Solomon Stood Before the Altar

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 8:22-53 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/15/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon Stood Before the Altar

We left off last week talking about how God’s people can only know God and his blessedness as he chooses to condescend himself to us – to stoop down to our level in a way that we finite, temporal creatures can know the infinite and eternal creator.  We also noted that God has been pleased to do this condescending by way of covenant.  That’s how God has made his blessed presence known to his people through the ages.  He has covenantally condescended to us.  Today’s passage continues to express this truth through this marvelous prayer by Solomon.  As Solomon dedicates the new temple unto God via prayer, we see this truth of God’s covenantal condescension taught and exemplified.  Solomon’s prayer so wonderfully prays back to God so many covenantal promises God has made to his people.  Solomon’s prayer also so wonderfully acknowledges God’s steadfast love for his people that God has shown by the keeping of his covenant.  Solomon’s prayer acknowledges that the high privilege the people have of prayer is based on how God set apart his people in covenant from the Exodus to be his special, redeemed people.  Solomon’s prayer especially sees the ability to pray via the temple as a covenantal blessing.   And Solomon’s prayer recognizes the covenant sanctions attached to the laws issued under the covenant and prays for the covenantal provisions for grace and mercy.  So then, all this is expressing and exemplifying God’s covenantal condescension.  As we learn today about how God covenantally condescended to his people under the old covenant, we’ll apply that to how God covenantally condescends to us under the new covenant.

Let’s look first at God’s covenantal condescension in the temple.  We see this expressed by Solomon in verse 27.  While Solomon is so overjoyed that a glorious temple has now been built for God, his prayer acknowledges a profound truth.  Verse 27, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”  Here Solomon acknowledges the omnipresence of God.  God is infinite and so on the one hand his presence is not really able to be constrained to any one location.  Like Psalm 139 says, there is no place that someone can escape the presence of God: heaven or hell, light or darkness, there is no place that God isn’t.  Yet when we start thinking of God’s omnipresence like this, we realize that it becomes a matter of his transcendence.  He is so present everywhere, that he surpasses all ordinary limits.  Thus, Solomon can say that “not even the highest heaven” can contain him.  And philosophically speaking, such exalted transcendence ordinarily implies a lack of access for us who are not at all like this.  This is the language we read last week from the Westminster Confession that said the “distance between God and the creature is so great.”

And yet this is where we see God’s covenantal condescension in the temple.  Because Solomon goes on to pray asking that this transcendent God would be accessible to them via this temple.  This is stated first in verses 28-30 and then runs throughout his prayer for each of his seven main petitions.  In verse 29 he asks that God would night and day have his eyes and ears on this temple.  Solomon repeatedly asks in this prayer that when the people pray in this temple, or even just toward this temple, that God would see and hear their cries and answer them.  And look at why Solomon would be so bold to ask this.  It’s because of God’s promise.  Look again at verse 29.  Solomon quotes the LORD there, “the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there.’”  Solomon refers back to what is in Deuteronomy 12 – that when the people were settled in the Promised Land God would select a place for his name and habitation among Israel and that was to be the central place of worship for God’s people.  Solomon understood this not only from the terms of the Mosaic covenant, but earlier in this passage we see he referenced it also with the terms of the Davidic covenant – verses 24 and 19, that David’s son would build a house for the Lord.  Thus, Solomon sees God’s covenant promises fulfilled here with the dedication of the temple as the God’s covenantal condescension in the temple.

Let me connect the dots here for us.  Solomon sees that temple itself as an accommodation of God.  Due to the transcendent omnipresence of God, God isn’t ultimately constrained to a temple.  Yet, Solomon sees that God can make this accommodation for his people.  He can condescend to make himself accessible and worshipable there at the temple.  This is in fact what Solomon asks for because Solomon says it was what God had promised via the covenant.  So then, going forward under the old covenant, the people had this means of accessing God’s blessed presence.  They could pray in the temple or even toward the temple and know that God would hear them because God chose to hear them in that accommodated way.

So then, the application that comes to us is this.  Under the new covenant, God has said that he will place his name and his presence upon each of his redeemed people.  God’s people are now his temple and house.  This has a very practical value now for us.  We can pray wherever we are.  There isn’t a physical temple that we have to go to or pray towards.  We don’t direct our prayers toward Jerusalem.  Rather we direct our prayers from our hearts unto the Lord.  That is what we are given under the new covenant.  Unbelieving Jews today still pray toward Jerusalem all over the world.  But Jesus said in John 4 to the Samaritan woman that things were changing and that worshippers would no longer worship in Jerusalem but in spirit and truth.  So then, what a wonderful blessing in light of this prayer.  God covenantally condescends to each Christian personally that together we can all pray from the heart to him.  This is God’s accommodated access that he gives us to himself for all our prayers and all our worship!  The one whom the highest heavens cannot contain has made himself accessible to us in our very own hearts!

