July 15 – July 22, 2016

Friday, July 15

First Kings 7: The material in this chapter is disparate, with interruptions in the narrative of the temple’s construction.

First, there are eight verses that speak of the two royal palaces (for the king and his chief consort) and the hall of judgment.

As the Lord’s son (verse 14), Solomon wants his own house close to the Lord’s. This physical proximity of the two “dwellings” is sustained throughout the successive generations of monarchy, when the precincts of the temple are extended to the royal palace and other official buildings of the realm. That is to say, the Lord’s own kingship over the people—the principle that made them, in fact, His own people—includes the king as the Lord’s viceroy.

The political effect of this inclusion is two-fold. It enhances the legitimacy of the royal house, established by the Lord’s covenant with David, and it serves as a reminder to the king that his occupation of the throne is a matter of stewardship; he is answerable to the judgment of the One who inaugurated that covenant.

Second, there is a description of the masonry (verses 9-12) in the temple. Before the narrator goes on to describe the metal work in the temple, however, he wants to speak of the chief artisan of this work.

Third, he introduces a second Hiram (called Huram in Chronicles), an expert sheet metal worker, who is probably named after Solomon’s collaborator, the king of Tyre. His mother is described as the “widow of the tribe of Naphtali.” This perhaps means she is the widow of a member the tribe of Naphtali, since we are elsewhere told that the lady herself is a Danite (Second Chronicles 2:14). (Josephus claims that this artisan is a full-blooded Israelite—cf. Antiquities 8.3.4). In respect to this Hiram, the reader recalls that Moses, in the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness, made use of another charismatic artist, Bezalel (cf. Exodus 31:2-5).

Fourth, the story proceeds to tell of Hiram’s work on the brazen pillars (verses 15-22), the molten sea (verses 23-26), the various stands and lavers (verses 26-29), and the other utensils (verses 40-47) and vessels (verses 48-51) needed for the appointment of Israel’s prescribed services of worship.

Saturday, July 16

First Kings 8: The description of the temple’s dedicatory services fills the text from 8:1 to 9:9.

First, the Ark of the Covenant must be moved to its new residence (verses 1-9), as David had desired many years ago. It is the Ark—containing the two tablets of the covenant—that makes this temple a holy place and ties it to Israel’s ancient and defining history.

Second, as a mark of the Lord’s approval of the Ark’s transfer to Solomon’s temple, the cloud of the divine presence descends upon the place (verses 10-11). As though to emphasize the Ark’s disappearance into the inner part of the temple, Solomon begins his benedictory prayer by reference to the Lord’s resolve to “dwell in thick darkness” (verse 12). This reference aligns the darkness of the windowless Holy of Holies with the darkness on the top of Mount Sinai when the Torah was given (Exodus 20:18; Psalms 18 [Greek 17]:10-11).

Once the Ark disappears into the Holy of Holies, it effectively disappears from history. The Book of Kings never again speaks of it. It remains concealed forever, nor can we say what finally became of it.

The eventual loss of the Ark, which is not—curiously—lamented anywhere in the Bible, may be regarded as an indication of its transitory place in history. The Christian reader will regard its disappearance as initial evidence, at least, that God does not dwell in buildings made with hands, which are “the figures of the true.”

Third, Solomon’s benediction over the people (verses 12-21) refers to two covenants, the covenant with David and the prior covenant with Israel. The linking of these two certainly strengthens the legitimacy of the Davidic covenant. Whereas the Christian reader takes the joining of these two covenants as a matter of theological fact, Israel’s subsequent history indicates that the conjunction was not so obvious to all of Solomon’s contemporaries. Within a short time of the king’s death in 622, most Israelites decisively abandoned the house of David.

Fourth, Solomon begins his dedicatory prayer (verses 22-30) by speaking once more of the divine promise to David. The Chronicler’s account indicates that the king, who began the prayer standing, then ascended a bronze platform placed in the court of the temple and knelt down on that platform, continuing to pray with arms outstretched to heaven (Second Chronicles 6:13).

