Confess, Repent, and Return

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24 you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. 25 Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.

33 “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, 34 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers.

35 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 36 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.

37 “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, 38 whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), 40 that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.

41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

44 “If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, 45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.

46 “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ 48 if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51 (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). 52 Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God.” 1 Kings 8:22-53 ESV

This prayer, offered up at the opening of the temple, provides tremendous insights into Solomon’s knowledge about God and his keen awareness of human nature. His words reveal how greatly he revered and honored Yahweh, the all-powerful God of Israel. While Solomon had built a temple that would be considered one of the wonders of the world, it was no match for the majestic and holy God of the universe. Even in all its glory and splendor, Solomon’s temple was an insufficient dwelling place for the one true God who created the heavens and the earth, and he admitted it.

“…even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! – 1 Kings 8:27 NLT

Solomon boldly proclaimed Yahweh’s unique nature as the one true God.

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below.” – 1 Kings 8:23 NLT

Yahweh was incomparable. He was without rival. All other gods were the figments of men’s imagination and, therefore, non-existent. But Israel’s God was real, and He had proven His existence through tangible acts of power, grace, mercy, and love. He was a covenant-making, promise-keeping God who always fulfilled every commitment He made. The very fact that Solomon was dedicating the temple was proof that God had kept His promise to David.

“It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.” – 1 Chronicles 28:6-7 ESV

And as Solomon stood before the temple with his arms outstretched in humble supplication, he pleaded with the God of heaven, asking Him to continue to extend His mercy, grace, and forgiveness upon His people. But Solomon knew that God’s unfailing love and faithfulness was conditional. It required the faithful and obedient worship of His people. They had been set apart for His glory and were expected to worship Him and Him alone. They were to refrain from worshiping other gods. They were expected to keep His commandments and demonstrate to the world their status as His chosen people – “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

Solomon makes it clear that he understood God’s expectations. They were to be a people who were wholeheartedly committed to God – “servants who walk before you with all their heart” (1 Kings 8:23 ESV). And Solomon fully understood that God demanded of him the same degree of obedience. God had promised to extend David’s dynasty as long as his successors mirrored David’s faithfulness.

“You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.” – 1 Kings 8:25 ESV

Solomon knew that the presence of the temple alone was not going to be enough to ensure the ongoing favor of God. It would offer no guarantee of God’s presence and could never serve as a substitute for the faithfulness of the people. It could only serve as a place of intercession, where the people could come and offer their confessions for sins committed, declare their intentions to repent, and humbly ask God for His forgiveness.

Speaking on behalf of himself and the entire nation of Israel, Solomon prays, “May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 NLT).

What Solomon says next is quite revealing. And his words, while directed at God, seem to be spoken for the benefit of the people as well. As they stand in the courtyard of the newly completed temple, they can hear every word Solomon speaks, and the full import of his prayer was not lost on them.

Solomon felt the need to provide God with a series of hypothetical scenarios in which the people might find themselves needing forgiveness.

“If someone wrongs another person…” – Vs. 31 NLT

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you…” – Vs. 33 NLT

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you…” – Vs. 35 NLT

“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars, or if your people’s enemies are in the land besieging their towns—whatever disaster or disease there is…” – Vs. 37 NLT

“If your people go out where you send them to fight their enemies…” – Vs. 44 NLT

“If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to their land far away or near. – Vs. 46 NLT

Solomon tried to cover all the bases. He offered up a wide range of potential circumstances that reveal his astute understanding of human nature and man’s propensity to sin. He was fully aware that the nation of Israel, while set apart by God, would not always live up to its special status. So, he wanted to remind the people that, when they sinned, and they would, there was a proper and preferred response.

“…if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Sin was inevitable. But forgiveness was always available. It simply required confession and repentance – an admission of guilt and a willing realignment of their love, back to God alone. It didn’t matter how egregious or grievous the sin; God would forgive, as long as they came in humble repentance. And this offer of forgiveness was available to all the people of God, whether they were natural-born Jews or foreigners who had converted to Judaism.

“In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.” – 1 Kings 8:41-43 NLT

Solomon even described the worst-case scenario of the people of Israel being defeated by their enemies and exiled to a foreign land. This must have seemed like a far-fetched and unlikely concept to the people standing in the temple courtyard. After all, they lived in one of the most powerful nations on earth at that time. But Solomon prophetically poses a potential situation in which the people’s sins result in their expulsion from the land. And he reminds them that, even in that dark hour, their response should be the same: Pray, confess, and repent.

And if the worst should ever happen, Solomon begs God to honor His covenant commitment and answer the prayers of His people.

