Saturday, July 12, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 26: King Solomon: Man of Wisdom, Man of Foolishness

We are studying Solomon today. Much of the reading is taken from 1 Kings but a comparative reading can also be found in 1 Chronicles 1-9.
If you were to be granted one wish. Just one. Anything you want. What would it be?
Now if a 20 year old had just one wish what do you think they would ask for?

This is the situation a young Solomon found himself in after he became King. We don't know his exact age but most scholars believe that he became King somewhere between his early teenage years to early twenties. In 1 Kings 3:5 we are told:
"In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee."
In a small survey a few years ago, over 70% of teenagers when asked what they would want if they had one wish, said they wanted money, wealth or material possessions. What did Solomon ask for?  Read 1 Kings 3:6-9 "An understanding heart."
Somewhat overwhelmed by all the people he was now responsible for, he sought this gift not for adoration or recognition but so that he may discern between good and bad to judge the people righteously. We see this humility time and again from servants of the Lord, this recognition of their own inadequacies and their need to rely on the Lord's gifts.

What do you think put Solomon in a position to have been offered such a wish? Was it because he was a king? Was it because he found a magic lamp with a genie inside? Read 1 Kings 3:3-4
The reason Solomon was granted this great wish was because of three things:
He loved God
He obeyed the laws of the land
He made sacrifice to God in the most high place

Do you think having this wisdom of God would be useful in work, in families and in church? How might we be able to get this gift of wisdom and an understanding heart?

I suspect the Lord is willing to grant us our righteous desires if we similarly live righteously, love God and worthily attend his temple with the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Notice after granting Solomon his righteous desire he also grants Solomon riches and honour and if he remains righteous, long life. (1 Kings 3:12-14)

On a side note you may have noticed the description of Gibeon in those verses and wondered why it claims the title of "the great high place". As we know there was no temple in those days and so altars were built upon the mountains which were considered holy places themselves. David built a tabernacle in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant but the original Tabernacle of Moses that had been built in wilderness was, in the time of Solomon, set up at Gibeon. This tabernacle was held with great esteem for obvious reasons and thus was considered "the great high place". It was essentially the equivalent of our modern day Salt Lake City Temple. It was not the only "high place" whereby the people of Israel could go and make offerings but it was held in great esteem among all the high places.

The clear example of Solomon's wisdom is now infamous. Two prostitutes claim a single living child is theirs. Solomon carefully watching the body language and reaction of the two prostitutes deduces the true mother. Solomon is rightly considered wise but I wonder if he is remembered as wise for the wrong reasons. Not to suggest solving this very emotional and tough personal drama was easy but I suspect we may miss the point. Solomon's wisdom was not shown through the decision he made but rather through the fact that he even heard the case. Here is Solomon. He is the King. He has just spoken with God. He has just offered sacrifices at the two most holy places in the Kingdom - the tabernacle of Moses at Gibeon and the tabernacle of David in Jerusalem. Why would Solomon then lower himself to discuss a private squabble between two unworthy and unclean prostitutes. Therein lies the true wisdom of Solomon (and of God). True wisdom recognizes that we are all equal in the sight of God. We all are his children. Just because our choices are righteous and other's choices are unrighteous does not mean we treat others differently. Solomon recognized this and in choosing to hear this case of the two prostitutes he sent a clear message to his people that he was concerned for all of his people and that he would be fair in his judgements. Likewise God too loves us all, righteous or unrighteous. Even the lowest of us all will have their chance to plead their case before God. And we can feel sure that we will be judged righteously and fairly.

Solomon decides to build a permanent temple to the Lord. What motivated him to do this? Read 1 Kings 5:3-5
Solomon had heard of the prophecy and decided to fulfill it. Sometimes I wonder if we wait a little too much for prophecy to be fulfilled by God or by others. How might we each be able to fulfill prophecy today?
As you ponder this question within the context of your personal life, patriarchal blessings, your family and the church in general you may wish to read this talk by Elder Pearson of the Pacific Area Presidency from 2013. But one of the things he says is:
"Those willing to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow His latter-day prophets will not be content to merely watch these things happen. Motivated by our love for the Saviour and all of the Father’s children, each one of us can all help to make things happen."
How many others helped fulfill the prophecy of the temple being built in Jerusalem? 
Read 1 Kings 5:13, 15-16, 18
Clearly many people were needed to build the temple in Jerusalem. Likewise, here today we are all enlisted in this great work. We are all needed to help fulfill the prophecies of the last days.

