A Prayer about Praying: 1 Kings 8:23-52

Have you ever waited for a dream you longed to come true? It may’ve been something you prayed about for years or worked hard on for decades. When the day finally comes (if God blesses it), how would you react?

Solomon experienced something similar—his father David had a dream about building a temple for the Lord before he was even born. When Solomon took on and completed his father’s dream at great expense, he was overwhelmingly grateful to God. Only God enabled him to build the temple and only God could make the building worthy of his name.

So Solomon prays a dedication prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-53 (2 Chr 6:14-40), surrounded by several other prayers and even God’s direct response to Solomon. While Solomon is dedicating the temple, his prayer is really about affirming and asking God to be faithful to prayer requests—its a prayer about praying.

A Call to Hear

Past Promises Kept Currently

“Yahweh, God of Israel, there is not a god like you in the heavens from above and upon the earth from below, keeping the covenant and the steadfast love for your servants, the ones who walk before you with all their hearts.” – 1 Kings 8:23 (my literal translation)

God is incomparable because he kept his promise to David through allowing Solomon to build the temple (v. 24). Whether or not Solomon is comparing Yahweh to the deities worshiped by other nations or speaking hyperbolically, the point is that Yahweh kept his promises in such a way that highlights his uniqueness. 

Since God had fulfilled this specific promise, Solomon asks God to fulfill another promise he has made, the permanent preservation of his father’s family line on Israel’s throne; he sees these two promises as linked (v. 20). 

The Temple is Not the True Power Source

Turning from the personal promises that Solomon expects (and has partially seen) God to fulfill, he then asks God to answer the prayers of all who pray to the temple. 

He prefaces this ask with a point of theological correctness,

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built.” – v. 27 NASB

While Solomon is going to make the temple the focal point of worship in line with ancient near eastern customs, he recognizes that God cannot inhabit a building or even heaven, the realm which he is said to inhabit. God cannot be physically confined to any space.

In spite of God’s transcendence, Solomon asks 

“Listen to the plea of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive” - 30 

While Jesus later clarifies (and the Old Testament reiterates throughout) that true worship is not directed towards any temple (Jn. 4:20-24) the temple did serve an important theological function as a visible symbol of God’s presence among the people, in keeping with the customs of the day. 

When Solomon asks God to answer prayers towards the temple, it is not because this would make prayers more convenient to answer, nor that he wouldn’t answer prayers that were not directed towards the temple temple. I believe Solomon identifies the temple with his own personal and family reputation and that of Israel’s–in other words, “honor me and my work to honor you, God, by considering this temple an acceptable place for worship.”

Forgiveness in All Situations 

As Solomon dedicates the temple and asks God to listen to prayers directed towards it, he is asking God to transform the temple from a simple building to a holy place where God’s power is unleashed. In elaborating upon the type of requests that God should listen to, Solomon presents four situations that Israel would likely (and did) encounter that would require God’s forgiveness:

  1. Dispute between individuals: bring the deserved judgment (v. 31-32)
  2. Enemy defeat and exile: restore them to the land (33-34)
  3. Drought: teach the way, restore the rain (35-36)
  4. Catch-all (37-40)

In each rhetorical situation, there is a sin, a consequence to the sin, and a restorative action that Solomon hopes God will perform.

To cover all the bases, Solomon also presents a catch-all request,

“If there is a famine… plague… blight or mildew… locust or grasshopper… their enemy harrasess them.. whatever plague… whatever sickness… whatever prayer or plea is offered by any person or by all your people Israel…” – 37-38

It doesn’t matter what sin or what the consequence of the sin is, Solomon is asking that prayers made by anyone for any reason would be answered with forgiveness and a response according to the person’s heart,

“Whatever prayer…. offered by anyone…each knowing the affliction of his own heart…. Give to each in accordance with all his ways, whose heart you you know, for you alone know the hearts of all mankind” – 38-39

Solomon is implying that not everyone who prays to God for relief from their sin’s consequences does so with a sincere heart (this is supported by verse 32). Rather, he recognizes that only God knows people’s true hearts and that it is up to him to react accordingly. Lastly, Solomon gives a reason why God should offer forgiveness in all situations,

“So that they will fear you all the days that they live on the land which you have given to our fathers.” – 40

The idea is that the people will be more eager to follow God when he answers their prayers and forgives them when they are truly sorry; this, nor the asks for forgiveness, are not suggesting God wouldn’t be faithful—it's simply Solomon reaffirming for himself and the Israelites that God will be faithful.

