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Solomon Seeks God’s Blessing
Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 19, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: I Kings 8:22-53
Supplementary text: 2 Chronicles 6:12-42
Key Verse: I Kings 8:30
“Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear forgive.”
Aim and Goal of the Lesson
Understanding the Lord we worship is God of heaven, earth, and all that is above and below. This understanding enriches our experience of communing with the Lord. God is omnipresent and there are no limitations that impede our worship, for there are no limitations to God’s love.
Historical, Geographical, Theological and Experiential background for studying I Kings 8: 22-53, and 2 Chronicles 6: 12-42:
Our text opens with King Solomon engaged in three interconnected postures of worship. As the narrative begins, he stands before the bronze altar of the Lord in the newly constructed temple. For Solomon, this was more than a respectful act, he was engaged in utter reverence! He was standing before the Lord, creator of all, in the holiest place he could imagine! Each posture revealed the reverence with which God’s people treated and approached God. The focus of all worship began with their spiritual (and biological) face set toward God. Prior to examining the faces of the people absent or in attendance, Solomon seeks God above all others. When Solomon turns from the altar and faces the gathered people of Israel he is intentionally involving all present in the sacred act of worship and adoration. Though each of us can always worship God within the confines of our own heart, it is potently vital to worship the Lord together in sacred community. In Solomon’s concluding act he raises his hands toward heaven and God. The raising of his hands represented the worship of God who is above all on behalf of all. God is high and holy, and thus our unclean hands are raised toward the Lord. Our hands may prove far from holy and clean, but God’s redeeming love declares them clean by grace. In Psalm 24:3 the psalmist asks, “Who can ascend the holy hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” In reality, the answer to the psalmist’s question is that no one can ascend the holy hill of God! Unless God declares those unholy hands pure by an act of grace! God! Also read Psalm 28:2. Raised hands also represent “empty hands.” Solomon holds nothing in his hands to offer God. His hands can only be filled by the Lord of all. What a beautiful, picturesque opening to our narrative! When we read biblical narratives, we can easily become tempted to forget that the events are occurring in a real, historical setting alive in powerful meaning and significance. Their faces express touching emotion, and their bodily movements speak to their holy God.
Using the gift of imagination, what images come to mind as you picture Solomon standing before God with the assembled congregation? If there would be a modern setting that might capture what you imagine, how would the setting appear? Can you recall a moment when you sensed that a person truly sensed God’s holy presence in a particular moment? Or, that a congregation was captivated by a sense of the holy?
One of the great, and for me personally, stunning statements to contemplate in our narrative is Solomon’s question, “But will God really dwell on the earth?” Solomon is acknowledging that the greatest structures humankind can build will always stand inadequate, even when dedicated to the greatness of God. We get a sense that Solomon is deeply humbled in just thinking about the act of building a temple for God. As grand as the temple might appear, and the profound holiness the majestic structure expresses still leaves Solomon feeling feeble and frail. Solomon has become overwhelmed by the creator God of the cosmos, not by what God has made, but what Solomon has attempted to make “for God!” He realizes his temple cannot come near in ensuring it is fit for the habitation of God. How can we even speak of God dwelling anywhere when he is beyond everything and transcends every place? Yet, the text includes Solomon’s humble confession and prayer. Solomon is basically saying, “Though your existence is beyond and above all, hear us
, your frail needful people
.” The very fact that our majestic God chooses to hear us is remarkable!
The content of this week’s narrative is much akin to the previous text of last week’s lesson. However, the reason some expressions of truth are repeated in the Bible is because they are so important. The Bible is sated with statements of God’s greatness and love, and it never seeks to “tone those messages down.” The message is just too important. Repeatedly we are told that God is faithful to his promises, and that what God says, God does. This is one of the grand threads that holds all of scripture together, and reveals to us the nature and character of God. Therefore, we need to hear it repeatedly, and we do.
Are there actions you can take that enable you to more easily recognize God’s greatness in conjunction with you own humility? What are some of these actions and why do they work for you? How does our inadequacy and God’s magnificence complement each other? Why was it important for Solomon, after all he had done for God, to realize his accomplishment still left him feeling inadequate? Do you think God simply wants us to realize how weak we are, or do you believe God wants us to rather realize how great the Lord is? Could God desire both, and are not both important?
