Friday, July 31, 2015

The God Offering

At the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon offers an amazing prayer, asking God to both inhabit His Temple and to honor it (and what the people will do with it). (1 Kings 8)

Now, it must be said that up to this point, Israel is not really an evangelizing nation. They've never set out to make converts. Most of their interactions with other nations have had to do with "claiming" those nations for the Lord, which meant, in essence, destroying them. Killing them. Some nations, they've forced into slavery and servitude, but the vast majority of peoples they have encountered have been slaughtered in the name of God. (Which is one of the problems people have with the God of the Old Testament.) 

That's why Solomon's prayer is rather intriguing. Looking at just the first few lines in each stanza, we see Solomon praying for God's response from the Temple to: his personal pleadings (v. 28-29), anyone who sins and is required to take an oath (v. 31), a defeated nation of Israel (v. 32), a drought-plagued Israel (v. 35), a famine-inflicted Israel (v. 37), a fighting Israel (v. 44), a captured and exiled Israel (v. 46-47). He concludes with this: May your eyes always see my plea and your people Israel's plea.... (v. 52)

And that's all well and good, pretty much what we would expect from God and His Temple and His people, Israel. But I skipped an entire stanza, and it is this that makes us pause:

People will hear about your great name, mighty hand, and powerful arm. So when people who are not Israelites come from distant countries because of your name to pray facing this temple, hear them in heaven, the place where you live. Do everything they ask you so that all the people of the world may know your name and fear you like your people Israel and learn also that this temple which I built bears your name. (v. 41-43)

People who are not Israelites. Let that sink in for a minute. People who are not Israelites usually "know His name" and "fear Him" because they've heard what He's done to other peoples. Because they've seen what He's done for His people, but only in terms of fighting. They haven't seen the blessings or the sacrifices. They haven't heard the stories. They don't know the relationship that's developing between God and His people except to know what a mighty warrior God He is. 

But people don't usually pray to a mighty warrior God that's fighting against them. 

It would be weird to have, say, the army of Israel standing across the ravine from the Philistines, praying to their God for protection and provision in the coming battle and then to hear from the Philistine side of the lines, the very same prayer. Imagine if Goliath had spoken as boldly in the name of the Lord as the young David. If the God who is coming against you is set on defeating you, what could you possibly pray to Him? O Lord, mighty God of Israel, please destroy me quickly, as You have determined already to do

So when Solomon talks about the people who are not Israelites coming to pray toward this Temple, he's talking for the first time about peoples who are coming to understand the unique relational aspect of God. Peoples who are getting the other side of the story. Not defeated peoples, because love does not come from defeat, but converted peoples. This is an entirely new thing in God's story right here, and Solomon is the first to make space for it. 

And he makes space for it right from the start. From the very moment when God has a permanent place among His people, that place is set aside not just for God's people, but for all people. From the very Temple in which the nation of Israel will offer its sacrifices to God, it also declares to offer its God. For anyone who would come. For anyone who would be searching. For anyone who would stumble upon this place and fall on his knees anyway and begin to pray to this God of Israel. 

Isn't that amazing?

No comments:

Post a Comment