Solomon’s Temple Dedication Prayer and “Repentance”

By Wayne Jackson

The temple that Solomon constructed in Jerusalem was a magnificent structure, and the day of its dedication was one of solemnity and reverence. Though the king of Israel was flawed in a number of particulars, his prayer of dedication on this occasion was a model of spirituality. It is particularly significant as a “lexicon” definition of sorts of what is involved in genuine repentance. We thus quote the following passages for sincere reflection.

“If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the LORD toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause. If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them” (1 Kings 8:44-50, ESV).

Solomon’s prayer astutely recognizes the weaknesses to which the nation of Israel was prone, and he anticipates further departures on the part of his people in the years yet distant, and also the disciplinary suffering they would have to endure. Thus, on behalf of the Hebrews’ weaknesses, he petitions the Lord God. Note some of the propositions chronicled in this section.

The Problem

Initially there is the recognition of Israel’s propensity to transgress. “If they sin,” he says; more likely, the sense actually is, “when they sin,” for they surely will. As he further comments, “there is no one who does not sin” (46). What, therefore, was the remedy to be (at least in part) for pardon?

The Attitude

There was to be a radical change in Israel’s basic attitude. They would be obliged to “turn their heart,” or to “repent” (47). Again it is said that they should “repent with all their mind and with all their heart” (48).

This implies several things. (a) They must recognize intellectually (mind) the sovereignty of Jehovah, that is that he has the “right” to issue commands for one’s living and to enforce obedience (cf. Romans 9:21). (b) The people must be convicted of the fact that they have violated divine law. © They are required to be sorrowful for having rebelled against the holy God. (d) And the nation must resolve to desist from their lawless actions. No one can take the Lord’s forgiveness for granted, nor can one expect Heaven’s tolerance while he is planning to repeat the same sins for which he seeks pardon, as soon as opportunity presents itself.

The Action

Solomon emphasized that acknowledgement of wrong would be expected. The people would be required to confess, “we have sinned and acted perversely and wickedly” (47; cf. Daniel 9:5; Psalm 106:6). The use of three terms may be designed to emphasize the plenitude of Israel’s wrongs.

“Sin” signifies to “miss the goal or path of right and duty.” The term “perverse” suggests the idea of that which is “twisted” or “distorted,” thus not in line with sacred truth. And “wickedness” suggests the idea of guilt in the violation of law — civil, ethical, or religious. The person who knows he has sinned, and refuses to concede that — either privately to God, or publicly before his peers, as the case may require, cannot be absolved of liability (cf. 1 John 1:9).

Further, there must be a reformation of conduct on the part of the offender. Sinners must “repent” [cf. “turn” — 47a] with “all their mind and with all their heart” (48). Genuine repentance involves a change of conduct. There are a number of biblical texts in which the change required in one’s life is represented under the terms “repent,” or “repentance,” which, in the immediate context is obviously something in addition to a feeling of guilt or sorrow (see Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 7:10). Notice also the double use of “all,” which obviously emphasizes the comprehensive nature of one’s change.

There can be no “strings” attached, or exceptions to wrongdoing. What does this say of the rather common modern tradition (even among the people of God) that advocates the notion one in a sinful condition may ask the Lord’s pardon, but remain firmly fixed in the status quo.

The sinner must also pray to God for pardon (48b). Prayer is a general term that represents the idea of calling upon God as a source of help - whatever the need may be. In addition, Solomon employs the term “plead” (ESV, ASV - “supplication”). The latter word carries the idea of soliciting God’s favor, with the subtle contextual suggestion that, as a result of one’s sins, the Lord has turned away (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13; 1 Peter 3:12).

The Result

The result of this divinely orchestrated procedure is this. The God of heaven will hear the petition and the supplication (49). The Hebrew term conveys the idea of hearing with a view to forgiveness and assistance. A more specific term accompanies; God will forgive his people their transgressions. The word “forgive” [derived from the Heb. slh is used in the Old Testament only of that which issues from the Lord. The term is found five times in this temple-dedication prayer. The word is one that expresses pardon for a wayward child of God as a result of his love, mercy, and compassion towards a sinful person, as the conditions of such are met.

Conclusion

While the context under review pertains initially to the circumstance of the ancient Jews and their relationship to Jehovah, the principles therein are echoed throughout the New Testament. This portion of inspired literature contains one of the most concentrated formulas for the forgiveness of sin on behalf of the child of God who has strayed from truth and godliness. May we be instructed by it.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.