Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43
When I was 19, I got my first pair of glasses.
That prescription lasted for a long time. Now that I am in my 40’s, I have to make much more regular trips to the optometrist. Things get fuzzy and hazy much more rapidly, and I have learned that I cannot put off these visits. We often have a similar challenge when it comes to the Bible. We live in a culture that occasionally reads the Bible in order to justify negative practices or negative viewpoints. While the Bible can be negative about Solomon and foreigners, the two big themes of our reading, the Bible is more generally positive about them. If we figuratively visit a biblical optometrist, we will discover a much clearer vision of Solomon and foreigners if we view them through the lens of Genesis 1.
1 Kings 8 focuses us on the power of prayer. We have seen the power of prayer numerous times in the Old Testament, but 1 Kings 8 challenges us to move beyond many earlier notions of prayer. We have seen Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Hannah, and David praying in earlier parts of the Old Testament. We have the verb for prayer associated with them, which we find four times in our passage under consideration. Prayer is found here and in its corollary in 2 Chronicles 6 more than anywhere else in the Old Testament. Prayer becomes more closely associated in the Bible with Solomon than almost any other character apart from David, the traditional author of the Psalms. This passage is both commonplace and surprising.
1 Kings 8 participates in a larger homage to Solomon found in 1 Kings 3-10. It ends disastrously in 1 Kings 11 where the author depicts Solomon as concluding his life in the thrall of his relationships with foreign women who were idolatrous. This sad final note is generally not how Solomon is remembered in the Bible as it focuses on his foreign and idolatrous wives. Rather, the Bible generally remembers his wisdom attributes and the important wisdom books associated with him. 1 Kings 8 is grounded in that positive image of a Solomon who matches David’s piety and excels in other areas. David will pray for a temple in 2 Samuel 7, but Solomon builds the temple and prays at its dedication here in 1 Kings 8. We expect that prayer and 1 Kings 8 fulfills these expectations.
The language of relationship dominates the initial part of our reading. Relationship is most clearly seen in the idea of covenant. God has made a covenant with Israel. This can often get misconstrued as a treaty or agreement with God as it may have been modeled on covenants between nations in the ancient Near East. We are still radically dependent on God in spite of any covenant, yet the covenant displays God’s radical commitment to us. This commitment is seen in the language of these opening verses. We hear of God’s “steadfast love.” Here, we are translating the Hebrew word Hesed, which also suggests loyalty and faithfulness. It is a million dollar word suggesting God’s dedication and commitment to us that English cannot fully grasp. The language of faithfulness overwhelms these opening verses as we hear the word “keep” used three times in vv. 23-25. God keeps his promises and is trustworthy as we hear in v. 26. This prayer leads to great reassurance in the audiences listening to it.
The role of the foreigner offers the surprise of 1 Kings 8. Although the Old Testament is far from monolithic, we have seen foreigners associated with many problems in Joshua and Judges as Israel’s early experiences in the Promised Land are described. We have seen brief correctives offered as in the Book of Ruth. I would see 1 Kings 8 as another important corrective to any type of monolithic presentation of the foreigner. While foreigners have played important roles in Genesis, much of the Pentateuch takes a decidedly negative view of them. 1 Kings 8 militates against this type of view and asks us to consider our view of foreigners.
Both the emphasis on relationship and foreigners connotes a hopeful vision of reality. We have a God who desires relationship with us and encourages us to relate to those around us. Israel’s relationship with foreigners suffers from many low points, but we see chapters like 1 Kings 8 pointing us in a different direction. This corrective forces us to consider the Bible as a whole and in what direction the Bible generally points us. While certain stories in the Bible depict foreigners poorly, we must return to Genesis 1 for a more complete theological vision of the world.
Genesis 1:26-27 tells us God created “humankind in his image.” This insight helps us understand the perspective of 1 Kings 8:41-43. There are no limitations on humanity in the sense that we do not hear about the creation of foreigners and the creation of Israelites. We only hear about the creation of humans. This creation describes the world long before the struggles Israel had with foreigners and helps us to understand God’s original intention. All humanity reflects God and it is our struggle to make sure we always see that reflection. When it becomes unclear or difficult to see, we must return to this initial description of the world and correct our vision. 1 Kings 8:41-43 seems to have returned to that original description.