The exceedingly minute and graphic character of the narrative of the consecration of the Temple, the almost exact verbal coincidence with it of the account given in the Second Book of Chronicles, and the occurrence in 1 Kings 8:8 of the phrase, “There they are unto this day,” which could not have belonged to the time of the composition of the book—all show that the compiler must have drawn from some contemporary record, probably some official document preserved in the Temple archives. The beauty and spiritual significance of this chapter—which from time immemorial has been made to yield teaching and encouragement for the consecration of Christian churches—stand in remarkable contrast with the mere technical detail of the preceding; yet each, in its own way, bears equally strong marks of historical accuracy.
Throughout the whole history, the sole majesty of the king is conspicuous. The priests perform only the ministerial functions of ritual and sacrifice. The prophetic order is absolutely unrepresented in the narrative. Solomon, and he alone, stands forth, both as the representative of the people before God in sacrifice and prayer, and as the representative of God in blessing and exhortation of the people. He is for the time king, priest, and prophet, in one—in this a type of the true “Son of David,” the true “Prince of Peace.” It is not unlikely that from this unequalled concentration on his head of temporal and spiritual dignity came the temptation to self-idolatry, through which he fell; and that the comparative abeyance of the counterbalancing influences wielded by the prophet and (in less degree) by the priest gave occasion to the oppressive, though splendid, despotism under which Israel groaned in his later days.
There they are unto this day.—This phrase—not unfrequently repeated in the narrative (see 1 Kings 9:21; 1 Kings 10:12; 1 Kings 12:19, &c.)—is an interesting indication of quotation from older documents; for at the time of the compilation of the book the Temple and all that it contained had been destroyed or removed. It is remarkable that in the record of the successive spoilings of the Temple by the Chaldæans (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-17), while the various vessels, the brazen pillars, and the sea are mentioned in detail, nothing is said of their carrying away the ark, which would have been the choicest, as most sacred, of all the spoils. (See Notes on these passages.) About the Jewish tradition, referred to above (see Note on 1 Kings 8:4), setting aside the supposed miracle, there is no intrinsic improbability, considering the respect paid to Jeremiah by the Chaldæans. (See Jeremiah 39:11-14.)
There is something singularly impressive in the especial hallowing of the granite tables of the Law of Righteousness, as the most sacred of all the revelations of the Nature of God; thus indissolubly binding together religion and morality, and showing that God is best known to man, not in His omnipotence, or even in His infinite wisdom, which man can only in slight degree imitate, but in His moral nature, as the very Truth and Righteousness, of which all that in man is called true and righteous is but the reflection. The one main object of all prophetic teaching was to bring out the truth here implied, thus writing the law on the heart and on the mind (Jeremiah 31:33), and rebuking moral evil at least as strongly as religious error and apostasy. The very name of the Messiah for whom they prepared is “Jehovah our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).
The record of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 5:11-13)—dwelling, as usual, on the musical and ritual service of the Levites—notes here that this descent of the glory of the Lord came, as it were, in answer to a solemn burst of worship from the Levites and the people, “praising the Lord, because He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.”
he recognises in the appearance of the cloud the sign that the Divine presence is granted to the Temple; and accordingly he exults in the proof that his foreordained work is accomplished by the building of a house, a “settled habitation” for the Lord. The description of the cloud as “thick darkness,” in no way contradicts the idea of the glory shining through it; for human eyes are easily “darkened by excess of light.” This mingled light and darkness symbolises—perhaps more strikingly than even the literal darkness of the Most Holy Place—the mystery which veils the presence of God, known to be, and to be infinitely glorious, but in its nature incomprehensible.
Thenius, from a single Chaldee version, suggests for “thick darkness” the correction “Jerusalem;” dwelling on the closer harmony of the reading with 1 Kings 8:16, quoting the promise of Psalm 132:13-14 (closely connected there with the great promise of David), and urging the likelihood of the citation of this promise by Solomon, and the greater simplicity thus given to his whole utterance. The suggestion is ingenious; but it lacks authority, both external and internal. The LXX., in the Alexandrine MS. (for the Vatican MS. omits the whole), and the Vulg. agree with the Hebrew text; and Josephus, though he gives a verbose paraphrase of the prayer, evidently had our reading before him, for he contrasts the mystery and ubiquity of the Divine presence with the material shrine. Nor is it easy to conceive how from a passage so simple and prosaic, as this would be with the reading “Jerusalem,” the more difficult, but far more striking, reading of the present text could have arisen.
