Thursday, December 5, 2013

Solomon's Great Prayer and the Declaration of Forgiveness

Israel had been waiting for this day since she came out of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11) God had promised he would dwell with Israel in a permanent house. Now that day had come. After years of preparation by David followed by years of building by Solomon, the temple was finished. All Israel had been called by her great king to dedicate the temple with prayer and feasting.

Solomon’s prayer in II Chronicles 6:12-42 (see also I Kings 8:22-53) is one of the great prayers in Scripture.  Solomon, the great king, the son of David, kneels down on a bronze platform and raises his hands to heaven (II Chronicles 6:13). He then prays to the Lord. As I read this prayer recently it struck me for the first time what the theme of the prayer was: forgiveness of sins.

Solomon begins by repeating by to the Lord that He is merciful and keeps his promises. (II Chronicles 6:14-17) He then add that the Lord is not confined by human hands to this temple. (6:18) Yet this temple is special and Solomon asks the Lord to remember his people which pray toward this place. (6:19-21) You might think that Solomon wants the Lord to hear their prayers so they can be deliver from their enemies or they can prosper as a nation or any other number of reasons. But Solomon wants the Lord to hear their prayers and forgive them. (II Chronicles 6:21b)  Solomon's great concern is that God would forgive and this concern is woven through the entire prayer:

6:22 If anyone sins…
6:24-25 If your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You and return and confess Your name…hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people.
6:26-27 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you when they pray toward this place and confess your name, and turn from their sin…forgive the sin of your servants.
6:28-30 When there is famine, blight….when each one spreads out his hands to this temple then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive.
6:32-33 This section is interesting because it does not specifically mention the forgiveness of sins. It is talking about when a Gentile prays to the temple. Solomon asks that God “would hear from heaven and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You.” While forgiveness is not mentioned, it could certainly be implied given the context.
6:36-39 When they sin against You…and repent…forgive your people who have sinned against you.

II Chronicles 7:12-17, which contains some of the most famous verses in the entire Old Testament, is God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. He promises Solomon that he will forgive the sins of his people. (7:14)

There are several items of note to gather from this prayer and the circumstances surrounding it.

First, the forgiveness of sins was a central concern for Israel. Here is the most important event in the history of Israel outside of the exodus and at the center is forgiveness of sins. Here is one of the greatest king in his greatest moment and forgiveness of sins is central. We often think of the Old Testament as preaching forgiveness, but in a hidden, concealed way.  Solomon’s prayer shatters that idea. They knew they needed forgiveness of sins. They knew only God could provide it. 

Second, the temple was about Israel’s sins being forgiven. There are many things Solomon could have emphasized the day the temple was dedicated.  But his prayer centered on the forgiveness of sins.  For Solomon, the temple existed in large part to be a place of prayer, but a specific kind of prayer, confession.  It was huge building reminding Israel that God was the God who forgives. (Psalm 99:8)

Third, Solomon expected Israel to sin (6:36) and also expected Israel to repent of her sins.  The entire prayer is very Gospel oriented. Israel sins. God disciplines her. She repents. God forgives. The life of every Christian body and every individual Christian is summed up in this prayer.  We run through this cycle week in and week out, often day in and day out.  

Finally, God promises to forgive.  God does not leave Israel wondering.  He tells Solomon in 7:14 that when his people repent and pray he will forgive.  There is no doubt that this promise is behind three other great prayers in the Old Testament, Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9.  All of these are confessions of sins.  Isn’t it interesting that four of the greatest prayers in the Old Testament are all about confession and forgiveness?

I want to end with three points.

First, we should be regularly confessing our sins both corporately and privately.  I would hope this was a given, but unfortunately it often is not. When I ask my children to pray after family worship I give them four options: praise, ask for something, pray for someone, or confess a sin. Guess which one never gets taken?  Confessing our sins does not come as naturally as it should. It is easy to talk about confessing our sins. It is much harder to actually confess them. While private confession is often emphasized corporate confession is not. We should be confessing together that we are sinners. 

Second, every church should have a declaration of forgiveness in worship.  Our worship service begins with a call, followed by a time of confessing our sins. When we are done confessing our sins I say, “Almighty God who is rich in mercy has given His only Son to die for us, I therefore declare to you that all of your sins are forgiven in Christ.” Every week my people are reminded that God forgives them. Every week my people are told that they are clean because of Jesus.  We need this every week. We need someone telling us that cross of Christ is still there with mercy for all our sins. The Church, the new temple (I Peter 2:5), is the place where the forgiveness of sins in Christ should be declared regularly and emphatically. (Luke 24:47)

Third, we must believe that God actually does forgive our sins when we repent and confess them. Before we confess our sins in worship our congregation recites I John 1:8-9. Here is that great promise, just like in II Chronicles 7:14, that God can and does forgive. One of Satan’s greatest ploys is to keep bringing up our sins.  We confess them. He sends us a postcard reminding us of how wicked we are. The guilt comes back. I remember as a kid lying in bed confessing sins I had confessed dozens of times before trying to make sure I was “really” forgiven.  Oh, how we need to hear and be reminded that he is faithful and just to forgive all our sins.  Your sins died with Jesus. Let them stay dead.  

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8