Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The exceedingly minute and graphic character of the narrative of the consecration of the Temple, the almost exact verbal coincidence with it of the account given in the Second Book of Chronicles, and the occurrence in 1Kings 8:8 of the phrase, “There they are unto this day,” which could not have belonged to the time of the composition of the book—all show that the compiler must have drawn from some contemporary record, probably some official document preserved in the Temple archives. The beauty and spiritual significance of this chapter—which from time immemorial has been made to yield teaching and encouragement for the consecration of Christian churches—stand in remarkable contrast with the mere technical detail of the preceding; yet each, in its own way, bears equally strong marks of historical accuracy.
Throughout the whole history, the sole majesty of the king is conspicuous. The priests perform only the ministerial functions of ritual and sacrifice. The prophetic order is absolutely unrepresented in the narrative. Solomon, and he alone, stands forth, both as the representative of the people before God in sacrifice and prayer, and as the representative of God in blessing and exhortation of the people. He is for the time king, priest, and prophet, in one—in this a type of the true “Son of David,” the true “Prince of Peace.” It is not unlikely that from this unequalled concentration on his head of temporal and spiritual dignity came the temptation to self-idolatry, through which he fell; and that the comparative abeyance of the counterbalancing influences wielded by the prophet and (in less degree) by the priest gave occasion to the oppressive, though splendid, despotism under which Israel groaned in his later days.
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.(1) The elders.—If in this description—found also in 2Chronicles 5:2, and taken, no doubt, from the original document—“the elders of Israel,” are to be distinguished from the “heads of the tribes,” and not (as in the LXX.) identified with them, the former expression probably refers to the chiefs of official rank, such as the princes and the counsellors of the king, and the latter to the feudal chiefs of the great families of the various tribes. These alone were specially summoned; but as the Dedication festival (being deferred for nearly a year after the completion of the Temple) was blended with the Feast of Tabernacles, “all the men of Israel” naturally “assembled at Jerusalem” without special summons.
And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto king Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month.(2) The month Ethanim (called after the Captivity Tisri), corresponded with the end of September and beginning of October. The name is supposed (by Thenius) to be properly, as in the LXX., Athanim, and to signify the “month of gifts,” so called as bringing with it the gathering in of the vintage, and of the last of the crops. According to the Chaldee Targum, it was in old times the beginning of the civil, as Abib of the ecclesiastical year. The feast in this month was the Feast of Tabernacles—of all feasts of the year the most joyful—marking the gathering in of all the fruits of the land, commemorating the dwelling in tabernacles in the wilderness, and thanking God for settlement and blessing in the land (Leviticus 23:33-44). It was, perhaps, the time when the Israelites could best be absent from their lands for a prolonged festival; but there was also a peculiar appropriateness in thus giving it a higher consecration, by celebrating on it the transference of the ark from the movable tabernacle to a fixed and splendid habitation. In this instance the festival was doubled in duration, from seven to fourteen days. (See 1Kings 8:65.)
And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark.(3) The priests took up the ark.—To bear the ark on its journeys was properly the duty of the Levites of the family of Kohath (Numbers 3:31; Numbers 4:5); but to bring it out of the Holy of Holies (or, as here, from whatever corresponded thereto in the tent erected for the ark on Mount Zion), and to replace it therein, was the work of the priests alone. Hence in this passage, with literal accuracy, it is said, first, that “the priests took up the ark;” then (1Kings 8:4) that the priests and Levites brought up the ark and the holy things; and, lastly (1Kings 8:6), that “the priests brought in the ark into the oracle.” Josephus, indeed, declares that, as was natural on this occasion of special solemnity—just as at the passage of the Jordan, and the circuit round the walls of Jericho (Joshua 3:6-17; Joshua 6:6)—the priests themselves bore the ark, while the Levites bore only the vessels and furniture of the Tabernacle.
And they brought up the ark of the LORD, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and all the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle, even those did the priests and the Levites bring up.(4) The tabernacle of the congregation (see 1Chronicles 16:39-40; 2Chronicles 1:3) was still at Gibeon; and the priests and Levites had hitherto been divided between it and the lesser tabernacle over the ark on Mount Zion. Probably each section of the priests and Levites now brought up in solemn procession the sacred things entrusted to them. According to the order of the Mosaic law (Numbers 3:25-37), the Kohathites had charge on the march of the ark and the vessels, the Gershonites of the Tabernacle and its hangings, and the Merarites of the boards and pillars of the Tabernacle and the outer court. This order, no doubt, was followed, as far as possible, on this its last journey. What became of the Tabernacle and its furniture (so far as this was disused), we are not told; but all was probably deposited, as a sacred relic of antiquity, somewhere in the precincts of the Temple. This seems to be implied in the famous Jewish tradition (see 2 Maccabees 2:4-6), that Jeremiah was enabled to hide by miracle “the Tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense” on the destruction of the Temple.