“Forgive your people who have sinned against you. Forgive all the offenses they have committed against you. Make their captors merciful to them, for they are your people—your special possession—whom you brought out of the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt.” – 1 Kings 8:50-51 NLT

Little did Solomon know that his words would be recorded for posterity. They would become permanently etched on the pages of this book and passed down from generation to generation. And hundreds of years later, when the people of Israel found themselves exiled in the land of Babylon because of their sin and rebellion against God, they would find in God’s Word a record of Solomon’s prayer and a reminder that God’s forgiveness was theirs to have – if only they would repent and return to Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Dwelling Place of God

1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:1-11 ESV

After nearly seven-and-a-half years of construction, the temple was finally completed. The only thing left to do was to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from its resting place in the City of David and transfer it to its new home within the Most Holy place of the new temple. But while this might sound like a relatively easy task after all the time, energy, and effort that went into building the temple, it actually a very difficult and dangerous endeavor. As the son of David, Solomon would have been well aware of the stories surrounding his father’s past attempts to transport the Ark.  And he was not interested in repeating his father’s mistakes.

God had given very specific instructions to Moses regarding the proper way to move the Ark from one place to another. Because it was considered to be holy, it had to be handled with extreme care and treated with deep reverence. And God had provided clear guidelines concerning both how and who was to transport the Ark and the other holy vessels.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles.… And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:5-6, 15 ESV

All during the 40-year period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, long before they settled in the land of Canaan, this was how the Ark was moved from place to place. But after Israel had finally settled in the land, the Ark had come to rest in the town of Kiriath-jearim, and was kept under the care of a man named Abinadab. When David had become the second king of Israel and established Jerusalem as his capital, he determined to relocate the Ark and the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). So, he consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army, then he announced his plans to the people of Israel.

“If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send messages to all the Israelites throughout the land, including the priests and Levites in their towns and pasturelands. Let us invite them to come and join us. It is time to bring back the Ark of our God, for we neglected it during the reign of Saul.” – 1 Chronicles 13:2-3 NLT

Having received the unanimous support of the people, David organized an elaborate parade to accompany the Ark on its journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem. It was a festive and joyous occasion, featuring music, dancing, and worshipful celebration of God.

Then David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (also called Kiriath-jearim) to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart. David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. – 1 Chronicles 13:6-8 NLT

But the joy quickly turned to sorrow. The dancing was replaced by mourning. Because David had violated the commands of God. In his zeal to move the Ark of the Covenant, he had neglected to do so according to God’s clearly revealed will. And, as a result, tragedy struck.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-8 NLT

God had never commanded the Ark to be transported by a cart pulled by oxen. But David had come up with this ingenious plan as a way of expediting the process of transporting the Ark. In his mind, it would be a much quicker and easier way of getting the job done. But his plan resulted in Uzzah’s death. As the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to fall, Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark with his hand. And, in doing so, he violated the command of God.

“…they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:15 ESV

David was angry and frustrated over Uzzah’s death. But he was also confused and wondered how he would ever get the Ark safely transported into Jerusalem. Unsure of what to do, he simply ordered the Ark to be moved to the house of Obed-edom of Gath, where it remained for three months. Eventually, David was informed that the presence of the Ark had resulted in great blessings for Obed-edom. This bit of news seems to have prompted David to take another chance at moving the Ark, but this time he chose to do it God’s way.

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. After the men who were carrying the Ark of the Lord had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15 NLT

Fortunately, Solomon was able to use his knowledge of these past events and the wisdom given to him by God to make the right decision. He chose to follow God’s commands and treat the Ark of the Covenant with the honor and reverence it deserved.

…the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. – 1 Kings 8:3-4 ESV

And when the priests had successfully moved the Ark into the Most Holy Place of the new temple, something significant happened. Because they had followed God’s instructions, they received a visible sign that God was pleased with their efforts.

…a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 ESV

God showed up. He entered the Most Holy Place, in the form of a cloud, and settled over the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. This visible manifestation was meant to assure Solomon and the people of Israel of God’s glory and presence. And it was a tangible reminder of how God had revealed Himself to their ancestors in the wilderness hundreds of years earlier.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

Solomon had managed to build a one-of-a-kind structure of unsurpassed beauty. But it was the presence of the cloud that transformed what was an opulent but ordinary building into the dwelling place of God. Solomon had built a building. But only when God showed up did it truly become a temple. And the apostle Paul would later remind his fellow believers in Christ that they too had become temples of God because of the presence of the Spirit of God within them.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Priceless but Poor Substitute for God

40 Hiram also made the pots, the shovels, and the basins. So Hiram finished all the work that he did for King Solomon on the house of the Lord: 41 the two pillars, the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars, and the two latticeworks to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars; 42 and the four hundred pomegranates for the two latticeworks, two rows of pomegranates for each latticework, to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the pillars; 43 the ten stands, and the ten basins on the stands; 44 and the one sea, and the twelve oxen underneath the sea.

45 Now the pots, the shovels, and the basins, all these vessels in the house of the Lord, which Hiram made for King Solomon, were of burnished bronze. 46 In the plain of the Jordan the king cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarethan. 47 And Solomon left all the vessels unweighed, because there were so many of them; the weight of the bronze was not ascertained.

48 So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, 49 the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; 50 the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; and the sockets of gold, for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the Most Holy Place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple.

51 Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and stored them in the treasuries of the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 7:40-51 ESV

Hiram was a busy man. The list of items he hand-crafted for use in Solomon’s temple seems endless. From large basins cast from bronze to smaller shovels and pots, Hiram was responsible for the creation of each and every vessel that would be used in the worship of Yahweh. And they were all adorned with fine detailing and intricate designs worthy of the God of the universe. Once placed in the temple, they would be consecrated to God, set apart for Him alone, and dedicated to one purpose alone: To bring Him glory.

