Solomon having made a general surrender of this house to God, which God had signified his acceptance of by taking possession, next follows Solomon’s prayer, in which he makes a more particular declaration of the uses of that surrender, with all humility and reverence, desiring that God would agree thereto. In short, it is his request that this temple may be deemed and taken, not only for a house of sacrifice (no mention is made of that in all this prayer, that was taken for granted), but a house of prayer for all people; and herein it was a type of the gospel church; see Isa. 56:7; compared with Matt. 21:13. Therefore Solomon opened this house, not only with an extraordinary sacrifice, but with an extraordinary prayer.
I. The person that prayed this prayer was great. Solomon did not appoint one of the priests to do it, nor one of the prophets, but did it himself, in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, 1 Kgs. 8:22. 1. It was well that he was able to do it, a sign that he had made a good improvement of the pious education which his parents gave him. With all his learning, it seems, he learnt to pray well, and knew how to express himself to God in a suitable manner, pro re nata—on the spur of the occasion, without a prescribed form. In the crowd of his philosophical transactions, his proverbs, and songs, he did not forget his devotions. He was a gainer by prayer (1 Kgs. 3:11-14), and, we may suppose, gave himself much to it, so that he excelled, as we find here, in praying gifts. 2. It was well that he was willing to do it, and not shy of performing divine service before so great a congregation. He was far from thinking it any disparagement to him to be his own chaplain and the mouth of the assembly to God; and shall any think themselves too great to do this office for their own families? Solomon, in all his other glory, even on his ivory throne, looked not so great as he did now. Great men should thus support the reputation of religious exercises and so honour God with their greatness. Solomon was herein a type of Christ, the great intercessor for all over whom he rules.
II. The posture in which he prayed was very reverent, and expressive of humility, seriousness, and fervency in prayer. He stood before the altar of the Lord, intimating that he expected the success of his prayer in virtue of that sacrifice which should be offered up in the fulness of time, typified by the sacrifices offered at that altar. But when he addressed himself to prayer, 1. He kneeled down, as appears, 1 Kgs. 8:54; where he is said to rise from his knees; compare 2 Chron. 6:13. Kneeling is the most proper posture for prayer, Eph. 3:14. The greatest of men must not think it below them to kneel before the Lord their Maker. Mr. Herbert says, “Kneeling never spoiled silk stocking.” 2. He spread forth his hands towards heaven, and (as it should seem by 1 Kgs. 8:54) continued so to the end of the prayer, hereby expressing his desire towards, and expectations from, God, as a Father in heaven. He spread forth his hands, as it were to offer up the prayer from an open enlarged heart and to present it to heaven, and also to receive thence, with both arms, the mercy which he prayed for. Such outward expressions of the fixedness and fervour of devotion ought not to be despised or ridiculed.
III. The prayer itself was very long, and perhaps much longer than is here recorded. At the throne of grace we have liberty of speech, and should use our liberty. It is not making long prayers, but making them for a pretence, that Christ condemns. In this excellent prayer Solomon does, as we should in every prayer,
1. Give glory to God. This he begins with, as the most proper act of adoration. He addresses himself to God as the Lord God of Israel, a God in covenant with them And, (1.) He gives him the praise of what he is, in general, the best of beings in himself (“There is no God like thee, none of the powers in heaven or earth to be compared with thee”), and the best of masters to his people: “Who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants; not only as good as thy word in keeping covenant, but better than thy word in keeping mercy, doing that for them of which thou hast not given them an express promise, provided they walk before thee with all their heart, are zealous for thee, with an eye to thee.” (2.) He gives him thanks for what he had done, in particular, for his family (1 Kgs. 8:24): “Thou hast kept with thy servant David, as with thy other servants, that which thou promisedst him.” The promise was a great favour to him, his support and joy, and now performance is the crown of it: Thou hast fulfilled it, as it is this day. Fresh experiences of the truth of God’s promises call for enlarged praises.
