I Kings 8: At the Library

I’m at the library right now.  (When I paste this post on my blogger blog, I’ll be at home, though.)

I Kings 8.  What can I say?  It’s a long chapter, for one, with 66 verses!  But I find that I didn’t take as long to study it as I did with I Kings 7 last week.  Last week, I was writing my post on I kings 7 when the library was about to close.  I thought it was closing at 6 because it was the day after Christmas, but I learned today that it always closes at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Readers will recall that I did a paper a while back on the Deuteronomistic additions to II Samuel 7 and I Kings 8:1-30 (see Dtr/II Samuel 7/I Kings 8).  In I Kings 8:1-30, we see different perspectives on God’s relationship to Solomon’s temple.  One is that God actually lives there.  Another is that he visits the earthly sanctuary and sits above the Ark of the Covenant, which is in the innermost sanctuary.  The Deuteronomist, rejecting such theological anthropomorphism, affirms that God is in heaven and is too big to live in an earthly house, so his name (a sign of his ownership) is what’s in the temple, not God himself.

When I read Jimmy Swaggart, he used the Trinity to pull all these ideas together.  He said that the Father was in heaven and the Holy Spirit was dwelling in the earthly sanctuary.  Where was Jesus?  He just said that the sacrifices represented him!

One commentary pointed out something interesting: In Matthew 23:21-22, Jesus states that God dwells in the Temple, right before he says that God is in heaven.  By the time of Jesus, the Jews could somehow accept both ideas simultaneously.  Maybe that’s because they had a concept of a divine Shekinah, which can function as God’s presence on earth.

I read an interesting post on Charles Halton’s blog, Awilum: Review: The Bodies of God by Benjamin Sommer.  According to Charles, one of the points Benjamin Sommer makes is that people in the ancient Near East believed their gods could be in more places than one, at the same time. They almost had to be, for a god could have more than one sanctuary, and he’d have to be present in the sanctuary idol to receive the benefits of worship (e.g., food).  I thought of the movie Joshua, in which Joshua (Jesus) is in different places at the same time.  And so he’s jamming with a teen in one place while he’s helping an old lady plant her flowers in another (or something—I know he was jamming, at least!).  Consequently, could the ancient Israelites have believed that God could dwell in heaven and earth at the same time?

I’m not dismissing source criticism here, for I think it’s appropriate to look for patterns in the text.  By and large, Deuteronomy is against theological anthropomorphism and uses specific language (e.g., the house where God will place his name).  By contrast, Exodus and Numbers have priestly writings about God dwelling in Israel’s midst or visiting her in a cloud.  I Kings 8 probably reflects those different schools.  But it is possible for people to hold different ideas in tandem.

Another issue that stood out to me in my reading of I Kings 8 concerned prayer.  I Kings 8:22 says that Solomon stood and stretched out his hands when he prayed.  By v 54, however, he’s kneeling and stretching out his hands.  The Chronicler’s retelling of the story prefers kneeling, so II Chronicles 6:3 narrates that Solomon got on his knees before he opened his mouth to pray.  I didn’t bring my Companion Bible with me to the library, but, when I was reading it last night, my impression was that E.W. Bullinger was arguing that standing was the proper method of prayer before the time of Solomon; afterwards, kneeling took over.

Things aren’t quite that simple, though.  Granted, I don’t see much kneeling before the time of Solomon, but it was a standard feature of Mesopotamian and Hittite liturgy, some of which predates the biblical history.  And there are times after Solomon when people stand to pray.  Nehemiah 9:2-5 presents a combination of kneeling and standing when the penitent Israelites approached God in confession and prayer.  In a sense, this stuff is not totally removed from me, for I attend a Latin mass, where people stand and kneel in the course of the service.  As I look back at the churches I’ve attended, though, it’s usually been one or the other.  At my Seventh-Day Adventist churches, we knelt.  Armstrongite churches prefer standing, by contrast!  They see kneeling as too sappy, or Protestant, or personal, or whatever.  They may kneel in their family or personal prayers, but church is a place for formality, for standing!

The purpose of both is to convey respect.  People in those days stood in the presence of the king (I Kings 1:2, 28), or they knelt.  I find that I do neither these days.  Like Martin Luther, I feel comfortable praying while I use the bathroom!  That kind of intimacy with God, as if he’s a friend, is common among many (albeit not all) Protestants.  I don’t want to sacrifice the idea that I can pray to God any way, anywhere, at any time, and he’s eager to hear from me.  But should I, in at least some of my prayer times, stand or kneel to show God respect?

At AA one time, a guy was giving advice to another on how to pray.  He said that the first thing he does after he gets out of bed is to drop to his knees.  Many in Alcoholics Anonymous believe that they depend on a higher power to keep sober.  One saying I like before we say the Lord’s prayer is, “Who hangs the stars and keeps us out of bars?” What better way is there for me to convey my feeling of dependence than to kneel?

That brings me to stretching out my hands.  That’s not something I do when I pray.  There are charismatics and evangelicals, however, who lift up their hands in worship, and I don’t know what their reason is for doing so.  When I did it, it was a sign of letting go, or being receptive to God.

In the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East, however, lifting hands in prayer was a sign of supplication, dependency on God, or thirst for God.  When you needed or wanted something from God (or, better yet, God himself), you lifted up your hands. So Mordechai Cogan documents in his Anchor Bible commentary on I Kings.  What was it about lifting up one’s hands that expressed dependency?  Was it about getting God’s attention, as students do when they raise their hands in class?  Or reaching out to heaven?  Or opening one’s arms to receive a big hug from God, in the form of recognition, or love, or deliverance?  I don’t know.  I’m not going to legalistically require myself to keep my hands uplifted when I’m praying.  But, sometime, I’m going to try to lift up my hands during at least part of my prayer time.

There have been and will be times when I am desperate.  Maybe those will be opportunities to lift up my hands and to kneel.  Or maybe I should try doing those things every once in a while anyway, just to remind myself that God is above me, even as he loves me.  Solomon wasn’t exactly in an emergency situation when he lifted up his hands in prayer, but he desired God’s presence.  That’s what I want as well.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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