1 Kings 3: God gives Solomon wisdom

31 Oct

Solomon’s reign was off to a solid start. The men who he did not trust had proved themselves unworthy of it, so he had them dispatched by Benaiah, including his brother Adonijah. He then married Pharoah’s daughter, developing a strategic alliance with one of their powerful neighbours. He continued to follow God’s word and make sacrifices at local shrines because there was not yet a temple.

One one particular day Solomon made a thousand whole burnt offering sacrifices to God at a shrine in Gibeon. He then slept at Gibeon where God appeared to him in a dream. God asked him what he wanted and Solomon asked for wisdom to be able to lead and care for God’s people. God was delighted with this request and gave Solomon great wealth and glory too.

The very next day Solomon gave a feast for his court and during this banquet two women arrived arguing over a baby. They had both given birth to live children but during the night one had died. They both claimed that the living child was their’s. Solomon listened to their argument for a while and then he called for a sword. He pronounced that the child would be cut in two and they could each have half a baby. The mother of the child begged him not to do this and said the other woman could have the whole living child. But the woman whose baby was already dead demanded he kill the child. Solomon identified the mother in this way and gave her the living baby.

This was recognised as the start of Solomon using God’s wisdom.

What would you ask for if God offered you anything? I hear people often say, “when I win the lottery” – how many of us wouldn’t ask for just enough to be comfortable?

But what do you think David would have asked for? From his Psalms and his life, perhaps he would have simply asked to know that God would never leave him, that he could live in God’s presence always? Did Solomon take that for granted, and therefore ask for more on top of that? Yet we know that in spite of all his wisdom, Solomon did not have the closeness to God his father had had.

Kings Introduction

29 Oct

Yes, I realise and introduction now is now really logical but I had charged in to the next book and only now read Eugene Peterson’s introduction in The Message and it is really quite wow. Maybe it feels more wow to me today when I am feeling swamped by the city of London, my mum’s illness and the vastness of crazy egos around me (including my own frustrated ego that tries to “make a difference” in vain). Rather than warble on I wanted to simply quote from the introduction and share my favourite passges, on second thoughts I think I will simply copy in the whole introduction as you might find some parts more important than I did. This is from the Kindle version of The Message:

“Sovereignty, God’s sovereignty, is one of the most difficult things for people of faith to live out in everyday routines. But we have no choice: God is Sovereign. God rules. Not only in our personal affairs but in the cosmos. Not only in our times and places of worship but in office buildings, political affairs, factories, universities, hospitals – yes, even behind the scenes in saloons and rock concerts. It’s a wild and extravagant notion, to be sure.But nothing in our Scriptures is attested to more frequently or emphatically.

“Yet not much in our daily experience confirms it. Impersonal forces and arrogant egos compete for the last word in power. Most of us are knocked around much of the time by forces and wills that give no hint of God. Still, generation after generation, men and women of sound mind continue to give sober witness to God’s sovereign rule. One of the enduring titles given to Jesus is “King”.

“So how do we manage to live believingly and obediently in and under this revealed sovereignty in a world that is mostly either ignorant or defiant of it?

“Worship shaped by an obedient readding of Scripture is basic. We submit to having our imaginations and behaviours conditioned by the reality of God rather than by what is handed out in school curricula and media reporting. In the course of this worshipful listening, the books of Kings turn out to provide essential data on what we can expect as we live under God’s sovereign rule.

“The story of our ancestors, the Hebrew kings, began in the books of Samuel. This story makes it clear that it was not God’s idea that the Hebrews have a king, but since they insisted, He let them have their way. But God never abdicated His sovereignty to any of the Hebrew kings; the idea was that they would represent His sovereignty, not that He would delegate His sovereignty to them.

“But it never worked very well. After five hundred years and something over forty kings, there was not much to show for it. Even the bright spots – David and Hezekiah and Josiah – were not very bright. Human beings, no matter how well intentioned or gifted, don’t’ seem to be able to represent God’s rule anywhere close to satisfactory. The books of Kings, in that light, are a five-hundred-year documentation proving that the Hebrew demand of God to “have a king” was about the worst thing they could have asked for.

“But through the centuries, readers of this text have commonly realised something else: In the midst of the incredible mess these kings are making of God’s purposes, God continues to work His purposes and uses them  in the work – doesn’t discard them, doesn’t detour around them, He uses them. They are part of His sovereign rule, whether they want to be or not, whether they know it or not. God’s purposes are worked out in confrontation and revelation, in judgement and salvation, but they are worked out. God’s rule is not imposed in the sense that He forces each man and woman into absolute conformity to justice and truth and righteousness. The rule is worked from within, much of the time invisible and unnoticed but always patiently and resolutely there. The books of Kings provide a premier witness to the sovereignty of God carried out among some of the most unlikely and uncooperative people who have ever lived.

