The following reflections are provided this week by Michael Jinteh, Luther Seminary Student, and EMC Ministry Intern.
This section offers more of Solomon’s character contradictions as that of David, his father. Solomon started out as a loyal king and servant of the Lord. After the completion of the temple, Solomon recognizes the sacredness of this edifice and decides to dedicate it to God and to God’s service. Alongside dedicating the temple to God is also the need for God’s people, the Israelites, to consecrate themselves to God. But, before Solomon could do the dedication, God needs to be enthroned in the temple. He, Solomon, summoned all Israel and the leaders of the tribes (1 Kgs. 8:1-5), asking them to carry and place the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy place in the temple (1 Kgs. 8:6-9). The Ark of the Covenant is a symbolic representation of God’s presence among His people. It is a visual reminder to Israel of God’s testimony of His dwelling and enduring presence among them. Notice also the manner in which the Ark is brought into the temple and where it is placed. This reveals yet an underlying notion of the kingship of Yahweh. The Israelites brings in the Ark in procession and place it in the Most Holy place in the temple is indicative of the triumph of Yahweh over the nations and over all other gods. We read also in the prophet Isaiah (6:1-3, 6) of Yahweh enthroned as the God to whom all our devotion and worship is due. Solomon had said that he will build an exalted temple in which Yahweh will be enthroned to reign forever (1 Kgs. 8:13). Now that the building project is complete, and before he could dedicate it to Yahweh, it is important for Yahweh to be enthroned. So, he brings in the Ark of the Covenant.
Following the enthronement of Yahweh is Solomon’s dedication of the temple (1 Kgs. 8:22-53). This prayer is at the heart of the dedication service. Spreading out his hands in the assembly of Israel and before the Ark, and after praising God for His faithfulness (1 Kgs. 8:14-21), Solomon begins to pray. He begins by confessing God as the incomparable One both in heaven and on earth and that there is none like the God of Israel. Yahweh is incomparable in that He is the covenant God who makes and keeps His promises (1 Kgs. 8:23-24). In order to set a clear distinction between Yahweh and all other deities that were worshiped by the Canaanites, Solomon poses the question: “Will God really dwell on earth” (1 Kgs. 8:27) Solomon had said earlier that he has built a dwelling place for the Lord’s enthronement. Now that the temple is complete and Yahweh’s presence is there, it is important for Solomon to clarify that God is not limited to any spacial location as it is with the gods of Israel’s neighbors. While the gods that Israel’s neighbors worship live in tents and temples built by human hands and are as such confined, the God of Israel, on the contrary, is everywhere present in time and space, yet time and space cannot confine Him. It is this view of God that moved Paul to burst into doxology, praising Him for salvation (Rom.11:33).
This raises the question: If God does not live in temples built by human hands, what then is the purpose of Solomon’s temple? Solomon’s prayer seems to lay out some reasons for the temple. First, it is a visible reminder of God’s faithfulness to all Israel. Second, it is a place where God’s presence may be known and proclaimed. Solomon had prayed that God will turn His eyes and ears to this place, the temple, where God’s name is (1 kgs. 8:28-30). Third, the temple is a place where the deepest needs of humankind meet with God’s grace. In the case of the immediate audience, the temple was to be a place for worship, a place where atonement can be made for the sins of Israel. This is intimated in Solomon’s prayers as he calls on Yahweh to forgive Israel whenever they sin and turn away from Him (1 Kgs. 8:33-40). Finally, the temple in its beauty and magnificence is to serve as an attractive force for others, non Israelites, to Israel’s God. It is like a city on the hill that radiates and shines its light to all, thus attracting many to itself.
After Solomon had prayed and dedicated the temple to the Lord, God responds in acknowledgment of the temple as a special place consecrated to His name and His dwelling place (1 Kgs. 8:29; 9:3-9). In this response, we read of God’s promise that God’s name will, indeed, remain in this consecrated temple forever and that God will watch over the people and their sacrifices (1 Kgs. 9:3). But this promise hinges on at least two conditions: that Solomon (and the kings that will come after him) remains faithful to Yahweh (1 Kgs. 9:4-5); and that all the Israelites remain obedient and loyal to their God (1Kgs. 9:6-9). We see here that the preservation of the throne of David; the preservation of Israel and its prosperity in the Land; and finally the preservation of the temple rest on Israel being loyal to her God. God takes this matter so serious to the point that God’s people, Israel and the temple is a stake if the Israelites turn to other gods.
Yes, Yahweh had blessed and prospered Solomon enormously. News about his building projects – the temple and his palace (1 kgs. 6; 7) – had spread and would cover headline news on CNN and major magazines if it were in an age of technology and the media. Solomon’s splendor; his wisdom and prosperity attracted many to come seek his wise judgment (1 Kgs. 10:1-13). It is worth pointing out here that the splendor of Solomon, the vastness of his wisdom and riches is a prototype of Christ. Solomon in his splendor pointed to Christ, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7), the One whose birth is remembered and celebrated this Advent season.
We have so far explored the positive side of Solomon’s character. Let us now examine the other side of Solomon as it relates to his loyalty to God. His character contradiction begins to unfold in 1 Kings 11. His devotion to Yahweh began to dwindle and shift as a result of his love for pleasure, apart from God. Haven being warned not to intermarry with the Canaanites (Deut. 17:14-17), Solomon went on and took for himself wives outside of the people of God. It is important to note here that the issue is not cross-cultural marriage and the multiplication of wives, per se (although the multiplication of wives will be a big problem for me). The main issue here is the package that accompanied these women to Solomon’s palace. It is the pagan deities that were introduced as a result of these marriages. These gods swayed Solomon’s allegiance and heart away from Yahweh. We read also that Solomon built temples and worship places for these gods (1 Kgs. 11:4-8), thus establishing the worship of foreign gods among the Israelites. It is also worth pointing out that Solomon’s establishment of pagan worship in Israel sets the course for latter generations as those that succeeded him as king replicated this idolatrous behavior as we shall see in the paragraphs that follow.
