Monday, May 14, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 9-10 and Philemon

1 Kings 9 – The Lord appears to Solomon a second time (the first having been at Gibeon) and says to him that he has consecrated the Temple “and put my name there forever, my eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (9:3) and promising also to establish his line forever. 

But if he or his children “do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight. . .This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ then they will say, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God,. . .” (9:6-9).

We need to see that the same condition hangs over us as his church. The people of Israel and the Temple are “types” and “shadows” of us today, not in that they are subsumed in us or made obsolete by our coming, but in the sense that they were (and are) objects of the very same love and guidance that we are now.
At the end of 20 years, to reward Hiram for all the work he did, Solomon gives Hiram 20 cities in Galilee.  But when Hiram visits them he doesn’t like them, but he sends the king 120 talents of gold anyway (9:14).

Then follows an account of the forced labor Solomon used to do the building of the Temple, his house and other buildings around his kingdom.  Forced labor came from all the remnants of the peoples they had fought over the years—Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  Solomon did not enslave any Israelites.
Solomon built a fleet of ships at Aqaba (Ezion-geber) on the shore of the Red Sea. And Hiram used it to deliver gold from Ophir.

1 Kings 10 – The Queen of Sheba comes to see Solomon and “test him with hard questions” (10:1). She brings gold, spices and precious stones as gifts. She is amazed at the splendor of his wisdom and his court.

Sheba or Seba probably included Ethiopia and part of the Arabia Peninsula, where Yemen is. Modern Ethiopians have a tradition that Queen Balkis [so named in the Islamic tradition] was a queen [or queen consort] of their nation and that she had a child by Solomon [called Suleiman in the Arabic]. This son, Menelik, was ancestor of the ruling line in Ethiopia to modern times. The chapter goes into the great wealth of Solomon’s kingdom and the trade he conducted with his fleet.

The wealth that flowed in to Solomon in the form of tribute and trade is enormous.  The account tells us of the shields he had made of beaten gold, shields that went into the House of the Forest of Lebanon and of the throne he had with six steps up to his seat. Beside each armrest there was a standing lion and on each side of the six stairs.  All of his drinking vessels were of gold, none of silver. And the fleet of ships he had in Tarshish (with Hiram’s) brought gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks every three years. 

Tarshish might have been Tartessus in Spain, west of Gibraltar. It was founded by Phoenicians about 1200 BC and was at the height of its commercial prosperity during Solomon’s reign—Asimov, 332.

He had 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses stationed at chariot cities and in Jerusalem.  Silver in Jerusalem was as common as stones.  Horses (costing 150 shekels each) were purchased from Egypt and Kue, chariots (600 shekels) from Egypt.  The king’s traders traded them with the Hittites and kings of Aram (the Aramaeans).

Introductory Information on Philemon: This letter is thought to be from the same time period as Galatians and Ephesians (61-63 AD), though Ray Brown [An Introduction to the New Testament] thinks a case can be made for it coming a little earlier. It is addressed to Philemon, who was a prominent Christian of the early days, maybe of the church at Colossae. He was the owner of a slave, Onesimus, who through Paul had become a Christian. The letter is also addressed to a woman, Apphia, and person named Archippus. There are no chapters to this letter; it is very short.

Paul refers to himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” though it is not clear where he is imprisoned. It might be in Ephesus, Caesaria or Rome, though the Jerusalem Bible seems to go for the last of these. Timothy is also with him.

He states that Philemon is always in his prayers because of the faith he demonstrates to all. In verse 8, he gets to the point; he says that while he could with “no diffidence” order him to do something he thinks he should do, he prefers to appeal to his love instead. Acts of kindness, he later says, “should be spontaneous” (15). He (Paul) is an old man now and prisoner of Christ Jesus.  He says he is “appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I become while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus” (10-11). Onesimus is a slave belonging to Philemon, and Paul is sending him back as one who is now “one with Paul” in faith.  It seems likely that Onesimus left the household without their permission, and Paul is returning him so as to give them an opportunity to free him “voluntarily,” knowing how much good he is doing serving Paul and the gospel away from them.  “Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (15-16).

It is so interesting here how Paul turns the screws on their consciences.  He does not flail against slavery from an ideological or even ethical point of view.  He simply stimulates Christ’s work in them by giving them an opportunity to see the situation from a gospel point of view.

Paul tells them to charge any loss or wrong up to him on Onesimus’ behalf. He sends greeting to them also from his companions in Rome—Epaphras who is also in prison, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke.

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