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The Temple as a Reminder to Repent of Sin - 1 Kings 8:46-60

True repentance is not a magic spell -- it is the right response to sin.


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for 1 Kings 8:46-60

In this week's lesson, we cover the temple in one fell swoop. The temple was intended to be a reminder of God's presence among His people and that God made a way to forgive their sin (when they repented). The dedication of the newly constructed temple was certainly a highpoint in Jewish history! Things went downhill from there, unfortunately.

may you hear in heaven, your dwelling place, their prayer and petition and uphold their cause. (8:49)

With apologies, this week's entry will be more scattered than usual. I've been at a conference all week, and I grossly overestimated how much free time they would give us.


This week's lesson represents a bunch of chapters about the building and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. Solomon's prayer of dedication (which we are focusing on) is beautiful and powerful and doesn't need a lot of elaboration. Instead, I'll focus my energy on the temple itself (and I'll include some stuff I just learned this week that might be helpful to us!).


Building Dedication/Ribbon-Cutting Ceremonies

The leader materials bring up ribbon-cutting ceremonies as a discussion topic. I think it would be more appropriate to focus on a church building dedication, particularly a sanctuary. At FBC Thomson, we did a building dedication about 20 years ago, and there are many church members in our Bible studies who remember that event clearly. Let them share their memories!


Here are some guiding principles to such a sharing time:

  1. What "happened"? (There were probably a bunch of little events strung together.)

  2. What was the purpose of each little event?

  3. How did you "feel" at the end of all of it?

There is a way to use business ribbon-cutting ceremonies in this discussion, namely

  1. What are the big differences between ribbon-cutting/business-opening ceremonies and a church dedication ceremony?

 

This Week's Big Idea: Solomon's Temple

(This graphic shows the similarities between the tabernacle and Solomon's Temple:)

You know that when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they had a tabernacle (tent) as the place they met with God, the symbol of God's presence with them. In Shiloh, apparently someone built permanent walls around the tabernacle (see 1 Sam 1), and this was called a temple (Jer 7; I'll say more below). There were multiple worship sites scattered around Israel (like the "high place" at Gibeon we learned about last week); famous ones included Shechem, Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. When David became king and built a palace for himself, he thought it appropriate that he also build a permanent "house" for God (2 Sam 7). While God pointed out that He did not need a house, He approved David's goal with the caveat that David's son would be the one to complete it. David planned the temple and began acquiring the supplies, and after David's death, Solomon got it done.


To be clear, there are three different temples talked about in the Bible:

  1. Solomon's Temple (which we're talking about this week)

  2. Zerubbabel's Temple (remember that Solomon's Temple was destroyed when the Babylonians finally got tired of Jewish rebellion)

  3. Herod's Temple (which was really just an enlargement of Zerubbabel's Temple)

In the New Testament, we're talking about Herod's Temple. Herod wanted to make the Jews like him, so he invested heavily in the temple structure. He extended the platform, built major gates, and walled off the various courts. It's more an extension of Zerubbabel's Temple than a new one, so often you will hear authors talk about the "First Temple" (Solomon's) and the "Second Temple" (Zerubbabel's/Herod's).


David set aside land on the hill just north of his capital city (where he made the offerings on the threshing floor, 2 Sam 24). According to Chronicles, this is the same hill where Abraham went to offer Isaac (2 Chr 3:1) (yes, the theological implications are rich).


Solomon's Temple was shaped like a "long house": a 15-foot long vestibule, a "holy place" 60-foot long, and a "most holy place" 30-foot long separated by a very thick curtain. The ark of the covenant was kept in the most holy place. The house was 30 feet wide and 45 (!!) feet tall. It was a very impressive structure that relied on Phoenician building expertise and giant trees from Tyre. The walls were covered with ornate designs, fine wood and gold, and filled with amazing furnishings. (If everybody did diagrams as if for kids, this would all be a lot easier to understand.)