Each of these items would have been made according to the specifications provided by God to Moses when He ordered the creation of their original counterparts. These detailed instructions can be found in Exodus 25-30. It seems that the only article of furniture that Solomon did not have recreated was the Ark of the Covenant. According to 1 Kings 8, when the temple was completed, Solomon had the Ark transported from the old city of David and moved into the new temple. For years, the Ark had been kept in a special tent located in a lower section of Jerusalem, called the City of David. The book of 2 Samuel describes how David supervised its relocation after he had prepared a proper place for its keeping.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.… And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15, 17 ESV

The Ark was considered the throne of God because it was topped by the mercy seat. In the original tabernacle, the cloud of God’s glory would hover over the mercy seat, signifying His presence and power among the people of Israel. After having given Moses the specifications for constructing the Ark and the mercy seat, God had promised him, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22 ESV).

But besides the Ark of the Covenant, everything else Hiram made was new and improved. And the author reveals that so much bronze was used to cast all these items that it was impossible to measure the quantity of metal required to complete them. This fact was intended to emphasize the sheer scope of the project and the great cost incurred by Solomon to ensure that the temple to Yahweh was of the highest quality.

Precious metals, expensive lumber made from cypress, olivewood, and cedar, and painstaking craftsmanship went into the making of these holy objects. And the closer their proximity to the Holy of Holies, the more costly they became. The Holy of Holies was the innermost area within the temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was off-limits to everyone but the high priest, who was allowed to enter only one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement. It was in this place that God had promised to reveal His presence.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

So, any items that were located in close proximity to the Holy of Holies were made of pure gold.

So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, before the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; and the sockets of gold, for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the Most Holy Place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple. – 1 Kings 7:48-50 ESV

What’s important to consider is that most of these items would never be seen by the average Israelite. Because of their locations in the restricted areas of the temple, they would have remained unseen by everyone but the priests. And yet, Solomon spared no expense in their making. He cut no corners. While they would remain out of sight and out of mind to most Jews, He knew that God would see them. He was not willing to do anything that might diminish the glory of the temple or bring dishonor to his God. Solomon dedicated more than seven years of his life and a large portion of his royal treasury to the construction of the temple.

For Solomon, the temple was intended to represent the glory of God. Sitting atop Mount Zion, it would become a permanent symbol of His unsurpassed greatness. But as significant as this structure would become in the lives of the people of Israel, it would also become a distraction. In time, the people would begin to put more trust in the temple than they did in Yahweh. Rather than viewing this building as a symbol for God, they would make it a substitute for Him. And the prophet Jeremiah would have strong words to say regarding their misplaced trust in a building.

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go to the entrance of the Lord’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the Lord! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie!’” – Jeremiah 7:1-8 NLT

The temple was meant to be a priceless tribute to a holy and glorious God. But it was never intended to become His substitute. Yet how easy it is for human beings to place their hope and trust in what they can see. Because God is invisible, they look for something or someone on which to set their eyes and place their hope. Sadly, it would not be long before the nation of Israel made the temple a poor substitute for the sovereign God of the universe. And Jeremiah would have to bring them the sobering message of God’s displeasure that would result in the temple’s destruction and their own banishment from the land of promise.So just as I destroyed Shiloh, I will now destroy this Temple that bears my name, this Temple that you trust in for help, this place that I gave to you and your ancestors. And I will send you out of my sight into exile, just as I did your relatives, the people of Israel.” – Jeremiah 7:14-15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All That Glitters is Not Gold

1 Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.

He built the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Its length was a hundred cubits and its breadth fifty cubits and its height thirty cubits, and it was built on four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams on the pillars. And it was covered with cedar above the chambers that were on the forty-five pillars, fifteen in each row. There were window frames in three rows, and window opposite window in three tiers. All the doorways and windows had square frames, and window was opposite window in three tiers.

And he made the Hall of Pillars; its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth thirty cubits. There was a porch in front with pillars, and a canopy in front of them.

And he made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgment, even the Hall of Judgment. It was finished with cedar from floor to rafters.

His own house where he was to dwell, in the other court back of the hall, was of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage.

All these were made of costly stones, cut according to measure, sawed with saws, back and front, even from the foundation to the coping, and from the outside to the great court. 10 The foundation was of costly stones, huge stones, stones of eight and ten cubits. 11 And above were costly stones, cut according to measurement, and cedar. 12 The great court had three courses of cut stone all around, and a course of cedar beams; so had the inner court of the house of the Lord and the vestibule of the house. 1 Kings 7:1-12 ESV

Once Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s House, he turned his attention to the building his own royal palace. The author indicates that it took Solomon seven years to complete the temple and he spent an additional 13 years constructing the complex that would include separate residences for he and his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. According to 1 Kings 9:10, Solomon spent two decades of his reign overseeing these various building projects.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. – 1 Kings 9:10 NLT

From the descriptions provided, it seems that Solomon’s palace complex consisted of a series of different structures, including the two royal residences, as well as the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of Judgment, and the Hall of the Throne. These were evidently separate, but interconnected buildings arranged around a common courtyard. And each of them was equally impressive in size and grandeur. The House of the Forest of Lebanon alone was larger in size than the temple itself and featured the same degree of meticulous detailing and costly craftsmanship.

