr 7:14-16).

We don’t make a space holy; God does.

Discussion

• What are some of the most magnificent worship spaces you have seen? How did they make you feel in awe of God?

• Have you ever been to places of worship whose extravagance made you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?
• What do you think it would have been like to walk inside Solomon’s temple? How would its grandness inspire reverence before the Lord?
• In what space have you felt the closest to God? Was it a church? If not, why not?
• How can we avoid the danger of feeling that our place of worship is God’s first choice of residence? Why is it important to remind ourselves that we can never contain God?
• How do you think God consecrates a place of worship, wherever it may be? What does it feel like to be at one of these places?

Reference Shelf

6:12-42. Solomon’s prayer of dedication. Solomon prayed the dedication prayer kneeling on a bronze platform prepared for this solemn occasion. Kneeling and spreading the hands toward heaven were common gestures associated with prayer. In his prayer Solomon acknowledged that Yahweh was a faithful God who “keeps the covenant and who keeps being faithful” (v. 14, author trans.). Then Solomon made several requests of Yahweh: that Yahweh keep his promise to continue David’s dynasty (vv. 16-17); that he hear the supplications of the people made in the Temple (v. 21); that he arbitrate between individuals who seek divine guidance (vv. 22-23); that he forgive Israel whenever they are defeated because of sin (vv. 24-25); and that he hear the prayers of the people in times of drought and other natural disasters (vv. 26-31). Solomon also asked God to hear the prayer of aliens whenever they came to pray in the Temple (vv. 32-33); that he bless the people in times of war (vv. 34-35); and that he forgive the people whenever they sin (vv. 36 39). In 1 Kgs 8:53 Solomon’s prayer ends with a reference to the Mosaic covenant. The CHR [the writer of Chronicles] ends Solomon’s prayer with a quotation from Ps 132:8-10. This quotation deals with the ark and God’s promise to David. With this substitution, the CHR is clearly emphasizing that the covenant that Yahweh made with Israel culminated with David and his dynasty.

God’s Answer to Solomon, 7:11-22

God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer came at night, as it had come at Gibeon (1 Kgs 9:1-9). Yahweh had chosen the Temple to be a house of sacrifice (v. 12). He also promised to forgive the sins of the people and heal their land as Solomon had requested, provided the people meet four conditions: they must humble themselves; they must pray; they must seek God’s face; and they must turn or repent from their evil ways. In turn, God promised to hear their prayer, forgive their sins, and heal their land. God’s answer to Solomon expressed his desire to restore the people. This verse is a clear expression of the CHR’s view of immediate retribution. To the CHR reward follows obedience and punishment follows disobedience. To the CHR reward and punishment are not delayed but are dispensed immediately. Yahweh told Solomon that if he obeyed the commandments his dynasty would last but if he disobeyed and worshiped other gods, then the people would go into exile and the exalted house he had built would be destroyed and become an object of ridicule among the nations.

Excerpts from Claude F. Mariottini, “First and Second Chronicles,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills and Richard F. Wilson (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995).

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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