Since chapter 5 we’ve been reading about the construction of the temple, this house for the Lord where God would dwell among his people.
In chapter 5 we read about the preparations which Solomon made for temple: how he arranged with Hiram king of Tyre for timber to be sent to Jerusalem; and how large blocks of stone were taken from the quarry; and then there were all the workers: labourers and carriers and stonecutters and foremen. And after making the necessary preparations, the work to build the temple began. And that’s what chapter 6 was about. And this house for the Lord, this temple, was really one large rectangular building which was divided into three parts with a portico at the entrance, then a main hall and then the inner sanctuary, which was also known as the Most Holy Place. And the temple was made with stone which was then cover in planks of wood. And then, inside the temple, the planks of wood were covered in gold, because it was to represent the glory of heaven.
In chapter 7 we read about the palace complex which Solomon built as a place where he would live and work. And then we read about the large columns which were erected at the entrance of the temple. And there was the large Sea of cast metal, which was full of water for cleansing. And there were the ten movable stands for the ten basins, also filled with water. And there was the golden altar for incence; and the golden table for the Bread of the Presence; and ten golden lamp stands to light up the main hall; and there were other objects made of gold and which were used for worship.
And then, in chapter 8, which we studied last week, the priests brought the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place. The ark represented God’s throne. And the Most Holy Place represented God’s throne room. And after the priests placed the ark in the Most Holy Place, the Lord’s glory-cloud filled the temple to signify that God had come to dwell among his people.
I pointed out at various times that the flowers and fruit which were engraved on the walls of the temple and the flowers which were engraved on the two columns recall the Garden of Eden which was a kind of temple-garden where the Lord met Adam and Eve. And so, the temple which Solomon built recalls the Garden of Eden in the beginning. But then, the temple which Solomon built also foreshadows the new Jerusalem to come in the new heavens and earth, where God will dwell with his people forever. And so, the temple looks back to what was lost, when Adam sinned against the Lord; and it looks forward to what we will have when Christ comes again. And it also speaks to us of the experience of believers right now, because God dwells with his people individually by his Spirit; and he also dwells with his people collectively in the church; and he promises to be with his people when we meet together for worship.
And in Solomon’s prayer, which was recorded for us in chapter 8, he acknowledged that God is transcendent. He is above and beyond the universe and he doesn’t really live in a temple. The highest heavens cannot contain God, let alone the temple which Solomon had built for him. Nevertheless, let the temple be the place where God’s people can meet with him and worship him. And when his people pray towards the temple, will you hear your people and answer them. And what God’s people needed to pray for more than anything else was for forgiveness. And so, King Solomon stood before the Lord and interceded for his people. And in that way he foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our King, and who stands before the Father Almighty in heaven to intercede for us. When we sin, he’s there, in heaven, to speak in our defence and to ask the Father to forgive us for whatever we have done wrong. And the Father is willing to hear him, because Christ is not only your King, but your Priest who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to make peace for you with God.
And so, today we come to the first nine verses of chapter 9 where the Lord appeared to Solomon just as he had done before in chapter 3. In chapter 3, the Lord appeared to Solomon to ask him what one thing he wanted from the Lord. And Solomon asked for wisdom: he needed wisdom to rule God’s people well. And now in chapter 9, the Lord appeared to Solomon once again. And one of the commentators (Woodhouse) entitles this passage: ‘What could go wrong?’ Everything seems to be going great. In chapter 4 we got the impression that Israel at that time was like paradise and the people ate and drank and were happy and they lived in safety. Each man, we were told, sat under his own vine and fig-tree. It was a picture of contentment and peace. So, what could go wrong? Well, in the verses before us today, the Lord makes clear to Solomon what could go wrong. Indeed, if you know your Old Testament history, then you’ll know it’s not just about what could go wrong, but what did go wrong.
Verses 1 and 2
The chapter opens by telling us when God appeared to Solomon. So, it was after he had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace complex. We learned previously that it took seven years to build the temple and thirteen years to build the palace complex. And when Solomon finished the work and had achieved all he had desired to do, the Lord appeared to him.
What we read in verse 1 underlines how well things are going. Solomon was able to do all he desired. That is, he was able to build all he wanted to build. When we start to build something, we’re often frustrated because there are delays and set-backs and everything is behind schedule and the costs are rising and perhaps we have to make compromises and we can’t do everything we wanted to do. But Solomon was not hindered in any way and was able to do all that he desired. It’s all going so well. What could go wrong? Well, as I’ve already said, the Lord appeared to Solomon to let him know what could go wrong.