Historical, Geographical, Theological, and Experiential reflection of I Kings 8: 22-53, and 2 Chronicles 6: 12-42:
I Kings 8:22-23a
In the previous background material we addressed the worship postures of Solomon. Therefore, rather than repeat the discussion of their meaning and importance, I encourage you to read the text again and allow it to speak. Often, we can read texts more than once and hear God whisper some eternal truth we did not hear during the first reading. Almost every clergy and teacher of Scripture can attest to mining brand new nuggets of truth from texts we studied on previous occasions. At this moment we want to slowly and methodically contemplate what Solomon is saying when he claims “there is no God ‘like you.’” The Spirit has inspired Solomon to write similar words on other occasions, but Solomon is often standing at a different place in life, or lives in a different context when he writes them anew. King David used beautiful, powerful wording in some psalms to express his need for forgiveness. However, read his cry for forgiveness in Psalm 51 and notice they possess a different, more profound power after his sin with Bathsheba. Solomon has repeatedly mentioned God’s greatness and power. However, now Solomon is inspired to remind God’s people the “kind of God” our Lord is.
There is no God like Israel’s God in heaven above or earth below, Solomon proclaims. It is helpful to possess some understanding of the cosmological perspective of the universe believed by the Hebrew people. Heaven is perceived more like a dome covering a flat surface, the earth. However, heaven stretches out without end above the earth. The earth and world they know and understand is the world they witness every day. Solomon was not inspired to gift us with a scientific book and explanation of how heaven and earth operate, or even how they exist. He does not tell us that e=mc2
! However, he is concerned with us knowing that “creation and its remarkable laws exist!” And, it is God who made them and orders the cosmos with them. The Lord who made heaven and earth is not only their creator. God is above them, beyond them and greater than our greatest thought. Thus, again, how do we even begin to fully understand the greatness of God when we attempt to see the Lord as “living in, or being confined to a temple?” The temple represents the Lord’s presence with his people, however, he fills heaven and earth with such presence and power we cannot even come close to comprehending God’s greatness and personal relationship with us in covenant. Read Psalm 104:1-9 and gain the beautiful, poetic description of our indescribable God, who is Lord of over his indescribable creation!
What emotions do you experience when reading Psalm 104? What images do the psalm evoke, and which images are your favorites? What does Psalm 104 help you understand about God?
Still, Solomon continues to remind Israel that they need to understand not just God’s greatness, but also seek to grasp the remarkable question, “What is God like?” What is the nature of God? What is God’s personality? What are the attributes of God? What is God like???
I Kings 8: 23b
We read, “What is God like?” Solomon answers one of the great attributes of God he understands: He keeps his covenant of love! Covenants were a very important facet of the near eastern world and the functioning between nations. Nations often met and ratified covenants related to issues like water rights, territorial boundaries, and peace treaties. Love could be involved in the covenant, or omitted. Most often, nations did not enter into covenants based on love, but on mutual social respect. And they were mutually conditional. You give us A, and we will give you B. However, God’s love with Israel, dating back to Genesis 12 with Abraham and Sarah, was initiated, perpetuated, and maintained by love, especially God’s love for his people. Repeatedly, Israel failed to remain true to God in covenant and violated the call to love the Lord. However, God never failed to love Israel. As cited earlier, repeatedly we are reminded through the inspired word that God is faithful to his promises, the Lord does what he says, and above all, refuses to violate the covenant of love he initiated with Israel. Once again Solomon has reminded Israel of this all-important fact. This is the one dynamic and truth that defines their life together and their relationship with their Lord. God did not simply establish a covenant that allowed the nation to function as a society, or maintain good diplomacy with other nations; the Lord chose to create a covenant of love that proclaimed to the world, “this is what God is like!!!” God’s love is as unbreakable as his promises in all of life.