Fifth, the dedicatory prayer continues, and attention is given to a series of hypothetical circumstances in which all future prayers of believers are to be directed toward the temple (verses 31-53). The reader will recall—from Daniel’s prayer in exile—that prayer in the direction of the temple was continued, even after the temple was destroyed.

Sixth, Solomon concludes the dedicatory prayer by invoking, once again, a blessing over the assembled people (verses 54-61), and consecratory sacrifices are offered over a period of days. In the Massoretic text of Kings and in Josephus (Antiquities 8.4.6), this rite is continued for fourteen days, whereas the Greek text speaks of just seven days, a feature reminiscent of the Creation account in Genesis 1.

Sunday, July 17

First Kings 9: There are several distinguishable components in the present chapter:

First, the Lord responds to Solomon’s dedicatory prayer by speaking to him again, as He did at Gibeon (verse 2). This divine response clearly takes place at Jerusalem, perhaps indicating that the new capital has replaced Gibeon as the proper locale for divine messages (cf. Acts 22:17).

This response contains both a promise of divine fidelity and a warning of divine sanction. Josephus (Antiquities 8.4.6) regarded the latter as a forewarning of what was to take place in the temple’s later destruction, when Jerusalem became, in fact, “a heap of ruins” (verse 8; cf. Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:18).

Second, we learn how Solomon finances these building projects in Jerusalem (verses 10-14). In payment for all this largesse poured out on the southern tribe, Judah, he sells twenty northern cities! He is following the earlier example of his pharaoh father-in-law, who paid his daughter’s dowry by stealing from the Philistines (cf. verse 16). In this story, we begin to gain an inkling of why there is, among the northern tribes, a growing discontent that Solomon fails to address. His son, Rehoboam, will eventually pay for this neglect.

Third, we learn of more building projects, and it is instructive to observe that they essentially consist, in fact, of military installations (verses 15-22). That is to say, they are walled fortresses that stand guard along a large road connecting the western end of the Fertile Crescent to Mesopotamia in the east. Solomon’s extensive commercial connections make use of this road, and he wants to protect that trade from the Bedouin marauders always active in the Middle East. Among these fortresses, a special prominence attaches to Megiddo, which serves as a storage facility. Archeology has uncovered there the stables built by Solomon to house the horses he brought from Arabia, scheduled for delivery to sundry Mediterranean ports—all the way to Spain—by means of Phoenician transport ships.

For the construction of these fortresses, Solomon uses slave labor from the remnants of the earlier Canaanite peoples who still live in the land (verses 20-21).

Fourth, we learn that Solomon himself “offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar which he had built for the Lord, and he burned incense with them before the Lord” (verse 25).

Finally, we learn of Solomon’s southern fleet, without which his mercantile enterprise would have come to nothing (verses 26-28). Because the Israelites are not a sea-going people, Solomon makes use of the skills and experience of Phoenician sailors. Since this commerce includes ivory and two species of monkeys (cf. 10:22—where the Hebrew word probably means baboons, rather than peacocks), Solomon is certainly dealing with the east coast of Africa. The jewels and sandalwood referenced later (10:11-12) indicate trade with India.

This summary of Solomon’s southern maritime activity serves to introduce one of the Bible’s most intriguing characters—Jesus spoke of her!—the royal lady who makes her appearance in the next chapter.

Monday, July 18

First Kings 10: The realm of Sheba—or Saba as the place is called in ancient Assyrian documents—was situated at the extreme southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, the area now known as Yemen. From those same Assyrian texts, as well as from inscriptions found at Sheba’s capital city, Mâreb, we know a thing or two about the history of the place during the first millennium before Christ.

First, we know that Sheba flourished most of that time as a major mercantile link between the Far East and the southern Mediterranean, and a glance at a map of the area quickly explains why this should be the case. Sitting on both sides of the corner formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Sheba dominated the narrow Straits of Bab el Mandeb by which these two waters are joined. This meant that Sheba could effectively control the traffic coming down from those twin horns formed at the north of the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.