Let’s move now to our second point and see God’s covenantal condescension in this passage by how Solomon references the various negative sanctions under the old covenant.  What I mean is that part of the terms of the Mosaic covenant were that God held out blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 go into great detail on this.  The idea basically was that the blessed and favorable presence of God would be experienced in the Promised Land when they were faithful to keep the laws of the covenant.  But the covenant curses would fall upon the people instead when they sinned and turned away from the covenant laws and statutes.  Again, it was the terms of the covenant that stipulated how the people would experience the fruition of God as their blessedness and reward.  They would either know blessing or cursing.

So then, Solomon deals with this through his seven main petitions which are found in verses 31-53.  In terms of the negative covenant sanctions, we see most of these petitions dealing with what would happen in the event of sin in the land.  In the last petition he really drives home this concern.  Look at verse 46.  “If they sin against you – for there is no one who does not sin.”  “There is no one who does not sin.” He knows that sin is inevitable and thus that would make them subject to the covenant sanctions.  That’s what we see here. There is reference to the sanction of military defeat in verse 33 as per Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:17.  There is reference to drought in verse 35 as the covenant sanction in Deuteronomy 28:24.  There is reference to the sanction of famine in verse 37 as per Deuteronomy 28:38 and Leviticus 26:25.  There is reference to the chief covenant sanction of being conquered, captured, and exiled by an enemy in verse 46, as per Deuteronomy 28:64 and Leviticus 26:34.  And so in light of the certainty of such sin, Solomon in advance prays for access to grace and mercy.  Of course, again, we can think of how the sacrificial system to be executed at the temple was part of this covenant.  In other words, there was a provision for grace and mercy worked into the covenant.  But knowing such would involve the people recognizing their sin and turning from it back to the LORD.  Thus, Solomon prays for that which God held out under the covenant – that the prayers offered in and toward the temple would be received and efficacious in removing the covenant curses that the people would instead know the blessings of the covenant and thus the blessings of God’s presence among them.

We find such positive sanctions of covenant blessings also in view in the petitions.  Verse 41 speaks of how foreigners might in the future be attracted to the one true God and Solomon prays that they would come and be heard by God.  Likewise, in verse 44 Solomon prays for victory over enemy nations in future battles.  Both of those petitions call forth the sorts of blessings God held out under the covenant in terms of their relationship with the nations.  For example, Deuteronomy 28:1 says that a covenant blessing would be that Israel would be setup high above all the other nations on the earth.  Deuteronomy 28:7 promises military victory over their enemies as a covenant blessing for obedience.  Deuteronomy 28:10 says that these blessings will result in all the peoples of the earth seeing that Israel is called by the name of the LORD.  And so, we see examples here of such positive covenant blessings prayed for by Solomon.

My point then in this second point is to see that part of God’s condescension to his people is to come to them for their blessing and reward.  The opposite is that he would withdraw from them and forsake them and that would result in their cursing.  All of this blessing and cursing was expressed covenantally in the laws and statutes of the Mosaic covenant.  There were ways this could find expression to God’s people either individually or collectively, as verse 38 notes.  And so, Solomon prays for the grace of God to be at work through all of this. He prays this so that when the people do inevitably stumble in sin that they would have this means of grace through prayer in the temple.  Solomon prays that this would provide a way for the people to appropriate instead the covenant blessings of God.

In terms of application to us of this second point, let me say this.  On the one hand, the law of God continues under the new covenant to operate for us as a perfect rule of righteousness.  Under the new covenant, God can use the various threatenings of the law in our chastening, which might even involve various afflictions in this life for a time.  Likewise, the various promises attached to the law can serve to teach us how God commends obedience and may even give us blessings in this life to reinforce that.  God can work through the law with its various positive and negative consequences.  So that is certainly true and frankly useful for our sanctification.

But on the other hand, realize that in Christ we have been set free from the curse of the law, Galatians 3:13.  And in Christ, we have already every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, Ephesians 1:3.  What was promised in the old covenant, and pictured and typified in the sacrificial system of the old covenant, has become realized now in the new covenant.  So then, God’s blessedness and reward for us comes via covenantal condescension in Jesus Christ.  Yes, God can use the law in our sanctification and growth as a Christian.  But we do have definitively – individually and collectively as the people of God – the curses put away from us and the blessings of Christ bestowed upon us.  May our prayers rest in that fact.

This leads us to our third and final point for today.  See how this covenantal condescension found in today’s passage finds its ultimate fruition in Jesus Christ.  I’ve already stated this in making application during our first two points for today.  But let me further develop this now in our final point for today so we can again point to King Jesus and exalt his great name!

