Indulge?- Pentecost 21

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Narrative Lectionary Reflection

October 29, 2017

 

 

Introduction

The football stadium sits at the edge of downtown and is ready for the upcoming Superbowl in a few months.  Tens of thousands will cheer for their team, while nearly a billion people worldwide will tune in from their television and computer screens.

The building is impressive. You can’t miss it because it’s a huge edifice and because of it’s advant-garde design. The building is a jewel in the city’s crown, paid for in part by the citizens of the state. Will the people who come to enjoy the game realize who helped pay for the stadium, let alone the people who worked through the cold winters to make the stadium a reality?

Today we talk about Solomon, David’s son who becomes king after David.  David wanted to build a temple to God, but it never happened while he was king.  Solomon is able to do so, but it comes with a cost.

Today we talk about Solomon and the Temple.

Engaging the Text

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. (1 Samuel 3:3)

  A little background here.  Last week we talked about the annointing of David. Between then and this week, there was a civil war between Saul and David, David becoming officially king, his scandal with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband, David’s death and his son Solomon becoming king.

The building of the Temple for God is usually presented as a good thing and in many ways it was.  But Solomon’s leadership, while exemplary, also contained a lot of ambiguities.  The building of the temple and his rule in general had weak spots and we see it here in very stark detail.

When we start with today’s text, the nation of Israel is at the height of its powers.  Solomon controls a small empire with lands from the Euphrates River (modern day Iraq) to Egypt.

Solomon was also a rich man. He had many chariots and many horses and a lot of other stuff.  All of his subjects had to pay tribute (read tax) to him.

Why are we talking about the size of Israel and tax policy and what does this have to do with the opening of the Temple? For one, it is important to note that while Solomon is considered someone that follows God, he had flaws.  He lived high on the hog and most of his wealth was supported by taxes and it was something that was ultimately frowned upon. Deuteronomy 17 lays down the law for kings:

14 Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you and you have taken possession of it and settled down in it, you might say: “Let’s appoint a king over us, as all our neighboring nations have done.” 15 You can indeed appoint over you a king that the Lord your God selects. You can appoint over you a king who is one of your fellow Israelites. You are not allowed to appoint over you a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 That granted, the king must not acquire too many horses, and he must not return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, because the Lord told you: “You will never go back by that road again.” 17 The king must not take numerous wives so that his heart doesn’t go astray. Nor can the king acquire too much silver and gold. 18 Instead, when he sits on his royal throne, he himself must write a copy of this Instruction on a scroll in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 That Instruction must remain with him, and he must read in it every day of his life so that he learns to revere the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this Instruction and these regulations, by doing them, 20 by not being overbearing toward his fellow Israelites, and by not deviating even a bit from the commandment. If the king does all that, he will ensure lasting rule in Israel for himself and for his successors.

Common English Bible. (2011). (Dt 17:14–20). Nashville, TN: Common English Bible.

(Deuteronomy 17:14-20)

Take for example the differences between building the Temple for God and Solomon’s own temple.  It took seven years to build the Temple, but it took thirteen years to build his own house.  Does that show that he cared more about his own house, than about God’s house?  A house was also built for his Egyptian wife. Deuteronomy and other laws warned against taking foreign wives because it meant that foreign gods find their way into Israelite life, which is what happened.

It’s also important to know that the people building the temple weren’t always doing it as part of a job. Brent Strawn notes that the temple was built in a way that should have given Solomon pause:

The first is that Solomon instates an immense “work gang” (CEB) to carry out the labor in Lebanon (5:15). The term that is used for this workforce in Hebrew (mas) occurs elsewhere of Israelite workers only in Exodus 1:11, where the Israelites are subject to a brutal and tyrannical pharaoh and his taskmasters (see also Exodus 5:10-14). It is thus very hard to not see in the use of this particular term an extremely negative judgment on the labor in question as well as on how Solomon’s has gone about his temple building project. This suspicion is confirmed later, when the nation divides immediately after Solomon’s death: clearly, the Israelites were not pleased with this forced labor and with their “supervisors” (1 Kings 12:18; 2 Chronicles 10:18). It all seemed a bit too Egyptian, if you asked them.1

There are some good things to focus on when it comes to the temple. A word about the temple itself and a sign of God.  There are two pillars in the temple that are superfluous, they don’t hold anything up. It was a symbol; that God holds the world up, which means the world is secure.

Looking from the pillars, there was a large basin filled with water. Practically, this is where ceremonial cleansing took place.  But it had another purpose.  For the ancient Middle East, the sea held threatening power.  The water in the basin was a way of saying that the power of the sea is under God’s power; in essence another sign of the goodness of God.

Towards the end of the passage in chapter 8, we are told that a cloud fills the temple.  A cloud was a way of acknowledging God’s presence.  It was a cloud that led the people of Israel as they traveled to the Promised Land.  The cloud shows God is present among the people.

Is the temple a place where God lives?  No, because God is everywhere.  But the temple is a reminder that God is present. John Goldingjay explains why:

So why is Solomon building one? He speaks of building a house for God’s name. It is a way the Old Testament often seeks to square the circle of affirming that God was really present in the midst of Israel while recognizing that this was an unsophisticated idea. The name of a person stands for the person.

Conclusion

Solomon’s temple is considered a great achievement. It comes when the nation is at the height of its powers and it is part of the unfinished dream of David.  But this splendor comes at a cost, not only to Solomon, but to the whole nation.  What did it mean that people were taxed for the temple?  What about the fact that the temple was probably built with slave labor?

The final point to remember is this: God never asked for a temple.  What does it mean that a temple is built for God, that God never asked for?  Is the temple more for Solomon than it is for God?

 

  1. Strawn, Brett. WorkingPreacher.com, October 29, 2017.
  2. Goldingay, J. (2011). 1 and 2 Kings for Everyone (p. 25). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.

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