July 20 – July 27, 2018

Friday, July 20

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. <i>Antiquities</i> 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.

<b>Saturday, July 21</b>

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 <i>Torah</i> 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 (<i>Antiquities</i> 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.

<b>Sunday, July 22</b>

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 (<i>Antiquities</i> 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.

<b>Monday, July 23</b>

Mark 5:30-44: Mark’s initial observation about Jesus’ pastoral compassion serves to introduce his first account of the multiplication of the loaves. That is to say, it is precisely as the Good Shepherd that Mark describes him as feeding the people with bread in the wilderness.

Mark accomplishes this, moreover, by alluding to the imagery of the Good Shepherd Psalm in connection with the multiplication of the loaves. Thus, we observe that the event takes place at the waterside (6:45) and that he makes the people recline on the green grass (6:39), even though it was in the desert (<i>eremos</i>—6:35).

By introducing the imagery of the Good Shepherd into his first account of the multiplication of the loaves, Mark gives that image a Eucharistic dimension, because his description of the event has a pronounced Eucharistic tone. We observe, for instance, that the action of Jesus is heavily concentrated on the bread, rather than the fish. We observe also that Mark uses the four “Eucharistic verbs” to describe how Jesus “took” the loaves, “blessed,” “broke,” and “gave them to his disciples to set before them” (6:41). This ritual action, in Mark’s account, is rooted in the compassion of Jesus, “because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.”

To appreciate the significance of Mark’s joining of these two themes, we may look at Mark’s account of the Last Supper, where “Jesus <i>took</i> bread, <i>blessed</i> and <i>broke</i> it, and <i>gave</i> it to them” (14:22, emphasis added). One observes here the same four verbs with which Mark describes the multiplication of the loaves by the compassionate Shepherd.

Furthermore, immediately after the Last Supper in Mark, Jesus is once again called the Shepherd. Mark quotes him: “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, / And the sheep will be scattered.’”

It is clearly significant that the multiplication of the loaves and the setting of the Last Supper are the only two places where Mark uses the noun “shepherd.” In each place Jesus provides bread. In our extant literature, then, Mark’s gospel is the first work that testifies to a Eucharistic understanding of the Good Shepherd Psalm.

<b>Tuesday, July 24</b>

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 (<i>Antiquities</i> 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.

</b>Wednesday, July 25</b>

First Kings 12: Rehoboam was almost the perfect example of what the Bible means by the word “fool.” Because he was the son of Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, furthermore, this foolishness was a matter of irony as well as tragedy.

After Solomon’s death in 922, this heir to Israel’s throne traveled to Schechem, to receive the nation’s endorsement as its new ruler. The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel’s northern tribes, a people touchy about their traditional rights and needing to be handled gently. Even David, we recall, had to be made king twice, first over Judah about the year 1000 (2 Samuel 2:4,10) and then over the north some years later (5:4-5).

Those northern tribes, for their part, seemed willing to be ruled by Rehoboam, but they craved assurance that the new king would respect their ancient traditions and customs. Truth be told, they had not been entirely happy with Rehoboam’s father, Solomon, and they sought from his son a simple pledge that their grievances would be taken seriously in the future (1 Kings 12:1-4). A great deal depended on Rehoboam’s answer.

The new king apparently took the matter seriously, because he sought counsel on what to say. He began by consulting the seniors of the royal court, the very men who had for forty years provided guidance for his father. These were the elder statesmen of the realm, those qualified to give the most prudent political counsel.

Significantly, these older men urged Rehoboam in the direction of caution and moderation with respect to the northern tribes: “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (12:7).

Rehoboam, nonetheless, eschewing the instruction of his elders, followed the impulses of his younger companions, who encouraged him to stand tough and not let himself be pushed around. Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (12:8-11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, he immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (12:12-16).

As I suggested above, there is great irony here, for it may be said that one of the major practical purposes of the Book of Proverbs, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, was to prevent and preclude exactly the mistake made by Solomon’s son. According to Proverbs, the fool is the man who ignores the counsel of the old and follows the impulses of untried youth.

Rehoboam’s reign of seventeen years knew its ups and downs—the downs dominant. Five years after the story narrated above, Pharaoh Shishak, founder of Egypt’s twenty-second dynasty, invaded the Holy Land and took pretty much whatever attracted his eye: “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made” (14:26).

Rehoboam remained, Josephus tells us, “a proud and foolish man” (<i>Antiquities</i> 8.10.4). He never recovered from the singular folly of his first political decision. After Shishak’s invasion, this thin, pathetic shadow of his father and grandfather reigned under a humiliating Egyptian suzerainty for a dozen more years. Like every fool, he had a heart problem. The final word about Rehoboam asserts, “he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14).

<b>Thursday, July 26</b>

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 (<i>hoc itaque tempus</i>), he wrote, from Samuel down through the Babylonian Captivity, was “the age of the prophets”—<i>totum tempus est prophetarum</i>. 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”—<i>dies prophetarum praecipue maximeque hi dicti sunt</i> (<i>The City of God</i> 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 <i>Nevi’im</i>.

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.

<b>Friday, July 27</b>

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.