And king Solomon, and all the congregation of Israel, that were assembled unto him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude.(5) Sacrificing.—This inaugural sacrifice corresponded on a grand scale to the ceremonial of the day, when David brought up the ark to Zion. “When they that bare the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings,” “seven bullocks and seven rams” (2Samuel 6:13; 1Chronicles 15:26). It was offered “before the ark,” either as it left Mount Zion, or on arrival in the Temple, before it passed out of sight into the oracle.
And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD unto his place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubims.(6-8) And the priests brought in the ark.—It is clear from this description that the ark was placed lengthways between the cherubim, so that the staves by which it was borne, when drawn out (though still partly attached to the ark) were seen—probably by projections visible through the veil—in the Holy Place; although, as the narrative remarks with characteristic minuteness of accuracy, “not without” from the porch. The reason why this detail is dwelt upon is obvious. Up to this time it had been forbidden to withdraw the staves (Exodus 25:13-15), so that the ark might always be ready for transference; now the withdrawal marked the entrance on a new period, during which it was to rest unmoved.
There they are unto this day.—This phrase—not unfrequently repeated in the narrative (see 1Kings 9:21; 1Kings 10:12; 1Kings 12:19, &c.)—is an interesting indication of quotation from older documents; for at the time of the compilation of the book the Temple and all that it contained had been destroyed or removed. It is remarkable that in the record of the successive spoilings of the Temple by the Chaldæans (2Kings 24:13; 2Kings 25:13-17), while the various vessels, the brazen pillars, and the sea are mentioned in detail, nothing is said of their carrying away the ark, which would have been the choicest, as most sacred, of all the spoils. (See Notes on these passages.) About the Jewish tradition, referred to above (see Note on 1Kings 8:4), setting aside the supposed miracle, there is no intrinsic improbability, considering the respect paid to Jeremiah by the Chaldæans. (See Jeremiah 39:11-14.)
There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.(9) There was nothing.—The emphasis of this (repeated in 2Chronicles 5:10) is remarkable, and seems intended to make it clear that the various things laid up “before the testimony”—the pot of manna (Exodus 16:33-34), the rod of Aaron (Numbers 17:10), the copy of the Law (Deuteronomy 31:24-26)—were not in the ark, but (as in the last case is actually stated), at “the side of the ark.” Unless any change afterwards took place—which is highly improbable—this clear statement must determine the interpretation of the well-known passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (1Kings 9:4), in which no stress need be laid on the literal accuracy of the word “wherein;” for its purpose is simply a general description of the Temple, its chief parts, and its most sacred furniture. The command to deposit the tables in the ark is recorded in Exodus 25:16, and the actual deposit of them there in Exodus 40:20, immediately after the erection of the Tabernacle.
There is something singularly impressive in the especial hallowing of the granite tables of the Law of Righteousness, as the most sacred of all the revelations of the Nature of God; thus indissolubly binding together religion and morality, and showing that God is best known to man, not in His omnipotence, or even in His infinite wisdom, which man can only in slight degree imitate, but in His moral nature, as the very Truth and Righteousness, of which all that in man is called true and righteous is but the reflection. The one main object of all prophetic teaching was to bring out the truth here implied, thus writing the law on the heart and on the mind (Jeremiah 31:33), and rebuking moral evil at least as strongly as religious error and apostasy. The very name of the Messiah for whom they prepared is “Jehovah our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD,(10) The cloud.—The bright Shechinah of the Divine Presence, at once cloud and fire—which had been the sign of the presence of God on Sinai (Exodus 24:15-18), and had hallowed the consecration of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35)—now similarly descended on the Temple, as a sign of its acceptance with God. In the visions of Ezekiel the same glory is seen, first filling the house of the Lord, and then departing from it, as polluted by manifold idolatry (Ezekiel 10:4; Ezekiel 10:18). Its return to the restored Temple is solemnly promised by Haggai (Haggai 2:7; Haggai 2:9) in distinct reference to the coming of the Messiah; and it is declared that it shall be even greater than in the magnificence of Solomon’s Temple. The symbol clearly implies a revelation of Divine glory, as it is seen, not in the unveiled brightness of heaven, but in the glorious cloud of mystery; through which it must always be seen on earth, and which, indeed, is all that the eye of man can bear to contemplate. Out of that glory comes the only revelation which can be distinct to man—the voice or the word of the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:12).
