Monday, January 16, 2012

Trust Fund Kings

When you enter the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you and take it over and settle down, and then say, "I'm going to get me a king, a king like all the other nations around me," make sure you get a king that YHWH, your God, chooses...And make sure he doesn't build up a war machine, amassing horses and chariots. He must not send people back to Egypt to get more horses, because God told you, "You must never go back there again!" And make sure he doesn't build up a harem, collecting wives who will divert him from the straight & narrow. And make sure he doesn't pile up silver and gold.

This is what must be done: When he sits down on the throne of his kingdom, the first thing he must do is to make a copy of this revelation (The Law) on a scroll, copied under the supervision of the Levitical priests. That scroll is to remain at his side at all times.
Duet. 17:14-19 (The Message Bible)

So this past Sunday, Scott was preaching in chapter 13 of "The Story." It was an overview of the life of Solomon. There never seems to be enough time in any given sermon to cover all the ground that can be unearthed in various passages, and plenty certainly were in these passages.

Thankfully, Scott has ME! Since it's my day off, I can take the time to dig into the stuff that I thought was really thought provoking and see what I can find.

But first, some background:
First, Solomon's name essentially means "Peace...Shalom,". King David, his father, had been a military man from roughly the age of 14. (Not bad if you're a middle school kid trying to impress the girls.) However, YHWH even forbade David to build him a temple because of his bloodshed. David had copious amounts of children, but Solomon was the one chosen to succeed him. (In my opinion, David had not been a very good father. Solomon would not be much better.) In fact, God named Solomon Jedidiah, which essentially means "Beloved by God."

I'm never sure how God's divine favor works with individuals. You can get into all of the predestination nuances you want, but I still end up confused. Suffice it to say that God chose Solomon over all the others for what ever reason.

Second, where as David had spent most of his life in the boot-camp of God, learning how to be dependent upon YHWH, Solomon was born into privilege. Solomon was a Trust Fund Baby. Solomon never had the type of trials that David went through. He essentially had it all handed to him. As unpleasant as they were for David at the time, those trials did give him an advantage that Solomon didn't have.

Also, unlike Saul, his predecessor, David knew how to admit his mistakes and seriously repent. In fact, what I found most interesting is that David was never above being tongue-lashed by the prophets. They could confront him publicly and and call him out. (Something unheard of in any other kingdom.) David had a keen comprehension of where he stood with respect to YHWH due to all of the time he spent experiencing him in hardship. As for his son? Not so much. And one thing to notice with Solomon is that he never seemed to have anyone holding him accountable for whatever reason. (I'm pretty sure that those two often go hand in hand in one way or the other.)


So I'm sitting with my friends in the service, and as Scott is preaching, my friend Tom leans over and asks me a question. He asks; "Do you think that Solomon would have followed YHWH at all if he hadn't been tasked with building the Temple?"

I thought that was a great question. Truth is, I really don't know. It is interesting to note that during the life of Solomon, he appears to be very faithful to God during the temple building process. Things appear to begin falling apart shortly after that. In fact, lets jump to that point in 1 Kings 9. At the beginning of the chapter, it says that Solomon had built the temple and his palace and "had achieved all he had desired to do." And that's when YHWH appears to him for a final major pep talk and warning.

And things begin to go very wrong from here...

At the beginning of this post, I put up the warnings for any future kings that God had given to Israel ages ago while they were still wandering in the wilderness. They had just come out of Egypt (i.e. SLAVERY) and God was warning them about returning to that land...even in a metaphorical way.

Now take a look at what happened to Solomon...

1. 9:15 = Solomon uses forced labor (A form of slavery) to build his projects.

2. 9:16 = Solomon makes an alliance and marries into Pharaoh's family.

3. 9:17-20 = Solomon builds up a military machine with chariots & horses.

4. 9:20 & 21 = Solomon enslaves foreigners.

Does any of that remind you of another Super Power in that neighborhood?

And now begins a sort of "Quiet before the storm" interlude of sorts. The Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem to pay Solomon a visit. After being wowed by his wisdom and splendor she makes some interesting remarks to Solomon. Her recorded final words to him are; "Praise be to YHWH your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of YHWH's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness." (1 Kings 10:9) I am quite certain that the writers of these passages placed those words strategically because of what would happen next. You simply cannot maintain justice & righteousness when you are disobeying direct and clear commands for God.

People get more than a little buggy when they see those numbers. Pretty soon there are all sorts of conspiracy theories running wild. To my mind, suffice it to say that even as far back as the ancient Hebrews, those numbers have simply been a warning that something bad was about to happen.

"The weight of gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents..." (v.10:14) The writers could have chosen a different description, but they didn't. Why? Well, I'm guessing because from here on out Solomon begins to openly, glaringly and obviously break every command that God had given to any potential king well before the people even dreamt of having one.

