Solomon: So Goes the Glory of the World

A sermon delivered at Trinity Anglican Church (Aurora, ON) on November 17, 2013

1st Reading: I Kings 3:3, 5-6, 9-14; 10:23-24

2nd Reading: I Kings 11:6, 9-13

                                                                                                                                                           

I speak to you in the name of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the past nine Sundays we’ve been exploring some of the most well-known stories of the Old Testament. We’ve read these stories with adult eyes not to dismiss them as irrelevant myths from a distant past, but to re-engage them as stories that continue to matter because they bear wisdom for our spiritual journeys.

Today we conclude our “Not Sunday School” series with King Solomon. But, before we get to Solomon, it is important to take a moment to summarize our journey so far – not in terms of the stories we’ve explored, but rather in terms of how we’ve read them.

We read the Old Testament, indeed the entire Bible, through the eyes of faith. Our primary focus in reading this way is on who God is and what God has done. In other words, we read the Bible as God’s story where God is the primary character. All of the humans we meet in this story are important because they help to tell God’s story.

Reading the Bible through the eyes of faith does not mean that we simply take the text literally in every instance nor does it mean that we avoid difficult questions that arise from the text. Rather, we read with sensitivity to the cultural context and to the genre in which the text was written. By reading this way, we are being faithful to the text itself and are therefore able to better grasp the story that God is telling.

So, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the context and genre of today’s readings.

Although the narratives of the Old Testament look like historical accounts, we should not impose a modern understanding of history onto the text. The authors of 1 & 2 Kings were not interested in given a purely objective and dispassionate account of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah. They are re-telling history to make a particular theological point. This is exactly why in the Jewish Bible 1 & 2 Kings is considered a book of prophecy.

The message of the biblical prophets in a nutshell is this: trust in the God who liberates captives and brings the dead back to life.

1 & 2 Kings was written during a period when the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon, some 400 years after the reign of Solomon. No longer were they a free and sovereign nation; their kingdom is divided and they are subjects of a foreign power. You can imagine that there was a profound sense of despair and disorientation. People were asking: Why did our kingdom fall apart? Are we not God’s chosen people? Where is God?

1 & 2 Kings is a re-telling of history with the purpose of explaining what went wrong, of explaining why God’s people were in exile. This is what we need to keep in mind when reading the story of King Solomon.

Solomon was the Son of David. So, as you would expect, there were some very high expectations for Solomon. In the first verse of our reading, we are told that Solomon “loved [Yahweh] and walk[ed] in the statutes of his father [David]”.

So far, so good.

However, when we continue reading, we get a very clear foreshadowing of what is to come. Listen to the rest of the verse: “only [Solomon] sacrificed and offered incense at the high places”. In other words, Solomon thought he could worship both Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the gods of the Canaanites.

Remember, the first commandment?

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…you shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:1-3, 4a, 5a).

Do you hear the way the authors of 1 & 2 Kings are subtly explaining what went wrong with Solomon’s rule from its onset?

Solomon’s rule was the beginning of the end of the Kingdom of Israel. Ultimately he did not follow in his father’s footsteps. Solomon’s failure brings to mind the message of the prophet Samuel to the Hebrew people when they asked for a king. Samuel’s response? God is your only king. Are you sure you want a human king? OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…

But wait a minute – what about Solomon’s wisdom? His fortune? His fame? Didn’t God give him these things?

Yes. But let’s not forget the point the authors of 1 & 2 Kings are making: it is because of Solomon’s fame and fortune that his reign fell apart. When God offered to give Solomon anything he desired, Solomon chose wisdom and refused glory. For this reason, God gave him wisdom and glory. However, Solomon’s glory soon supplanted his God-given wisdom. Solomon starts with wisdom and yet he ends up a fool.

Following God’s rejection of Solomon, the word ‘wisdom’ is never again used in the rest of the book.

The critique of the authors of 1 & 2 Kings is clear: the wisdom of monarchs will always fail to deliver when it is caught up in the glory of the world and forgets to glorify God alone. Royal wisdom cannot prevent a kingdom from falling apart. Therefore, we should not put our ultimate trust in the rulers of the world nor should we be surprised when they fail.

Solomon extends the empire of his father David.

He obtains immeasurable wealth.

He is world renowned.

He creates a powerful army.

