God Hears from Heaven and Forgives on Earth

God Hears from Heaven and Forgives on Earth

This morning is the last in our series[1] from Samuel and Kings that began with Samuel’s call; touched briefly upon Saul, Israel’s first king; spent weeks with David, Israel’s most important king; and now wraps up with Solomon, one of David’s sons, as king. As we’ve noted before, though David desired to build a temple for the LORD, he was denied doing so.[2] Solomon speaks of this later in our chapter beginning with verse 17 when he relates to the whole assembly of Israel: “17 My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18 But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. 19 Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’”[3] In fulfillment of this promise to David, in 1 Kings 5, we’re told of the preparations Solomon made in anticipation of building the temple; 1 Kings 6 then records the actual building of the temple in the 480th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt; and finally 1 Kings 7 describes the temple furnishings and Solomon’s dedicating his father David’s things and placing them in the treasuries of the LORD’s temple.[4]

The focus of this morning’s passage is the bringing of the ark of the covenant to the now completed temple which is followed by Solomon’s prayer of dedication. As stated in verse 1, “Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.” So the ark, a witness to and symbol of God’s presence, was being moved from a tent sanctuary where it had been kept in David’s day[5] to the temple Solomon, his son, had now built. At this stage in Israel’s history,[6] as recorded in verse 9, “There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.” As recorded in Exodus 19, when Moses went up to Mount Sinai—another name for Mount Horeb[7]—to meet with God,

the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”[8]

So the ark of the covenant represented Israel’s relationship with God who had delivered them and given them his holy word. There’s no question that God would—and of course did—keep his side of this agreement. But he called his people to keep their side of the agreement as well. For the holy word God delivered to Moses, the Ten Commandments,[9] summarized who God was and how he expected his people to live, namely in a manner that was holy as he is holy, showing exclusive love for him and loving each other as well. Now the holiness of the ark of the covenant was such that King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel sacrificed, as noted beginning in verse 5, “so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted. The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.”

The LORD accepted the offerings of his people as attested in verses 10–11 for “10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” God’s glory, his presence, permeated the temple Solomon had built for him. And Solomon’s response to this wondrous event was to praise God and bless his people. As recorded in verses 15–16 and 20–21, he proclaimed,

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David. For he said, 16 “Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel….” 20 The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt.

God’s Name is a symbol for his presence. And though his presence was indeed in the temple, this didn’t mean that that he actually lived there for, as Solomon went on to note, not even all the cosmos could contain him. This passage in 1 Kings 8 is a testament to the faithfulness of our gracious God. Though his servants may stumble and fall—and stumble and fall they do—God is nonetheless able to use them to bring about what he has promised.

Solomon then shifted his attention from blessing God’s people to praising God Almighty himself in his prayer of dedication for the temple. He began by acknowledging who God is in verse 23: “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below.” There is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below. What a contrast this is with those who suggest that all religions believe in the same God but simply call him by different names. Yet this understanding of God is never the one presented to us in Scripture—and, for that matter, no genuine follower of any religious system would ever agree to this for the various holy books simply don’t agree with one another even on the essentials of who God is. No, Solomon addresses, “LORD, the God of Israel.” He is not: Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians or Molek “the detestable god” of the Ammonites or Chemosh the “detestable god” of Moab—all gods, by the way, that Solomon later followed when he grew old due to the influence of those wives of his who worshipped them. And for this lack of fidelity the LORD took away the kingdom from Solomon and gave it to one of his subordinates.[10]

Yet at least at the start of his kingship, Solomon embraced the truth about the God who had appeared to him—he is God without equal in heaven above or on earth below. And Solomon went on to specify one aspect of that uniqueness: “you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father:[11] with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.” Time and again we see in Scripture that God is someone who not only makes promises but who keeps the promises he makes. His covenant is described as a covenant of love for it is a covenant given for the good of those who receive and follow it “wholeheartedly in [his] way.” Solomon had witnessed the ways this covenant-keeping God had interacted with his father, David. And the specific instance he singled out was that he, David’s son, would be the one to build a temple for the LORD.