The record of the Chronicles (2Chronicles 5:11-13)—dwelling, as usual, on the musical and ritual service of the Levites—notes here that this descent of the glory of the Lord came, as it were, in answer to a solemn burst of worship from the Levites and the people, “praising the Lord, because He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.”
So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.(11) The priests could not stand to minister.—So in Exodus 40:35, “Moses was not able to enter into the Tabernacle; for the cloud rested thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” They shrank from the glory of the Lord, whom none could see and live; just as Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5) felt “undone” when he beheld the glory of the Lord in the Temple; and as even the Apostles trembled, when they entered into “the bright cloud which overshadowed them” on the Mount of Transfiguration, and “knew not what they said” (Luke 9:33-34). But it was not so much from terror of the Lord, who is “a consuming fire,” as simply from awe and reverence of His unspeakable glory.
Then spake Solomon, The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.(12) The Lord said . . .—The words of Solomon, though—as is natural in a moment of mingled awe and thankfulness—somewhat broken and abrupt, are clear enough in their general meaning and connection. He refers to the frequent declarations made in old time that the cloud is the symbol of God’s indwelling presence (such as Exodus 19:9, and Leviticus 16:2);
he recognises in the appearance of the cloud the sign that the Divine presence is granted to the Temple; and accordingly he exults in the proof that his foreordained work is accomplished by the building of a house, a “settled habitation” for the Lord. The description of the cloud as “thick darkness,” in no way contradicts the idea of the glory shining through it; for human eyes are easily “darkened by excess of light.” This mingled light and darkness symbolises—perhaps more strikingly than even the literal darkness of the Most Holy Place—the mystery which veils the presence of God, known to be, and to be infinitely glorious, but in its nature incomprehensible.
Thenius, from a single Chaldee version, suggests for “thick darkness” the correction “Jerusalem;” dwelling on the closer harmony of the reading with 1Kings 8:16, quoting the promise of Psalm 132:13-14 (closely connected there with the great promise of David), and urging the likelihood of the citation of this promise by Solomon, and the greater simplicity thus given to his whole utterance. The suggestion is ingenious; but it lacks authority, both external and internal. The LXX., in the Alexandrine MS. (for the Vatican MS. omits the whole), and the Vulg. agree with the Hebrew text; and Josephus, though he gives a verbose paraphrase of the prayer, evidently had our reading before him, for he contrasts the mystery and ubiquity of the Divine presence with the material shrine. Nor is it easy to conceive how from a passage so simple and prosaic, as this would be with the reading “Jerusalem,” the more difficult, but far more striking, reading of the present text could have arisen.
And the king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: (and all the congregation of Israel stood;)(14) And the king.—We are told in the book of Chronicles (2Chronicles 6:13) that the king stood on a “brasen scaffold” three cubits high, in the midst of the court before the altar of sacrifice, so that he could alternately turn towards the Temple and towards the people in the outer court.
And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it, saying,(15-21) His address to the people—apparently preceded by a silent blessing with the usual uplifting of the hands—is the counterpart and expansion of the few abrupt words which he had just uttered before God—calling them to bless God with him for the fulfilment of one part of His promise to David, in the present acceptance of the Temple. The record of that promise is given in 2Samuel 7:5-16; 1Chronicles 17:4-14. Here it is freely cited with some variation, so far as it relates to the Temple. It is remarkable that in quoting it, David twice (1Chronicles 22:8; 1Chronicles 28:3) adds to it the instructive reason for the prohibition, that (unlike Solomon the Peaceful) he had “shed blood abundantly, and had made great wars.” With much grace of filial piety, Solomon refrains from mention of that reason, though there seems to be some allusion to it in his words to Hiram (1Kings 5:3). On the other hand, he does add—what is not found in the earlier records—the declaration that, though David was not to build the Temple, “he did well that it was in his heart” to build it.
