Overview of Ecclesiastes

So for the past few weeks we’ve been taking high level looks at the more poetical books of the Bible. We’ve discussed Psalms which is basically a book of poems. We’ve discussed Proverbs, which is a book of wisdom. Now we’re going to look at Ecclesiastes which is somewhere between those two—poetry and wisdom.

Unlike Proverbs and Psalms, Ecclesiastes is basically set up as the writings of one particular man, his ramblings and musings about life and God. In Jewish tradition, this writer is called “Koheleth.” In most English translations it’s translated as something like “Teacher” or “Rabbi” or “Preacher.” It is generally accepted that Solomon wrote this book—since in the very first chapter it called this teacher a son of David and king of Israel. However, it’s also possible this book was compiled later and attributed to Solomon—which was a pretty common thing to do back then. Why did people do that? Well it’s basically a writing/story telling technique. By making people think of Solomon you’re making them think of wisdom and that’s what the author wants you to get from this book: wisdom. Whether it’s written by Solomon or not, the wisdom in this book is what matters and what the writer is trying to get across.

So please open your Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes. Which is just past Psalms and Proverbs. We’re only going to look at some famous sections and not all twelve chapters!

Can someone read Ecc. 1:1-11? It may seem like a lot but this section is in poem form so it’s actually pretty short.

The words of the Teacher,[a] the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,[b]
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What do people gain from all the toil
    at which they toil under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun goes down,
    and hurries to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south,
    and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they continue to flow.
8 All things[c] are wearisome;
    more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has already been,
    in the ages before us.
11 The people of long ago are not remembered,
    nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
    by those who come after them.

This section introduces us to one of the major themes of Ecclesiastes and why Ecclesiastes is sometimes viewed as a bit of a depressing book. “Vanity of vanities!” verse 2 says and this is something that is repeated a lot in this book. Now when you think vanity, you may think like…being obsessed with looks. A vain person is someone who is obsessed with how they look and vanity is just another form of that word. But that’s not the only meaning of the word and that’s not what this author means. What he means here is “futility.”

If you like Star Trek you may have heard that work before from the Borg, “Resistance is Futile” meaning resistance is pointless. That is the meaning the author has here. Vanity here means worthless or futile or pointless. My Jewish translation of the Bible translates verse 2 as:

“Utter futility!—said Koheleth—Utter futility! All is futile!”

Basically “life is pointless!” is what the author is exclaiming and the next few verses go on to expand why he is feeling this sort of existential crisis. He says people work hard, they toil under the sun, every generation comes and goes and works hard and tries to build something…but they come and go and the earth remains. The sun rises and sets, not even caring about the humanity beneath it. The wind blows and blows with no point. Streams and rivers go to the sea, but it’s not like they can fill it up so what’s the point? All these things are pointless!

And then perhaps the most famous part right here is when he says basically whatever you do whatever has been there is nothing new under the sun. You’ve probably heard that phrase before “Nothing new under the sun.”

Basically this whole section is the author being like “What is the point of existence. We live so we can die and no one is ever going to remember us.”

That’s….super depressing. Like I said this is one of the more depressing books of the Bible. But this emotion that the author is expressing here, is something people feel a lot. We feel like we work hard and nothing changes. We fight for justice and against poverty, but still there is injustice in the world and still there are people starving to death. We fight to change the world to make things better, and then it seems like in another generation everything reverts back. We work hard and who will remember us in the end? That we even existed?

This is a common human emotion, and the author here is human and he’s expressing that. And this is what I mean when I say every emotion you may ever have you can find something in the Bible that correlates to it, even this level of existential crisis where you’re wondering what the purpose of life even is.

The author’s feelings here are summarized in Ecc. 2:17. Can someone read that?

17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

The message translates this as “I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is bad business .It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind.” Basically, another refrain of “what is the point?”

There is one other super famous section of Ecclesiastes. Someone please read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

This is up there as one of the most famous verses in the Bible, the sort of thing that’s quoted a lot even by people who don’t believe in the Bible. For everything there is a season. It’s pretty straight forward, there is a time for everything—birth, death, laugh, cry, be sad, be happy—there will be times in your life where you feel or experience all of these things. They are like seasons. You’re not experiencing death or sadness or famine or war because you did anything wrong (most likely). Just like no one causes Winter to come. It just does. It’s just a season. And without winter, we wouldn’t appreciate spring. We all go through seasons of life, but they’re just seasons. And they too will pass. So if you’re in a season of sadness or war, a season of peace and laughter is coming! There is hope in that.

There’s a modern saying I’ve heard, “This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it’ll pass.” Basically meaning that everything is temporary, and it may hurt like all get out while it’s here—because kidney stones are super painful—but in the end it will be over, and you’ll survive it.

So you can see even though the author is feeling like everything is pointless, there is a hope in this. Because this feeling of futility? It’s just a season. And it will pass and soon he will feel like he has a purpose again.

Someone please read Ecclesiastes 3:16-22.

16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

The author starts out this section by saying that things there are bad people everywhere it seems. Where there should be justice, instead there is injustice. Where there should be goodness, there is badness. He sees corruption everywhere he looks—people who are supposed to be good and just and fair are instead wicked and not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And it can seem like there is no justice on the earth and the same fate is in everyone’s future (death), but in the end God will judge and there will be justice for the good and the bad.

“All are from the dust and all turn to dust again.” This is also a famous verse that as we’ve already talked about is often quoted at Lent and on Ash Wednesday. God made us from dust and in the end we will die and go back to dust.

Also I just think this section is interesting because he’s like “who knows if humans go to heaven and have afterlife’s and animal’s don’t! For all I know animals are in heaven too” is basically what he’s saying. So next time someone tells you your dog isn’t in heaven, just quote this section of Ecclesiastes and be like “you can’t know what happens to animals when they die.”

And then the very last section is another theme of this book, “Enjoy your work because that is your lot.” You’re on this earth and you have to work so you might as well enjoy it!

So what is the point? This author seems really depressed like there is no point to life except death. Now there are a couple of things here for us to keep in mind as Christians. We’ve talked about before, but ancient Jewish people had no concept of heaven and hell. They thought when you died everyone went to this place called Sheol, which was pretty much just a place of sleep. We as Christians believe in heaven, basically that Jesus came so we may have *eternal life*. Because of Jesus we can live forever, but in heaven where there is no toil or strife. Jesus describes heaven as a feast, as a house with many rooms. In Revelation John says Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” So yes this author is stuck in the order and cycle of life and death where there is a season for everything, even death. But Jesus came to abolish death and we will live in a world one day with a new order where the only seasons will be life and laughter and joy.

We’re not there yet, but it’s coming.

This author of this book however was way before Jesus so he didn’t have a concept of this joy and hope Jesus is bringing.

That said, the author still comes to the idea that maybe the point of life is just…obey God and enjoy life the best you can. Someone read Ecclesiastes 9:7-10.

7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Enjoy life! The author says, because that’s what God wants you to do. God wants us to enjoy life.

Sometimes even as Christians we can get stuck in this idea that that’s not true. That God put all these rules on us and sucks all the fun out of life. But that’s not true. God wants you to have joy and true freedom. In 2 Corinthians 3:17 Paul says “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Galations 5:13 Paul says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” Peter says in 1 Peter, “Act as free men.”

In John 8:36 Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus came to set us free. Free from sin. Free from death. We are no longer bound. We are free. And God wants us to enjoy that freedom, to enjoy this life we have!

It can be hard to remember this, because humans like rules. We like to make rules and like to say if you don’t follow rule X, Y, Z you are not a Christian. But that’s not true. There is no set of rules you can follow that will get you into heaven. The only thing we are called to do is love—and that’s not a limitation. We’re called to do something to love God and love others. And as long as we are doing that, as long as we’re loving God, then we’re naturally going to want to please him. Not because there is some rule, but because we love him and want to do what he would find good. If you’re truly loving your neighbor, you don’t need rules about what you have to do in regards to your neighbor, because when you love them you would never hurt them.

It’s freedom.

Love life! Live with freedom and joy! That is what it means to be a Christian, and ultimately it is following God and Jesus that is the purpose of this life.

But if at times life seems futile, that’s okay. That’s a natural human emotion, just like is expressed by the author here. And you can go back to Ecclesiastes and know you are not alone in how you feel. But remember that feeling of futility is just a season, and it to shall pass and you shall feel the purpose and freedom of God again.

 

Overview of Proverbs

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Solomon. When God told Solomon he could ask for anything he wanted, does anyone remember what Solomon asked for? [Let them answer.]

Wisdom.

We talked about how wisdom and knowledge are different. Knowledge is knowing things and facts. Wisdom is having the ability to discern between a right choice or a wrong choice, or even an okay choice and a better choice. Decisions aren’t all, after all, black and white or right and wrong. If you’re deciding what college to go to, rarely is there a wrong or sinful choice. It’s about making a wise choice—looking at the options and making the choice that is best for your career goals, financial situation, and personal life.

Solomon was known throughout the land for his wisdom—so much so that even foreign leaders came to visit him to learn from him. And Solomon decided that it wasn’t the wise choice to keep all of his wisdom to himself, so he compiled the book of Proverbs.

I saw compiled because some of these sayings in the book are older than Solomon. But Solomon found it wise to take all of the wisdom known to the people of his time plus his own wisdom and make this book: which is a collection of proverbs.

What is a proverb? Well a proverb is a short saying that conveys a life truth or piece of advice or for lack of a better word wisdom. A modern example of this that you may have heard is the saying, “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Have you guys ever heard that saying before? [Let them answer.]

Does anyone know what it means? “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?” [Let them answer.]

Well it means if you have a bird already, you caught a bird—for whatever reason you were bird hunting or you want a pet bird, whatever it is. And you caught a live bird. But there are two other birds you would rather have in a bush. If you attempt to get one of those two other birds, you’re probably going to lose the live bird you’re already holding. So it’s better to just keep the bird you have, then to lose what you have in the hope of getting something else.

Basically what you have in your possession is better than taking the chance of losing it to attain something else you don’t have.

Now this is just an English proverb that from my googling has been around since the 15th century. This is not a Biblical proverb. But it’s an example of the sort of thing that the proverbs are.

Today we’re going to look at a selection of Biblical Proverbs.

So please open your Bible to the book of Proverbs. It’s right after Psalms. If you’ll remember the trick to finding Psalms is just to open right in the middle of your Bible and then to get to Proverbs you’re just going to flip over to the next book.

[Give them a minute to get to the book of Proverbs. I highly suggest not giving them page numbers in the Bible. We’re trying to encourage Biblically literacy. It may take them several minutes to get to the right place depending on who is in the class.]

[For reading verses I generally start on one side of the room, pick the student immediately to my left, and then have them go around reading. So one student reads the first selection and then the next reads the next, etc]

Read Proverbs 1:1-7.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This section is basically explaining why Solomon compiled the proverbs. He writes that he did it for a couple of reasons. First for learning and instruction. Solomon had wisdom and he wanted to pass down that wisdom to others, so that others could be wise. He then says the instruction is for wise dealing, for righteousness, for justice, and for equity—so that means instruction on how to do right, how to be just, and how to be fair.

He then goes on to say who the audience of the book is. It says for the simple—so basically to teach wisdom to people who aren’t very wise. Also for the young—that’s you guys!—and it uses the words knowledge and prudence. We’ve talked about before that the big difference between a teenager and an adult is wisdom. Sometimes teens even know more facts and pieces of information than their elders. But what older people have that teenagers don’t is life experience and wisdom. Solomon is saying that by compiling this book he’s basically helping jump start young people so they know that wisdom older people already have! But Solomon goes on to say that this book isn’t just for people without much knowledge or life experience, he’s saying that there is also something here for the wise to learn from. There is something for everyone at every walk of life to learn from the book of Proverbs.