2. He sues for grace and favour from God.
(1.) That God would perform to him and his the mercy which he had promised, 1 Kgs. 8:25, 26. Observe how this comes in. He thankfully acknowledges the performance of the promise in part; hitherto God had been faithful to his word: “Thou hast kept with thy servant David that which thou promisedst him, so far that his son fills his throne and has built the intended temple; therefore now keep with thy servant David that which thou hast further promised him, and which yet remains to be fulfilled in its season.” Note, The experiences we have had of God’s performing his promises should encourage us to depend upon them and plead them with God: and those who expect further mercies must be thankful for former mercies. Hitherto God has helped, 2 Cor. 1:10. Solomon repeats the promise (1 Kgs. 8:25): There shall not fail thee a man to sit on the throne, not omitting the condition, so that thy children take heed to their way; for we cannot expect God’s performance of the promise but upon our performance of the condition. And then he humbly begs this entail (1 Kgs. 8:26): Now, O God of Israel! let thy word be verified. God’s promises (as we have often observed) must be both the guide of our desires and the ground of our hopes and expectations in prayer. David had prayed (2 Sam. 7:25): Lord, do as thou hast said. Note, Children should learn of their godly parents how to pray, and plead in prayer.
(2.) That God would have respect to this temple which he had now taken possession of, and that his eyes might be continually open towards it (1 Kgs. 8:29), that he would graciously own it, and so put an honour upon it. To this purpose,
[1.] He premises, First, A humble admiration of God’s gracious condescension (1 Kgs. 8:27): “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Can we imagine that a Being infinitely high, and holy, and happy, will stoop so low as to let it be said of him that he dwells upon the earth and blesses the worms of the earth with his presence—the earth, that is corrupt, and overspread with sin—cursed, and reserved to fire? Lord, how is it?” Secondly, A humble acknowledgment of the incapacity of the house he had built, though very capacious, to contain God: “The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, for no place can include him who is present in all places; even this house is too little, too mean to be the residence of him that is infinite in being and glory.” Note, When we have done the most we can for God we must acknowledge the infinite distance and disproportion between us and him, between our services and his perfections.
[2.] This premised, he prays in general, First, That God would graciously hear and answer the prayer he was now praying, 1 Kgs. 8:28. It was a humble prayer (the prayer of thy servant), an earnest prayer (such a prayer as is a cry), a prayer made in faith (before thee, as the Lord, and my God): “Lord, hearken to it, have respect to it, not as the prayer of Israel’s king (no man’s dignity in the world, or titles of honour, will recommend him to God), but as the prayer of thy servant.” Secondly, That God would in like manner hear and answer all the prayers that should, at any time hereafter, be made in or towards this house which he had now built, and of which God had said, My name shall be there (1 Kgs. 8:29), his own prayers (Hearken to the prayers which thy servant shall make), and the prayers of all Israel, and of every particular Israelite (1 Kgs. 8:30): “Hear it in heaven, that is indeed thy dwelling-place, of which this is but a figure; and, when thou hearest, forgive the sin that separates between them and God, even the iniquity of their holy things.” a. He supposes that God’s people will ever be a prayer people; he resolves to adhere to that duty himself. b. He directs them to have an eye, in their prayers, to that place where God was pleased to manifest his glory as he did not any where else on earth. None but priests might come into that place; but, when they worshipped in the courts of the temple, it must be with an eye towards it, not as the object of their worship (that were idolatry), but as an instituted medium of their worship, helping the weakness of their faith, and typifying the mediation of Jesus Christ, who is the true temple, to whom we must have an eye in every thing wherein we have to do with God. Those that were at a distance looked towards Jerusalem, for the sake of the temple, even when it was in ruins, Dan. 6:10. c. He begs that God will hear the prayers, and forgive the sins, of all that look this way in their prayers. Not as if he thought all the devout prayers offered up to God by those who had no knowledge of this house, or regard to it, were therefore rejected; but he desired that the sensible tokens of the divine presence with which this house was blessed might always give sensible encouragement and comfort to believing petitioners.
[3.] More particularly, he here puts divers cases in which he supposed application would be made to God by prayer in or towards this house of prayer.
