1 Kings 8

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1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Background to the Book of 1 Kings

What's happening in Judah at this time?

The books of Samuel tell us in great detail about the rise of the kings, how they came about and the role of the prophet in this new form of government. The decline of Saul, the rise of David and the relationship between Saul's son Jonathon and David is given many chapters. The second book of Samuel describes the rise of David and the gradual defeat of the countries surrounding Israel. The geographic size of the kingdom is the greatest it will be until the advent of the Six Day War in the 20th century. The Philistines are particularly difficult to overcome if the records in the Hebrew Scriptures are in chronological order. It appears as though they are defeated once and for all and then pop up as a threat in the next chapter. David has problems within his own household which indicate also the union of the twelve tribes is on a very fragile footing. (More detailed description is given in previous Lectionary Readings)

What is happening in the surrounding great empires? (Extracts from the Anchor Bible Dictionary)

Babylonia and Assyria (ca. 1000-627 B.C.). a. A Period of Weakness (ca. 1000-748 B.C.). During the 2d millennium Assyria increasingly became an important background presence in Babylonian history, and in the 1st half of the 1st millennium this was even more evident. Other peoples and powers, such as the Arameans and Elamites, had a significant impact upon Babylonia, but it was Assyria which gradually gained the leading control over Babylonia. At the beginning of the 1st millennium Babylonia was independent once again, for Assyria was struggling against the Arameans for its very survival. The Arameans penetrated Babylonia, too, winning land and wealth and causing much chaos.

Egypt: Third Intermediate Period

The era immediately succeeding that of the New Kingdom (NK) witnessed varied developments in society, culture, and economy (Kitchen 1973). Notwithstanding the apparent paucity of royal inscriptions, much has been revealed by recent research concentrated on this hitherto presumed Dark Age of Egypt. However, the paramount and consistent trend in the dynasties following the fall of the NK is one of political decentralisation and corresponding lack of a firm unified monarchy (Yoyotte 1961). Foreigners, too, made an impact on the Nile valley, and not one but three different contenders for the prize of Egypt left their mark. First, there were the Libyans, who had already settled in the north during the reign of Ramesses III; then Egypt was faced with a southern incursion, that of the Kishites; finally, the mighty Assyrians attempted to conquer the land. As a result, the political history of this time is difficult to view as a whole if only because Egypt was not unified as before. For the sake of simplicity and ease of comprehension, modern scholarship now uses the term "Third Intermediate Period" to cover Dynasties 21-25 (ca. 1069-664 B.C.). This, in turn, was followed by the Saite Period, Dyn. 26 (664-525 B.C.), an era of unity (De Meulenaere 1951; 1967; all dates follow Kitchen 1982-83). However, it should be stressed that the 3d Intermediate Period is purely a global designation, revealing little about the 400-year span of Egyptian history, a time that witnessed the emergence of a society quite different than any preceding.

As it can be seen from the brief paragraphs describing the scenarios in Egypt and Mesopotamia there was little time or energy for intrusion into Palestine which allowed David to extend his empire without interference from the Empires either side. This does not deny the military acumen and charisma that David needed to weld the tribes together and fight as a cohesive unit.

Context of 1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

What's happening in the literature around around 1 Kings 8: (1- 6, 10 -11), 22 - 30, 41 - 43

The last days of David are described in 1 Kings 1 and we have little idea how many years have separated the last story of David from this one: we are just told he is old and feeble. The infighting among his sons and retainers begins. We are told Joab sides with Adonijah and Nathan the prophet sides with Bathsheba and her son Solomon. Both Bathsheba and Nathan go to see David and tell him what was happening. David calls Bathsheba in and reiterates his promise to her. He sends for his loyal leaders and instructs them to crown Solomon and set him on the throne. Solomon forgives Adonijah his attempt to seize the throne and respects the sanctity of the Temple where Adonijah has taken refuge.

David, at the point of death commands Solomon to pursue Joab who has been both loyal and a traitor to David killing two past army commanders. He commands Solomon to deal well with other people whom he, David, has promised to protect. Solomon is named by his father as a "wise man". The narrator is giving us a clue about Solomon which will be part of the story at a later time.

After David's death we have the curious story of Adonijah coming to Bathsheba to ask her to intercede on his behalf with Solomon for the Abishag who was now one of the wives of Solomon. Why she acceded to his request we have no idea. However, it set in train events which resulted in the deaths of Adonijah, Joab and the expulsion of Abiathar to Benjamin. Solomon interpreted the request for his wife as an indication that Adonijah was still after his kingdom and on this occasion the sanctity of the altar did not protect him. Shimei, the other rebellious son was put into house arrest and he agreed it was a fair sentence. The problem arose when two of his slaves ran away and Shimei decided to pursue them in disobedience to the King. The consequence was the last of the rivals was killed and Solomon could live in relative peace until another rival tried to usurp him. All these acts verify that the word of God comes true and the kingdom will be established in the hand of Solomon (1 Kings 2:46b).

