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Solomon Anticipates Praise
Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 26, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: I Kings 8:54-66 and II Chronicles 7:4-9
Key Verse: I Kings 8:57,58
“May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors.”
Historical, theological, experiential background for study text:
No king accomplished the political and spiritual accomplishments of Solomon. He was famed for creating the “Golden Age” of Israel’s prosperity. The northern area of the kingdom was united with the southern area of Judah, though some tension existed by having the temple located in the south as opposed to north. The territory of Israel was increased and other lands served as “puppet, tax-paying” lands. These taxes helped construct, maintain, and construct great structures in Israel reflecting their prosperity among the nations. The temple was dedicated about 10 years into Solomon’s 40-year reign. In spite of our modern ability to build amazing structures it remains difficult to even image what Solomon and his artisans accomplished in building the temple. The beautiful stones, the ornate curtains, and the brass and gold-laden instruments would have been breath-taking. Even great timbers of cypress were hauled up and down various elevations to transport them to Mt. Zion. It would be accurate to state that the construction of the temple occupied Israel’s entire national life. Sadly, Solomon was creating alliances with foreign powers and especially through their foreign wives. Later Solomon will pay a great price for this type of expansion. The dedication of the temple closed with a 14-day celebration called the Festival of Tabernacles. The Festival of Tabernacles celebrated the fruit of the harvest. It was a perfect occasion to close the dedication of the temple, for the temple itself served as a metaphor of a great harvest. All of the labor, materials, supplies, and art collectively brought into existence the one structure that would serve as an expression of Israel’s life even as far into the future as 70AD. Personally, I long for churches to celebrate all the gifts, graces, and works that helped accomplish some of their great ministries, ministries that would continue long into the future.
What structures or ministries exist in your local church that involved many individuals over several years? Were they celebrated or dedicated upon their competition? Would it have helped for the entire church to gather and thank God for the great harvest of work that made the work possible? Do you believe the current generation, and future generations, will know and appreciate what God’s people did years earlier for the kingdom?
Historical, theological, and experiential reflection on 1 Kings 8:54-66:
I Kings 8: 54-56a
We can easily forget the value of ritual to the people of the middle east, especially in Israel during Solomon’s day. Sadly, many today consider ritual boring, or speak it rote, almost without emotion. Remember, the Mosaic Law was kept in the care of the priests. The people were acquainted with the Law through the instruction of the priests. People did not possess copies of the Law in the home. They depended upon the teaching of their religious leaders. Thus, music and ritual were imperative in preserving the sacred truth given by God and learned by each generation. Ritual ensured that the sacred words of their prayers and psalms remained unchanged and were kept inviolate by the people. Not one iota of the Law, the psalms they sang, or the prayers they prayed should be altered. God’s truth was unchangeable and all care must be taken to ensure it remained ageless to God’s people. Solomon had opened the dedication with ritual and prayer and was closing in the same manner. His actions provided continuity between that which God started among them and that which God continued to accomplish among them. In verse 55 Solomon is so emphatic that the people hear the sacred prayers that he speaks loudly enough for all near to hear. The ritual did not always remain unchanged regarding every exact word, though they were extremely careful in seeking to do so. However, the ritual used in worship always contained the historical recitation of what God had done for Israel through Moses, Joshua, and David. The content of the repeated story was where the great value of ritual existed. As said by Rabbi Moshe Ben Naman, “That moment, when the entire nation experienced directly the presence of God, and heard his word, was the supreme moment of Jewish, and in fact of human, history.” The rituals used in special celebrations such as the dedication of the temple helped the people remember and internalize their all-important inspired history. It maintained a sense of accuracy and integrity about the story of God and his people. Remember, Christianity has a sacred history that needs to be told and repeated for all generations. Ritual helps ensure our story is shared with historical and spiritual integrity.
Each Sunday, most churches engage in some expression of liturgy. Most often it is the liturgy that gives structure and meaning to the Eucharist. However, others read from the Psalter, and many recite the creeds of the church. They are passing to the next generation the story of God and his people in Christ, intact as it has been for more than 2,000 years. This action should never be taken lightly.
