Tag: Solomon

Solomon the Wise: Pentecost 23

Solomon the Wise: Pentecost 23

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

October 28, 2018

Read 1 Kings 3:1-28 (CEB)

Introduction 

“The Wisdom of Solomon.”

That phrase has been used in our culture as a way of saying that someone needs to have the smarts that Solomon had in order to solve a problem.

Solomon was wise.  But his wisdom was not something that was innate, it was something that came from God.

Solomon is the son of David and succeeds David as king.  Solomon’s rule is a time when the kingdom of Israel was at the height of its power.  Israel was a miniempire.  Solomon started a massive building program which included the building of the temple.  A fleet of ships was sent to far-flung places around the known world to bring back riches.  Solomon met many of the leaders of the day, including the Queen of Sheba.  Solomon brought a sense of cosmopolitan flair to Jerusalem.  Solomon, like President John Kennedy in the US, ushered in a Jewish version of Camelot. Things were good in Israel.

Or were they? As we read the text for today you have to look more closely to see that things are not perfect.  Just like President Kennedy’s time as President wasn’t the Camelot that we tend to think it was, Solomon’s actions carry within them the seeds of destruction not only for Solomon but for the entire nation of Israel as well.  Today, we learn the Wisdom of Solomon, an imperfect king trying to follow God.

Engaging the Text

Now Solomon loved the Lord by walking in the laws of his father David, with the exception that he also sacrificed and burned incense at the shrines.

-1 Kings 3:3

When people think of Solomon, they think of him in two different stages.  The first stage is when he is young and asks for wisdom.  A later version of Solomon is a man who has forgotten who he is.  He has become unfaithful to God, worshipping other gods instead of the God of Israel.  In real life, people are not all good or all bad and they are not all faithful or all not faithful.  As we learn today, Solomon was already making mistakes that would have severe consequences.

Chapter 3 opens with Solomon entering into a “marriage alliance” with the Egyptian Pharaoh. He marries not out of love, but out of politics. Marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter meant an alliance with the regional superpower which made Solomon a player on the world stage.

While aligning Israel to the Egyptian superpower through marriage had its advantages, there were also problems. For one, marrying someone who was not an Israelite was troublesome. Deuteronomy 7:3 notes that Israelites were told to not intermarry.  Why? The reason for this prohibition was that it could lead the Israelites away from God and worshipping foreign gods- which is exactly what happened to Solomon. His Egyptian bride was just the beginning. As he married other women from other nations, he would end up worshipping the gods of his wives.

Starting with verse two, we see that the people are still sacrificing in the high places. These high places were named not because they were in the mountains. In many writings, high places were not portrayed in a good light. Some saw them as a sign of their lack of loyalty to God. There are hints that the high places sometimes were places where people could worship other gods. A future king, Hezekiah, destroyed many of the high places as a way to get back to worshipping God alone. The talk about the high places could also be a foreshadowing of what will happen to Solomon: his worshipping the foreign gods of his wives.

It was at a high place that God came to Solomon in a dream. God’s first words to the king are to make a request. Solomon doesn’t take time to think about this. Instead, he blurts out that he wants wisdom. He asks for a “listening heart” or “understanding mind” to rule the people. The word wisdom in Hebrew is associated with legality and justice. In this time, the King was also the final arbiter of justice, in essence, Solomon was the Supreme Court as well as the President. God is pleased that Solomon chose…well, wisely. The king gets his wish; he has an understanding mind far beyond anyone else.

Solomon paints a portrait of a human faith.  He loves God and seeks to be faithful, and yet he is marrying foreign wives- he’ going against what God had commanded. This is not an excuse to sin, but it is a reminder that when we come to God, we bring all of ourselves, both good and bad.  Solomon wanted to be wise, to be faithful to God, but he is also doing things that will bring him trouble.

We get to see Solomon’s new found wisdom in action when two prostitutes came forward. It is telling that the king of Israel adjudicates a problem between two women on the lowest rungs of society. Both women had children. One mother rolled over during her sleep smothering the child. A mother decides to take her dead baby and switch it with the other baby. The case was about deciding who was the real mother. Solomon offers a shocking judgment: slice the living child in half and give both halves to the mothers. Was this a callous response to the women? We don’t really know. What we do know is that the judge allowed the two women to respond which revealed who was the real mother. The baby’s life is spared and Solomon gets a reputation for a wisdom that comes from God.

