Solomon"s Dedicatory Prayer
2 Chronicles 6
"Then said Song of Solomon, The Lord hath said that he would dwell in the thick darkness" ["gloom of clouds" ( Exodus 20:21; Deuteronomy 4:11; Psalm 18:9)] ( 2 Chronicles 6:1).
THAT is the true conception of God at a given point in our spiritual education. Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne: the light is darkness. Thus we are in the Christian sense agnostics. Our brightest thinking hardly amounts to the beginning of dawn. When we are most reverential we are most humble; when we are most perfectly sure that we have hold on God we are also most perfectly confident that no understanding can search him, no mental capacity can hold him; he loves the darkness because he loves us; he wears the darkness as a robe that he may not blind us with excess of light, as the atmosphere is the darkening of the sun. We are indebted to intermediate agencies and actions always, to a kind of natural priestliness and intercession that will not allow us to come face to face with essential glories and essential sublimities. The light dwells in a tent made for it, and comes to us as we are able to bear it. If we cannot see this darkness-covered Father we can see his Son Jesus Christ. The apostle said so plainly: we cannot see God, but we see Jesus: we see the express image of his Person; we see Godhead atmosphered, so to say, to suit our vision and our capacity. Now and then the incarnate God, the eternal Song of Solomon, flashed upon us his light, and we were for the moment blinded. When we thought we could be familiar with him one outray of his glory made us feel that we were in danger of trespassing. Say not that God dwelleth in thick darkness, or in the gloom of clouds, for the purpose of keeping us away from him; it is rather for the purpose of drawing us to him. Love is subtle, inventive, ever fertile in arrangement, and in the creation of opportunities; and love delights in the mystery of condescension. The stoop of God is the supreme miracle of God. Draw near unto him; he will not confound you by the outshining of his unclouded glory: come as near the Shekinah as God himself has permitted, and when you are lost in merely intellectual thought about God, go in heart thought to Jesus Christ, and he will make your heart burn within you as he opens to you the Scriptures.
We have watched Solomon building his temple, and we have praised the architecture and have wondered at the lavish expenditure, and have said, Is this the consummation, the whole purpose, the sum-total of the first imagination of the structure? and we have now come to see that the whole house was built to accommodate the glory. Not until the glory cloud filled the temple did it become a house of God. Let this be a lesson to all church-builders. Your painted windows, and gilded columns, and majestic roofs, are nothing until the living Spirit comes into the sanctuary, and lifts it to its true level, invests it with a worthy purpose, fills it with an all-illuminating presence. The house is built for God, and until God comes it is but a structure of calculated matter: when he comes every stone glows and every corner of the house becomes a sacred refuge, and the whole temple becomes as it were part of heaven. Solomon himself became quite a new man after this process. He prayed for wisdom at the outset, and he has verified the answer to prayer by the wonderful structure which he put up. But the blessing did not end in architectural skill; that great proof of the blessing given to Solomon is to be found in the prayer which he prayed at he dedication of the temple. No man could have prayed that prayer without help. This we should have said about it in all honesty if we had found it in Sanscrit; if we had exhumed it out of Indian libraries, it would have been due to the author to have said, You never dreamed that dream; it was a vision of God. Read the prayer from beginning to end, and say if this be not Song of Solomon, How majestic in conception! how beauteously eloquent in expression! how wise, how tender, how patriotic, how philanthropic! how it grows and swells and abounds in all elements of spiritual sympathy! Probably there is no such prayer in all literary records. If ever that prayer be excelled it will be by the Son of God alone, and his excelling of it will be by contrast rather than by comparison. There is not a selfish word in it. It is not a Jew"s prayer; it is a man"s prayer. The Old Testament abounds in Jewish prayers, aspirations, and patriotic desires; but now and again a man arises even in the Old Testament who seems to speak all languages—the great cosmopolitan heart. Yet this prayer is Jewish enough. The patriot is here, as well as the suppliant. He remembers the people; he knows their wants; he understands their wandering, weary, restless life, their ambitions that come and go like nightmares; and he prays for them with a right royal apprehension of all their need. But there is also a great world-wide, all-time-including reference in it, which redeems the prayer from being a merely Jewish monologue breathed into the heavens.
"Moreover concerning the stranger, which is not of thy people Israel, but is come from a far country for thy great name"s sake, and thy mighty hand, and thy stretched out arm; if they come and pray in this house; then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, and fear thee, as doth thy people Israel, and may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name" ( 2 Chronicles 6:32-33).