(23) There is no God like Thee.—These words, often used in the Psalms (Psalm 71:19; Psalm 86:8; Psalm 89:6), and especially found in the thanksgiving of David after the great promise (2 Samuel 7:22), are evidently suggested by more ancient utterances of devotion; as for example, in the first recorded Psalm at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:11). In them we trace the spiritual process by which the Israelites were trained from the polytheism of their forefathers to the knowledge of the One only God. He is known to them, first, in the close personal relation of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” to whom “none is like” of all gods whom others worshipped; but next, in His universal relation to the universe as the “God Almighty, and the Judge of the whole earth” (Genesis 17:2; Genesis 18:25); lastly, as Jehovah, “God,” indeed, “of Israel,” but, by the very meaning of the name, the One Self-existent Being, source of all other life. Thus, in the thanksgiving of David to the words, “none is like Thee,” is added at once the higher belief, “there is no God beside Thee.” In this prayer of Solomon there follows at once the striking confession that the “heaven of heavens cannot contain” His Infinity.
Who keepest covenant and mercy.—This phrase, again, familiar in prayer (see Deuteronomy 7:9; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4), is clearly traceable to the conclusion of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:6), and the special revelation of God to Moses in the Mount (Exodus 34:6-7). It is notable, not merely because it describes God as manifesting Himself “most chiefly by showing mercy and pity,” but also because it declares this manifestation of mercy to be pledged to man as a chief part of His covenant. So in the New Testament it is said that, to those who claim His covenant in Christ, “He is faithful and just to forgive sins.”
Thou only, knowest the hearts . . . of men. The emphasis laid on this knowledge of the heart (as in Psalm 11:4; Psalm 139:2-4; Jeremiah 17:9-10) as the special attribute of Deity, though, of course, belonging to all vital religion, yet marks especially the leading thought of the Psalms and the Proverbs, which always realise the presence of God, not so much in the outer spheres of Nature and history, as in the soul of man itself. It carries with it, as here, the conviction that, under the general dealings of God’s righteousness with man, there lies an individuality of judgment, making them to each exactly what his spiritual condition needs. The plague, for example, which cuts off one man unrepentant in his sins, may be to another a merciful “deliverance out of the miseries of this sinful world.”
“ Redemisti crucem passus;
Tantus labor ne sit cassus.”
But, indeed, all that might seem to us strange or unworthy in such prayers vanishes at once, when we consider that the knowledge of God in His self-manifestation is the highest happiness of man; on which, indeed, depend all depth and harmony of human knowledge, and all dignity and purity of human life. Hence, in the Lord’s Prayer, the three petitions “for Gods glory,” preceding all special petitions for our own needs, are really prayers for the highest blessing of all mankind. God’s care for His glory is not for His own sake, but for ours.
This profusion of sacrifices, good as expressing the natural desire of all to offer at such a time, may perhaps have involved something of the idea, so frequent in heathen sacrifice, and so emphatically condemned by the prophets, that the Lord would be “pleased with thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil”—something also of that display of the magnificence of the king and his people, even in the very act of homage to God, which the history throughout seems to imply. If so, in these ideas lurked the evils which hereafter were to overthrow the prosperity of Israel, and make the Temple a heap of stones.
The river of Egypt is not, as might naturally be thought, the Nile, or any of its branches; for the word used signifies rather a “brook” or “torrent,” and the torrent, described in Numbers 34:5 and Joshua 15:4 as the border of Israel, is identified by all authorities with the torrent falling into the sea at El-Arish.
(65, 66) Seven days and seven days, even fourteen days. On the eighth day. . . .—The origin of this curious phrase is singularly illustrated by the account in 2 Chronicles 7:9-10, for it tells us that the people were dismissed on “the three and twentieth day” of the month, which was the day after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles. Hence it is clear that the festival week of the Dedication preceded the regular feast; and the day of dismissal was the “eighth day,” regularly so-called, of the close of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Unto their tents.—The old memory of the wandering life of Israel still lingers in this expression, as in the well-known phrase “To your tents, O Israel!” (2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16.) It may have been suggested to the writer in this place by the ideas symbolised in the Feast of Tabernacles, of which he had just recorded the observance.