There are a number of measurements and details found in 1 Kings 6 regarding the temple building. On another day they all have lessons we can learn from them, but the verse that touches me most is verse 7 where we read:
"And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building."
What does this tell us about how Solomon and the people felt about the temple? Can you imagine the extra sacrifice and effort that took? Some may have considered this an unnecessary inconvenience when the building had not yet been constructed and dedicated. Do we have similar situations today where worldly logic defies spiritual logic? It puts me in mind of the great sacrifice Hannah made. Before Samuel was even born into his mortal temple, he had been dedicated to the Lord. These acts are not within the basic gospel requirements. Such acts stand above the basic requirements and mark out those among us who have the greater faith and desire. They are to be honoured and held up as higher examples for us all to aspire to, like stepping stones of faith in our upward journey to become like Him and as Him.

The temple took 7 years to build. Upon completion of the temple they offered many sacrifices and held a great feast. The dedicatory prayer was offered by Solomon. The passage I would like to focus on is 1 Kings 8:44-53
This is another passage of scripture that I find so very touching and indicative of the Lord's love and mercy for us all. Having completed this great temple and dedicated it, the people of Israel will be able to participate in and do the great work within the temple. This requires taking on covenants that come with blessings and warnings. Solomon curiously yet prophetically indicates that wars lie ahead and maybe even being carried away captive into foreign lands ("for there is no man that sinneth not"). And in so doing calls upon the Lord to forgive those that sin
"...if they bethink themselves...and repent, and make supplication unto thee...And so return unto thee with all of their heart, and with all of their soul, and pray unto thee toward their land and the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication and maintain their cause and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee"
There isn't a soul among us who has not made a wrong turn, a bad decision or a foolish choice. But there is power, healing power to be found within the covenants of the temple when coupled with true repentance.
Solomon's dedicatory prayer also indicates that the temple itself would influence even those who were not of Israel 1 Kings 8:41-43. How might this passage apply to the temples and the Saints and the non members of the Latter Days? It puts me in mind of the words to our primary hymn:
"I love to see the temple. I'm going there someday

To feel the Holy Spirit, To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God, A place of love and beauty." "I Love to See the Temple"
 President Ezra Taft Benson similarly said,
“In the peace of these lovely temples, sometimes we find solutions to the serious problems of life. Under the influence of the Spirit, sometimes pure knowledge flows to us there. Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways” (“What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 8).
I have a personal testimony of the peace that can be found within the temple and of the ability of the Spirit's whisperings within to wash away the woes and worries of the world outside. I invite you all to seek that peace. If you are not a member, go visit the grounds of a temple. Sit and contemplate your life and your purpose and your desires in that setting with sincerity and you will find answers.
To find the nearest temple to you, click on this link: Current LDS Temples in the World

Despite Solomon being granted God's wisdom, choice is still a personal matter and later in his years Solomon made some foolish choices. Firstly he took wives that lead him away from his priorities and beliefs. Then he actively built altars and high places for other gods, notably Ashtoreth, Milcom and Chemosh, the gods of the Zidonians, Ammonites and Moabites. How does someone so wise make such foolish decisions? What can we learn from Solomon's sad example in his later years?
Notice the progression into foolishness from wisdom:
  • He is imbued with God's wisdom
  • He is praised by all including foreign dignitaries such as the Queen of Sheba
  • He is drawn to flattering words and loved many strange women.
  • These wives turned away his heart
  • They turned away his heart to other gods
  • His heart was not perfect
  • He did evil in the sight of the Lord.
We will learn in the oncoming weeks that as a result of Solomon's foolishness, the Lord allows the kingdom of Israel to be split into two. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Within the span of just their first three kings, Israel has learned that not following the wisdom and counsel of the Lord and insisting on kings rather than God to lead them has left them divided and conquerable. That wisdom is only found through righteous choices. Solomon did not become righteous because he was wise. He became wise because he was righteous. Once he gave up righteousness, he lost his wisdom also. Some 300 years later Solomon's temple was destroyed. One family fleeing that oncoming destruction had a son called Jacob who wisely noted, "To be learned is good, if they hearken unto the counsels of God". (2 Nephi 9:29)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 25: Let Every Thing That Have Breath Praise the Lord

