7 lessons from Solomon's prayer in times of covid-19
If there be ... pestilence, 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;)
That they may fear Thee all the days that they live in the land which Thou gavest unto our fathers.
(1 Kings 8: 37-40)
This text teaches us seven important lessons:
1. What shall we do?
This text is talking about different types of contagious diseases: ‘pestilence, plague, whatsoever sickness there be’. In all these situations of serious and less serious diseases, the Bible points us to the way of prayer. Doesn’t that apply to us, now that covid-19 has spread in our country and beyond? Let us pray in the knowledge that the Lord reigns, and that health and sickness are in God's hand (cf Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10).
2. How shall we pray?
Solomon speaks of two kinds of prayer: ‘prayer’ and ‘supplication’. By the word ‘prayer’ is meant, among other things, intercession. Let intercessions be made by all of us. For those who have been affected by covid-19. For those who are particularly vulnerable. For our government who must make important decisions. For those who work in health care and other vital professions. For countries that have been affected even more severely than our country. For one another (1 Timothy 2: 1-2).
The word ‘supplication’ refers to a plea for God's grace. How we all need this prayer too! It is ‘the Spirit of grace and supplications’ (Zechariah 12: 10), Who can give us a heartfelt and fervent prayer for God's grace, forgiveness, preservation and healing. He can make us bow in humility and confess our guilt, especially in times of epidemic (Deuteronomy 28: 15-22
3. Where shall we pray?
In his prayer Solomon is thinking of the people of Israel gathering in the temple in times of sickness (Dutch translation). Yet in his words there is also a timely message for our current situation. We can also translate the text from the Hebrew with: ‘spread forth his hands toward this house’. From the Old Testament we know examples of people who could not go to the temple due to different circumstances. Yet they prayed ‘towards’ the temple, in the direction of the temple, e.g. Daniel.
Solomon also speaks about personal prayer: ‘What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man’. So we are called to bow down before the Lord in intercession and supplication at home too. On the Lord’s Day if we cannot go to church, but also every day during the week.
4. With what kind of heart shall we pray?
Solomon insists it is necessary that ‘we know – every man – the plague of his own heart’. By this is meant the natural depravity of our hearts. Sin is a 'contagious disease' that is much more serious than covid-19. It has passed to all men and causes the threefold death (Romans 5: 12). How necessary it is to know and to acknowledge this plague of the heart before the Lord. May the present circumstances be sanctified to our hearts so that by grace ‘the plague of our hearts’ will be shown to us.
How necessary it is also to extend our hands to the Lord. That means: to show our empty and filthy hands, our lack, our impossibilities to the Lord. To confess before Him. But also to expect everything from Him. To flee in prayer to the great Healer, Who can cleanse and heal our hearts. Is anything too hard for the Lord. (Genesis 18: 14)?
5. What shall we pray for?
Solomon prays for three things in verse 39:
- Hear: First of all he asks: ‘Hear Thou in heaven, Thy dwelling place’. In those words, reverence and humility resound. There is also a confession in it that God rules from heaven.
- Forgive: Next, the Lord is asked to forgive. Even in times of a contagious disease above all we need the cleansing of our hearts from all our sins. And forgiveness of all our debts.
- Do: Finally, Solomon prays the Lord will intervene in an active way. We may indeed ask the Lord for preservation, protection, strength, help, courage.
Please note the resemblance of Solomon’s prayer tot hat of Daniel in Daniel 9!
Solomon also asks the Lord ‘to 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)’. The Lord knows our ways. He knows our lives. Everything we have done, what we have said, what we have thought. How much that must accuse us. The Lord also knows our hearts. He knows when all we want is to be preserved and healed and then to continue living without repentance and without God. But He also knows when our sinful ways have become our guilt, shame and sorrow. And when this prayer is in our hearts: ‘Teach me Thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth: unite my heart to fear Thy name’ (Psalm 86: 11).
6. For what purpose shall we pray?
We may pray to the Lord for preservation from sickness. Or for healing from it. But for what purpose do we ask? With what purpose do we actually want to continue living? To continue sinning and living without the Lord? Then maybe we wouldn't get sick. Or get better. But eventually we will die without God and be lost forever. Let it not be so! The Lord grant that the prayer of Solomon is in our hearts: That we may fear Thee all the days that we live in the land which Thou gavest unto our fathers.
7. On what grounds shall we pray?
Only for Jesus’ sake. Only on the grounds of the achievements of Solomon’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who spoke: ‘A greater than Solomon is here’. It is to Him that the intercessor Solomon points. He is the One of Whom Isaiah says: ‘a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’. More vehement sufferings than all sufferings of all mankind put together, have come upon Him. He has borne it willingly. In His love for His Father and in His love for lost sinners.
That is why, even in 2021, He stretches out His hand to touch sinners who come to Him with the plague of their hearts and the need of their lives, asking: Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. When they acknowledge His sovereignty and plead His omnipotence, He will say: I will; be thou clean. May we, with our temporal and spiritual needs, bow down before Him in our prayers!
A.J.T. Ruis, former pastor Jeruzalemkerk CGK Rotterdam-Kralingen
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