(You'll notice that no two artistic renditions of Solomon's temple are the same; how the Bible describes the temple can be interpreted in a few ways:)

Here are two representative websites that give distinct interpretations:


While worshipers could gather in the courtyards around the temple proper, only priests could enter the holy place, and only the high priest could enter the most holy place (and that once a year after very extensive preparations, Lev 16).


Solomon's Temple took about 7 years to build, and it was finished ~960 BC (1 Ki 6:37).


Why Did God Allow a Temple?

Just after the events in this week's passage, God affirms the work and says, "I have consecrated this temple ... by putting My name there forever." In brief, here are the purposes of the temple in Jerusalem (this is a summary of the handy summary in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology):

  • A symbol of God's election. By allowing a singular temple to be built in Jerusalem, God demonstrated to the world that the Jews were His chosen people.

  • A symbol of unity. God wanted one temple to show that there was one God to be worshiping in one way by all of God's people.

  • A symbol of holiness. All of the practices surrounding the temple reminded the people that God was holy and that sin had a price.

  • A symbol of God's kingship. The rituals surrounding the temple reminded everyone that God was the King of the whole earth (e.g. Ps 46-48).

  • A symbol of the heavenly kingdom. Everything about the temple pointed to a new, perfect creation -- but more on this below.

And then most immediately, the temple represented God's presence. As we will see, the people had trouble understanding what this meant, even though Solomon even made it clear that God was not confined to this building (8:27)!


[Note: all of these purposes will be highlighted in this week's lesson.]


The Bible Project has a tremendous video explaining the temple:

There are two things I heard suggested at my conference this week that might apply here. I haven't had time to really digest them, so forgive me for some half-baked (half-digested?) ideas:


The Davidic Kings Pointed to Jesus in Many Ways

We all know that Jesus "had" to be of the line of David because He represented the perfect eternal King God promised to David. This is a big part of the Nativity stories. Well, one of my friends at this conference suggested that Jesus plays the role of "the king" in worship, too.


In the major Jewish worship services, the king represented all of the people -- he worshiped "on behalf of the people" so to speak -- which is why we only hear Solomon speaking and acting in our passage, even though there are all of these priests available. This points us to Jesus, the true King, standing before God as our intercessor ("leading our worship of God") in the eternal temple.


In other words, when we read of Solomon's actions in this great temple worship service, we are to think of how Jesus will lead the perfect worship service in the perfect "temple" (God's throne room) at the consummation of God's eternal kingdom. Interesting idea, eh?


Jewish Worship Was Not the Problem

A common Christian attitude is to reject Jewish ritual as either (1) fulfilled in Jesus and thus irrelevant, or (2) superstitious and/or legalistic and thus problematic. Well, another of my friends at this conference offered a different view. He pointed to Galatians 2 (which we studied recently):

We are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.

We usually read those verses to mean that Jewish ritual needed to be rejected. My friend suggested that Paul was saying that a Jew who truly understood the Old Testament knew that no one could be justified by works; his ritual action in worship was never intended to save him. In other words, Paul was not saying that it was wrong for Jews to do Jewish ritual (even Jewish Christians) -- rather, it was wrong for Jewish Christians to tell Gentile Christians to do Jewish ritual. Gentile Christians had no context for Jewish ritual -- they had grown up doing religious ritual for the purpose of appeasing the angry gods. If they started doing Jewish rituals, they would think that God (Yahweh) was just like the false gods of the Greek/Roman pantheons.


In other words, when we read about Jewish ritual and Jewish worship (like in our passage this week), we can read it as good and right (and spiritual) for those people in that day. As Christians who are not Jews, we aren't to appropriate them, but we can appreciate them. So, yeah, that's interesting, and it seems helpful too.


Where Temple Worship Went Wrong

I can't help but read this week's passage with "the end" in mind -- we recently studied Ezekiel with its description of how God "left" the temple and allowed it to be destroyed because of sin and corruption among the priests. Let's try to read this passage "in the moment" with all of the optimism and joy that would have been a part of that day. Most importantly, let's remember that God's complaints were about the people and the false meanings they gave their actions in the temple. (Solomon even acknowledged that the temple was not a "house for God" but only a symbol of God's presence -- 8:27, 49.)