And then the very first piece of wisdom that Solomon shares is verse 7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Fearing God is not something we often talk about these days, but in this context fearing God just means respecting God and understanding his authority. Respecting God and knowing that he is the ultimate authority is the beginning of wisdom! That’s the first step. So if you already have that down then that’s like half the battle of becoming wise right there!

Let’s read the next two verses. Read Proverbs 1:8-9.

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
    and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
9 for they are a fair garland for your head,
    and pendants for your neck.

This sort of teaching is repeated a lot through the proverbs. That its very important to remember and learn from the teachings of your parents. We’ve talked about this before in this class, but remember most parents have your best interests at heart. They want you to be the best you can be. They know that as kids you don’t have a lot of life experience—but they do. Your parents, believe it or not, were kids before. They’ve literally been in your shoes. And when they tell you not to do something or advise you towards a certain course of action, it’s because they don’t want you to make the mistakes they made. They know the pitfalls and issues that are on the path before you—because they’ve walked that path. They’re trying to teach you the wisdom and life experience they either learned from their parents or learned the hard way! That’s why it’s so important for us to listen to our parents—even when you’re adult! Your parents have walked the path before you and they teach you to help you.

Now that’s not to say that parents are always right or that every parent is a perfect parent. Sometimes parents make mistakes because they’re human to! But generally speaking your parents know what’s up and what they’re about.

Of course, this isn’t taking into account abusive parents. Solomon is talking in generalities here—he’s speaking about the average parent who loves their children and wants what’s best for them. Abusive parents are not wise and they’re not teaching their children wisdom, so that’s an entirely different subset that Solomon is not speaking to here.

Alright let’s continue looking at some of these Proverbs. Read Proverbs 3:5-7.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” This is a very famous verse though in its most famous translation the second half says “and lean not on your own understanding.” As Solomon says in his introduction, the most important and wisest thing you can do is trust God. Your parents have your best interest at heart and give you the experience of their wisdom. God is like the uber-parent, the perfect parent. You think your parents love you? God loves you even more than that, and he wants you to know his wisdom and be able to flourish. That’s what Solomon is saying here, and that is the foundation of wisdom.

Now another famous one, read Proverbs 6:6-8.

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
    consider its ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief
    or officer or ruler,
8 it prepares its food in summer,
    and gathers its sustenance in harvest.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Maybe not the verses but the concept of the hard worker ant who prepares food for the summer? There is a fable about this right? The ant and grasshopper. Which is what the movie “A Bug’s Life” is based on. The ant works hard to sustain itself. While there is a queen ant it’s not like she’s a queen like a human queen. She doesn’t give direct orders. Ants work together for the betterment of the hive—without direction to do so. They collect food and provide because it’s necessary to survive, not because some boss is bossing them around.

That’s how we should work—at whatever our job or craft is. We should work diligently without having to have bosses or parents or leaders yell at us. We work hard at our jobs because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we need to do so to earn money so we can live and provide a home for our families and food for our tables. God says this sort of diligent work is good and wise.

Now someone read Proverbs 10:12.

Hatred stirs up strife,
    but love covers all offenses.

What does this mean? The Message version of the Bible interprets this verse as, “Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.” Basically, it means that hating someone or something or acting in hatred is never the solution, it just makes things worse. But love, love can calm things down and build bridges. It’s sort of like Star Wars right—Hate leads to the dark side. But as we’ve discussed many times in this class, love is the answer, love is what Jesus commanded us to do. And love can calm things and sometimes even heal wounds. But hatred just leads to more hurt. That’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and not to hate them. Hating our enemies just leads to an endless cycle of hatred—we hate them so they hate us so we hate them. But if we love, we end that cycle.

Read Proverbs 10:17.

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
    but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray.

This verse basically says we need to be able to handle taking instructions, criticism, and correction. That’s what rebuke means—we need to be able to handle people telling us we’re wrong. This is literally a life skill, one that is hard. It’s hard to accept criticism! It’s hard to listen to people tell us we’re wrong. But we’re all only human and sometimes we’re wrong. This is important at home, and at school, and at work. At home your parents correct you. At school your teachers do. And someday when you have a job you’ll have employee reviews where your bosses will tell you what you’re doing good and what you’re doing not so good, not to hurt you by pointing out what you’re doing wrong, but to help you so you can fix it and do better.

That’s why it’s important to be able to handle criticism. People correct us because they want us to do better, to be better. Your teacher doesn’t give you a bad grade because she hates you. She gives you a bad grade because your answers were wrong and she wants you to learn the right ones! Life is a learning process, and if we can’t accept those corrections, we’re never going to learn and we’re never going to become better people.

Someone read Proverbs 13:20.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools suffers harm.

The moral of this verse is that peer pressure is a very real things. If your friends are wise, they will give you wise advice and help you to stay on a wise path. Good friends prop each other up and lead each other to be better. But bad friends? Bad friends can lead you astray. This is why parents are often so concerned about who your friends are. They are worried that bad friends will take you down a bad path. It’s not because they hate you or hate your friends. It’s because they’re worried. If a friend is pressuring you to do wrong, your more likely to do the wrong thing then if you had friends who think doing that wrong thing is silly.

Now read Proverbs 14:29.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
    but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

This verse is pretty straightforward. It’s important to be slow to anger. A quick temper can result in a lot of bad things—it makes everyone around you defensive and upset. But staying calm—even in the face of other people losing their tempers—that helps keep things calm and if you maintain your cool you can talk to the person who is upset and learn what they’re truly upset about, and come to understand them better and maybe even address their issue.

Read Proverbs 14:31.

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
    but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

Another one that seems pretty straightforward. Being kind and helping the poor honors God, while oppressing them is an insult to God. Really straightforward, and yet many people struggle with this. Oppression is alive and real in our world, something that happens all the time, and a lot of time it is rich people taking advantage of poor people.  If you ever find yourself in a position of power, as a Christian it’s our job to help the poor, to remember them, and not to make their situation worse.

Read Proverbs 16:2.

All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Have you guys ever heard the phrase that “everyone is the hero of their own story?” Basically, it means that even bad guys, even evil people, often think of themselves as in the right—as the hero. They think everything they’re doing is right, even when it’s not. That’s sort of what this verse is talking about. People—we can rationalize almost anything and any behavior. We can say we’re doing this wrong thing for the right reasons or doing this right thing—but it’s for the wrong reasons. What this verse is saying is it doesn’t matter what lies people tell themselves to convince themselves what they’re doing is right and good—even when it isn’t. God looks inside of us and at our spirit and he sees the truth, he sees our intent and he sees our true motivations. For good and for bad.

Okay now this next verse is really famous. Someone read Proverbs 16:18.

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.

You’ll most commonly here people shorten this verse to “Pride comes before a fall.” Have you guys ever heard that before? Anyone have an idea what it means?

No matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything. And you’ll certainly never know more than God. When we get to the level of pride where we only trust in ourselves—and not God or others—and when we think we know everything and start refusing to listen to anyone else or ask advice or for help—that sort of pride often leads to us messing up big time, aka a fall. Because we are only humans. No matter how expert you get in your field, you will never know *everything.* In fact Albert Einstein said “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Albert Einstein was one of the smartest men in the last 100 years, and even he wasn’t prideful enough to say he knew everything.

Pride is addictive, we humans like to think we’re the best and that we know everything, but as we already read we’re not to lean on our own understanding. We’re to lean on God. And we need to keep that in perspective or else we can get ourselves in big trouble.

Another famous verse, someone read Proverbs 17:17.

A friend loves at all times,
    and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

A friend loves at all times. All times. Not just the good times, but also the really bad and horrible times. If you’re only someone’s friend when their life is good, you’re not really their friend. A friend is someone who will be with you through thick and thin, and will stick with you even when the going gets tough.

The second half of the verse uses some old-timey language and the Message translate it to, “families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” Basically, it’s the job of a family to stick with each other through hard times and prop each other up. To share each other’s pain and suffering. To life each other’s burdens so no one person gets overwhelmed.

This is a handful of verses we just looked at here, some of the more famous ones but certainly not all the famous ones or even a fraction of the wisdom Proverbs has to offer. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and we’ve barely skimmed the surface. The purpose of this lesson is not to be a deep dive into all of Proverbs but so you guys can be familiar with it and know what it has to offer. This is ancient wisdom, wisdom from like three thousand (ish) years ago, and it’s still applicable to our lives. Because times may have changed, but a lot of things about people haven’t.

We still have friends. We still have families. Children are still young and inexperienced. There is still poverty in our midst. There are still foolish people. And there are still rich people who refuse to help those beneath them. None of this has changed in the 3,000 years since this wisdom was compiled.

And that’s why we’re looking at it now. Because this is good wise stuff that can help you. Lean on God. Be slow to anger. Be there for your friends and family. Listen to your parents. This is still good advice.

And that’s Proverbs. A book of good advice. 

 

Translating the Bible

As you guys know we’ve been studying people of the Bible. However, there are a couple of books of the Bible in the middle of the Old Testament that have no people to showcase, because they are not books that describe the lives of people. They are poetry and wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—also known as Song of Solomon. I think it’s important to stop at this point in our people of the Bible discussion because large portions of some of these books are thought to be written by David and Solomon—who we’ve spent a lot of the last year discussing.

So for the next little while we’re going to look at one of these books a week with the exception of Job. We’re actually going to come back to Job at some point and spend quite a bit of time there, but I think we’ll actually do that as our last book of the Old Testament—because I think the book of Job has a lot to tell us about God and I think we want to have it on our minds when we talk about Jesus. So for the next few weeks we’re going to look at Psalms, then we’ll look at Proverbs, and then the week after we’ll focus on Ecclesiastes.

But this week before we discuss these books of poetry we need to discuss something very important and that is the idea that the Bible is translated. So today we’re going to talk about Bible translations—what’s important, what’s not, why we prefer translations over others, and perhaps some warning signs that someone is using a translation wrong.

Does anyone know what language the Old Testament was written in? [Let them answer.]

Hebrew. Hebrew is the language of the Israelite people, and the language that the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament are written in. The New Testament on the other hand is written in Greek. If you’ll remember the Old and New Testaments were written at very different times. When the Old Testament was written is was for the Israelite people, so it used their language. When the New Testament was written, the writers used what was a more common tongue for the known world at that time—because they were trying to speak not just to Jewish people but also to people from other cultures. Greek was the most common language in that area of the world, which is why they used Greek.

Does anyone in this class speak Hebrew or Greek?

I don’t either. And even if you did speak modern Greek, Biblical Greek is a different dialectic, which basically means a slightly different version. So it would be hard for Modern Greek speakers to read Biblical Greek without taking a class to learn about Biblical Greek.

For a long time in human history, you had to know Hebrew or Greek to read certain parts of the scripture. In Jesus’ time, everyone who studied the Torah—that is the first five books of the Old Testament—would have been studying it in Hebrew. And even today modern Rabbis study Hebrew and learn to read the Old Testament in Hebrew. Our pastors also have often studied Hebrew and Greek so that they may better understand the original language of the Bible.

But you and me? We’re not Biblical scholars. We’re just average Christians who want to know what the Bible says! So we rely on English translations of the Bible.

In today’s modern age, there are a ridiculous number of English translations of the Bible. It’s amazing, but that wasn’t always the case. For a really long time, like I said you either had to know Greek or Hebrew, or Latin. Now the Bible wasn’t written in Latin, but in around 300 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Romans spoke Latin. So the Roman Emperor had the Bible translated into Latin. For a really long time, that Latin version of the Bible was considered the only official version of the Bible and you were not allowed to translated it into any other language. So if you were German, you would go to church on Sunday and hear the local priest read from the Bible in Latin, and you may not understand what he’s saying at all.