Next Solomon hearkened to another promise made to his father starting in verse 25: “25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.” Solomon is asking here not only that God would keep his promises to David—which again he will, of course, do for God is ever true to his Word for he is ever true to himself. But Solomon was also asking that he would remain faithful to God for the promise given had a condition attached: David would never fail to have a successor if his descendants were careful in all they did and walked faithfully before God as David had done. Again, tragically, for all his wisdom, Solomon in his later years didn’t end up following in his father’s steps and the kingdom was subsequently taken from him.

Next Solomon returned to acknowledging the enormity of who God is in verse 27: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” If God in his being transcends all heaven and earth, how could he possibly be contained in a mere temple—no matter how great—built by his image-bearers? As we’ve noted before, Scripture speaks of heaven being God’s throne and the earth but his footstool.[12] He doesn’t need us to build him a place to dwell for everything that has ever existed exists due to him. But for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend or fully appreciate, God who is life and gives life to everything that has breath chose not only to make us in his image but to create us for relationship with him. He who transcends and pervades all that exists nonetheless chooses to communicate with and reveal himself to and have a relationship with us, his image-bearers.

Solomon knew this and so petitioned God in verse 28: “Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.” Isn’t it amazing to know that because of his great love for us, God wants to hear from us and that he hears us when we pray? Solomon prayed in accord with this truth as his prayer continued: “29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” Again, God’s Name symbolically represents his presence which can be found in his temple. And wherever his name is found, he hears his servants’ prayers. Therefore, as one commentator notes, “When an Israelite was unable to pray in the temple itself, he was to direct his prayers toward the place where God had pledged to be present among his people….”[13] But God not only hears our prayers, he also forgives them. He forgives all who repent. He forgives all who ask. He hears from heaven, forgives on earth, and acts on our behalf due to his great love for us.

And though not the focus of our passage, I want to draw your attention briefly to the number of times in this chapter we find versions of this refrain—of God hearing from heaven and forgiving:

Verses 31–32: “When anyone wrongs their neighbor…and they come and swear the oath before your altar in this temple, 32 then hear from heaven and act.

Verses 33–34: “When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and give praise to your name,… 34 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel…;

Verses 35–36: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin…, 36 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel….;

Verses 37–39: “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 38 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel… 39 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act….;

Verses 44–45: “When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the Lord toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, 45 then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea,….;

Verses 46–50: 46 “When [your people] sin against you…and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies…; 47 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and…; 48 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray…; 49 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive your people, who have sinned against you….;

And finally, verse 52: “May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you.”

Solomon knew that God’s ear is ever inclined to the cry of his people. He is a God who hears; he is a God who listens; he is a God who forgives; he is a God who acts on behalf of those who are his. This is the God we know. This is the God we love. This is the God we praise. This is the God we worship.

But Solomon also knew that the God of Israel, the God who disclosed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, also seeks to disclose himself to those who don’t know him. From the time he chose to make a nation from one man, Abraham, God—again, who keeps every promise he makes—promised that through this one man from whom he would make a nation for himself, all nations would one day be blessed.[14] God is a missionary-minded God. And so we see how Solomon acknowledged this truth as he prayed in verses 41–43:

41 As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

It has ever been a part of God’s purposes to embrace non-Israelites are part of his people, as part of his family. This is one of the ways that our testifying to God’s goodness works. When others hear of his great name, they may be drawn to him and thereby come to know his greatness personally. Within Scripture we have examples of those who weren’t part of God’s people but, as Solomon prayed, learned of his greatness and either came to fear him or even, at times, turned to him themselves:

Earlier in Israel’s history, we see Rahab—a harlot who became part of Jesus’ lineage[15]—confess: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.[16]

So, too, in 1 Samuel we read about how “the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.’”[17] Thus did the Philistines, the enemies of God’s people Israel, acknowledge the LORD’s greatness and might.

