Editor’s Note: Beloved author Ted Gibbons recently passed away after a battle with cancer. We will continue to share his wonderful insights here periodically.
In my meanderings through the scriptures I occasionally find phrases that are unexpected or unusual and that cause me to cease reading and start searching. One of the wonders of the scriptures is their ability to cause us to think about our lives and our actions in new and better ways.
I had such an experience as I studied the prayer that King Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem (see 1 Kings 8). As I read and re-read that prayer, I found Solomon advocating a practice that (so far as I know) has not been suggested in the same way at any other temple dedication. I have listened to and read a lot of dedicatory prayers for modern temples, but I am not aware of similar instruction in any of them.
As Solomon dedicated the house of the Lord, he asked for temporal and spiritual blessings upon repentant and prayerful Israel, and suggested a course of action for those repentant Israelites that would bless them continuously.
I will give the verses and point out some key words, and then suggest some conclusions:
- “That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou sayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place: and when thou hearest, forgive” 1 Kings 8:29 – 30).Solomon asked the Lord to watch the temple night and day and to hear his people when they prayed toward that building, and to forgive them.
- “When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house: Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again unto the land which thou gavest unto their fathers” (1 Kings 8:33 – 35).Solomon prayed that his people, if they were smitten by enemies because of their sins, would turn again to the Lord and confess and pray in the temple, that he would then hear and forgive.
- “When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them: Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk, and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance” (1 Kings 8:35 – 36).If the sins of Israel cause the heavens to be shut up, but they then pray toward the temple, and confess their sins, then hear and forgive, and bless them again with rain.
- “If there be in the land famine, if there be pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, or if there be caterpillar; if their enemy besiege them in the land of their cities; whatsoever plague, whatsoever sickness there be; What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;)” (1 Kings 8:37 – 39).If natural disasters or enemies or sickness be in this land, if any Israelite will spread forth his hands toward this house, then hear, Lord, and forgive.
- Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them: For they be thy people, and thine inheritance, which thou broughtest forth out of Egypt, from the midst of the furnace of iron: That thine eyes may be open unto the supplication of thy servant, and unto the supplication of thy people Israel, to hearken unto them in all that they call for unto thee” (1 Kings 8:47 – 52).If thy people be carried away captive into strange lands, but they pray unto thee in this land and this city and this house, then hear them, Lord, and maintain their cause and have compassion upon them.
I had not thought of the temple as a place of forgiveness but Solomon did. I know temple worship was a little different then, but I love the image of going to the Lord’s house, or praying toward the Lord’s house, to ask for forgiveness.
I have reflected on Solomon’s petition of the Lord, ‘That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there” (8:29). In Doctrine and Covenants 67:2, the Lord tells certain elders, “mine eyes are upon you.” Solomon prayed that God’s eyes might always be on his house. Because of such awareness, he would know who comes there and who doesn’t. He would know the hearts of those who worship him there (8:39). He would know the names and needs of those who are the objects of the prayers offered there. All of us want to know what goes on in our own homes, don’t we?
I took some time to examine this observation: “What prayer and supplication be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands towards this house: Then hear thou . . .” (8:38.39). If someone is not worthy or able to come to the temple to pray and seek forgiveness within, because of some plague of the heart which only he or she knows, then (Solomon pleads) hear them if they can only spread forth their hands (and we assume their hearts) toward the temple. If they long to come and are striving to qualify, even though they cannot for this present time obtain a recommend, may God hear their prayers and forgive them and welcome them home in due season.
The underlying message of these verses is that there is power in the temple and in temple work.
“Temples are the very center of the spiritual strength of the Church. We should expect that the adversary will try to interfere with us as a church and with us individually as we seek to participate in this sacred and inspired work. Temple work brings so much resistance because it is the source of so much spiritual power to the Latter-day Saints and to the entire Church” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 36).
Several years ago, one of my sons came home from an evening activity much later than the time we had agreed upon. I had been deeply concerned about him and on that occasion remained awake to speak with him. Because of the lateness of the hour and an increasing concern, I had even called the home of a friend to inquire about his activity. Because of that call, I knew that the excuses he offered when he came in were not entirely honest.
I was devastated, but I did not confront him. He went off to bed and I went to the car and drove to the Provo Temple where I knelt in prayer on the lawn to pray for my son. My prayer was simple and heartfelt: “Lord, please fix my son. He is broken.”
And God heard. A quiet healing and teaching came into my mind, working on the plague of my heart in an eternal way. “Ted, your son is not the problem here. How often have you missed Family Home Evening in the past months? How many days have you neglected scripture study or been less than diligent in family prayer? You fix yourself and you will not have to worry very much about your son.”
Power came into my life because I sought the Lord and his help at the temple.
Here is another example.
I had a young man visit with me in the Bishop’s office who had been kept from the temple by Church discipline for over two years. Some of that time he was reluctant, even indifferent about lost opportunities and blessings, but now he had begun to turn his eyes and hands and heart toward the temple. Now he was anxious to return. His life had changed. I do not think he faced the temple when he prayed—although in modern times it must be impossible to pray in any direction without facing a temple somewhere—but his heart began to be turned in that direction. In 1 Kings 8: 30, 42, 44 and 48 Solomon speaks of praying toward the temple. Daniel 6:10 tells us that Daniel prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem. But the meaning of these phrases has to be found in the direction of the heart rather than the direction of the face and knees. I believe that if our heart is turned to the temple—if we are turned to our Father’s house for help and forgiveness and direction—God will help us heal any plague that is found within us, so that we can come home.
Why does Solomon want his people turned toward the temple? “That he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments . . .” (1 Kings 8:58). When we turn our hearts to the temple, then the temple turns (inclines) our hearts unto him.