These were the Middle Ages, and things were very different back then.

Eventually a priest named Martin Luther in the 1500s said, “that doesn’t really make sense. I’m German! I want to read the Bible in German!” As a priest he knew how to read the Bible in Latin and what it meant, so he created a translation of the Bible into his local German (in history classes they’ll call this “venacular” to translate something into the vernacular is to translate it into your local language.)

Does anyone in the class speak two languages or have you ever studied another language? [Let them answer]

You may have noticed that it’s really hard to directly translate things between languages. Sometimes direct translations simply don’t convey the same meaning. So translating isn’t as simple a task as finding the same word in the dictionary and directly translating it over. A silly example is: what do you say after someone sneezes?

In English we say “God bless you.” Sometimes you might hear someone use the German word, gesundheit. Gesundheit does not mean “God bless you.” It means “health.” Because you’re basically wishing the person who just sneezed good health. In French you say “a tes souhaits,” (pronounce: ah te sway”) which means basically “as you wish.”

If I were a French translator, translating a book from French to English and someone in the book sneezed and someone responded “a tes souhaits,” I would not translate that as “as you wish” even though that is the direct translation of the word. Because an English reader wouldn’t read that and say, “that’s just a standard response to sneezing.” They would read “As you wish” and say “huh, that’s weird. Why did the character just say that?” So a good translator would actually translate “a tes souhaits” to “God bless you” even though that’s not what it means.

Translating between languages is really weird like that. It’s not just about directly translating words. You’re trying to translate meanings. Therefore any translation actually introduces a bit of interpretation, and as we’ve talked about before interpretation can be subjective.

How can interpretation be subjective? Well let’s take another easy example. The sentence: He said he didn’t steal it.

How do you interpret this sentence? What does it mean? [Let them answer.]

Now what if I said “He said he didn’t steal it.”

Now what does it mean? [Let them answer] Basically it would mean this guy is saying it was stolen but he wasn’t the one who stole it.

What about “He said he didn’t steal it.” What does that mean? [Let them answer.] Yeah! He’s saying he didn’t steal that item, but the probably stole something else.

That’s one seemingly straightforward sentence that depending on how I said it had different meaning. Representing it in modern writing, you can capture this emphasis with italics or bold or underline, but Biblical writers didn’t have concepts like italics or underlining! They just wrote words and hoped the way they wrote them conveyed what they meant!

This is why there is so much in the Bible that can be taken as a matter of interpretation. Even if we’re all looking at the exact same translation we might disagree on what the words mean!

Now back to this idea of translation: Because the Bible is not written in English, every version of the Bible that you can read is going to be a translation. The translation we use regularly in this class is the New Revised Standard Version. This is actually the version used in a lot of academic settings. The NRSV translation is made by a committee of thirty Biblical scholars—men and women--from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish backgrounds. This is why it’s so widely respected. Having such a diverse group who all greatly respect the authority of the Bible and want to make sure they are true in their translation means we’re less likely to introduce bias or inaccuracies in how it’s translated.

Another version of the Bible that occasionally gets brought up in this class is the King James Version—because we have a couple of copies. This is the version that has all the “thee’s” and “thou’s” in it and reads to us modern readers more like Shakespeare and is harder for us to make heads or tails of. The King James Version is important because for a long time it was the only version of the Bible available in English. Unfortunately, since it was translated in 1611, there are some poor translation choices. Some of that is just because scholars in 1611 didn’t know as much as scholars today. Some of it is just how the English language has changed—so though a turn of phrase would have made perfect since in 1611 it no longer makes sense now. However, the King James Version did do one thing right, and that is that it made things that are poetic sounds poetic. Sometimes in our more modern translations we lose a bit of the poetry.

This is why some people when it comes to Psalms, actually prefer to memorize the King James Version of the Psalm, because to our modern ears it just sounds more poetical, even if it’s sometimes a little harder to understand than the NRSV.

These are not the only two English translations of the Bible. Far from it. Growing up, my churches mostly use the New International Version (NIV). For more personal study I like the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I’m also fond of the English Standard Version (ESV). I think all together I have nine English translations of the Bible and one French one.

One version of the Bible that I have that we’re going to reference in the next couple of weeks that we don’t normally use in this class is called “The Message.” This version of the Bible isn’t really considered a translation so much as an interpretation. A modern pastor thought the Bible was sometimes a little too hard to read for all the people he led and so he broke it down into more modern language. This Bible is less for the purpose of academic study and more for the purpose of breaking things down.  A lot of modern Bibles like to pretend that they’re pure translations with no interpretation—which as we’ve discussed is literally impossible, the act of translation introduces interpretation. However, the Message is very clear that it is an interpretation, it’s trying to interpret the Bible into modern language. Sometimes when we read the New Testament—especially the letters by Paul, it’s all run on sentences and confusing vocabulary and philosophy that’s sometimes hard for scholars to understand. The Message breaks it all down into easy to read sentences and uses the Message’s interpretation to break down the meaning into what the writer of the Message thinks Paul is trying to say. This is why it’s not necessarily recommended for academic study, because the writer of the Message could have gotten his interpretation wrong, but it is a very useful tool for if you’re stumped at even how to read the sentence!

The Bible was written a really long time ago and therefore the grammar used by the writers is completely different from what we use today. For example, there was no such thing as punctuation back then! No periods to tell you when the sentence was over! Which is why today it all reads like run on sentences. The Message version of the Bible tries to eliminate that confusion by making everything as close to modern English as the writer can while still getting across what the writer of the Message thinks is the meaning of the text.

Let’s look at some differences between these versions of the Bible! Someone grab one of the King James Versions. Let’s turn to a verse we should all know in this class: John 3:16.

Someone please read the King James Version:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life

Okay now someone read the NRSV.  

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Alright and now I’ll read the Message version:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

You can see that generally all these verses have the same gist. God loved the world so he gave us Jesus so no one would die but everyone would live! It’s just they use slightly different words like “only begotten Son” versus “only Son” versus just “his Son.” Or using “perish” versus “destroy.” These words for the most part mean the same thing and reading this we should all be like “Yeah that seems pretty solid. We understanding the meaning of this verse.”

Okay now let’s try the same thing, still in John, but a little more complicated. Someone read John 14:16 in the NRSV:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[a] to be with you forever. 

Okay the word I want you to pay attention to here is Advocate. Can someone tell me what Advocate means? [Let them answer.]

When I looked it up google said it means “a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf” or “a pleader in a court of law, a lawyer.” So you can think of an Advocate like a lawyer.

Now do you guys see the little letter g in the your NRSV Bibles next to the word “Advocate?” That means there is a footnote. So you can look at the bottom of the page, where there is little writing, and see what it reads next to the g. Can someone read that?

g Or Helper.

What this footnote is saying is that this version of the Bible chose to translate whatever Greek word the Greek text used as Advocate but that Helper would also be a good definition of the world. Do Helper and Lawyer mean the same thing?

Sort of I guess in the sense that your lawyer should be helping you. But a Helper verses a lawyer have very different connotations. An Advocate makes people think of someone powerful who helps you, who argues on your behalf powerfully to get your out of trouble, where the connotation of a helper is more like…someone who just helps out on occasion.

Let’s see what word the King James Version uses. Someone please read John 14:16 in the KJV Bible:

16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

What word is used here? Comforter!

A comforter is a person who gives you comfort in hard times. That doesn’t make you think of a lawyer defending you in court or someone helping you out. That makes you think of someone patting you on the back saying “there, there.”

Comforter, Advocate, Helper…these words all seem to be different. So what is Jesus saying? What he is actually saying God is going to give us here?

Let’s see what the Message says.

“I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you.”

So now we have Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Friend. So what is Jesus actually saying?

Well I didn’t really give you guys a lot of context here, we didn’t read the verses around it, but Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. You guys may recall that we believe God exists in three parts: God the Father, the Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This section of the Bible is Jesus telling the disciples not to worry because after Jesus dies, they will not be left alone. They will get the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word being used here is “Parakletos” or “paraclete.” The truth is that this is a hard word to translate. What makes this word hard? Well it’s not like people made English to ancient Greek dictionaries back in the day, mostly because English didn’t exist when the Bible was written. When modern translators don’t know what a word means they try to find other ancient texts from the same time period that use the same word, so that they can use context clues to determine it’s meaning. There are a couple of other texts from the time, one from a Greek orator named Demosthenes that uses the same word. And I think this is a case where Advocate and Helper are probably the closest meaning, and “Comforter” is a bit farther off.

But the truth is all of these words can be used to describe the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the part of God that is still here active in us and active on this earth. It is our Advocate—interceding on our behalf in circumstances and events. It is our Helper—helping us when times get hard or when we don’t feel strong enough. It is our Comforter—comforting us in the darkness to let us know God is with us and we’re not alone. And it is our Friend—just as Jesus was the Friend of the twelve disciples. Using all of these words, all of these translations, gives us a fuller understanding of what the Holy Spirit is.

What is the point of all of this? Why is this important?

I think the lesson and the warning here, is that if anyone ever gives a sermon or a lesson or an interpretation that hinges on the meaning of one specific word in English and claim that is the only meaning of the word, you should be skeptical and look into it yourself. Because the Bible was not written in English. Advocate, Helper, Comforter, these are all legitimate translations of paraclete, so if someone gives a whole sermon on how the Holy Spirit is only a comforter, they are wrong.

There is a good historical example of this. I say historical, but this is something being used even now to subjugate women around this world. Can the person with the King James Bible read Genesis 2:18:

18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

God looked at man and said it’s not good for him to be alone, let me make him a “help meet”—that is woman. What does help meet mean?

Someone read the NRSV version.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Helper, okay that makes a little more sense to us. Let me make man a helper.

Helper is actually what most Bible translations use. This word has been used over the centuries to tell women that they are lesser to men. Only, merely a helper. This term “help-meet” has been used to say that women are merely meant to exist in subordinate or helping roles to their husbands.

I’m going to read a quote now from a theologian named Rachel Held Evans that explains more what the actual Hebrew word is here.

The phrase “helper suitable,” rendered “help meet” in the King James Version, comes from a combination of the words ezer and kenegdoFar from connoting subjugation, the Hebrew term ezer, or “helper,” is employed elsewhere in Scripture to describe God, the consummate intervener—the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14), King David’s helper and deliverer (Psalm 70:5), Israel’s shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29). Ezer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament—twice in reference to the first woman, three times in reference to nations to whom Israel appealed for military support, and sixteen times in reference to God as the helper of Israel.

So “ezer” is used to describe God, so God is described as Israel’s helper and David’s helper, does that mean God is subordinate to Israel or David? No. God is far greater than Israel or David. Now I’m not saying women are greater than men because when you combined “ezer” with “kenegdo” you get “helper of the same nature.” Basically “helper on the same level” or…in modern lexicon….basically a partner.

A partner is your equal, but you and your partner—whether that’s your best friend, our a group project or a business partner—you’re both invested in helping each other to be the best you can be, invested in your group project or your business or your relationship to make it the best it can be.

Man and woman are both made in the image of God, made as equals, but made to work together as partners.

Because the word “helper” has been used to translate this Hebrew phrase of “ezer kenedgo,” though, theologians have historically used it as an excuse to tell women they are less.

This is why it’s important to remember that everything is a translation influenced by interpretation and perspectives. In the hands of a biased person trying to prove the point, a translation can be tweaked through word choices and phrase choices to make a theological point the original text may not intend.

No one expects every Christian to be a theological scholar. Heck, there is no test on the Bible when you die to see if you’re theology is correct so you can go into heaven. There is no such thing. Christians were Christians even when they were illiterate with no access to the Bible. I just want you guys to be aware of these things so when you’re studying the Bible and confused by a word choice, you know there are other translations and resources you can go to in order to help you figure out what it means. Because humans translated the Bible and in the hands of some humans, those English word choices can become weapons against people.

