From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Last month, we looked at the contrasting qualities of God in 1 Kings chapter 8. We saw how God is mysterious and yet clear. He is the King of the world and yet loyal to his people. He is much greater than anything and yet wants to have a relationship with us.
Chapter 8 was quite long, so we didn’t finish it. Today we will finish it by looking at a few more contrasting qualities of God. The first contrast is judgment and mercy, and I would like to focus on that. The second contrast is the big picture and the little details.
So let’s read chapter 8, starting from verse 31. It continues the prayer of King Solomon, who is dedicating the temple he has just built for God.
[Read verses 31-66]
1. Judgment and Mercy
Husbands and wives, have you ever asked your spouse for forgiveness in advance? Have you ever told your spouse: “Dear, if I am unfaithful to you in the future, please forgive me”? That’s a bit strange, right?
Solomon’s prayer was something like that. But he wasn’t being disrespectful.
His prayer addresses 7 scenarios that could happen in the future: (1) doing wrong against a neighbor, (2) defeat in war, (3) no rain, (4) plague and other disasters, (5) entering battle, and (6) captivity or exile. All are bad, but one scenario is good: the prayer of the foreigner in verse 41.
Some of these scenarios could happen if the nation of Israel sinned against God. Some already happened. God had promised to punish Israel in the case of disobedience, as well as reward Israel for obedience. In the Old Testament, we see that God’s judgment is often a form of God’s discipline: His way to bring Israel back into patterns of holy living.
Why did Solomon pray like this? He prayed like this because he was realistic. And because he understood God’s dual nature.
Solomon was realistic because he knew that although Israel was God’s chosen people, they weren’t perfect. Although they had seen God’s miracles and providence, they still had the tendency to slide into distrust, distraction, and disobedience. He knew God would judge their disobedience with the kind of disasters we read about.
But he also believed that God was merciful. He acknowledged God’s judgment while appealing to God’s mercy. He prayed that God would forgive and help Israel even if they don’t deserve it. What is mercy? Mercy is love that we don’t deserve.
Some people find it hard to reconcile these two qualities of God: judgment and mercy. “How can a loving God punish people?” they ask.
It’s easy to only emphasize one quality and ignore or reject another quality. In fact, many heresies have resulted from a one-sided view of God.
I’m reminded of the recent movie Silence, based on a famous book by Shusaku Endo. In university, I decided to study the novels of Shusaku Endo and write about them for my thesis. Initially, I was a fan of Endo but after reading more, I confess I became disappointed. I felt that Endo promoted the idea that God is only loving. He couldn’t accept that God can love but also get angry. My intention is not to criticize Endo’s writing. But I want to say that anger isn’t the opposite of love.
God’s anger is often a reflection of his holiness and his love for us. We see this in the relationship between parents and children. If you find out that your child has been stealing money or bullying others, won’t you be angry too? Will you allow your child to do anything they want? Of course, you don’t want to hurt your child. But you are forced to figure out how to teach them what is right.
Likewise, God also disciplines us and teaches us. As Proverbs 3 says, in verse 11, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in.”
Still, not all of us can accept this easily. Just like the word “judgment,” the word “discipline” is an ugly word for some people. I have friends whose fathers were too strict. Some had abusive fathers. And now, as adults, they find it difficult to accept God as a loving heavenly Father.
But I hope we can see that God is not a human father. Human fathers are the imperfect image of a perfect heavenly Father. Where our own fathers have failed, God will not. God will discipline us, but out of His genuine love for us and His wisdom. The reverse is also true: God loves us unconditionally, but He will not leave us to do anything we want. If God minded his own business all the time, what would happen to this world?
So, can a God of love be a God of judgment too? For Christians, we believe this God satisfied his holy standards of judgment by punishing – not us but Himself. He Himself took the punishment for his children’s sins. He did this by coming to our world as Jesus Christ, and then dying on the cross as a symbol of his judgment and forgiveness.
Paul writes in Romans 3:25-26, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
In the same letter, Paul says, in chapter 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This message is echoed throughout the New Testament. The Apostle John tells us about the nature of love in 1 John 4:9-10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Friends, as you hear this, I wonder what is your reaction towards God today? Is there anything you wish to say in response to God? I hope each of us will take a moment to think about it.
2. Big Picture and Little Details
So I have talked about judgment and mercy, two contrasting qualities of God. The final contrast shown today is the big picture and the little details.
God has a great plan that spans human history from the beginning of time to the end of time. And yet, He is a God who also cares about your everyday life and the little things that happen in your life.
In Solomon’s prayer, verse 60, he prayed “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other [God].” That is God’s plan for human history in this current world.
In the New Testament, Paul writes to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2:4: God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”
Who is “all men”? People of every background, race, and nation.
Even though Solomon’s prayer focused on disasters and the problems of Israel, he also made a short prayer for the “foreigner” who doesn’t know God. In 1 Kings 8, verses 41 to 43, Solomon prays that God will listen to the requests of outsiders who don’t belong to God’s people. Why? In a nutshell, God’s plan to bring all people to know His love for them.
And God’s love is not some abstract, cosmic, intangible kind of love. It’s not just an idea. It’s like the love between mother and child. Between husband and wife. Like the best of human love, God cares about our daily lives and problems and needs.
Solomon prayed in verse 59 for God to “his people according to each day’s need.” When Jesus disciples asked, “Please teach us to how to pray,” what did Jesus tell them? Jesus said to pray “God, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth” and at the same time also pray “Give us today our daily bread.”
Likewise, let us ask God for what we need – just as a child runs to her father when she needs something. We can pray for the little things—our exams, a safe trip, a sick child, a situation at work, among other things.
At the same time, let us pray for God’s will to be done in this world. Let’s pray for His kingdom to come.
In conclusion, there are times we don’t understand God. But, over time, as we grow to know Him, I believe we will not be left confused or afraid. Rather, we will be amazed and desire to know Him more – if we allow Him to reign in our lives.