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 mind and with all their heart 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). – 1 Kings 8:46-51 ESV
1 Kings 8:22-53
Solomon knew that sin was inevitable and unavoidable, “for there is no one who does not sin.” He was not naive enough to think that the nation of Israel could go on indefinitely without breaking God’s commands and experiencing His judgment. And he was well aware of the punishment reserved by God for repeated rebellion against Him. God had warned that failure to obey Him would result in exile from Him. “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 ESV). The repeated and unrepentant sins of the people would result in the fall of the nation of Israel and their eventual slavery to their captors. That scenario had to look extremely unlikely to Solomon as he stood in the splendor of Jerusalem surrounded by its protective walls, beautiful buildings and unprecedented affluence and peace. But Solomon was wise. He understood the nature of man and the character of God. Men were prone to sin and found faithfulness to God difficult to maintain. And God was true to His word. What He said He would do, He would do. His warnings were real and were to be taken seriously. So Solomon, as he prayed his prayer of dedication for the temple, gave yet another possible scenario – this one illustration a worst-case possibility. What would God do when His people, now in God-ordained captivity because of their sin, called out to Him in repentance, pleading for forgiveness. What will God do if His people call out to Him, saying, “we have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly?” It was Solomon’s hope that God would not only hear from heaven, but compassionately forgive and restore them. Solomon was counting on the unlimited mercy of God, that in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people, God would remain faithful, refusing to turn His back on those whom He had called out and made His own.
When Solomon finished praying this prayer of dedication, He got an answer. God responded to each and everyone one of his questions with a resounding, “Yes!” He would tell Solomon, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT). When you think about it, Solomon was asking something incredibly bold. He was asking God to “forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you.” In other words, if the people found themselves in captivity, it would have been as a result of their repeated rebellion against God. They would be suffering the punishment they deserved. But Solomon was asking God to forgive and forget all that they had done to receive the punishment they so richly deserved. And amazingly, God said that if they would simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their sin, He would hear, forgive and restore them. What amazing compassion. What unbelievable mercy and grace. It reminds me of the wonderful words of Paul when he wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God knew sin was inevitable and unavoidable for man. That’s why He sent His own Son to pay the penalty for man’s rebellion. He sent Jesus to bear the punishment that mankind deserved. Jesus made it possible for man, once separated from God by sin, to be restored to a right relationship with Him. God showed compassion in the face of man’s rebellion. He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. Just a few verses earlier in Romans, Paul wrote, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6 NLT). And all we had to do was turn to Him in our weakness and acknowledge our need for Him. The result? He restored us compassionately. He heard our cry, forgave our sins, and made us right with Him. What an amazing, compassionate, loving, merciful God we serve.