By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 8:54-63
The temple was seven and a half years in being built. It rose silently. The stones were dressed in the quarries and all the timbers were made ready in the shops, so that no ax or hammer was heard in its erection.
Thousands of workmen were engaged in the construction of the temple. The building was magnificent, with its terraced courts, its marble cloisters; then within all this mass of splendor, the temple itself, rising above all, a pile of marble and gold.
Then came the dedication. It was a great day. All that vast and costly building had been erected for a definite purpose. It was not to be a great place of meeting for the people, like a Christian cathedral, or a modern church. While the people came to the courts of the temple, none ever entered the temple itself, except the priests. The temple was built expressly to be the home of the ark of God. It would have had no meaning, but for that little wooden chest, with the golden lid, surmounted by the cherubim. So the first thing when the building was finished, was to carry the ark from its old dwelling place in the tabernacle, which Moses had made for it, to this new abiding place now prepared for it.
We are to be temples of the Holy Spirit. Our lives, however beautiful, cultured, and worthy they may be, do not reach to their real glory or the divine purpose in their existence, until God is enshrined in them. This is the object of our creation and redemption. If we miss having God in us--we have failed in our highest purpose.
A great sacrifice was offered. That was the way they worshiped God in those days. The offerings told of praise and rejoicing in the people's hearts. It was a great day, not only for the king who had built the temple--but for the people who had watched its rising. The offerings also spoke of the divine holiness, and of the atonement that must be made for sin. We know that there was no real spiritual efficacy in the sacrifices themselves, which were offered at that service. They had no power to put away sin. They did not cleanse the temple and make it fit to be God's dwelling place. The Lord did not draw near to the people because of the many animals offered up by them in sacrifice to Him. Yet these offerings had their meaning. They declared that "apart from shedding of blood--there is no remission of sin."
We know, too, that they had another meaning--that they prefigured the great all-availing sacrifice, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." There came another day, a thousand years afterwards, when upon another hilltop close by, the Son of God offered Himself without spot to God as the Redeemer of the world. In His sacrifice, He actually opened the way to God for all who will come to Him. The sacrifices which Solomon and the people offered that day, had their fulfillment and their real meaning in Christ's sacrifice, when on Calvary He gave His life a ransom for many.
After the offering, the ark of God was brought in and taken into its place in the inner sanctuary. This holy apartment was not open to the people. Indeed, no one of them was ever admitted, excepting the high priest. This was not meant to teach that men were really shut away from God; for God is merciful and has always welcomed sinners to Him. The exclusion of men from the Holy of holies, taught that God was holy and that sin could not dwell in His presence. It taught also that access to God can be had only through the Great High Priest. Heaven's gates are wide open--they are never shut; but we can enter only through Christ. "He is able to save to the uttermost all who draw near unto God through Him."
"The cloud filled the house." This was the Lord actually taking possession of the house which had been built for His dwelling place. It was not an ordinary cloud at all, as we understand the use of the word, that filled the house that day--it was the sacred symbol of the divine presence. It was an expression of the wonderful condescension of God, that He should actually accept an earthly temple as a dwelling place. It showed His love for the people of our race. We understand, too, its remoter meaning. This coming of God into the temple--was the prefiguration of the Incarnation, when the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us. Christ was the true temple. Thus God came down and dwelt with us in very truth.
There is still another fulfillment which is to be realized only in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is pictured for us in the book of Revelation, where we read, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God." In another place in Revelation, we have a glimpse also of the same glory: "Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat: for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes."
It was a wonderful prayer that the king offered that day at the dedication of the temple. He asked God to accept the house he had built, and make it His dwelling place. We have a temple to dedicate to the Lord. It is a great deal more wonderful building than the house Solomon erected. It is in our own heart! The king asked, "Will God indeed dwell on the earth?" We know that God wants to dwell on the earth, not in houses of marble and cedar and gold--but in human hearts. God has two homes, "I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit." So we may have a home for God in our heart, which we can dedicate to Him, to be used by Him as a temple. If we have not yet dedicated it to Him, why should we not do so now? Then God will come into our heart.
It is said of the king: "He arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling . . . with his hands spread forth toward heaven." There are three things in Solomon's attitude in prayer which are suggestive.
He prayed before the altar. The altar was the place of sacrifice, and sacrifice meant atonement. All our prayers should be made before the altar; that is, in dependence on the atonement of Christ. That is what we mean when we ask for blessings and favors for Christ's sake. To pray anywhere but "before the altar" is to pray at unopened doors. We must come in Christ's name, if we would gain access to the mercy-seat. "No one comes unto the Father--but by Me."
The second thing to notice in Solomon's attitude, is his posture of kneeling. This indicated reverence, humility, submission. Kneeling is always a fit posture before God. He is infinitely greater than we are, and infinitely holy and good. Kneeling also implies submission. A conquered prince kneels to his conqueror, thus indicating surrender, the laying down of arms, and a full allegiance. Whatever may be the posture of our body in prayer, our hearts should always kneel before God.
The third thing to mark in the king's praying, is the spreading of his hands forth toward heaven. Holding out the hands open and empty toward heaven, implies that we expect blessing from God and are ready to receive it. This, too, should be part of every true prayer--sense of need, confidence that God will give us what we desire, expectancy, emptiness to be filled.
In the building of the temple, Solomon saw the fulfillment of a promise which God had made to Moses hundreds of years before. He praised God for this and testified that not one word of all His good promise had failed. We can say now just as confidently as the king did that day, that in all these centuries since, not one word of all God's good promise has failed any one of His people. No believer has ever leaned upon a divine promise--and had it give way under him. No one has ever trusted the Word of God--and had it fail of fulfillment. The most real and sure things in this world--are the Words of God. In every one of them, God's own almighty hand is gloved; we clutch them and find ourselves clutched by Divinity--out of whose clasp we never can fall, nor can anyone ever snatch us.
We lean upon these Words, and find ourselves encircled and upborne by the everlasting arms! We pillow our heads in weariness or sorrow upon God's Words of love and comfort--and find ourselves drawn close to our Father's heart and held in His warm bosom and soothed by His tenderness, which is greater and gentler than a mother's. So all through life in every experience, we may trust the promises of God and commit all our interests to them, and not one of them ever will fail us. We may trust them, too, in death, and we shall find everything just as God has said--the divine presence in the dark valley, dying but going home, and absent from the body--being at home with the Lord.
It is a fit prayer to be always on our lips--that God may incline our hearts unto Him, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments. Our hearts are prone to wander--and need divine keeping. Fenelon's prayer was: "Lord, take my heart--for I cannot give it to You; and when You have it, O, keep it--for I cannot keep it for You; and save me in spite of myself." God will never compel us to be good and obedient--but He will incline us, persuade us, draw us, help us. We need continually, therefore, to pray Him to throw over us--the mystic influence of His Holy Spirit, that we may desire holiness and may seek to walk in God's ways.
Solomon asked that God might not forget his prayers, that they might be kept before Him day and night. Many prayers are for more than one answering. When a mother pleads for her child--she would have her petition kept before God day and night. She would have God keep His eye ever on her boy, wherever he may be, whatever his danger may be. It is a precious thought that we do not need to be always reminding God of our desires for our friends--but that our prayers stay before Him, are not filed away and forgotten, as are so many requests we make in places of power--but are always remembered. Even if sometimes we forget to pray, God does not forget, for He knows our love and our heart's wishes, and will do more for us--than we ask or think. Our prayers are kept in heaven. We are told that God keeps our tears in His bottle--that is, He remembers our sorrows, and our cries are sacred to Him!