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Posts Tagged ‘Law’

Solomon’s Sinful Splendor

Solomon is one of the more intriguing characters of the Bible.  He was amazingly gifted and blessed by God, yet singlehandedly helped destroy the very nation he was appointed to rule (even if it didn’t fall apart until after his death).  After a rise to the thrown that Michael Corleone would be proud of (if I didn’t know any better, I’d say Mario Puzo wrote the ending to The Godfather after doing his daily devotions in 1 Kings 1-2), he asks for and is granted wisdom by God Himself, along with the promise of wealth, honor and a long life (1 Kings 3:13-14).

Because of God’s promise to Solomon, many of us might read through the accounts of his accumulation of wealth in 1 Kings 9-10 and assume this is simply a fulfillment of what God had promised him.  We might be forgiven in assuming that Solomon’s problems didn’t really start until chapter 11, with his marriage to multiple foreign women and subsequent worship of their gods.  This is, of course, one possible way to read these chapters.  But if we were more familiar with the Lord’s commands to the king back in Deuteronomy, we might not speak so highly of Solomon’s splendor.

In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God details some of what Israel’s kings are supposed to do.  This passage ends with a command for the king to copy the law down by hand and “read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God.”  So, Solomon should have been well aware of the commands that precede this one.

One obvious command, previously mentioned, that Solomon broke is this one: “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.”  1 Kings 11 is pretty clear that Solomon was guilty of this one.  But there are two other commands that Solomon did not follow: 

  • “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.'”
  • “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver or gold.”

Did Solomon acquire a great number of horses?  “He built up… all his store cities and the towns for his chariots and for his horses” (1 Kings 9:18-19).  “Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift… horses and mules” (1 Kings 10:25).  “Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue… They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty” (1 Kings 10:28-29).  This last reference may also indicate that Solomon disobeyed God’s command about sending his servents to get horses from Egypt, though it doesn’t explicitly state his servants actually traveled there to import them (but I’d still think this is most likely).

Did he accumulate large amounts of silver or gold?  It’d be too much to write out all the verses that indicate that he did in these chapters; it’s fair to say that Solomon managed to form quite a treasury in his time.  Again, I realize that the Lord promised him a wealthy kingdom, but given God’s commands to the king in Deuteronomy 17 and the eventual fall of Solomon, I think it’s hard not see where Solomon had crossed the line into sinful desire for wealth.

Was Solomon “all bad?”  (Are there gradations of evil?)  Of course not.  In many ways, he was a wise king.  He built the Temple, gave Israel peace, wrote thousands of proverbs and songs and dove into the exciting world of botany and zoology.  And yes, the prosperity of the kingdom was a gift from God.  But is it possible that he took a gift from God, and exploited it to his own advantage?  It seems to me that reading 1 Kings 9-11 through the lens of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 would indicate that this is the case.  In the end, he proved not to be wise in the most important matters.  The Lord warned him in 1 Kings 9:3-9 that the kingdom could be taken away and the Temple destroyed.  It was Solomon who made the destructive choices which helped lead to the downfall of all he saw built in his lifetime.  Thus, when all is said and done, Solomon is not as wise as we might think.

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This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday on the church calendar.  It’s the day when we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2.  Our pastor did a great job of pointing us to the background in the OT for this Sunday, reminding us that Pentecost didn’t start in Acts 2 but goes back to Exodus 19.  It is there where God falls in power at Mt Sinai, and this day is commemorated with a festival (Leviticus 23:15-22).  Since hearing the sermon a couple days ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about the OT background for the celebration of Pentecost.

The falling of the Spirit in Acts is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32; it’s clear why Peter choose that text.  But we can’t forget that Joel 2 was one of a group of eschatological texts, some of which predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would be given “in those days” (or some phrasing like that).  So, when Peter says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit” he is claiming that Joel 2 is fulfilled, but not only that passage.  The expectation of the Spirit that was talked about elsewhere is no longer an expectation but a reality.

But as I was thinking about Acts 2 and the fulfillment of prophecy, I kept asking the question: why Pentecost?  Is there something significant about this particular day that God chose to send His Spirit on the church?  Is it simply it’s proximity to the Passover?  Is it merely because it was slightly over a week after Jesus’ ascension?  It seems to me that any day could have potentially worked, so why Pentecost?

Going back to Exodus 19, God falls in power at Mt Sinai and commences to give the law of the covenant to Moses and Israel.  This is the day that comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.  In Acts 2 God falls in power again, but I can’t help but think there’s still a law connection here that is not explicit.  I haven’t finished fleshing out all my thoughts on this, so I welcome any feedback that can help us think through this biblically.

In some OT prophetic texts, there are promises of a day when God will write His law on the hearts of His people.  Jeremiah 31 :31-34 is one of these, and is important for the writer of Hebrews.  There’s another passage, in Ezekiel 36, that explicitly connects the giving of the Spirit and the internalization of the law, using similar language to the Jeremiah 31 passage.  Ezekiel 36:26-27:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

So there was the expectation of the day when God will give His Spirit, not in a generalized sense but in an internal way, and enable His people to follow His commands.  He has given a new covenant and a new law, the “law of the Spirit who gives life” (Rom 8:2), the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), the “law of liberty” (James 1:25, 2:12).  I think the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 connects these strands.  Let me attempt to lay it out plainly:

  • God falls in power on Mt Sinai and goes on to give the Law for His people to keep (Exodus 19f).  This day comes to be celebrated as Pentecost.
  • The prophets tell of a day when God will give His Spirit, who will internalize the law and enable them to keep His commands.
  • The Spirit, the very presence of God, falls on Pentecost in Acts 2 in a way reminiscent of Exodus 19.