Solomon began his political alliances to cement the victories won by David in war. The first of these was a marriage alliance with Egypt by marrying one of the Pharaoh's daughters. The lectionary reading for Pentecost 10 tells us how Solomon gained the favour of God by asking for the right things for his kingship - an understanding mind to govern and the ability to tell between good and evil. The narrative continues with the familiar story of the two mothers who are fighting over the possession of the baby and Solomon in his wisdom solves the issues. The wealth and prosperity of the Israel is recorded at the end of 1 Kings 4. The tribute brought by the many states over which Solomon rules is described in detail. Solomon as a person of wisdom is given a glowing report. We are left in no doubt by the end of 1 Kings 4 that life in Israel is almost idyllic, a second paradise. The next three chapters leading up to the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 tells the story about building the temple. Chapter five begins by Solomon acknowledging that it was God's will that he, Solomon, build the temple and Hiram of Tyre contributes all the wood. It is at this point Solomon begins the practise of conscripted labour which later is a major cause for the split between the northern tribes and Judah. Great detail is given about the measurements of and the furnishings for the temple which took seven years to complete. Solomon's own house took thirteen years to finalise. Chapter seven gives great detail about all the bronze work which has been made for the house of the Lord, together with the gold vessels and the vessels which had been dedicated by David.

After the long prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8 this section of positive deeds by Solomon is completed with the appearance of Yahweh to Solomon a second time. Yahweh confirms that he has consecrated the temple and reminds Solomon once more that everything he has is dependent on his total obedience to the statutes and commandments (1 Kings 9:4-5). Only then will his throne be established forever. If Solomon is unfaithful to Yahweh the then Israel will lose the land and the temple will be cast out of sight. The stakes are definitely been upped and the consequence of disobedience is named in very stark terms. From this point on it is a downward track for Solomon, and the wisdom he displayed earlier has not lasted very long into his reign. The Deuteronomic theology is overt and becomes the explanation for the exile. They end up in Babylon because they and their leaders failed to uphold the statues and to remain faithful to Yahweh.

Insights/Message of 1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

What insights can we gain from the Text and literary structure?

Solomon's Intercessory prayer commences in 1 Kings 8:22 which is where the main section of the lectionary reading begins. Prior to the prayer the Ark is transferred from its home in a tent to the sanctuary, followed by prayers of dedication.

1 Kings 8

  • vv. 1 - 11 = Ark brought into the sanctuary by the priests and the presence of God indicated by the cloud of glory
  • vv. 12 - 21 = Solomon speaks to the people giving the background to this momentous occasion and reminding the people that the promises of Yahweh to David have come true: Solomon is King and he has built the Temple which was forbidden to his father David
  • vv. 22 - 53 = Solomon's prayer to Yahweh
  • vv. 54 - 61 = Solomon blesses the people
  • vv. 62 - 66 = Solomon offers sacrifices in the different courts of the Temple and a week long festival is held.

The flow of the above narrative is well thought out and is liturgically interesting if one compares it with the Eucharist in which elements of both are present. The presence of God (cloud, bread & wine), the reminder in the great prayer of thanksgiving of God's actions in history, prayer of confession & petition, blessing of elements and people.

Solomon's prayer begins with a three fold act of praise: there is no God like you, keeping covenant and steadfast love, the covenant that you kept with David (vv.22-24). This is followed by the prayer of petition for a successor of David to be on the throne forever which is couched in conditional language with the characteristic "if" beginning the clause (vv.25-26). The unconditional promise to David has become a conditional promise to Solomon and he is aware of this change.

The prayer changes to that of petition in which Solomon asks for God to be present in the temple in order that he will be able to hear the plea of his people Israel (vv.27-30). From this general prayer of petition the prayer moves into seven specific examples when petition will be needed and asking God to hear them. Six of the examples relate to the people of Israel but the seventh example relates to foreigners, specifically those who have no part of Israelite worship and indeed, are condemned in Deuteronomy. The longest petition appears to be aimed at those who have gone into exile and supports the view that this theological historiography (Deuteronomy - 2 Kings) was finalised in the early exilic period.

Summary of Solomon's Prayer 1 Kings 8: 22 - 53

  • vv. 2 2- 24 Praise to God
  • vv. 25 - 26 Petition for the promise to David to be remembered: i.e.. always a Davidic succession
  • vv. 27 - 30 General petition for Yahweh to be present to hear the petitions of his people Israel

7 examples of specific petitions

  • vv. 31 - 32 If sin against neighbour and come in full contrition, please hear
  • vv. 33 - 34 When defeated in war because of sin, seek forgiveness, please hear
  • vv. 35 - 36 Drought because sin …
  • vv. 37 - 40 Famine and plague because sin …
  • vv. 41 - 43 When a foreigner prays towards the temple please hear and answer their prayer
  • vv. 44 - 45 Hear Israel when they go our to battle and pray, then hear …
  • vv. 46 - 53 If they sin and are taken away into exile and repent then hear in heaven and forgive because they are your people whom you brought out of Egypt …

