According to Collins, it’s a feature of the Deuteronomist that key turning points are marked by speeches (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94). Some of the others we’ve seen have been Joshua’s speech in Joshua 1 to make the beginning of the conquest, and its mirror in Joshua 23 to mark its conclusion. In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel’s speech marked the dawn of the monarchy. Here, Solomon’s speech rings in the first temple era.
He begins by assembling all the elders of Israel, the tribal heads, and the leaders of the “fathers’ houses” (1 Kgs 8:1), a change in the language of “all Israel” that we’ve seen previously. Another change has been the use of “Israel” alone as a designation for the people, rather than Israel and Judah. This could either indicate the work of a different author, or it could be a subtle signal that the schism had largely been quelled by this point.
The gathering occurs in Ethanim, which would put it around September-October. When compared to the completion of the construction in 1 Kgs 6:38, it seems that eleven months had elapsed. According to my study Bible, it could be that the consecration was postponed so that it could coincide with the New Year.
The ark was brought up from where it was being kept in the City of David, along with its tent and accompanying stuff, to the new temple. It seems that the priests and Levites carried the gear while the rest of the people made sacrifices before it. When the ark is placed in the inner sanctuary (under the wings of the cherubim), its carrying poles were visible and were still there “to this day” (1 Kgs 8:8), allowing us to date that particular passage to sometime prior to the destruction of temple.
We’re told that there was nothing inside the ark except the two tables of stone Moses had received at Horeb (1 Kgs 8:9). This struck me as odd as I was sure I could remember other items being mentioned. However, once I looked it up, I realized that the jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34) and Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:10) had only been placed in front of the ark, not necessarily inside. It seems that this is not a unique misremembering, as the author of Hebrews seems to have done the same thing (Hebrews 9:3-4). That said, I still find it interesting that neither the jar of manna nor the staff are mentioned here as being among the relics moved into the temple (an omission that may or may not be significant).
Apparently, this whole passage is a fair bit shorter in the LXX – which, as we’ve seen so far for 1 Kings, may indicate that it was originally shorter and only elaborated in the Hebrew after the Septuagint was written. Another possibility is, of course, that the LXX was corrupted and portions of it lost.
Finally, it seems that during the ceremony, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). While the imagery is clearly meant to evoke the pillar of cloud from the exodus (Exodus 14:19), yet it reminded me of my stint at a Catholic school. At Christmas, we were packed off to our patron church to sing in the choir. Unfortunately, the one year I participated, whoever was in charge had decided to use far too much incense – well beyond what was reasonable even for Catholics. Rather than sing, the entire choir suffered a prolonged coughing fit and my friend, who was an actual practising Catholic unlike your humble narrator, had to be taken outside because it had made her feel so ill. I could imagine the priests, still new to the whole temple business and unaccustomed to solid, windowless walls, might have accidentally used far too much incense and been forced out of the building on the temple’s inaugural ministering.
The first part of Solomon’s speech was, according to the LXX, taken from the Book of Jashar (mentioned as a source in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Sam. 1:18). It is also, according to my study Bible, the work of the first Deuteronomist editor (close to the end of the monarchy, prior to the fall of Jerusalem). In it, Solomon declares that God has fulfilled his promise not to have a temple built by any tribe until now. David had wanted to build a temple, to his credit, yet the task had been saved for Solomon. Now, Solomon has fulfilled his destiny and the temple is built.
The second part of Solomon’s speech is also, apparently, mostly from the first Deuteronomist. In it, he makes liberal use of thees and thous, which seems rather protestant for someone in the tenth century BCE. In it, he goes on with the usual shtick about David’s dynasty lasting forever, though only so long as his descendants are as godly as he was (which, if we remember, was so godly that he was deposed at least once in his lifetime, and possibly twice).
The only thing that really stands out in the chapter is Solomon’s insistence that the building of the temple was proper. It seems that the tradition of the mobile, tent-dwelling god was a strong one, perhaps even right up until the first temple was destroyed (or perhaps the destruction ignited a wave of doubt). Solomon concedes that no temple can contain god, revealing a shift from the discrete God who can possess and enter a temple or icon (or even a God whose power is limited to geographic bounds) toward a god who can be ever-present – a necessity for an exiled religious community.
Solomon argues that his temple does not attempt to contain God, but merely to house his name and to direct his eye so that he can listen to prayers. Which seems contrary to the idea of an omnipresent God, explained only, it seems, by the fact that Solomon wanted to excuse his actions (and the Deuteronomist author likely didn’t want to hand over the argument to those who would worship at alternative shrines).
He then moves on to specific situations in which he would implore God to pay attention:
- If a man sins against his neighbour and the two are made to swear an oath at the altar, the guilty party is to be condemned by God. Clearly an arrangement that would have put an awful lot of judiciary power into the hands of the priests, and therefore subject to nasty things like bribery. Especially since the method by which the guilty is to be condemned is not specified.
- When the people are defeated because they’ve been so terribly sinful (the possibility that they might simply be defeated regardless of their purity is never allowed), they should be forgiven if they repent.
- If a foreigner (it seems a true foreigner is meant here, rather than a sojourner – or non-Israelite resident of Israel) comes to Israel to seek out God, God should listen to them.
- God should side with the Israelites if they pray toward the temple prior to battle.
- If the people sin (“for there is no man who does not sin” – 1 Kgs 8:46) and are punished with exile, they should be returned to Israel if they repent.
Obviously, these are all phrased as requests rather than an indication of the order of things – a hope rather than an expectation. Throughout this portion, particularly after the bit about foreigners, the idea that the people might be exiled by an enemy and might hope for a return to Israel is mentioned several times. This would indicate that at least one author or editor was working after the fall of Jerusalem.
My New Bible Commentary, which does not like the multi-authorship idea one bit, argues instead that the mentions of exile are simply realism. The Israelites had not experienced it themselves when 1 Kings was authored, but would be aware of the practice, and would have known that it was likely that at least some portion of their population would find themselves in exile and one point or another. To defend the assertion, the authors argue: “Hammurabi’s law Code, among other documents that are much earlier than Solomon, speaks of redeeming captives and returning them to their own lands” (p.332). In other words, the authors of 1 Kings would have been familiar with both the concept of exile and of return.
In 1 Kgs 8:22, Solomon stands before God. This requires some cultural context, since standing over someone is usually (though not always) seen as an aggressive/dominant act in my culture. My New Bible Commentary helps: “Solomon is described as standing in prayer. Art from the Ancient Near East always indicates the inferior standing and the superior seated. Thus kings are represented as standing before a sitting deity” (p.332). We see the break between the first and second Deuteronomist editors when, in 1 Kgs 8:54, he stands from a kneeling position. This my New Bible Commentary explains away by implying that Solomon was so overwhelmed that he fell to his knees during his speech.
To end the consecration, the people sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, plus other miscellaneous offerings made in the courtyard because the altar was too small for so much at once. Israel then feasted for seven days (or two weeks, according to the Masoretic Text, says Both Saint and Cynic). The chapter closes with Solomon sending everyone packing on the eighth day.