Grant Other Requests

Asides from asking for forgiveness, Solomon asks God to answer other kinds of prayers that come towards the temple:

Foreign Prayers

“Also regarding the foreigner who is not of your people Israel, when he comes from a far country on account your name, for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm….”

This is one of my favorite parts of Solomon’s prayer. Solomon looks to God’s global recognition, saying that people from outside of God’s chosen people will travel in order to pray towards the temple, because of God’s awesome power. This motif is seen many places throughout the Bible.1

This makes Solomon’s prayer about praying truly encompass everyone who prays towards the temple. Solomon also gives a reason why God should answer the prayers of non-Israelites, just like he did for the requests for forgiveness,

“In order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by your name.” – 43

In the same way that God’s willingness to forgive his own people makes the people willing to fear him, so God’s willingness to grant the requests of Gentiles gives him a reputation among them that makes them willing to fear him. (See also my blog post on Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9).

Battle Victories

“When your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you send them, and pray to Yahweh” – 44

While less significant to us today, this was very significant for Israel. More so than their own defense, it seems that Solomon is highlighting holy war—warfare enacted at God’s command for a divine purpose (often to purify from evil). God is singled out as the one responsible for battle in this case, so Solomon asks God to provide for Israel in what he calls them to do.

Sin, Repent, Forgive

To conclude his lengthy prayer, Solomon repeats many of the same points he already made when he asked God to forgive all kinds of sin. While summarizing what had already been said, Solomon does present several “new” ideas to this prayer’s context.

One of the most poignant of these is the opening statement,

“When they sin against you, for there is not a man who does not sin…” – 46

Long before Paul penned, “for all have sinned” (Rom 3:23), Solomon acknowledges this reality. Solomon may have only implied this before, but here is making the concept explicit: the Israelites will sin against God, its a matter of how or when, not if. If the people will inevitably sin, how will God react?

In all the earlier cases, there is a consequence attached to sin and it is no different here. Specifically, Solomon (prophetically) looks at exile and deportation to foreign lands. In this situation, the people will be physically separated from the temple, the vessel by which God is supposed to grace his people with his presence (in fact, it is destroyed!). While Solomon does not realize the temple would be destroyed in this circumstance and mentions that the people will pray towards it (v. 48), God’s answers are not invalidated as the temple is symbolic.

He asks God to forgive the people, if they genuinely repent:

“If they take it to heart in the land where they have been captive, and repent and implore your favor in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have acted wickedly’, if they return to you with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies…" – 46-48

Solomon may not have known this would happen to Israel, but God was not making empty threats when he said he would do this in Deuteronomy 28:36-37. Yet, Solomon expects God to forgive them should this happen.

Why will God do this? Because they are his chosen people, the ones he rescued from Egypt, all those years ago.


Solomon's temple dedication prayer is a prayer regarding situations in which people will pray towards the temple and asking God to answer those prayers. In this prayer, Solomon makes poignant points about God (theology): he is incomparable because he keeps his promises, he is unable to contained to any realm (manmade or heavenly),  and God alone knows the human heart. While not the true source of God's power, the temple is theologically important as a symbol of God's presence in israel and a testament to his concern for their reputation and that of Solomon's family.

God's forgiveness is for those who are genuinely repentant of their sin, but this forgiveness is offered in all situations regardless of the incurred consequences. Answered prayers were not simply for Israel for forgiveness, but for all nations and for any request.

Solomon asks God to answer future prayers towards, not because there is doubt as to whether God will be faithful (unless this exists in Solomon's mind), but to humbly seek God's affirmation of the temple as a special place and so people would fear him. When people (Israelite or Gentile) see God answer their prayers, they will see him as worthy of their reverence.  

1. See Exo:8-12, Josh 2:10-11, Josh 5:1, Josh 9:9-10, 1 Sam 4:4-9, Neh 6:16, Exo. 14:25, 1 Ki. 10:1. This is a personal hobbyhorse of mine that I cannot go on about here because I am trying to follow the text. Perhaps for a future thesis or dissertation, if God is willing and enables me!


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