He builds the great Temple in Jerusalem.

Solomon is successful by every worldly measure.

And yet, as the authors of 1 & 2 Kings argue, Solomon is a fool.

Solomon is a fool because he put his trust in the power and glory of the world and used these things to further his own fame.

Solomon is a fool because he assumes that by building the Temple he is guaranteed divine protection. Let’s not forget that this is the same Temple that will later be destroyed by invading armies.

Solomon is a fool because builds his empire on the backs of slaves forgetting that his people were once slaves to an empire. He forgets that the God he claims to love is the God who liberates slaves.

Solomon is a fool because he continues to worship idols.

Solomon is a fool because he breaks Torah, the law God gave to his people. Not only was the Torah meant to help God’s people be faithful to their covenant with God, its purpose was also to show God’s people how to live as a blessing for all people, how to cultivate God’s shalom in the world.

Solomon is fool because forgets that Moses, in explaining the Torah to the people, told them that their king “must not acquire great numbers of horses…or take many wives…or accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” (Deut. 17:16-17).

Solomon built an army of horse-drawn chariots.

He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

He accumulated vast wealth.

He worshipped idols.

Solomon was a fool.

Do you see how Solomon has become a Pharaoh, a Caesar, a ruler of an Empire by ignoring God’s wisdom and trusting in his own power and glory?

Do you see why the authors of 1 & 2 Kings would take offense at Solomon’s rule? Why they would scorn his worldly wisdom?

Solomon’s folly was the beginning of the end of the kingdom of Israel. According to the authors of 1 & 2 Kings, his inability to lead God’s people in the way that God intended eventually resulted in their exile.

The questions that the Israelites were asking in exile are similar to the questions North Americans are asking today: what is happening in our governments? How do we live in the midst of a world where the economy is crumbling, the environment is declining, and everything is changing? Where is God?

The questions the Israelites were asking are similar to the questions of the Church today: what is happening to the church? Are we not God’s people? Where is God?

We live in a time of uncertainty about so many things which leads to an overwhelming sense of anxiety. However, the source of our anxiety is rooted in the same problem that faced Solomon and the Israelites: like them, we tend to put our trust in things that cannot deliver – in kingdoms that will inevitably rise and fall, in fluctuating bank balances and fleeting fame.

It seems that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Fast forward hundreds of years and we find the Israelites living under the rule of the Roman Empire asking the same questions: where did we go wrong? How did this happen? Where is God?

Then Jesus comes along.

The one who claims that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The one who is the embodiment of God’s wisdom.

The one who identifies himself as the Son of God.

The one who is called the Son of David.

The son of David?

But Solomon is the son of David.

Do you see what has happened?

By calling Jesus the Son of David, Jesus is named as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David and to God’s people that David’s kingdom will have no end (cf. Psalm 89:3-4).

By calling Jesus the Son of David, the people are putting their trust and hope in him; they are proclaiming that Jesus is the one who will restore God’s people, end their exile, and bring them to life.

And Jesus does just that.

But he doesn’t do it in the way of the empires of the world; he doesn’t rely on military power, vast wealth, or personal fame.

He does it by telling his people to love God and their neighbors as themselves.

He does it by showing us a new way of life that exposes the wisdom of the world as foolishness.

He does it by dying on a cross, rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and promising to return again when to restore the entire cosmos.

He does it by calling us to end our anxiety by putting our hope and trust in God alone.

Listen to Jesus’ words:

“I tell you, do not worry about your life…Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you?…Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 28-29, 30b, 33).

Do you hear the echoes of God’s words to Solomon from our first reading? When God’s people put their trust in him and strive for the things of God, God promises to provide for them.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

It requires a radical trust that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar – and all the other rulers who come and go – are not Lord.

It requires a radical trust the Jesus Christ is the Son of David, a king whose kingdom is completely unlike the kingdoms of the world.

It requires that we live as citizens and ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, seeking to bring God’s shalom to all people.

The question is: who do you trust? Solomon, the Son of David whose wisdom is foolishness and whose glory is fleeting or Jesus Christ, the Son of David, God’s wisdom in the flesh, to whom belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever?

Amen.

 

Bibliography

Rob Bell. Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Peter Leithart. 1 & 2 Kings. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006.

Richard D. Nelson. First and Second Kings. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987.

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