June 4, 2015

Scripture and Commentary June 4-6

June 4

1 Kings 5,  Acts 13:14-52
1 Kings 6


1 Kings 5,  2 Cor. 2

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 dissipates, while Solomon’s increases daily.  More and more building projects, all of which enrich Solomon while enslaving and impoverishing the people, continue 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 service of government abusing their power and treating the people and resources as though they belong to the rulers.  Instead, the rulers should have viewed themselves as servants of the people, entrusted with certain, limited authority only for the purpose of securing the rights of the people.  These abuses are what God said would happen when Israel asked for a king, and, it seems, they have been happening ever since.  The power so gladly given to protect the people can also easily be used to oppress them.

1 Kings 6

Solomon now proceeds with the project his father most wanted to accomplish, the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. David originally desired to have the people of Tyre help with the building of the Temple (2 Sam 5:11), and Solomon carries out this desire. The people of Tyre  are seafaring people, originally from the Greek isles.  Their boat building skills translated easily into transporting and hewing the Temple timbers as well as the massive stones for the foundation.  It is likely that the early Hebrews put their hands to the good work gladly.  It is also probable that their work away from home was timed to allow for planting, harvesting, and maintaining their homes and farms.  Still, the seven years it took to build Temple, and the very costly furnishings, inside and out, are quite an example of sacrificial giving by the Hebrew people, who, though quite comfortable on their farms and vineyards, were still far from rich by the world's standards.

June 5

1 Kings 7,  Acts 14:1-18

1 Kings 8,  2 Cor. 3


1 Kings 7,

The Temple was truly a magnificent structure which proclaimed the glory of God to Israel and all peoples.  Though all the children of Israel may not have shared Solomon’s enthusiasm for the task, or desire for the elaborate decor, God still accepted it as a symbol of His dwelling with Israel, and it was fitting that the house of God be aesthetically well appointed.

However, God’s acceptance of this “house,”  like His blessing of the king seems to have been more of an acquiescence to the desires of the people than the implementation of His plan or desire.  God did not ask David to build a house for Him.  Instead He said heaven and earth cannot hold Him, how could a house built of wood and stones by finite and silly people hold Him?  Yet, God accepted their “gift,” and much good came from the Temple.  Even Christ called it, “My house,” and said it “shall be called the house of prayer” (Mt. 21:13).

As the work continues, however, we see more and more that the Temple becomes, and is forever after known as “Solomon’s Temple.”  It often happens that work begun for the glory of God somehow turns to the glory of those who do the work.  This is a constant danger which we must always guard against.

Solomon continues to use conscripted (read, temporarily enslaved Hebrews) on other building projects.  He builds an elaborate palace for himself (7:1) and another house so vast and ornate it is known as the house of the forest of Lebanon.  A similar house is built for his foreign wife, the daughter of pharaoh (7:8).   This pattern of conscripting the people for Solomon’s projects continues throughout his reign and makes him personally very wealthy through his copper mines and an overland trade routes from Ezion Geber to the Mediterranean Sea.  But it causes a growing animosity against him by the people, and will play a major role in dividing the nation after his death.  Solomon has an opportunity to build upon the nation’s unity and prosperity that was its legacy from David.  With humble and prayerful leadership from him, the people would  work freely together to build a Temple that would be a glad act of worship and bring all the tribes together in faith and cooperation.  By  employing, rather than conscripting, the people of Israel to build the palaces and work in the mines and caravans, Solomon could further increase their unity and prosperity.  Instead, his focus turns more and more to his own glory and wealth.  Late in life, looking back over many tragic mistakes, he recorded his hard earned wisdom in the great book of Ecclesiastes.  The stories of his very real accomplishments, found in other books, should always be read in conjunction with his mature reflection on life and its meaning as found in Ecclesiastes.

1 Kings 8

Solomon’s tragic faults do not mean he has no genuine desire to honour God.  Nor do they mean God does not accept his imperfect and often, misguided worship, just as He does ours, and through the same Mediator, the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  In this chapter, Solomon gathers the elders of Israel in Jerusalem to formally dedicate the Temple.  This event does have a wonderful unifying effect on the nation.  The Tabernacle and its contents, along with the Ark of the Covenant are brought up to Mount Zion out of the older part of Jerusalem, known at that time as the City of David.  By the New Testament era, all of Jerusalem will be generally referred to as Zion in much the same way that modern cities become known by certain distinguishing landmarks or functions.  Bethlehem will then become known as the city of David.

The most important point in this chapter is that, in spite of all the human problems and failures involved in the process, the Temple sits where God has chosen for His Name to dwell.  His glory, which filled the pillar of smoke and fire through the sea and the wilderness, and into the Promised Land, enters and fills the Temple, signifying that this is the place in which God now intends to conduct His work with humanity, and Israel is the nation through whom that work will be conducted.  One day, in God’s time, He will bring forth the Saviour out of Israel, out of this very city.  Therefore, let Israel seek God in this House.  Let her worship Him according to the liturgies and litanies given by Him.  When her people stray, let them return in penitent prayer.  When enemies rise against them, let them seek His mighty protection.  Let them live together as one family and one people with Him as their God, and priest, and King, of which the human occupants of the offices are but symbols and servants, just as this House and its sacrifices are also.  He will hear from Heaven, and forgive their sins.  He will bring in the full Day of the Lord, of which this House and all its servants are but symbols and shadows, for one day the True King of Zion will fill the earth with His glory.

June 6

1 Kings 9, Acts 14:19-28
1 Kings 10,  2 Cor. 4


1 Kings 9

The promises God made with Saul and David are now renewed with Solomon.  Surely Solomon’s mind retains clear knowledge of the failures of the previous kings, and desires to do better.  Equally surely, the enormity of the task must cause great fear to rise in his heart.  He, too, is a mere man, a sinner.  How can he hope to be the kind of king and leader Israel needs at this critical point in her history?  Let all who dare to take up the mantle, whether in the Church or state,  tremble as Solomon must have trembled.  Let them read, let them agonise with Solomon in His prayer in chapter 8:28-53.  It would not be too much to ask of such candidates to pray this prayer day and night, and to feel it in their very souls before accepting any nomination or office.

There is no conflict between verse 22 and 1 Kings 5:13-16.  While many respected commentators believe the Israelites were paid employees and only the conquered Gentiles served in forced servitude, 1 Kings 12:11 shows that a large number of Israelites were forced into slavery nearly as brutal as that endured by their ancestors in Egypt.  They were pressed into work gangs, and forced to labour under pain of the whip.  According to 1 Kings 12:4, Solomon had made their yoke heavy and their service grievous, but they would devote themselves to the unity of Israel anyway.  All they asked was fair treatment from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the new king.

1 Kings 10

Sheba is thought to have occupied the area of modern Yemen.  Situated near the rising empires of Babylon and Persia, the queen recognises Israel’s potential to be a powerful foe or an equally powerful ally.   Her visit is probably intended to see just how powerful Israel is, and, if possible curry the nation’s favour by offering tribute in the guise of royal gifts.  Solomon, by now controls most of the east-west trade routes between Asia, Africa, and Europe.  He uses the wealth from tolls and taxes on the merchandise moving through his land to increase his holdings of horses and chariots, which Egypt is glad to supply.