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26 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 5-7
Solomon has now completed the Temple, and we come to the grand dedication service. This was far more than the king and high priest blessing the building and declaring it open for worship: anyone of any significance was in Jerusalem for the occasion, and the celebrations went on for a week, with over a hundred thousand animals being sacrificed (and eaten, presumably).
Solomon’s prayer in chapter 6 is worthy of note. He is kneeling (not standing) on a platform three cubits (about 1.5 metres) high so that everyone could see him. Why kneeling? It is a traditional posture in prayer (although other traditions favour standing, sitting or prostration in prayer). This week there has been a lot in the media about American sportsmen kneeling during the playing of their national anthem – are they to be criticised for “showing disrespect for their country”, or applauded for drawing attention to racial inequality? In kneeling, they are perhaps trying to show respect for their country by showing respect for its citizens. Solomon’s kneeling is certainly intended at least partly to indicate humility before God, but perhaps also to show that he intends to be a ‘servant king’ who respects his people. He would not be entirely successful in that, of course – what national leader ever can? But he seems to have genuinely tried to be the wise and benevolent monarch.
In a series of formulaic prayers, Solomon recounts the various ways in which God punishes his people for their sin – military defeat, invasion, drought, crop disease, plague, sickness. He asks God to forgive those who acknowledge their sin in each of these circumstances and turn to him.
We do not think about sin and punishment in this way any longer, as we understand defeat and invasion to be the work of men, not God, and the other disasters to be ‘natural’ (though capable of mitigation with good planning and education). But for those who believe in God, the principle remains that if we turn to him when things go wrong, then he will help us. Belief in self-sufficiency and self-righteousness are the exact opposite of faith; it is when we express our need of divine help that we can be open to receive it.
There is a notable passage in 6:32-33, where Solomon asks God to treat foreigners with faith in the same way as the people of the promise. Though Judaism is often thought of as a closed or tribal religion, unlike the missionary religions of Christianity and Islam, the idea of the ‘righteous gentile’ or proselyte who asks to join the people of Israel in their faith is a long-standing one. Their God, and ours, is a god of inclusion, not exclusion.