You read the rest of the story from 1 Kings 10:14 through 11:13 and you will see that Solomon broke all of the commands from Deut. 17, and the result was EXACTLY what God had warned them about. In particular, I love the Message Bible's translation of 11:1, "King Solomon was obsessed with women." Sure enough, Solomon's sex drive lead him away from God and right off a cliff.

God had given those commands in Deuteronomy not only because he didn't want the people to actually hike back to Egypt and live there on the Nile, he didn't want them to become like them. Solomon enslaved people. He gathered up massively obscene amounts of wealth. He not only acquired horse and chariots (FROM Egypt) he also became an "Arms Dealer." He profited off of war!!! (Does that sound oddly familiar to any modern country we might know?) And after all of that, it is then and only then that the narrator records that Solomon fell into sexual hedonism. * (Again, does any of that sound oddly familiar to any modern country we might know?) Once the hedonism was achieved, Solomon was off messing around with other gods...and some of them were really sick even by today's standards.

God had put up those prohibitions to protect Israel from returning to Egypt.
YHWH did not want them to return to that type of slavery.
Solomon had not only returned Israel to Egypt.
Israel had BECOME Egypt.

So what was the result of all of this? Well, Solomon lost. He started well, but he finished pretty weak. God got so worked up that he told him he would break away most of the kingdom from his descendants. However, because God was moved out his love and promises to David he did allow the dynasty to keep a portion and survive.

YHWH is faithful because he IS.

Rehoboam, a.k.a. "You little, spoiled brat!":
At a very affluent school where I worked, there were a couple of kids there whose parents had bought them Hummers for their birthdays. Personally, I think you should be arrested for child endangerment for doing something like that. Those kids waved those cars around as if they were royalty. (They were certainly a royal "Something.")

I am not opposed to people having nice things, or to being wealthy. I wish everyone was. However, those parents did their children no favors by buying them such an ostentatious gift. Those kids had no true sense of ownership, only entitlement. They had put no blood, sweat or serious effort into acquiring those cars. As a result, there was a disconnect from reality to them.

And so it was with Solomon's son, Rehoboam. It's hard to say if little Reh-reh even knew his grandfather David. What he DID know was a life in a palace of magnificence, comfort and ease...and that his Dad had a hard time keeping his robe closed. (Why is it that David's family seemed to produce such poor Father-Figures?) Now try to imagine being a kid among all of that. What do you think is likely to happen?

Again, this produces a disconnect from reality.

Solomon had brought Israel to great fame, progress, and prowess. His architectural achievements were astounding. But the price had been high. He had squeezed the land and the people, and all were tired of it.

When it was time for Rehoboam to ascend the throne, the people asked him for relief. The older generation counseled that it was now time to look to the needs of the people. Everything that needed doing had been done. But instead, Rehoboam listened to all of his buddies that had grown up in the same Trust Fund privilege that he had...including that same disconnect to reality.

You know the end result.

The irony in Rehoboam's story is that his name means "He will enlarge the people," even though the complete opposite happened.

Honestly, I think things would have been different if both Solomon & Reh-reh had been allowed to suffer in a boot-camp-like experience with God. What is it about humans that we need God when things are bad, but immediately seem to forget about him when things are good?Hardship seems to build character like nothing else. Why is that?

I dunno. These were just some observations that came to mind while I was sitting there on Sunday morning. Take it for what it's worth.

Sorry, this was the best I could do to find an appropriate song for this post. "Duchess" seemed like snotty enough title, SO. Still, the vocals are pretty cool.



* Footnote: A nation does not become truly freakishly immoral in one day. It is a process. In the fall into sexual immorality that Solomon experienced, there seems to be a pattern. To my mind, it is intentionally set out by the writers of this story. I see it echoed throughout Scripture...and in world history too.

All nations have their births. From there they begin to grow as a community, a shared identity. Eventually, they all face a crisis. Those that survive to be the stronger, soon seem to think it is their destiny to be the master of all around them. After a while, they look at the rest of the world with a dismissive arrogance. All the while, they seem to be ignoring the needs at home...especially for those on the margins.

Maybe it's just me, but I have noticed that when a people begin to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable, they soon seem to ignore people in general. After a while, people are no longer humans made in the image of God. They are just "Things." Once that is achieved, it is only a matter of time that these "Things" can be exploited for all sorts of wants and desires...including sexually.

We can complain all we want about the sexual immorality of Sodom & Gomorrah, but I can assure you that they didn't start out that way. If we are to believe the bible, take a look at Ez. 16:49 & 50. The desire to sexually abuse strangers was only the cherry on the icing on a cake that had been in the works for some time. Those cities began down that road to ruin by neglecting the most vulnerable, those at the margins...the "Least of These." The final step was complete sexual hedonism...and then death. If they had wanted to remedy that, they should have started at the roots, and not simply put a legislative band aid on some of the results.

I can't help but see certain hints of that in the choices Solomon made in his life. And I can't help but see some parallels in a particular country that I live in, too.

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