Monday, November 19, 2007

In All of His Splendor (I Kings 4-10)

We have arrived to the high point of Israel’s story. Through the kingdom of David the Lord has finally brought Israel to the fulfillment of all of his great promises:
Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life...And he had peace on all sides around him. And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon.
I simply cannot overstate the magnificence of these passages. Never since the creation of the world have the scriptures spoken of such glory poured out on man. This is no less than a glimpse of the restoration of all things. Indeed, what began in the garden is now blossoming into fullness.

Consider the wisdom of the son of David:
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt...He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
Man was given dominion over the creatures of Earth, and the king here is the paragon of this mastery. As the animals came before Adam to hear its name, so the nations come before Israel to receive wisdom.

The great Temple itself is built to be a picture of Eden. Woven all through the architecture are motifs of lilies, gourds, palm trees, open flowers, and pomegranates. Oxen and lions – beasts both tame and wild – feature throughout. And at the center of it all are the cherubim. The heavenly beings once guarding the garden from man’s touch now feature as the centerpiece in the heart of Jerusalem.

There is no symbol for the Lord himself – no idol. The Lord, dwelling in clouds of thick darkness, has not shown them his form. But now the cloud that terrified the people on Sinai and travelled with them with intolerable fury in the wilderness comes and fills the Temple with glory. Solomon gasps in wonder and prays:
I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever...But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea...and listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Likewise, when a foreigner…comes from a far country for your name's sake… and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel.
The unimaginable is happening – God himself, who walked with Adam in the cool of the day, is again dwelling on Earth with his people. Everything is rich, full, and bursting at the seams. The people sacrifice and feast for seven days, as indeed they should: it is like new creation.

The Lord’s presence is filling them with glory and drawing the nations to Israel for blessing to spill out. Solomon grants the Queen of Sheba a grand audience. When she is given all the wisdom she seeks, and when she sees the splendid worship at the house of the Lord, we are told that “there was no more breath in her.”
Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.
In Abraham all the nations are blessed. For one sublime moment, we see a vision of the Earth full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, like the waters covering the sea. If God can take an impotent old man, a barren woman, a sniveling mass of pathetic slaves, and a shepherd boy, and mold them into this golden city to enlighten the nations, how will he not also, along with them, restore and renew all things?

I've been churched most of my memorable life. I'm familiar with the Bible. Sometimes too familiar. Sometimes, I can't bear reading it because I can't see anything new. The Big Picture is lost. There's no connection between what was, what is and what will be.

Then I read something like this post and it's like I've been given fresh eyes. It never occured to me that the time of Solomon was a picture of the New Creation, even though the language is certainly there.

Sorry I've taken so long to respond to your comment.

Let me just say that I can absolutely relate to what you are talking about. It's been fairly recent that I really feel like I've been given new eyes to read the Bible (largely through the liturgy and from reading N. T. Wright), and all of a sudden it has opened up before me. But I can't help but ask myself why, when these themes are so apparent, I couldn't see them before?

More and more I am convinced that the key is what questions you are asking. When we come to the Bible with our own questions (which, naturally, we should and must do) we inevitably are framing our reading around them. Then we open ourselves up to the danger that we will hear the Bible saying x when it is longing to tell us y.

I've come to believe that it is extremely important not only to look to the Bible for answers, but also for questions. What questions seem to be on the mind of the Biblical authors? What themes seem to echo throughout? Questions like this come to mind:

- what is man in relation to God?
- what is he in relation to creation?
- what is the knowledge of good and evil?
- what is wrong with the heart of man?
- why can he not do what is right in his own eyes?
- what is the law of God, and what is its effect on his people?
- what does it mean to be the people of God?
- what is God looking for in a king for his people?
- what are the connections between God's mighty acts of judgment and redemption?

There are thousands more, of course. But the point is that we will get much more out of the Bible if we let it set the agenda.


I just posted on King Solomon today, and thought I'd come over here and see what you had to say about him. :-)

This post is convincing. There's more implied in the biblical description of Solomon's splendour than just Solomon.

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