In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
This Sunday, I’m preaching in the morning services on 2 Chronicles 6:40-7:4 (NIV) (NRSV text is here). The sermon is titled, “The Place of God’s Presence.” It’s the occasion of Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple.
Here’s a rough outline of the passage:
6:40-42 – Conclusion of Solomon’s prayer (full prayer: 6:14-42)
–40 – Petition to be heard by God
–41 – Petition for God’s presence and the sanctification of God’s priests and people
–42 – Basis of petitions: the Messianic promise to David’s house
7:1-4 – Glory of the LORD fills the Temple
–1-2 – God’s positive response to the prayer
—–1 – Sacrifices are received by God, Glory fills Temple
—–2 – No room for priests with all that Glory
–3-4 – Israel worships God
—–3 – Kneeling and worshiping at the sight of God’s glory (“He is good; his love endures forever.”)
—–4 – Offering of sacrifices upon the altar
2 Chronicles 6:40-42
40 “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
41 “Now arise, O LORD God, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. May your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, may your saints rejoice in your goodness.
42 O LORD God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”
1 Kings 8:52-53
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.
53 For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance,
just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, O Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt.”
8 arise, O LORD, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.
9 May your priests be clothed with righteousness; may your saints sing for joy.”
10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed one.
Clearly, the Chronicler and the Psalmist are nearer to one another, though the writer of Kings is certainly in the neighborhood. To me, the interesting point is in the differences. In both 2 Chronicles and Psalm 132, the petitions are made on the basis of God’s Messianic promise to David and his house. But in Kings, by contrast, the rationale for God’s hearing prayers offered in and/or offered toward the Temple is God’s particular choosing of the Israelites as God’s people–demonstrated powerfully in the Exodus event. So there are two strains of thinking and two major influences at work in Israel’s history.
First, in 1 Kings, the formational event of the Exodus. This represents Israel’s beginning as a people and as a nation. The Exodus event differed from Abraham and the Genesis narrative in that it was a story of a family. In Exodus, enough time has past that we may no longer simply speak of a biological family that is expanding with each generation; now we must speak of the Hebrews as a people.
Second, in 2 Chronicles, the establishing/sustaining event of the promise to David as anointed one (or “messiah”). This represents Israel’s hope for continuing into the future. God’s promise to David that his house will be established as God’s anointed rulers over Israel means that God is not done with Israel and will yet redeem and continue being Israel’s God.
Though we often want to press the Bible into our modern Western categories of historical fact or historical fiction, the Bible does not present itself as interested in being understood that way. It’s not that the Bible is unhistorical–as if it’s all fictitious tales of people who never lived and events that never happened, as some folks believe. I would say that the Bible is not merely historical. Cheifly, the Bible is theological proclamation. And proclamation in a wondrous array of genres–some poetry, some narrative, some biography, some letters, some wisdom literature, some philosophical musings, some apocalyptic writings, etc. The biblical authors are very much interested in making theological points. That, and proclaiming the salvation of God to their hearers/readers.
Here, the chronicler is writing his account with an interest in proclaiming the significance of the Davidic kingship line. The foundation for Solomon’s prayer holds out hope for God’s current (to the chronicler’s time, that is) salvation for them. God will indeed hear and respond to their prayers of repentance because he will remember his promise to David, his anointed one (“messiah”). God will honor their Temple worship because God agreed to this relationship with the people. The Chronicles were written and compiled after the Babylonian exile in 539 BC; possibly soon after their return to the land, but maybe later than that, with Jews living in Jerusalem with a rebuilt Temple, though the land still belonged to Persia.
The Temple represented the place where God allowed his presence to rest among the people. Solomon’s prayer asks that the Temple be graced with God’s presence made manifest in justice (6:22-23); forgiveness and healing from corporate sin as experienced through military defeat (6:24-25), lack of rain (6:26-27), and famine or plague (6:28-31); reception of foreign peoples coming to pay homage to God (6:32-33); victory in war (6:34-35); and redemption and deliverance from exile because of their own sin (6:36-39). Systematic theology emphasizes that God is omnipresent–that he’s everywhere. Several verses of Scripture point us in that direction too as well, and it seems to make sense to us. But the Bible somehow presents and supports this view of God while at the same time proclaiming that God’s presence inhabited the Temple in a way that was no other. Just as God had inhabited the burning bush and the tabernacle, God would inhabit the Temple such that there one could experience his presence–like no place else. God’s particularness and his immanence, is counter-balanced, or who knows? integrated, with his “generalness” and his transendence.
So also, God’s presence came to rest on earth in Jesus in a way that was “Temple-like” (or, with the advantage of hindsight, that the Temple had God’s presence in a Jesus-like way). When we read this text canonically, we can see the Messianic promise fulfilled in the incarnate presence of God in Jesus the Christ, “Christ” being, of course, the Greek word for the Hebrew term, “Messiah,” both meaning “anointed one.”