It would be easy to forget that these impressive structures were only made possible by the forced conscription of Israelite citizens. Back in chapter five, it was revealed that Solomon instituted a nationwide “draft” that would the large labor force necessary to accomplish his ambitious and ongoing building projects.

Then King Solomon conscripted a labor force of 30,000 men from all Israel. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts, 10,000 every month, so that each man would be one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of this labor force. Solomon also had 70,000 common laborers, 80,000 quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 foremen to supervise the work. – 1 Kings 5:13-16 NLT

Tens of thousands of Israelites were forced into service and required to dedicate 20 years of their lives to these seemingly never-ending construction projects. When one building was done, another one would begin. Stones had to be quarried, transported, and carefully carved. Massive amounts of trees were cut down and moved to the various construction sites, where they were transformed into wood flooring and panels to adorn the walls and ceilings of Solomon’s royal residence and administrative offices. The sheer number of common laborers, skilled craftsmen, and project foremen to complete 20-years-worth of construction projects is impossible to calculate. And this doesn’t include the additional labor force required to manage Solomon’s household, care for his extensive flocks and herds, cultivate his fields and vineyards, tend his gardens, cook his food, and provide ongoing maintenance for his extensive and growing kingdom. And all of this was in fulfillment of the words of Samuel the prophet, when he had warned the people of Israel about the consequences that would come with their demand for a king.

“The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NLT

Solomon was a good and wise king. He had been appointed by God Himself. But even his reign brought a certain degree of suffering and servitude upon the people of Israel. Their desire for a king had ended up costing them. Kings tend to build kingdoms. They go to war. They demand loyalty and allegiance. They wield power. They use their position to pursue their agendas. And sadly, they can end up treating their people as  little more than tools in their royal toolbox.

There’s little doubt that Solomon was successful in all his building efforts. When the final brick was laid on the last building, the completed project was a sight to behold. Combined with the temple complex, it must have made a powerful impression on all those who saw it. We know from chapter 10, that when the Queen of Sheba made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by the experience.

When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord. – 1 Kings 10:4-5 NLT

For 20 years, Solomon concentrated his efforts on building the physical representation of his kingdom. He built palaces, administrative buildings, throne rooms, judgment halls, and even a temple to accommodate the God of Israel. He was turning Jerusalem into a showplace where his power and prestige were on constant display. Visitors couldn’t help but be impressed by the opulence of his royal residences, the sheer size and scope of his administrative complex, and the grandeur of the temple.

But as will soon be made clear, there was something dark and foreboding lying beneath the shiny surface of Solomon’s kingdom. The trappings of success obscured a hidden danger that would prove to be Solomon’s undoing and the key to the Israel’s ultimate fall from grace.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus, another descendant of King David, would warn against the danger of building kingdoms on earth and investing all our time and energy into amassing treasures here on earth.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Expense Spared

14 So Solomon built the house and finished it. 15 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar. From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the Most Holy Place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen. 19 The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar. 21 And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. 22 And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.

23 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. 24 Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. 25 The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. 26 The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. 27 He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. 28 And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.

29 Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30 The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms.

31 For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. 32 He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees.

33 So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, 34 and two doors of cypress wood. The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35 On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work. 36 He built the inner court with three courses of cut stone and one course of cedar beams.

37 In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid, in the month of Ziv. 38 And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it. 1 Kings 6:14-38 ESV

According to 1 Chronicles 28, David provided his son with a full set of plans for the construction of the temple. He left nothing to chance, even leaving detailed instructions for the duties of the priests and Levites, and outlining the various utensils to be used in the worship of Yahweh.

Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary—which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the Lord’s Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the Lord. – 1 Chronicles 28:11-12 NLT

It is obvious from the descriptions given in these verses that David was modeling the temple according to the plans of the tabernacle that God had given to Moses. The tabernacle, while a beautiful and ornate structure, was actually little more than a glorified tent designed for easy tear down and set up, so that it could transported from one place to the other. Yet David had designed the temple to be a permanent building that would stand as a perpetual monument to the greatness of God.

Solomon spared no expense in creating this “house” for the God of Israel. He lined the walls and ceiling with imported cedar wood. He had the floors adorned with hand-crafted planks made from the finest cypress. He commissioned skilled craftsmen to carve doors made from olivewood. And following the pattern of the tabernacle and the plans provided by his father, the Solomon ensured that the temple featured a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place, sometimes referred to as the Holy of Holies. Each of these rooms had special significance and purpose, and they were designed to mirror the glory and greatness of God. Eight separate times the author mentions the prominent use of solid gold in the construction. The entire building was filled with intricately carved reliefs featuring cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.

