Chapter 5: The Prayers of Solomon
by James B. Currie, Japan
The thoughts of the Lord’s people regarding prayer seldom rise as high as they should. When Divine help is required, when temporal or spiritual needs are pressing, prayer becomes an earnest and urgent activity in daily life. Happy is the believer who has a consistent prayer life, regardless of the exigencies faced. The essence of prayer carries the one who prays above and beyond mundane affairs, even though these latter are what often promote the degree of sincerity in our prayers. The Lord Jesus raised the standard of prayer to the ultimate when He said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" Jn.4.24. While worship is not to be limited to the words of prayer, see Rom.12.1, yet the offering of worship in prayer is the believer’s highest occupation.
An important but oft overlooked fact regarding prayer is that it tacitly acknowledges all the Divine attributes. Prayer is not merely a means of eliciting God’s intervention in time of need, although it is that. The believer is encouraged "to come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" Heb.4.16. Nor is it simply an expression of thanks for blessings received. These both are, of course, distinctive features of prayer but as supplicants to the throne of God we are brought in prayer to a more perfect understanding of the God to Whom we pray.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the prayers of king Solomon, of which two are recorded in the Scriptures and each of them noted on two occasions. In spite of the fact that the king was quite young, a little more than twenty years of age, and having recently come to the throne when he uttered the first prayer, 1Kgs.3.6-9, and, perhaps, not yet thirty when his second prayer is documented, 1Kgs.8.23-53, together they constitute one of the shortest and one of the longest prayers in the Bible. They also portray a wonderfully humble attitude together with a most reverential vocabulary used by the king. We do well to take note of the fact that in our prayers we are privileged to speak to the God of the Universe, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prayers of Solomon are unique in that, while they are recorded twice, they were never to be repeated. The first took place at Gibeon, the "great high place" which in spite of the deceitful history of the inhabitants, Joshua chapter 9, God permitted its use as a place of sacrifice prior to the building of the temple. God appeared to Solomon in a dream by night inviting him to "ask what I shall give thee" 1Kgs.3.5, with a promise that it would be bestowed upon him.
The shorter of Solomon’s two prayers as found first in 1Kgs 3.6-9 has a background which may be said to be threefold.
Firstly, there is the political aspect. Solomon makes an alliance with the king of Egypt by marrying his daughter. Solomon already had a wife, "Naamah an Amonitess" who was the mother of Rehoboam, 1Kgs.14.21. While Solomon, during his lifetime had "700 wives, princesses and 300 concubines", 1Kgs.11.3, this lady, whom he married when in his twentieth year, is the only one whose name is given to us. In the same manner, we know nothing of any other of Solomon’s offspring, if such there were. But it is Pharaoh’s daughter who is given the prominent place in the turning of Solomon’s heart away from the Lord, 1Kgs.11.1-4, especially in his later days. Whatever political gain the young king may have hoped for in his Egyptian agreement it does not seem to have been too successful. Shishak, who appears to have been Solomon’s father-in-law, gave asylum to Jeroboam when he fled from Solomon’s wrath and, within 5 years of Solomon’s death this same Shishak invaded the land and stole much of the treasure that had been amassed for the building of God’s house, 1Kgs.11.40; 14.25.
Secondly, Solomon, with large ambition, desired to build a magnificent house for himself and one for the God of Israel, commensurate with Jehovah’s glory. In the event it took 20 years, fabulous wealth and nearly 200,000 workers to accomplish what Solomon believed was the mind of God for him at the time. No doubt his affinity with Egypt on this occasion was to allow him time to gather up the necessary wealth needed for the stupendous project. The lesson to be learned is clear. Affiliation with the unbeliever may yield some benefits to begin with but, in the end, the outcome is spiritual ruin.
Thirdly, and above all, Solomon as a young man "loved the LORD", 1Kgs.3.3. His devotion to the Lord is expressed by his "walking in the statutes of David his father" 1Kgs.3.4. In David’s last days he charged his son that he would walk in God’s ways "to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses" 1Kgs.2.3.
