Monday morning I was reading 1 Kings 8 and was struck by what an wonderfully rich chapter it is (see also 2 Chronicles 6). Many of the Bibles great themes are evident here. Let me just highlight a few of them.
1. God's presence with his people. As Dr. Magary pointed out, this is one of the great promises of God, that he would be with his people. The presence of God is an important biblical theme beginning in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of God with them in the Garden. This presence was interrupted because of sin, but in his grace (another theme I'll mention shortly) God promises continues to bless his people with his presence. Moreover, this theme peaks in the NT with the incarnation in Jesus (Immanuel - God with us; Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, John 1:14). Finally, it reaches it's fullest expression in history when history comes to it's end (telos). In the consummation of the eternal state, John records hearing a loud voice proclaiming, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Rev. 21:3). Moreover, as he retells his vision he says that he saw no temple because the Holy City is the Temple; nor did he see any sun, "for the glory of God gives it light" (Rev. 21:22-23). This theme of God's presence in the temple (of which Eden was a precursor) and his glory are developed in 1 Kings 8.
1 Kings 8:10, "And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." (ESV)
2. Man's sin and God's grace. It's easy to misrepresent religion in the Old Testament as a performance based system that merited God's favor (this caricature is prevalent in some schools of theology, especially some dispensational approaches to the OT). That would be an awful misrepresentation however, as this chapter makes clear. Solomon assumes sin, but also knows God will be gracious and merciful to the sinner who repents:
1 Kings 8:31, "If a man sins..."
1 Kings 8:33-34, "When your people are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you [not if, when], and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heave and forgive the sin of your people Israel..."
1 Kings 8:35-36, "When heave is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin...then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants..."
1 King 8:37-40, "If there is a famine in the land...[long list of other possible catastrophes]...whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart...then hear in heaven you dwelling place and forgive and act..."
1 Kings 8:46-51, "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...yet if they turn their heart...and repent and plead with you...if they repent with all their heart...then hear in heave 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 agasinst you, and grant them compassion..."
3. The holiness of God and the requirement that his people be holy. The word 'holy' shows up four times in this chapter: 'holy vessels', 'Most Holy Place', 'Holy Place' (2x). You see the emphasis on God's holiness also in the sacrifices surrounding the dedication of the temple. As the priests brought the ark to the temple (using poles - they had learned the hard way handle holy things properly!) we are told, "King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered." (1 Kings 8:5, ESV). Finally, the people are holy (set apart). Solomon prays, "For you separated them from along all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage..." (1 Kings 8:53). If the people, specifically the kings, don't walk in holiness as they are called to, they will forfeit their place in the covenant with God made with David: "Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’" (1 Kings 8:25, ESV). There is no doubt that God will keep his covenant (so it is unconditional), yet an individuals enjoyment of the covenant blessings is conditional (God could replace, easily, any kings who didn't keep his covenant).
4. God's sovereignty over human hearts. Solomon prays, "Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers" (1 Kings 8:56-58, ESV). Moreover, you can see this theme earlier in the chapter when Solomon pleads with God to "let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father." Remember, the word had a conditional element to it - "...if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me..." In essence, Solomon was praying that God would keep David's sons; that he would 'incline them' to pay close attention and walk with God. Lastly, when Solomon prays that God would "grant them compassion" when they have sinned and been carried of into another land, he is asking that God will steer the hearts of the captors to be compassionate towards them. It isn't primarily God's compassion in view, but the compassion of Israel captors. You see that in the next line, "grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them." (1 Kings 8:50). God is sovereign over the hearts/minds/wills of men; they are a "stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1).
4. God's global agenda. God is not a localized deity. Even in the midst of dedicating the 'House of the Lord' there is a recognition that God is a big god; he cannot be housed in the four walls of a building, even a grand building like Solomon's temple. He declares, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!" (I Kings 8:27, ESV). As God is bigger than the temple, so his agenda is bigger than the nation of Israel. That is evident in Solomon's prayer for the foreigner. He asks, "Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name" (1 Kings 8:41-43, ESV). Again, this concern in evident in verse 60 when Solomon asks that God would defend the cause of his people "that all the peoples of the earth may know the the LORD is God; there is no other." As I've said before, the OT isn't God against the nations for Israel. It's God for Israel for the nations.
The Old Testament Seminar and my reading of this chapter has spurred me on to consider a series on the doctrine of God from the Old Testament. Not settled on it yet, but I like the idea!