Since the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build an house, that my name might be therein; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.(16) I chose no city.—In this verse, as in some other cases, for coherence of idea, it seems necessary to correct from the fuller version in 2Chronicles 6:5-6, by an addition after the word “therein.” It should run: “Neither chose I any man to be ruler over my people, but I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.” The parallel in the two points referred to is exact. As there were temporary resting places for the ark—such as Gilgal, Shiloh, Kirjathjearim, and Zion—so there were rulers raised up successively for a time, and then removed. Now there was to be one fixed place as the Sanctuary of God, and one royal house of David to continue for ever.
And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.(21) Wherein is the covenant of the Lord—the Tables, that is, containing the “words of the covenant” (Exodus 34:28). This remarkable application of the word “covenant” illustrates strikingly the characteristics of the Divine covenants with man. Such covenants are not (like most human covenants) undertakings of reciprocal engagements between parties regarded as independent. For such a conception of the relation between God and man is monstrous. God’s covenants proceed simply from His will, expressed in His call to an individual or a nation. They begin in free grace and blessing from Him; they require simply that men should believe and accept His call, and act in obedience to that belief. Thus the Decalogue opens with the words, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” describing the gift of salvation from the mercy of God, which constituted Israel afresh as His peculiar people. (See Exodus 3:7-15.) On the ground of this salvation, rather than of His Omnipotence as Creator and Sustainer of the world, He calls for their obedience to the commandments, which are thus “the words of the covenant.” Similarly St. Paul, when (Romans 12:1) he calls Christians to absolute self-devotion, appeals to them by “the mercies of God,” on which he had so fully dwelt—the larger and more spiritual covenant in Christ.
And he said, LORD God of Israel, there is no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart:(23-53) The prayer of Solomon, uttered (see 1Kings 8:54) on his knees with hands uplifted to heaven, long and detailed as it is, is yet of extreme simplicity of idea. It begins (a), in 1Kings 8:23-25, with a thankful acknowledgment of the fulfilment of one part of the great promise to David, and a prayer for the like fulfilment of the other; next (b), in 1Kings 8:26-30, acknowledging that God’s presence can be limited to no Temple, it yet Asks that His peculiar blessing may rest on prayer uttered toward the place which He has hallowed; and then (c), in 1Kings 8:31-53, applies that petition to the various contingencies, of oath taken in His name, of rain withheld, of disaster in battle, of famine and pestilence, of captivity in a foreign land, and extends it not only to Israel, but to the stranger who shall acknowledge and invoke the Lord Jehovah. Its constantly recurring burden is, “Hear Thou from heaven thy dwelling-place, and when Thou hearest, Lord, forgive.” It is plain that before Solomon’s mind there are continually present in some form the blessing and the curse pronounced in the Law (see Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28); and it is most true to human nature, and especially characteristic of the thoughtfulness of his philosophic temper, that over the bright hour of exultation there seems to hover a constant foreboding of evils and trials to come.
(23) There is no God like Thee.—These words, often used in the Psalms (Psalm 71:19; Psalm 86:8; Psalm 89:6), and especially found in the thanksgiving of David after the great promise (2Samuel 7:22), are evidently suggested by more ancient utterances of devotion; as for example, in the first recorded Psalm at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:11). In them we trace the spiritual process by which the Israelites were trained from the polytheism of their forefathers to the knowledge of the One only God. He is known to them, first, in the close personal relation of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” to whom “none is like” of all gods whom others worshipped; but next, in His universal relation to the universe as the “God Almighty, and the Judge of the whole earth” (Genesis 17:2; Genesis 18:25); lastly, as Jehovah, “God,” indeed, “of Israel,” but, by the very meaning of the name, the One Self-existent Being, source of all other life. Thus, in the thanksgiving of David to the words, “none is like Thee,” is added at once the higher belief, “there is no God beside Thee.” In this prayer of Solomon there follows at once the striking confession that the “heaven of heavens cannot contain” His Infinity.
Who keepest covenant and mercy.—This phrase, again, familiar in prayer (see Deuteronomy 7:9; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4), is clearly traceable to the conclusion of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:6), and the special revelation of God to Moses in the Mount (Exodus 34:6-7). It is notable, not merely because it describes God as manifesting Himself “most chiefly by showing mercy and pity,” but also because it declares this manifestation of mercy to be pledged to man as a chief part of His covenant. So in the New Testament it is said that, to those who claim His covenant in Christ, “He is faithful and just to forgive sins.”