This entire structure was meant to be a feast for the eyes. It was designed to create a virtual overload on the senses, drawing the attention of the onlooker upward and inward, into the inner recesses of the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat of God would be located. Everything about the building was meant to be symbolic or representative of a greater reality. This was intended to be the dwelling place of God on earth, and Solomon did everything in his power to ensure that this building, though built with human hands, declared the incomparable greatness of God.

For nearly seven-and-a-half years, Solomon oversaw and underwrote this ambitious project. He poured countless hours into its planning. He spent endless days orchestrating all the details surrounding its construction and allocated vast sums of money to see that it would be without equal when finally completed. This was not a side project for Solomon. While he still had a kingdom to run, he never allowed the temple to become a second-tier priority. And though he must have delegated many of the responsibilities related to its construction, he always maintained control over every aspect of its creation.

This was a labor of love that reveals Solomon’s determination to honor the God of his father. But it also displays Solomon’s own commitment to glorify the God of Israel by creating the finest temple that money and manpower could provide. Solomon wanted this to be a showplace, not to stroke his own ego, but to exalt his Yahweh as the one true God. It was to be a house fit for a King – the King of the universe. And Solomon’s unwavering determination to spare no expense in its construction reflects his grasp on the unparalleled greatness of God. Ultimately, he knew that his efforts to construct a house worthy of God would prove woefully inadequate because, like the psalmist, he understood the incomparable nature of its occupant.

O Lord my God, how great you are!
    You are robed with honor and majesty.
    You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
    you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants. – Psalm 104-1-4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Cost of Construction

1 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.”

As soon as Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, “Blessed be the Lord this day, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.” And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, “I have heard the message that you have sent to me. I am ready to do all you desire in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. My servants shall bring it down to the sea from Lebanon, and I will make it into rafts to go by sea to the place you direct. And I will have them broken up there, and you shall receive it. And you shall meet my wishes by providing food for my household.” 10 So Hiram supplied Solomon with all the timber of cedar and cypress that he desired, 11 while Solomon gave Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat as food for his household, and 20,000 cors of beaten oil. Solomon gave this to Hiram year by year. 12 And the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. And there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.

13 King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men. 14 And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the draft. 15 Solomon also had 70,000 burden-bearers and 80,000 stonecutters in the hill country, 16 besides Solomon’s 3,300 chief officers who were over the work, who had charge of the people who carried on the work. 17 At the king’s command they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. 18 So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the men of Gebal did the cutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house. 1 Kings 5:1-18 ESV

Solomon possessed both great wisdom and wealth. But the one characteristic he possessed that truly set his life apart was his faithfulness. Solomon kept his word. He was always careful to follow through on his commitment. Solomon had made a pledge to David that, after his death, he would settle affairs with some of his former adversaries, and Solomon had quickly and effectively accomplished all of his father’s wishes.

But there remained one last piece of unfinished business. David had assigned his son the formidable task of building a house or temple for God. At a time when David had conquered all his enemies and was enjoying a period of relative peace, he became convicted that he lived in a sumptuous palace while the dwelling place of God remained the tabernacle, which was nothing more than a glorified tent. This seeming contradiction prompted him to tell the prophet, Nathan, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Samuel 2 ESV). And with Nathan’s blessing, David came up with a plan to build a “house of cedar” for God. But that night, God spoke to Nathan in a dream, giving him a message to deliver to David.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’” – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

It seems that David’s well-intentioned plan to construct a house for God had not come from God. The sovereign God of the universe did not need a man-made house in which to dwell. No palace made with human hands could compare to the grandeur of God’s heavenly home.

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV

And Nathan told David that if anyone was going to build a house, it would be God Almighty. The King of the universe promised to extend King David’s dynasty and kingdom. He would “build” a house for David that would last far longer than the cedar palace in which David lived.

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 ESV

And God told David that the honor of building a house for Him would fall to someone else. One of his descendants would be allowed to fulfill his dream and complete the construction of the temple. And David graciously accepted God’s plan and later explained to his son, Solomon, why this important task had been passed on to him.

“My son, I wanted to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord my God,” David told him. “But the Lord said to me, ‘You have killed many men in the battles you have fought. And since you have shed so much blood in my sight, you will not be the one to build a Temple to honor my name. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign. He is the one who will build a Temple to honor my name.’” – 1 Chronicles 22:7-10 NLT

David had been the warrior-king, spending the vast majority of his reign doing battle with the enemies of God. While done on behalf of God, his many military exploits had resulted in much bloodshed and, therefore, disqualified him from building a house for God. But rather than allow his zeal for the project to diminish, David simply redirected his energies into developing the plans and gathering all the materials that would be required to make this project a success. He personally chose the construction site and supervised the drawing of the plans and the initial collection of building materials.

“My son Solomon is still young and inexperienced. And since the Temple to be built for the Lord must be a magnificent structure, famous and glorious throughout the world, I will begin making preparations for it now.” So David collected vast amounts of building materials before his death. – 1 Chronicles 22:5 NLT

David went out of his way to ensure that Solomon had everything he would need to build the finest temple imaginable.

