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Solomon Summons the Ark
Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 5, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: I Kings 8: 1-13
Supplementary text: 2 Chronicles 5: 1-14
Key Verse: I Kings 8:13
“I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”
Aim and Goal of the Lesson
To gain an understanding of the significance and context of moving the Ark of the Covenant into the newly constructed temple. To appreciate the importance of the centrality of God in all worship and our special role in that worship.
Historical, Geographical, Theological and Experiential background of I Kings 8:1-13, and 2 Chronicles 5:1-14
How tempting it is to assume God should deal with us according to the rule of human fairness. In our narrative, it doesn’t seem fair to us that David has done so much preparatory work for a holy project, a project for which he felt great passion, only to die and have his son Solomon make the dream a reality. Skilled laborers and artisans had worked seven long years to bring David’s vision of the temple to fruition. The temple was completed in the 11th
year and eighth month of Solomon’s reign. The temple is now completed, and for the ensuing generations it will most likely be known as the “temple Solomon built.” Is the fame attributed to Solomon fair? From a human perspective, no. However, God has repeatedly reminded us that he does not judge by what we might see or in a manner pleasing to humankind. A higher will is always ongoing and there is a high noble purpose to David’s dreaming and Solomon’s building. How might David have behaved if he had built the temple? Would David have become the humble man we know from the beautiful, tender psalms? Or, would he have become so consumed with building the temple that other important needs of the new capital would have gone untended? If Solomon had not built the temple would he have become the wise king we know from Proverbs? Would he have devoted himself to warfare and military expansion to a higher degree than needed as he neglected learning wisdom? The answer is, of course, we don’t know. We can’t possibly imagine how the kingdom would have unfolded and the roles of David and Solomon might have unfolded. We also have no way of knowing if David and Solomon would have been the kind of men God desired and the kind of kings that expressed the power and love of Yahweh throughout the near eastern world. We do get a possible clue as to why God chose Solomon over David. In I Chron. 22:8, the text reads, “But the word of the Lord came to me (David), saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth.” God must have desired a man of peace build his holy temple. Whatever his reasons, God chose David to dream and plan, and Solomon to build.
Do you believe most of us determine fairness based on faith in God’s larger will? When life doesn’t appear fair, what is our usual response toward those we believe undeserving? What is our response toward God? Is it not a position of arrogance to assume God has not acted fairly? In what way? In the biblical story of King Saul consulting the Witch of Endor, how did his arrogance cause great pain and calamity for Israel? (I Sam. 28)
Remember, the author of Chronicles is addressing many of the important issues omitted by I and II Samuel and the Kings. The title in the Septuagint for Chronicles refers to “things overlooked,” in the earlier historical documents. Most believe Ezra the scribe began to write the Chronicles and they were later completed by other scribes. Ezra brought much needed reform back to those exiles who were settling Canaan anew after the Babylonian empire had destroyed so many of their sacred symbols, and the Mosaic Law they once cherished was falling into neglect through the years in exile. We should not be amazed that Ezra and the scribes wanted to restore the temple, razed to the ground by Babylon, and other precious symbols. These symbols reminded the people that the God of Solomon’s temple was the God of the returning exiles. The Lord’s holiness, love, and covenant mercy were as unchangeable as ever!
Symbols have no intrinsic power of their own. They point to an important transcendent truth that is ageless. Of course, God did not dwell in a house made of hands. However, that house, which we also call the temple, represented the transcendent presence of God in the midst of his people. This transcendent presence is the presence of holiness, love, covenant, compassion and the refusal to give up on his covenant people. In later years when under Ezra and Nehemiah the second temple rose from the ashes, the people were reminded anew that the destruction of the first temple could in no way destroy God’s relationship with his people.
Returning to the construction of the first temple by Solomon, we can ask, “Why was it necessary to go through the labor and expense to build a structure when the tabernacle had served them fairly well during the 40 years of wandering?” It too was beautiful, with ornate curtains and holy structures to transport it from place to place. It contained a holy place where the Ark of Covenant stood, and only the high priests of Israel could enter the holy of holies. The site was so holy that should an undefiled high priest enter, he would die. The congregation knew of his death through attaching bells to his garment. If the bells stopped ringing, he had died. Then, the congregation faced another problem, “Who was clean enough to go into the holy place and retrieve the body?” A rope was tied about the high priest’s waist. When he died, the other priest could pull him from the holy place without having to enter and risk their own lives. Such was the nature of the holiness that covered the holy place and was represented by the tabernacle. Ezra and the other chroniclers wanted to remind the people of what they once had, and what they lost due to their apathetic neglect. As he retells the story of David and Solomon’s first role in constructing the sacred temple, he wants the exiles to know that though it was the house of God, it could, and would be lost. It could be lost not because of God’s lack of power and might, or his failure to keep covenant. It could be lost when God’s people take their beautiful transcendent symbols for granted and assume that God’s patient love will tolerate even apathy. Yes, God’s love is faithful, eternal and compassionate, but it is holy! The congregation or its priests cannot treat God’s love as though they can handle it with unholy, apathetic hands that take such love for granted. God never removed his love from Israel; Israel simply displaced their affection for the hedonistic pleasures of their day, or the lazy ignoring of the holy in their midst.