Likewise, through the Gulf of Aden, Sheba was open to shipping on the
Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and places beyond.
Thus, with respect to sea travel Sheba was the tangent point of two great mercantile spheres.

Some of the business, in fact, stood nearby. Immediately to the north of Sheba was Ophir, probably to be identified with Havila, a region celebrated for its gold (e.g., see Genesis 2:11; Job 22:24; 28:16). Over to the west lay Ethiopia, or Cush, a kingdom sufficiently imposing to control Egypt for some periods, and, from the south, there extended the horn of Somalia. As Asia’s vital southern link with Africa, then, Sheba was in a position to gain, hold, and control great wealth.

Second, we also know the names of five of the queens of Sheba. As all of these lived in the eighth and seventh centuries, however, none of them can be identified with that Queen of Sheba who came to visit Solomon in the mid-tenth century before Christ. A pity, in truth, for some of us would dearly like to know the lady’s name.

Doubtless her appearance in Solomon’s court was related to the latter’s recent entrance into the powerful circles of international commerce. Through his extensive dealings with the Phoenicians, whose ships docked in harbors on all three continents bordering the Mediterranean basin, Solomon’s port at Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba became an important link in a new mercantile chain that now stretched from Ceylon in the southeast to Gibraltar in the northwest. The queen’s arrival at his court, then, was clear evidence that Solomon had become a “player” on the big scene.

The event surely signified more, however. After all, Solomon was still far from being the queen’s equal in the world of international commerce. Indeed, his recently gained status in this respect depended entirely on his hegemony over the land of Edom, which contained the port of Elath, for this was Solomon’s sole connection with the Gulf of Aqaba. If royal visitations, therefore, depended on “rank” among the international powers, we would expect Solomon to be visiting the Queen of Sheba rather than vice versa.

Holy Scripture is clear that this was not the case. We are told that the Queen of Sheba, who could have handled her commercial relationship with Solomon through the usual business channels, was prompted solely by a desire to see for herself whether this new king was as wise and discerning as his reputation proclaimed. Nor was the lady disappointed at what she saw: “I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard” (1 Kings 10:7).

In the Gospels of Matthew (12:42) and Luke (11:31) this royal Gentile, “the Queen of the South,” becomes a type of the true seeker and believer. In both places she is contrasted with the Lord’s enemies, the unbelievers who refuse to recognize that “a greater than Solomon is here.” Accordingly, Sheba’s magnificent lady is made a figure of Mother Church, standing rapturously in the presence of the wiser Solomon. We make our own her praise and proclamation before the throne of Christ: “Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel!” (1 Kings 10:8–9).

Tuesday, July 19

First Kings 11: Up to this point in the narrative, there have been no signs that Solomon was less than a perfect king. Indeed, without the present chapter, nothing prepares the reader for the tragedies that befell the realm after Solomon’s death.

The demise of Solomon is told here in a sensible and comprehensible sequence: the spiritual compromise attendant on Solomon’s choice (and number!) of wives (verses 1-8), the resurgence of regional rivalries in the kingdom (verses 9-13), the rebellion of Hadad the Edomite (verses 14-22), the emergence of trouble in Syria and Hobab (verses 23-25), and the insurrection of Jeroboam the Ephraemite (verses 26-40). The chapter closes with Solomon’s death in 922 (verses 41-43).

First, the description of Solomon’s huge harem is of a piece with the other signs of his prosperity, which was the subject of the previous chapter. The problem with these pagan wives, according to the author of Kings, was Solomon’s disposition to give way to their religious preference; when these ladies moved to Jerusalem, they brought their own pagan “chaplains” with them, and pagan shrines made their appearance in the capital. That is to say, Solomon’s indulgence of his wives led him into idolatry.

We find a different concern in Sirach (47:21) and Josephus (Antiquities 8.7.5), who ascribe Solomon’s physical lust to his spiritual arrogance.