So David gave orders to call together the foreigners living in Israel, and he assigned them the task of preparing finished stone for building the Temple of God. David provided large amounts of iron for the nails that would be needed for the doors in the gates and for the clamps, and he gave more bronze than could be weighed. He also provided innumerable cedar logs, for the men of Tyre and Sidon had brought vast amounts of cedar to David. – 1 Chronicles 22:2-4 NLT

But, despite David’s meticulous planning, Solomon still found himself in need of additional construction materials, including cedar logs from Lebanon’s famed forests. So, Solomon negotiated a contract with Hiram, the king of Tyre, that provided all the lumber needed to complete the project in exchange for wheat and olive oil.

Combined with David’s careful planning and procurement strategy, Solomon’s arrangement with Hiram guaranteed that he had all he needed to begin construction. But one thing was missing: Workers. And this is where it gets interesting. The author reveals that Solomon instituted a non-military draft to supply the workers needed to complete the construction of the temple.

Then King Solomon conscripted a labor force of 30,000 men from all Israel. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts, 10,000 every month, so that each man would be one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of this labor force. Solomon also had 70,000 common laborers, 80,000 quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 foremen to supervise the work. – 1 Kings 5:13-16 NLT

And this bit of information should bring to mind the words of Samuel, spoken to the people of Israel when they had first demanded that God give them a king.

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 ESV

Solomon was God’s chosen successor to King David. And he had been blessed with godly wisdom and insight. Yet, even this divinely appointed king would still end up fulfilling the warnings that God had given. Solomon was just a man. And like all kings, he was a poor substitute for the King of the universe. In demanding that Samuel appoint a king over them, the people of Israel had rejected God as their sovereign ruler. And now, even under the wise and godly leadership of Solomon, they were going to find that their demand for a human king was going to cost them. The price for building the temple was going to include blood, sweat, and tears. It would take nearly eight years to construct this architectural masterpiece, a period filled with pain, sacrifice, and suffering. The temple David dreamed about would become a living nightmare for many of the people of Israel. They would end up sacrificing their sons and daughters to the cause. Some likely died during the construction of the temple. Others probably suffered debilitating injuries, some of a permanent nature.

Solomon employed the wisdom given to him by God and took advantage of the preparations made by his father, David. But even his best efforts done with the best of intentions still ended up having a negative impact on Israel’s people. The temple would be built, but not without cost. The people had their king, but his reign did not come without consequences. And it should not be overlooked that the construction of a house for God, the one true King of Israel, came with a price.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lessons From the Past

1 Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not. 1 Kings 1:1-4 ESV

It would be easy to assume that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings are nothing more than historical accounts that provide a chronological record of the kings of Israel and Judah. They read like a two-volume ancient history textbook, providing detailed accounts of the reigns of 40 different kings who eventually ruled over the people of God. But these two books are far more than a retelling of past historical events. They were written to tell a story and to provide an explanation for Israel’s sorry state of affairs after their return from exile.

While we don’t know the identity of the author of these two books, we do know to whom they were written. In their original form, they comprised one book that was addressed to the people of Israel who survived captivity in Babylon and were part of the remnant who returned to the land. As they made their way back to the land after 70 years of subjugation to the Babylonians, they discovered the city of Jerusalem in an abysmal state of disrepair and the beautiful temple built by King Solomon to be nothing but a pile of rubble. The gates of the city had been destroyed. The once-formidable walls were lying in ruins. The former capital of Israel was a virtual ghost town. And while the people would eventually restore the city and rebuild the temple, the nation would never enjoy a return to its glory days.

But how did this happen? What caused the fall of one of the greatest nations on earth? Why did God abandon His people and allow them to undergo such devastating destruction at the hands of their enemies?

Those are the kinds of questions that the books of 1st and 2nd Kings attempt to answer. They retell the sad story of Israel’s demise. 1st Kings begins with the coronation of King Solomon and his dedication of the temple. 2nd Kings ends with the capture of King Zedekiah and the destruction of the temple. And in between, we are given a detailed accounting of Israel’s serial unfaithfulness to God. The author provides his audience with a no-holds-barred retelling of Israel’s fall from the heights of glory to the depths of despair and devastation. And it is not a pretty picture. But it is intended to be a memorable one, providing those who read it with a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of what happens to those who forsake the Lord.

But these two books are not all doom and gloom. Yes, they paint a not-so-attractive picture of the people of God, portraying them as unfaithful and fully deserving of God’s judgment. But they also provide undeniable evidence of God’s unwavering faithfulness. After all, those who ended up reading these two books were living on the other side of the exile. They were fortunate to be among those who had been restored to the land of promise because God had kept His word. He had told them they would go into captivity for 70 years, but He had also promised that a remnant would be allowed to return. And He had been faithful to do exactly what He said He would do.

It was George Santayana who wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And God wanted His people to know and understand every sordid and sorry detail concerning their past relationship with Him. Their current state of affairs had historical precedence. For the people of God, sin will always have consequences. Unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. Disobedience will not go undisciplined. And these two books were not just intended to be a simple retelling of ancient history, but they were designed to prevent its repetition. Even today, there is much we modern westerners can learn from the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. They contain timeless lessons that bear repeating and offer the unflattering portraits of men whose examples we should avoid.

