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March 18 lesson: The People Gave Thanks to God

March 05, 2018
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The People Gave Thanks to God
 
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 18, 2018
By Dr. Hal Brady
 
Spring Quarter: Acknowledging God
Unit 1: Follow in My Ways
 
Lesson Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:1-9
Background Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:1-11
 
Lesson Aims 
  1. Describe God’s response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication at the temple and how Solomon and the people gave thanks to God.
  2. Explain why giving thanks to God receives the emphasis it does in today’s passage.
     
Several years back when our daughter and her fiancé were preparing for their wedding, they received a number of wedding gifts. At this point, we Bradys developed a ritual in our home concerning the gifts. The ritual took place on the floor of our hallway. This was the procedure: our daughter and her fiancé would open the gift, my wife would record the gift on a card, the gift would be carefully placed in the appropriate viewing place, yours truly would carry out the trash, and our daughter would take a block of time and write “thank you notes.”
 
“Thank you notes” – what better way to express our appreciation to and for other people and their kindnesses! Thank you notes are always appropriate no matter the situation.
 
A noted reminder to God’s people throughout Scripture is to be thankful. We find that reminder in a number of passages in both the Old and New Testaments (four examples are Psalm 95:2; Psalm 100:4; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6). And then Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:18).
 
As scholars point out, in today’s lesson we see the important role that giving thanks played in celebrating the dedication of Solomon’s temple. The nation of Israel observed not just a day of thanksgiving (as we do in the United States), but a celebration that lasted two weeks (2 Chronicles 7:8-10).
 
The background for today’s lesson is the same background discussed in last week’s lesson (March 11), so we will not repeat that here. As noted by scholars, the conclusion to Solomon’s eloquent prayer, which immediately precedes today’s lesson text (2 Chronicles 6:41, 42), is of such power that its wording is also clearly reflected in a psalm (Psalm 132:8-10).
 
Fire from God (2 Chronicles 7:1-3)
 
Solomon had ended his dedicatory prayer with the plea that the Lord would “arise” and come to his “resting place.” It is suggested that the immediately ensuing fire (fire from heaven) is dramatic evidence that the Lord is pleased with the sentiment.
 
As the Ark of the covenant was brought to the temple, so many sacrifices had been offered that it became impossible to know their number (2 Chronicles 5:5, 6).  So whatever is consumed after the completion of Solomon’s prayer is evidently everything that remained on the altar.
 
Scholars state that this scene reminds us somewhat of the confrontation that occurs later between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38). And similar demonstrations of heavenly fire are associated with altars that accompanied the dedication of the tabernacle (Leviticus 9:23, 24) and David’s offering prepared on a threshing floor to stop a plague sent upon the people of Israel (1 Chronicles 21:14-27). In each situation, including Solomon’s sacrifices, fire signifies God’s acceptance of the offerings given.
 
Verse 1b says, “And the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” As mentioned previously, this is also what took place upon the assembly when the tabernacle was completed (Exodus 40:34,35). The point is that God’s blessing upon and approval of Solomon’s temple is obvious to all present.
 
Taking God’s action a step further, we are told that “the priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it” (2 Chronicles 7:2). In a way it’s what happened at the tabernacle all over again. On that occasion, Moses was not able to enter that structure because of the overwhelming presence of “the glory of the Lord.” Neither could the priests perform their ministry when the Ark of the covenant was brought into the temple. And, of course, this was due to the overwhelming nature of the sacred presence of God (2 Chronicles 5:14). 
 
Next, we see the immediate appropriate response of all the Israelites to the majesty of this Heaven-sent power (verse 3). Again, this response also calls to mind the people’s reaction at the dedication of the tabernacle when fire came forth and consumed the sacrifices on the altar (Leviticus 9:24). 
 
Scholars make clear that the words the people uttered in praise (3b) were also voiced when the Ark of the covenant was placed within the temple (2 Chronicles 5:13). This refrain is in fact an integrated part of Israelite worship within the Old Testament record. David first appointed Asaph and his associate to give praise to the Lord in this manner “for use as part of the worship ceremony accompanied bringing the Ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:7,34).
 
That the refrain became a kind of worship standard is indicated later in 1 Chronicles 16 where a list of names is included, designating those responsible for various matters of temple worship. Verse 41 records that all these individuals were chosen “to give thanks to the Lord, ‘for his love endures forever.’”
And we are informed that this refrain is also found in a number of psalms (100, 106, 107, 118 and 136). In addition, when the prophet Jeremiah pictures the return of God’s people to Jerusalem from captivity, he describes them using these very words in celebrating their return (Jeremiah 33:10,11).  Once more, when God’s people return and lay the foundation of the second temple, the words of this refrain form part of their grateful worship (Ezra 3:10,11). Scholars state that all in all, this refrain occurs about 40 times in the Old Testament.
 
Worship by People (2 Chronicles 7:4-6)
 
In verse 4, the next thing we notice are the actions of worship that follow the posture and words of worship in the previous verse (v.3). The notable point here is that both king and people take part in this ceremony. In other nations in the ancient Near East, according to scholars, the king is commonly viewed as a deity to whom worship is offered. To his credit, however, Solomon understands his proper place as just as much a worshipper as any member of the common people.
 
