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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Great Kings of the Old Testament: A Legacy of Good and Evil

With the exception of a certain character found in the New Testament, not a single person in the bible, hero or villain, is without fault. As a matter of fact we find that those who are most prone to great shows of
faith and fidelity are also those who's failures are the most striking. The very first people to make an appearance in the Old Testament disobey God when told not to eat of the fruit. Noah was found drunk and naked, Moses took credit for an act of God, and David was a philanderer and murder. So as it was with the Patriarchs, so it is with the good kings in Deuteronomistic History. How is it that the two Great Kings of the Old Testament, David and Solomon, are seen as both good and evil?
Chronologically, David came first. While David is widely known as a great warrior and one of the two greatest kings of Israel, his sins are often overlooked when telling his tale. He was, however, guilty of a great many. The most prominent of David's sins is the adultery that he commits with Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. It is the sin the ultimately led to other sins. After the affair, Bathsheba finds herself with child.  David then calls Uriah back from the battle front in an attempt to hide the child's true identity. Uriah refuses and David sends him back to the front with orders to have  Uriah abandoned to fight alone and die. David's heinous plan succeeds and he takes Bathsheba as his wife. The Lord is angered:
I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your   master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and  Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you  despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to    you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord (2 Sam. 7-13).
For this David lost his son by Bathsheba, and his other son Absolom went into rebellion. Eventually, David's disobedience resulted in Absolom's death as well. King David also incurred the wrath of God by breaking the covenant and taking a census of all the fighting men in Israel. This time, God's wrath would come in the form of a three day plague that killed seventy thousand people. David's sins were great and many; yet so were his virtues. David's faith in God and bravery in the face of almost certain death helped him slay the giant, Goliath. He was willing to do what the army of Israel was not. This would not even be his only conquest. He would go on the be one of the most revered warriors in Israel. Another testament of David's goodness is his loyalty to God. While he was rife with imperfection, even in the face of sin David would repent and turn back to God. David owned his sins. At no point in time did he blame God for the wrath he received, as a matter of fact he frequently showed remorse for his actions. This goes hand in hand with another attribute of David's; his humility. David was not only faithful to God, but he knew that he would not be able to do anything if it were not for the grace of God. All the good things that King David accomplished were credited to God. Even in slaying Goliath, David had assured Saul that his victory would come with the Lord's aide.
            David's successor was Solomon. He too had trials and tribulations that resulted in both holiness and evil. Just as David was king, so was Solomon. Because of this, Solomon's actions would affect the entirety of Israel.  Unlike David, who's death would still find the kingdom whole, Solomon's legacy would be that of the last king of a united Israel. His exploits as one of the two great kings of the Old Testament are well known. Also much like his father, Solomon's sins tend to get glossed over when reveling in the more positive aspects of his character. Solomon's trajectory toward sinfulness is chronological. As his rule continued, and he got older, Solomon's faithfulness descended into apostasy and disobedience. Solomon was used to living in splendor and opulence. As time went on, Solomon took more stock in his earthly possessions than he did in obedience to the Lord. This desire for luxury extended to his love life:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—  Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in   love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods,  and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.  Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the   hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen" (1 Kings 11).
This passage from 1 Kings 11 gives testimony to Solomon's evil deeds. His lavish and heretical marriages, the apostasy that ran rampant due to these wives, and offered up sacrifices to foreign gods. None of this could go unpunished. God swears to divide the kingdom in punishment. Through all of this Solomon remained unrepentant. He died with his kingdom at war, and a promise of division in his heart. Despite these grave trespasses against the lord Solomon was a great and wise king. The story of how Solomon attained his knowledge is also one of humility. When Solomon was made king, God asked him what he desired. Solomon said that he simply wanted wisdom and the discernment of right and wrong to be a good leader for the Israelites. He did not request riches, or lavish things. God was pleased by this, and granted Solomon both wisdom and wealth. The tail of his wisdom is the stuff of legend: 
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as     measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4).
Solomon's wisdom helped him do much for the Kingdom of Israel. Along with his great knowledge of the earth, plants, animals, and otherwise; Solomon was a wise judge. People heeded his word, and trusted his judgment. “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice (1 Kings 3:28).”

Both Solomon and David were great and wise. They were both greedy and vain. They both serve to illuminate that even men of God can commit sins against the Lord.

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