May 30, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, May 31-June 4

May 31

2 Sam. 23, Acts 11:1-18
2 Sam. 24, 1 Cor. 14


2 Samuel 23

Verses 1-7 record David’s last Psalm. He expresses deep regret at both his own sin and the sins of his children.  He seems to be able to see that future generations of his household will follow the same patterns and fall into the same sins.  Yet, God will establish his house, as He has promised.  This will come through the real and true King of Israel, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 8-39 give the names and exploits of some of the most notable warriors in David’s army.  It is worth noting that one of these men, Uriah the Hittite is more Godly and more honourable than David.

2 Samuel 24

David showed great progress in his knowledge of and obedience to God during his life.  This is especially commendable in light of the very limited amount of Scripture and Biblical teaching available to him at the time.  We often look at his numerous faults with a critical eye, yet we often fall into the same traps and commit the same sins. We look at David's many wives and wonder how a man of God could fall into such sin. Yet many, “Christians” today move in and out   of serial marriages with less concern than David had about his. As for his sin with Bath-sheba, co-habitation apart from marriage is as common among “Christians” as those who make no claim to Christianity.  And many modern “Christians” manipulate people and events to satisfy their lusts just as David did to get Bath-sheba into his bed?  David lived before the Bible was completed, while we live in the full light of Scripture, so perhaps we should be more strict about judging our own sins, than about judging David’s.  Christians today often assume that because David's sins were forgiven so easily, ours will also. But I shudder when I read the words, “to whom much is given, much will be required.”

Though Israel is united, the nation is not entirely at peace. The Philistines are strong, and even have a fortress in Bethlehem, a few short miles away from David's capital.  David’s desire to number the people of Israel and Judah seems a wise move at first.  A military commander should always be aware of the size of his army and the logistics of moving and providing for them in the field. “Count the cost,” as our Lord Himself said.  But David’s census seems to come from the motive of pride.  His actions seem to say, “we are strong, and we drive our enemies away by our own strength.”  He seems to realise that he rules the most powerful empire in the area; an empire even the local superpowers of Egypt and Babylon cannot ignore. Perhaps this pride leads him, and Israel, to forget that they have been established, and will continue to be upheld, only by the power and grace of God.

The plague which ends 2 Samuel seems to remind the Old Testament people that the Lord giveth and Lord taketh away. Victory is not always measured by worldly success, nor does the Lord deliver by means of human power and might, but by His Spirit. Perhaps we may do well to remember the same in our own day also.

June 1

1 Kings. 1:1-27,  Acts 11:19-30
1 Kings 1:28-53, 1 Cor. 15

Commentary, 1 Kings 1

“Now King David was old and stricken in years.” He is probably about 69 years of age, not terribly old by modern standards. But David has spent many years in the field sharing the deprivations of the soldier, and his reign was marked by strife and rebellion, even within his own house. The burden of leadership has aged him beyond his years, and now we see him weak, feeble, and near death. Yet he is not allowed to go to his grave in peace.  His sons are not satisfied with the prestige and prosperity they enjoy as members of the royal family.  Instead they are jealous for power, and each seems to desire the throne after David’s death.  Adonijah appears to be the oldest son, and believes the throne is his by right, like a right to be exercised rather than a service to be rendered. Many modern politicians seem to have the same view of their offices. Like his brother, Absalom, he gathers chariots and foot soldiers around him and proclaims himself king.  He is supported by Joab, leader of David's army, and by Abithar, the priest of the house of Eli.

The bedridden David, weak and tired, is forced into a public role again. If Adonijah remains as king, he will execute a bloodbath on all his brothers, whom he sees as competitors for the throne.  All of the supporters and advisors of David will also die in Adonijah’s attempt to secure the throne for himself, and He will rule Israel as though the land and people belong to him rather than God.  And Adonijah has powerful support in high and low places, mostly from people who want favours and wealth from him when he comes into his kingdom.  People often enthrone the most unfit of men to the highest and most powerful positions in church and state, people who use their positions to enrich themselves and reward their cronies rather than serve God and His people.

