Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reading in Kings This Week #1 (1 Kings 1-11)

First Kings Chart

3478This week we continue the story of Samuel in the book of Kings accompanied by 1 & 2 Kings The College Press NIV Commentary by Jesse C. Long. Kings tells the story of how the Davidic Covenant works out in the history of Israel. Each king is compared to David and fails.  I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The story in Kings begins with the death of David and succession of Solomon to the throne. David is now an old, impotent and unable king who is vulnerable to others. The world around him has been made dangerous by David's previous manipulations and abuses of power, especially the Bathsheba affair, and the succession of Solomon has been made especially dangerous. In response to the rebellion of Adonijah, Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan work a manipulative scheme to bring Solomon to the throne. David expresses great trust in God's promise and covenant, but continued to try to manipulate the situation. These faithless actions will sow the seed for the mistrust of the other tribes and the subsequent divisions and exile of the nation.

Herein lies a primary theological issue of Kings: How is God’s sovereign will enacted with imperfect people and institutions? How does God’s will interface with free will, especially when Israel and her kings choose another course? This is the real tension of Kings. The answer will call attention to Yahweh’s power and grace, for he will remember his promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David and emerge as the sole hero of the story. 1 Kings 1, 58

So, with his controlled use of irony, the narrator allows the inconsistencies in David’s final words to Solomon, with all of their ambiguity, to characterize Israel’s greatest king. David is a complicated character, sometimes a model of devotion to Yahweh, at other times as self-serving as any king in Israel. When he is humble and “giving,” he receives the blessings of Yahweh. The “grasping” David suffers both personally and politically. 1 Kings 2.5-9, 75

This accomplished use of literary technique enables the storyteller to bring out the tension between Yahweh’s sovereign will and human choices. God fulfills his promise to David but is not responsible for the way Solomon establishes the throne “in his hands” (2:46)...In the opening act of his story, the narrator demonstrates that Yahweh’s will is accomplished in spite of human weaknesses. He is behind the scenes, keeping his promise, but there is not anything here to suggest that he condones Solomon’s purge. 1 Kings 1-2, 84

Chapters 3-5 describe the way in which Solomon received wisdom from God and the humble and wise attitude with which he begins his reign. However, God's gift of wisdom, wealth, peace, power etc. is conditional. Solomon must follow torah and the ways of God. When he does this the nation is blessed with God's gifts. However, there are hints that Solomon does not always do this. The story begins with a marriage to an Egyptian princess. Mostly, the beginning of the reign is good with the classic descriptions of a prosperous, peaceful Israel as promised. But Solomon's foolish choices of wives, multiplying horses (in disobedience to Deut. 17), and forcing his own countrymen into labor gangs will bear bad fruit later in his reign.

Solomon humbly presents himself as a novice who is unprepared for the responsibilities of state. But his deference is not hollow or contrived. Remarkably, he asks for a discerning heart (literally, “a hearing heart … to discern good and evil,” v. 9), not for his own good, but to govern this great people Yahweh had chosen! 1 Kings 3.6-9, 90

The wisdom that Yahweh promises will discern good from evil (vv. 9, 12). Even this divine wisdom, however, will conflict with the foolish choices Solomon makes. Yahweh may give wisdom, but Solomon, as each king in Israel, has free will to choose his own course. 1 Kings 3-4, 92

By naming Israelite conscription for the king’s building projects mas, the narrator is consciously calling attention to Solomon’s oppressive policies, which were predicted by Samuel...Again, how wise was this most blessed of kings, who apparently built a glorious kingdom, not on his faith in the God who blessed him, but on the backs of the people he ruled? 1 Kings 5.10-18, 106–107

The story of the building and dedication of the temple is placed around the story of the building of Solomon's house. This highlights the faithfulness of God in keeping his promise to David and contrasts with Solomon's lack of faithfulness, despite the blessings God gave him. The passage mentions Solomon's marriage to an Egyptian princess and that Solomon took almost twice as long to build his palace as he did building the temple. The whole passage is seen as a conclusion to the Exodus story. God has redeemed his people from slavery and takes his place on his throne (the ark was seen as the "footstool" of God's throne in heaven). God now visibly lives with his people, but warns them that His Presence will only stay as long as they "live according to my regulations, follow my rulings and observe all my mitzvot and live by them." (Complete Jewish Bible 1 Kings 6:12) Sadly, the kings of Israel will not do this and Israel will return to slavery in the exile to Babylon.

