This article was originally written for 1517.
There is a surprising sense of positivity surrounding the historian’s description of Solomon’s kingly activities in 1 Kings 4—11. Surprising, perhaps, because we know the eventual end. How Solomon began is not how he finished. Nevertheless, we ought not to let that fact eclipse what the Scriptures aim to show us through these tedious chapters detailing Solomon’s reign.
As 1 Kings 8 begins, the Temple is complete. After seven years of construction (1 Kgs 6:38; 7:51), now was the time for the dedication of the Temple proper. That is, the public commitment of the people and the building to Jehovah’s service. This elaborate ceremony not only served to immortalize and commemorate the Temple’s intended purpose, but also remind the Israelites how different their God was — so says Solomon: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below, who keeps the gracious covenant with your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” (1 Kgs 8:23)
Some today like to lump the God of the Bible in with the rest of humanity’s gods, making him just another in the laundry list of supreme cosmic beings before which we bow in homage and humility. In ways that are not worth our time recounting, modern scholars demean the God of Scripture by “normalizing” him in the index of other deities. “He’s just one among the rest,” they claim. “He’s no different.” Such are the assertions of many who would wish to discredit the Christian faith. But, of course, we know this to be untrue. Ours is a God unlike any other. He is not one among many, he is the one and only. “There is no other!” (1 Kgs 8:23, 60; cf. Dt 4:35,39; 6:4; Is 37:20; 43:10; 44:6; 45:21)
Even still, what makes 1 Kings 8 so compelling is that through Solomon’s dedicatory prayer, a spotlight is brightly shone on how disparate Israel’s God is by commemorating the Temple’s very form and function. Its structure served to confirm that the only God worth trusting and believing is the God of Israel — which, as it happens, is our God, too.
A place where promises are kept.
The Temple dedication begins with King Solomon assembling the elders and religious leaders of Israel together in order to transport the ark from the tabernacle into the Holy of Holies. (1 Kgs 8:3–6) This, as you might imagine, is a very momentous occasion for the people of Israel. This event signified that the era of the portable tabernacle had come to an end. Those days of repeatedly setting up and tearing down the tent of sacrifice as Israel wandered were done and over. There was now a permanent house in which the Lord would dwell. God’s people were now settled. Such is what Solomon testifies: “The Lord said that he would dwell in total darkness. I have indeed built an exalted temple for you, a place for your dwelling forever.” (1 Kgs 8:12–13)
Even more significant, however, than the promise of God’s settling is the promise of his presence. And this promise is fulfilled in a very obvious way. As the priests put the ark in its place — that is, “the inner sanctuary of the temple . . . the most holy place beneath the wings of the cherubim” (1 Kgs 8:6) — a thick cloud of smoke filled the entire house. (1 Kgs 8:10) Resolved not to allow for anyone to miss what’s going on here, the historian quickly comments that this is none other than “the glory of the Lord filling the temple.” (1 Kgs 8:11) The cloud is a token, a sacrament, of God’s presence filling the entire place.
Solomon, then, takes the opportunity to openly affirm that this is in keeping with what God has already promised. (1 Kgs 8:12–13) This unmistakable sign that God was there was, of course, meant to draw the Israelites’ minds back to the days of the tabernacle. (Ex 40:34–35) Thus, as the people of Israel stood in the middle of that cloud of glory, they were reminded that theirs is a God who keeps every single one of his promises. Just as he said, he has brought them to a place of dwelling. Of permanence. Of rest. Such is the prevailing message of Solomon’s opening blessing. (1 Kgs 8:14–21)
Solomon then turns and prays corporately, on behalf of “the entire congregation of Israel.” (1 Kgs 8:22) This invocation, which is, in fact, one of the longest recorded prayers in Scripture, has as its prevailing concern the uniqueness of Israel’s God. “Lord God of Israel,” Solomon declares, “there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below.” Jehovah isn’t like other gods; he is truly “one-of-a-kind.” But why? How? What makes him so unique? To wit, Jehovah is a God of his word.
Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below, who keeps the gracious covenant with your servants who walk before you with all their heart. You have kept what you promised to your servant, my father David. You spoke directly to him and you fulfilled your promise by your power as it is today. Therefore, Lord God of Israel, keep what you promised to your servant, my father David: You will never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons take care to walk before me as you have walked before me. (1 Kgs 8:23–25)
What makes the God of Israel so distinct is that he actually keeps the covenants he makes with his people. Pagan deities were not known for their faithfulness. In fact, you’d be more right in describing them as fickle, erratic, and inconstant. Such is why adherents to these other gods were tirelessly striving for ways to appease them, to make them happy. And even then you weren’t sure they were going to come through for you. Those devoted to “invented deities” were never sure what they were going to get — precisely because they were praying to a god who could not execute anything for which they were pleading. Such is what makes Israel’s God different.
Jehovah is a God who keeps his word. “The real foundation of the temple,” comments Dale Ralph Davis, “does not consist of huge blocks of stone; the temple rests upon the promise of Yahweh.”1 He covenants with his people and mercifully keeps those same covenants — yes, even after they have been broken. The Israelites would have been reminded of this every time they walked up the steps to the Temple. In 1 Kings 7:15–22, we are told about two massive pillars erected at the entrance to the house of the Lord which were cast out of pure brass. These pillars are given names: the one, “Jachin”; the other, “Boaz.” This isn’t an inconsequential detail. These columns are themselves tokens of God’s promises. Jehovah’s abiding words for his people are “Jachin,” meaning, “he will establish,” and “Boaz,” meaning, “his strength will perform it.” What God promises, his power will bring about.
You and I have a God who keeps his promises. He always does what he says he will do. And I don’t say that as some winsome platitude to make you feel better. I say that as one who believes wholeheartedly that that is true. Your life and mine is upheld, as with pillars of brass, by none other than this promise-keeping God.
A place where prayers are heard.
Another way in which Israel’s God was different appears if we take note of another word that is repeated throughout the chapter. In verses 28–52, the words “hear” or “hearken” are used some thirteen times — which, of course, is suggestive of Jehovah’s most distinct quality. Namely, he is a God who hears. “Listen,” says Solomon, “to your servant’s prayer and his petition, Lord my God, so that you may hear the cry and the prayer that your servant prays before you today. Hear the petition of your servant and your people Israel, which they pray toward this place. May you hear in your dwelling place in heaven.” (1 Kgs 8:28, 30)
This, of course, is immediately different than any other god — precisely because every other god is inanimate. Israel’s God is a God who hears. Who listens attentively. Who hearkens unto the cries of his children. That fact alone is remarkable, in and of itself, but is made even more remarkable by what Solomon declares in verse 27:
But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain you, much less this temple I have built.
Solomon acknowledges God’s uncontainability, his immensity. The “heaven of heavens cannot contain him,” let alone the walls of this house. He’s too massive, too glorious. But — and this is where it gets good — despite that, this uncontainable God descends to hear us. Jehovah, though being a God too immense to fathom or ever figure out, is a God who hears the cries of his creatures. He has “respect unto our prayers,” turning toward us to listen to us.
You see, the Temple was itself a sacrament to God’s uncanny availability. He is beyond comprehension, but still always available. Always attentive. You and I have a God who hears our prayers. He is no inanimate idol. He is not lifeless. He is the Living God who has ears that are ever turned towards his children.
A place where sins are forgiven.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all, however, is not merely the fact that Israel’s God hears his people’s cries but that he forgives them. Five times Solomon appeals to God’s heart to “hear and forgive.” (1 Kgs 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 50) Each time this word appears, it is a petition for God’s merciful pardon to be renewed in, with, and for his people. This is in keeping with what God has previously covenanted. (Lev 26:40–45) God’s insistence that he will “remember” his word is an assurance of the forgiveness that he alone possesses and he alone delights to dispense.