The commencement of Solomon’s reign indicated that he intended to follow his father’s advice. At this time the people "sacrificed in high places"; the reason for so doing is explained: "… there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days" 1Kgs.3.2. There is, therefore, no criticism to be levelled at the king for his journey to Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the Lord. This was, at that time, the site of the tabernacle which Moses raised and where the brazen altar of sacrifice was located. It was here where the king’s tremendous act of worship took place as he offered one thousand burnt offerings, 1Kgs.3.4. When David danced before the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant was being removed from the house of Obed-edom to the tent David had prepared for it "in the city of David", Zadok and his brethren the priests were ministering "before the tabernacle of the LORD in the high place that was Gibeon" 1Chron.16.39.
In this same Gibeon, on the very night of the massive act of worship, God appeared to Solomon in a dream. When God said to him "Ask what I shall give thee" 1Kgs.3.5, it was no less real than had Solomon heard the voice of God while awake during daylight hours. God has chosen to speak to men, at times, by means of dreams of the night, Job 33.15. In Solomon’s case, speaking in a dream might be a Divine method of initial approach to someone who has not heard God’s voice heretofore, especially at this time of confusion in connection with the proliferation of the high places patiently permitted by God. In any case, the Lord’s invitation to Solomon at this "great high place" was, no doubt, the Divine answer to the king’s deepest desire.
As indicated above, Solomon’s prayers are recorded twice. The first is found in 1Kgs.3.6-9 and 2Chron.1.8-10, and the account in Kings is more detailed than that in Chronicles.
A PRAYER OF SUPPLICATION - 1Kgs.3.6-9
This passage contains four elements that claim our attention:
Remembering Divine Sovereignty
In drawing near to God to worship at or petition His throne, Divine majesty as seen in His sovereign dealings with His creation, and especially with mankind, must ever be brought to mind. Solomon recalls the "great kindness" [steadfast love] with which God favoured his father David. Further to that, God also giving him a son to sit upon Israel’s throne in the person of Solomon himself. David reciprocated by walking before the Lord in righteousness and uprightness of heart but the great kindness shown David was given in unconditional grace.
Realising Personal Inadequacy
There is room for neither arrogance nor pride in the attitude of those who pray. The young king is painfully aware of his shortcomings. Having been given heaven’s mandate in the place of his father at twenty years of age, he knows and feels his own inadequacies very keenly. Thus his approach to God is marked by reverent humility. The words he uses of himself personally are "I am but a little child" v.7. Jeremiah expresses the same sentiment at the time of his commissioning, Jer.1.7. Both of them were approximately the same age and both fully cognisant of their complete lack of experience for the task to which they were being called. Solomon says, "I know not how to go out or come in" v.7. This shows a clear understanding of his lack of ability to discern right and wrong ways in governing such a nation as Israel had become. Such sensitivity is common among God’s servants. It is well summed up by Paul in 2Cor.2.16: "and who is sufficient for these things?" Nor is any other state of mind suitable to any who supplicate God in prayer, even in our day.
Recognising Spiritual Responsibility
Israel’s expansion under David’s rule had been remarkable. The governance of such a nation was, for Solomon, an onerous responsibility. God had promised Abraham that his seed would become as the dust of the earth for multitude, with none capable of numbering them, Gen.13.16. Solomon here acknowledges the fulfilment of that promise. God’s people, a great people chosen by Him whose numbers cannot be counted and in the midst of which Solomon is placed, not merely to reign in righteousness but, with a "hearing" or obedient heart to lead them in judgment that he and they might "discern between good and bad" 1Kgs.3.9. Solomon knows that such God-given ability was imperative for the spiritual well-being of his people. His consequent prayer pleased the Lord Who told him "I have done according to thy words" v.12.
Requesting Practical Ability
It is one thing to realise we need help but it is another to have the practical ability to use what help the Lord gives to us. Solomon realised this as he made request: "Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?" 1Kgs.3.9.