King Solomon was obsessed with women. Pharaoh’s daughter was only the first of the many foreign women he loved—Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite. He took them from the surrounding pagan nations of which God had clearly warned Israel, “You must not marry them; they’ll seduce you into infatuations with their gods.” Solomon fell in love with them anyway, refusing to give them up. He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines—a thousand women in all! And they did seduce him away from God. As Solomon grew older, his wives beguiled him with their alien gods and he became unfaithful—he didn’t stay true to his God as his father David had done. Solomon took up with Ashtoreth, the whore goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the horrible god of the Ammonites.

-1 Kings 11:1-5

1 Kings 3 is not a simple story of Solomon getting wisdom. There are hints of a downfall, one that is revealed in chapter 11. “King Solomon was obsessed with women,” says the Scripture. He started worshipping the gods of his wives and he built altars to these foreign gods.

Solomon’s choice to worship these foreign gods had consequences. 1 Kings 11 notes that like his father, God would judge him for his sins:

God said to Solomon, “Since this is the way it is with you, that you have no intention of keeping faith with me and doing what I have commanded, I’m going to rip the kingdom from you and hand it over to someone else. But out of respect for your father David I won’t do it in your lifetime. It’s your son who will pay—I’ll rip it right out of his grasp. Even then I won’t take it all; I’ll leave him one tribe in honor of my servant David and out of respect for my chosen city Jerusalem.”

Looking at chapter 11, chapter 3 is cast in a more tragic light. Chapter 3 shows a king that wanted to follow God and sought God for help. If we could stay just at chapter 3 this would be a wonderful story of someone seeking to follow and rely on God. Instead, it becomes a harbinger of things to come.
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Conclusion

Solomon was an imperfect leader.  He sought to follow God, but he also did things that harmed his faith in God.  Not so different from those of us who aren’t leaders.

Solomon asked for wisdom.  In the wider culture, we tend to think wisdom is something we can earn.  Wisdom is something that comes with time, from learning life’s lessons and so on.  But in Solomon’s time, wisdom is something that came from God.  Only God could make someone wise, not us.

What does it mean in our day and age to seek wisdom from God?  We won’t be asked to settle complaints like Solomon, but wisdom can be used as we live our lives in our churches, jobs, and neighborhoods.  What does wisdom look like to you?

But Solomon’s wisdom did not last.  Solomon’s story is truly a tragedy. Solomon took Israel to the apex of its power, but that all ended because of his choices.  He was the last king of a unified Israel. After his death, the kingdom would be split in two.

In Solomon’s dream, he was offered riches, but forsook them for wisdom from God.  This was odd, since there are examples in the Bible where material wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus picks up this theme of forgoing wealth in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 6:25-34 has Jesus telling the people to not worry about eating or drinking because God would care for them.  Jesus even references Solomon in his talk:

27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?

-Matthew 6:27-30

 

Solomon is both a model to follow and a model of how not to do something. King Solomon has feet of clay.  But if there is any gospel to be drawn from this it’s that God used Solomon even though he was imperfect.  If God can use flawed Solomon, then God can use us.  We can have the wisdom of Solomon if we rely on God.

 

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

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God’s Dwelling Place – A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 14B

God’s Dwelling Place – A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 14B

1 Kings 8:22-30,41-43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.
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                God is everywhere. God is above us, around us, perhaps below us. Whether we feel that presence or not, we confess by faith that God is there. We call it omnipresence. If God is omnipresent, then why bother with buildings? Why not worship out in nature? Many people claim to do just that. In the story of Israel, it is said that God moved around with the people, dwelling in a tent. When the people finally settled down, David wanted to build a more permanent house for God. After all, David had a nice house. Shouldn’t God have one also? The word sent to David through Nathan the prophet was that no such request had ever been made by God (2 Samuel 7).  God was fine with the tent! But, the Ark of the Covenant wouldn’t rest a tent forever. According to the story-line, the job of house-building would fall to his heir. Here in 1 Kings 8, David’s son and heir Solomon gets to dedicate that house, the temple of God. Apparently, God gave into the need of the people to have a more permanent space to approach God. Nonetheless, the question is, does God need a house?
                When Solomon builds this house for God, Solomon is quite aware that God is bigger than any house, no matter how grand. In fact, heaven itself cannot contain God. Nonetheless, the Temple is built, and it serves as a sign of God’s presence with the people. The first lesson from the lectionary, continues the story of Solomon, the successor to David (his son by Bathsheba). In the previous week’s reading, Solomon succeeds his father, consolidates his power, and famously prays for wisdom— “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” God responds positively to this request (1 Kings 3:3-14). Having established his rule, Solomon has turned to building a house for God, the house promised to David, but which David would not build.
 