And the very first portrait we are given is of the aging King David. We are told he was “old and advanced in years” (1 Kings 1:1 ESV). The once-powerful king of Israel is shown to be a shadow of his former self. The warrior-king who helped establish Israel as one of the greatest nations on earth has been relegated from the battlefield to the bedroom. Rather than fighting the enemies of Israel, he is waging a hopeless battle with the effects of old-age and senility. The one of whom they used to sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7 ESV), is now portrayed as a feeble old man, covered in blankets and fighting to stay warm.

His body suffering the ravages of time, David is unable to produce enough body heat to keep himself warm. In his old age, the slayer of Goliath finds himself so weak that he has to rely on the body heat of a young slave girl to keep him alive. In his prime, David suffered from an inordinate attraction to beautiful women that often got him into trouble. And because David is still the king, his advisors seek out the most beautiful woman they can find. But at this point in his life, the only pleasure David can derive from Abishag the Shunammite is the warmth her body can produce.

The author makes it quite clear that David received no sexual pleasure from this arrangement. It was totally utilitarian in nature.

The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:4 NLT

As the book opens up, we are given a less-than-flattering glimpse of King David, confined to bed and constricted to mere survival. The great king of Israel is portrayed with diminished capacities and at the end of his life. His amazing rise to power and the record of his many accomplishments are found in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel. But David’s days of glory are over. His reign is coming to an end. And his death will usher in an important point of transition for the nation of Israel. The stability the nation has enjoyed under his leadership will be put to the test. The peoples’ dedication and commitment to God will be exposed for what it really is: Lacking.

In some ways, the description of David’s physical condition provides a subtle portrayal of the spiritual condition of the nation. Over time, they have grown spiritually cold and incapable of rekindling the fire they once had for God. It won’t be long until they find themselves sharing their beds with the “young women” of the pagan nations in an attempt to “heat up” their languishing spiritual lives.

David had been a good king. He was the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). but even his godly leadership had failed to produce faithfulness among the people of Israel. And, as we will see, his influence over his own children will prove to have been lacking. Even before he breathes his final breath, David will find his kingdom under siege by his own family. From the king’s palace to the peasant’s hut, the unfaithfulness of Israel will soon be on full display.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Has Risen

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 ESV

Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV

Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV

But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV

So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and  “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV

And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT

Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).

But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT

And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.

…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT

The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.

“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT

Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).

The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).

Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”

And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).

Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Awake and Waiting

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:24-37 ESV

Almost the entire focus of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is the far-distant future. He is telling His disciples about events that will take place long after they are gone. But He uses language that conveys a sense of anticipation, almost as if these things could happen tomorrow. In a sense, He is trying to help them understand that, in just a few days, they will be eyewitnesses to one of the most significant parts of God’s grand redemptive plan.

With all the emphasis on things to come, it is easy to forget that Jesus is just days away from His own death. But that singular event will inaugurate a new age. With His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus will usher in the church age. His return to His Father’s side will make possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost, His followers will receive the “power from on high” that He promised, transforming them into bold and powerful ambassadors of the Gospel. And their efforts will help give birth to the church. And for generations, the church will grow and prosper, spreading throughout the world and impacting every tribe, nation, and tongue. But one day, Jesus will return for His bride, the church, and take them to be with Him in heaven. And with the removal of all believers from the face of the earth, the stage will be set for the day of Tribulation, a seven-year-long period of divine judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants. And Jesus has warned that “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (Mark 14:19 ESV).

Yet, even in those dark days, God will continue to redeem the lost, beginning with 144,000 Jews that will represent every one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelations 7:4). And they will become witnesses to the world, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals from every people group on the planet. And many of those believers will become martyrs, suffering death at the hand of Antichrist. But, according to God’s divine plan, the seven-years of the Tribulation will finally come to an end. And Jesus indicates that the end will be marked by cosmic disturbances.

“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25 ESV

These dramatic celestial displays will act as signs of another significant feature of God’s redemptive plan: The return of His Son.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:26-27 ESV

This will be the long-awaited Second Coming of Jesus. Unlike His first advent, when Jesus came to earth in the form of a helpless baby, this time He will come as a mighty warrior and a conquering King.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Jesus will return to earth in order to wage war against all the forces of evil on the earth. He will gather all His saints, both living and dead. And He will defeat the forces of Satan, capturing and imprisoning Antichrist and his associates (Revelation 19:19-21). And then Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom, ruling from His throne in Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6).

All of these amazing events are included in the future events Jesus is describing to His disciples. It is as if He is giving them a highly condensed preview of all that is going to take place in the days ahead, and it will begin with His own death in Jerusalem.