Later in the book of 1 Kings, we see the well-known account “1 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.”[18] After examining him she said to him, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes.”[19] All of this caused her, a non-Israelite, to exclaim, “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”[20]

And, of course, we mustn’t overlook Jesus’ post-resurrection declaration and command. As recounted by Matthew,

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[21]

God is a missionary God who not only cares for his people but has ever called his people—whether Israel or the Church—to reach out to the foreigner, to those who don’t yet know him, that all might hear of his goodness and greatness; that all might acknowledge their Creator. For he hears all who cry out to him; he hears all turn to him. God hears from heaven—and forgives on earth.

And here’s the wonder; here’s the mystery; here’s the reality: For those of living after the time in which God in Christ came to earth; for those of us living after the time in which Christ Jesus lived, died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven, God in Christ has chosen to dwell in us for we are now his holy temple. Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf means that God now views us as being holy as he is. Though we often think of a church building as a sacred place where God dwells, a building akin to the Old Testament temple built by Solomon, the truth is that all who heed Christ’s call have now become the holy place in which he dwells, the holy ones in whom he dwells. We have become Christ’s temple. He has made this possible by sending us his Holy Spirit who has sealed us;[22] who indwells us;[23] who, being one with the Father and Son, unites us to himself and thereby unites us to one another.

So this communion Sunday and always, we can rest in the assurance that God in Christ continues to hear—and to forgive—and to act on our behalf. For as John teaches, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”[24] Brothers and sisters, let us live as the temple we are. Let us acknowledge and praise and glorify God and offer our lives as sacrifices to him that all who see might turn to their Maker who hears; that all who see might come to know their Maker who desires to save, who desires to forgive, who desires to act on behalf of all who cry out to him.

Let us pray. Lord, as Solomon also testified, We know that there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below; We recognize and acknowledge that the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.

Thank you that you hear us;

Thank you that you forgive us;

Thank you that you act upon our behalf.

Thank you that you are a missionary God; that you desire to make your Name known through us. Help us to be a missionary-minded people as well.

For we pray all of these things in Your presence, in Your Name, in the name of Christ, by the presence and power of Your Holy Spirit, to the glory and honor of You, our Father in heaven. Amen.



[1] Begun on June 3, 2018.

[2] See God’s Promise to David Fulfilled in Christ Jesus preached on July 22, 2018, on 2 Samuel 7:1–14a.

[3] See also 1 Chronicles 22:7–10 in which David is addressing Solomon: My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: “You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.”

[4] The Chapter also describes how Solomon built his palace.

[5] 2 Samuel 6:17: They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord.

[6] Earlier in its history, the ark had also contained the gold jar of manna and Aaron’s staff per Hebrews 9:4b: This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.

[7] According to the Reformation ESV Study Bible: “Following the pattern established in Deuteronomy, the writers of the Deuteronomic History call the site where the covenant was made ‘Mount Horeb” and not ‘Mount Sinai.’ ‘Horeb’ is used eleven times in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 5:2) and twice in the history (here and 19:8); ‘Sinai’ occurs only once in each (Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:5).”

[8] Exodus 19:3–6.

[9] Exodus 20:1–17: 20 And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

[10] As also noted last week, these events are recorded in 1 Kings 11:1–13: 1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

[11] 2 Samuel 7:12–13: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

[12] See sermon preached on July 22, 2018, God’s Promise to David Fulfilled in Christ Jesus on 2 Samuel 7:1–14a. Isaiah 66:1–2. These words from Isaiah are later quoted by the Stephen in Acts 7:48–50: 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ Jesus also uses similar language in Matthew 5:34–35: 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.

[13] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on verse 30. For examples of this practice. See Daniel 6:10: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Jonah 2:1, 4:From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God…. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’

[14] Genesis 12:1–3: 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[15] See verse 5 in Matthew 1:1–6: 1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

[16] Joshua 2:9–11

[17] 1 Sa 4:7–8

[18] 1 Kings 10:1.

[19] 1 Kings 10:6–7.

[20] 1 Kings 10:9.

[21] Matthew 28:17–20

[22] See Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.; firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[23] See I Corinthians 6:19–20: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.; 2 Timothy 1:14: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

[24] 1 John 1:9

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