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Knocking Down Barriers to the Presence of God

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 NIV

Solomon’s Prayer for the Temple

To say that this was a special day would have been a huge understatement. Solomon, king of Israel, stood in the most unique and exquisite building in his kingdom. It was a project that his father David had wanted to undertake. But despite the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart, God reserved the building of the Temple for David’s son, Solomon.

After years of planning and gathering materials — cedar from Lebanon, cypress, stone quarried and cut off site so the sound of iron tools would not be heard in the Temple area — and after seven years’ of actual construction, Solomon now stood before the house of God and before God’s people, Israel.

Facing the massive outdoor altar on which Solomon will later sacrifice 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen, Solomon offers a prayer for this building that he has built as God’s dwelling place on earth.

Acknowledging that no earthly building can contain all of God’s presence, Solomon nevertheless connects the earthly Temple to the heavenly throne of God. Solomon asks that when Israelites gather to pray there, that God will hear from his throne in heaven.

But then Solomon asks God for something unusual. After asking for God to hear the Israelites whenever they call on him in the Temple, Solomon then asks the same privilege for non-Israelites — for foreigners.

Solomon says that foreigners will hear of God’s great name — and they will he states — then Solomon asks God to hear the prayers of foreigners, too, and to whatever the foreigner asks so that all people will know that God is the one true God, and that they will also know that this Temple contains the very presence of that God.

In other words, this magnificent temple made of the best materials by the best artisans available, this temple that is overlaid with gold throughout, that gleams in the sunshine, that gives glory to the God of Israel — this temple is to be accessible to everyone, even foreigners.

Solomon’s prayer is a radical departure for his day and for national places of worship. Of course, it wasn’t unusual for nations to have their own gods, and most had several. What was unique about Israel though was that Israel only had one god. Usually nations were very protective of their gods. As nations went to battle, the nation who prevailed in battle was believed to have the stronger, more effective god. We see some of this reflected even in the Old Testament, where victories in battle are attributed to God, and defeats in battle are seen to be God’s punishment for an unfaithful people.

What we might expect Solomon to say is something like this — “Lord, you are our god. We serve you and we built this house for you. Now pay special attention to us, your special people. Favor us over everyone else. And, don’t pay any attention to the prayers of other people who aren’t like us.”

Instead, Solomon says just the opposite. Oh, of course, he does invoke God’s presence, blessing, and favor on Israel. But then he adds, “Lord, others will hear about you, and they’ll come to this place. When they do, and they pray to you, hear them, too.”

This is what made Israel different from all the nations around them. Not only did Israel have a god, but from the beginning when God called Abraham and promised to make him the father of a great nation, part of the promise was that Israel was going to be blessed to be a blessing to all the nations.

Unfortunately, by the first century when Jesus is announcing the kingdom of God, Israel has forgotten that their temple is to be open to all people. Of course, the Court of the Gentiles was still in the Temple, but this is where the money changers and those who sold animals for sacrifice had set up shop. By taking up so much space for their commercial enterprise, the Gentiles were being excluded from their space in the presence of God.

That’s why when Jesus drives the money changers and merchants from the temple, he quotes the Old Testament by saying that his Father’s house was to be called a house of prayer for all nations, but they had made it a den of thieves. Not only were the merchants stealing from their own people, they were denying access to the presence of God to all the foreigners, all the other nations.

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chuckwarnock@churchleaders.com'
Chuck Warnock pastors Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, VA and writes the popular Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, a blog especially for pastors of churches with up to 300 in attendance. Chuck is a contributing editor for Outreach magazine writing their “Small Church, Big Idea” column, writes prolifically for Leadership Journal and Christianity Today, and is a frequent conference speaker on the subject of church leadership. He is currently working on his D.Min. at Fuller Seminary.