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One Greater than Solomon

28 March, 2008

n651423419_66681.jpgMatt Tuininga on the Kingdom of God, part 3:

In my last entry on the kingdom of God I mentioned that under the reign of King Solomon the people of Israel were happy. The words of Scripture to which I referred are found in I Kings 4:20:

Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy.

It would be easy for us in our post-modern cynical world to dismiss this verse as the words of a myth or fairy tale. We live in the age and nation of the greatest prosperity the world has ever seen. Even those in our nation whom we consider poor have more than many of those who were considered wealthy in the past. Yet we know that most people today are not really happy. We would never describe our nations, perhaps not even our churches, as happy.

Yet we would be wrong to assume the words of I Kings are simply naïve. For, as the author of Kings tells us, at least one leader of the nations around Israel heard of these things and was skeptical. Thus the Queen of Sheba admitted to Solomon,

“The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (I Kings 10:6-9).

When skeptical pagan rulers admit that the people of God are happy and blessed, the kingdom of God seems real indeed. Which one of us would not long to be part of a people and nation as I Kings describes?

Of course, we know this did not last. We know Solomon became known for his marriage to many foreign women, for his idolatry, and for his own realism regarding the pleasures life can bring (Ecclesiastes). We know the people later rebelled against Solomon’s son partly because Solomon himself had been hard on them.

Nevertheless, throughout the decline of Israel and throughout the exile, the Israelites looked back on Solomon’s days with longing. Those were the days when Israel was great and peaceful. Those were the days of the great temple in Jerusalem. Those were the days that some day, according to the promise of God, would be repeated.

Fast-forward several centuries.

Hundreds of years after the exile had ended Israel was still under foreign rule, this time by the Roman Empire. Although Herod the Great had built the Israelites a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, no son of David ruled on the throne. What was worse, Israel was plagued by religious and political division, disease, and widespread cases of demon-possession. The contrast with the days of Solomon could not have been more stark. Some people, such as the aged man Simeon, devoted their lives to “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).

It was a strange time, a time of rumors of messiahs and kings. Herod the Great was concerned about reports from foreign astrologers that a king had been born in Israel. In his ruthlessness, he murdered all the infants of the town of Bethlehem, reminding Israel of the ruthless oppression to which she had to submit.

Then a strangely wild prophet from the wilderness named John came and started to proclaim that people should repent because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). John’s father, a priest, even claimed that God had raised someone up from the house of David who would save Israel from all her enemies and even forgive her of all her sins (Luke 1:68-79). It was a strange time indeed.

Shortly after John’s ministry started gaining crowds, a man named Jesus came and was baptized by him. Jesus himself began to proclaim that the kingdom was at hand and that his very purpose in coming was to proclaim that kingdom (Luke 4:43). He began to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raise up the lame. Prophets like Elijah had done these things before, but never on such a scale, and pious Israelites remembered that Isaiah had prophesied the servant of the Lord would do just these things.

This man was different from many of the political and religious leaders in Israel. He proclaimed that the kingdom was for the poor and for those suffering oppression, not for the wealthy. He seemed to know that although Deuteronomy promised blessing to the righteous and cursing to the wicked, for some time now in Israel the righteous were those who were oppressed, and who were hoping for consolation from God himself. He promised to bring that consolation.

Perhaps most amazing was that this man proclaimed that once again, people in Israel could be happy, for they would inherit the kingdom of God, the land promised to Abraham. He declared,

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… (Luke 6:20) Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:5, 10)

Did this prophet, greater than any prophet before him, know that such a time had not existed since Solomon? Did he know how foolish his words sounded to those who seemed to know most about the Scriptures? To the Pharisees and religious leaders this man’s presumption was as absurd as the Solomon’s greatness had been to the Queen of Sheba.

Yet to many people, this Jesus was intriguing. His preaching had authority, unlike that of the religious teachers. He had genuine compassion, and his works were greater than anyone in Israel had ever seen. These people noticed as Jesus indicated that it was not he whose presumption was foolish. It was the religious leaders who were foolish, more foolish than the Queen of Sheba had been in her skepticism. In a claim of staggering proportions, he announced,

“The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31).

The kingdom was at hand.


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