The Uniform Series text for Sunday, March 25 (Palm Sunday, already!) is 2 Chronicles 7:12-22. Here are my notes on the text:
This text is one long speech by God – the Holy One. It follows Solomon’s prayer and the narrative of the dedication of the Temple, which began in chapter 5 and winds up in the first section of chapter 7. When God announces to Solomon that God has “heard” Solomon’s prayer (v12) we can’t tell for sure whether God is appearing to Solomon and speaking to Solomon directly as a direct consequence of that prayer, or whether God was planning to speak with Solomon anyway. Either way, what we hear is pure monologue; there’s no dialogue with Solomon, no report of Solomon’s response. And there’s no report of anyone besides Solomon being there – besides us, who are in a position to overhear what God says to Solomon. Whether this makes us lucky or not might depend on how we interpret God’s message.
This is the final element in the narrative of Solomon’s construction and dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The parallel, less elaborate, account of God’s appearance to Solomon is in Kings is 1 Kings 9:1-9. 1 Chronicles 22:1 announces David’s decision to build the Temple on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite – and the story of why David had recently purchased that threshing floor is told in 1 Chronicles 22 (as well as 2 Samuel 24). So when God says “I … have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice,” we might wonder whether God has chosen the site, or whether God is ratifying the choice(s) already made by the human actors involved. We might see God as having been pretty pushy about David’s setting up an altar on the site in 1 Chronicles, however; the Chronicler seems to favor the idea that God has been pushing for this site and this Temple all along.
The word for “sacrifice” in v12 is a general word, not one for a specific sacrificial offering; it could be used (in a different context) to refer to sacrifices made to other deities. We might need to think of it as a house for [all kinds] of sacrifices – that is, encompassing all the different specific kinds of offerings that are outlined in Leviticus. But it’s a little surprising to hear God call the Temple a “house of sacrifice” if we are more familiar with God calling it a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7) – unless we also think of prayer as sacrifice, which we could.
It’s apparently just a matter of time before some disasters occur (v13). They’ll be acts of God (literally: shutting up the heavens, commanding locust armies, or sending disease). Why will God do this? The answer seems to be implicit in v14, which presupposes that the people have been walking in wicked ways, since they need to turn from them, as part of doing a set of several things (humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face, before turning from the wicked ways) that will restore their relationship with God. God has heard Solomon this time (v12), and will hear the people when they do all this (v14) – so the past/present of “having heard” serves as a warranty for God’s future hearing, forgiving, and healing.
God’s attention will be on the Temple, and God’s presence in it: in the form of God’s awareness and concern (“eyes” and “heart”) as well as God’s “name.” (v16) At this point, God doesn’t mention “sacrifice” but “prayer” as the object of divine attention.
Then God delivers a set of conditional promises. On one hand, if Solomon “walks” the way his father David did, good consequences ensue. On the other, if “you” (plural) do the opposite of that, a series of dire negative consequences ensure. If people don’t turn from their wicked ways (v14), but turn aside from God’s “statutes and commandments,” then the fact that God has chosen and consecrated this particular place becomes the opposite of protection. What God has done in the past – namely, brought Israel out of Egypt and established a special relationship with Israel – becomes a reason for “calamity” in the event that the community doesn’t abide by God’s statutes and commandments (v22).
So whether Solomon’s vision of God by night is a dream or a nightmare really depends on whether Solomon envisions himself and his people embracing the way of life God has outlined.