As Solomon stands to address the people with their inspired history, he reminds them that God has brought them into the “rest” he promised. Their journey as a people had been long and trying, yet fulfilling. They were entitled to see God accomplish works they could never have imagined. Solomon now links their trek through the desert for 40 years, the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, and David’s conquering of Mt. Zion from the Jebusites. Now, the temple represents for Solomon the end of a journey. Of course, the Israel of God’s people is far from over
. However, Solomon does recognize the completion of the temple in their own capital city as a significant point in their journey. The artisans, the laborers, the architects, and Solomon himself could now rest in what God has done for his people. From Moses’s history forward, not one word of God’s promise has failed. Thus, in essence, the people had always rested in God’s truth. God was going to complete what was promised and Israel would rest in faith with that certainty. Read Hebrews 1:4 concerning the promised rest of God for his people. Jesus is our ultimate rest in faith. He is the certainty that all God promised is true. Furthermore, the rest for the people of Jesus does have an ending from the journey in this life. It isn’t coincidental that the language we use when the Christian journey is over in this life often is “rest in peace,” or we claim they “pass from this life to the life to come.” The early American pioneers often understood the rest of God as “inheriting the land of promise.” Once again, Solomon has prayed for God to be near his people, as he was near their ancestors. Yet, it is a powerful prayer to ask that God be as near to us as he was to our ancestors. Remember, God was near when Abraham offered Isaac, God was near during the Exodus and at Sinai, God was near in the wilderness, and the crossing over the Jordon. Solomon is praying that God will remain as near as the redemptive Lord he was during their entire history.
What does it mean to you to “rest in the Lord?” When did those moments occur when you felt at peace for a period of time? Does it bring you comfort that God is always moving you toward places of peace and rest in life? How do you understand rest in this life, and in the life to come? Do these understandings bring you comfort?
I Kings 8:58
The term “turn” is interesting in Solomon’s prayer. The Bible consistently offers choice. We choose to follow the Lord and his statutes or we follow our self-centered desires. Even Solomon understands that left to his own inclination, man and woman are tempted to follow their own choices and desires. Thus, Solomon understands that from the beginning we have needed that “prodding,” that “drawing” from the Lord toward the righteous. We are asked to turn toward the Lord’s truth as a new plant turns toward life-giving sunlight. Left to our ourselves, we easily find ourselves in the shade. Thus, he prays that we turn toward the Lord with our hearts and be truthful to his righteousness.
How do you believe God “turns” you toward righteousness? What do you think it means for God to “draw” you toward godliness? Can you recall moments when you were very aware God was drawing you toward morality and away from secularism?
It is also important to realize that the righteousness and moral decisions we follow are ancient. They are as old as the first requests of Adam and Eve, as Abraham and Sarah’s requests by God to walk in covenant, Moses’ life-giving Law on Sinai, and the expressions of law expressed by David and the other gifted psalmists. Now, Israel is to continue to walk in that same morality and godliness as all who came before.
I Kings 8: 59
Solomon now states an obvious spiritual truth. He prays that God will remain near, so near he hears their prayers day or night. Remember the words of the psalmist, “Our Lord neither slumbers nor sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4)
I Kings 8:60-61
In closing the rituals and festival as the temple is dedicated, Solomon speaks the one grand truth that Israel will neglect through the years. They were chosen to be the light of the world for the one, true God. Their calling is to ensure there is no other God to the world, that the one God is righteous. Furthermore, the world is to know the Israelite God is Lord through Israel’s consistent moral behavior and righteous life. The world should witness that above all nations, Israel lives differently. They live on a higher moral plane, a more noble life, and a life that loves God and in turn loves others.
Why do you believe Israel was tempted to neglect other nations in spreading the goodness of the one true God? Was Israel’s behavior really reflective of God’s goodness, or had they become exclusive and omitted much of the Middle Eastern world? How do you think their neglect resulted in the future fall of the northern and southern divisions of the kingdom following Solomon’s death? What price did they pay for failing to evangelize the world with God’s truth and love?
The completion of the temple represented a major accomplishment. God has used so many with various gifts and graces. Now during the Festival of Tabernacles Solomon leads the people in remembering the completion of the temple was a harvest in its own right. All the work had come together and the greatest structure in Israel’s spiritual history had been completed. Ritual played an important role in Solomon’s service. Recalling their collective history and memorizing the events that gave the people identity were of extreme importance for temple worship and would be repeated for years. If the moral life of God’s people could remain turned toward godliness, with sincere worship at the temple site, the world could capture a vision of the one true God Israel worshipped and proclaimed. God is always near to them; now they must ensure they remain near to the Lord.
Almighty God, our rich spiritual history astounds us with its grace and expressions of the miraculous. We celebrate this Epiphany that Jesus is the full expression of that history, the history that was, and is still to come. Teach us to walk by faith, trusting in the same faithfulness in which your people have trusted from the beginning. For, from your beginning for us, we will one day find the new beginning that awaits us in the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at email@example.com.