Therefore now, LORD God of Israel, keep with thy servant David my father that thou promisedst him, saying, There shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit on the throne of Israel; so that thy children take heed to their way, that they walk before me as thou hast walked before me.(25) Therefore now.—The larger and grander part of the promise to David extends beyond Solomon’s quotation of it. For (see 2Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:28-37) it expressly declares that, even if the seed of David fall away, they shall indeed be chastised, but they shall not be cast off. The prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 33:20-26) as well as the Psalmist (Psalm 89:36-37) enforce the declaration by comparing the certainty of its fulfilment with the fixity of “the ordinances of the sun and moon.” Like the ordinary dispensations of His Providence, it is in itself fixed and immutable, although the actual enjoyment of its blessing by each individual, or each age, is conditional on right reception of it.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?(27, 28) Will God indeed dwell.—The thought expressed here exemplifies a constant antithesis which run through the Old Testament. On the one hand, there is the most profound and unvarying conception of the Infinity, eternal, invisible, incomprehensible, of the Lord, as “the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity,” whom “the heaven of heavens”—the heaven, that is, in all its vastest extent—“cannot contain;” and the spirituality of this conception is guarded by the sternest prohibition of that idolatry which limited and degraded the idea of God, and by rebuke of the superstition which trusted in an intrinsic sacredness of the Ark or the Temple. On the other hand, there is an equally vivid conviction that the Infinite Jehovah is yet pleased to enter into a special covenant with Israel, beyond all other nations, to reveal Himself by the cloud in the midst of His people, to bless, with a peculiar blessing, “the place which He chooses to place His Name there.” The two conceptions co-exist, as in the text, in complete harmony, both preparing for the perfect manifestation of a “God with us” in that kingdom of the Messiah, which was at once to perfect the covenant with Israel, and to include all peoples, nations, and languages for ever and ever. The words of Solomon in spirit anticipate the utterance of the prophet (Isaiah 66:1), quoted by St. Stephen against idolatry of the Temple (Acts 7:48), and even the greater declaration of our Lord (John 4:21-24) as to the universal presence of God to all spiritual worship. Yet he feels the reality of the consecration of the House raised by the command of God; and prays that all who recognise it by prayer “toward this house,” may enter into the special unity with God which it symbolises, and be heard by Him from heaven. By an instructive contrast, the Temple is described as the place where God’s “Name”—that is, His self-revelation—is made to dwell; but heaven, and it alone, as the true dwelling- place of God Himself.
If any man trespass against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house:(31, 32) If any man trespass.—These verses deal with the simplest exemplification of the sacredness of the Temple in the case of the oath of expurgation of one accused of crime (see Exodus 22:7). Of these oaths, and the sophistical distinctions between the various forms of them, we have Our Lord’s notice in Matthew 23:16-22. Such an oath has a twofold force—a force purely spiritual, inasmuch as it solemnly recognises the Presence of God, and by such recognition shames all falsehood as a kind of sacrilege; and a force which is “of the Law,” inasmuch as the invocation of God’s punishment in case of falsehood appeals to godly fear. Solomon prays that God will accept the oath under both aspects, and by His judgment distinguish between the innocent and the guilty.
When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house:(33, 34) When thy people.—From the individual, the prayer turns to those which touch the whole nation. It pictures various national calamities, and in each recognises not mere evils, but chastisements of God, who desires by them to teach, and is most ready to forgive. First it naturally dwells on disaster in battle, which, in the whole history of the Exodus, of the Conquest, of the troubled age of the Judges, and of the reigns of Saul and David, is acknowledged as a sign of unfaithfulness in Israel, either through sin or through idolatry, to the covenant of God, on which the victorious possession of the promised land depended. On that history the blessing and the curse of the Law (Leviticus 26:17; Leviticus 26:32-33; Deuteronomy 28:25) form a commentary of emphatic warning, and the Psalms again and again bring the same lesson home (Psalm 44:1-3; Psalm 44:9-17; Psalm 60:9-11; Psalm 89:42-46). With characteristic seriousness, Solomon looks back from his peaceful prosperity on the stormy past, and from it learns to pray for the future.
When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them:(35, 36) When heaven is shut up.—Next, Solomon dwells on the plague of famine, from rain withheld, by which, in the striking language of the Law (Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23-24), “the heaven should be as brass, and the earth as iron,” and all vegetation perish from the parched land of Palestine, as now it seems actually to have failed in many places once fertile. In such plague he acknowledges the chastisement of God, sent to “teach Israel the right way,” and then to be withdrawn in mercy. The whole history of the famine in the days of Elijah is in all parts a striking commentary on this clause of the prayer.
