OT: 2 Chron. 1:1-3:17
Wow, we are in 2 Chronicles! The chronicler is so nice and neat in his divisions. I Chronicles is about David. 2 Chronicles seems to be about Solomon. Very crisp and simple.
Today, Solomon addresses the people, asks for and receives wisdom from God, amasses wealth, and builds the temple. The chronicler, of course, seems to have no problem with all this.
I, on the other hand, have a few questions.
Okay, so Solomon is blessed with wisdom from God, and also "wealth, riches, and honor" from Him. The fact that God decided to give him wealth and riches clears him from the charge that he disobeyed God's law that told kings not to amass great wealth (Deut. 17:16-17). Answer to question 1, I guess.
However, what about Solomon's treatment of the aliens? In 2: 17-18, Solomon takes a census of all the aliens and then presses them into forced labor. That seemed wrong to me, so I looked it up in the law to be sure:
"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt" (Ex. 22:21).
"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens because you were aliens in Egypt" (Ex. 23:9).
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Lev. 19:33-34).
Also, other laws made clear that the same laws should apply both the the alien and to the native-born (e.g. Ex. 12:49).
So here is my question. Solomon was blessed with wisdom from God. Solomon built God's holy temple. And yet, to build God's holy temple, he broke God's rules in a big way. So...was that acceptable?
I am not the only one who has questions about ol' Sol. Rob Bell addressed this issue of Solomon's character in one of his books, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. In his (very surface) analysis of OT history, he marked the time of the kings as where it all started to go wrong. And Solomon featured prominently on Bell's list of baddies. Among many other charges, Bell claims that by importing so much wealth and military resources from Egypt, "Jerusalem [has become] the new Egypt. There's a new Pharoah on the scene, and his name is Solomon, the son of David" (41). Regarding 2 Chron. 1:17, Bell says, "Solomon is buying horses and chariots, but he's also selling them. Solomon has become an arms dealer. He's now making money from violence. He's discovered that war is profitable." And like I said, Bell goes on at length, detailing Solomon's sins.
I share all that to note that there is a lot to question about Solomon's decisions while king. For me, it all boils down to this question: how could this guy be celebrated as having wisdom from God? I can't write Solomon off like I do other kings b/c Scripture seems to clearly endorse him as one of the good guys. Doesn't it?
NT: Rom. 6:1-23
Woo-hoo! We are now entering the part of Romans that I thoroughly "get," and not only do I get it, I love it. Anyone who has talked with me for any length of time in the past three years has probably discovered that the idea of "dying to self" resonates in my soul with particular strength. The heart of the concept is found in Jesus' teachings, especially in his "take up your cross" talk. However, in this passage, Paul fleshes out the concept with satisfying thoroughness.
Here's the deal: Christ physically died for us. As in, He stopped breathing in order to conquer the sin which has enslaved humanity since Adam. Then, He rose from the dead...and told us to copy Him. Thus, when we become His follower, we die to ourselves and then raise to a new life in Christ. The way we physically do this is through baptism, which is the symbol of a much more radical transformation (3-4). When I got baptized, I gave my life to God. That means that, now, my life is no longer about Kim. Kim's hopes, dreams, and personal comfort are only of marginal importance when compared to the importance of the kingdom of God in my life. And ironically, that death--to my desires, my wants, my dreams--is what sets me free.
Now, it is not an all-at-once thing. Turning my life over to God did not mean that I immediately arrived at purity and perfection. No way. It is a journey, which is why Paul spends a lot of time in this passage urging his readers to keep fighting their own sinful desires. He tells them,
"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (11-14).
I love those verses. I also love the reminder at the end that we have God's grace helping us through the gift of His Spirit. While there is a measure of self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) involved in living a holy life, it is truly not a "dig down and try real hard" thing. You cannot work hard enough to live a life free from sin. Rather, you must rely on God's strength. And I need His strength soooo much throughout my day. If I am going to live a life of joyful freedom from my own selfish desires, then I must have His Spirit powering my every action.
I also enjoy Paul's talk about "slaves to righteousness" in verse 17 and following. It is a paradoxical metaphor, because in our slavery to righteousness, we gain true freedom. I like it, though, because to me, it contrasts with what seems to be the common American interpretation of Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence. According to the Bible, true freedom is not the right to do whatever you want as long as it doesn't overly impinge on someone else's right. Rather, true freedom comes from dying to your own desires and becoming a slave to what is right and good.
I love it.
This is a good one. Like David, I love that I can take refuge in God (1); that He gives me every good thing that I have (2); that He is my delight (3); that He has assigned my a wonderful portion in this life (5-6); that He guides me and counsels me, even through the thoughts of my own heart (7); that He is always before me (8); that I can have joy and rest secure (9); that I can take hope that this life is not all there is (10); and that He has shown me what true life is (11). As one who has experienced this true life described by the Bible, I can vouch that it is amazing.
Verse 20 tells us to listen to advice and instruction. And verse 21 reminds us that, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Just this morning, I was thinking of all the plans and ideas I have that I would love to implement in God's kingdom. This verse was a good reminder that just because I have an idea, that doesn't mean that it is the best thing for the kingdom. I must always seek God and trust that His plan will prevail.