At this juncture, we are reminded that when the Ark of the Covenant had been carried into the temple, so many sheep and oxen were sacrificed that it was impossible to keep count (2 Chronicles 5:6). As scholars attests, the number of animals offered in the current instance are given, and the figures are staggering—22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. Now, these numbers dwarf the numbers offered in later reform celebrations in 2 Chronicles 29:32; 30:24; 35:7-9. While it is my opinion that these numbers may not need to be taken literally, nevertheless, they represent an enormous sacrifice on the part of Solomon and the people, as they dedicated the temple of God.
 
Later the Lord appears to Solomon and states “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12). As we can see, the temple’s function as a house for sacrifice is certainly being fulfilled on this memorable dedication ceremony!
 
Scholars make the point that the abundance of sacrifices Solomon brought to the temple were intended to glorify God for his goodness to Israel. These sacrifices constituted the epitome of true worship. They were offered to exalt a gracious God whose “love endures forever.” 
 
Question! Is that why we give back to the Lord?
 
Most of us who have served or continue to serve in the church know how important music is to worship. It is an integral part of worship, and it was an integral part of this ceremony we are discussing today. The mention of David is significant. Though David was not allowed to build the temple, he was permitted to make “extensive preparations” for the project (5 Chronicles 22:5). And part of that preparation was organizing the ministry of worship through music, which was very close to David’s heart. The fact that King David had made certain musical instruments to use in worship “for praising the Lord” fits well with his own status as a musician (2 Samuel 6:5). At any rate, scholars tell us that these skills form a backdrop of David’s expertise in organizing the music ministry during his reign.
 
Further Actions (2 Chronicles 7:7-9)
 
The offerings at the dedication of the Temple were so numerous that Solomon has consecrated (dedicated) additional space for the various sacrifices of the occasion. We are informed that the entire ceremony of dedication itself lasted two weeks. So, while the task of offering the sacrifices requires a significant effort from the priests and Levites present, whether numbers should be taken literally in 2 Chronicles 7:5 or not is a matter of scholarly debate.
 
Scholars inform us that the types of offerings noted reflect the totality of the people’s worship and devotion to God. Usually “burnt offerings” (described in Leviticus 1) address issues of sin or of dedication to the Lord. The “grain offerings” will include the offering of the choice part of the grain as opposed to the worthless chaff. These offerings symbolize thanksgiving, and the regulations for presenting them are found in Leviticus 2. The “fellowship offerings” are the only offerings in which some of it may be eaten by the worshipper and the priest (Leviticus 3: 7:11-18). The fat of such offerings is to be presented only to the Lord.
 
Next, we are informed that the bronze altar (Solomon) had made is not to be understood as something the king dreamed up on his own and added to the temple furnishings. This altar was part of the original design for the tabernacle as noted in Exodus 27:1-8. And even with its larger size in the temple (2 Chronicles 4:1), it could not hold the various offerings, which are being offered. 
 
In verse 8, the festival mentioned is the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths (also known as
Ingathering). According to scholars, we know this because of the reference in 2 Chronicles 7:10 to “the seventh month,” which is the month when this festival is to be observed for a period of seven days (Leviticus 23:33-36). Its purpose is to recognize the harvest provided by the Lord. Thus, as scholars explain, the dedication of the temple (for which the people are gathered to give thanks) occurs adjacent to a festival already on the Israelite calendar, a festival already set aside for giving thanks to God. 
 
And the sense of unity and support for Solomon’s undertaking is clear from both the number of worshippers and the distance they travel: “from Lebo to the Hamath of Egypt.” These boundaries are significant in that they reflect God’s intention as to the territory that his people should possess (Numbers 34:5-8). Therefore, the people gathered on this day could celebrate not only the achievement of building a temple but also the building of a great nation in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 1 Kings 4:21, 24). For sure, neither of these could have happened without God’s blessing.
 
We are informed by both scripture and scholarship that the Law of Moses stipulates that the Festival of Tabernacles lasts “seven days,” beginning the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus (23:33,34). Since the people are sent home on the twenty-third day of this month (2 Chronicles 7:10), the dedication of the temple lasts “seven days” followed by “seven-day” observance of the Festival of Tabernacles. On the eighth day, the assembly concludes both the gathering for the dedication of the temple and the Festival of Tabernacles. That the dedication of the altar is specifically mentioned is perhaps in keeping with the temple’s purpose as a sacred place for sacrifices to be offered (2 Chronicles 7:12).
 
When the assembly concluded, we are told that the people leave “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and his people of Israel.” Once more we view the important role of David. What had transpired on this momentous day marks the fulfillment of part of God’s covenant with David. Both his son Solomon and the entire nation of Israel are the beneficiaries of God’s faithfulness, and they acknowledge that truth as they depart from their memorial celebration to return home. 
 
Conclusion
 
The writer of today’s lesson recalls the words “Semper Fidelis” as the mother of the United States Marine Corps. The phrase means “always faithful” and highlights the unwavering devotion to duty and country that those in the Marines have exhibited consistently throughout their history. The writer, in thinking about the theme of today’s lesson, suggests that perhaps the phrase “Semper Gratus,” meaning “always grateful,” is appropriate. This is a motto for Christians to live by in recognition of God’s love. And of that love we can say, we are the worshippers at the temple dedication proclaimed “it endures forever.” Thanks be to God!
 
Action Plan:
  1. Suggest one specific way to make giving thanks a consistent part of one’s daily walk.
  2. Challenge students to think of something they would like to dedicate to God. As a group, discuss a potential dedication service: How could worship be incorporated? What offerings could be given? What songs could be played or sung? What would be prayed?
 
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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