It has been said that Israel was faithful to record her unfaithfulness. I have often thought that if I were to record a history of my life, I might be tempted to leave out at least some of my mistakes and other terrible events of my life. We do not see this with Israel. As much as we may wrestle with sections of Old Testament, Israel deserves a bit of our admiration for persisting in recording the ways in which they failed along with the good stuff.
King Solomon, one of the central figures of this passage, is often seen as a noble wise king in many Christian circles, without much critique. I grew up not hearing anything of the greed and political collusion that marked his kingship over Israel. These reasons among others were primary behind his procuring many, many wives, which was a common way of consolidating political power in the ancient nearest. Not only did this practice assume women as property to be used for personal gain, but it inherently focuses on the elite of a particular kingdom, overlooking those who are always subject to rulers, like the low, the least, and the migrant.
Understanding Israel’s rough past with kings, from Saul, to David, and now to Solomon, we must remember the broken road that lead to the construction of this grand temple, which is the stage of this passage. We hear a seasoned, aged Solomon as he addressed the elders of Israel gathered before him.
The other central figure of this passage of course is the Lord. As the ark of the Lord’s covenant was brought into the holy of holies, the presence of the Lord marked by a cloud, filled the temple in such a thick and tangible way, even the priests were unable to carry out their duties (verse 10-11). When reading this scene, two things come to mind. One, it is a display of prevenient grace. God is going before the people, filling the holiest of holy places they could construct with their hands, before they fill it with their worship, the Lord is waiting to commune with them in holiness. Two, it is a proleptic scene of humanity’s eschatological future with God. At the throne of God, when all is redeemed finally and forever, God’s presence will be so palpable and tangible in and through all creation, clergy in all its forms will no longer have to work to mediate between the presence of God and God’s people. In the Day of the Lord, even the striving of faith will be swallowed up by the presence of God.
It is this combination of elements through which we hear Solomon address the elders in a way that seems marked by humility and a call to faithfulness. These verses are saturated with the function of prayer. Calling Israel to remember and trust in the promises God has made to them all throughout their history. Calling upon the Lord to remember the promises that He had made to them. That even in light of broken faithfulness on Israel’s side, there is a call to communal participation in the covenant God has made and God has kept. God’s people must live dependent on God’s promise of fidelity to them rather than being dependent on anything else.
Solomon also breaks with ancient political strategy and asks the Lord to listen to the prayers of the immigrant. Instead of being concerned about his own political standing in the world, Solomon requests that the requests of the immigrants are not only heard but granted, in order that the reputation of the Lord would be known all throughout the world!
The picture given in this temple scene points to what the world is welcomed to through the presence of Jesus Christ. That through our high priest Jesus Christ, the mediation of the presence of God is made stunningly tangible and palpable among us. That the invitation from Christ to abide within him is extended beyond all geo-political boarders to all people, giving them a voice to have their requests met by God.
May Israel’s faithfulness in recording her unfaithfulness be a testament to us of God’s unfailing love in persisting in the promises made to humanity from the beginning. No matter our past, our faults, our brokenness, or our origins, we are invited to have a holy place with all of humanity into the palpable presence of God.