A PRAYER OF EXPECTATION - 2Chron.1.8-10
This is the same prayer as in 1Kgs.3.6-9 and uses almost identical terms. It is shorter and has one notable difference. Whereas in 1Kings chapter 3 what God has done for David’s family is seen to have been already accomplished in the enthronement of Solomon. In 1Chronicles Solomon is expecting that further promises will be fulfilled, perhaps in his own subsequent reign and those of his descendents or, more likely, pointing ahead to the fuller completion of God’s promise in "great David’s greater Son". Whatever the meaning, once again God’s pleasure in this first prayer of Solomon’s is expressed and He takes note that "it was in his heart" 1Chron.1.11. Solomon, with a unique opportunity granted to him, sought nothing for himself but prayed for a God given ability to rule and guide the nation of Israel in such a way as would please God. He sought the nation’s prosperity. In this, God’s pleasure was evident and His answer abundantly rich.
Solomon’s second prayer is much longer than the first and is repeated in almost identical language but with some distinctions. Two main characteristics may be noticed in the repetition, namely, the first in 1Kings chapter 8 was an offertory given to God and the second in 2Chronicles chapter 6 is accompanied by confirming signs given from God.
A PRAYER OF DEDICATION - 1Kgs.8.12- 61
The chapter containing the dedicatory prayer has three sections. First, the Ark is brought from the house of Obed-edom and placed in "the oracle", that is, the innermost sanctuary prepared for it by Solomon, 1Kgs.8.6. The chief of the fathers, the elders and the whole congregation are gathered unto king Solomon in Jerusalem for this solemn occasion. After the ark of the covenant was placed underneath the cherubim and the priests had left the sanctuary, such was the magnificence of the glory of God filling the house the priests could no longer stand to minister, 1Kgs.8.10. Seven years in the building of it, 6.38, fabulous wealth expended, 7.47, and nearly 200,000 workers involved. Now the house is finished and furnished with vessels of gold and silver and precious stones, with the evidence of God’s presence in the house manifested. Verse 9 presents a problem, especially when set along side Heb.9.4. It has been suggested that neither the pot of manna nor the rod that budded were actually placed in the ark but merely before it. While this may give an apparent solution to the problem, it might be better if the translation of the verse in Hebrews read, "the ark of the covenant … to which pertained the golden pot that had the manna and Aaron’s rod that budded". This would suggest that the ark with the tables of stone, of apparently no monetary value, had been preserved but the golden pot and the rod had been lost at the hands of the marauding Philistines.
In the second section of the chapter, vv.12-21, the king faces the sanctuary to praise the God of Israel before turning to speak to and bless the congregation, 1Kgs.8.14. In doing so he recalls some of Israel’s history, reminding all gathered of the covenant promises that God has fulfilled so faithfully in raising up a son to sit on David’s throne. In his Divine eulogy, Solomon twice brings to mind for those gathered, the deliverance Israel enjoyed at the commencement of their national existence.
The larger part of the chapter now being considered, vv.22-53, constitutes the prayer of dedication. In v.28 Solomon designates it in three different ways. He speaks of it as "a prayer", as "supplication" and as "a cry". The nuance of meaning in each of these three words is not without significance in view of the lengthy prayer of which the words form part. "Prayer" is the general term often used for this activity but carries with it the thought of praise or thanksgiving. To "supplicate" is to give expression to entreaty when seeking help or assistance. The word "cry" may be related to outpourings of joy or, in keeping with the petitions contained in the prayer itself, an utterance of despair or dismay. Thoughts of both praise and entreaty are found in the prayer but it would seem more in keeping with the overall tone, to consider the "cry" as one of fear lest Israel forsake their God with the tragic consequences that would ensue. The word "cry" would then refer to the potential distress accompanying such departure.
The character of the God to Whom this magnificent house is dedicated is clearly defined in Solomon’s prayer. At the very beginning three things are posited relating to the Divine essence.
God is, first of all, unique. In keeping with Israel’s confessional, God in His plurality of Persons, subsists in One: "Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God [plural] is one LORD" Deut.6.4.
He is transcendent in that "there is no God like Thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath" v.23.
That God is also the faithful God of truth, is acknowledged by the king in the words "Who keepest covenant and mercy with Thy servants".