Old Testament Lesson 24: Create in Me a Clean Heart

Old Testament Lesson 23: The Lord Be Between Me and Thee Forever

Old Testament Lesson 22: The Lord Looketh on the Heart

The children of Israel have chosen to overthrow the theocracy in favour of a monarchy like all the nations around them. The Lord having warned them of the potential issues and consequences of a monarchy, allows them a king and tells Samuel to go anoint a king for them.

1 Samuel 9:
v.1-2 Kish was of the tribe of Benjamin and a mighty man of power. When we think of power today we more often think of money and position as that is what gets you power in today's world. I suspect their world was not much different but I also suspect Kish was not a powerful man in that sense but in the sense of the priesthood. As we read on in this chapter you will see why.
His son Saul was a choice young man and goodly. In fact there was no one more goodly and we are told that "from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people." Verse 2 is actually where we get the phrase "head and shoulders above the rest". Saul was literally and possibly spiritually head and shoulders above the rest of his people.
v.3-5 Kish loses some of his asses and sends Saul and a servant to look for them but having traveled throughout the neighboring lands they cannot find them. Seeking that long and hard for lost asses seems to suggest they were not wealthy family. This supports the idea that Kish's power was not in wealth or position but in priesthood.
v.6-10 the servant suggests seeking the prophet's help and Saul agrees. Interestingly enough the text tells us that prophets were called Seers before they were called Prophets.
v.11-14 with the help of some local young women Saul and the servant discover that Samuel is officiating in the temple there.
v.15-20 Samuel meets them, tells them he has been expecting them and that their asses are fine and have been found and also that Israel's fate rests with Saul. I would imagine Saul would be a little taken aback by all of this forthright prophecy.
v.21 Saul indicates he is of the least of the tribes of Israel and that his family is the least important of the tribe of Benjamin. This also indicates that Kish the mighty man of power found his power in the priesthood and would likely explain how Saul had become so choice and goodly.
v.22-24 Samuel places Saul at the head of the guests and serves him food that has been set apart for him. This must have been as an indication to Saul that Samuel was not joking but was very serious. After leaving the temple Samuel continues to instruct Saul in the highest place in their abode - the roof of the house. It would seem the Lord is both spiritually and physically educating Saul of his new elevated status.
v.26-27 there it is again "and they arose early". I wonder how much we miss by sleeping in. So many times in the Old Testament the righteous seem to be signified by their habit of arising early. It's an intriguing pattern.
Samuel decides to walk Saul to the edge of the city and instructs Saul to tell the servant to go on ahead. Where before the servant was suggesting to Saul what the next step might be, already Samuel is instructing Saul how to be a King and give instruction and commands.

1 Samuel 10
v.1-8 Samuel anoints Saul king of Israel. He then instructs Saul of three things:
  1. As he returns to the edge of his tribal lands where his roots are his asses will be restored.
  2. Then on the way to Beth-el (or the house of God) men carrying offerings will give him some of their offerings. And he will receive it.
  3. At the foot of the mountain of the Lord he will meet other prophets carrying instruments and prophesying and Saul will feel the Spirit and join them in prophesying.
As a result of this journey Saul is promised he "shalt be turned into another man". This is an interesting journey. I wonder if the significance might be lost today. Here the Lord is promising Saul who has just been anointed to represent all of Israel, that if he returns to his roots, and if he partakes of the bread which is of the house of God (the Gospel), and continues on to the Mountain of the Lord (the Temple) and associates with the brethren that all that was his will be restored to him, he will receive of the spirit, will be one in fellowship with the prophets and will be turned into a new man.
I wonder if there is not a spiritual lesson there for all of us?

