When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 ESV
1 Kings 8:22-53
Solomon continues his prayer of dedication for the temple. These verses contain the second of seven conditional circumstances that Solomon used as illustrations to appeal to God for His continued mercy and forgiveness. Solomon knew that while they had been experiencing an unprecedented period of peace and tranquility as a nation, that could all change in a heartbeat. All that was necessary was for the people to sin against God. As part of their covenant relationship with them, God had agreed to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. He had promised to bless them and give them victory over their enemies – as long as they remained obedient to Him. But if they failed to remain faithful to Him, they would experience cursing. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV). It seems that the primary sin Solomon had in mind was idol worship. He knew that if the people ever worshiped other gods, things would not go well for them. God would punish them for their unfaithfulness. And knowing the track record of the people of Israel, Solomon realized that this was a very real possibility. God had been very clear when He had warned the Israelites what would happen if they proved to be unfaithful. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them” (Deuteronomy 28:25 ESV). Not only that, “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:36 ESV). In other words, their sin against God would result in expulsion from the land and a life of exile as captives of another nation. That is why Solomon mentions God bringing the people back again to the land He had given their forefathers. This was a worse-case scenario as far as Solomon was concerned. In essence, he was playing the “What-if Game”. What if we turn away from you and start worshiping other gods and you punish us by allowing us to be defeated and taken captive by our enemies? Will you still hear us if we repent and forgive us of our sins and restore us to the land?
God would answer those questions as soon as Solomon had finished his prayer. God responded clearly and affirmatively. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). God will consistently forgive those who come to Him with truly repentant and contrite hearts. The writer of Lamenations reminds us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). Solomon knew his God to be holy and just, demanding faithfulness and unwavering obedience from His people. But he also knew His God to be loving, merciful and forgiving. The whole idea of the temple and the sacrificial system it accommodated was to take advantage of God’s prescribed plan for receiving forgiveness from sin. God had provided a means by which His people could remain in a right relationship with Him. He knew they would sin. He was well aware that they would fall short of His expectations. So He provided forgiveness through sacrifice. Blood had to be shed. Payment had to be made. Confession and repentance had to be expressed. Then forgiveness and restoration could be enjoyed.
Solomon was appealing to the unwavering mercy of God. Even if the worse-case scenario should happen, he wanted to know that God’s mercy would be available. And it would be. That is the story of the Bible. In spite of man’s sin and rebellion against Him, God continues to show mercy. And since the sacrificial system could never fully take away the sins of man, God mercifully sent His Son as the once-for-all sacrifice or payment for all sin. Paul tells us that God was mercifully holding off His judgment against the sins of man until His Son came. “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past” (Romans 3:25 NLT). Jesus became the final sacrifice for mankind’s sins. He was the fully acceptable sacrifice that satisfied the justice of God and allowed Him to show mercy to sinful men who come to Him with repentant hearts and in full dependence upon the sacrifice of His Son. Solomon knew God to be merciful, so he appealed to that mercy. He was counting on what he knew about God. He knew full well the words of God. “When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30-31 ESV). Without God’s mercy, man is hopeless. But God is faithful, just, loving and good. He has provided a way. He has made forgiveness available through His Son.