Bible Study 9.26.11, 9.29.11, 10.2.11 For Worship 10.9.11

Bible Study 9.26.11, 9.29.11, 10.2.11 For Worship 10.9.11

I Kings 2:1-4; 3:3-15; 4:29-34 

I Kings 2:1 When David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying,

2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man,

3 and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn;

4 that the LORD may establish his word which he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a man on the throne of Israel.’

I Kings 3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places.

4 And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings upon that altar.

5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

6 And Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee; and thou hast kept for him this great and steadfast love, and hast given him a son to sit on his throne this day.

7 And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.

8 And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.

9 Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.

11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,

12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.

13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.

14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.

I Kings 4:29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore,

30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.

31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about.

32 He also uttered three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five.

33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.

34 And men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.

COMMENTARY

Solomon represents the high water mark of the golden age of the United Israelite monarchy. As Silberman and Finkelstein pointed out last week, there is precious little archaeological evidence to support this “golden age.” Probably the “golden age” was more wishful thinking on the part of the court of Josiah trying to establish a Judean ascendancy over the area of the United Kingdom. Assyria had fallen. Babylon had not yet arisen. The Egyptians were just coming back after a period of weakness. Josiah was trying to solidify his hold on an area from Beersheva in the south to Megiddo in the North. He may have even had aspirations to expand into the Galilee.

Solomon is credited with having control over an area from the Red Sea and the copper mines of the Sinai in the South to the gates of Damascus in the North — probably not. At least in retrospect the Northern Tribes at this point were offering nominal allegiance to the King in Jerusalem. As befits the King of the Golden Age Solomon is credited with great wisdom and faith. But we don’t have to read too carefully between the lines to understand that all was not necessarily well in Solomon’s Court.

At the beginning of chapter 2 David counsels with his son to be faithful to Yaweh and the laws of Moses. Our lectionary prepared as a curriculum for children wisely omits verses 5 through 46 of chapter 2, where David counsels Solomon to murder all of David’s enemies, and his former army commander, Joab, in order to secure the throne. We also learn in Chapter 2 that Solomon arranges for the death of his brother Adonijah, in order to remove him as a pretender to the throne.

Then in Chapter three we have the famous story of Solomon offering sacrifice at Gibeah, and there in a dream God asks him what blessing he desires. Solomon answers that he wants a discerning mind in order to rule wisely — a wonderful prayer. We might hope our own political leaders would offer the same prayer. God is so impressed with the prayer, God bestows upon Solomon long life and riches besides. He couldn’t do much better than that.

And here let’s take a moment to ask why Solomon was offering this sacrifice in Gibeah rather than Jerusalem? Gibeah was the tribal worship center of the Tribe of Benjamin. Some scholars believe Solomon was encouraged to worship at this site by Michal the estranged wife of David, the daughter of Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, and who scholars believe was on good terms with Bathsheba the Queen Mother – Solomon’s Mother who had schemed with Nathan, Zadok and Benaiah, and maybe Michal too, to place Solomon on the throne. Traveling to Gibeah at Michal’s behest would help to secure the loyalty of the Tribe of Benjamin and the House of Saul, important support for protecting Jerusalem and making the throne secure.

In chapter 4 Solomon is credited with producing proverbs, poems, songs, pithy clever sayings, but even if he did write Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and several of the Psalms, we have to ask whether or not this represents true wisdom. Again we don’t have to read too far between the lines to discover that Solomon may have been more lucky and shrewd than wise. Besides doing in his enemies, Solomon levied heavy taxes and used forced labor for his building projects. Yes he built the temple, and a grand palace, but at what cost? His extravagance alienated the tribes of the North. While he accumulated wealth, he used it for himself and his own glory rather than the good of his people. (Of course this was how monarchs behaved in those days.) He made shrewd alliances with foreign powers by marrying princesses from those other royal courts, and then he allowed them to worship their foreign gods in Jerusalem. Not exactly faithfulness to Yaweh: “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places.”

Perhaps more than the issue of faithfulness to Yaweh is that Solomon began behaving like the Kings and rulers of the gentiles. The Israelites had never wanted to invest too much power in a central authority. They were a freedom loving, some might say a people of anarchy. They were certainly not happy with an oriental despot who taxed them to build grand buildings and enslaved them to work on his public works projects. Later after a monarchy arises among the ten Northern Tribes, despotism would emerge there. Ahab and Jezebel represented some of the worst abuses of an oriental court. Prophets like Amos, Elijah and Elisha rose to protest the abuses of power in the North. Other prophets like Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah spoke out in the South.

These scriptures might lend themselves to a discussion of the appropriate balance between individual rights and the authority of governments. The Israelites needed some kind of centralized government to help organize them to resist the encroachments of foreign powers. On the other hand they often became enslaved to their own government. In some ways we are still struggling with many of the same issues today. Should government take a role in organizing health care? Or should government stay out of it? Should government have role in providing for the needs of the unemployed and the poor, or should government stay out of it? Should government take a role in the management of the economy, finance and banking, or should government stay out of it? What is the balance?

