1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:1-13
(sermon note: 10-31 sermon note)
Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David. Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, ‘You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.”
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests carried the ark. So they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 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. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 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.
Then Solomon said,
‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built you an exalted house,
a place for you to dwell in forever.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about two rabbis of great scholarly distinction who were spending a quiet morning at the temple, enjoying peaceful contemplation in the near-empty building. Suddenly overwhelmed with spiritual exaltation, the first rabbi stood up, and with his hands reaching for the sky exclaimed, “Lord, I am nothing!” and with a deep breath, he sat back down. The second rabbi, feeling a similar rush of soul stirring, stood up, and with his hands clasped over his head and his eyes shut tight, proclaimed calmly, “Lord, I am nothing.” Sitting back down, both rabbis returned to their prayers. Near the front of the room was a volunteer cleaner who had been sweeping up and saw both of the revered men make the profound statements. So overcome with emotion having just witnessed the most sublime of confessions from such great leaders of faith, he tossed down his broom, fell to his knees, and wailed, “Oh LORD! I am nothing!” The rabbis both looked up, startled out of meditation. The first rabbi looked at the second, and gesturing towards the cleaner with his eyebrows, said, “So look who thinks he’s nothing.”
I imagine Solomon thought he was something for having built the first temple ever to house God, or at least God’s law as inscribed on the two stone tablets. I imagine he thought he was special for having done something that even his father, the great king David, couldn’t have accomplished in his lifetime. I imagine he didn’t think he was nothing! And yet what he accomplished, building the first temple to house the ark of the covenant, was nothing from the perspective of God. The temple didn’t gather God closer to his people. It didn’t encapsulate God like a genie in a bottle. No, all it did was take the burden off people of carrying the ark around to other people. Housing the ark in a set place placed the burden on people to travel to it instead. And even then, it wasn’t as if any common person was able to see the ark at the end of their travels. Only the high priest was able to venture into that small room at the back of the temple that housed the ark of the covenant, the so-called Holy of Holies, once a year. So building a temple to house the ark didn’t necessarily bring the average person closer to God either. So why do we celebrate Solomon’s accomplishment at all?
Perhaps because of what the temple represents. The temple is a sanctuary for the word of God. The temple protects and nurtures the word of God. The temple is more than just a place for the word of God to take root. The temple is within us! Each of us has a temple within us to house and protect, nurture and grow God’s word. Think back to 2 Samuel when we heard David suggest the idea of building a temple to house God. The prophet Nathan spoke on behalf of God, saying, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle…and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” (2 Sam. 7:6,9) How could God have been with David without a temple? How could God have been with the Israelites in tents and tabernacles? Because of the inward shelter they carried around, not the outward shelter. God lived within their hearts, just as He lives within our hearts. Why do you think God focused on the heart of David in choosing him to lead his people as we heard about last week? God wants hearts, open hearts, hearts that can reveal his glory to the world, hearts that can share his love with the world. God lives and travels in open hearts, his true temples.
Now, is this to say that Solomon didn’t have a temple within himself to house God and therefore needed to build an outer temple? Not necessarily. Solomon was simply fulfilling God’s words spoken to David through Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Sam. 7:12-13) Outward temples reflect inward temples. Considering the splendor of Solomon’s outward temple, his inward temple must have been pretty magnificent which is ultimately what we’re celebrating this morning. Solomon’s outward temple was a reflection of his inward temple, a magnificent sanctuary for God’s word.
We are all blessed with an inner sanctuary for God’s word. It’s up to us to strengthen and maintain our inner sanctuaries. How? Through prayer and reflection. God will help strengthen our sanctuaries. After all, it behooves him to have strong inner sanctuaries. He doesn’t want his seed to fall on rocky and hard soil. He wants his word to take root in our hearts. He wants his word to blossom and grow into great fruit for the world. So he’ll help strengthen our inner sanctuaries. The prophet Isaiah says, “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” (40:29) And David sang in his 73rd psalm, “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (v. 26) God strengthens our hearts if we simply allow him to. And it’s up to us to keep our hearts open to receive God’s word and will for our lives. Don’t close your heart to God! God wants to work great things in your life! God wants to use your life to reveal his glory! Keep your heart open! Don’t allow fear and doubt to creep into your life and close your heart to him. Keep that temple strong, nurture and protect his word.
God’s outward temple is merely a reflection of his inward temple. Solomon built an outward temple that reflected his inward temple. Let us give thanks for the temples within us. They aren’t nothing…they’re something! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.