Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Solomon

Introduction to the Old Testament – conclusion

The Writings
Psalms – The hymn book of Israel and the source of many hymns of the church. Half of them were written by David and reveal his love for God and for the people of God. Some are raw with emotion, some are prophetic. If you look at the headings you will find that the family of Asaph wrote 12 and the sons of Kore wrote 11. Moses wrote Psalm 90 and Solomon Psalms 72 and 127. In addition, the Septuagint attributes Psalm 137 to Jeremiah, 119 to Ezra, and Psalms 120 to 134 to Hezekiah. These attributions in the Septuagint may not be entirely reliable.

Proverbs – Most of these were written by Solomon, his great wisdom coupled with experience and distilled into short and powerful lessons. Chapter 30 was written by Agur, of whom nothing is known. Chapter 31 is the instruction given to king Lemuel by his mother. No one by that name is known to history. Lemuel means dedicated to God and Jewish commentators considered it to be another name for Solomon, which would make Bathsheba the source of this counsel.

Job – Often called the oldest book in the Bible, in the sense that this story was being told before the Exodus and the time when Moses compiled the Talmud. The names and places given in the book identify it as coming from an area near Edom. The most probable explanation is that Moses heard this story while he was a Midianite shepherd and was divinely inspired to put it into writing for the edification of God’s people. The book reveals the greatness of God, the limits of Satan’ influence and the reward of faithfulness during affliction. It is notable that Job’s affliction was not fully relieved until he prayed for his friends who had falsely accused him.

Daniel – Begins with history, revealing God’s care for His people during their years of captivity in His dealings with King Nebuchadnezzar and in placing Daniel and his three friends in positions of great authority in the heathen kingdom. The prophecies of the latter part of the book reveal the kingdoms that would arise and fall before Messiah would come and gave a precise time for the coming of Messiah.

Chronicles is a recap of the whole history of Israel, revealing God’s guiding hand throughout. The genealogies are important in that they show that this is real history of real people and allow the tracing of God’s promise of a Messiah through the descendants of David. Chronicles does not condemn Solomon and reveals the repentance of Manasseh, the most wicked king Judah ever had. The author is Ezra, and the final verses of 2 Chronicles are the first verses of Ezra.

Ezra was the son of the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar and the spiritual leader of those who returned after the exile in Babylon. He oversaw the rebuilding of the temple. He appears also to have been the head of the Great Synagogue which established the canon of the Old Testametn Scriptures.

Nehemiah – this book is believed to have been compiled by Ezra from Nehemiah’s personal records. Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes to be governor. He oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Song of Songs – written by Solomon. On the surface it appears to be an erotic love poem with scarcely a passing reference to God. Yet it was regarded by Jewish rabbis as a most holy book, an allegory of the love relationship between God and His chosen people.

Ruth – portrays the love relationship between the aged Naomi, an Israelite and her Moabite daughter-in-law. This account is an antidote to ideas of ethnic purity. Ruth married Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab the Canaanite harlot. The great-great-grandmother of Salmon was Tamar, also a Canaanite. All three of these women are named in the genealogy of Jesus. The book was probably written by Samuel, as it carries the Messianic line only as far as David.

Lamentations – written by Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This book has a unique structure which is not evident in translation. In Hebrew chapters 1, 2 and 4 follow the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with a succeeding letter. In chapter 3 there are 22 groups of three verses each, following the same pattern. Chapter 5 has 22 verses, but does not follow the alphabetic pattern.

Ecclesiastes – appears to be the final work of Solomon, towards the end of his life. It speaks of the emptiness of all the things he did to prove his greatness, yet gives clear teaching of our duty to God. Chapter 7 verse 28 says that he did not find one woman in a thousand. The message here is not anti-woman, but appears to be a confession of his own failure. He had taken 1,000 wives, and not found one that was a true help meet for him.

Esther – probably written by Mordecai, the ending may have been supplied by Ezra. Gives a glimpse into the internal workings of the Persian court and supplies the history of the providential deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire from a plot to destroy them. Haman was an Agagite, possibly a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag slain by Samuel, which explains his hated of Jews. The events depicted here are the basis of the Jewish feast of Purim.

Two kingdoms, two churches

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and should have been in every way the leader of the tribes of Israel. He was a man who meant well, but seemed more apt to follow his carnal lusts than his good intentions. His father described him as “unstable as water.” The double portion of his father’s inheritance which by right was Reuben’s, went instead to Joseph, his second youngest brother. The headship of the tribes went to Judah and the spiritual leadership to Levi. Reuben was a loser on all counts.

