1 Kings 8:54–55 (ESV)

54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven.

The ESV titles 1 Kings 8:54–61 as Solomon’s Benediction. That title is not a part of the inspired text of the Bible, but a help to the reader. It does signal that the record of Solomon’s prayer has come to an end at that point. Nevertheless, to call these verses a benediction may be confusing to some readers who are used to a benediction as pronouncing God’s blessing upon his people, whereas this benediction begins with the pronouncement of the blessedness of the Lord. In that regard, it resembles a doxology more than a benediction. Yet it also is described as a blessing on the people, and in the main it contains the blessing of the Lord that had previously been given to Israel and an expression of the desire to receive other blessings in the future.

The two verses in our focus tell us something about Solomon’s body language as he moved from his address to God in prayer to his address to the people. The writer recorded that during the prayer Solomon knelt before the altar. When, however, Solomon began the address to the assembled people, he stood up and spread out his hands toward heaven.

What do we learn from these actions? The lesson may be different for different Christians. Some believers are used to fairly casual worship. The actions of Solomon at this point might seem overly formal or based upon needless ritual. Other Christians might be accustomed to worship that is very formal, and they may believe that the particular actions of Solomon’s body must be scrupulously copied.

The former group may need to learn that the eternal, almighty, and all-knowing God deserves holy reverence from those who worship him. The idea that anything is good enough in worship dishonours God.

Conversely, the latter category of Christians must learn that it was not the actions in themselves that were important but the inner reverence that motivated them. Empty ritual is no better than casual irreverence. God is interested in the hearts of his people, and the actions of our bodies may mirror them. Nonetheless, those actions can also be mere hypocrisy. Shakespeare puts words on the lips of Claudius, the usurping King of Denmark: My words fly up, my thoughts they stay below, words without thoughts ne’er to heaven go.