God Himself gave this warning in 1 Kings 9:

6 If you or your sons turn away from following me and do not keep my commands—my statutes that I have set before you—and if you go and serve other gods and bow in worship to them, 7 I will cut off Israel from the land I gave them, and I will reject the temple I have sanctified for my name. Israel will become an object of scorn and ridicule among all the peoples.

Seems pretty clear. And as I mentioned above, God had already allowed the destruction of what was called "the temple at Shiloh". And yet, hundreds of years later, Jeremiah had to spell it out for the Jews (Jer 7):

4 Do not trust deceitful words, chanting, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” 5 Instead, if you really correct your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, 6 if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, 7 I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors long ago and forever. 8 But look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help. 9 “‘Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? 10 Then do you come and stand before me in this house that bears my name and say, “We are rescued, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts”? ...
12 But return to my place that was at Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first. See what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.

The temple was a symbol of the Jews' election as God's chosen people -- but they had turned it into a get-out-of-jail-free card. It became not a symbol of God's holiness but a tool of "blackmail" ("God's temple is here, so He must always excuse us and protect us from our enemies").


God's temple was not the problem -- God's people were. In the new creation, God Himself and the Lamb will be temple, and all of us will get to see God face-to-face; there will be no need for a high priest or a sacrificial offering. All of God's people are now priests, and Jesus has offered Himself the once-for-all sacrifice.


All of this to say -- everything we will learn about the temple and temple worship is valuable and instructive. It is a reflection of that final, perfect worship we will offer in eternity.


Where We Are in 1 Kings

In very, very brief:

  • Chapters 3 and 4 describe Solomon's wisdom, stature, and wealth (in fulfillment of God's promise the Solomon we talked about last week)

  • Chapter 5 describes the process of obtaining the materials and the labor to build the temple; we are to note that this is forced labor -- a policy that will greatly hurt the credibility of the kingship

  • Chapter 6 describes the temple itself in great detail (I gave artistic interpretations of this chapter above)

  • Chapter 7 describes Solomon's of palace (which was likely built with the same forced labor) and the impressive furnishings in the temple

  • Chapter 8 describes the procession that brought the ark to the temple and then records Solomon's prayer of dedication

We are only covering a small part of Solomon's prayer, and the whole thing is worthy of study. I suggest making as much time as possible to at least read the entire prayer during group time (or read it ahead of time). Our focal passage follows the same pattern as the earlier petitions in this prayer.


The chapter compresses most of the dedication into these final verses:

65 Solomon and all Israel with him—a great assembly, from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt—observed the festival (probably the Feast of Tabernacles) at that time in the presence of the Lord our God, seven days, and seven more days—fourteen days. 66 On the fifteenth day he sent the people away. So they blessed the king and went to their homes rejoicing and with happy hearts for all the goodness that the Lord had done for his servant David and for his people Israel.

This is intended to be clearly a high note for all of the people. God Himself affirms the activities with the words I mentioned above.

 

Part 1: In Exile (1 Kings 8:46-48)

When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and hand them over to the enemy, and their captors deport them to the enemy’s country—whether distant or nearby—47 and when they come to their senses in the land where they were deported and repent and petition you in their captors’ land: “We have sinned and done wrong; we have been wicked,” 48 and when they return to you with all their heart and all their soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and when they pray to you in the direction of their land that you gave their ancestors, the city you have chosen, and the temple I have built for your name,

Solomon has already identified these scenarios:

  1. False accusations because of sin,

  2. Military defeat because of sin,

  3. Drought, famine, pestilence, plague because of sin,

  4. Even applying to a foreigner living among the Jews,

if there is repentance, may God forgive and withdraw the punishment.


This passage is an elaboration of a scenario -- not just defeat, but capture and deportation. We recently studied the Fall of Jerusalem and the Exile to Babylon, so we already know how this turns out.


