"Sanctuary, Sanctuary"Dr. Stephen Z. Hearne 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43 Year B: Proper 16 (21) Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame cries out for “Sanctuary” at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It is a moving scene in the movie version where he seeks not only sanctuary for himself but Esmeralda as well. The idea of sanctuary was one in which safety could be not only found but was almost guaranteed because of God. It was a word that oozed protection and life. For Quasimodo, it also meant home.
King Solomon is known for many things. Mention his name and many will immediately speak of his wisdom, often recalling the story where he decides which woman is the true mother of a baby they both claim. Some will think of the treaties he made with foreign kings by marrying their daughters, thereby having to care for over 1,000 wives, princesses, and concubines in his 40-year reign. However, many more people will speak of another major contribution of Solomon–the building of the Temple (1 Kings 6ff), a privilege that his father, David, was not allowed to have.
The Temple was built with three rooms of unequal size–the Ulam (vestibule or entrance area), the Hekal (sanctuary area), and the Debir (a 30-foot cube known as The Holy of Holies). The Debir housed the Ark of the Covenant, which represented the presence of God with the people.
The Temple was built facing the east and aligned with the Mount of Olives to allow the sunlight to penetrate all the way into the Holy of Holies on one day out of the year, the morning of the vernal equinox, as the sun rose. While some Hebrew editors saw this as potential sun worship (the Temple was built with some aspects of pagan temples), Solomon’s statements in the consecration ceremony in 1 Kings 8 are used to show that YHWH made and controls the sun. When the sun shone into the Debir on that one day, YHWH’s presence and protection for the year was re-established in the minds of the people.
Building the Temple also confirmed for the people that they were in the “homeland” which had been promised. As long as the Ark was in a tent, there was the possibility of having to move again, but it would be pretty tough to move the Temple around. The people had “Sanctuary,” and God even promised that he would watch over them, hear their prayers, and forgive them.
The procession and entry are epic in scope. Solomon, the elders, and “all the people” are gathered for the dedication of the Temple and the commitment of the nation to God. We might imagine a “DeMille-esque” scene with all of the pageantry and excitement of the director’s movies. Tribal leaders arrive along with the Ark of the Covenant representing earlier, simpler understandings of worship. Royalty is present everywhere as anticipation builds.
The simple worship is combined with a “high Temple” style that signals the actual presence of God moving from the “Tent of Meeting” to the formal Temple. In fact, the text states (vv. 10-11) that after the ark is placed in the Holy of Holies, a cloud enters the sacred space as God moves into the new quarters. In subsequent verses, the Temple is shown as the permanent dwelling place of God (Hebrew yashar–to sit or dwell permanently).
The glory of the moment continues as Solomon offers a prayer of dedication for the Temple and for the people. The building is dedicated to God, and a plea is made for God to grant the people sanctuary. The multitudes are exhilarated as they find hope and promise in the ceremony. All of that sounds great, but there were some problems.
The Temple was built predominately by the king as a chapel for the king and his invited guests. As Solomon prays during the elaborate ceremony, he prays more for God’s loyalty to the Davidic dynasty than anything else (vv.24-26). These verses focus on commanding words to God to “keep the promises” made to David about the royal dynasty and to “confirm” the veracity of those promises in Solomon’s reign.
The Temple dedication is used here to solidify Solomon as the final authority in both civil and religious matters because God made promises to David. Royal theology intertwines with royal policy. It is obvious that the Temple is from Solomon and for Solomon.
As a result, all of the activity with the people took place outside of the Temple. This created a religious “class” system. The earlier idea that God would dwell permanently with his people in the Temple now changes. God cannot live in the building, or on earth, because God is too great and free to be confined. Therefore, while God’s name will be uttered in the Temple for the people and their sins, God will continue to live in the heavens.
The sanctuary for the people must be found through the mediation of the temple officials who will approach God on their behalf. The focus of hope for sanctuary is found in verse 30 when God is called upon to continue to hear the people, heed their cries and repentance, and forgive them of their sins. The Temple area then becomes the vehicle in which God’s gracious forgiveness is poured out on the people as they turn from their sins and plead for sanctuary.
The natural outcome of turning and being forgiven is a homecoming to God’s presence and protection. It is not just for special days, but includes the ordinary, mundane times of life as well. This need for and assurance of forgiveness is further elaborated in the long section that follows (vv. 31-53). Troubles may arise–drought, famine, sickness, and wars. These may be physical or emotional and spiritual droughts, famines, or sicknesses. Yet, the result is the same when God’s people return to YHWH with serous and true repentance. Restoration, well-being, and protection may be found from God and in God.
Very elaborate rituals were created for the Temple worship services as well, and ritual and sacrifices became more important for some than faithful living. Sometimes people do not like the Old Testament and say that it’s just old history and is not relevant. When we really look at the situations and then look at the current world, all we need to do is change the names, dates, and places, and we find the same needs for sanctuary that existed in ancient times.
Our approaches to worship and life may be elaborately choreographed or very simple in manner. However, we all find ourselves like Quasimodo, scared and in need of “Sanctuary, Sanctuary!” God awaits our return and our cry, and in the Christ, God stands ready to bring us home into his presence within his Temple of his world.
About the Writer: Dr. Stephen Z Hearne is a professor, chaplain, and pastor. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and Spartanburg Methodist College and serves as a Chaplain for the Greenville Hospital System. He recently retired as Pastor, First Baptist Church, Piedmont, SC; and is active in interim and pulpit supply.
Dr. Hearne is a graduate of Elon College, Elon College, NC; Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, SC; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC; and also studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
Steve enjoys hunting, reading, and being with family, especially with Mary, his bride of over 43 and a half years, and their two granddaughters, Sidney and Quinn
Scripture and Music:
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Wonderful Words of Life
‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Lead On, O King Eternal
Let All the World in Every Corner Sing
Standing on the Promises
Psalm 84: Cantique de Jean Racine (Faure)
Lead On, Eternal Sovereign (Holst; arr. Hopson)
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place (Brahms)
Blessed Assurance (McDonald)
Be Strong in the Lord
Wonderful Words of Life (Martin)
Shall We Gather at the River
As the Deer
Fill My Cup, Lord