Solomon himself is a weak and sinful man, as are all the children of Adam.  Even the best of us hold the treasures of God in earthen vessels. Even the best fail, sin, and disappoint. Even the most noble among us bring suffering and sorrow by our best efforts.  But when people gain power only to use it to benefit themselves and their party, the suffering and sorrow of the people are multiplied a thousandfold.

This is the story we will see repeated time and time again through the books of Kings and Chronicles.  There will be high points.  There will be kings, who, flawed as they are, will at least attempt to lead the nation into revival and Godliness.  But these revivals will be brief and affect relatively small parts of the population.  The general trend of the nation will always be to sink back into the muck and mire of the surrounding pagan nations.

The chapter closes with Solomon proclaimed king, and the supporters of Adonijah in flight.  At this point, Solomon is disposed toward leniency.  Rather than executing his brother, as Adonijah certainly intended to do to Solomon, Solomon releases Adonijah to his own home in peace.

June 2

1 Kings 2:1-25, Acts 12:19-25
1 Kings, 2:26-46, 1 Cor.1 6

Commentary, 1 Kings 2

In spite of all his military and political skills, David was a failure as a husband and father.  His household lived in turmoil all his life, and continued in it for generations after his death. Therefore, in chapter 2 he encourages Solomon to keep the charge of the Lord.  It is certain that, realising his own failures, he hopes for better things for his son.  “If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel,” David says reiterating the words of God to him.

David also knows the trouble that lies ahead for Solomon. Joab will oppose him. He who murdered Abner and killed Amasa, now supports Adonijah’s bid for the throne.  He is a powerful and dangerous enemy.  Adonijah still intends to become king. Asking Bath-sheba to give him David’s concubine, Abishag as his wife, besides being against all laws of decency, is a claim to be lord of David's house and property, and, therefore, the rightful king.  This is why Solomon says to Bathsheba, “ask for Adonijah the kingdom also.”  To claim the right to David's harem, is to claim the right to David's throne.  Realising Adonijah will always be an enemy, Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he fell upon Adonijah that he died.

Abiathar the Priest once supported David, but now supports Adonijah.  Because of his friendship to David, and because of his priestly office, Solomon will not raise his hand against the Lord's anointed.  Instead Abiathar is forced out of Jerusalem and no longer functions as the High Priest of Israel. This fulfills the word of the Lord to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:31-35.
Joab’s duplicity finally destroys him.  Though having some good traits and wisdom, Joab seems to have always had his eye on what was good for Joab. Realising this, and that he cannot be trusted, in accordance with his father's counsel, Solomon forces Joab to pay the ultimate price.

Shimei is another traitor.  His trip to Gath is an attempt to gather support from the Philistines to attack Solomon’s weak and divided kingdom.  If Shimei had been successful, Israel would have become a pagan state instead of the people of God.  Had Adonijah, or Joab, been successful in their rebellion, Israel, as we know it, would have been eliminated. The house of David, all of his supporters, and anyone who opposed, or appeared to oppose, their attempt to seize the throne of Israel and use it for personal gain would have been executed without trial or mercy.  Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, would have died in their rebellion.

June 3

1 Kings 3, Acts 13:1-13
1 Kings 4,  2 Cor. 1

Solomon is known for his wisdom.  But, like all of us, Solomon’s frailties and ego often clouded his judgment.  We see in chapter 3 a laudable prayer for wisdom.  How we wish today that the people in whom we invest the power of government would seek wisdom from God in order to govern wisely and justly.  But, alas, gaining and increasing personal wealth and power seems to dominate most of their time and effort, while government and justice decay unheeded.

God promises to answer Solomon's prayer, and, indeed, his wisdom is shown when the two women bring their sons to him, one living, and one dead.  A child was a woman's social security. He would care and provide for her old age as she had cared and provided for his youth.  Solomon knew the mother of the dead child wanted that security for her old age. He also knew the true mother of the child had a mother's love for her son.  Her heart was filled with compassion and the desire for good things for her son.  The other woman cared nothing for the son.  Her heart was hard and selfish. If she could not have the income from a son, she wanted to deprive the other woman of it also.  “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it,” were her hateful words.

Thus, Solomon recognised the real mother by her love, and returned the child to her, and all the people saw that “the wisdom of God was on him to do judgement.”