Second, the Lord rejects Solomon, in much the same terms as He used in rejecting Saul. Faithful to the covenant with David, the Lord qualifies this rejection in two ways: The kingdom will not be split until after Solomon’s death, and a remnant of two tribes will be left to the sons of David.

Third, Hadad of Edom, rather like a terrorist raised in a refugee camp, chafes to return from exile in Egypt in order to free the Edomites from political dominance. Like Solomon himself, he is married into the Egyptian royal family. After the death of Solomon, the Edomites will seize their independence from the Kingdom of Judah.

Fourth, a new ruler arises in Syria, named Rezon. During Solomon’s time he is hardly more than local marauder, but his dynasty will, in due course, become a serious political problem for the Chosen People.

Fifth, toward the end of Solomon’s reign, Shishak the founder of the twenty-second dynasty in Egypt, provides sanctuary for an Ephraemite rebel named Jeroboam. He will return to Israel, after Solomon’s death, to seize the rule over Israel’s northern tribes.

Sixth, Solomon’s death is a good occasion for reflecting on the “mixed bag” that was his life and reign. To many Israelites at the time—especially in the north—he must have seemed like another pharaoh, of the sort Moses had to deal with. There is no doubt—in the minds of the biblical authors—that Solomon was to blame for the political and social upheavals that followed his passing.

Wednesday, July 20

Acts 18:1-11: When he arrives in Corinth, coming from Athens, Paul is supremely depressed (1 Corinthians 2:3), perhaps from his relative failure at Athens, and probably also because he has not yet heard back from the delegation from Macedonia. It is now near or at the beginning of the year 50, and Paul will remain in Corinth until the summer of 51.

The congregation that he founds at Corinth will be among the most contentious Christian churches of antiquity. There will be so many problems within that congregation that Paul himself will be obliged to write them at least four epistles, of which two are preserved in the New Testament (or three, if 2 Corinthians is a composite of two epistles). In addition, before the end of the century the church at Corinth will receive yet another letter from Clement, the third Bishop of Rome, reprimanding them yet again for the same sorts of dissension, rebellion, and contentiousness that had so grieved Paul at the earlier period. A modern scholar, K. Stendhal, remarked about the church at Corinth that it “had almost all the problems that churches have had through the ages, except the chief problem of our churches today: it was never boring.” Under the guidance of divine providence, of course, those Corinthian troubles have worked unto our own spiritual profit, for without them we would not have some of the most important pages of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13, for instance).

The city of Corinth joins two major seaways separated only by a half-mile of isthmus, which bears the same name as the city. Thus, the latter has major ports on both sides and was a very bustling commercial center. (In modern times a canal across the isthmus joins those two waterways more directly.) Although Cicero called it “the light of all Greece,” the philosopher Diogenes, who certainly knew the place better (and would eventually die in it), said that he went there only because a wise man should go where the most fools are to be found.

The first people to meet Paul in Corinth, however, were not fools. They were a couple, Aquila and his wife, newly arrived from Rome. The wife’s name is Prisca (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19), though Luke always calls her by the affectionate diminutive name, Priscilla (“little Prisca”) (verse 2). It is also curious that Luke twice names the wife before the husband (18:18,26), which may hint which of the two impresses him as the stronger and more striking personality. Like Paul they are leather-workers (skenopoioi), a profession involved in making tents, saddles, and such things.

Meanwhile, Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia (verse 5), bringing reports from the congregations at Philippi, Thessaloniki, and Beroea. In response to one of these reports, Paul writes the First Epistle to the Thessalonians early in the year 50, including the names of Silas and Timothy as joint-authors (1 Thessalonians 1:1). Here in Corinth Paul also has his usual troubles with the Jews (verse 6), so he simply takes his teaching next door to the synagogue (verse 7), and he takes the leader of the synagogue with him. This was Crispus (“curly”), who will appear later in 1 Corinthians 1:14-16.