Before he died Jacob prophesied that Judah should be the ruler of the tribes of Israel, “until Shiloh comes” which we understand to mean the Messiah. He also foretold that Simeon and Levi would not inherit with their brethren. Many years later, when Joshua divided the land, he allotted to Simeon lands that were within the boundaries of the inheritance of Judah. The Levites by this time had become the priests and they were given cities scattered through all the tribes. They were able to have gardens and goats for milk, but the bilk of their livelihood would come from the tithes given to the tabernacle, and later the temple.

Later yet, David, of the tribe of Judah, became king and God promised an everlasting throne for his sons. The kingdom of God of the Old Testament was both a political kingdom and a spiritual kingdom. This kingdom reached its highest point during the reign of Solomon. He reigned over all the land that had been promised to Israel and his reign was peaceful and glorious. He built the temple, the place which was God’s earthly habitation, to which all the peoples of the earth could come to worship and be blessed.

This glorious kingdom of the son of David was just a foretaste of what God had planned for His people. Such an earthly kingdom could not last among people who were for the most part only natural descendents of Abraham and not spiritual descendents. God foretold that the kingdom would be split in two after the death of Solomon.

The division of the kingdom was God’s plan. His perfect will would have been for all the tribes of Israel to continue to worship at Jerusalem, even though they were divided in their earthly citizenship. But Jeroboam, the first king of the breakaway kingdom feared that such an arrangement would undermine his political authority. He built a new temple at Bethel and another one in the north on his kingdom and appointed a new priesthood. It was for this division of the church of God that Jeroboam is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Neat who made Israel to sin.”

Thereupon all the Levites living among the northern tribes moved south to the kingdom of Judah. People often speak of the “ten lost tribes.” That does not add up. The southern kingdom now included Judah, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi, leaving nine tribes in the north (counting Joseph as two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh).

Immediately, God began sending missionaries to the northern kingdom. The entire ministry of both Elijah and Elisha was to the people of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel. The ministry of Hosea and Amos was also exclusively to the people of Israel. We read of the schools of the prophets, some are explicitly linked to Elisha, probably they all were under his leadership. Thus men were continually being trained and sent out to preach the Word of God to the people in this apostate setting.

What were the results of this great mission effort? Even after Jezebel had made the worship in the temple at Bethel openly idolatrous, God told Elijah that there were still 7,000 people, “even in Israel” who had not bowed down to Baal. Seven is a complete number, a symbolic number, it could well mean many thousands.

It is recorded in 2 Chronicles 11 that after Jeroboam set up new temples in Israel people from all the tribes came to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto God and they strengthened the kingdom of Rehoboam. Chapter 15 tells that during the reign of Asa there were some from Ephraim and Manasseh who came to Jerusalem to worship and renew their covenant with God. Much later, both Hezekiah and Josiah sent invitations to the tribes of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

It would seem that by the time of the Babylonian captivity the kingdom of Judah included a godly remnant from all the tribes. We tend to assume that all those from the northern tribes had vanished by the time of Jesus. We read much about the Levites, Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, but where were the others? Just when we think we have it all figured out, we discover that the Bible has dropped a little hint that our assumptions may not be true. Luke 2:36 tells us that Anna the prophetess was of the tribe of Asher. If there was one person who could be identified as coming from one of the formerly apostate tribes might there not have been many more?

The New Testament speaks of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Who were they? It is evident that God’s heart yearned after those who were of the natural seed of Abraham, but were separated from the true worship of God. Before the captivity that meant all those from the northern kingdom where the only form of worship available was in the apostate temples. Yet even in such a situation there were many whose heart was still attached to God and not turned away to idolatry. By Jesus’ time it would seem that all those in Judea and Galilee were considered lost sheep, since the worship in the temple at Jerusalem had descended into mere form and pharisaism.

Who are the lost sheep today? Wouldn’t they be those who are the true spiritual children of Abraham, born-again children of God, alone in their faith or worshipping in a setting where some are true Christians, others are not, and most are unable to tell the difference? There are some who do see. Years ago a minster told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. Someone told me recently of a minister who thought that perhaps 20% of his congregation were born-again. There are many kinds of mission fields, is this one that we are missing?

Did King Solomon hate women?

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Ecclesiastes 7:27-28

This sounds like a pretty severe indictment of women, doesn’t it? Yet this is the same man who in another place wrote: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22), and also:  “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

How could the same man write with such negativity about women in one place, and with such fulsome approval in other places?