Symbols remain an important facet of our spiritual life and development to this day. I love driving through a town and recognizing the high spire with the beautiful cross atop. It says to the community, “This is a Christian church, and the cross is high and lifted up here.” I love to enter and see the cross in the center of the altar table, reminding me that central to our faith is the reality that Jesus died to redeem the world. I love the sacred Eucharist on the Lord’s Table, blessed and brought down from the holy altar where I kneel. I remember, God’s love in Jesus has come into my sinful world with forgiving grace and new beginnings. I love that the Holy Communion reminds me that Jesus is alive in the world and indwells his people. Churches are filled with sacred symbols. They possess no power of their own (excluding the Eucharist, through which we believe we receive grace when partaking), but they point to the truth that is ageless and unchangeable for all who come by faith into the holy sanctuary.
Ezra and the chroniclers wanted to remind the exiles of just how precious their symbols were, that they might never lose their significance again. Every Sunday, churches across the world offer many of those same symbols, or those that represent the same grace, that we might always remember the holy exists in the world and must never be forgotten.
Historical, Geographical, Theological and Experiential reflection on I Kings 8:1-5, and 2 Chronicles 5:1-14
I Kings 8:1-5
When the time arrived for Solomon to gather the sacred vessels and offerings that David his father had prepared for this holiest of moments, everyone was dressed in their finest, the instruments were being played in utter joy, and so many sheep and goats were sacrificed they possessed no count. It could be that Solomon would rather offer God more than expected than too little. Nothing should take away from the day when the temple now replaced the tabernacle, and the Ark of the Covenant would assume its permanent place in the permanent structure known as “God’s house.” Here the Ark of the Covenant would remain until Babylon destroyed the city and Jeremiah escaped with the sacred vessel. We can only image how painful it was for the Chronicler to look backward and remember the glorious day when the ark was placed on its holy site. He would have known what it was like to lose the sacred in Israel’s life because it was taken for granted. So now, we return to his recorded memory.
The Ark was a chest, overlaid with gold, and the top was known as the “mercy seat.” Over the mercy seat the high priest would pour the collected lamb’s blood, without blemish or stain, and pour it over the mercy seat. The people’s sins would then be forgiven for one year on the Day of Atonement. The chest was set between two magnificent pieces of holy art representing the cherubim. The tips of the cherubim reached over the mercy seat and almost touched. As the blood was poured over the mercy seat, the holy light of God, the Shekinah, would pierce the area between the cherubim wings and strike the seat of the ark. The light of almighty God then received their offering. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, this holy ritual and symbolic act would be repeated to cover the people’s sins for another year. This holy act was repeated on the seventh month, the month of the Jewish New Year.
The leaders of Israel, formal and informal, were gathered to witness and celebrate the movement of the Ark from the temporary tent David had constructed into the permanent dwelling in the temple, the holiest site in all Israel.
In our Christian faith, there was coming one lamb, without spot or blemish, who would be “pure light of pure light.” His own sacrifice would cover the spiritual mercy seat once and for all, for all time. All who would place their faith in this holy Lamb of God could find forgiveness for all sin for all time. Each year in confession we pour out our sins before God in utter sincerity and they are forgiven. “If we confess our sins, he faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Read I John 1:9) It is a holy gathering when the church unites around the holy presence of Jesus, remembering and experiencing his life, death, and resurrection and the forgiveness of sin offered to all. Few moments in the life of the church capture this sacred act of redemption more than the Eucharist. We are invited into the holy place of God’s heart, we confess our sins as God listens, and we are forgiven and walk away with new life, filled with grace.
In the worship of your local church, do you recognize the kinship between the redemptive acts around the Ark on the Day of Atonement and the sacred participation in Holy Communion? What do you think can be done to enrich your experience of partaking of the Eucharist?
