If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers. – 1 Kings 8:37-40 ESV
1 Kings 8:22-53
At this point in his prayer, Solomon gives an expansive list of potential judgments of God brought on by the sins of the people. He lists famine, pestilence, blight, mildew, insect infestations, plague, sickness and enemy invasion. Solomon knew full well the litany of curses that God had promised to bring if the people of Israel proved to be unfaithful to Him. He had given them a complete list of possible judgments in the book of Deuteronomy. “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV). God’s list included:
Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Cursed shall be the And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron.fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.
Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.
The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.
And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron.
The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
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.
And the list goes on. But Solomon knew his God. He knew that if the people sinned and came under the judgment of God, they could turn to God for help. First they would have to know “the affliction of their heart” (1 Kings 8:38). When any Israelite became afflicted enough by the trouble he was experiencing and recognized that the cause of it was his own sin, it should result in him “stretching out his hands toward this house.” In other words, the discipline of God would cause Him to stretch out his hands to God for forgiveness. The imagery here is that of admission of guilt, confession of sin, and a cry for forgiveness. If they would only acknowledge their sin, turn from it, and return to the one who had chosen them as His own, He would forgive them.
Solomon asks God to hear. When these prayers of confession and repentance come to God’s attention, Solomon simply asks God to listen and then to respond justly. He trusted God to do the right thing because he knew that God was a just and righteous God. God alone knows the hearts of men. He knows the difference between true and false repentance. He can tell when someone is crying out simply to escape the pain of punishment, and when someone is legitimately remorseful and truly repentant. God had promised that “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). It is one thing to know the pain of your heart. It is another thing to humble yourself before the throne of God in repentance, taking ownership for your sin and willingly turning from it back to God. Solomon was counting on the fact that God had promised to hear, forgive and heal. He also knew that God’s punishment for sin, if responded to correctly, would produce a godly fear in the lives of those who returned to God in humble repentance. Paul described it this way: “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT). God’s punishment always has a purpose. He disciplines those whom He loves. He brings just judgment on those who belong to Him, in order that they might return to Him in sorrow and repentance. But like Solomon, we must understand that God knows our hearts. He can tell when our sorrow is sincere and when it is simply worldly sorrow, lacking in repentance. We have to be willing to turn from our sin and return to God. If our only motive is to escape judgment, we miss the point. If we don’t want God more than we want the pleasures of sin, we are not truly repentant. Godly sorrow results in salvation. Worldly sorrow results in death. God’s desire for us is a restored relationship with Him. He longs to bless us. But He also longs that we would desire Him more than we do His blessings.