If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpiller; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be;(37-40) If there be pestilence.—He then passes on to the various plagues threatened in the Law—famine, pestilence, blasting of the corn, mildew on the fruit, locust and caterpillar (see Leviticus 26:25-26; Deuteronomy 28:22-24; Deuteronomy 28:38-42), the distress of siege, so terribly depicted (Deuteronomy 28:52-57), and so often terribly fulfilled (not least in the last great siege of Jerusalem), and adds, to sum up all, “whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be.” Through any, or all of these, he pictures each man as brought to “know the plague of his own heart”—that is, as startled into a consciousness of sin, and recognition of it as the true “plague,” the cause of all outward plagues, and so drawn to prayer of penitence and of godly fear.
Thou only, knowest the hearts . . . of men. The emphasis laid on this knowledge of the heart (as in Psalm 11:4; Psalm 139:2-4; Jeremiah 17:9-10) as the special attribute of Deity, though, of course, belonging to all vital religion, yet marks especially the leading thought of the Psalms and the Proverbs, which always realise the presence of God, not so much in the outer spheres of Nature and history, as in the soul of man itself. It carries with it, as here, the conviction that, under the general dealings of God’s righteousness with man, there lies an individuality of judgment, making them to each exactly what his spiritual condition needs. The plague, for example, which cuts off one man unrepentant in his sins, may be to another a merciful “deliverance out of the miseries of this sinful world.”
Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake;(41-43) Moreover, concerning a stranger.—These verses in a striking digression (perhaps suggested by the general acknowledgment in the previous verse of God’s knowledge of every human heart), interpose in the series of references to Israel a prayer for the acceptance of the prayer of the “stranger” who should come from afar to confess the Lord Jehovah, and to “pray toward this house.” Such recognition of the stranger, not as an enemy or even a complete alien, but as in some sense capable of communion with the true God, was especially natural in Solomon; first, because in his days many strangers came from afar, drawn by the fame of his wisdom and magnificence, so that the old exclusiveness of the Israelites must have been greatly broken down; and next, because the character of the thought and writing of his age, searching (as in the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) into the great religious problems which belong to man as man, naturally led to that wider view of the kingdom of God over all nations, which is worked out so strikingly in the writings of the prophets. That the case contemplated is probably not imaginary, is shown by the examples of King Hiram and the Queen of Sheba. Admiration of the glory of Israel would lead inevitably to some belief in, and “fear” of, the God of Israel; and it might well go on to the further result, here contemplated, of a fuller acknowledgment of the Lord Jehovah, and of the sacredness of the worship of His appointed Temple, which would tell silently on all the religions of the East. It was expressly provided for in the Law (Numbers 15:14-16): and in spite of the greater exclusiveness of the ages after the Captivity, heathen princes were often allowed to offer in the Temple. This recognition of the stranger from afar is different from the frequent recognition of the resident “stranger within their gates,” as being under the protection of God, and to be “loved” by those who had been “strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). But, like it, it nobly distinguished the Law of Israel from most ancient codes; it stood out as a striking, though often unheeded, protest against the hard exclusiveness of the Jewish temper; it was a tacit anticipation of the future gathering in of all nations to enjoy the blessing which was from the beginning expressly destined for “all families of the earth.”
If thy people go out to battle against their enemy, whithersoever thou shalt send them, and shall pray unto the LORD toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name:(44-50) If thy people goout.—The prayer here returns once more to invoke God’s aid against earthly enemies. It is characteristic of the foreboding tone of sadness, which runs through the whole prayer, that it touches but lightly on the first petition, for God’s blessing on the arms of Israel, so often granted in days gone by, and enlarges on the second petition, for mercy and deliverance in the event of defeat and captivity. The spirit, and in the confession of 1Kings 8:47 the very words, of this prayer of Solomon are strikingly reproduced in the solemn supplication of Daniel, when the close of the Babylonish captivity drew near (Daniel 9:4-15).There we find a confession of sin, perverseness, and wickedness, literally the same; we find also a similar pleading with God, as “keeping covenant and mercy,” a similar reference to the deliverance from Egypt, and a similar emphasis on the consecration of the city and its people by God’s “great name.” There is a striking pathos of circumstance in the fact, that over “the sanctuary that was desolate” (Daniel 9:17), with “his windows open towards Jerusalem,” Daniel utters the same prayer, which had marked the day of its consecration in all magnificence and prosperity.
