Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 11 and Philippians 1

1 Kings 11 – Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to the Pharaoh’s daughter—he had “among his wives” 700 princesses and 300 concubines!! And it is through his love of women that Solomon comes to displease the Lord, for it is through them that he is lured into the worship of foreign gods in his old age—“his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David” (11:4). He built a “high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (11:7). He did it to please his foreign wives.

Molech was associated with the practice of child-sacrifice among Phoenicians and Canaanites. Chemosh was the Moabite deity who also in hard times might demand human sacrifice. Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible suggests that the building of temples to foreign gods by Solomon was a probably seen as a policy of toleration in a country filled with foreign workers and subjects. But the policy “was viewed with dislike and hostility by the prophetic party, 333.

As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, the Lord says, “I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant. 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.” (11-12)—not the entire kingdom, though, only part.  The unity of Israel was never solid; there were always divisions between North and South; these divisions finally become permanent after Solomon’s death.
The chapter goes on to tell the story of Hadad, an Edomite from the royal house in Edom.  When David was king, Joab was responsible for killing every male child in Edom.  But Hadad escaped to Egypt with some of his father’s servants.  He found favor there in the eyes of the Pharaoh and ultimately married a sister-in-law of the Pharaoh. The son they had, Genubath, grew up in Pharaoh’s household.  When David died, Hadad secured the permission of Pharaoh to return to his own country.
Another enemy of Solomon’s was Rezon, son of Eliada, a man who had fled from King Hadadezer of Zobah and gathered around him a marauding band of men “after the slaughter by David” (11:24). A Jerusalem Bible note clarifies this a little by saying that it was the marauding band that was slaughtered by David.  This refers back to 2 Samuel 8, which tells about David extending his power in the direction of the Euphrates.  The Arameans came to Hadadezer’s aid and in response David killed 22,000 of them. He imposed governors on the Arameans.  Rezon came to be king in Damascus and was a life-long enemy of Israel. Clearly, some of the trouble that Israel was to have after Solomon’s death is rooted in wrongs perpetrated by David in the building and consolidation of his kingdom.
Internally too Solomon had enemies.  Jeroboam, son of Nebat, was a servant that gained Solomon’s favor.  He was very able, so Solomon put him in charge of forced labor “of the house of Joseph” – in the territories of Manasseh and Ephraim (11:28). This would be the largest grant of land north of Jerusalem up nearly to Jezreel and taking in Megiddo if you look at the map.

The prophet Ahijah from Shiloh meets Jeroboam on the road just outside of Jerusalem; he “laid hold of the new garment he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces” (11:30), and says 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’” (11:31). The division will come “because he [Solomon] has forsaken” God and worshiped foreign gods like Astarte (a Sidonian god), Chemosh (Moabite), and Milcom (Ammonite).

The Lord promises Jeroboam too that “if you will listen to all that I command you, walk in my ways, and do what is right in may 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.  For this reason I will punish the descendants of David, but not forever’” (11:38-39). Solomon tries to kill Jeroboam, but he escapes to Egypt where he stays until Solomon’s death.  Solomon reigns for 40 years and then died. He is succeeded by his son Rehoboam.

Introduction to the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians: Around the year 56-57 AD, Paul writes to the church at Philippi, the first congregation established by him in the region of Macedonia. Again, the letter is written while he is in prison somewhere - Ephesus, Caesaria or Rome. And Timothy is with him.  Paul had founded the church at Philippi in 50, during his second journey (Acts 16: 12-40) and revisited it twice during the third (in the autumn of 57 and again at Passover in 58 – so weird not to have to put an apostrophe before the number.

Philippians 1 – Paul greets “the saints in Christ Jesus” in Philippi along with the “bishops and deacons” (NRSV 1:1). The Jerusalem Bible says the word “episcopos,” which they translate as elders, has not yet come to have the meaning later associated with bishop.

He expresses thanks for them and prays “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the Day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, . . .” (1:10). He uses the phrase “Day of Christ Jesus in verse 6 as well; the expectation of Christ’s imminent return is very key to his thinking at this time. He reassures them that while his imprisonment for Christ is something he must deal with, it has not hindered the spread of the gospel but has actually “helped” to spread it—among the imperial guard and others.

The word about Christ is getting out—in some cases by those who are acting “out of love” and in some cases by those who are actually trying to “increase [his] suffering” (1:16) by seeking to rival or compete with Paul.  It does not matter to Paul. Everyone who speaks about the gospel of Christ helps in the long run.  He does not even care if he must suffer death for Christ.  In fact, he even yearns for an end to his life: “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.  Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith. . .” (1:24-25).                   

He ends this section by encouraging them to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, . . .” (1:27) or as it is translated in the Jerusalem Bible, “avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” Any suffering they must endure is a privilege.

One of the things I appreciate so much about Paul is his emphasis on the importance of cultivating “knowledge” or “wisdom,” about the faith we have placed in Christ.  This “gnosis” is very important.  I think it is important to differentiate this “gnosis” or deep understanding with the “Gnosticism” that will soon become a challenge to the early church. It is this deep and very personal knowledge of Christ that early Friends were about in my opinion, not just an avoidance of “doctrinal arguments.” It is this very personal understanding of God’s redemptive love of ALL mankind that we must seek. The love Christ had for us was a love that went out to us not because we “deserve it” but despite the fact that we in varying degrees undeserving of God’s love. 

This is one of the biggest challenges for people, to learn to love not as we define love but to come to understand and enter into the love God has for all.  Forgiveness and compassion come from this kind of love instead of the fault-finding that comes from comparing your own worth with the shortcomings of others. 

I see the difficulty of learning this in talking to adolescents.  I have spent most of my life teaching kids from ages 13 to 18. They are generally very idealistic and they understand the virtue of love very well.  They especially understand its capacity to bring out the best in them.  They can appreciate instances where someone else’s patience or compassion for them helped them in some way.  But ask them to extend that same love to those who are unlikable to them in some way, however trifling, and you see that they have not yet grown to the point where they see that all people are in the same boat.  The obnoxious bus driver who drives them crazy needs to feel their love as much as they need to feel it from others.  The nerdy kid who just can’t attain what they consider to be “normality” also has a claim on their love if they would call their love Christian love.  The planting, watering, cultivation and growth of this love, all of it, is the work of the gospel in us.  And it is not a sudden burgeoning growth, but one of slow root development and continued examination in the light, which Christ gives us both inwardly and in the lessons his life and death teach us.  Grant, O Lord, that this love may be formed in us and made ever more profound and secure.  Keep the value of this love fresh in us and help it transform the details of our lives so that others may learn of it through us.  In unity with Jesus and with Paul who lived and died to plant this love in the world we pray.

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