The term “love” as used in covenant also implies “kindness.” God is “loving and kind.” St. Paul understood this holy connection in I Cor. 13 writing the simple yet memorable words, “Love is patient and kind.” I once sat on a board that worked to construct a new facility for children in need of a group home. A large degree of time was spent discussing whether or not the windows should be squared or arched. For those like me, who were new to the importance of architecture and its messages, we failed to realize that arches convey “softness and kindness,” whereas edges revealed a more rigid perception of life. Kindness is important, especially to those existing in an unkind world. The world of Israel could quickly become a violent world, void of kindness. However, the covenant of love God established with Israel revealed a constant, unmistakable kindness in the word. This is what God is like! There exists no greater expression of covenantal kindness and love than the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is what God is like in every manner possible. Epiphany is the liturgical season of light and life. In Jesus, we see the light of God’s love and the life it brings to all.
If a person unfamiliar with faith asked you, “What is God like?” How would you answer? How could you add a personal dimension to your answer, telling the person what God is like to you? How does a personal relationship with Christ differ from other relationships in your world? Do you see kindness in the relationships we have with Jesus? In what manner? How could we allow others to know that God is loving and kind through the way we treat each other?
I Kings 8:23b-26
The Spirit inspires Solomon to include a very important dynamic in our covenantal relationship with the Lord. Though God’s love is unconditional and unbreakable, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ, we do have an important role in the relationship. We are expected to love God in return, and “our neighbor as ourselves.” From Deut. 6:4 forward we are taught the one condition that allows us to fully experience and enact the love of God in the world. It is called the “Shema.” Jesus called it the “Law of laws.” When asked to name the greatest of all laws, Jesus responded in quoting the Shema. We are to respond to God’s faithful love “wholeheartedly.” Solomon continues to call Israel to faithfulness. Having a spiritual descendent upon the just throne of God has everything to do with walking faithfully before God.
It is at this point that we engage in the discussion of grace and works. Read Ephesians 2:8-9. Furthermore, read James’ epistle on the relationship between faith and works. How do you as a Christian reconciling God’s unbreakable covenant of love with the condition that we live in faithfulness? How does the church explain this holy, special connection of the two? Do you find God's unconditional love and our need to be faithful confusing? What helps you most in understanding how the two are interconnected?
I Kings 8:27-53
As Solomon closes the narrative he returns to the one, most humbling dynamic he cannot escape. How can we expect God to inhabit what feeble humanity has made with its frail hands when God is greater than heaven above and earth below? However, in the Spirit he is moved by another inescapable truth that defines and gives meaning to all human life. God allows us to look toward the temple, that frail imitation of the Lord’s greatness and pray, and be heard! What is God like? God loves and cares enough to hear our prayers and respond in love. Solomon realizes that wherever he finds himself, he can look toward the temple and pray, and God will hear. In our Christian faith we do not attempt to confine God to a place, such as a sanctuary. Even when visiting our holiest places in Israel we are aware that God is present, but still remains beyond. Most importantly, he knows “we are there!” Still, there is nothing wrong with looking toward sanctuaries and special places when we struggle in life and want to remember God is present and listening. I love church steeples. I love the fact that we can drive through towns, look upward, and see an image that says, “God knows you are here, and listens.” Through the centuries, humanity has constructed many holy sites. For years men and women have visited these places not because we believe God lives there, but because they remind us that God knows “we live here.”
What are your favorite places to visit for prayer? What place or places help remind you that God knows you are alive in the world, and precious to him? Are there not also places in life that we did not build, but exist naturally in nature that are just as special? What actions, thoughts, places, etc. most help you understand that God is truly listening to your prayer?
People of faith will always struggle to reconcile the greatness of God with the frailty of our humanity. We will ask, “How can God who fills the heavens and the earth fill my human heart?” However, it is our faith in Jesus Christ which is most helpful in reconciling the two. He joined humanity, not in a grand structure, but in a manger. He lived not in a large metropolitan area, but in the small town of Nazareth. He lived with common men and women for he refused to make them feel small and insignificant. In a small, common place in the world the God of creation joined us in such a profound manner he understands our deepest sorrows and highest joys. He understands our fear of death, and our strength in trusting God for everlasting life. What is God like? Look to Jesus!
Almighty God, you hold the entire cosmos in perfect tension. Every planet is in perfect alignment to sustain our life. The myriads of solar systems and greatness of the heavens leave us confounded and humbled. Yet, you know our name, the experiences that break our heart, and the joys that emerge from sorrow because your goodness and love never abandon us or waste a moment in life. In humble adoration we praise your holy name. We may feel inadequate, but you never are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.