v.9-16 Samuel's prophecies concerning Saul's journey are fulfilled and Saul begins to be seen as a prophet and people are surprised. Although he tells his family of his journey and meeting Samuel, he does not tell anyone of his anointing.
v.17-25 Samuel calls a general conference where he once again reminds the people that in choosing a monarchy they are rejecting the Lord. Having done that he introduces Saul to the people as the man the Lord has chosen and the people proclaim him their king. Samuel sets forth the constitution of the monarchy in a book and adjourns the conference.
v.26-27 Already discontent and division arises as some who feel the spirit follow Saul while others do not do not even honor him as their king.

1 Samuel 11:
v.1-3 Nahash the Ammonite lays seige to the city of Jabesh-Gilead. The men of the city offer themselves as servants to Nahash if he covenants to spare them. Nahash accepts on one condition - that he can pluck out the right eye of every man. (He doesn't seem like a particularly jovial kind of fellow!) The men ask for 7 days to see if anyone will rescue them but promise to submit themselves to Nahash's conditions after 7 days if no one does rescue them.
v.4-8 Saul the king, as he is with his herds, (does not seem very king like - he hasn't maybe got used to being a king yet) hears of this news and sends a message to all the tribes to unite like the yoke of an oxen or have their livelihood destroyed. They all unite to create an army of 330,000 men.
v.9-15 Saul absolutely annihilates the Ammonites and the people of Israel praise him and he deflects the credit to the Lord. Saul is re-established as King before the people.

1 Samuel 13:1-14:
This seems so harsh on Saul at first glance. Having been king for two years he has won a pretty big battle but then a large Philistine army gathers and many of the Israelites flee. Saul is told to wait for Samuel but when Samuel doesn't show Saul decides to take matters into his own hands and offer the sacrifice before the battle. When Samuel arrives and realizes that Saul has taken on the prophetic and priestly duties he condemns him and tells him that he has lost the right to have his kingdom and that another will be appointed in due course.
Essentially what Saul did would have been like Harry Reid or Mitt Romney saying Pres. Monson is late for conference so we will open up conference and preside in the temple with the brethren. When his faith and patience were tested, Saul fell short of the mark. It's an incredibly swift fall from grace and maybe shows the pride and arrogance that comes from gaining a little worldly power and position. (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-40)

1 Samuel 15:
In case we thought the last instance was a lone instance, we are provided more evidence of Saul's willingness to disobey the Lord and do his own thing and to serve his own purposes. On being commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites, he saves Agag, the King of the Amalekites and the best of their crops and herds and cattle. He only destroys that which he decides is bad.
When Samuel hears of this and Saul's reasoning that he felt it would make the people happy to have a grand feast and offering of these things Samuel utters the famous line "to obey is better than sacrifice". Samuel also reminds Saul of when Saul was "little in his own sight", indicating Saul's now ever-increasing pride and arrogance.
Notice Saul's progression into the dark side, he presumes to take Samuel's place and then presumes to dictate to the Lord what is best. This usurpation is utterly unacceptable and Saul is once more reminded that he will lose his kingship to another, one who is "better than thou"(v.28). That is a pretty humbling put down to a man that has become filled with his own greatness.
v.32-33 Samuel, once a little child in the temple learning to discern the voice of the Lord, has become a powerful instrument of the Lord. There is something very terrible and decisive about this denouement. After being summoned by Samuel, Agag approaches "delicately" and politely suggests the heat of battle is over, let's talk. And Samuel's response? He cuts Agag into pieces.
Sometimes the world will use political correctness and favorable speech to deter you from doing what is right. Sometimes what you are expected to do may even be portrayed by others as abject cruelty. Notice today how standing up for your religious beliefs and principles is often portrayed as victimization of others or as sexist or racist or homophobic. I wonder how many faithful Saints who previously heard the call will fall short when tested in the battlefield of public opinion and political correctness.
v.35 Despite Samuel's harsh words and actions it is interesting to note the final verse of this chapter returns to the private sadness Samuel feels for Saul. We are told "Samuel mourned for Saul" and though the rest of the verse is obviously not correct I wonder if the true intent was to imply that the Lord too mourned for Saul and the choices he made. The Lord does not delight in our mistakes. He is not waiting to punish us and strip us of blessings at the first opportunity. He wants us to succeed but while this is His plan, the results and consequences are all based on our choices. When we choose well, He is happy, when we fall, He mourns for us. For me this chapter really highlights what so many view as the God of the Old Testament - the god of destruction and swift judgement. But it also shows a God who cares deeply for people even when they fall.