My point is that the Acts 2 Pentecost is the day when God falls in power again by power out His Spirit.  His Spirit, dwelling within the believer, empowers the believer to live rightly (see Romans 8:1-8).  Now, I realize that this gets into a whole host of issues- the role of the Law in the believer’s life, etc.  I’m not as concerned at this moment about how all that works out (nor do I necessarily have it all figure out).  My main point here is to make the connection between the first Pentecost, where God comes in power and gives His Law, and the Pentecost in Acts 2, where God gives His promised Holy Spirit, who writes the law on the hearts of God’s people.

So, Pentecost is more than just a day when God gave His Spirit and miraculous signs, such as tongues.  It is the day when God gives His Spirit to fulfill what He had promised all along.  The Spirit is the mark of the eschatological new covenant and the new covenant people, whom God gives new hearts and empowers to live for Him.

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One of the confusing things for many Christians is figuring out what to do with Old Testament laws, specifically those ones that seem completely distant to our culture.  Can we apply them to our lives in our cultural context?

The way I see it, the best way to learn to apply OT laws is to see how the NT writers apply OT laws.  So, let’s take Deuteronomy 25:4 and see what Paul does with it.  Deuteronomy 25:4 states, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  That seems distant enough for most of us, especially those of us who live in the city and haven’t ever seen an ox.

But Paul applies this to his own day in his letter to the Corinthians, a bunch of city folk themselves.  In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, Paul writes, “For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Sure he says this for us, doesn’t he?  Yes, this was written for us, because when farmers plow and tresh, they should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

So what does Paul do with Deuteronomy 25:4?  I see two main things.  First, he applies the principle behind the law to his situation.  The principle is fairly straight forward: the ox deserves to eat the grain it is “treading out” (I’ll admit, I don’t really know what that looks like, but I understand the point).  The ox deserves to be “paid” for its work.  In the same way, Paul argues, the minister deserves to be paid for his work (though if you read on Paul explains why he passes up this right).

Second, Paul uses a “lesser-to-greater” argument.  If this is true of an ox, how much more true is it of people, who are greater than oxen?  This reminds us that the laws of the OT are not exhaustive, but paradigmatic.  What is true of the ox is true of the horse, the dog, the person, etc.

So how does this teach us to apply OT laws?  We look for the principle behind the law itself, not limiting the law to the specific wording alone.  The principle is what we are applying to our context.

Douglas Stuart makes this point in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth when discussing the command to build a parapet around the roof of your house (Deut 22:8).  On page 169 he states,

The Bible contains all sorts of commands that God wants us to know about, which are not directed toward us personally.  If we are not concered about building parapets around the roof of our houses (Deut 22:8), we should nonetheless delight in a God who cared that houseguests not fall off a roof with which they were unfamiliar, and therefore he taught his people to build their houses with that sort of love for neighbor in mind.

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For our Resource of the Month, Brian and I have opted to use biblicaltraining.org and its free access to seminary classes.  One nice aspect for me is the chance to listen to Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, which was a favorite at Gordon-Conwell but one class I did not take.  I’ve enjoyed the lectures immensely, which give you a good idea of Stuart’s engaging personality and desire to show the relevance of the Old Testament to the life of the church.

As I was listening to his lecture on the Prophetical Books (lecture #23), he made a point about the dating of the Law and the Prophets that I did not know.  It was (is?) a fairly common assumption within the world of Old Testament liberal scholarship for years that since the prophets do not quote the Law, the Law must have not been written yet.  The thought is that the Law must have been written after the prophets, perhaps with the authors of the Law using the prophets as their guide.  After all, if the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant, wouldn’t they have quoted from the covenant itself in order to make their case?

But Stuart points out that while in our culture lawyers would point to specific laws and quibble over the precise interpretation of the actual wording to make their case, this was not the method used in the time of ancient Israel.  To make his point, he shows that other cultures in Mesopotamia did not quote their laws in court either.  Drawing on Driver and Miles’ study (I don’t know the exact date, but probably written 100 or so years ago), The Babylonian Laws, he notes how, for example, though Hammurabi’s Law Code (which existed before Moses’ Law) was placed in the center of every city, it was not quoted in trials in those very cities.

Thus, the argument that the prophets did not quote the Law in their accusations against Israel loses its foundation.  Stuart goes on to point out that the concept of “legal citation” didn’t really begin until the Roman period.  It is anachronistic (there’s your vocab word for the day) to argue that the prophets would have to refer to the Law if they needed to make their case.  Unfortunately, Stuart claims, there are still some scholars argue using “100-year old data.”

I commend this class to you, I’ve really enjoyed it.  Dr Stuart is an easy professor to listen to, and a true servant of the church.

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