Solomon knows that the temple cannot contain Yahweh. He can’t be contained within the limits of earth, or even the “heaven of heavens” (2 Chronicles 6:18): How then can He be confined to a tiny cube called the “holy of holies.”
Solomon also knows that the temple doesn’t need to capture Yahweh in order to be effective. It will be enough if it captures His attention. Solomon asks that He “face” (6:19; Heb. panah) the temple, and open His eyes in Jerusalem’s direction, and listen (v. 20). “Look that you may hear!” The temple is like an architectural sacrifice, a permanent “smoke signal” to Yahweh.
“Hear and forgive” is the theme of the prayer (6:21). Hear (shama) is used twelve times in the passage, “forgiven (salach) six times. Again and again, heard prayer and forgiveness are the hinge of specific petitions. The first petition (6:22-23) asks for Yahweh’s intervention in a judicial proceeding; still, the key is that Yahweh hear the oath and confirm or deny it by His response:
A. If a man sins against his neighbor
B. and comes to take an oath
C. hear from heaven
B’. act and judge
A’. justifying the righteous and punishing the wicked.
In the second petition (6:24-25), the nexus of prayer, hearing, and forgiving is more explicit:
A. If Israel is smitten before an enemy
B. because they have sinned
C. And they turn, confess, pray, and supplicate to this house
C’. Hear from heaven
B’. forgive their sin
A’. bring them back to the land.
The structure of the third petition (6:26-27) is similar:
A. When heaven is shut and there is no rain
B. because they have sinned
C. they pray, confess, and turn from sin
B’. Forgive the sin and teach them the good way
A’. and send rain.
The next petition isn’t as neatly arranged. Verse 28 are a grab-bag of affliction (famine, pestilence, blight, mildew, locus, grasshopper, siege) ending with a generic “whatever stroke or sickness.” But the center of the petition is the same: Israel prays, spreading out palms toward the house, and Yahweh is asked to “hear thou from heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive” (v. 30). “Pray toward this house” and “hear Thou from heaven” are at the center of the petition concerning the foreigner (vv. 32-33), war (vv. 34-35), and exile (vv. 36-39). “Hear and forgive” began the prayer (v. 21) and it ends the prayer: When Israel is cast from the land, they can turn to Yahweh and He will “hear from heaven . . . and forgive” (v. 39).
As William Johnstone points out in his commentary, the petitioners are moving further and further away from the temple. Initially they are “before Thine altar in this house” (v. 22), then “in this house” (v. 24). Then they are outside, praying “toward this house” (v. 26, 29, 32), then outside the city praying “toward this city . . . and the house” (v. 34), and finally outside the land turning “toward their land . . . and the city . . . and toward this house” (v. 38; note the telescoping focus, both spatial and temporal, from the land given to the fathers in the past, to the city Yahweh has chosen during the time of David, to the house Solomon has built).
No matter how far they go away, they can still pray toward the house where Yahweh has placed His name. No matter how far Israel goes away from the house, Yahweh remains attentive. He will hear and forgive.