We are studying 1 Kings 8:14-21 for Sunday, January 12. This will be our second of four weeks spent in this chapter of 1 Kings, which tells the story of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, from the perspective of the Bibical author known as “the Deuteronomist.” This part of the text is the transcript of Solomon’s summary speech to the assembled Israelites. Here are a few notes on this text:
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: Not much has changed since last week in the context department, except to recall that last week’s text – the description of the first part of the installation ceremony for the Ark of the Covenant – is the immediate background for this speech of Solomon’s that we’re looking at more closely this week.
If we were to compare this ceremony to a state ceremony of our own time, we would notice similarities; we wouldn’t have last week’s animal sacrifices, but we would definitely have speeches.
For us, then, part of the background to a passage like this might be what we know about state speeches in the ancient near eastern world, and what we know about state speeches today. I haven’t been able to find out much about rhetoric in the ancient near east – at least not in the time available, because people seem to have studied it – but we do seem to have records of pre-battle speeches by generals designed to encourage the troops, as well as clear evidence that leaders were expected to be eloquent, conciliatory in times of conflict, and wise when addressing deliberative assemblies.
In our own day, we typically expect state speeches to mention the occasion in some positive way, to praise some people (maybe the builders, or the group that commissioned the them, for instance) and often – depending on how appropriate to the occasion – to praise the speaker, at least subtly; to take credit for the new building and to remind people to reward that performance with their vote in the next election.
With that in mind, it might be noteworthy that Solomon doesn’t do what a contemporary leader would do. He focuses on the building of the Temple as the fulfillment of a divine promise, and as an act of God. In the process, Solomon does manage to position himself as the fulfillment of a divine promise, too. But the overall tone is one of praising God, and encouraging the listeners to expect the fulfillment of divine promises in the future, based on the fulfillment of this particular promise in the present.
This part of the text is left out of the two lectionary selections that feature verses from 1 Kings 8 – their focus is on Solomon’s prayer, coming up next week.
CLOSE READING: In verse 1, it seems the king has been facing the Ark, because now he has to turn around to face and address the assembly. Everyone is standing – which must be significant (otherwise why mention it), but why?
YHWH, the God of Israel is mentioned explicitly and repeatedly (4 times in that formula, twice more in a little shorter formula). YHWH is to be blessed, for fulfilling his promises made to David.
“My father David” also comes in for repeated mentions (four times, plus one non-paternal David). What is striking about this is that after all this talk of “David my father,” when “our fathers” shows up in verse 21, it fits into and extends a pattern that has already been established. It makes Solomon sound more like one of the members of the assembly, makes the fathers of ours sound something like David, and subtly suggests that whatever promises are part of the “covenant of YHWH” that YHWH made with “our fathers” will be fulfilled in the same way this recent promise to “my father David” has been – amply, fully, and dramatically.
We might want to notice that the Temple is a house for God’s name – that is, it seems, a house that will be associated with God’s name, and will ultimately be a place where God’s [mysterious, holy] name can be invoked [albeit rarely and with extreme caution].