The temple now being dedicated was in no way capable of housing the God of Israel, since He Who is omnipresent cannot be contained in "heaven or the heaven of heavens" v.27, let alone in a house built by men’s hands. God is also shown as being the "all knowing One" when Solomon prays, "give to every man according to his ways, whose heart Thou knowest; (for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men:)" v.39. Thus does Solomon, in offering his prayer, give voice to his understanding of the greatness and majesty of Israel’s God.
Again, it is of interest to note that in the thirty verses of which the prayer consists, Solomon uses the words "hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place", or words to similar effect, eight times. We are thereby enabled to ascertain the eight petitions found in the king’s prayer of dedication.
Each of the requests he makes is made from the standpoint of "this house that I have builded". In other words, the place of God’s dwelling: "the place of which Thou hast said, ‘My name shall be there’" v.29. God’s presence is anticipated and the first petition is a general one for himself and for his people to the end that any who pray in this place of holiness, will be forgiven for trespasses and will find acceptance before God. Solomon’s building may have been without peer as "the house of the LORD" v.10,11, but the true house of God is something altogether different. So Solomon prays "hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place: and when Thou hearest, forgive" v.30. Confidence in our approach to God must ever be based on knowledge of true forgiveness.
It is but natural that a right relationship to God should have as its outcome a proper involvement with one’s neighbours. One of the loveliest pictures of Christ’s work on behalf of His people in the Old Testament is that of the trespass offering required when a person defaulted with regard to some property entrusted to him. The principal had to be restored together with a fifth part added thereto, Lev.6.5; Num.5.7. Because of the redemptive work the Lord Jesus accomplished at Calvary He could say, "then I restored that which I took not away" Ps.69.4. What mankind had forfeited because of sin, the Lord restored to God with further glory added. But, in reality, when trespass occurred, the default could be denied by the offender. There was, in earlier times, a priestly means of determining the righteousness of claims made regarding such, the Urim and Thummim, but here, Solomon prays that the Lord would have His eye upon the house at all times so that right judgment would pertain between men, vv.29-32. The Gospel of Matthew chapter 18 shows that the basic principle remains the same to the present time.
The third word of supplication has to do with the weakness of God’s people in the face of their enemies. The cause here is some specific sin, and with the nation it was a very literal defeat in war and exile with which they were threatened. Weakness is not always the result of specific sin but who can deny that it is often a contributing factor. At the very least, our own departure from the ways of the Lord is bound to bring spiritual poverty and the remedy is found right here in Solomon’s request: "when Thy people … have sinned against Thee, and shall turn again to Thee, and confess Thy name, and pray, and make supplication … then hear … and forgive Thy people … and bring them again unto the land" 1Kgs.8.33,34. The spiritual application of these words needs no explanation.
The next petition of the young king concerns blessing withheld because of disobedience, 1Kgs.8.35,36. This situation calls for Divine instruction: "That Thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk". There is no excuse for disobedience. The apostle John has reminded us that "ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things and is truth" 1Jn.2.27. The indwelling Holy Spirit has so moved in the hearts of all who are born of God that, innately, "the good way wherein we should walk" is clear to us. Peter spoke of some who were "wilfully ignorant" 2Pet.3.5. Sadly, we who confess the Lord’s Name can be, at times, wilfully disobedient.
Centuries before the author of the Hebrew epistle penned his sagacious words, Solomon recognised that the God to Whom he prayed was, by the vehicle of His Word, the "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the [man’s] heart" and "neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do" Heb.4.12,13. These very thoughts are expressed by the king in vv.38,39. "What prayer… be made by any man … forgive … and give to every man … for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men." Solomon’s father, David, when speaking of the futile attempts to hide from the God of omniscience and omnipresence said, "… there is not a word in my tongue but, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether" Ps.139.4. Yet such a God is entreated by the king for "any man" and every man" that they might learn to fear God all the days of their lives, 1Kgs.8.40.