And the Lord began by saying that he has heard Solomon’s prayer and the plea which Solomon made before him. He’s referring to Solomon’s prayer from chapter 8 about the temple. And the Lord tells Solomon that he has consecrated the temple. That is, the Lord has made it holy and has set it apart from all ordinary buildings to be God’s holy dwelling place among his people. There were lots of buildings in Israel. There were lots of buildings in Jerusalem. Some big and some small. Some were very grand like Solomon’s own royal palace complex. But the Lord’s temple was different from all the others, because it was the place which God had set apart for himself. This was the place where he would meet his people and where they would worship him. Though he was present everywhere all at once, he would be there, in the temple, in a unique way. As the Lord says in verse 3, he has put his Name there. You don’t see it so much now, but you used to see grafitti which said: ‘Bill was here.’ Well, we can imagine the Lord writing on the walls of the temple, not ‘The Lord was here’, but ‘The Lord is here’. His Name represents him. And by saying he has put his Name there, he means he is there. And just as we might put our name on something we own to make clear it belongs to us, so putting his Name on the temple means that it belongs to him. It is his house and his people can meet him there.
And therefore his eyes and heart will always be there. God, of course, is a spirit and he does not have eyes or a heart. But by mentioning his eyes, the Lord means that he will watch over the temple. And by mentioning his heart, he means he has chosen it.
Verses 4 and 5
And in verses 4 and 5 the Lord begins to address Solomon. ‘As for you…’ he says. So, this is what I’ve done: I’ve heard your prayer and chosen to dwell in the temple. And now, as for you…. As for you, this is what you’re to do. ‘If you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all that I command and observe all my decrees and laws, [then] I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever.’ In other words, the Lord was commanding Solomon to obey him. He was saying that if Solomon obeys God, then God will establish his throne forever so that there shall always be a descendant of David on the throne of Israel.
Now, there are at least two interesting things to note about this. The first is that the king is not above the law, but under it. In other countries, the king was the law-maker. Think of the story of Esther, for instance. When the queen displeased the king, the king passed a law banning her from the king’s presence. He also issued a decree that every man should be ruler in his own household. And later in the story, he issued a law to annihilate the Jews. The king of Persia made the laws and he could do what he wanted and pass unjust and foolish laws and no one could stop him. The same thing happened in Daniel’s day, when the king of the Medes and Persians passed a law forbidding anyone from praying to anyone but him for thirty days. Those kings were the law-makers. But Solomon, and all the kings of Israel, lived under God’s law. God was the law-maker and the kings and everyone else were subject to it.
And that’s interesting. In a book I was reading (Kuyper, Our Program), the author was saying that when society splits into two groups, it will end up in civil war unless there’s a moral law to intervene which can be used to sort out the problem between the two groups. But such a law cannot come from the ruling group, because the ruling group will only introduce a law which favours their own interests. They’ll introduce a law which suits them and protects their interests and doesn’t suit their opponents. So, instead of bringing the two sides together, it will only drive them further apart, because it only helps one group and not the other. And so, what is needed is a law which is above them both. And God’s law is above us all.
So, foreign kings introduced laws to serve their own interests. But Solomon was to obey God’s law which commands us to love one another and to put the interests of others before our own interests. And the king was not to take advantage of the people, but he was to serve them. And so, it was a good thing for the people in Israel that their king was subject to God’s law.
However, the other interesting thing about what the Lord says is the relationship between God’s law and his grace. That is, the relationship between God’s law and his kindness. Verses 4 and 5 sound as if Solomon’s relationship to God is all based on law and obedience. If you obey me, then I will keep my promise to you. If you don’t obey me, then I will not do what I promised. It sounds as if it’s all about keeping the law.
But let’s remember that originally God freely and graciously chose Israel to be his people. They were not better than the other nations, or greater than the other nations. God did not owe them anything, but he graciously and freely chose them as his people; and he graciously and freely rescued them from Egypt and gave them the Promised Land to live in as a free gift. And neither David nor Solomon deserved to be made king, but God graciously and freely chose them to be the king of Israel. He gave them the kingdom as a gift which they could not earn and did not deserve. And having graciously and freely chosen Israel, and having graciously and freely chosen David and Solomon, God then commanded them to obey him in order to display their gratitude for his kindness to them.
And obeying the Lord should not have been a burden to them, because the One they were to obey is the One who chose them as a nation and who rescued them from Egypt and who gave them the Promised Land and who then made David and Solomon king. Obeying him should be their joy and delight because he had been so good to them.
And so, although verses 4 and 5 focus on the law and on Solomon’s obedience to it, Solomon’s relationship to the Lord is based on God’s gracious kindness to him.
Verses 6 to 9
However, here comes the warning in verses 6 to 9. What could go wrong? Well, this is what could go wrong. Not just Solomon, but the people as a whole and those who come after them could disregard what God has said. The little footnote in the NIV beside the word ‘you’ in verse 6 tells you that this ‘you’ is plural. So, the Lord is not referring to Solomon by himself, but to ‘yous’. He’s referring to all Israel at that time and to their sons and daughters who will come after them. If you people turn away from me and do not observe the commmands and decrees which I have given you people, and if you go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land.
And so, what could go wrong? This is what could go wrong: the people could, in the future, turn away from the Lord who had loved them and chosen them and rescued them and given them the Promised Land and who filled their lives with good things to enjoy. They could turn away from him to worship and serve other gods. That’s what could go wrong.