Since Yahweh would not share His glory with any other god (s), Yahweh raised up against Solomon adversaries from within and from outside his household. From outside of Israel, Yahweh raised up Hadad, an Edomite (1 Kgs. 11:14-22) and Rezon son of Eliada (1 Kgs. 11:23-25) as adversaries against Solomon. Within Solomon’s household, God raised up Jeroboam to rebel against Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:26-43) and to ill-treat the people of God (1 kgs. 12:11-15). Solomon and Israel deserved to face the consequences for their unfaithfulness and disloyalty to Yahweh. Yahweh had made His covenant with Solomon and Israel, and all Yahweh expected of His vassals, Israel, was faithfulness without which they will face the consequences of being unfaithful. They turned their loyalty to other gods and had to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness.
It is important to note here that although God raised up adversaries to punish Solomon and Israel, this act by God is a testimony to God’s integrity as suzerain who makes and keeps His promises. Solomon and Israel were unfaithful. They violated God’s covenant. But God remains faithful in keeping His covenant and in doing what He had promised He would. But even as God remain faithful in maintaining His integrity, God sometimes responds with grace and mercy in giving Israel “the good” when they deserve “bad” or punishment because of their unfaithfulness. This God who remains faithful and would show mercy when we deserve punishment for the wrong we do is trustworthy. Although God raised up scourges against Solomon and against the people of Israel, God still kept His promise made to David, the promise that David’s throne will endure forever. We see that promise come true in the birth of Christ (Matt. 1:1) who is our reigning Savior, Lord, and King.
The narrative continues with further consequences for unfaithfulness. The kingdom is divided and hence the people of Israel under Jeroboam and Rehoboam as kings. There is no longer national unity as the kingdom is fragmented and weakened. This fragmentation makes the Israelites vulnerable to their neighbors. Rehoboam becomes king of Judah in the South while Jeroboam rules Israel in the North.
We see the replication of the negative character of Solomon in Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and most of the kings that succeeded each of these. After being given a sign and warned by a certain “man of God” from Judah (1 Kgs. 13:1-10), Jeroboam did not change, but persisted in his evil ways. He appointed priests from all sort of people to serve at the worship centers he had built and dedicated to the worship of pagan gods (1 Kgs. 13:33-34). His sons, who succeeded him as kings, followed in his footsteps. Now, Ahab had married Jezreel –a foreign wife- and had introduced the worship of Baal (the Canaanite god of nature and fertility) in Israel. He had also built a pole for Asherah, thus provoking Yahweh to anger (1 Kgs. 16:29-33).
Because of Ahab’s sin and how that has led Israel astray, God raised up Elijah to pronounce God’s judgment on Ahab and his kingdom. The judgment was severe drought. It was not going to rain for a few years (1 Kgs. 17:1). Anyone from an agrarian culture might quickly understand the implications of not having rainfall for a few months, let alone for a few years. This meant that there was going to be no harvest, for all the crops and livestock will wither and die. The absence of a harvest meant starvation, and possibly death from it, since there would be no food and water and water to sustain life. It is important to note that this judgment from Yahweh on the Land was a challenge to Baal and all of Baal’s prophets. If Baal was the god of fertility and could make the rains come in their due season so that the land can yield a good harvest, let him bring the rains. But if Baal fails to do so, it means Baal is no god and is not worthy of worship. This contest builds up and is climaxed at Mount Carmel where Elijah faced Ahab and the prophets of Baal head-on (1 Kgs. 18:16-41). In this confrontation, the prophets of Baal could invoke Baal to bring the rains. So, they were all slaughtered.
While this was going on in the northern kingdom, Judah seems to be enjoying relative peace and prosperity in the south. This relative peace in the South was not because king Rehoboam and Abijah, his successor, where loyal to God. It was because God decided to show mercy. Like Jeroboam and his successors, Rehoboam and Abijah did evil in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kgs. 14:22-28; 15:3). Instead of showing nemesis, God remembered His promise to David and spared Abijah a son, Asa, who latter on succeeded him as king over Judah.
Of all the kings in the readings for the week, only Asa is portrayed as being fully devoted to Yahweh. We read that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and he is commended for all the good things he did as king over Judah (1 Kgs. 15:11-19). It is interesting to note that Asa is commended after David as his father, rather than Abijah, his biological father. This begs the question as to why he is commended as David’s son, and not Abijah. In one sense, Asa is the great grandson of king David, and could be called the son of David. But I think the relation between Asa and David as mentioned in this passage is one of loyalty to Yahweh, than one of birth or family tree. Although David’s internal character was full of contradictions, one thing that set him apart from other biblical characters was that whenever he recognized he had sinned and his heart drifted away from the Lord, he returned in repentance, asking for a new heart and a renewed devotion (Psalms 51:1-14). I think it was in the same manner that Asa is likened and commended as David’s son although nothing negative is mentioned about his character in the readings.
An important lesson that stands out on reading through the above scriptures is that God remains faithful in keeping His promises and in holding out grace and mercy. Human unfaithfulness brings the inevitable judgment of God; yet God still provides signs of grace and hope amidst the darkness of sin and death. Despite the certainty of doom and despair that sin brings, God persistently holds out the possibility of an appropriate response from those whom God so loves such that in the end, grace and mercy triumph.