Thursday, July 21

First Kings 13: The appearance of this unnamed prophet and the subsequent testing of his message introduce the expanded ministry of the prophets during the period of the kings. We think of this period as that of the kings, whereas it is just as valid to think of it as a period of enhanced prophecy. In the cases of Elijah and Elisha, at least, the prophets easily outshine the kings. This comment points to a curious problem of biblical historiography: how to divide it into distinct periods.

A common way of dividing Old Testament history is to enter it around the era of the monarchy. For example, Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus according to three distinct periods: pre-monarchical (1:2–6), monarchical (1:7–11), and post-monarchical (1:12–16). Thus, wrote Matthew, there were “all the generations from Abraham to David . . . from David to the captivity in Babylon . . . and from the captivity in Babylon to the Christ” (1:17).

Needless to say, the division of history by recourse to political periods is a common pattern of historiography. Historians of Rome, for instance, have always parceled the material by reference to the Republic and the Empire, and the emperors themselves serve as signposts to identify the various periods of the Empire.

When we come to biblical history, nonetheless, this kind of division presents a methodological difficulty, for the simple reason that Israel’s political history is less significant than other theological concerns. The Bible is more about God’s activity than man’s.

This narrative difficulty was perceived already in the second century before Christ, I believe, for we detect it in Sirach’s survey of Israel’s “famous men.” When he came to the transition from the age of the judges to the monarchy, Sirach was faced with a bit of a problem: How to get from Samuel to David without having to deal with Saul? He certainly could not include Saul among his “famous men”!

Sirach got around this problem by resorting to a curious maneuver: Instead of tracing the continuous history from the judges to the monarchy, he tracked it through the prophetic ministry: He angled over from Samuel to the Bible’s next prophet—Nathan.

That step from Samuel to Nathan was perfectly consistent and provided a seamless robe of narrative in which Sirach could tie together two periods of Israel’s political history—the judges and the monarchy—without the category of politics. Moving from Samuel to Nathan (47:1) permitted Sirach to sidestep deftly from the judges to Israel’s second king: David. Having omitted Saul altogether, he then proceeded to consign most of the other kings (Solomon excepted, of whom, I mentioned, he was critical) to the realm of silence.

Thus, Sirach concentrated on the prophets, not the kings, during the period of the monarchy. The two kings he felt obliged to include—Hezekiah and Josiah—were combined with two prophets with whom they were contemporary, Isaiah (48:17–25) and Jeremiah (49:1–7) respectively.

It is not difficult to see why Sirach approached the matter this way. Most of the biblical kings hardly merited inclusion among his “famous men,” whereas the biblical prophets most certainly did. He was not writing a history of Israel but a sequential account of Israel’s “famous men.”

Without referring to Sirach on the point, Saint Augustine also believed Israel’s monarchical period was really more about the prophets than the kings. That whole era (hoc itaque tempus), he wrote, from Samuel down through the Babylonian Captivity, was “the age of the prophets”—totum tempus est prophetarum. Other men, to be sure, “both before and after” that period, are called prophets, but the years between Samuel and the Babylonian Captivity “are especially and chiefly called the days of the prophets”—dies prophetarum praecipue maximeque hi dicti sunt (The City of God 17.1).

In our translated Bibles, we tend still to divide the material by way of reference to Israel’s political systems: We move from the era of the judges to the establishment of the monarchy in Samuel, and then to the history of the monarchy. In the Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, all the books from Joshua through Malachi—covering nearly a thousand years—are under one category: “The Prophets,” or Nevi’im.

We detect that earlier perspective also in passing references within the New Testament. Thus, the Epistle to the Hebrews mentioned “Samuel and the prophets” to designate the biblical history after David (11:32). St. Peter, too, spoke of “all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow” (Acts 3:24).

In the chapters that follow the present one, we will find a greater interest in certain prophetic ministries than in the generally lackluster men who sat on the thrones of the two kingdoms.