Never trust a theologian or pastor—someone who is supposed to be an expert on these things—whose entire interpretation hinges on one English word without going back to the Hebrew or Greek.

Do feel comfortable enough to question things and seek out answers for yourself.

And also know it’s okay to not be a Bible expert. Because all it takes to be a Christian is to follow Jesus.  And what did Jesus say the greatest commandment was? The most important thing. The thing that ultimate it takes to consider yourself a follower of Jesus and God?

We keep going back to these verses and that’s because it’s important. Someone read Matthew 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love God. Love your neighbor.

That’s it. Love God. Love people. Be love in the world. That’s all it takes to be a Christian. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar. You just have to be love in the world.

I teach you these things about Bible translations and sometimes church history not because it’s necessary for you to call yourself a Christian, but because this is Sunday School and I’m trying to prepare you for the world and the sorts of questions you may have one day—or now—that cause you to question your faith. It’s always okay to ask questions and seek answers.

But it’s also okay to just sit back and say “you know, I don’t know the answer. But I do know I’m supposed to love people.”

And really that’s all that matters.

 

Jeroboam, Rehoboam, and a Divided Israel

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of our people of the Bible lessons, where we’re studying the lives of people in the Bible as a method to walk us through the Bible. Last we left off, Solomon—the son of David—was king of Israel. And for a long time he was a wise and good king, whose wisdom made him famous and whose kingdom was so prosperous that he was able to build an amazing Temple to God. However, when Solomon became an old man, he started letting his foreign wives—who worshipped other gods—influence him and he started also worshiping those gods.

As you know, “Have no other gods before God” is literally the first commandment, so needless to say God wasn’t happy with Solomon. God told Solomon that he would not punish Solomon during his life—out of respect to his father David—but after Solomon died, God would divide Israel, so that most of Israel went to another royal line, and only one tribe would be left to the child of Solomon to rule.

Today we’re going to pick up right after Solomon’s sin but right before Solomon dies. So please open your Bibles to 1 Kings 11:26-28.

26 Jeroboam son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, rebelled against the king. 27 The following was the reason he rebelled against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the gap in the wall[a] of the city of his father David. 28 The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph.

Here we are introduced to Jeroboam. We’re told several things here at our introduction to him. He’s an Ephraimite, which means he is an Israelite of the house of Ephraim—one of the landed twelve tribes of Israel. Ephraim’s name may not be familiar to you from the list of the names of Jacob’s sons, and that’s because Ephraim was a son of Joseph. Because Joseph as so awesome, his two sons basically each have a tribe named after them. Which is why later it says he’s put in charge of the house of Joseph. Ephraim and Joseph, for our purposes here are the same thing. We’re also told right off the bat that he rebelled against Solomon, and the following verses are going to be the story of that rebellion. However, in contrast to that rebellion we’re told that he was a capable and industrious young man, which is why Solomon trusted him and put him in charge of things, and I imagine what put him in such a good place to rebel. It takes a good leader to get a nearly successful rebellion off the ground—as we saw with David.

Alright so let’s read Jeroboam’s story and see how he rebelled. Someone please read 1 Kings 11:29-40.

29 About that time, when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Ahijah had clothed himself with a new garment. The two of them were alone in the open country 30 when Ahijah laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 He then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. 32 One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33 This is because he has[a] forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has[b] not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did. 34 Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom away from him but will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of my servant David whom I chose and who did keep my commandments and my statutes; 35 but I will take the kingdom away from his son and give it to you—that is, the ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, so that my servant David may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires; you shall be king over Israel. 38 If you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you, and will build you an enduring house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 For this reason I will punish the descendants of David, but not forever.” 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon.

There is a lot in here and some of it is repetitive of what we already know, but let’s break it down. Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem one day—probably minding his own business—when a prophet of the Lord tracked him down. This prophet is named Ahijad. They’re in the middle of nowhere when Ahijad tears off a part of his robe and tears it into twelve pieces. He gives ten to Jeroboam. And then for clarity, he tells Jeroboam exactly why he’s doing this and what it means.

God is taking the kingdom out of Solomon’s family’s hands. He is giving ten tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Solomon one as punishment for Solomon’s sin. Now a couple of things here: why are only eleven tribes being accounted for here? Jeroboam gets ten and Solomon gets one doesn’t add up to twelve. That’s because the tribe of Levi is not a landed tribe that any king rules. They are a tribe of priests and the priests would continue to serve both sides. The second thing is…why is God leaving Solomon anything after such a great sin? Well Ahijad explains it—God made a promise to David, a promise that his house would rule forever. If he takes away all the tribes from Solomon literally one generation after David’s death that makes it sort of seem like God is backing out of his promise. So because God made this promise to David, Solomon’s line would continue but it would continue in a weakened and less powerful state—ruling only one tribe of Israel. This is for David’s benefit—not Solomon’s.

Jeroboam will be king of the rest of Israel. And if he walks with God, his house will endure—not necessarily forever, this isn’t the same level of promise God gave David, but it will succeed.

Though God also makes it clear that this punishment for the descendants of David is not forever, so there is hope that Israel could be reunited under an heir of David.

In this section the author is writing things in way that would make a close reader of the text remember David and how very similar David and Jeroboam are in these situations. David was the rebel against the established king Saul. Jeroboam is the rebel against the established king Solomon. And in both cases, the established king wants to kill the new king.

What I find interesting is that the beginning of the section called this a Rebellion, and we don’t actually see Jeroboam inciting any rebellion in this section. However, claiming to be a new king would be viewed as rebellious and it’s no wonder that Solomon—the current king would want to kill him.

So Jeroboam flees to Egypt, where he remains until Solomon dies.

As we know Solomon does die. So what happens next? His son would expect to be king of everything after him right? But we know God has made this promise to Jeroboam. So how are things going to fall out? Is Jeroboam going to wage war against Solomon’s son—whose name happens to be Rehoboam? Are we going to have another civil war on our hands? Well let’s see. Someone please read 1 Kings 12:1-5.

12 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from[a] Egypt. 3 And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” 5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

So Rehoboam is the son of Solomon and the person who should be king after Solomon. He goes to this city called Shechem to be made king, and like everyone from Israel comes there to see. Even Jeroboam, who had been living in Egypt up to this point, comes to Shechem. While this gathering is taking place, the people bring an issue to their new king. They say, “Hey, while Solomon was king, he put a lot of taxes on us. If you could lighten that, we would be so grateful and would serve you happily.”

This just goes to show that humans have been complaining about taxes for as long as their have been governments taxing people!

Anyway, Rehoboam is like, “Hmm, I need to think about this request. Can I have three days?”

And everyone is like, “That seems completely reasonable.” After all, it’s wise for a king to think on things before making a decision.

Now someone please read 1 Kings 12:6-11.

6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 They answered him, “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.” 8 But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. 9 He said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us’; thus you should say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. 11 Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

So Rehoboam goes back and asks two sets of advisors what he should. The first group he asks are some older men who advise his father, Solomon. They say to him that if he lightens the people’s taxes and burdens now, they will view him favorably and be loyal to him forever. Rehoboam then goes to a group of men his own age and asks and they’re like, “Dude, you’re king and they’re your subjects. They have to do what you say. You should be like, “You thought my father was tough! I’m tougher! I’m going to be the toughest guy you have ever known!”

Now a few things on this, as a king it is a good idea to get advise from multiple parties and take in many points of views. In a modern democracy, it’s good to get perspectives of all your constituents—old and young and way that make a decision, because everyone has equal rights under the law if you’re an adult—whether you’re 18 or 100. But as we’ve talked about before, the main difference between young people and older people is life experience and wisdom. These former advisors of Solomon had served under an incredibly wise king and had a lot of experience dealing with the Israelites. These new young advisors on the other hand were mostly concerned with seeming tough—for some reason that’s what they thought a king should be—tough.

Out of these two choices, which one do you think Rehoboam should have chosen? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see what he picks. Someone please read 1 Kings 12:12-15.

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him 14 and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

After three days everyone comes back to listen and hear what the king has decided. And Rehoboam decides to go with the advice of his young friends over the advice of the older and wiser advisors. Rehoboam tells the people he is going to be tougher and harder than his father before them.

And the writer of Kings foreshadows in the next section how the people are going to handle this—because he says that the reason Rehoboam chose poorly was so that God’s words could be fulfilled and Israel could be split so that Jeroboam could be king of ten tribes.

That seems to indicate things aren’t going to go well.

Someone please read 1 Kings 12:16-19.

16 When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,

“What share do we have in David?
    We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
    Look now to your own house, O David.”

So Israel went away to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. 18 When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

The people are distressed by Rehoboam’s refusal to listen to them. They feel like the house of David has betrayed them. So when Rehoboam sends out his tax collecter—well the people aren’t happen with him and they kill him.

A few things on this section—it says that Adoram was in charge of forced labor. Forced labor was one of the ways people paid taxes back then. Instead of paying money, you would have to come and work on basically national projects for a while. So if you were normally a carpenter who charged money for your work, every once in a while the king would come and basically say “You need to serve me for free for a while.”

This is basically how Solomon got the Temple and Palace built, which is why I imagine people thought things were really hard under him—because of all the work they had to do.

So when it came time for this guy Adoram to round the people up, the people said no, and they killed him by a method called stoning. Stoning is basically when you throw rocks at a person until they die. And I don’t mean little pebbles. I mean like big rocks. That was a pretty common communal method of killing someone back then.

Killing an agent of the king like this is basically full-on rebellion.

It’s a fine line kings and rulers walk, because sometimes you have to make people do things they don’t want to do for the common good, but if you push people too far they will fight back. We see this all over history. It’s one of the reasons why the French Revolution happened—common people were literally starving to death while the nobility were having lavish decadent parties. If a ruler pushes people to hard, they will revolt.

And that’s what happens to Rehoboam here.

Someone please read 1 Kings 12:20-24.

 20 When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone.

21 When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, one hundred eighty thousand chosen troops to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam son of Solomon. 22 But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23 Say to King Rehoboam of Judah, son of Solomon, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24 “Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your kindred the people of Israel. Let everyone go home, for this thing is from me.” So they heeded the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.

So all these people are really dissatisfied and unhappy with Rehoboam. And when they hear Jeroboam is back in town, they basically all just say “To heck with Rehoboam, Jeroboam is our king now.”

Rehoboam is not happy about this. He gathers all of the men of Judah and Benjamin to go fight against Jeroboam—which is literally like the rest of Israel—way more men. But then God sends a messenger to Rehoboam and is like, “No. You’re not going to war with this guy. This was my decision. Israel will be split now. And that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

And Rehoboam listens and there is no war between the two leaders of this new split Israel.

From now going forward in the Bible there are going to be two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom, often known as just Israel, and the Southern kingdom, often known as just Judah. Most of Israel is in the Northern Kingdom, and the Southern Kingdom is all of Judah and some of Benjamin. We will never see a united Israel, containing all of the tribes, that is self-ruled ever again.

Israel is split forever more, and the glory days of David and Solomon are gone. From this story forth these two kingdoms are separated, and at the mercy of some good kings and a lot of bad kings, and even further on we’ll see Israel wiped off the map by invaders, and the how Hebrew identity called into question as these people are exiled from the land they believe God promised them.

It’s a rough road ahead.

Solomon Makes Mistakes

Last week we began a discussion on Solomon. If you’ll remember Solomon was David’s son who became king after him. And when Solomon became king, God gave him a chance to ask for anything he wanted and Solomon asked for wisdom.

Word of Solomon’s wisdom spread everywhere, and Solomon became famous for his wisdom. Even a foreign queen came to see him and test his wisdom, and she left impressed.