The temple will be a symbol of Yahweh’s commitment to David and represent his presence in Israel. He will dwell (שָׁכַן, šākan, the word from which “Shekinah” is derived) with them in this house. Yet in spite of Yahweh’s choice, Solomon and his descendants will break their covenant with Yahweh. Both temple and kingship will be shattered. 1 Kings 6.11-13, 112

Judah will go into exile, back to Egyptian captivity in Babylon, because of forsaking the covenant and serving other gods—and because her kings will pursue wealth and honor over righteousness and justice...Solomon starts Israel on that path. 1 Kings 7.1-12, 116

In Solomon’s prayer, he repeatedly calls attention to the fact that he had constructed the temple for Yahweh. “I have indeed built” recurs six times in the verses that follow and appears to reflect a self-absorbed attitude that suggests that the temple may be as much about Solomon as the one who will dwell in the house that he builds. In the end, it may be that this spirit is what keeps this son of David from sustaining the devotion to Yahweh that characterized his father. 1 Kings 8.1-13, 125

Solomon's prayer in chapter 8 explains how God could "live" in a house and yet be transcendent. God lives and rules from "the heavens" and is omnipresent, but his "Name" lives in the Temple. In other words, the sovereign God has chosen this building as the place where he can be approached by his subjects and hear their prayers. Solomon lists several scenarios where this would happen. God honors Solomon's prayer, but reminds him, as in Deuteronomy, that this will only be valid as they are fully devoted to God and avoid idolatry. Solomon vows this, but, even as chapter 9 recounts Solomon's blessing of wealth, we see the things that dilute this commitment to God, (many wives, trust in military power and money) and lead to the later problems that he will have and will ultimately result in exile. Solomon's mention of exile makes one think that he expected, again as in Deuteronomy, the nation to fail. Will God restore them when that happens?

Yahweh may be misrepresented in the very trappings of power that are symbolized in the magnificent house Solomon has constructed. Only when this same edifice lies in ruins, will Israel’s kings learn that Yahweh and his temple are not objects to be manipulated and used for political ambitions. 1 Kings 8.14-21, 126

Solomon may be sincere as he dedicates a house for Yahweh, but he is also self-serving. Remarkably, Yahweh responds to his devotion. In the end, however, a self-absorbed Solomon will be unable to live his professions! 1 Kings 8, 135

Yahweh placed Solomon on the throne of his father to have dominion (māšal, 4:21 [5:1]) over Israel and blessed him with wisdom to rule (māšal), with which he had written many proverbs (māšāl, 4:32 [5:12]). Yet, if he does not live by Torah and serve Yahweh, as did his father, the temple will become a ruin and Israel a māšāl (“byword”)—a tragic folly for a man with wisdom from God. 1 Kings 9.1-9, 140

In 10-11 the story of Solomon comes to a tragic end. The author of Kings has cleverly laid out the story so that the blessings in the early part of Solomon's story are paralleled in the back half of the story by the way Solomon has co-opted those blessings to indulge himself. In the end these compromises lead Solomon into idolatry and the shattering of his kingdom. The very things that Moses predicted would lead the nation into ruin - reliance on wealth, many wives (reliance on foreign alliances)  reliance on military power (horses)- are the very things Solomon does, and these things turn the wisest man into a foolish idolater.

The stress on luxury items and wisdom for Solomon’s glory that characterizes 9:10–10:29, in contrast with the blessings of Yahweh that were used for the people of Israel in chapters four and five, suggests a shift toward the type of king of whom Samuel warned (1 Sam 8:11–18). By the creative use of structural irony, Solomon is exposed as a self-indulgent leader who has lost sight of his divinely ordained role as shepherd of Israel. 1 Kings 10.1-13, 146

The oath to David may still prove to be unconditional. The God of Israel has torn the kingdom from Solomon as he did from Saul, but Yahweh’s love will remain with the descendants of David. There may yet be grace—hope for the return for which Solomon prayed (8:33–34). 1 Kings 11.26-40, 155

God is still gracious and will leave David's family one tribe to rule.

Solomon’s father, David, is the ideal standard. Solomon is the king who took Yahweh’s blessings and made them a curse. For God’s people in exile, the story of this king’s tragic reign explains why they had been abandoned and, at the same time, offers hope that Yahweh may be their savior once more. 1 Kings 11, 157

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