Monday, June 9, 2008

Looking past Solomon

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 1 Kings 10:23-24

1 Kings 11 marks one of the saddest turning points in redemptive history. It begins abruptly, "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women..." It gets worse. Much worse. "Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites...then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem." The great builder of the house of God was now building temples for pagan deities. These weren't touchy-feely gods and goddesses that Solomon was chasing after. The worship of Molech included child sacrifice. Milton imagined him as one of Satan's angels: "Moloch, horrid King, besmeared with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears."

All this comes as a shock after the preceding chapters in which the writer of Kings describes in fulsome detail the wisdom and power of Solomon. How he built the temple, and how the glory of his unified kingdom was the envy of the world. In chapter 11 it all starts to unravel. The kingdom is torn in pieces and the curses of Sinai begin to come to pass. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived we're told. Yet, it would be difficult to idealize Solomon or make him into a moral exemplar (perhaps if the story ended at chapter 10 we could). But to read the Old Testament with Christian eyes is to look beyond these great figures of OT history to the one they point to. As someone who's watched a lot of movies over the years, including some very dark ones, I'm always looking for a note of redemption. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don't.

In the dark movies of ancient Israel's history there's always a note of redemption to be found -- a promised Redeemer who'll show up in the sequel. There are lessons to be learned from the life of Solomon the wise, but I'm glad the story isn't ultimately about him. There came another of David's line, King Jesus, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" and "who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (Col. 2:3 & 1 Cor. 1:30)

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