And if that happens, if they turn away from the Lord and worship other gods, then the Lord will cut them off from Israel. Do you know what he’s talking about? He means he will send them away into exile. He will take the Promised Land away from them and send them off to foreign lands. He’ll let their enemies invade the land and capture them. That’s what he’ll do.
And the Lord adds in verse 7 that he will also reject this temple which he has consecrated and set apart for his Name. He will reject it. He won’t want it anymore and he won’t watch over it any longer and he’ll let the nations come and destroy it.
And Israel will become a byword and an object of ridicule among the people. In other words, people in other nations will talk about Israel. They say to one another: ‘Did you hear what has become of Israel? Did you hear what happened to that wonderful kingdom? It had been such a prosperous kingdom. And the people used to eat and drink and they were happy. The men used to sit under their own vine and fig-tree. But look what has happend to it? The kingdom has now fallen and the people have been taken away.’ People in other nations will talk about what happened to Israel.
And the Lord says that though the temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled because it will one day lie in ruins. And those who pass by will scoff and say: ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to its temple?’ Why has he done this to his people? And the answer is: it’s because the people forsook the Lord, the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. And instead of remaining faithful to him, they embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them. They embraced other gods. That is, they have laid hold of them and grasped them.
Think about that for a moment. The Lord had laid hold of them. He had, in a sense, lifted them from Egypt and carried them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He had laid hold of them and carried them. But they have turned away from the Lord who once carried them and they have turned to false gods and idols, who cannot carry them, but who must be carried, because they are not real and they cannot do anything for the people. Do you see how foolish it would be for them to turn away from the Lord? Do you see how foolish it would be for them to turn away from the Lord who had done so much for them in order to embrace other gods who cannot help them, but who need to be carried by the people?
And yet, if you know your Old Testament history, then you’ll know that this is what they did. It didn’t happen all at once. These things never happen all at once, but slowly, over time and bit by bit. But what we’ll see as we read through the rest of 1 and 2 Kings, is how the kingdom was divided into two kingdoms, with one king over the north and another king over the south. And some of the kings were good and faithful and obedient. But others were not. And the people tended to follow the example of the kings. And the kings and the people began more and more to turn from the Lord to worship other gods. And the Lord was patient with them and again and again he sent his prophets to warn them and to call them to repent and to return to him. But they refused to listen to his prophets. And so, eventually the Lord’s patience ran out and he sent the northern kingdom into exile first and then he sent the southern kingdom into exile. And the land was abandoned; and Jerusalem lay in ruins; and the temple, which was once so imposing and which was once filled with gold, was destroyed. And it happened because the Lord’s people turned from him.
And the Lord’s warning to them is a warning to us not to turn away from the Lord. Throughout the pages of the Bible, God’s people are commanded to stand firm in the faith and to persevere; and we’re warned about the danger of abandoning the faith. And these warnings are repeated throughout the pages of the Bible because it can happen so easily and people who once believed and who came faithfully to church to worship the Lord let other things come between them and the Lord. It doesn’t happen all at once, but slowly over time and bit by bit.
But why would we ever abandon the Lord who made us and who gave us life and breathe? And why would we ever abandon the Lord who fills our lives with good things to enjoy each day? Whatever good thing you enjoy has come to you from him, including all your gifts and abilities and your friends and family and your work and rest. It all comes from him. And why would we ever abandon the Lord who sent his Only-Begotten Son to die for us and to save us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the new and better world to come? And why would we ever abandon the Lord who gives us his Spirit as the deposit, guaranteeing what is to come? And why would we ever abandon the Lord who gives us his word to know him and who gives us his people to encourage us? Why would we ever abandon him?
And yet people do all the time. And so, the Lord comes to us in his word to warn us so that we will persevere in the faith and stand firm in it. He comes to us in his word and warns us not to have a hard, unbelieving heart which turns away from the Lord. And he comes to us in his word to speak to any who have abandoned him and to call them to repent and to return to him while there is still time.
And if you’re familiar with your Old Testament history, then you’ll know that the Lord did not reject the people of Israel forever. In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, he graciously and freely brought his people back to the Promised Land; and he let them rebuild the temple; and he enabled them to live in the land again. And when the fullness of time had come, he sent an angel to Mary to announce to her that she would give birth to a son who was to be given the name Jesus; and God would give her son the throne of David and he will reign forever. And so, David’s Greater Son was born. And unlike Solomon, whose heart turned away from the Lord so that he bowed down to false gods and idols, the Lord Jesus remained faithful and obedient throughout his life on earth, even to the point of death on the cross. And by dying on the cross in obedience to God he has paid for all that we have done wrong; and he shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt and to make peace for us with God.
And after he died, he was raised from the dead and exalted to heaven to rule forever. And he has opened up the way for sinners like us to live, not in the land of Canaan, but in the new heavens and earth, where we shall eat and drink and be happy forever and forever in the presence of the Lord our God who made us and who has saved us by his Son.
And so, we’re to trust in him and we’re to keep trusting in him. And we’re to give thanks to God for Christ our Saviour and for giving us the hope of everlasting life in the presence of the Lord.