Solomon said that not even the highest heavens can contain God – yet Jesus is the Word become flesh who pitched his tent amongst us so that we can see and know God in Christ.  The transcendent God became immanent in the person of Jesus Christ.  John 1:14, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And it is this same Jesus who has sent his Spirit so that we would be indwelt as the temple of God.  So that the one whom the highest heavens cannot contain would inhabit our hearts!

Solomon acknowledged here that sobering truth, that frustrating truth – that there is no one who does not sin.  Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  That would include King Solomon himself even as he here intercedes on behalf of the people.  But that would not include King Jesus.  He is the one human exception to this.  As one not born of ordinary generation, as one who in the incarnation is the eternal Son of God that has taken on human flesh – Jesus is sinless and perfect and impeccable.  And in his perfect, active obedience, he secured the blessings of the covenant for us.  And in his more-than-sufficient, passive obedience he bore the curses of the covenant in our place.  Christ Jesus then is basis for us to covenantally enjoy the blessed presence and reward of God.

Solomon here makes reference to the covenant promises given to David in verse 25.  As much as Solomon has high hopes for the Davidic covenant being realized even in his own life, it’s that reality of sin that proved the trouble for David’s descendants.  As verse 25 acknowledged, the unconditional promise of the Davidic covenant promised was not to be truly realized until the one came forth who faithfully walked in the ways of the Lord.  Only Jesus, the greatest son of David and Solomon truly accomplished that.  He’s the only one of David’s line who could truly fulfill that promise under the Davidic covenant.

And even Solomon’s reference in verse 41 here to the foreigners – to the Gentiles – that again looks to what Jesus would do.  Yes, prior to Jesus there were foreigners who would come to the temple looking to pray to the one true God.  Yet before Jesus came there were challenges along these lines.  A very practical one Jesus had to address by the cleansing of the temple – Jesus cleansed that earthly temple with the rebuke that all their selling there was hindering it from being a house of prayer for the Gentiles.  But more so, Jesus under the new covenant, sent out his apostles to bring the gospel to all the nations.  He told his apostles that the message was to be given to both Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus said that his cleansing power of sin was being extended to all the world.  Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility that existed under the old covenant that gave a more limited access to God and his blessedness to the foreigners.  Now, in Christ, Jesus is making one united people, one house of God, made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and by faith in his name.

So then, in summary, brothers and sisters, we continue to know and enjoy God’s blessed presence covenantally.  The substance for that covenantal enjoyment is Jesus Christ.  That was true even under the old covenant – it looked ahead and pointed to the promises and the grace that would only truly come in substance with Jesus.  Let us then exalt again today the name of Jesus Christ.  Let us go to God in him and though him and him alone.

Certainly, that would bring to us then today an application of prayer.  See the grace of prayer that we have available in Christ and under the new covenant.  How could we not take such an application to prayer from a passage like this?  If Solomon had good reason to offer such a prayer, we have at least that much and frankly all the more in the fullness of times with the revelation of Jesus Christ.  

And think about this.  Solomon’s prayer had in view the future prayers of the people.  He prayed that when they later had needs whether it be in matters of needing forgiveness and mercy or in matters of seeking blessing and help, he envisioned the future people of God praying under the old covenant.  Solomon’s praying about the future prayer life of the people.  He prays that God would hear these future prayers of the people.  I’ve no doubt that God honored that prayer.  I do doubt how much the people took advantage of it.  You see, we’ll keep reading on in Israel’s history in the book of 1-2 Kings.  We will see a lot of sin that they get into, but in comparison not nearly as much prayers toward this temple.  Let us not fall into such neglect.  Let us not take this great grace of prayer for granted.  Let us see the great privilege of prayer and the great power of prayer that has been covenantally accommodated to us in Jesus Christ, and make great use of it!

If King Solomon interceded in advance here for the people on earth at this earthly altar, take further encouragement today that King Jesus sits in heaven interceding before the heavenly altar of the LORD for you.  And if King Solomon’s intercession could appeal back to God’s redeeming the people out of Egyptian slavery and setting them apart as his special possession and heritage.  Then how much more can King Jesus’s intercession for us appeal back to how God redeemed us from sin and death through the shed blood of Jesus.  If they back then knew the steadfast love of God through the old covenant and its many promises, how much more now do we know the steadfast love of God through the new covenant and its many fulfillment of promises in Jesus Christ.

Let us pray with such boldness and encouragement.  Let us also then pray back those remaining promises of God to God knowing that they are yes and amen in Jesus.  May we especially pray those prayers that deal with our sanctification and the building of the house of God’s people.  To God be all the glory in Christ Jesus our Lord, amen. 

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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