The sins of God’s people will not maroon them in a hopeless cul-de-sac of guilt, but even in their sins there is a future and a hope, because the God of the Bible brings his severity upon his people in order to lead them back into his mercy.2
You see, what makes Israel’s God unlike any other God is that he can truly pardon iniquity. God’s forgiveness is genuine forgiveness — actual cleansing for actual sins. It is reminiscent of what the reformer Martin Luther says, when he writes, “If you are a preacher of grace, do not preach a fictitious, but the true grace. If grace is of the true sort, you will also have to bear true, not fictitious, sins.”3 This is no imaginary construct. This is no metaphysical feel-good message. This is capital-F Forgiveness for the deepest and darkest of sins. This is forgiveness with a face.
You and I have a God who pardons all our wrongdoing by taking all of them onto himself. He doesn’t zap us into oblivion at the first sign of rebellion. Indeed, rather, he patiently brings us to the end of our rope, where he is waiting for us, ready to forgive, to pardon, to renew, to restore.
A place where lives are sustained.
Solomon, then, closes the ceremony with a benediction for “the whole congregation of Israel.” (1 Kgs 8:55) This final word of supplication is so resonant for us today — precisely because what Solomon prays for is what we need, too. Verses 56–61 essentially constitute a summarization and personalization of everything for which Solomon has petitioned thus far. Everything about the promises and presence and attentiveness and pardon of God, Solomon offers as a blessing over the people. But what is manifest in this benediction is that seemingly innocuous phrase at the end of verse 59:
May my words with which I have made my petition before the Lord be near the Lord our God day and night. May he uphold his servant’s cause and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires.
Solomon is, here, invoking God’s maintenance and sustenance of all his people for all their days. He, then, specifies that petition from “all times” to “as the matter shall require,” or “as each day requires.” “May God,” Solomon prays, “maintain our every day, our every hour, our every waking moment.” Such is what would keep Israel “wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord,” walking “in his statutes” and keeping “his commands.” (1 Kgs 8:61) It was God sustaining them. God maintaining their every step. God accomplishing these things in and through his people’s everyday lives. Isn’t that what you and I need, too? Indeed, you and I won’t get very far in this life without God upholding us with his hand.
A place that’s better than all that.
Each of these aspects of the Temple prove just how different Israel’s God was. “May all the peoples of the earth know that the Lord is God. There is no other!” (1 Kgs 8:60) And the good news for you and for me is that we have the same God. Furthermore, we have even more tangible and unmistakable evidence that his words to us and for us are true. No, we don’t have a Temple, so to speak — but we have something better. We have the cross.
The cross is the place where every promise of God is kept in full.
The cross is the place where every cry of the desperate is heard.
The cross is the place where every life is sustained by God’s amazing grace.
The cross the place where every sin is forgiven.
This, you see, is the gospel of the Temple. It is the glad tidings that God’s Son brings about everything that God’s house signified. (Jn 2:19–21) “Jesus came to do in flesh and blood what God had only done in wind and voice in the Old Testament,” writes Dane Ortlund.4 Jesus Christ, therefore, is the true and better Temple, where, declares Rev. Alexander Maclaren, “God’s name is set, and where men may behold the manifested Jehovah, and meet with Him.”5 He is the “Yes and Amen” of every Temple promise. (2 Cor 1:20)
You and I have have a truer and better assurance — precisely because we have the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We have the One who is the dwelling place of God in bodily form. (Jn 1:14) Even now, in our day, God’s promises are being fulfilled. Not one promise has slipped his mind. Nothing has upended his plans. He is building us a house in which he and we will dwell forever. (1 Chr 17:11–14; Jn 14:1–3) His kingdom is as sure as his promises. And have any of those ever failed yet?
Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (Ross-shire, England: Christian Focus, 2020), 53.
Martin Luther, quoted in W. H. T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Revaluation (St. Louis: Concordia, 1917), 125.
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 153.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 2:2.172.