Nor is God any respecter of persons. The "stranger" is also one for whom prayer is made. He is not "of Thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for Thy name’s sake" 1Kgs.8.41-43. Here there are suggestions of the words the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. In New Testament language "the stranger" is one "who by patient continuance in well doing seek[s] for glory and honour and immortality". To such seekers eternal life is granted, "… for there is no respect of persons with God" Rom.2.7-11. Whether in Solomon’s day, or Paul’s, or our own, God grants to the seekers of light more light, and to those who refuse it, their portion is deeper darkness. The people of God are expected to be marked by the "fear of God" and thus a witness to the strangers of other lands so that they will come to know the name of the Lord and also be brought under the aegis of His fear.
The seventh petition made by the king concerns going to war when they had been sent by God. In other words, this was a Divine mission upon which they entered. In such instances they may look for heavenly guidance: "they go out … whithersoever Thou shalt send them" and they would go forth as a dependent people: "and shalt pray towards the city which Thou hast chosen and towards the house" built for the name of the Lord. Under circumstances such as these their cause would be maintained, 1Kgs.8.44,45.
The last stanza of the prayer contains a solemn warning concerning outright departure from the Lord and its inevitable result. The sin is against the Lord and because of it His anger is against them. All, without exception, are prone to this and the outcome of 70 years in Babylon followed by the many centuries of the diaspora are eloquent witness to what God thinks of departure from Himself by those related to the city and house which He has chosen, 1Kgs.8.46-49. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign a note of dire admonition is sounded which, sadly, being ignored, in due course brought about the tragic conditions hinted at here. Yet all is not lost. Grace immeasurable reigns. A means of recovery is proposed: "if they shall bethink themselves … saying, "we have sinned, and done perversely, we have committed wickedness and so return with all their heart and all their soul", Solomon supplicates thus, "then hear Thou their prayer … and forgive Thy people that have sinned". If the young king had known the words we often sing he surely would have included them here:
- Great God of wonders! all Thy ways
- Display Thine attributes Divine;
- But the bright glories of Thy grace
- Above Thine other wonders shine:
- Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
- Or Who has grace so rich and free?
The dedicatory prayer being ended, Solomon rises from off his knees to bless the congregation. He and the entire nation proceed to offer sacrifices to the Lord: 20,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. The middle of the outer court of the house had to be hallowed as a place of sacrifice because the "brazen altar that was before the LORD was too little to receive the offerings" of dedication, 1Kgs.8.64.
A PRAYER WITH CONFIRMATION - 2Chron.6.12-42
In 2Chron.6.14-42 the prayer is repeated with certain differences. These distinctions are in keeping with the characteristics of the volumes themselves. The books First Samuel to Second Kings trace the history of the divided kingdom with the responsibility of the kings personally in view: whereas the two books of Chronicles, dealing with the same time span and events, portray, in general, the grace of God at work.
The first specific difference is that the brazen scaffold upon which the king knelt to pray is mentioned. No doubt this was intended to show the whole congregation the humble attitude of the king as he offered his prayer to the Lord. It was upon this same scaffold that he stood to bless all the people who are included with the king in the prayer and in the sacrifices, 2Chron.7.4. The second distinction is the fact that, upon the prayer being ended, "fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices" while the glory of the Lord filled the house, 2Chron.7.1. Confirmation of God’s pleasure with, and presence in, the house is thus given. All the people realised this and, bowing themselves to the ground, worshipping and praising the Lord said: "He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever" 2Chron.7.3.
The final act in this awesome event was the keeping of the feast of tabernacles. Seven days it lasted, with a grand convocation on the eighth day. Seven days were occupied in re-dedicating the altar, probably preceding the feast of tabernacles, with the result that on the twenty-third day of the month the nation returned to their tents. They did so "merry in heart for the goodness that the LORD had showed unto David, and to Solomon, and to Israel his people" 2Chron.7.10.
In the prayers of Solomon we are made aware of the priceless privilege we have in our liberty to approach God in prayer. They also show us what reverential fear ought to mark us in the exercise thereof. The words written by James Montgomery are suitably expressive with this in mind:
- Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
- Uttered or unexpressed,
- The motion of a hidden fire
- That trembles in the breast.
- Prayer is the simplest form of speech
- That infant lips can try;
- Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
- The Majesty on high.