First, If God were appealed to by an oath for the determining of any controverted right between man and man, and the oath were taken before this altar, he prayed that God would, in some way or other, discover the truth, and judge between the contending parties, 1 Kgs. 8:31, 32. He prayed that, in difficult matters, this throne of grace might be a throne of judgment, from which God would right the injured that believingly appealed to it, and punish the injurious that presumptuously appealed to it. It was usual to swear by the temple and altar (Matt. 23:16, 18), which corruption perhaps took its rise from this supposition of an oath taken, not by the temple or altar, but at or near them, for the greater solemnity.
Secondly, If the people of Israel were groaning under any national calamity, or any particular Israelite under any personal calamity, he desired that the prayers they should make in or towards this house might be heard and answered.
a. In case of public judgments, war (1 Kgs. 8:33), want of rain (1 Kgs. 8:35), famine, or pestilence (1 Kgs. 8:37), and he ends with an et cetera—any plague or sickness; for no calamity befals other people which may not befal God’s Israel. Now he supposes, (a.) That the cause of the judgment would be sin, and nothing else. “If they be smitten before the enemy, if there be no rain, it is because they have sinned against thee.” It is sin that makes all the mischief. (b.) That the consequence of the judgment would be that they would cry to God, and make supplication to him in or towards that house. Those that slighted him before would solicit him then. Lord, in trouble have they visited thee. In their afflictions they will seek me early and earnestly. (c.) That the condition of the removal of the judgment was something more than barely praying for it. He could not, he would not, ask that their prayer might be answered unless they did also turn from their sin (1 Kgs. 8:35) and turn again to God (1 Kgs. 8:33), that is, unless they did truly repent and reform. On no other terms may we look for salvation in this world or the other. But, if they did thus qualify themselves for mercy, he prays, [a.] That God would hear from heaven, his holy temple above, to which they must look, through this temple. [b.] That he would forgive their sin; for then only are judgments removed in mercy when sin is pardoned. [c.] That he would teach them the good way wherein they should walk, by his Spirit, with his word and prophets; and thus they might be both profited by their trouble (for blessed is the man whom God chastens and teaches), and prepared for deliverance, which then comes in love when it finds us brought back to the good way of God and duty. [d.] That he would then remove the judgment, and redress the grievance, whatever it might be—not only accept the prayer, but give in the mercy prayed for.
b. In case of personal afflictions, 1 Kgs. 8:38-40. “If any man of Israel has an errand to thee, here let him find thee, here let him find favour with thee.” He does not mention particulars, so numerous, so various, are the grievances of the children of men. (a.) He supposes that the complainants themselves would very sensibly feel their own burden, and would open that case to God which otherwise they kept to themselves and did not make any man acquainted with: They shall know every man the plague of his own heart, what it is that pains him, and (as we say) where the shoe pinches, and shall spread their hands, that is, spread their case, as Hezekiah spread the letter, in prayer, towards this house; whether the trouble be of body or mind, they shall represent it before God. Inward burdens seem especially meant. Sin is the plague of our own heart; our indwelling corruptions are our spiritual diseases. Every Israelite indeed endeavours to know these, that he may mortify them and watch against the risings of them. These he complains of. This is the burden he groans under: O wretched man that I am! These drive him to his knees, drive him to the sanctuary. Lamenting these, he spreads forth his hands in prayer. (b.) He refers all cases of this kind, that should be brought hither, to God. [a.] To his omniscience: “Thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men, not only the plagues of their hearts, their several wants and burdens” (these he knows, but he will know them from us), “but the desire and intent of the heart, the sincerity or hypocrisy of it. Thou knowest which prayer comes from the heart, and which from the lips only.” The hearts of kings are not unsearchable to God. [b.] To his justice: Give to every man according to his ways; and he will not fail to do so, by the rules of grace, not the law, for then we should all be undone. [c.] To his mercy: Hear, and forgive, and do (1 Kgs. 8:39), that they may fear thee all their days, 1 Kgs. 8:40. This use we should make of the mercy of God to us in hearing our prayers and forgiving our sins, we should thereby he engaged to fear him while we live. Fear the Lord and his goodness. There is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared.
