In 2 Chronicles 6:1-42 (1 Kings 8:22-52), King Solomon dedicates the Temple he has constructed for the worship of God. Noted for his wisdom and political prowess, Solomon displays profound religious insight in his prayer on that occasion. His prayer addresses the nature of God, the universal authority of God, and God capacity to forgive. The conclusion of the prayer differs in the two accounts, focusing on God’s choosing of Israel of his people in the Kings reading, emphasizing God’s blessing of David and his descendants and his temple as central to Israelite worship in the Chronicles reading.
Solomon declares in his prayer that Israel’s God is unique: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.” The king asserts that no other deity exists in the universe who relates to his worshipers as God does. He begins his prayer by identifying to whom he prays and why this God deserves his worship. He begins his prayer with praise to God who relates with love to his faithful followers. He confesses later that God alone “knows the hearts of men” (v. 30). Israel’s God should be worshiped by all nations, Solomon implies by praying that God should hear the prayers of non-Israelites when they pray toward Jerusalem’s temple “so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel” (v. 32).
Solomon completed his father’s dream, building a worthy temple to house the ark of the covenant. He confesses in his prayer that he cannot put God in a box: “But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” God indeed is not a local or national deity. Solomon states his inability to house him in the temple. Still, the temple is where the Name of God will reside; worshipers will direct their attention to this place. In each section of this prayer in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, Solomon will repeat that God’s people will pray toward this temple, much as modern Muslims pray toward Mecca. However, while worshipers will pray toward Jerusalem, where God has put his Name, Solomon does not suggest that God himself lives there. He prays, “Hear the supplications 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” (2 Chron. 6:21). The apostle Paul echoed the words of Solomon’s prayer when he preached to Athenians, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 16:24).
Solomon confesses the authority of God in his prayer. God keeps covenant with “your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way” (v. 14). He recognizes that descendants of his father David will continue to rule Israel “If only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law” (v. 16). He asks God to teach Israel “right way to live” (v. 27), acknowledging God’s authority to do so. He asks, ” …deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men), so that they will fear you and walk in your ways” (v. 30).
Solomon repeatedly petitions God to forgive when people repent. He prays, “When you hear, forgive” (v.21). When Israel’s turns back and confesses God’s name after defeat by an enemy, the king prays, “Then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to them and their fathers” (v. 25, also v. 39).
Solomon, king of Israel, prays at the dedication of a temple for the worship of God. He affirms God’s unique character as a loving and forgiving God who alone knows the hearts of men. He asserts the authority of God over both Israel and those who are not Israelites. He petitions God to forgive when people repent and confess their sin. Although Solomon has built a temple that will be the focus of Israel’s worship, he prays that he knows God cannot be contained within its walls.
We still pray to a God whose presence is everywhere, who cannot be boxed. Solomon was a wise and powerful king, but he recognized the power of God. The Lord’s power supersedes our ability to control. He still loves and forgives those who turn their hearts to him and “continue wholeheartedly” in his way. Although early Christians went to the temple at the hour of prayer (Acts 3), the New Testament nowhere states that Christians still prayed toward Jerusalem and its temple. Jesus affirmed that “God is a spirit and those that worship him do so in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). In that same context, as he addressed the Samaritan contention that a temple on Mt. Gerizim rather than the temple in Jerusalem should be the focus of worship, he said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21).
O Lord our God, there is no other God like you. You love us and forgive us when we turn to you in repentance. Remember your promises to be with us. Although we may be wise or powerful in society, our authority does not equal yours. Help us to remember your word as we walk through your world. Arise, O Lord, in the time of testing and protect your servants. In Jesus’ name, Amen.