Covid has us worshipping at home, but it’s not the first time for many of us who have worked or ministered on Sundays, celebrating the Sabbath another time—Saturday, Sunday night, in airports, on airplanes, buses, or places of work. Whenever I had to travel overseas on the weekend, I planned for a time to quiet down and worship God in the best way I could. Sometimes I was interrupted, but having a plan always ensured that I would find at least a little time to give God the attention he so rightly deserves. Now I am always at home, but I also plan my morning time for Bible study and prayer, depending on my morning schedule. Many Christians do the same but don’t remember the critical aspect of repentance. For the last twenty years, I have repented every morning and have never run out of something vital for which I need forgiveness. Being prepared to repent is one of the most effective ways to stay close to Christ.
Solomon’s Penitent Prayer
King Solomon gathered materials and skilled laborers who worked for many years on the Lord’s temple that his father, David, envisioned. Preparation alone took three years. “At the close of these thirteen years preparations for the dedication of the temple were made on a scale of the greatest magnificence. The ark was solemnly brought from the tent in which David had deposited it to the place prepared for it in the temple, and the glory-cloud, the symbol of the divine presence, filled the house. Then Solomon ascended a platform which had been erected for him, in the sight of all the people, and lifting up his hands to heaven poured out his heart to God in prayer (1 Kings 8; 2 Chr. 6, 7).” (1) Solomon’s glorious prayer for dedication was full of praise for God’s faithfulness and mercy, along with honesty about Israel’s faults. Solomon anticipated the sins of God’s people. He must have seen, as we have, that no man is without a sin nature, and collectively Israel was capable of unified transgression against God. Solomon prayed for Israel to be prepared to repent sincerely in exile, pleaded for God’s compassion to them, and their love for unbelievers. His prayer ends with supplications for Israel’s repentance. As we consider Solomon’s powerful prayer for God’s mercy and Israel’s repentance, let us, the True Israel of God, recognize and embrace the power of sincere repentance for our Christian witness. He prayed:
“If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God.” (1 Kings 8:46-53)
Repentance is God’s Remedy for Ongoing Sin
Previously in his prayer, Solomon also admitted the sin-nature of the Israelites: “If a man sins against his neighbor” (v. 31); “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you” (v. 33); and “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you” (v. 35). In verses 46-48, Solomon summarizes: “there is no one who does not sin” and optimistically prompts Israel’s repentance by admitting that ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly.’” The Lord had granted Solomon great wisdom, including that which knows to pray ahead of, for prevention from, and humility in the face of sin. We cannot escape from our sins, except with God’s help in particular instances. Matthew Henry comments on Solomon’s wisdom: “Sin is the plague of our own hearts; our in-dwelling corruptions are our spiritual diseases: every true Israelite endeavors to know these, that he may mortify them, and watch against the risings of them. These drive him to his knees; lamenting these, he spreads forth his hands in prayer. After many particulars, Solomon concludes with the general request, that God would hearken to his praying people...In this manner the Israel of God is established and sanctified, the backslider is recovered and healed. In this manner the stranger is brought nigh, the mourner is comforted, the name of God is glorified. Sin is the cause of all our troubles; repentance and forgiveness lead to all human happiness.” (2) In her book, “The Gospel Comes With a Housekey,” Rosario Butterfield writes, “We are called to repent of the original sin that distorts us, the actual sin that distracts us, the indwelling sin that manipulates us. This is a high and hard calling.” (3) God provides the strength we need to fight against the power of sin in us through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Shouldn’t we take full advantage of God’s invitation to confess and engage in heartfelt repentance? Our witness for the gospel is that much more pure and effective.
God’s True Israel Repents
If God had not adopted us, brought us into his kingdom, given us to Christ, and sent the Holy Spirit into our beings, we would not know how to repent. But he has done all that and so much more. The Lord chose Israel and “separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt” (v. 53). Israel was expected to live up to God’s plan and power in them to remain faithful. How can we stay faithful in the face of our ongoing sin? We fight with all our heart, mind, and will to conquer it. As we do, we find that God will do all for us that Solomon requested for Israel. In verses 49-52, Solomon makes eight requests of God: to hear their prayer and plea for forgiveness; to maintain their cause; to forgive his people who have sinned against him; to forgive all their transgressions committed against him; to grant them compassion; to help them to have mercy on their captives; to have his eyes open to the plea of Solomon and Israel, and to listen to his people when they call on him. Since sin separates us from the Lord, it is not surprising that Solomon repeats his request that the Lord actively listen and consider the prayers of sinful Israel. As the True Israel, God indwells us, so there is no question that we have his help whenever we call on him and to help cry out to him. The other day I did something that I shouldn’t have that could violate trust with someone. I am grateful to the Holy Spirit for awakening me to my error the following day, to confess my negligence of a valuable relationship. He helped me acknowledge my mistake and repent. Then God graciously gave me the perfect opportunity to go to a person to rescind my actions. This is how the gospel works in us when we value repentance. My heart was lighter, and my spirit joyful in having resolved the issue before it damaged any of my relationships. My confession and request with the primary person also led to greater depth in that relationship.
When I joined a ministry for my full-time work at 40, I learned many “Christian” idioms. The one that has always stayed with me is to keep short accounts—that is, don’t let potential sins, offenses against others, or those toward you linger and fester. Jesus advises us, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) This is what Solomon had in mind for God’s people, but he recognized the reality that they would fail. So he prayed for God’s compassion to them and theirs to unbelievers. We who have God’s indwelling Spirit can do better; there is no reason not to embrace the power of sincere repentance for our Christian witness. Are you prepared to repent, knowing that the Lord will guide you through it? “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Related Scripture: Leviticus 26:40-42; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; 14:2; Psalm 106:6, 44-46; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah 9:12-14; Daniel 9:4-6; 1 Corinthians 1:9; James 3:2; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:8-10.
- Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, 1 Kings 8, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, 1 Kings 8: 22-53, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/1-peter-3.html
- Rosario Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With a Housekey, Crossway, March 30, 2018.
April 8, 2021