c. The case of the stranger that is not an Israelite is next mentioned, a proselyte that comes to the temple to pray to the God of Israel, being convinced of the folly and wickedness of worshipping the gods of his country. (a.) He supposed that there would be many such (1 Kgs. 8:41, 42), that the fame of God’s great works which he had wrought for Israel, by which he proved himself to be above all gods, nay, to be God alone, would reach to distant countries: “Those that live remote shall hear of thy strong hand, and thy stretched-out arm; and this will bring all thinking considerate people to pray towards this house, that they may obtain the favour of a God that is able to do them a real kindness.” (b.) He begged that God would accept and answer the proselyte’s prayer (1 Kgs. 8:43): Do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for. Thus early, thus ancient, were the indications of favour towards the sinners of the Gentiles: as there was then one law for the native and for the stranger (Exod. 12:49), so there was one gospel for both. (c.) Herein he aimed at the glory of God and the propagating of the knowledge of him: “O let the stranger, in a special manner, speed well in his addresses, that he may carry away with him to his own country a good report of the God of Israel, that all people may know thee and fear thee (and, if they know thee aright, they will fear thee) as do thy people Israel.” So far was Solomon from monopolizing the knowledge and service of God, and wishing to have them confined to Israel only (which was the envious desire of the Jews in the days of Christ and his apostles), that he prayed that all people might fear God as Israel did. Would to God that all the children of men might receive the adoption, and be made God’s children! Father, thus glorify thy name.
d. The case of an army going forth to battle is next recommended by Solomon to the divine favour. It is supposed that the army is encamped at a distance, somewhere a great way off, sent by divine order against the enemy, 1 Kgs. 8:44. “When they are ready to engage, and consider the perils and doubtful issues of battle, and put up a prayer to God for protection and success, with their eye towards this city and temple, then hear their prayer, encourage their hearts, strengthen their hands, cover their heads, and so maintain their cause and give them victory.” Soldiers in the field must not think it enough that those who tarry at home pray for them, but must pray for themselves, and they are here encouraged to hope fore a gracious answer. Praying should always go along with fighting.
e. The case of poor captives is the last that is here mentioned as a proper object of divine compassion. (a.) He supposes that Israel will sin. He knew them, and himself, and the nature of man, too well to think this a foreign supposition; for there is no man that sinneth not, that does not enough to justify God in the severest rebukes of his providence, no man but what is in danger of falling into gross sin, and will if God leave him to himself. (b.) He supposes, what may well be expected, that, if Israel revolt from God, God will be angry with them, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, to be carried captive into a strange country, 1 Kgs. 8:46. (c.) He then supposes that they will bethink themselves, will consider their ways (for afflictions put men upon consideration), and, when once they are brought to consider, they will repent and pray, will confess their sins, and humble themselves, saying, We have sinned and have done perversely (1 Kgs. 8:47), and in the land of their enemies will return to God, whom they had forsaken in their own land. (d.) He supposes that in their prayers they will look towards their own land, the holy land, Jerusalem, the holy city, and the temple, the holy house, and directs them so to do (1 Kgs. 8:48), for his sake who gave them that land, chose that city, and to whose honour that house was built. (e.) He prays that then God would hear their prayers, forgive their sins, plead their cause, and incline their enemies to have compassion on them, 1 Kgs. 8:49, 50. God has all hearts in his hand, and can, when he pleases, turn the strongest stream the contrary way, and make those to pity his people who have been their most cruel persecutors. See this prayer answered, Ps. 106:46. He made them to be pitied of those that carried them captive, which, if it did not release them, yet eased their captivity. (f.) He pleads their relation to God, and his interest in them: “They are thy people, whom thou hast taken into thy covenant and under thy care and conduct, thy inheritance, from which, more than from any other nation, thy rent and tribute of glory issue and arise (1 Kgs. 8:51), separated from among all people to be so and by distinguishing favours appropriated to thee,” 1 Kgs. 8:53.
Lastly, After all these particulars, he concludes with this general request, that God would hearken to all his praying people in all that they call unto him for, 1 Kgs. 8:52. No place now, under the gospel, can be imagined to add any acceptableness to the prayers made in or towards it, as the temple then did. That was a shadow: the substance is Christ; whatever we ask in his name, it shall be given us.