A Prayer when Israel is taken Captive by Joel C. Rosenberg
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — This morning in my daily Bible study reading, I was struck by a prayer that I didn’t even remember was in the Bible.
It turns out that ancient Israel’s third king – the great and wise King Solomon – once specifically offered a prayer to the God of Israel for any Israeli who might one day be taken hostage and dragged off to an enemy country, “far or near.”
Did you remember that was in the scriptures?
Over the last few months, I’ve been studying the lives of King David and King Solomon. Therefore, I’ve been reading through I & II Samuel. Now I’m working my way through I & II Kings.
In I Kings chapter 8, we see Solomon praying earnestly as he dedicated the Holy Temple that he had built for the Lord in Jerusalem.
It’s so encouraging and helpful that the Bible records the actual text of his prayers in detail, so we don’t have to guess what he was saying to God but can see it for ourselves. Beginning in verse 22, we see Solomon’s heart of sincere faith and deep humility.
He is asking the Lord to hear from heaven, as Israeli Jews pray in – or towards – the Temple in the days, and years and centuries ahead.
We see Solomon asking the Lord not just to hear the prayers of the people of Israel but to please forgive our sins and rescue us from peril when we truly humble ourselves, admit our sinful ways, repent of those sins and ask the Lord for deep and full forgiveness.
What really caught my attention this morning was I Kings 8:44-53.
It is Solomon’s prayer for times when Israel must go to war against its enemies – and when Israelis are cruelly captured and taken hostage and dragged off to enemy lands, whether those lands be close to Israel’s borders or far away.
Let’s take a moment and read the entire passage (this translation is the New International Version):
44 “When Your people go to war against their enemies, wherever You send them, and when they pray to the Lord toward the city You have chosen [Jerusalem] and the Temple I have built for Your Name, 45 then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 46 “When they sin against You—for there is no one who does not sin—and You become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; 47 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with You in the land of their captors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; 48 and if they turn back to You with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to You toward the land You gave their ancestors, toward the city You have chosen and the Temple I have built for Your Name; 49 then from heaven, Your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive Your people, who have sinned against You; forgive all the offenses they have committed against You, and cause their captors to show them mercy; 51 for they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace. 52 “May Your eyes be open to Your servant’s plea and to the plea of Your people Israel, and may You listen to them whenever they cry out to You. 53 For You singled them out from all the nations of the world to be Your own inheritance, just as You declared through Your servant Moses when You, Sovereign Lord, brought our ancestors out of Egypt.”
This is remarkable. In this passage – and in the parallel passages in 2 Chronicles, chapters six and seven – Solomon is offering a prayer that is perfectly relevant to the moment we are in. Admittedly, some people will resist its premise because it is difficult to hear and accept.
What Solomon – the wisest man who ever lived because he had the wisdom of God within him – is saying is that God sovereignly allows enemies to attack Israel and even take Israelis captive when He is angry with us. When we have sinned. And chronically disobeyed Him. Forgotten He loves us. Even forgotten He exists. When we are not reading the Word of God. When we aren’t following the Word of God. When we are not walking closely with God. And we are not listening to His prophets as they call us to humility, repentance, prayer and fasting.
Then, God may feel the need to shake us – even let a wicked enemy violently attack us – to get our attention, to get us to realize that we cannot survive – much less thrive – without Him.
WHY DOES GOD SHAKE THE NATION OF ISRAEL?
Through the ancient Hebrew prophet Amos, the Lord said, “For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations.” (Amos 9:9) He shakes us because He loves us. Through the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, God told Israel: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 30:3)
God wants to remind us that we are His children, the sheep of His pasture and that He alone is and should be our Shepherd. (Psalm 23)
The God of Israel does not want harm to come to us. But if we forget that we are His – if we refuse to let Him be our Shepherd, if we wander off, if we refuse to let Him protect us – then we will be attacked by wolves who hate us and seek to devour us.
This is not God’s fault. It is our fault and Solomon understood this.
But Solomon also understood that there is a way back to God, even when the wolves attack. Even when we are taken captive.
DOES GOD PROMISE TO RESCUE US IF WE TURN TO HIM?
When such evil befalls us because we have left the care and keeping of our Good Shepherd, we can – and must – humble ourselves and cry out to our God and Shepherd to come rescue us. And the Lord Almighty promises to hear us and respond to us and rescue us if we truly seek Him with all of our heart and soul. Indeed, this is God’s specific response to Solomon’s prayer.
“11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, 12 the Lord appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a Temple for sacrifices.
“13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,
“14 if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
“15 Now My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
“16 I have chosen and consecrated this Temple so that My Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.”
Never in the modern history of Israel has it been more important to study these passages of scripture and obey them. If we truly want to defeat our enemies and get our hostages back, then we need to genuinely humble ourselves, and genuinely repent of our sins, and genuinely seek the face of God. With sincerity and great urgency.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.