In studying for the sermon last week (Sunday, July 18), I came across a brief section of a larger prayer that caught my attention. It lies within the prayer Solomon gives at the dedication of the newly completed Temple. Solomon is standing before all of Israel, publicly proclaiming his desire for God's blessing on this glorious new building. Early on, Solomon sums up in one word his greatest desire from God, praying, "Hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive." (1 Kings 8:30, NIV translation, italics mine)
Of all the things Solomon could have requested of God, he chooses to emphasize forgiveness. Why that in particular is the topic for another time. Suffice it to say for now, that Solomon then elaborates on this prayer with seven specific scenarios in which most require some sort of forgiveness from God. However, one scenario, in particular, does not ask for forgiveness at all. It is the one scenario involving the prayers of "the foreigner":
"As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel
but has come from a distant land because of your name - for [people]
will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched
arm - when [the foreigner] comes and prays toward this temple, then
hear from heaven...and do whatever the foreigner asks of you."
(1 Kings 8:41-43, NIV, italics mine)
Even if Solomon had reversed the general tenor of the scenarios and had asked, mostly, that God "do whatever" the good church-going folks ask of Him, and "forgive" the "foreigner", I would still have found the prayer somewhat gracious. But, the way in which he truly prayed I find astonishing. I could fill another page qualifying this request from Solomon; but, I won't. I think we are meant to hear this in all of its audacity. In fact, the next line in Solomon's prayer reveals his own intentions for this part of the prayer. His desire is, "...that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name." (1 Kings 8:43)
To know someones name, in the scriptures, is to know who they are in the fullness of their character. In this case, answering this prayer, as prayed, would reveal a God whose door is open to "all the people's of the earth", a God who hears their prayers and answers them, a God whose first concern is that they "come from a distant land" to be with Him.
Throughout the scriptures, both Hebrew and Greek (i.e., Old Testament and New), I have found these passages that reveal God's love for those outside of the circle. From Day One, literally, God's desire has been that all peoples live within the loving embrace of the Trinity. God's initial act of creation is full of grace, gift. Always, God's initial movement towards those not yet within the fold of love is gracious. Further, the persons who God is most demanding of are those who claim some special favor by being on the inside.
In a world so violent towards those who are standing on the opposite side of various lines, I find every word of God's that reveals God's love for the "outsider" both encouraging and challenging.