“The benefit of reading these books is enormous. To being with, our understanding and experience of God’s sovereignty develops counter to all power-based and piety-based assumptions regarding God’s effective rule. We quit spinning our wheels on utopian projects and dreams. following that, we begin to realise that if God’s sovereignty as it is being exercised (though often silently and hiddenly) in all the circumstantial details of the actual present.”

Apologies that today’s blog is almost double the usual length but I wanted to share this in completeness.

1 Kings 2: A Blueprint for Christian Living

28 Oct

David’s death is recorded at the start of this chapter. There is portion of his last words to Solomon that I think are good for all of us to remember:

“Do what God tells you.
Walk in the paths He shows you:
Follow the life-map absolutely,
keep an eye out for the signposts,
His course for life set out in the revelation of Moses:
then you will get on well in whatever you do and wherever you go.”
(The Message verses 2-4)

What fantastic advice for us to live by. I would add the “revelation of Jesus Christ” after “revelation of Moses”, but otherwise change nothing as a blueprint for Christian life.

The rest of the chapter shows how Solomon consolidates his power as the men he was watching each made errors. Adonijah tried to use Bathsheba to achieve power and Solomon sent Benaiah to kill him. Then he struck Abiathar off the priest roll and granted him a life in exile rather than death due to his previous loyalty to David and guarding the Chest of God. Joab ran to the sanctuary but Solomon told Benaiah to kill him there for his murder of Abner and Amasa – being in the sanctuary was no defence for guilt. Shimei was granted life as long as he stayed in Jerusalem but he left to follow run away slaves and Solomon sent Benaiah to kill him.

Is this where the revelation of Moses and the revelation of Jesus collide? Moses would have understood these killings as appropriate within a framework of justice and power; I don’t think Jesus would have done so. In following David’s blueprint we must not forget that God expects us to see the signposts and learn as we live – we cannot simply say that in these circumstances killing is allowed without seeing the big picture. The big picture starts with Jesus in Creation and ends with Jesus in Revelation – from the beginning God said killing was bad, before man sinned and God had to create a system of laws and justice that created a functioning society where killing could be seen as just.

We might think that we will never have the power of Solomon to dispatch a man to kill some one. But we have votes to change governments that choice to use death – how do we participate in society? And Jesus said that thinking badly of a person was the equivalent of murder in our hearts…

1 Kings 1: Solomon becomes king

27 Oct

As one could only expect, with so many sons and wives and warriors running around, David’s succession was messy. First, his oldest living son, Adonijah, got Joab and Abiathar onside so that he could proclaim himself king. Adonijah had excluded Nathan,Zadok, Benaiah, Shimei, Rei, Solomon and David’s bodyguards from his coronation feast as he knew they would not support him.

Nathan quickly got Bathsheba to go to King David and ask why Solomon was not made king as he, David, had promised. (Why did both Joab and Nathan always use women and pretexts to communicate big problems to David? Now, upon thinking about it, I think perhaps they knew that David would get angry and the women were like a calming influence, before David got to thinking clearly?)

As Bathsheba was telling David the bad news, Nathan came in and corroborated it. As a result David got Solomon firmly on the throne with the help of Zadok, Nathan, Benaiah and his own body guards. Everyone at Adonijah’s feast  fled in fear and Adonijah himself ended up in the sanctuary clinging to the Altar. Solomon said he would not kill Adonijah as long as he behaved as a man of honour.

Whilst Solomon’s wisdom from God apparently is given to him later (in another chapter), Solomon showed shrewdness in dealing with his brother. He could be seen as fair and generous in allowing Adonijah to live, making his accession one of peace especially in David’s remaining life. But he could only surmise that Adonijah would never remain honourable because he had tried to take the throne by deception already thus showing his colours early.

David had always been a shrewd player and generally erred on the side of generosity whenever he could, whereas Joab had generally preferred to kill anyone he felt had betrayed David or himself. It interests me that in this power play of succession, Joab aligned himself with Adonijah against David. There is a chance Joab knew Solomon was David’s preferred successor although Adonijah seems not to know. Did Joab tip his hand early in order to have leverage over the new king? Did Joab know that Adonijah would be easier to “manage” than Solomon, or any other son of David. It is mentioned that Adonijah had been spoilt by David and never been denied anything. Maybe Joab genuinely believed Adonijah should be the next king

-  nah, I don’t think so.

The fact that Solomon and key members of David’s household had been excluded from Adonijah’s “coronation feast” shows that no one believed succession was settled. Joab took a chance and why he chose Adonijah is up to our imaginations but I am sure he would not have done so unless he felt he would get more power or simply a better deal from this man than any other.

 

2 Samuel 24: David’s census

26 Oct

God tested David by telling him to conduct a census. Joab suggested this was a bad idea. But David insisted. Once it was complete God gave David a choice of punishment for his sin. This confuses me – why does God tempt David to sin? Is that my crazy interpretation?

If Joab saw it was a bad idea, why did David not do so too? The one verse I do like explains why the census was a sin in God’s eyes.
“David was overwhelmed with guilt because he had counted the people, replacing trust with statistics.” (The Message, verse 10)

The choices before David were:

  1. 3 years of famine
  2. 3 months of David running from his enemies
  3. 3 days of an epidemic on the country.

David’s reason for choosing the latter was that he would rather face God than man. However, God only gave them one day of disease because David and the elders prayed for Jerusalem which was where the epidemic stopped.

David also begged that God punish him and his family, not his people who he wanted to protect. It is not noted whether God chose to inflict something on David’s family later as a result of this prayer.

On reflection, I would say that the people of Israel and Judah were tested just as much David by this event.

And so ends 2 Samuel, tomorrow we start with 1 Kings.

2 Samuel 23: David’s warriors

25 Oct

This chapter also covers David’s last words but I am going to focus on the information provided about the warriors who fought with David. There are a few categories: the Three and the Thirty.

The Three were Josheb-Basshebeth (a Tahkemonite), Eleazar (son of Dodai the Ahohite) and Shammah (son of Agee the Hararite). Each of them killed many Philistines on their own but one exploit is recorded of the Three together. When David was on the run (it seems from the Philistines) he expressed a craving for water from the well at the gate of Bethlehem where the Philistines had their base camp. The Three managed to get to the well and bring back water for David. David then poured the water out as an offering to God because he said their sacrifice was too great for him to simply drink it.

The Thirty are listed with some getting a bit more of a story here than others:

  1. Abishai brother of Joab was the leader of the Thirty
  2. Benaiah son of Jehoiada from Kabzeel was in charge of David’s bodyguard and renowned for his acts of valour
  3. Asahel brother of Joab
  4. Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
  5. Shammah the Harodite
  6. Elika the Harodite
  7. Helex the Paltite
  8. Ira son of Ikkesh the Tekoite
  9. Abiezer the Anathothite
  10. Sibbecai the Hushathite
  11. Zalmon the AHohite
  12. Maharai the Netophathite
  13. Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite
  14. Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah of the Benjamites
  15. Benaiah the Pirathonite
  16. Hiddai from the badlands of Gaash
  17. Abi-Albon the Arbathite
  18. Azmaveth the Barhumite
  19. Eliahba the Shaalbonite
  20. Jashen the Gizonite
  21. Jonathan son of Shammah the Hararite
  22. Ahiam son of Sharar the Urite
  23. Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maacathite
  24. Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite
  25. Hezro the Carmelite
  26. Paarai the Arbite
  27. Igal son of Nathan, commander of the army of Hagrites
  28. Zelek the Ammonite
  29. Naharai the Beerothite, weapon bearer of Joab
  30. Ira the Ithrite
  31. Gareb the Ithrite
  32. Uriah the Hittite who David conspired to have murdered and the first husband of Bathsheba the mother of Solomon.

Oops I have 32 including Benaiah and Abishai who are listed before the Thirty. But then the last first says there were 37 men! For the first time I am a little confused by the numbers here.

However I note that whilst Uriah was in the Thirty, Joab was not. The man who fought ruthlessly for David and sometimes even ignored his orders to do what he though best to keep David on the throne (it always involved killing someone) was not considered one of the great warriors of David? His brother and weapons bearer did though!

And David betrayed one of the Thirty to commit adultery …

2 Samuel 22: But He caught me

24 Oct

The song in this chapter is prefaced by the clarification that David prayed these words after being saved from all his enemies and Saul. This is one of the reasons why I am not sure where this chapter fits in chronologically. Is it something David prayed after all his battles near the end of his life or earlier? Regardless of timing it is a beautiful expression of David’s relationship with God and how he worked at it daily. Rather than waffle on, I shall quote from the chapter some of my favourite verses from The Message version of the Bible.

“I sing to God the Praise-Lofty, and find myself safe and saved.
The waves of death crashed over me, devil waters rushed over me.
Hell’s ropes cinched me tight; death traps barred every exit.
A hostile world! I called to God, to my God I cried out.
From His palace He heard me call;
My cry brought me right into his presence – a private audience!” (verses 4-7)

“But me He caught – reached all the way from sky to sea; He pulled me out,
of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved – surprised to be loved!” (verses 17-20)

“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him.
When I cleaned up my act, He gave me a fresh start.
Indeed, I’ve kept alert to God’s ways’ I haven’t taken God for granted.
Every day I review the ways He works, I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step,
God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes.” (verses 21-25)

“What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth.
Every God-direction is road-tested.
Everyone who runs towards Him
Makes it.” (verses 30-31)

Of course these words are more poignant if said after David’s sin with Bathsheba and his loss of Absolom. But there is nothing in other descriptions of David that would suggest that he would have prayed any differently before or after his recorded bad choices.

 

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