But the purpose of Solomon’s wisdom wasn’t to make Solomon famous. It was to bring glory to God. And Solomon hadn’t lost sight of that. Let’s open our Bibles and flip to 2 Chronicles.

Someone please read 2 Chronicles 2:1-2.

2 [a] Solomon decided to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself. 2 [b] Solomon conscripted seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, with three thousand six hundred to oversee them.

Solomon decided to build a temple. If you’ll remember, at this point in the Bible, there is no temple for God. Instead there is the Tabernacle, which is basically like a tent version of the temple.

Now David had wanted to build a temple for God. But God told him no that he couldn’t. Instead his son would do so. And that’s exactly what is happening here. Solomon, David’s son, is building a temple to God.

Someone read 2 Chronicles 2:3-6.

3 Solomon sent word to King Huram of Tyre: “Once you dealt with my father David and sent him cedar to build himself a house to live in. 4 I am now about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for offering fragrant incense before him, and for the regular offering of the rows of bread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed festivals of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel. 5 The house that I am about to build will be great, for our God is greater than other gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?

Solomon wants to build a temple for God not because it makes him great or Israel great but to show how great God is. You have to understand that back then, people built all sorts of buildings and temples to their gods. And here were the Hebrews, claiming their God was the best of all the gods, and yet…there God only had a tent? That sort of thing would definitely make people of other cultures question the awesomeness of the Hebrew God. Why would a God who is so awesome allow his people to worship him in a tent?

We know it’s because that is how God planned it, that the tent was so that the people had a place to worship while they wandered in the wilderness. But now that Israel is a secure solid nation, it was time for Solomon to build a permanent, not moving Temple in the promised land, a place where they can keep the Ark of the Covenant and offer sacrifices to God.

If the Hebrews are God’s chosen people, and Israel the land God gave them, it’s about time—in their minds—that God would have his own great house in Israel.

Solomon recognizes that anything they build on earth cannot compare to heaven and while it will be viewed as God’s house, it cannot actually contain God. He knows that he cannot built anything beautiful and wonderful enough to actually do justice to God. But he sure can try. So he hires all the best workers and artisans, the best carpenters and metal workers who are famous for their abilities and art. And they will help him make the Temple the most people place in the world.

Solomon put so much effort and care into building the temple that it takes him twenty-years to build it. Twenty-years! It was a massive construction effort and obviously they didn’t have all the technology we have to make it easy. They would have had to do everything by hand. Which is why it took so long.

Can someone please read 2 Chronicles 5:1-10?

5 Thus all the work that Solomon did for the house of the Lord was finished. Solomon brought in the things that his father David had dedicated, and stored the silver, the gold, and all the vessels in the treasuries of the house of God.

2 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the people of Israel, in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 3 And all the Israelites assembled before the king at the festival that is in the seventh month. 4 And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites carried the ark. 5 So they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. 6 King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be numbered or counted. 7 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 8 For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. 9 The poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place in front of the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; they are there to this day. 10 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant[a] with the people of Israel after they came out of Egypt.

So the temple is finally done and Solomon gathers all the leaders of Israel: the elders and the heads of the tribe to the city so that they can be there for the Ark of the Covenant to be brought into the Temple. This is a big deal. Because the Ark of the Covenant symbolizes God’s presence and the Temple is supposed to be God’s house, so it’s important that the thing that symbolizes God actually live in God’s house. But as we’ve already studied moving the Ark of the Covenant about is not an easy task. Only certain people can touch it or move it. So they sacrifice many animals as they do this movement. And finally the ark is placed in the heart of the temple, the area called the holy of holies, where no one can go except the high priests.

When the ark is inside, Solomon dedicates the temple by speaking to everyone gathered. Let’s see what Solomon says. Someone please read 2 Chronicles 6:1-11.

6 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would reside in thick darkness. 2 I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to reside in forever.”

3 Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. 4 And he said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying, 5 ‘Since the day that I brought my people out of the land of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, so that my name might be there, and I chose no one as ruler over my people Israel; 6 but I have chosen Jerusalem in order that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.’ 7 My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 8 But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to consider building a house for my name; 9 nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’ 10 Now the Lord has fulfilled his promise that he made; for I have succeeded my father David, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built the house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 11 There I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with the people of Israel.”

Solomon praises God before all the people and reminds them of the history that has brought them here. That God chose David to rule them and chose Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. And that David had been the one who wanted to build the house, but God said it would be David’s son who would do it.

The next thing Solomon does is pray before everyone, praising God for his awesomeness and his faithfulness to Israel. He points out that even when Israel hasn’t been faithful to God, God has been there for them. Someone please read 2 Chronicles 6:41-42.


“Now rise up, O Lord God, and go to your resting place,
    you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation,
    and let your faithful rejoice in your goodness.
42 O Lord God, do not reject your anointed one.
    Remember your steadfast love for your servant David.”

This is how Solomon ends his prayer, by basically invited God into the temple to live and to not reject them but rather remember his love for David and the promise he has made David.

And God it seems likes Solomon’s prayer because he appears to Solomon again! Someone read 2 Chronicles 7:12-22.

12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’ 19 “But if you[a] turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you[b] up from the land that I have given you;[c] and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And regarding this house, now exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished, and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord the God of their ancestors who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore he has brought all this calamity upon them.’”

Basically God starts out by telling Solomon that he accepts the invitation to make the temple his. He also tells them that as long as the people of the land are faithful, as long as the people of Israel follow God and pray and seek him, he will hear and forgive them.

He also reminds Solomon that his faithfulness is also important. That if like David, he follows God, then Solomon need not worry about being dethroned. And he reminds him of the covenant he made with David, that Israel will always have a king of the line of David.

And God doesn’t just end there. He decides Solomon needs a more firm warning. He basically warns him that if Solomon turns away from God, if he worships other Gods, that he will punish Solomon and it will be seen by the temple, that people will only speak of the temple in whispers and warnings.

Remember 2 Chronicles was written after the exile and Solomon’s temple was destroyed, so this section is alluding to that. It’s basically alluding to the idea that if Israel and the temple are destroyed, people will be shocked and wonder why God allowed it. But the answer is God allowed it because they turned away from him and worshiped other gods.

And this issue of worshiping foreign gods, is actually going to be an issue soon. Because Solomon has a weakness, and that weakness is his wives.

Alright everyone let’s turn back to 1 Kings. Someone please read 1 Kings 11:1-4.

11 King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

We talked about last week how Solomon married pharaoh’s daughter. And that wasn’t the only foreign woman he married.

Marrying foreign women is a problem not because the people group they come from, but because they don’t worship God—they would have their own religions. This law against marrying foreign women is actually in the Torah, the Law. Someone flip to Deuteronomy 7:3-5 and please read that verse.

3 Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 5 But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles,[a] and burn their idols with fire.

This law forbids the Israelites from marrying foreigners, but we’ve already seen that that’s not always followed. Rahab and Ruth, both of these women were foreigners. But what this verse is particularly concerned about is not so much marrying foreign people but marrying people who serve different gods. Rahab and Ruth both recognized the authority of God and turned to God, essentially converting. The concern of this law is that the people of God would turn away from him because of the influence of spouses can have over each other. If your spouse worships a foreign god, you might be tempted to as well.

A quick aside here: as I’ve said the issue here isn’t really marrying foreign people, it’s marrying people who worship other gods. So here’s a question. Does this rule still apply to us today? As Christians? Should Christians marry non-Christians?

Well legally in America obviously you can. You can marry almost anyone you want legally. But what does the New Testament say about this? Turns out, Paul—who wrote many books of the New Testament—had an opinion on this very topic! So someone please read 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

14 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we[b] are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will live in them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore come out from them,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch nothing unclean;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be your father,
    and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

 

“Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.” The more common way you may here this is “don’t be unequally yoked.” So what is Paul saying here. He’s saying that if you are a believer and follower of God and you marry someone who isn’t, you’re mismatched. Because you can’t and won’t be able to share everything with them.

A non-Christian won’t want to come to church with you. A non-Christian might think when you pray that it’s silly. A non-Christian won’t encourage you to follow God. And this makes a relationship hard. Marriage can be hard enough without adding in a religious mismatch in the mix!

But Paul also reminds us here that there is no temple like the one Solomon built anymore, now we—Christians—are the temple of God. And if we’re a temple of God, we should keep ourselves holy and that involves keeping ourselves separate.

That said, Paul does say in another section of the Bible that if you happen to be married, and your spouse is not a believer, that is not a reason to get divorced.

So if you marry outside the faith that is between you and God, but remember that when it comes to picking a future spouse it’s very important that you guys have similar values and beliefs.

Back to Solomon: Solomon marrying foreign wives is a good political move because it binds him more closely to his neighboring countries, makes them allies instead of enemies. However, it’s simultaneously a good political move and an iffy spiritual move. But since the intent of this law is that he not start worshiping other gods. So if Solomon married these women but continued to worship God unhindered it wouldn’t really be a problem.

And Solomon falls prey to this. As he ages and gets older, his heart starts turning away from God and towards these gods that his young cute wives worship.

I’d also like to point out it says he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. So as we’ve discussed before a concubine is just like a lower class wife. So in total, Solomon had 1000 women at his beck and call. That is a lot of wives. And while some of them I’m sure were only for political reasons, it shows that Solomon has a weakness for women and the fact that his heart starts turning away from God, shows he’s letting these women influence him in ways he shouldn’t.

Someone please read 1 Kings 11:5-8.

5 For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.

These verses point out the foreign gods Solomon starts worshiping. He even builds a few of these foreign gods their own little alters in the hills. It says he basically builds an alter for a god for each of his wives’ gods! That’s a lot of gods. So yes Solomon had built a Temple to God and that is a great and remarkable act, but he also started building alters for other gods! That goes directly against the first commandment, not to worship any other gods other than God.

Also a slight aside. You’ll notice it never says Solomon starts disbelieving in God while he’s also worshiping these other gods. Nowadays that’s kind of a crazy idea. Most people believe their gods are true and no one else’s are. But people didn’t believe that back then. Your average Israelite thought everyone else’s gods were real too. It was just that the Hebrew God was the greatest God there was, more powerful and awesome than all the other gods. This is called “monolatry” which means the worship of one god without the denial of the existence of other gods.

That idea is kind of foreign to us now. We believe our God is true and real, and that there are no other gods. But people didn’t have that concept back then. Which is why Solomon didn’t have a problem with worshiping these foreign gods. To him they were real.

The problem with it is that worshiping other gods is directly forbidden by the Hebrew God. That’s literally the first and probably most important commandment. Don’t worship any other gods! And here Solomon is breaking it. Do you guys think God will be happy about this?

Nope. Definitely not. Someone please read 1 Kings 11:9-13.

9 Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. 11 Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of your father David I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 I will not, however, tear away the entire kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

God is angry with Solomon for worshiping other gods. Solomon is failing to keep David’s covenant with God, that as long as David’s descendants worship God then things will be fine in Israel. And God isn’t quite about it. He tells Solomon that because his heart has turned away from God, Israel will be torn apart. He says the only reason why it won’t happen in Solomon’s lifetime is because of David. But after Solomon dies God will tear Israel apart, and Solomon’s son will only have one of the twelve tribes of Israel to rule over. The rest of the tribes will be left to their own devices. This is ominous, and we’re going to see that after Solomon dies the kingdom gets split into two: Judah and Israel. And Solomon’s son is the king of Judah but not Israel.

The mighty nation that Solomon was king of will be no more. Torn apart. Because of Solomon’s sin.

Alright someone please read 1 Kings 11:41-43.

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 The time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 Solomon slept with his ancestors and was buried in the city of his father David; and his son Rehoboam succeeded him.