And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them:(50) Forgive . . . and give them compassion This prayer was singularly fulfilled at the captivity of Judah in Babylon, though we hear of no such thing in relation to the captivity of the “lost tribes” of Israel in Assyria. We see this in the exceptional favour of Nebuchadnezzar and of the Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther to the Jews in Babylon; we see it still more in the greater boon of restoration granted them by Cyrus and Darius, and the Artaxerxes of the Book of Nehemiah. Like the whole course of the fortunes of the Jews in their subsequent dispersion, these things,—however they may be accounted for—are certainly unique in history.
For they be thy people, and thine inheritance, which thou broughtest forth out of Egypt, from the midst of the furnace of iron:(51-53) For they be thy people.—This pleading with God by His deliverance of the people from Egypt, and by His promise to Moses to make them His inheritance (see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 14:2), although especially suggested by the last petition for deliverance from captivity, may be held to apply to the whole of Solomon’s prayer. It implies the belief not only that the declared purpose of God cannot fail, but that, even for the manifestation of His glory to man, it must needs be visibly fulfilled before the eyes of the world. This same conviction breathes in many of the utterances of Moses for Israel (see Exodus 32:12-13; Numbers 14:13-14); it is expressed in the “Help us, O Lord, and deliver us for Thy name’s sake,” of Psalm 79:9-10, or the “Defer not for Thine own sake, O my God” of Daniel 9:19 : it is declared on the part, of the Lord again and again in Ezekiel 20:9; Ezekiel 20:14; Ezekiel 20:22, “I wrought for my name’s sake.” It may, indeed, seem to jar upon our fuller conception of the infinite majesty of God, incapable of being augmented or lessened, and of the infinite love which does all for the sake of His creatures. Yet it is not wholly unlike our Lord’s prayer (John 12:28), “Father, glorify thy name,” or the Apostolic declarations of the great purpose of redemption, as designed for “the praise of God’s glory” (Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14), and of all Christian life as commanded to “do all to the glory of God” (1Corinthians 10:31). In some respects it is like the pleading with our Lord, in the Litanies of the Church in all ages, by all the various acts of His redemption, and the prayer of the old Latin hymn—
“ Redemisti crucem passus;
Tantus labor ne sit cassus.”
But, indeed, all that might seem to us strange or unworthy in such prayers vanishes at once, when we consider that the knowledge of God in His self-manifestation is the highest happiness of man; on which, indeed, depend all depth and harmony of human knowledge, and all dignity and purity of human life. Hence, in the Lord’s Prayer, the three petitions “for Gods glory,” preceding all special petitions for our own needs, are really prayers for the highest blessing of all mankind. God’s care for His glory is not for His own sake, but for ours.
And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.(54) And it was so.—At this point occurs in 2Chronicles 7:1-3 a striking passage, describing the kindling of the sacrifice by fire from heaven, and, apparently, a second manifestation of the cloud of glory. (See Note on the passage.)
And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying,(55) Blessed all the children of Israel.—To bless the congregation was the special duty and privilege of the priests (see Numbers 6:23-27); but throughout the whole of this narrative the king, and the king alone, is conspicuous. It is, however, to be noted that Solomon’s words here are not strictly of blessing, but rather of praise and prayer to God, and exhortation to the people.
Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.(56) That hath given rest.—Now for the first time the frequent promise of rest (Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 12:10, &c.)—partially fulfilled after the conquest of the days of Joshua (Joshua 21:44-45; Joshua 23:1; Joshua 23:14), and after the establishment of the kingdom of David (2Samuel 7:1)—was perfectly accomplished under Solomon the Peaceful, and the whole charter of gift of the promised land (Joshua 1:3-4) for the first time thoroughly entered upon. Of the “rest” of Israel, the transfer of the Ark of the Lord from the shifting Tabernacle to the fixed Temple was at once a sign and a pledge. Yet Solomon’s subsequent words imply that “entering into that rest” was conditional on fulfilment of Israel’s part in the covenant, by “walking in the ways of the Lord.” That condition, which he knew so well, he himself broke, and all Israel with him. Hence the fulfilment of the foreboding which emerges so constantly in his prayer. The glory of rest and happiness of his age was but a gleam of prosperity, soon to be swallowed up in dissension and disaster.