These verses highlight two of the purposes of the temple listed above -- holiness and presence. The temple (and particularly the altar) should be a constant reminder that God expected His people to be holy. Their sin would bring consequences. But the temple also reminded them of a way back from sin: repentance. This is clearly something the Jews would forget, but it's also something I think Christians fail to appreciate. We focus on what the sacrificial system could not do (earn salvation) and overlook what it was intended to do: point to a solution. "We have sinned, but God has told us that He will forgive us if we repent -- the temple and the sacrifices remind us of that."


We know that solution: Jesus Christ. They did not yet know how that would work. But they did know that God was willing to forgive sin.


I think that the comment about "praying in the direction of the temple" eventually caused some of the confusion that would bring about the fall of Jerusalem. This was intended to be an awareness of God's presence. Unfortunately, the people eventually came to understand it as an absolute. "God is there and only there." The northern kingdom would quickly build their own high places with altars and idols for the explicit purpose of declaring "See! God is with us, too!" They simply didn't understand the nuance of a theology of representation. And can we blame them? When we talk about the church as a building, we are slipping into that mindset.


[Aside on Worship and Sanctuaries: We are currently worshiping in our gym because the AC in our sanctuary is out. And it's June in Georgia. I certainly prefer to worship in our sanctuary because that space was designed to enhance the atmosphere and experience of worship. But I also understand that our sanctuary is just a man-made building. I have heard attitudes along the lines of "It's not appropriate to worship in a gym" or "Worship is lessened when it's not in a sanctuary". To be blunt, that attitude is pretty much what happened to the Jews in their attitude toward the temple. To them, worship became defined by location. And even the early Christians still felt this way! Remember that their earliest services took place in the Temple Courts! God had to push them out of that space. All of that to say that Christians are now "the temple of the Lord" because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Where we worship is not the issue as much as who we worship and why. If we are with our church family celebrating with joy the salvation we have in Jesus and learning what He has commanded us, then anywhere we worship is a good place.]


Note that Solomon is quite realistic about the reality of sin. In this, he says the same as Paul in Romans 3:23 -- everyone has sinned and deserves the punishment of God.


We talked about the Assyrian and Babylonian practices of deportation and resettlement of conquered enemies. Taking people from their homes and putting them around strangers in a strange land made it much more difficult for the conquered people to start an effective rebellion. The Northern Kingdom was conquered and resettled (these became the "Samaritans" of prejudice in the New Testament), and eventually so was the Southern Kingdom.


In Ezekiel, we learn of the efforts to stir God's people to repentance in exile. For that to work, they had to acknowledge their sins in the first place. That was harder than it should have been. But it eventually happened, because we learn in Ezra 1 that God stirred the heart of King Cyrus of Persia to let the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild.


Illustration: I hope that someone has told you about the problem with the phrase "When all else fails, pray". For goodness's sake, don't let prayer be your last resort! But this passage reminds us of the corollary: "When all else fails, don't not pray!" In Solomon's scenario, God's people are beyond their last resort. They are conquered. Defeated, In exile. But even there, pray and God will hear you (assuming your repentance). I think this is a great reminder to all of us -- when we think of our catastrophic conditions as proof that God has punished us and abandoned us, know that we are wrong. God punished the people due to their sin and to bring them to their senses. God has not abandoned you; God uses even punishment to bring sinners to their senses.

 

Part 2: God Hears (1 Kings 8:49-53)

49 may you hear in heaven, your dwelling place, their prayer and petition and uphold their cause. 50 May you forgive your people who sinned against you and all their rebellions against you, and may you grant them compassion before their captors, so that they may treat them compassionately. 51 For they are your people and your inheritance; you brought them out of Egypt, out of the middle of an iron furnace. 52 May your eyes be open to your servant’s petition and to the petition of your people Israel, listening to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you, Lord God, have set them apart as your inheritance from all peoples of the earth, as you spoke through your servant Moses when you brought our ancestors out of Egypt.