Solomon rules for 40 years and then dies an old man. And that’s the end of the story of the Solomon. He was an extremely wise man, who compiled three books of the Bible, and made Israel wealthy and grand. But in his old age he turned from God, and so Solomon’s legacy will be mixed. A legacy of wisdom tainted by his sin that will tear Israel apart.

 

Solomon the Wise

Icebreaker question: If you could ask God for anything—anything!—and know he would grant it, what would it be?

When we last left off, David had died and Solomon, his son with Bathsheba was made King of Israel. When David became king it was a kingdom in turmoil, one that was coming fresh off a civil war. But David spent his entire time as king making a united Israel, and he succeeded! So when Solomon became king it was the king of an already united and prosperous Israel.

Today we’re going to study Solomon and the success and failure of his time as king. So go get your Bibles and open them up to 1 Kings.

Someone please read 1 Kings 3:1-2.

3 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

This seems like really random two verses to start off the story of Solomon as king, but these verses show how amazing Israel has become, Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world. What does that mean: superpower? Well that word was developed during the Cold War to explain the amount of power that the United States and the Soviet Union had. Basically, the United States and the Soviet Union were the two most influential countries in the world, and their influence stretched into almost every country in the world. That was Egypt back in this time period. A huge united nation whose influence extended to every nation or people group on the Mediterranean.

For the Pharaoh of Egypt to make a marriage alliance with Israel, basically means that Egypt was recognizing Israel—not as an equal but as a somebody. Whereas before Israel was a nobody, not worthy of recognition on the international scale. Now Israel was worthy of making alliances with. So this was basically a sign that Israel was a player—not a powerful player, but a moderate player in this ancient world.

For now someone please read 1 Kings 3:3-9.

3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

At this point, Solomon is definitely not falling prey to idolatry—that is the worship of other gods—and he loves God and worships him and wants to be a good and godly man like his father David. Solomon goes to a holy place to worship and sacrifice and while he’s there, God appears to him! And then God says that Solomon can ask for whatever he wants, anything, and God will give it to him.

Imagine that! I asked you guys this at the beginning of the class, if you could ask God anything what would you ask for. When faced with a question like this, some people ask for stuff—like money or a house or some item they’ve wanted their whole lives. Some people ask for status, like fame or power. Some people ask for things like happiness and contentment and even faithfulness.

Solomon could ask for anything: the security of Israel, his own personal happiness, health, wealth, anything. And what does he ask for?

An understanding mind that is able to discern between good and evil. In simpler terms, he asks for wisdom.

It can be confusing to understanding what exactly wisdom is. Solomon calls it an understanding mind with the ability to discern between good and evil. From that we can see that wisdom is more than just knowing stuff. It’s the ability to discern.

There’s a saying that you may have heard: “Knowledge is knotting that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

That’s what Solomon wants. He wants to make good choices, so he can be a better leader for his people. Frankly, the request for wisdom is an incredibly wise choice.

Someone please read 1 Kings 3:10-14.

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Solomon’s request for wisdom pleases God, because Solomon could have asked for any selfish thing he wanted—health, wealth, the death of his enemies, and instead he asks for something more esoteric—wisdom—but something that will help him both be a better king and a better follower of God. So God grants it to him.

Solomon’s wisdom is then almost immediately put to the test. Someone please read 1 Kings 3:16-22.

16 Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. 19 Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king.

Two women come to the king for judgement. The Bible says they are prostitutes which is important to the situation for two reasons. (1) Their fight is over who should have custody of this baby. Since they are prostitutes, they have no husbands. So the baby is illegitimate and has no father to fight for the custody of the baby. But we’ve also talked about how women were not considered reliable witnesses during this time. So if one of them was a married woman with a husband making a claim against an unmarried woman? The married woman would probably just automatically win because her husband’s testimony would hold greater wait than the testimony of either woman. Which is terrible but the way it was back then. The second reason why this is important is because they were prostitutes working in the same house and gave birth at the same time. There were no hospitals back then. So if these women were part of standard families, they would have just given birth at home. This minimizes your switched at birth scenario, because you would probably be the only one giving birth in your home. Instead they gave birth in their home which also happens to be their place of work, where they both live and work.

So they both give birth on the same night. One woman’s child dies and the other lived. One woman claims her baby lived and the others died, but the other woman got up in the middle of the night and switched the living baby with the dead baby, essentially stealing the living baby.

The other woman says that didn’t happen, and the first woman is just suffering a delusion from her trauma of losing a baby.

This is a hard situation to figure it out. It’s not like they had genetic tests back then. And no one saw what happened. So how does this wise king decide which woman should get to keep this baby? Well let’s see, someone read 1 Kings 3:23-28.

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” 26 But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27 Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” 28 All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

Basically Solomon is like “This is a she-said she-said situation!” With no extra witnesses there is no way to validate which woman is right. So he goes for a drastic method. He says he will cut the baby in two and give each woman half—basically killing the baby.

But the woman whose son it actually is doesn’t want her baby to die! So she says “No, give the other woman the baby, as long as he lives!” And the other woman is like “meh.” And Solomon says that it is obviously the woman who is willing to give up her son that he may live who is the mother, because she loved him so dearly she would give him up rather than he die. Whereas the other woman was like “whatever, just kill him.” Which seems really awful, but you have to remember this other woman already lost her baby. And she sees the first woman with a baby, a baby she wants, and she’s probably really upset and in a dark place and thinking awful thoughts like “Rather none of us have him than the other woman rub her happiness in my face.”

So Solomon wisely decides that the woman who offered to give up her baby is the true mother, and gives the baby to that woman.

And word of this decision spreads everywhere and people are amazed at the King’s ability to make these sort of really hard decisions.

Someone please read 1 Kings 4:20-28.

20 Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy. 21 Solomon was sovereign over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of choice flour, and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. 25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all of them under their vines and fig trees. 26 Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. 27 Those officials supplied provisions for King Solomon and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month; they let nothing be lacking. 28 They also brought to the required place barley and straw for the horses and swift steeds, each according to his charge.

The whole point of this section is that Israel is doing extremely well under Solomon. Their population is increasing because they have food and are happy and for once aren’t worrying about being attacked by the Philistines or the Egyptians or anyone. This is a first for Israel, it really is. To be this prosperous and to live without fear and to flourish! It’s remarkable.

Someone please read 1 Kings 4:29-34.

29 God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. 32 He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

Solomon’s wisdom surpasses the wisdom of everyone else in the ancient world, and people come from far and wide to hear Solomon’s wisdom. In fact Solomon is so wise that tradition holds that Solomon either wrote or compiled the book of Proverbs, and the book of Ecclesiastes, and the book Song of Solomon. That’s at least three books of the Bible, which is really impressive.

Things are on the up and up for Solomon and Israel.

Now a little bit of a tangent, I’m about to need you guys to flip ahead away from Kings to 2 Chronicles. I want to have a little aside here about Samuel and Kings versus Chronicles.

1 and 2 Chronicles tells the same story as 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Instead of covering it in four books of the Bible, it’s a little denser and covers it in two. But why? Do we really need a second set of books that describes Saul becoming King and then David and then Solomon and then all the chaos that follows? Why do we have these two different sequences that describe the same sequence of events?

Well, these books of the Bible were not written at the same time. Samuel and Kings were written a lot closer to the actual events that they’re describing. Chronicles was written much later. In fact, while in the Christian ordering of the Bible Chronicles comes right after Kings, the Jewish Bible actually places 1 and 2 Chronicles as the last two books. And I actually prefer the Jewish order. When Christians read the Bible they’re like “ugh, I have to read everything that just happened all over again? Lame.” But that’s not what’s happening here.

We’ve talked about how God promised David that his line would sit on Israel’s throne forever. We’ve talked about how that didn’t happen, at least it didn’t manifest in the way they thought it would. When Samuel and Kings were written, the idea of a son of David getting on the throne of Israel was still a reasonable thing. Israel could still come back and be a nation again with a Davidic King.

When Chronicles was written it was after the exile, a people who had no king anymore. A people who had been exiled and felt like God had left them.

Samuel/Kings and Chronicles are written from vastly different perspectives. And because they have different perspectives they emphasize different things.

It’s amazing how you can change a story’s meaning by emphasizing different things, by leaving some things out and stressing a particular section. You guys may have heard of “bad descriptions of movies.” This is a perfect example.

What movie am I describing? “A girl travels to a strange land, kills the first person she encounters and then gangs up with three strangers to kill her first victim’s sister.”

[Let them answer.]

The Wizard of Oz.

Nothing I said was untrue. Dorothy travels to a strange land, her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her, and then she makes friends with the cowardly lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man. And then in the end she kills the Wicked Witch of the West. I described the same sequence of events, but with my word choice I made it more sinister.

For a more historical example, you can take the example of the American Revolution and the Founding fathers. There are a ridiculous amount of books and documentaries about the Founding Fathers, all based on the same facts. But depending on which one you read, you get a very different perspective. In the HBO documentary about John Adams, Alexander Hamilton is viewed as so unimportant he’s only ever shown as writing in the background at Washington’s secretary desk. Other than that he’s never addressed, because from John Adams perspective Hamilton was a pretender and didn’t deserve a single ounce of credit.

From the perspective of the musical Hamilton—and the biography it’s based on—Alexander Hamilton might as well have singlehandedly founded America.

These are the same sequence events. These are the same story. But told from different perspectives and emphasizing different aspects of it.

Chronicles was written for a different audience and a different purpose than Samuel and Kings. Samuel and Kings is talking about recent history to people who remember or know this recent history. Samuel and Kings are trying to explain why God’s people—after generations of ruling themselves and having kings, went into exile. Chronicles is trying to explain that there is still hope, that God hasn’t abandoned them, even though it seems like they will never go back to a Davidic kingdom ever again.

That’s actually why I think ending on Chronicles would be so powerful for Christians, instead of reading them right in order. Because then we are reminded right before we might Jesus of the promise God made David, and then we see immediately how God fulfills that promise through Jesus!

But for whatever reason the people who decided how to order the Bible decided they wanted all the histories right in a row, and putting Chronicles last didn’t fit with that.

But back to Solomon and his super duper impressive wisdom. Someone flip to 2 Chronicles 9:1-9.

9 When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she discussed with him all that was on her mind. 2 Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. 3 When the queen of Sheba had observed the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 4 the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his valets, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings[a] that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit left in her.

 So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, 6 but I did not believe the[b] reports until I came and my own eyes saw it. Not even half of the greatness of your wisdom had been told to me; you far surpass the report that I had heard. 7 Happy are your people! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! 8 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God. Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 9 Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a very great quantity of spices, and precious stones: there were no spices such as those that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

Solomon is so famous for his wisdom that a foreign Queen comes to see him and test him with really hard questions. When she comes, Solomon is able to answer every question she has. And she is crazy impressed. She is so impressed that she gives him expensive gifts of gold, spices, and jewels.

But more than that she credits his wisdom to his God, and is basically like “your God must be amazing for you to be so amazing.”

So Solomon’s amazing wisdom is not just about magnifying himself and Israel, it’s about magnifying God.

Next week we’re going to continue discussing Solomon. We’re going to see how he further magnifies God by building him a temple, but also how Solomon lets his weaknesses get the best of him.

David and Solomon

We have been talking about David for a really long time in this class. In fact, we started the book of Samuel in September! Other than a short break in December for Advent, that’s a long time to be talking about Samuel, Saul, and David. Well today is the last story of David we’re going to study!

Last we saw David he was having some issues handling his kids. Amnon attacked his sister. Absolom killed Amnon and then tried to overthrow David and then in the end Absolom too died. That means David’s two oldest heirs, who should have been king are both dead.

So who is going to be king after David? That is the question. Please go get your Bibles and open to 1 Kings!

Someone please read 1 Kings 1:5-10.