We need not ask whether such a prayer is inspired. Its humanity is its divinity. Who teaches prayers like this? Who is not limited to his own house, his own nation, his own language? How thrilling when a Prayer of Manasseh, by any means—for we will not hold controversy upon pedantic terms—lifts the prayer to a new level and speaks the universal tongue! How wondrous the miracle when one so far away in the darkness of history effected that one touch of nature which makes the whole world kin! The stranger likes to be prayed for. Even an atheistical stranger in a far country, in an inhospitable climate, might be touched to the quick if he heard some poor soul say as he passed by in weariness—God help him! A cry like that would bring the old home back again, the old mother, the old school-days, the little household prayers. We need these pathetic parentheses in life just to keep the usual level right, to lift it out of commonplace and vulgarity into true novelty, and enrich it with somewhat of heaven"s own colour. Any book that cares for the stranger is a good book; any book that speaks a word for little helpless children is an inspired book; any book that undertakes the cause of downtrodden woman, and says "You shall be downtrodden no more, you shall be treated with righteousness and equity, with consideration and tenderness," came from heaven—from the only heaven one would care to go to; a book so charged with solicitude with reference to all human conditions was written by God the Father, God the Song of Solomon, God the Holy Ghost. All the Deity in the universe is concentrated on this holy passion for human souls. We know now whether Solomon"s prayer was answered; we know he was enriched with replies from heaven. He flows in his expression like a fountain; he never wearies. His is not the eloquence that becomes stale, the poor surface water that is dried up in sudden evaporation by a hot sun. His eloquence sprang from the rock and represented the fountains of eternity. This is what we mean by answered prayer: we mean an enlarged manhood, an ennobled nature, a purified passion, a sublimated enthusiasm, patriotism expanding into philanthropy. If you bring any other answer to prayer, it must be rejected at the altar. It is an illegitimate reply; some spectre dropped it from a passing cloud; it is not the throb of eternity, it has no relation to the oracle divine. There are answers to prayer that are most detestable—though in very deed they be no answers at all, but mockeries, supposed answers; they have resulted in greater narrowness, intenser bigotry, unholier sectarianism, and wrapping round of the tiny soul with some stolen rag supposed to be a garment let down from heaven. No! Let all honesty say No! Let all wisdom and all justice concur in saying No! God had nothing to do with an answer like that Show broader charity, nobler philanthropy, greater care for others, sacrificial industry in all the ways of good-doing, then we shall know, without your so saying, that you have communed with heaven and received an answer from God.
"If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,)..." ( 2 Chronicles 6:36).
What marvellous moral penetration is revealed in one little sentence in this prayer! "If they sin against thee"—then comes a parenthesis—"(for there is no man which sinneth not)." All that in a parenthesis! A solemn judgment upon the human world in so many—rather, in so few little words. Solomon has become a theologian, without theological narrowness and bitterness. It was a wonderful thing for a man like Solomon to say. It is a comprehensive judgment. "There is no man which sinneth not"—no king, no potentate, no ruler, no father, no child, no heart that has not its wandering, its aberration, its hunger after evil, its thirst for hell. A wondrous tragedy is this human life; for a long time so plain and simple and fluent, and then suddenly more terrible than a volcano, more cruel than any wild beast of the jungle, more difficult than any perplexity that ever afflicted the human mind. A man who prays so begets our confidence, because we feel he knows human nature. It is thus where the preacher must lay his hold upon public attention—by showing that he has read the human heart, that he knows it in all its trickery, and concealment, and genius of hypocrisy; and that he knows it in all its unconfessed infirmity and bitterness and load of grief. There must be something in word or tone or look which means—That man understands me; he has lived a good deal of his life on a battlefield; he has not studied Christianity at a library window, he has wrestled with evil, and flung the monster. It is thus that the Scriptures lay their gracious hold upon all men; they know the human heart in all its outgoing, in all its purpose, in all its mystery of good and evil, and in this garden of the Lord is a herb for healing, is fruit for hunger, is beauty for fancy, is music that can at once lull the soul and thrill it with momentary passion.
Almighty God, the vineyard is thine; all souls are thine; thou art the one owner. We have nothing that we have not received; when we look upon our possessions we say, Whose image and superscription is this? and, lo! we find thy name there, and thy claim. So thou hast given, and thou mayest take away—Oh, teach us to say, Blessed be the name of the Lord! Thou hast set us some hard things to do; we cannot do them all at once; we have to suffer much, and suffer long before we can say some words thou hast taught us to say in prayer. We are trying to pray, but yet we cannot pray the one prayer that is never denied; we are struggling towards it, we want to say it; we count the words, and weigh them, and wonder about them, but we cannot say them with the heart; we want to say with the whole soul, Not my will, but thine, be done. If thou wilt teach us to say this we shall know that thou hast done the last of thy miracles, thou mighty Son of God. We bless thee that this is thy prayer, O Christ; thou didst say it, thou didst punctuate it with blood, thou didst utter it in groaning, but in groaning thou didst triumph; in thy sorrow was the beginning of thy joy. Help us to know that the Lord reigneth, that there is but one supreme will, that our business is to discover what that will is and to obey it, simply, lovingly, trustfully: may there be no questioning in our hearts as to its righteousness and goodness and usefulness; may there simply be a desire, burning and pure, to do God"s will in Christ"s name and in Christ"s great strength. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 6". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34