1 Kings Bible Study (The Decline of God's People)

1 Kings 5-8, A Holy Temple To The Lord

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First Kings 5-8 center upon the construction of the temple, with chapter 8 standing as the pinnacle when the temple is completed and dedicated to the Lord. We will spend the majority of our time in chapter 8. But there are some important observations to make as we read about the preparations and construction of the temple. The beginning of the fifth chapter tells us why Solomon is going to build this temple. First, Solomon is doing this because God is faithful and good (5:4). God has given him peace on every side and there is neither adversary or misfortune. This is our first motivation: God has been good to me so I want to respond to God. I’m looking at my life and see the faithfulness of God. Therefore I am going to act for God and serve him. Second, Solomon is building this temple because God commanded it (5:5). The Lord told David that it would be his son that would build a house for the name of the Lord. We have spent many lessons talking about grace-driven obedience, and I want us to see that it is the motivation of all the faithful of God. God has done great things for me. Therefore I want to do for him. So I seek his will and search his teachings to learn and do what he says. This is the message that Solomon sends to Hiram, the king of Tyre.

Just an interesting side note: chapter 5 records that Gentiles help build the house of the Lord. Verse 6 is the request for Tyrian servants to cut the timber. Verse 18 shows the builders of Solomon and the builders of Hiram, as well as the men of Gebal, cutting and preparing the timber and the stone to build the house. In chapter 7 we will read of a man from Tyre building all the of the articles for the temple worship and service. This is a sign that the temple from its beginning is a “house of prayer for all the nations” like Isaiah declared later (Isaiah 56:7) and Jesus quoted. Further, the nations want to participate. Hiram is excited to assist in the building of the Lord’s house.

Chapters 6-7 emphasize the splendor and grandeur of this temple. The repetition of how everything was overlaid with gold is staggering. Even the articles for the temple service are overlaid with gold. But in the middle of the description of all that is being constructed for the Lord’s temple there is a reminder of the conditions of this temple.

Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” (1 Kings 6:11–13 ESV)

This is a repeated reminder in the first half of 1 Kings as to what God will do. God says that if you will follow his ways, then he will establish the promises that he spoke to David. And Solomon would have seen these promises in the process of being fulfilled. Notice the emphasis is made to the king. If the king will live according to the ways and commandments of the Lord, God will dwell with the people and not forsake Israel. God shifts to a demand of the kings to obey which would in turn cause blessings to come to the nation and God remaining with his people. We see that the kingdom promises were to encourage kingdom work. God says that he will bless us and fulfill his promises in us if we will keep his commands and follow his ways. So even while the temple is being constructed, God is warning that this building does not mean that he will dwell with his people if they are disobedient. God was not to be taken for granted as if he was with them and supporting them through sinfulness. Obey him and he will stay with them. The temple then becomes a reflection of this promise of God dwelling with his people.

The Presence of God (8:1-13)

Chapter 8 begins with bringing in the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the tabernacle, and all the articles of the tabernacle to the temple. What we are witnessing is a changing of the guard. God’s presence had dwelled with his people in that tabernacle as they had come from Egypt. By the way, it is interesting that the feast mentioned in verse 2 would have been the Feast of Tabernacles or also called the Feast of Booths, which was commemorated in the seventh month. The Feast of Tabernacles was to remind the people how they were slaves in Egypt, how God led them out, and brought them to freedom. It was also the time when all the people were required to come to Jerusalem to keep the feast. The ark of the covenant is then placed into the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place. We are also told that the only articles inside the ark of the covenant were the two tablets of stone. Nothing else is inside, emphasizing the critical link between God’s presence, God’s covenant, and God’s law. The law is the basis on which we are in God’s covenant and can therefore have God’s presence with us. So the ark of the covenant is placed in the Most Holy Place. When the priests came out, a cloud filled the house of the Lord so that the priests could not stand to minister. The glory of the Lord filled the house. God is with his people and his presence is seen as the smoke fills the whole temple. We see this happen upon the completion of the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34-35.

The Faithfulness of God (8:14-21)

Solomon then begins his speech to the people, praising the faithfulness of God. Solomon declares in verse 15 that God has fulfilled the promises he made to David. Verse 20 continues as Solomon makes the point that God is faithful to his promises, placing Solomon on the throne and building a house for the name of the Lord.

The Grace of God (8:22-53)

But the significant portion of this dedication scene is on the graciousness of God. Notice the praise that Solomon declares as he spreads out his hands toward heaven before the whole assembly of Israel. “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.” (1 Kings 8:23–24 ESV)

Solomon professes the greatness of God. Verse 27 really shows his understanding of the vast majesty and glory of God. “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!” (1 Kings 8:27 ESV) Even Solomon recognized that nothing can contain God. The highest of heavens cannot contain the Lord. So certainly this small building in Jerusalem cannot contain the Lord. But what Solomon is going to teach in the rest of this dedication reveals the intention of the temple. The temple is not the place where God lived because the heavens cannot even contain him. Solomon teaches that the temple was the place to turn.