Message/theology in 1 Kings 8: (1 - 6,10 - 11), 22 - 30, 41 - 43

It is interesting to note the particular aspects which Solomon focuses on in his prayer of praise. "There is no God like you in heaven and earth"acknowledges the uniqueness of Israel's God, but still the possibility of other gods. If the exiles were hearing this story they would be affirmed about the special nature of Yahweh and perhaps gain some renewed faith. The second point of David's praise goes even further in giving people hope: "keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart". The affirmation that Yahweh will keep his side of the covenant and he has this special love for them could have been very reassuring to those who were in trouble. Again the statement ensures that this applies to those who keep faith with Yahweh. Whilst the above acknowledgement is not conditional with the familiar "if" it is a statement suggesting that it will be only those who do walk with God. The third point of praise acknowledges the unconditional covenant with David which Solomon says has been fulfilled because he has built the house (2 Sam 7) and is on the throne. If one can show that a promise of Yahweh has come true it gives hope to other promises made by God.

However, Solomon in reiterating the promise changes from a prayer of praise to petition and seeks God to keep his promise to David, but adds the condition "if" your children walk before (v.25). This becomes the explicit theology which gives the explanation why they ended up in exile, that is, they failed to keep the statutes and walk in God's ways.

Verses 27-30 begin with the rhetorical question, But will God indeed dwell on the earth? The answer is a profound theological truth that nothing in heaven and on earth can contain God. Therefore, we cannot possibly expect God to be contained in this temple. However, that doesn't prevent God heeding their prayer from heaven and God said that his name would be present. It is a wonderful précis of immanent & transcendent theology. God is present both, in heaven and will hear their prayers as directed towards the temple (not necessarily in the temple), and is immanent because his name is present in the temple. This incredible reassurance that no matter where you are God will and can heed your prayer. If the exiles can pray toward the temple and know that God is not contained in the temple, but is present everywhere what hope it could give them.

The lectionary chosen from the seven specific petitions is that one focussing on the foreigner. This word, which means someone who comes from a foreign land is quite a deliberate move away from the word used of a person who is a sojourner in Israel. The petition asking God to hear the prayers of such a person is quite extraordinary and we probably have little concept of the radical nature of this request. These foreigners will have heard about God and have accepted the lordship of Yahweh. They come now to Jerusalem and pray and Solomon petitions God to hear their prayer. If God will do this all people will know of God and honour him. Around 400 BCE there was conflict between foreigners who were part of the worshiping community and those who wanted to get rid of them ( See my book, Inclusive voices in Post- Exilic). The theology present in these verses is before its time.

Theological issues for today

In Pentecost 10 message for today I discussed my understanding of the grace of God as unconditional and when we responded to that in out lives we chose to behave in ways consistent with the gospel and ways of Jesus Christ. When we choose to go our own way we bear the consequences of that behaviour and are expected to make reparation before God and those whom we have sinned against.

The covenant and promises of God are seen in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that is, God loves us, offers us salvation and gives us eternal life. This is the hope to which all Christians hold onto in times of despair.

The prayer which deals with God's presence with us and his transcendence in heaven is the same theological issue for us today. God is present through the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ and yet distant as Creator of the universe. The prayer in 1 Kings 8:27-30 explains it as well as any esoteric treatise of the perceived problems of the immanent and transcendent God. We know we can pray anywhere and God can hear our prayers. On the other hand, there are times when we pray in a place which for generations has been a place of prayer and worship, and there is a sense of God's presence in a different way.

I wonder whom we would classify as the foreigner today?

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: John 6:56-69,6continues the narrative about bread and the insistance by Jesus that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood (v.56) will have eternal life (v.59). As earlier in the chapter, the disciples grumble as did the people against Moses. The reference in v.63 to the Spirit which gives life is a further theological statement already affirmed in the Old Testament. It is the Spirit which gives life in creation (Gen 1:2, 2:7) and the prophet Ezekiel declares that the Spirit gives life in the famous passages about dry bones (Ezek 37). The statement by Jesus in John 6:70 is a clear refernce to the twelve tribes of Israel. there are no direct quotes used by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-20 but allusions can probably be identified or linked with several passages in Old Testament texts. The particular text which can be identified is Isa 59: 17-18 which speaks of God putting on the breastplate of righteousness. It reminds Paul's hearers/readers that the promises to Isaiah's audience will now be fulfilled through the person of Jesus Christ. There could also be a link between Isa 11:4b and Eph 6: 17.

Resources/Worship for 1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Worship and the Old Testament message; are there new ways to present the reading?

Some context has to be given for this prayer of Solomon to make sense and certainly the parts missed by the lectionary need to be filled in. An overhead with the structure could help people identify with the flow of the prayer.

As the person reads the prayer they could name the parts of the prayer so people could follow.


Childs, B.S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. London: SCM Press, 1993
Devries, S.J. 1 Kings. WBC. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1985
Gray, J. 1 & 11 Kings. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964
Jones, G.H. 1 and 2 Kings, NCB. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Long, B.O. 1 Kings, with an Introduction to Historical Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Nelson, R.D. 1 and 2 Kings. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987.
Seow, C-L, The First and Second Books of Kings, NIB 111. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: