Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Temple of Solomon

The Temple which Solomon built was a fulfillment of his father David's wish that God might have a worthy place for his presence among his people. In our day, it is hard to imagine a ruler's focus on a project like that. This was a kingdom where God was welcome, wanted, and treasured. The beauty of the Temple was similar to the Tabernacle before it. The architecture contained works of breathtaking art to convey reverence for God and the holiness of his presence. Solomon had the Temple constructed before his own palace, where in his wisdom he placed priority on giving glory and honor to God. So long as a king would place the holiness of God above his own desires, the kingdom had hope and the king's heart would stay away from corruption. So the king's honor of God was the cornerstone of that kingdom. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Solomon's Proverbs had a mission

I'm continuing with the questions, "What does wisdom look like? What does wisdom do?" I'm focusing still on Solomon, whose prayer for wisdom struck me as one of the most moving prayers of the Bible. When I continue reading of Solomon's life, there are passages about the king's advisors and his cabinet -- about how he organized and administered the land. The account continues about both Solomon's wealth and about the nation's prosperity. 

Judah and Israel were as many as the sands by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and being merry. (I Kings 4:20)

The nation's prosperity is mentioned nearby to more of Solomon's accomplishments:  

He spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. (1 Kings 4:32)

I'd rather not be distracted by the questions of whether the numbers were literal or symbolic, or whether it refers to the Book of Proverbs where most of the book is attributed to Solomon. Regardless of those questions, Solomon was famous for proverbs. He spent much time and effort considering what was a wise course of action in all the day-to-day decisions that people face. He distilled that into short sayings that could be remembered fairly easily. It takes focus and clarity to get to the heart of the matter quickly and clearly; the more complicated the situation, the more insight is required to cut through the fog and see the best way through. It is easy to mistake many words for deep understanding; sometimes the best insights are brief. 

All his pondering was not for himself alone. His proverbs apparently brought fame in his lifetime, and visits from the rulers of neighboring lands. (What would it be like to live in an age where rulers of the nations sought wisdom among each others' prized imports and exports? Where a man of deep insight was a pilgrimage destination for a nation's leaders?) The proverbs were also for his own people. I have the passing thought that I'm sure a nation is easier to govern if each person acts wisely, and each has understanding so as not to cause hardship to themselves or their community. The account is clear that both Solomon himself and the nation under him flourished -- that managing things wisely was a blessing to them all, and that the more wisdom, the more blessing. 

Solomon worked on multiple levels: he arranged good, orderly administration for the government and the land, and yet he did not suppose that the quality of life in the land was given top-down from the throne. Each proverb was a seed of wisdom that could be planted throughout the nation so that every home would have its own supply. As in the ruler, so in the home: the more wisdom, the more blessing. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Solomon's Wisdom in Practice: Justice

Solomon's love of wisdom has been an inspiration to me over the years. It seems that God heard and honored his prayer for wisdom, since Solomon's desire was to bless his people. 

The first time we see Solomon's wisdom in action is in the courtroom. The king was asked to judge a case where one woman had accused another of kidnapping her baby because the (alleged) kidnapper's baby had died; the other woman in return said that her accuser was lying, that the accuser's baby had died. Cases in which there are no other witnesses -- only the accuser and counter-accuser -- are notoriously hard to judge. There have been times in history when a case like that might be denied a hearing for lack of witnesses. One woman was losing her child -- an irreparable harm -- but what proof did she have? 

Those familiar with the account will know that Solomon devised a test: he suggested that the living child be cut in two and divided between the women. The accused thought those terms were acceptable, but the accuser said she would rather lose the child than have it die. So by that test, Solomon was able to discern which woman was truly the mother of the living child, and returned the baby to the mother. 

I'm not confident how the test would have appeared to Solomon's contemporaries thousands of years ago. Was it making a point that there is a kind of so-called justice that is barbaric and harsh, which does not deserve to be called justice? That account shows that true justice brings restoration, that true wisdom brings clarity. It shows that wisdom does not settle for an appearance of justice (a mockery of fairness in which everyone loses equally); wisdom persists until it can reach righteousness. And the two women were said to be prostitutes. To the people who heard this told thousands of years ago, did it send a message that nobody in the kingdom was beyond the king's protection, that justice was extended even to the most poor and outcast? Justice here shows itself as a blessing to ordinary people in their daily lives, and one of the pillars of a prosperous kingdom. 

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Solomon's wisdom and his predecessors

If Solomon prayed for wisdom, if God heard that prayer and blessed Solomon with wisdom, then how did that wisdom come? I'm not here interested in the failures of Solomon's later years, in playing "gotcha" with fallen heroes. We all stumble at times, and Solomon's stumbles are too often used to distract from how he served when at his best. I'm interested in understanding more about the gift of wisdom. 

When reading and considering the wisdom of Solomon, I was surprised to see this phrase: 

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. (I Kings 4:29)

"As the sand that is on the sea shore". That phrase is similar to God's promise to Abraham that his offspring would be "as the sand that is on the sea shore" (Genesis 22:17), so similar that it seems an intentional reminder of that earlier blessing. A search shows that those words are also used to describe Joseph's administration of Egypt preparing for the famine: "And Joseph gathered grain as the sand of the sea, exceeding much, until he ceased numbering for it was beyond counting" (Genesis 32:12). Here the wisdom and blessing grow to match the people and their need; and the hallmark of God's blessing is the generous outpouring to meet their need. Abraham, Joseph, Solomon were key leaders in establishing and preserving the nation -- and in inspiring the nation; they receive blessings that echo each other. 

By the days of Solomon, Abraham's offspring have grown -- and they need a guiding wisdom that has grown to match. Solomon's wisdom was given as understanding and largeness of heart. The one who can lead wisely takes time for understanding, devotes and pursues understanding. The one who can lead wisely also has a large heart, with depth of empathy and feeling. Without that largeness of heart it is not wisdom, and falls short of the blessing that God intends. 

Solomon's wisdom does not stand as a solitary moment in the history of his people. It is a continuation of the blessing given to Abraham, and the wise rule entrusted to Joseph: the overflowing generosity of God's promise to provide for his people.