If only Solomon had been as wise in his own home and personal life.  In spite of the direct commandments of God, verse 1 tells us, “Solomon made an affinity with pharaoh king of Egypt, and took pharaoh’s daughter into the city of David.” Solomon probably thought it was good to form a peace treaty with Egypt.  He probably thought this was a good political move.  But God's law forbade such marriages (Ex. 34:16) and Solomon’s actions were in direct contradiction to the will of God.  Thus, like Saul, we see at the beginning of his reign the cracks in his armour that will eventually lead to his fall, and split his country forever.  Oh, how often we foolish men follow pied pipers with “better ideas,” only to find they lead us to destruction.  How much better off we would be if instead of following the never ending parade of political New Deals (which all look suspiciously like the one Satan unveiled in Eden) we simply returned to the old, old promise, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct thy paths.  Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.  It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones” (Prov. 3:5-8).

June 4

1 Kings 4, Acts 3:1-13
1 Kings 5, Acts 3:14-52


1 Kings 4

God has blessed Israel according to His promises. Through David’s leadership, God has extended the borders of Israel east from the Mediterranean to the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, south through Arabia to the Gulf of Aquba, west again through most of the Sinia Peninsula, and north again beyond the headwaters of the Jordan River.  Not all of these lands were owned or populated by Jews, but all owed some form of allegiance to Israel.  Even mighty Babylon and Egypt were at peace with David during this time, and the children of Israel “dwelt safely, every man under his vine, and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.”

In addition to his myriad wives, Solomon maintained a large standing army.  According to verse 26, he had 46,000 stalls of horses and 12,000 horseman. It is probable that the 46,000 counts only the war horses. There would have been many thousand more mares, foals, and horses in training.  The dromedaries of verse 28, were probably both camels and riding horses which could carry messages swiftly over long distances, thus enabling rapid communication, at least for that era.

The maintenance of this army was extremely expensive. The daily needs of Solomon’s household alone required thirty measures of fine flower, about 13,680 pounds.  The meal, probably grain for the horses and cattle, required over 27,000 pounds per day.  The 10 fat oxen were kept in feedlots and fed special rations to increase their weight and flavour.  Twenty more oxen, a hundred sheep, and un-numbered wild goats, deer, and fowl were required in the palace every single day. Some of these came as tribute from the Gentile lands ruled by Solomon, but some of it came from the Hebrew people themselves.  Solomon appointed “officers” whose jobs were to procure the tribute and food to sustain his government.  At least one officer was appointed to gather food from each tribe for one month each year.  It is easy to see how Solomon, not answering to any official or elected body, would be tempted to increase the size of his government, and, therefore, the food and substance required to maintain it. We know that in the future he will require the Hebrew people to spend time as bond slaves in his service. Their work will benefit the nation, but mostly it will benefit Solomon at the expense of the people. When David started, he lived in tents and caves while the people lived in houses. At the end of Solomon’s reign, he lived in palaces and the people lived in labor camps.

1 Kings, 5

We come now to the beginning of the building of the Temple, and of Solomon’s policy of enforced Hebrew labour.  Aside from being forced to pay for the increasingly lavish expenses of Solomon’s court, the people are forced into labour camps for three months of every year.  Originally intended to provide labour for building the Temple, the practice continues and worsens during Solomon’s reign.  What may have started as a voluntary way to finance the Temple became slavery.  The contrasts with the wilderness Tabernacle are instructive.  The Tabernacle was financed by free offerings,  Solomon’s Temple was financed by forced slavery and taxation.  Thus, the early wealth and prosperity of the Jewish people gradually dissipated, while Solomon’s increased daily.  More and more building projects, all of which enriched Solomon while enslaving and impoverishing the people, continued during his reign, decreasing the already fragile nature of the Hebrew nation.  At his death, the nation will split into two separate kingdoms, largely because his son, Rehoboam, insists that his rule will be even more burdensome than his father’s.  Once again we see those entrusted with the authority of government abusing their power and treating the people and resources as though they belong to the rulers.  Instead, they should have viewed themselves as the servants of the people, whose power exists only to secure the rights of the people.  This is what God said would happen when Israel asked for a king, and, it seems, it has been happening ever since. The power so gladly given to protect can easily be used to oppress.