The only way that I can make any sense of this is to remember that the book of Ecclesiastes is the memoir of a man who had accomplished great things in his life, and now looking back sees the vanity of it all. Then he comes to counting up his wives and concubines, there were a thousand all told, he realizes that not one is a bosom companion that he can safely trust. Here too he has missed the mark.

The book of Ecclesiastes should be read as a lengthy confession and repentance, leading up to this realization: ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.  For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)..

And lean not unto thine own understanding

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5.

I’ve been wondering of late if I really understand this verse. God has given us a mind with the capacity of understanding vast and complex subjects, and surely He wants us to use it. The Bible certainly assumes that we can understand logic and that this understanding will guide our actions.

As I consider this verse now, it appears that there is a choice involved on what we use as the foundation for our understanding. When we face a troubling situation and have no clear direction from the Lord, asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” will produce an answer that has no foundation other than our own understanding. In other words, an answer that is built on sand that will shift according to our moods and wishes. If we rather ask, “Lord, what would thou have me to do?” and wait for an answer, we are much more likely to make a decision that won’t have unfortunate repercussions.

God provides a solid foundation for our understanding in different ways: through His Word, by the Holy Spirit, by His people. Yet we are not robots, having our every thought and movement directed by a cosmic remote control. There is much scope for the exercise of our own reasoning in working out the details of our lives in accordance with the foundation provided by God.

Even here, though, there is a very real danger that after a number of years of living as a Christian and making many decisions that have proved to be a blessing in my life and the lives of those around me, I might begin to feel that I have this Christian life thing all straight in my mind and can now proceed on auto pilot. I have learned Christian speech patterns, Christian rules of behaviour and for the most part my life continues on fairly successfully.  Yet little signs begin to appear that maybe I am forgetting to lean upon the Lord. My contributions to a spiritual discussion sound like a tape-recorded message that has been played many times already. I am not particularly concerned about the problems of others. And I seem to have become immune to reproof.

Solomon said: “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Perhaps he was thinking of himself when he wrote those words. We are not wiser than Solomon, may we not build our lives on the foundation of our own understanding. Let us rather consider Solomon’s final words of instruction:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

The fulness of times

Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel.  All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense.  The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices.  Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time.  The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry.  Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed.  The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration.  Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.  According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will.  Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon.  He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia.  The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne.  Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people.  Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since.  There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings.  Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word.  The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people.  Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan.  He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria.  Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name.  Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade.  Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation.  This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome.  Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt.  The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire.  Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of times” had come.  The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end.  This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see.  Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire.  A common language existed, there was a translation of the  Old Testament Scriptures  in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel.  A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

Her children arise up, and call her blessed

“I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: and I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.  Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found” (Ecclesiastes 7:25-28).

What is Solomon talking about here?  Why does he appear to have so much hatred for women?

Ah, but remember that Solomon really had a thousand wives.  This sounds more like a confession than a diatribe against all womankind.  Counting his wives one by one up to a thousand, he realizes that he cannot fully trust even one of them.  They have led him astray.

Solomon sounds an altogether different note when he gives advice to other men: “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (Proverbs 5:18).  It seems that now in his old age, Solomon looks back and regrets the day he took a second wife.  He had been happy with the wife of his youth, whatever possessed him to think that he would be happier with a second wife?  And a third, a fourth, all the way up to a thousand?

In another place, Solomon pronounces a blessing upon marriage: “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22).  These are not the words of a man who believed that women are inherently evil.  Solomon discovered, and demonstrated for our benefit if we will receive it, that multiple marriages do not multiply the blessing.  Having more than one wife had filled his family life with jealousy, intrigues and disappointment.

There is some mystery about the author of Proverbs 31.  The chapter begins: “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.  What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?  Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.”

Who was king Lemuel?  Archeologists and historians have found no trace of a king by this name.  Lemuel means “devoted to God.”  The preponderant opinion of rabbinical commentators, and of Christian commentators, is that this points to Solomon himself.  The first nine verses of this chapter then are the instructions that Bathsheba gave to her son and that he remembered all his days and wrote down for our instruction.

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.  She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:10-12).  It is not altogether clear if verses 10 to 31 are a continuation of Bathsheba’s teaching, or an addition by Solomon himself.  In any case, it was Solomon who compiled the Book of Proverbs and decided to close the book with a paean to godly women.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.  Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.  Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:28-31).

Mother’s Day is a day set apart for children and husbands to arise and bless and praise the mothers in our families.  I trust this is not the only day that we do this.

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