1 Kings 8:12–13 (ESV)

12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.

1 Kings 8:12–13 are words that Solomon addressed to the Lord. It would be a mistake to look at them as if they had been planned beforehand, as the later prayer of dedication might have been. Instead, there is a good possibility that these words came as a response to the astounding demonstration of God’s glory descending on the temple as the ark of the covenant was set in its place in the Holy of Holies.

Regardless of whether or not the words were planned beforehand by Solomon, they do fit with the descent of the cloud that Solomon and all the people had witnessed. As such, they tie this occurrence to Israel’s history at the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. In Exodus 20:21 we read, The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. This verse supplies the answer to the question that may have arisen in your mind: how did Solomon know that the Lord had said that he would dwell in thick darkness? Notice the last part of the verse: the thick darkness where God was. The presence of God was in thick darkness, as Solomon stated in 1 Kings 8:12.

The connection between 1 Kings 8:12 and Exodus 20:21 makes a strong case for the doctrine of the Bible’s inspiration. It is all the Word of God; it is all what God says. Though this truth is not the main point of 1 Kings 8:12, its importance should not be overlooked.

In verse 13, Solomon moves in his brief prayer from the statement concerning God’s choice for a dwelling place to speak of what he had done. He states, I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.

The first matter of our consideration is the clause, I have indeed built you an exalted house. Various translators have interpreted the word that the ESV renders exalted house, in a variety of ways. Some use the phrase a dwelling place. The NIV uses the translation magnificent house, the NASB reads princely house. There are a lot of differences of opinion concerning this phrase.

Nevertheless, the standard Hebrew lexicon says that the basic meaning of the Hebrew root zabul means exaltation, loftiness, and words related to those. That seems to indicate that we may accept the ESV as accurately translating the phrase.

But a question arises: in what sense is the temple an exalted house? It certainly does not rival in height the modern high rise. But Solomon was not trying to indicate that the temple was an extraordinarily tall building. Rather, it had an exalted resting place upon the mountain whereon it was situated.

One of the names that Scripture gives to God is God Most High. Therefore, an exalted house befits the God whose name is going to dwell there. God is both immanent and transcendent, and speaking of him as exalted and speaking of the things connected to him as exalted are ways to reflect his transcendence. As his prayer would later indicate, Solomon was very aware that it was a mark of condescension for God to dwell in an earthly building of any kind. It was necessary, therefore, for the temple to witness to God’s exaltation in the only manner that it could, and that was to place it on a high place in the city that the Lord chose as his own.

A second matter of interest is that Solomon says that the temple is meant to be the dwelling of the Lord forever. This raises a problem, for both in 586 BC and AD 70 the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. How, therefore, are we to understand Solomon’s words? We must interpret Solomon’s words in the light of the word of the Lord to Solomon in 1 Kings 6:12–13. There he says, Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people, Israel.

Notice, first, the if, which shows us that what follows is a requirement of the promise given. Second, notice the words keep all my commandments. These words were spoken directly to Solomon. Later in the record of Solomon’s reign, we see that he did not continue to obey God’s requirements. Therefore, the Lord had no obligation to preserve Solomon’s temple forever.

Yet we do not by this suggestion entirely relieve the tension created by Solomon’s words at this point. Is not God’s love, after all, unconditional for the elect? The Lord's unconditional love, however, unfolds in the history in which God’s elect live among those who are not and show that fact by their rebellion and stiff-necked opposition to him. He is ever free to bring his judgment upon wayward sinners.

Finally, we are wise if we look to the future fulfillment of the words promising an eternal temple. There would come a true temple built by One, who obeyed all of God’s requirements. This temple was the Lord Jesus Christ.