Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 8, 2017
1 Kings 3:5-12
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed, I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
If you like to read about political intrigue and the motivations of people in power, then I & II Kings is the book for you! The book of Kings is actually one book but because scrolls were only about 60’ long, and the book of Kings is quite lengthy, it has to be split between two scrolls, hence the “I & II” Kings.
Kings is a kind of history book, except that modern American historians try to be objective in their writing, but ancient historians were not. Ancient historians were courtiers of ancient kings. The history they wrote was the history of their boss and his/her exploits in a favorable light. The book of Kings is no different. Some scholars think that Kings was written to justify the Davidic Dynasty. If so, it is interesting that David is not always painted in a favorable light! Neither are his heirs, the first being Solomon.
Immediately preceding the above passage, Solomon had a couple of his enemies assassinated, one in the Tent of Meeting (the structure which served as a Temple until Solomon built the first Temple). Solomon also married the daughter of Egypt’s then reigning Pharaoh, and went to offer sacrifices at various shrines instead of only worshiping God at the Tent of Meeting.
While worshiping God at the shrine at Gibeon, Solomon had the above dream. It was customary in many early cultures that after offering sacrifice to a deity, one would sleep in the temple or shrine to await some sign of answer to one’s prayers. In the above passage, Solomon showed great humility and vulnerable honesty when speaking with God, and for this, God granted to him lev shome’a and lishpot, a “understanding mind and a listening heart”, as well as long life, wealth, and peace with all enemies.
“I do not know how to go out or how to come in” – an ancient Hebrew idiom. It may refer to “…when kings go out to war”, meaning “I do not know how to lead an army out or how to lead them back in.” It is understood to be referring to inexperience in leadership.
Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.
A conflict between different factions of Christians is that of interpreting the Bible. Some are accused of worshiping the book over God, while others are accused of being misinformed about God by misconstruing the book.
That same issue is present in ancient and modern Israelite culture. The above passage is an example of worshiping the book. But the book, in this case, is the Law, or Torah, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Law in practice also becomes Torah, because how could one believe in God’s Law and not live it? And the Temple also becomes Torah because how could one love God’s Law and not worship God according to the Law’s precepts in God’s Temple?
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Holy Spirit is the most elusive and hard to comprehend member of the Trinity. Yet, in the opening verses of the above pericope, St. Paul describes the Holy Spirit as our constant intercessor, praying in our stead, pleading to God for us at such a deep emotional level that words fail.
“All things work together for the good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Please understand that this verse does not mean “Everything happens for a reason.” No! This is a statement of faith in God who will take even the most ugly of events and squeeze good out of them for the sake of all creation.
The second paragraph describes what God has done in order that all may know God. Yet, God also knows that many will reject God and not believe in Jesus, God in the flesh. The language of “foreknew” is a hard one. Calvin developed the doctrine of “double predestination” which meant that God knew who was going to heaven, and God knew who was going to hell, both heaven and hell being the “double” part. Luther believed that God knew who would be in eternal life with Him but Luther did not see this in a fatalistic way. If we focus on truly loving God and living the commands of Jesus, then we are so busy loving our neighbors as we love ourselves that we don’t have time to contemplate whether our neighbor or we will be in eternity.
“These things” – Paul is referring to everything that he has written thus far in this letter to the church in Rome, specifically the activity of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of believers through Jesus.
Since we are made right with God through faith in Jesus, faith given by the Holy Spirit, what are we afraid of?! That is what Paul is asking and answering in the last paragraph of the above pericope. If God is on your side, why be afraid of enemies? If God forgives your sins, why do we still hold onto them? God loves us (all creation) through Jesus, so why fear anything?
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Jesus continues in these passages to attempt description of the Kingdom of Heaven through these parables. The kingdom of heaven appears very small and insignificant, such as a little mustard seed. But when it is planted, it grows into a lovely shrub which becomes shelter and shade for any and all comers. (Note, take care that you do not read “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” into this parable. That isn’t what Jesus is talking about here. Let the words of this chapter of Matthew stand on their own for your contemplation.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus gives another example of a small amount making a big difference, in this case, changing plain ol’ flour into bread with the power of a little fungus.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure hidden in the ordinary for which all must be sacrificed to obtain.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.
Many are in the Kingdom of Heaven, but not all belong. Some are wheat and some are weeds.
49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In cultures where there is no plumbing, or garbage pick-up, city dumps are usually city incinerators. This was certainly true of cities all the way down to clusters of tents in Jesus’ day. One can imagine that when an animal or a family member died of a contagious disease, the animal itself, or the clothing and belongings of the person, would be burned in the village dump. There would be sorrow around that fire, grief, and likely fear. Jesus draws on that common sight to give form to life separate from the Kingdom of Heaven.
51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Israelite scribes in Jesus’ day were not only copyists of the scrolls of the Hebrew Bible, some were trained as religious scholars, religious lawyers, religious counselors, and religious teachers. Now that Jesus’ disciples understand all of the parables and Jesus’ explanation of them, Jesus suggests that they are being trained to draw both from their own Jewish histories and from what Jesus has been teaching them. Both contain valuable treasures to be passed on “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”