[I just don't understand the logic behind Lifeway's section titles. There's no parallelism, no development, no continuity. Oy.]


Solomon asks God to respond to repentance with mercy. Note that Solomon does not ask God to preemptively keep His people out of trouble. No, in the midst of their punishment, Solomon asks God to relent -- to end the punishment early. [Read Ezra 1 to see how God did this for the Jews in Babylon.]


Solomon uses the Jewish slavery in Egypt as a double-edged sword. Yes, it's proof that God has done this before (rescuing His people from captivity), but it's also a reminder to the people that they owe their existence to God in the first place.


[Note: Moses called Egypt an iron-smelting furnace in Deut 4:20.]


Solomon uses the same "logic" that Moses did when God threatened to destroy the Israelites. For example, consider this exchange in Exodus 32:

9 The Lord also said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” 11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God: “Lord, why does your anger burn against your people you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and eliminate them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—you swore to them by yourself and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’”

This points to two other purposes of the temple -- election and kingship. The temple is a reminder to the people that they are God's chosen people and that He is their true king. God will not abandon them, but neither will God overlook their sin.


The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a powerful illustration of God's relationship with His people:

But the Bible has been preparing us for this kind of forgiveness since Genesis. Consider


The Bible is a story of human sin and God's forgiveness. Eventually, and partly because they misunderstood what the temple meant, Jews began to expect, demand, and presume God's forgiveness (without repentance), and that led to their disastrous fall. But God did not forget His people nor His promise to bless the world through Abraham's offspring.


Like everything else in this passage, it points us to Jesus. I think it would be quite appropriate to make sure that everyone in your group understands where Christians fit into this old prayer of confession and repentance. What is the "rest of the story" of salvation?

 

Part 3: Blessing Offered (1 Kings 8:54-60)

54 When Solomon finished praying this entire prayer and petition to the Lord, he got up from kneeling before the altar of the Lord, with his hands spread out toward heaven, 55 and he stood and blessed the whole congregation of Israel with a loud voice: 56 “Blessed be the Lord! He has given rest to his people Israel according to all he has said. Not one of all the good promises he made through his servant Moses has failed. 57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors. May he not abandon us or leave us 58 so that he causes us to be devoted to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors. 59 May my words with which I have made my petition before the Lord be near the Lord our God day and night. May he uphold his servant’s cause and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires. 60 May all the peoples of the earth know that the Lord is God. There is no other!
61 Be wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord our God to walk in his statutes and to keep his commands, as it is today.”

I included verse 61 because I think it's pretty fundamental to understanding this blessing. The people have a responsibility in this blessing. And that responsibility, of course, points us to Jesus. You might remember this great video about the covenant:

God used the law (as identified with His covenant with Moses) as the marker of His people, knowing that they would be unable to keep up their end. The plan was that at the right time, when it had finally been clearly established that people could not live up to a standard of holiness necessary to be with God, God would send Jesus to fulfill that covenant on our behalf.


Now -- let's focus on an important distinction in Christianity. We talked about this last week, as well. The Christian church exists post-Pentecost. We have the Holy Spirit, who is the trust fulfillment of Solomon's desire that God would cause us to be devoted to Him. Solomon understood that we need help to stay close to God. What "help" did they have before the Holy Spirit?

  • Priests

  • Prophets

The priests began to fail in their role pretty quickly, and so that left the prophets to be God's voice of warning and reminder.


We have God Himself the Holy Spirit stirring our hearts through conviction to repentance and obedience. (And today, we also have readily available copies of the Bible.)


This passage points to unity -- the one temple reminding the world of the One True God.


[Note: that leaves "heavenly kingdom" from the list of the purposes of the temple. I leave that to you -- in what way does this week's passage point to God's eternal, heavenly kingdom?]


In closing, I apologize for how scattered this post is! It takes a lot of time to streamline and organize thoughts and come up with interesting questions and illustrations. And extra time is something I just didn't have this week. Lord willing, the rest of the summer will be better! God bless you and the groups you study God's Word with!

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