1 Samuel 16
v.1-5 Samuel is sent to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse to find a new king. Samuel is a little worried that Saul might kill him if he finds out what he is doing but not as worried as the people of Bethlehem are when they hear Samuel is arriving. We are told "the elders of the town trembled at his coming" and asked,"Comest thou peaceably?".
Having reassured them of his peaceful intentions and then calls Jesse and his sons. On seeing the eldest son, Eliab, Samuel feels sure this is the Lord's chosen. But the Lord counsels him not to look on appearances but on the heart. With this wise counsel Samuel rejects all of Jesse's sons and asks if he has any others. Jesse's youngest son, David, is summoned from the fields where he was tending the sheep.
v.12 suggests that while the Lord looks on the heart it does not mean only ugly people will be called. David is described as good looking and is immediately identified as the next king just like the good looking Saul before him.
v.14-18 In contrast Saul has now lost the spirit he once had and even those around him notice it enough to mention it to him. In an effort to regain that which he once had they recommend a little bit of harp music as the cure. Cruel fate or intentional planning, it turns out the best harp player around is David, the son of Jesse - the secretly chosen and anointed king-to-be. Interestingly enough not only is he recommended for his cunning in playing the harp (skilful play) but he is also mentioned as being a mighty valiant man, a man of war, prudent in matters, comely in person and the Lord is with him. All of these things would be useful in a resume if you are going to be considered for the position of adviser to the king but they also echo Luke 2:52 where we are told Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. The Lord is not looking for religious fanatics or extremists, he is looking for well-balanced individuals who excel in many areas of their lives.

1 Samuel 17
I view this chapter as one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament. There are so many lessons to be learned from this chapter. So much that is taught. I will not be able to do it justice in this blog - it would take an entire book - but I hope I can whet your appetite just a little.
v.1-3 The Philistines and the Israelites are fighting a religious and territorial battle here. One one side you have the Israelites with their one God, in whom they have trusted before but have forgotten lately (as symbolized by their king Saul). They are pitched in the mountain on one side of the Valley of Elah. On the other side of the valley pitched in the mountain opposite are the Philistines, who worshiped a number of gods but generally trusted in their own strength. What we have in essence is a fight between the Gods (in the mountains), played out among mortals (in the valley). Jehovah often fights against the mortal odds to show his presence and his power but rarely do we get to see it in such simplistically stark contrast as we do here in the valley of Elah.
v.4-11 Championing a cause is a phrase we hear often today but it comes from the days when armies would have their champions and where often, battles and decisions were won and made by one-on-one combat between two champions. Here we are introduced to the Philistine champion, Goliath.
He is described as 6.5 cubits tall. Some say that is about 6'9 and others say it is 9'9. Considering he wore a brass helmet, and his armor weighed somewhere around 200lbs it is fairly safe this man was a big man and a daunting sight. Someone else even carried his shield for him.
Goliath taunts the Israelites and defies them. Saul and all Israel were "dismayed and greatly afraid".
Things do not look good at this stage for the Israelites, they have forgotten their God and are afraid while the opposition have a champion that is strong in his own belief and strength.
Now I know kings did not usually fight as champions but was Saul not head and shoulders above the rest of his people. At a time like this, if in the right mindset, would not Saul be the best man to fight Goliath? Obviously, while confident in his own strength, Saul knows that physically he is no match for Goliath. He is also aware that he has been rejected by the Lord. Would you have any confidence in facing Goliath without the Lord?