Friday, July 22

First Kings 14: The similarities between Samuel and Ahijah are truly striking. Both of them prophets from Shiloh, both were likewise appointed to designate new kings for Israel: Saul in the case of Samuel, Jeroboam in the case of Ahijah. Both of those kings, each of whom reigned roughly twenty years, proved to be failures. Finally, toward the end of their reigns, the same two prophets, both of them now quite old, were once again commissioned to announce the downfalls of the aforesaid kings and the impending changes of dynasty. Thus, Samuel prophesied the rise of David (1 Samuel 13:14), and Ahijah foretold the coming of Baasha (1 Kings 14:14).

Although the story of Samuel, because of its greater length and the richer detail in its telling, is doubtless the better known of the two, the account of Ahijah is no less dramatic and every bit as memorable.

Ahijah first appears on the biblical scene late in the reign of Solomon. By way of preparing for his appearance, Holy Scripture tells of the evils attendant on Solomon’s rule (11:1–9) and the external political enemies who rise to challenge his kingdom (11:14–25). It is at this point that the Bible introduces young Jeroboam, whom Solomon has appointed an overseer for the northern tribes. As Jeroboam leaves Jerusalem to undertake his new responsibilities, he is met by the Prophet Ahijah, who abruptly proceeds to tear his clothing into twelve parts. Having thereby gained his total attention, Ahijah explains to the young man that these twelve torn fragments represent Israel’s twelve tribes, and he goes on to prophesy that Jeroboam will govern ten of those tribes, leaving only two tribes for the dynasty of David (11:26–39). All of this prophecy is fulfilled in the events that immediately follow the death of Solomon (11:30—12:16).

We do not again hear of Ahijah for a long time, nor does the Bible give us reason to suppose that Jeroboam further consulted the prophet for advice in the governance of the realm. Unlike David, whose reign benefited from the prophetic counsel of Nathan, Jeroboam puts all thought of God behind him (14:9). On one occasion when he is accosted by an anonymous prophet from Judah, Jeroboam asks for the man’s prayers but pays no heed to his prophetic warning (13:1–9). Furthermore, if Jeroboam had conferred with the Prophet Ahijah, whom God sent to him in the first place, he likely would not have erected those two golden calves at Bethel and Dan, thereby doubling the ancient infidelity of Aaron. (Compare 12:28 with Exodus 32:4, 8).

No, Jeroboam does not place himself under the judgment and discipline of the prophetic word. He is one of those men who want God on their side, without taking care to be on God’s side. Craving the divine aid without the divine ordinance, Jeroboam will not consult Ahijah again for many years.

When he does so, it is because his son is sick, and he sends his wife to the prophet in hopes of obtaining a favorable word. Jeroboam sends her, moreover, in disguise, evidently too embarrassed to let Ahijah know who it is that seeks that word. The prophet himself, by this time, has grown very old, and his sight is failing.

Foolish Jeroboam, thinking to deceive the prophetic vision! Ahijah had been able to read the signs of the times during the reign of Solomon, but Jeroboam now fancies he can deceive the old seer with such a clumsy ruse. Inwardly guided by the Almighty, Ahijah reads the situation perfectly, and the Lord himself dictates “thus and thus” what he is to say.

The awful asperity of Ahijah’s word to Jeroboam is enhanced by the ironies of the scene. At the doorway, deeply anxious for her sick child, arrives this woman clothed in a hopeless disguise. At her footfall, before one syllable escapes her lips, she is already detected by an old blind man, greeting her with a harshness hardly surpassed on any page of Holy Scripture (14:6–16), informing her, not only that the child will die, but that he will be the last in the family even to find his way to a grave. All the others will be devoured by dogs and birds. Mercy now is found no more, nor tenderness, but terrifying, unspeakable finality. God’s last word to Jeroboam, the man who “made Israel to sin,” is a kind of paradigm of damnation itself: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire.” Ahijah speaks for the God who reads hearts and is not mocked.