                The question for us concerns not only the process of building Solomon’s Temple, but its meaning for today. There is a debate underway as to the spiritual value of church buildings. Why expend money on something like a building when that money could be used for other things. After all, many church buildings are used only a few days a week at most. Then there are debates as to the form of a building. What is its purpose? Is it designed to reflect the sacred, the sacramental, or is it more utilitarian? In the medieval period, churches great and small were built to remind the people of the sacred. Visit a cathedral in Europe, and you might stand in awe. These churches were often built, not in a day but over several centuries. I am in the process of writing a chapter of a book on sacred architecture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Reading about these buildings, and the design purpose is illuminating. They were often designed both to tell stories and to reflect the tastes of their patrons. Then again, there are those plain style churches that marked New England, buildings that were designed not for sacraments but for preaching.  The same is true today. Some build auditoriums that are no different than a concert hall. Perhaps lacking any symbolism, even a cross. Others may still desire to build sanctuaries that cry out the sacramental and the sacred. Preaching may be still central, but so might the Table.  Still, the question remains as to whether God requires a building so that we might encounter God?
 
                In Solomon’s prayer dedicating the Temple, he recognizes that God is bigger than the building. However, he also understands the power of the Temple as a sign of that presence. Solomon prays that God will be attentive to the prayers either offered within the Temple, or toward the Temple. Why? Because God has placed God’s name on that Temple. The name of God, in ancient Judaism, was sacred. It is why one should not take God’s name in vain (that means more than cussing). Jesus spoke of this—don’t swear by the Temple, which should give us pause about using the Bible as a device upon which we swear to tell the truth or fulfill an office (Matt. 5:33-37). So, be careful how you speak and pray, so that you do not take God’s name in vain.
                Returning to Solomon’s prayer and the way in which we approach the sacred, what role does the building play? What role the furnishings? There is a move today for preachers to abandon the pulpit or replace the wooden or stone pulpit with a clear plastic one. It is said that such a move makes one more transparent or real. I wonder, however, if this move makes the preacher the focus rather than the word delivered. In other words, is not the pulpit more than a stand upon which we put our notes? Could it be that it is a reminder that the word spoken is not just that of the preacher, but is a sacred word? Thus, the pulpit is a sacred symbol. The same could be said about the Table. I’m all for understanding the Table as a gathering place rather than an altar. I believe that fits with Jesus’ institution. But it too provides a symbol of God’s presence. That does seem to fit with Solomon’s prayer. Solomon asks that God heed the prayers offered in or toward the Temple, for ours is a faith that has a material element to it. In fact, isn’t that the core Christian message? That the Word of God became incarnate, dwelling among us.
                While the building doesn’t contain God, the building has a message to send. It may speak of the sacred. Or, it might suggest that church is more like a community gathering, with music and speaker. It’s religious, but not necessarily “sacred.”
 
                We don’t have all of 1 Kings in front of us. Once again, the lectionary creators have abridged the conversation, with the focus on Solomon’s prayer. While not all the prayer is included, it is appropriate to note that the “foreigner” is mentioned. That word is especially poignant right now, when a nativist spirit has taken hold in the United States. Even Christians have embraced the fear of the other. Yet, here we have a prayer that offers welcome to the foreigner. This is a prayer asking God to bless the foreigner who comes to Jerusalem to pray. Heed this prayer, the people pray. God responds positively!
 
                The question here is whether God needs a house. It appears that God may not need a house, but God has chosen to put God’s name on a house so that the people might have a tangential reminder of their connection with God. Thus, it helps us spiritually to have that tangible reminder, that a church building provides, especially one that is not completely utilitarian!

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.