(Note: Adonijah is pronounce ADD-eh-KNEE-jah)

5 Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 6 His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. 7 He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. 8 But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David’s own warriors did not side with Adonijah.

9 Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fatted cattle by the stone Zoheleth, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, 10 but he did not invite the prophet Nathan or Benaiah or the warriors or his brother Solomon.

Adonijah is David’s fourth son. We’ve already talked about how Amnon was oldest and Absolom was third, and we don’t know what happened to David’s second son. For whatever reason, the second son is never discussed or considered in the running for the throne. So that means Adonijah, as the fourth son, is now the heir apparent for the throne of Israel.

So Adonijah starts acting like he’s going to be king, he starts acting like king already. He starts talking with generals and priests and basically preparing to be king someday. But not everyone supports Adonijah as the next king, and one of the people who doesn’t support him is Nathan—the current prophet of God. And Adonijah knows it, so when he goes to have  a party to basically celebrate how he’s going to be king someday, he invites everyone—except the people who don’t support his claim to be king, like the prophet Nathan or his brother Solomon.

Can someone please read 1 Kings 1:11-14.

11 Then Nathan said to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, “Have you not heard that Adonijah son of Haggith has become king and our lord David does not know it? 12 Now therefore come, let me give you advice, so that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. 13 Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne? Why then is Adonijah king?’ 14 Then while you are still there speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words.”

Nathan is not happy about this whole Adonijah situation. So he goes to Bathsheba to devise a plan to stop this from happening. If you’ll remember Bathsheba is one of David’s wife, but she became his wife after a really horrible situation where David abused his power. A lot of the drama happening in David’s life is a punishment for his horrible abuses of power. But Bathsheba did nothing wrong, she was the victim, and she became David’s wife and had a son named Solomon. Who is now an adult and is the son of David that Nathan wants to be king after David.

Nathan says at some point David promised Solomon would be king after him. Now I couldn’t find the verse where David actually promised that, but it seems that both Nathan and Bathsheba believed David had intended Solomon to be king.

So David goes to Bathsheba and tells her to go to David and basically ask why Adonijah is going to be king instead of Solomon.

Someone please read 1 Kings 1:15-21.

15 So Bathsheba went to the king in his room. The king was very old; Abishag the Shunammite was attending the king. 16 Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, “What do you wish?” 17 She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne. 18 But now suddenly Adonijah has become king, though you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the children of the king, the priest Abiathar, and Joab the commander of the army; but your servant Solomon he has not invited. 20 But you, my lord the king—the eyes of all Israel are on you to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his ancestors, that my son Solomon and I will be counted offenders.”

Bathsheba goes to the king and bows before him and is basically like “hey, did you know Adonijah is going around pretending he’s going to be king? Didn’t you promise that your heir would be Solomon?” And then she basically calls David to task, saying it’s his job as king to stand up and proclaim who will be king after him. That everyone is waiting for David to do so.

She also points out that if Adonijah becomes King after David when many people knew that David had intended Solomon, Adonijah will probably kill Bathsheba and Solomon so that there is no counter claim to the throne—so that there can be no rebellion against him.

This is a pretty common practice back then, that when you become king you kill everyone else who has a claim to the throne. This is why Jonathan made David promise that he wouldn’t kill any of Jonathan’s family. Killing the other heirs family is super common. So it makes sense Bathsheba would be afraid for her and Solomon’s lives.

Alright someone please read 1 Kings 1:22-27.

22 While she was still speaking with the king, the prophet Nathan came in. 23 The king was told, “Here is the prophet Nathan.” When he came in before the king, he did obeisance to the king, with his face to the ground. 24 Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne’? 25 For today he has gone down and has sacrificed oxen, fatted cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s children, Joab the commander[a]of the army, and the priest Abiathar, who are now eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ 26 But he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon. 27 Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?”

As planned, Nathan comes in while Bathsheba is talking to David. And Nathan basically underscores everything Bathsheba just said: that Adonijah is setting himself up to be king and that some of the king’s men are supporting Adonijah as king. Nathan also tells David that it is his job to declare the next king, and David is basically shirking its responsibility.

Now David of the past may just let it ride, and not actually do anything. After all the David who messed up with Amnon, Tamar, and Absolom didn’t like interfering with his children’s lives. So let’s see what David does now. Can someone read 1 Kings 1:28-31?

28 King David answered, “Summon Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence, and stood before the king. 29 The king swore, saying, “As the Lord lives, who has saved my life from every adversity, 30 as I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so will I do this day.” 31 Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and did obeisance to the king, and said, “May my lord King David live forever!”

In the end however David actually listens. Before Bathsheba, Nathan, and God, he swears that Solomon shall succeeded him and be king after him. But it’s not enough for him to proclaim it to just Nathan and Bathsheba. David also needs to tell all the people. Can someone read 1 Kings 1:32-40?

32 King David said, “Summon to me the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, 33 the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and have my son Solomon ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. 34 There let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ 35 You shall go up following him. Let him enter and sit on my throne; he shall be king in my place; for I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” 36 Benaiah son of Jehoiada answered the king, “Amen! May the Lord, the God of my lord the king, so ordain. 37 As the Lord has been with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.”

38 So the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and led him to Gihon. 39 There the priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up following him, playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise.

David summons his men and makes a plan. He says they are to take Solomon out in the city, put him on a mule, blow a trumpet, and declare Solomon the king so that everyone knows that it is Solomon and not Adonijah will be king after David.

So these men do it, they take Solomon around on a mule and lead him around and then in the end they anoint Solomon as the next king and declare it. So now all of Israel knows that it is Solomon who has been chosen to be king.

But Adonijah hasn’t been told. How do you guys think he’s going to take this?

Well let’s see. Someone please read 1 Kings 1:41-48.

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. When Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “Why is the city in an uproar?” 42 While he was still speaking, Jonathan son of the priest Abiathar arrived. Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and surely you bring good news.” 43 Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king; 44 the king has sent with him the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and they had him ride on the king’s mule; 45 the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan have anointed him king at Gihon; and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you heard. 46 Solomon now sits on the royal throne. 47 Moreover the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ The king bowed in worship on the bed 48 and went on to pray thus, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who today has granted one of my offspring[a] to sit on my throne and permitted me to witness it.’”

This all happens while Adonijah is having his feast, but they hear the trumpets and celebrating in the city and they’re like “What is that?” A man arrives soon and tells them what happened—that David made Solomon king while Adonijah was out partying.

Someone please read 1 Kings 1:49-53.

49 Then all the guests of Adonijah got up trembling and went their own ways. 50 Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. 51 Solomon was informed, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon; see, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not kill his servant with the sword.’” 52 So Solomon responded, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 53 Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”

Adonijah and his people are terrified, because now that David has declared Solomon king before all the people, then Solomon might have Adonijah killed. Someone tells Solomon that Adonijah is afraid, but since Solomon is a good man like his father, he promises that as long as Adonijah is a good man he doesn’t have to fear anything. But if he continues in his desire to be king and works against Solomon, well then that will be a different story.

So Solomon calls Adonijah before him and tells him that and sends him home in peace.

Someone please read 1 Kings 2:1-4.

2 When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, 3 and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. 4 Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

David is very old, so he brings Solomon before him to give him so last advice. He gives Solomon three charges: (1) Be strong. (2) Be courageous. And then finally the most important one (3) he tells Solomon to obey God. Because while God promised David’s throne to last forever, that is reliant on David’s heirs being faithful!

David also continues by advising Solomon on how to deal with the different people, so that Solomon will be set up well as king of Israel.

Now can someone read 1 Kings 2:10-12.

10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.

In the end King David dies. The Bible says he ruled Israel for 40 years. And then Solomon becomes king. And unlike David, Solomon’s kingdom is not one started at war. It’s an established kingdom and all Solomon has to do is continue his father’s work and obey God and Israel will continue to flourish.

We’ll discuss next week Solomon as king, but for now I want to pause and discuss David’s legacy.

We’ve spent a lot of time on David, and that’s because Biblically he is extremely important. We’re going to see references to David over and over again. David is called over and over a “man after God’s own heart.” Despite all his sins and wrong doings, David was a man who loved God and sought him, and always asked for forgiveness when he did something wrong.

In the end we’re going to see that David’s throne doesn’t last forever. Israel is going to fall. It will be taken over by foreign nations and have no kings. But even during this time of exile, when the people of God weren’t living in their promised land and had no temple, God still promises that King David and his throne will come back. Can someone please read Ezekiel 34:23-24.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

This is a promise God is making to Israel, that he will set up a shepherd over them—his servant David. And David will take care of them and be their shepherd and God will be their God but David will be a prince to them.

This isn’t actually talking about God bringing David back from the dead to rule over us. When Christians read this passage, we read it God’s promise of a perfect shepherd, a perfect prince who will be brought to us, to care for us.

Not King David himself brought back from the dead, but an heir of David. And who is that? [Let them answer]

That’s right. It’s Jesus.

Someone read John 10:11. This is Jesus speaking.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 

Jesus says he’s the good shepherd, the shepherd promised to us by God.  Jesus is David’s heir, and unlike David he is perfect.

This is partly why when Jesus came people expected Jesus to be a warrior. Like King David, they expected him to be a mighty warrior who could throw out the Romans. But Jesus came to be the good shepherd who would take care of us.

And that’s why studying these old stories is so important. It gives us perspective on why people in Jesus’s time reacted to him like they did. And what promises God was meeting by sending Jesus to us.

And that’s it for this week. Next week we’ll pick it up and talk about Solomon as King of Israel, and we’ll see how well…or not…that goes.

Crash Course in Lent

Today we’re taking a break from our discussion of King David, because today we’re going to talk about the part of the church calendar that just started: Lent. Today we’re going to talk about what is Lent? What exactly do Christians do during Lent and how can you guys as youth celebrate Lent or not.

This is going to be a basic crash course in Lent. We will study all of this in far more detail when we study Jesus next year. But for now at a high level let’s talk about Lent.

At it’s most basic level Lent is very similar to Advent, in that Advent is how we count down to Christmas and Lent is how we countdown to Easter. However, other than they are both countdowns the two events are quite different. Advent is full of hopeful looking forward. Lent tends to be a little more serious.

As we studied at Christmas, the word “Advent” comes from Latin and basically means waiting for an arrival. So what does Lent mean?

Well it certainly doesn’t mean the same thing as dryer lint. In fact church lint is spelled differently, it’s L-E-N-T. Turns out lent is a shortened form of an Old English word, “Lencten” which means “springtime” or “spring.” Turns out there is also some connection to some old German words and Middle Dutch that are similar that also seem to refer to spring and the lengthening of days during spring. So Lent means Spring, which is also when Easter takes place. But it sure doesn’t make Lent seem like a special word, if it just means springtime.

Generally Lent takes place in very early spring, starting in February and ending in March or April. So you can imagine that early Christians were talking about springtime and this church event was always taking place in springtime so the two words over time just slowly became synonymous.

So why does the start of Lent and the date of Easter change every year? Does anyone know?

Well the date of Easter is dependent on the date of Passover. And Passover’s date is dictated by the Jewish calendar. In America and in a lot of world we used what is called “the Gregorian calendar.” That’s the calendar we use for every year that has the months we know, has leap ear, and all of that kind of stuff. But Judaism has its own calendar, the Hebrew calendar. Your average Jewish person is going to use the Gregorian calendar for their regular lives—work and school—but the Hebrew calendar dictates when the major Jewish holidays will be, including Passover.

Because the Hebrew calendar and Gregorian calendar don’t line up exactly, the date of Passover shifts within the Gregorian calendar.