Solomon lists a number of sins against the covenant of God from verse 28 to verse 53. The sins described are many of the curses described in Deuteronomy 28. Solomon asks for God to listen to the cry of Israel when they “pray toward this place.” Seven times in this dedication he asks for God to be gracious toward their sins when they pray toward this place (8:29, 30, 35, 38, 42, 44, 48). When the people pray toward this place, then God will listen from his dwelling place in heaven and forgive (8:30). Notice that God will “hear in heaven” is repeated eight times (8:30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). The call is that when the people pray toward the temple, then God whose dwelling place is in heaven will hear in heaven and act on behalf of the people. Immediately we learn that the temple was not supposed to be a talisman, like it turned into for the later generations. The people were not to think that God was with them because the temple was there. Rather, they were to see the temple as the object to toward their hearts toward in prayer, and God would respond when they prayed to the Lord in heaven. Repentance was turning in faith to the Lord for healing by directing their faces toward this temple. Solomon says that this would be true even in exile in verses 46-48. If the people are carried off into captivity and exiled from the land, if they turn their hearts to the land then forgive them and have compassion on them.

The problem that we read about in the rest of the Kings account is that Israel fails to do this. Israel fails to turn its eyes back to the Lord. Israel fails to turn toward the temple and pray to God in repentance. Remember that we get to the days of Joash and the temple is dilapidated and he begins to repair the temple. The hearts of the people turned away from the temple. No Davidic king every prays in or toward the temple until Hezekiah is attacked by the Assyrians. When Hezekiah turns to the temple, Isaiah prophesies the fall of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. But consider what happens when Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, takes the throne. He defiles the temple more than any of the other kings of Judah when he places Asherah poles in the temple complex. When the people turned toward the temple and offered their prayers to God, God listened and responded. When the people turned against the temple, ignored the temple, or defiled the temple, God did not listen and did not respond. The people were then out of favor with God and our of a relationship with him. Grace would be found when the people turned toward the temple in repentance.

Therefore, the temple acts as a mediator between God and the people. Solomon does not visualize God actually living in the temple. Nothing can contain God. However, the temple is seen as the place for mediation between God and the people. The temple is a haven for Israel when it falls under judgment. The temple is not merely the place of worship, but it reflects the covenant arrangements between God and his people.

Not only would the temple act as a mediator between God and Israel, but the temple acts as a place of mercy and mediation for the Gentiles. Look at 1 Kings 8:41-43.

“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. (1 Kings 8:41–43 ESV)

The Gentiles will hear of the greatness of the name of God and his mighty hand (language that recalls the exodus from Egypt — Exodus 3:20; 6:1; 13:3), and when they pray toward this temple, God is to do all that they call upon him to do so that the whole world will fear the Lord. Gentiles are pictured as turning their hearts to the Lord, praying toward the temple, and God responding to their requests.

Jesus Is The Temple

Now when we come to the New Testament we can feel the greater weight of what Jesus was teaching about himself concerning the temple.

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:58 ESV)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19–21 ESV)

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22 ESV)

Jesus is the new temple. Jesus is where we turn our hearts toward in repentance to find the grace of God. Jesus is who we pray through so that the Lord who is in heaven will hear our prayers and answer. Jesus is the mediator between God and the people. Jesus is called the great high priest before the Lord (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1; 10:21). Jesus is the person that the world comes to for accessing God’s grace and steadfast love. So we can apply all that we learn about the temple to Jesus. Grace would be found when the people turned toward Jesus in repentance. Jesus acts as a mediator between God and the people. Jesus is a haven for Israel when it falls under judgment. Jesus reflects the covenant arrangements between God and his people. Jesus acts as a place of mercy and mediation for the Gentiles (8:41-43)

We Are The Temple

But listen to what else the New Testament says about who the temple is.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16–17 ESV)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21 ESV)

Revelation 11:1 depicts the people of God as the temple being measured for security and safety. We are the temple of the Lord. Therefore, we are pointing to the grace that is found in Jesus. But we are temples to the true and living God. Think about what that looks like for a minute. We are to be places that people turn to so that they can find God. People will come to us and we will point them to the Lord. We become mediators between God and the world. Lest we think that this is taking the image to far, consider how the scriptures call us to be priests of God (Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). Listen to the words of the apostle Peter:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5 ESV)

Notice the tie together of being a spiritual house/temple and being holy priests. We are to be temples to the world, throughout the world, drawing the world to the Lord through our teachings and actions so that they will receive the grace of God. Jesus is the temple to whom we turn to find grace through repentance and through whom God hears us. We are being built up into that holy temple. Live as the holy temple of God, drawing people to the Lord so they can find grace like you have found.

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