I Kings 8:3-9
In this section I repeat some of the material cited above related to the beautiful symbolism, and Solomon sacrificing probably more lambs than necessary. But again, this was a holy day, for which they had patiently waited. It is important, however, to note again the great care utilized in transferring the Ark from its previous site to its permanent site in the temple. One easily recognizes this was not just an ordinary day or an ordinary endeavor. This day involved an act so holy it would stand forever in the life and memory of Israel. Only the redemption in Jesus for Christians would one day supersede its importance for us. Today, the Ark of the Covenant has, according to many, been hidden. However, you can sense the ageless holiness of what the temple meant to the Jewish people when you visit the Wailing Wall and hear their fervent prayers. The articles themselves might no longer be visible to us, but their sacred meaning continue through the years, just as the sacred meaning of the cross and empty tomb continue to fill the world with the presence of the sacred through the presence of the resurrected Jesus.
I Kings 8:10-13
The holy cloud filled the entire temple. I have always loved this section of the narrative. Imagine, God’s presence so real, palatable, and present you could not move or stir without being in contact with the Almighty! When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple in Isa. 6, his first words were, “Woe is me.” Ordinary men and women were not allowed to perceive the holy without invitation. But, in his holy temple on this day, all who ministered before the Lord were so enveloped in the glory of the Lord all they could do was be still and acknowledge God was present. Many clergy and ministers of music can attest to a Sunday on rare occasion when you sense God is doing something for which we did not prepare. On some occasions a unique sense of holiness seems to fill the sanctuary, or the music is so moving spiritually and emotionally you wonder if you need to preach at all.
My first church stood in the foothills of Appalachia, and we had scheduled the Eucharist that morning. We had one member who refused to partake, for he was ordered to take life as a soldier in Viet Nam and could not seem to find forgiveness. We had talked on many occasions. On this Sunday he walked forward for the first time and received the sacrament with tears coursing down his cheeks. Believe me, that morning the temple was “filled with the cloud.” Again, these moments are rare and those involved in worship should always be prepared to be used every Sunday. Still, those moments when “the cloud fills the temple” are wonderful and memorable.
Can you recall a day of worship when you felt overcome by the unexpected presence of God? How did it occur and what did the experience accomplish in you? Should we be cautious when some claim to hear or see something from God that makes us intuitively feel cautious? How should we respond in a loving manner? Have there been moments when sacred music seems to have swept you away into a special communion with God? Why must we be careful when some of our unique moments of experiencing God seem to be founded solely upon emotion? Again, how can we discern those unique moments in God’s presence that are genuine and redemptive? Just because they are emotional, does it mean they are not real?
The narrative reads that Solomon reminded the people that the Lord had appeared in a “dark cloud.” This description is significant for two reasons. First, this reminds the people that this was the same manifestation of God who appeared to Moses on Sinai during the giving of the Law. God the Law-giver is the same God who communes in holy worship with his people in his temple. It also implies that there remains a mystery about the presence of God. We can see, but not clearly. We are only allowed to see the divine presence in a manner of God’s choosing and timing. These human eyes are not yet capable of seeing the full glory of God.
Yet, we cannot capture the meaning and gift of God looking upon us through the face of Jesus. There is no dark cloud on Golgotha. Jesus hangs as the Son of God, and Son of Man. He has joined humanity in our suffering and through those pained eyes gazes upon the world God so loves.
In the Old Testament, God had given Israel a symbolic place to recognize his everlasting presence in their life. In the New Testament, God has given the world a savior, in the world forever.
Most of us worship the Lord using a myriad of symbols. Most of these symbols are ancient and represent the ancient facet of our faith. These symbols always point to God, who is higher and transcendent. The symbol says something about God, but is not God. God uses different individuals with varied gifts and graces to accomplish the divine will. There will be moments when we feel passed over. We are never passed over, just used in a different manner. We are indeed one body, working together as the Body of Christ. There is no place for jealousy in the work of the Kingdom. The Old Testament is filled with images and shadows of that which was to come in the New Testament. We can hear the prophetic word of the coming Messiah, and we can see the ministry of the Messiah in temple worship. The pictures and images of the Old Testament clarify and bring to life the powerful images in Christ Jesus. Thus, the Old and New Testaments should be studied together, with one part lending great value to the next. Though this narrative is about the moving of the Ark from a temporary place to its permanent place in the temple, we can still see truth related to Jesus in the story. In the Old, we learn the importance and power of the sacred in life. In the New, we learn the sacred has come and lives among us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Almighty God, we thank you for all the symbols that have informed our faith through the years. We pray for eyes to see them in places other than just churches. Let us also see the symbolic beauty in the flower, the majestic symbolic beauty in the clouds, and the touching symbolic beauty in the face of brothers and sisters. Teach us our unique calling in the world, and fill us with the utter joy of working side by side with those who also are called to fill the world with the sacred visions of Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.