The Uniform Series text for Sunday, March 11 is 2 Chronicles 6:12-21. Here, a little later than usual, are my notes on the text:
First Impressions: I’m not a big fan of imagining what’s going on in the text, but it’s hard not to imagine this scene in the brand new Temple, with lots of people, and Solomon in front of everyone kneeling and making this elaborate prayer, with the “glory of the Holy One,” the Shechinah, filling the Temple like a cloud of thick smoke so that the priests all have to step back … dramatic.
There is an analogy between Solomon’s relationship to “all the assembly of Israel” – higher, mightier – and God’s relationship to Solomon – even higher, and mightier, so that Solomon kneels before God, and stretches out his hands to heaven.
Background and Context: The Chronicles are a version of Israelite history that covers the same time period as the events in Kings, but that presents those events from a different perspective. More focus on the unifying feature of the Temple, its ritual life, the blessings that come from Israel’s unified worship of God under the leadership of the Levitical priesthood, and the Davidic monarchy. The Chronicler might be considered an idealizing historian. There is a way to think about different versions of “a single history” that tends to rile people up and to make apologists for the text defensive, but when you come to think of it, we accept different versions of “a single history” all the time. We don’t have much difficulty with the difference between a scholarly account of a particular time period and a summary intended for grade school students, or presented in a Fourth of July speech – when a speaker will normally focus on the positive moments in US history, and on the unifying themes in that history. Not many people consider the Fourth of July version of history deceptive or fraudulent, or do double back-flips trying to argue that it doesn’t diverge from the version that would be presented in the most detailed history monographs. Different purposes, different treatments, doesn’t trouble us too much in our contemporary world. Something akin to that seems to be involved in the differences between Kings and Chronicles. It probably doesn’t need to be any more of a problem for us there.
The text for Sunday, which is the first part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, follows several chapters describing Solomon’s activities in building the Temple, the assembly for the dedication festival that coincides with the festival of Booths/Succoth, the transport of the Ark of the Covenant to the newly-finished building, and the filling of the Temple with “the glory of THE HOLY ONE.” Solomon’s prayer continues with a litany of specific difficulties in which Solomon pleads for God to hear and forgive. The dedication of the Temple complete, God appears to Solomon that night and reassures him that God has indeed chosen Jerusalem and the Temple, but God’s favor depends on the king and the people “walking before God,” not “turning aside” and “forsaking God’s commandments.” This winds up the episode of the building and dedication of the Temple, at the end of chapter 7.
Closer Reading: Our passage divides rather starkly into a short description of Solomon’s activity, a description of God’s activity, and a set of petitions for specific actions on God’s part.
Solomon’s actions indicate his elevation with respect to the assembly of Israel, and his humility before God. He stands, and his standing is interrupted with a fairly detailed description of the platform that allows the people of Israel to see him in his ritual role, and then kneels, and spreads out his hands to heaven. Because of the interruption of the platform description, the action of spreading out his hands to heaven receives some emphasis, and is linked to his kneeling before God, in the full view of the congregation.
Solomon goes on to describe God with verbs of faithfulness. God “keeps covenant” and “keeps his word.” The verb “promised” appears four times in three verses.
Finally, verses 18-21 are mostly petitioning God: “regard,” “heed” (2x), may eyes be open, “hear” – which amounts to an intensified refrain in verse 21, “hear … hear … hear … and forgive.” Solomon’s petition is less that God “be with” the people – he says it’s unimaginable that God would actually “reside” with people on earth – but to “hear” the cries and prayers that emanate from this special place.
The theme of “dwelling” or “residing” may be particularly poignant since the dedication of the Temple coincides with the Festival of Booths (see 5:3, “the festival which is in the seventh month,” Succoth, according to Rashi), which ritualizes the theme of “dwelling,” perhaps recalling Israel’s dwelling in the wilderness.
Contemporary Christian readers of this passage might think something like “we don’t think you have to be in some special place to pray;” I can remember hearing these sermons from Sunday school teachers and my grandmother when I was little: we can pray anywhere. But this text, with its various links to the idea of the Tabernacle and the Festival of Tabernacles (aka Booths aka Succoth) might remind us that Jesus is described as “dwelling” in this tabernacle/booth/Succoth kind of way in John 1:14, and Christians do have the idea that they pray to God through Christ, so maybe Christians, too, have the idea that there is a special “place” in the world that God is really paying attention to. Not to say the Chronicler was thinking that. Just that Christian readers might notice that parallel.