Another issue these scriptures raise is our own relationship to power. As much as we like to separate religion and politics, we need to recognize that human beings live in community, so political relationships among people are inevitable. If leaders cannot consolidate enough “power,” “legitimacy,” “authority,” to govern, then society breaks down. When society breaks down everyone suffers. Right now in our nation there seems to be a crisis of governance. We don’t want a dictator. We wouldn’t suggest that the President jail or kill the congress. So how do we work with a political culture that seems to become increasingly ungovernable? What do you think?

NEW FEATURE

The darker side of Solomon’s career is not what we want to lift up for children. The story of asking God for wisdom to rule wisely has been a favorite of Sunday School curriculums as well as the building of the temple. There is a wonderfully rich painting of Solomon’s dream at Gibeah. As an example of Solomon’s wisdom, rather than the story of the two women and the dead baby, for older children I would point to some of the more creative and literary Proverbs like: Proverbs 6:6-8, Proverbs 30:18-19, Proverbs 30:24-31.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. What advice did David give to Solomon as he lay dying?

2. In what ways did Solomon depart from his Father’s example?

3. Where did Solomon have his famous dream?

4. What was Solomon doing in that place, before he fell asleep?

5. What did Solomon ask of God?

6. What did God give to Solomon?

7. Where did Solomon go to offer sacrifice after his dream?

8. Who were some of the people Solomon was considered to be wiser than?

9. What are some of the different forms of literature credited to Solomon?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF US

1. When it comes time for you to die, what advice will you give to those who come after you?

2. What do you think will be your legacy, when you “go the way of all the earth?”

3. If someone was to write about you: “He/she loved the Lord and tried to live the way of Jesus except, . . .” What would the “except” be?

4. If God came to you in a dream and asked, “what gift can I give you,” what would you ask?

5. What is your favorite proverb?

6. Who is the wisest person you know?

7. What do you think is the balance between individual rights and the authority of government?

8. Do you think government should have in role in organizing health care, providing for the unemployed, or taking care of the poor or the elderly?

9. Do you think the United States is suffering a crisis of leadership?

10. Do you think Christian faith has any wisdom to offer in addressing our current economic and political situation in the United States?

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One Comment on “Bible Study 9.26.11, 9.29.11, 10.2.11 For Worship 10.9.11”

  1. Mike Stroud says:

    “Golden age” mythologies are always self-serving. That is a maxim that applies to all governments on the face of the earth. The Solomonic legends are of a piece, therefore, with the mania among some on the political right in this country to deify the Founding Fathers and compare their supposed integrity, courage, and tenacity to the supposedly sorry state our contemporary society happens to be in. The use of such glorification of the past is to make people dissatisfied with their abilities to govern themselves. Just renounce the attempt to address current-day problems, they are told, and instead venerate the heroes of a bygone age, and everything will be better. Never mind all the cracks in their stories; they’re just little bumps in the road. That’s how a nation gets sold on authoritarianism at home and imperialism abroad.

    Surely it was a handy tool for a tottering regime like Josiah’s. As political science and history invariably demonstrate, nationalism and the cult of power increase in proportion to the endangerment to a nation-state by other powers. It is so banal and commonplace that it really does not even need explanation. The details and contradictions inherent in an autocracy are potentially fatal to any legend, so they must be whitewashed by every means possible–propaganda, discrediting critics, incorporation into otherwise legitimate religious ritual, anything. If those things don’t work, exterminate dissidents. The Third Reich and the Soviet Union were only egregious examples of an innate disposition of human government. “Free” societies perhaps are more penetrated by the desire to deceive, since the methods are more insidious and subtle than in dictatorships.

    We must take issue, though, with the pastor’s claim that the Israelites were a democratic, freedom-loving people. If that were the case, why did their ancestors clamor so much for a kingship in the first place? Why were the judges not enough to maintain justice and order? One key to their desire for national identity was the transference of their memories of deprivation and hardship in Egypt into the belief that they were subjected to those evils simply because the Egyptians were pagans. In other words, it is the logic of nationalism, which tends to override every serious interpretation of history. It is the reason for the profound, stark irony that, in seeking to become a world power, Israel consented to an enslavement by a monarch (Solomon) who was probably no less onerous than the Pharaoh which God freed them from generations earlier. The difference was this time, the temple seduced them into loving their chains, something the pyramids never would have done.

    The Protestant Reformation was in part fought over “Peter’s pence,” the papal tax exerted in Europe to finance the Vatican and St. Peter’s. Much like Solomon’s temple, the money used the construct a “house for God” was coming out of that which God had intended for the needy. However, the Reformers soon came under the wing of the emerging nation-states, and their successors abandoned the call to justice in favor of deifying authority again. Revivalist evangelicals in the U.S. originally were strong supporters of things like abolition of slavery and a decentralized economy. Then, their children and grandchildren abandoned those positions when they got into proximity of power.

    With the failure of the two-centuries-old belief in inevitable progress now paralyzing our collective morals and consciousness, we come again, especially we Christians, to an existential decision. Will we look to the hands of Herod, the money-traders, and the Pharisees that shill for them to deliver us, or will we place our faith four-squarely in the hands of God through Jesus Christ, who came as our only sure salvation? The future of our world may be in the balance.


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