That he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers.(58) That he may incline . . .—Comparing this verse with the exhortation of 1Kings 8:61, we find exemplified the faith which pervades all Holy Scripture and underlies the whole idea of covenant with God. It is a faith in the true, though mysterious, co-operation of the “preventing grace” of God, which must be recognised in all adequate conceptions of Him, as the Source of all life and action, physical and spiritual, and of that free responsibility of man which is the ultimate truth of the inner human consciousness. God “inclines the heart” and yet the heart must yield itself. The conviction of this truth naturally grows deeper and plainer, in proportion as man realises better the inner life of the soul as contrasted with the outer life of event and action, and realises accordingly the dominion of God over the soul by His grace, over and above His rule over the visible world by His providence. Hence it comes out especially in the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the Prophetic books. It is instructive, for example, to observe how through the great “psalm of the Law” (Psalms 119) the conviction again and again expresses itself that only by His gift can the heart be enabled to obey it. (See 1Kings 8:26-27; 1Kings 8:32-33; 1Kings 8:36, &c.) In the New Testament, the “covenant of the Spirit,” the truth is brought out in all its fulness; perhaps most vividly in the celebrated paradox of Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation . . . For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
And let these my words, wherewith I have made supplication before the LORD, be nigh unto the LORD our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require:(59) And Solomon offered.—The idea that the king on this occasion, and on others, performed the priest’s ministerial office is manifestly improbable. At all times he who brought the sacrifice was said to “offer” it. (See, for example, Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 3:2; Leviticus 3:7, &c.) The priest accepted it in the name of the Lord, and poured the blood at the foot of the altar of sacrifice, or sprinkled it on the altar of incense. But still the absence of all mention of the priests, even as to the “hallowing” of the court for sacrifice, is characteristic of the tone of the whole narrative, in which the king alone is prominent.
And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the LORD, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD.(63) And Solomon offered.—The number here given, enormous as it is, can hardly be supposed due to any error in the text; for it is exactly reproduced in the Chronicles and by Josephus. Much explanation of it has been wasted through misunderstanding of the real difficulty involved. It is comparatively easy to conceive how such a mass of victims could be brought as offerings or consumed, when we consider the vastness of the assembled multitude from the whole of the great dominions of Solomon, dwelling in or encamped about the city. Even at the Passovers of the last days of Jerusalem the multitude of worshippers seems to have been numbered by hundreds of thousands. The real difficulty is to conceive how, even through the fourteen days of the festival, and over the whole of the hallowed portion of the court, the victims could have been offered. But it is not unlikely that on such an occasion it might be deemed sufficient actually to sacrifice only certain representative victims of each hecatomb, and simply to dedicate the rest to the Lord, leaving them to be killed and eaten elsewhere.
This profusion of sacrifices, good as expressing the natural desire of all to offer at such a time, may perhaps have involved something of the idea, so frequent in heathen sacrifice, and so emphatically condemned by the prophets, that the Lord would be “pleased with thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil”—something also of that display of the magnificence of the king and his people, even in the very act of homage to God, which the history throughout seems to imply. If so, in these ideas lurked the evils which hereafter were to overthrow the prosperity of Israel, and make the Temple a heap of stones.
And at that time Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him, a great congregation, from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt, before the LORD our God, seven days and seven days, even fourteen days.(65) The entering in of Hamath, is the significant name given to the great valley between Lebanon and Anti - Lebanon, which the Greeks called Cœle- Syria; for it was the main entrance to Palestine from the north, down which the hosts of Assyria and Babylon so constantly poured. Evidently it extended at this time beyond Damascus.
The river of Egypt is not, as might naturally be thought, the Nile, or any of its branches; for the word used signifies rather a “brook” or “torrent,” and the torrent, described in Numbers 34:5 and Joshua 15:4 as the border of Israel, is identified by all authorities with the torrent falling into the sea at El-Arish.
(65, 66) Seven days and seven days, even fourteen days. On the eighth day. . . .—The origin of this curious phrase is singularly illustrated by the account in 2Chronicles 7:9-10, for it tells us that the people were dismissed on “the three and twentieth day” of the month, which was the day after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles. Hence it is clear that the festival week of the Dedication preceded the regular feast; and the day of dismissal was the “eighth day,” regularly so-called, of the close of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Unto their tents.—The old memory of the wandering life of Israel still lingers in this expression, as in the well-known phrase “To your tents, O Israel!” (2Samuel 20:1; 1Kings 12:16.) It may have been suggested to the writer in this place by the ideas symbolised in the Feast of Tabernacles, of which he had just recorded the observance.
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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