But Christians didn’t like to be dependent on Jewish people for the date of Easter. They didn’t like to have to wait for Rabbi’s to declare when Easter is. So Christians dictated their own way of calculating when Easter should be. It’s all very complicated, and difficult to follow. It has to do with the first full moon after the equinox. If you’re really interested in it, you can google it and figure out all about calendars.

Generally, Easter is going to be the Sunday after Passover. At least that’s the generally accepted date for Western churches—like ours. “Orthodox” Churches, which is a different denomination of Christianity, have their own system for calculating when Easter is. Which makes everything more complicated because now there are two dates out there floating around for Easter.

Who’s right? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what date we celebrate Easter. The point of Easter is to commemorate Jesus’s resurrection. And whatever day you do that on, what matters is remembering and commemorating that, not that we have the date perfectly right.

Okay so Lent means spring literally but that doesn’t tell us what it means in a church sense.

Lent is the lead-up to Easter. You’ll hear people talk about the “forty days” of Lent. 40 is a Biblically important number. During the story of Noah’s ark, the flood lasted forty days and night. The Israelites wandered in the desert for the forty years. The prophet Elijah walks for 40 days and 40 nights. The number 40 was chosen for Lent because of Jesus. Please get your Bibles and open to Matthew 4:1-11.

While you guys flip there, some context. This takes place right before Jesus starts his ministry. So for most of his life, Jesus lived like just a normal dude, a carpenter’s son in Galilee. But eventually Jesus needed to start his ministry—that is start preaching and reaching out to people and telling them who he was. To prepare for this, Jesus goes into the wilderness to fast. Now someone please read Matthew 4:1-2.

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished

Jesus goes into the desert and he fasts for forty days and forty nights. Then at the end of that time, he is tempted by the devil. And we’ll study that story in more detail when we eventually study Jesus. But for now, the important part for Lent, is that in order to prepare for his ministry, in order to prepare for starting everything, Jesus felt the need to go into the desert and fast.

What is fasting? Fasting is basically giving up food for a while and replacing it with prepare. It’s a pretty common practice in the Old Testament for leaders or people to fast as part of holiday or before making big decision. Sometimes fasting is just not eating food during daylight hours, but then you can eat at night. And sometimes fasting means not eating at all. The idea is that you would replace all that time you would normally spend eating with prayer, and focusing on God.

So Jesus prepared for his ministry for forty days and nights, forty days of fasting. And that’s kind of the basic idea of Lent, fasting like Jesus for forty days. Except the generally accepted practice of Lent doesn’t involve fasting from food. Forty days is a long time, and I don’t think any churches expect people to not eat during that time. Instead the general practice has become that people would abstain or fast from one particular food type or other thing.

[Direction to leader: Give example of a time when you gave up something for Lent] For me, in the past I’ve given up soft drinks, particularly Coke, for Lent. I love Coca Cola and soft drinks. And then every time I craved a soft drink during Lent, it would make me think “Oh I’m not supposed to be drinking this because of Lent.” And then it would make me think about God and Jesus and Easter. In the middle of my work day, when normally I’d be drinking a Coke, I was instead thinking about God.

And that’s the purpose of this. That’s the purpose of giving something up. It helps you focus on God.

We’re supposed to spend our time during Lent reflecting on God, and reflecting on the sacrifice of Black Friday and the joy of Easter.

Let's brainstorm some things we can give up for Lent. Realistic things. You can’t give up things you have to do: like school or sleep or homework. But we can give up our excesses and use that time to focus on God and the amazing gift he has given us in Jesus Christ.

[Brainstorm on the board some idea!]

So Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which in our case was this past Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday people come to church and reflect on repentance and forgiveness. Often ashes are placed on people’s forehead in the shape of the cross. Why ashes? Why do we do this?

Someone please read Genesis 2:7. This is from the story of the creation, and how God created Adam.

7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,[a] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Okay can someone now read Genesis 3:19?

By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

This verse comes from the story of Adam and Eve. It’s after Adam and Eve take the apple and during the part where God is telling them what their punishment will be. So in the first verse, it says that God made man from dust. That he shaped the dust and breathed life into it. Here in this punishment section, God reminds Adam he is made of dust, and that in the end “to dust you shall return.” Basically, that he will die, that because of sin, all men will die and return to dust.

Ash Wednesday is to remind us of that.

This is a really somber and dark thought. Ash Wednesday is basically this reminder of “hey you’re going to die.” It was funny because this year Ash Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, and one of my pastor friends said, that when people have to asked for his Valentine’s Day plans he would say, “I have to work and remind everyone of their inevitable deaths.”

So where Christmas Advent is all hope coming out of the darkness, Lent instead starts with this dark reminder that “hey you’re going to die someday.”

Why so somber? Well Lent is about repentance and fasting and preparation for the coming of Jesus’s death and resurrection. It’s natural that when thinking about how Jesus died for us, we would think about our own deaths.

So Ash Wednesday kicks Lent off and then it goes on for presumably forty days, right?

Weirdly no. We say the forty days of Lent, but that forty days only counts non-Sundays. So Sundays don’t count, meaning Lent is actually 46 days. And the next big day of Lent is Palm Sunday, which is the sixth Sunday of Lent.

Palm Sunday is all about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover, the week before his death, and this is at the very end of his ministry so everyone knows who is he and Jesus is just this superstar. Everyone wants to see him and touch him and be near him. Though they don’t necessarily understand who he is. They’ve just heard about the amazing things he’s done, the miracles.  Someone read Luke 19:36-40.

36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

When we talk about Palm Sunday in church it’s usually from two perspectives. First off they focus on that Jesus is worthy of praise and deserved the praise that people were giving him when he came to that city. Frankly that’s how Jesus should have been greated every time he entered the city. And when some people in the crowd told Jesus that he shouldn’t let people praise him so, he told them if they were silent the very rocks on the earth would cry out praises. Because Jesus is God and all of creation calls out to God’s greatness.

However, the second thing pastors often focus on during Palm Sunday is that these people who are praising Jesus? These people who are crying out his goodness and that he is king, they are the very same people who betray him little more than a week later.

People are fickle, meaning their loyalties change quickly and easily, especially when someone doesn’t meet the expectation they thought. These people who were praising Jesus? They were expecting him to come in and overthrow the status quo, to make a new Jerusalem now, where Rome no longer controlled them. But that’s not why Jesus was there. And when Jesus failed to meet their expectation, they turned on him. And they called for his death.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of what people call “Holy Week.” This is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

The Thursday of Holy Week is called “Maundy Thursday” which sounds kind of like “Monday Thursday.” But it’s Maunday. Maunday Thursday commemorates the Last Supper. Someone read Luke 22:7-16.

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus[a] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” 9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” 10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” 13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

The reason why Jesus comes to Jerusalem and has his triumphal entry in the first place is so that he can celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. This was really common that Jewish people would come to Jerusalem and celebrate Passover there. So Jesus has his disciples go find a room for them there to celebrate in. They find a room upstairs, this is often translated as “the Upper Room.” When people at this church call the room where the high schoolers have Sunday School “the Upper Room” that’s a pun on this room where Jesus shared a last Passover with his disciples.

Every Gospel—Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell this story. A story of Jesus sharing one last meal with his closest friend and giving them a commandment that we still commemorate as Communion. But Maundy Thursday is not all about intimate dinner with friends. That very night after the dinner, Jesus is betrayed and arrested.

The next day of Holy Week is Good Friday. Now I always thought it was weird as a kid that we called it Good Friday because Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. What’s good about Jesus’s death? So I actually googled this, and I think this goes back to very old English uses of the word “good.” In oldish English, “Good” can just mean “a day or season observed as holy by the church.” So it’s not that Good Friday is a particularly happy day, it’s that this is a very holy day.

Jesus death is a very somber thing, but it is a critical aspect of our faith.

Can someone read Matthew 27:45-51?

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”[b50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[c51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Jesus dies and at the very moment he dies, the veil in the temple is torn. We’ve talked about this before, but in the Temple—the place that was basically considered God’s home on earth—only certain people were allowed to go to certain places. Most Jewish people could enter the courtyard, but only priests could go inside and only the highest of priests could enter the holy of holies—the place where they said the spirit of God dwelled. In Old Testament times, that’s where the Ark of the Covenant would have been, but by Jesus’s time the ark is already missing.

This veil that splits, is the veil between the holy of holies and the rest of the temple, and this represents that with Jesus’s death, there is no barrier anymore. It’s not only the holy of holies where God dwells. He dwells everywhere. And we can all have access to him.

So yes Jesus’s death is sad and tragic—he didn’t deserve to die—but for us there is freedom. Because for Jesus death is not the end. And that’s why we have Easter Sunday. Because Easter Sunday is the next Sunday after Good Friday, and that’s the Sunday where we celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead.

Now when I was your age, I used to get really confused because everyone would say Jesus was dead for three days. And I would be like “well Good Friday is Friday and Easter is only two days later. How is that three days?” So we’ve talked about this a little before, but the Roman calendar didn’t work like ours. When we count how many days there are until something we don’t count the day we’re on. So if you’re doing something on Wednesday, you would say it’s only three days away, because today is Sunday and you would count Monday, Tuesday ,Wednesday—that’s three days. But in Roman times, you would count the day you were on. So that would be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, four days.

So when the Bible says Jesus was dead for three days, they’re counting Friday. So it’s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Three Roman days between Good Friday and Easter. But then it’s Easter Sunday. And I’m sure you guys already know what that’s all about.

Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

Can someone read Matthew 28:1-8.

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

In this time period, after someone died, they would treat the body with oils. We don’t do that now because we have embalming techniques they didn’t know about—ways to preserve the body. Normally women would apply these spices and oils to the body right after death. But in Jesus’ case they couldn’t do that because Jesus died right before the Sabbath—the day Jewish people aren’t supposed to work. They barely had time to take the body away and put it in a tomb. Because the Sabbath starts on sundown of Friday. Sunday morning would be the first time they would be able to actually apply the oil and spices to Jesus’s body.

So early Sunday morning, these women go to the tomb. And instead of finding a body that’s already started to decay and smell bad, they find an angel who tells them that Jesus isn’t there that he has been raised from the dead and that they need to go tell everyone.

We talked about this a few weeks ago, but it’s actually amazing that God chose to reveal Jesus’s resurrection to women first. Women were not considered believable witnesses back in the day, they were not trusted. And in fact, as soon as they women go and tell the disciples, they don’t believe them, and the men go to check out the situation for themselves. They basically think the women are hysterical and making things up.

But God revealed Jesus’s resurrection to these women first, and made them the first ones to share the good news.

And this is the good news. Jesus’s resurrection is literally the linchpin of all of Christianity.

Someone read 1 Corinthians 15:14.

14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

The book of Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul and here Paul says in no uncertain terms, “if Christ has not been raised from the death, then our faith is in vain.” What does that mean? When someone says something is “in vain.” In vain means “without success or result.” Basically, what Paul is saying here is that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead—if that’s not true—then Christianity is not true.

All of our belief and our faith hinges on this very fact, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Not by any person, but by himself—by God—because he is God.

Christmas is a great and fun holiday where we talk about hope and light in the darkness, but Easter—Easter is why Christianity exists. It’s what our faith is about. And that’s why Lent and Easter are so important. Jesus was raised from the dead for us, to bring us salvation.

Someone please read Galatians 2:19-20.

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is another book of the Bible written by the apostle Paul. And here Paul is talking about how it is through Jesus’s death and resurrection that we have hope, that we have faith, that we have life.

This is what Easter is about. Celebrating our new lives in Christ, about how God loved us so much that he sent his Son to save us. And that’s why we spend so long preparing for Easter, for putting ourselves in the right mindset.

That said, there is no Biblical mandate to fast for Lent. There is no mandate that says you must do this. I don’t fast from something every year. But doing it is a great tool for us to put our hearts and minds in the right frame so we can appreciate what God has done for us.