So, Jesus tells them, “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29 ESV). He is not suggesting that they be around when these events take place. He is simply suggesting that before the end comes, there will be ample signs that will make its arrival clear. Like a fig tree that blooms and presages the arrival of summer, the various stages of God’s redemptive plan will have warning signs.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 30, seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the firstfruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Mark 13;31 ESV

But while all that Jesus has told them will take place, it will be according to the secret plans of God. No one knows the timing of God’s plan, not even Jesus Himself. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 ESV). Jesus wanted them to live with a sense of urgency, with their eyes focused on the fulfillment of His mission. Jesus had not come just to die and rise again. He had come so that He might come again. His second coming will be the final act in God’s grand play of redemption and restoration. That is why Paul told the believers living in Philippi, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

Jesus wanted His disciples to live with a sense of urgency and expectancy. So, He told them to “Be on guard, keep awake” (Mark 13:33 ESV). There is no room for complacency or laziness among God’s people. We are to live as if His Son’s return could take place at any moment. We are part of that “generation” that “will not pass away until all these things take place.” We may not live long enough to see any of these things take place, but we are to live with confident assurance that they will. And we are to eagerly wait for Him to return as our Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To God Be the Glory

27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 ESV

For the disciples, it probably didn’t take long before the image of the withered fig tree was replaced with the thought of being able to wield power that could cast mountains into the sea. These men had a habit of hearing only what they wanted to hear when Jesus spoke. The true meanings behind most of His lessons tended to escape them. And this one had been no different. When they had heard Jesus say, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT), they were probably thrilled. The very thought of having their every wish fulfilled, only by asking God, would have been a dream come true. And it’s fair to assume that the initial ideas that filled their heads were not what Jesus had in mind.

So, as they left the withered tree behind and continued their trip into the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were probably deep in thought about all the incredible implications behind what Jesus had just told them. But soon, they found themselves back in the temple courtyard, standing in the very place where Jesus had staged a one-man riot the day before. Less than 24-hours earlier, Jesus had ransacked the booths of the vendors selling overpriced sacrificial animals. He had overturned the tables of the moneychangers who were charging high fees to the thousands of foreign pilgrims who needed temple currency to purchase their sacrificial offerings. Driven by righteous indignation and motivated by zeal for the holiness of His Father’s house, Jesus had turned the carnival-like atmosphere of the temple courtyard into chaos and confusion.

Now, He had returned, and the first people to greet Him were “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 11:27 ESV). These were the representatives of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews. This august body was comprised of some of the most wealthy and influential men in the city of Jerusalem. They also happened to be members of the primary religious sects within Judaism: The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Some were experts in the Mosaic Law. And all were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were powerful men who wielded great authority and saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. And His little escapade the day before had been a public attack on the entire system of greed and graft for which they were responsible.

So, when they saw Jesus, they immediately confronted Him, demanding to know the reasons for His unacceptable and costly actions the day before.

“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” – Mark 11:28 ESV

By this time, the damage Jesus had done the previous afternoon had been repaired, and things had returned to normal. These men were probably there to protect their investments and to ensure that there would be no repeat performance of the previous day’s disruptive and costly episode.

Their question to Jesus revolved around authority. In essence, they were asking Jesus to explain why He thought He had the right to do what He did. And they seem to fear that He might try to do it again. The actions of Jesus had been a direct assault on their authority as the religious leaders of Israel. In their minds, Jesus had invaded their territory and begun a war on their way of life. And as the supreme rulers over the nation, they saw His actions as nothing less than insurrection. He was attacking their right to rule, and they wanted to know what possessed Him to do such a thing.

Jesus could have answered their question by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. He could have told them that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was “the anointed one” (Hebrew – mashiyach). But He knew they would refuse to accept those answers. In their minds, they had already determined that Jesus had no authority. He was a loose cannon, operating on His own initiative and in direct opposition to their authority. And nothing Jesus could say would change their minds.

So, Jesus made them a proposition. He offered to answer their question, but only if they could answer one He had for them.

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” – Mark 11:30 ESV

Jesus subtly changes the focus from Himself to John the Baptist. But notice that He kept the emphasis of His question on the topic of authority. By shifting their attention to John the Baptist, Jesus was forcing them to consider the true source of all authority.

John had burst onto the scene more than 33 years earlier. This strangely dressed man had suddenly shown up in the Judean wilderness, preaching a message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and calling the people of Israel to repentance. And a large part of his ministry involved the baptism of all who were willing to repent and confess their sins.

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:5-6 NLT

John had attracted large crowds of people, who believed him to be a prophet of God. Even Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet-king of Israel, had understood John’s reputation among the people.

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:5 NLT

Herod ultimately put John to death, but even this did nothing to diminish John’s standing among the people. So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders to state the source of John’s authority to baptize, He knew they would refuse to answer. No matter what they said, they would find themselves in a no-win situation. These men had no love affair with John. After all, while he had been alive, he had treated them with disrespect and disdain. At one point, he had publicly humiliated them, calling them a “brood of snakes” and exposing them as spiritual frauds.

“Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8-10 NLT

But if they gave the answer they wanted to give and said that John was operating on his own initiative, they faced the ire of the people. On the other hand, if they tried to placate the people by admitting that John’s authority was from heaven, it would reveal that their opposition to John had really been aimed at God.

After weighing all their options, the religious leaders decided that an admission of ignorance was the safest route to take. But when they failed to answer Jesus’ question, He refused to answer theirs. Their silence condemned them.

John had been a prophet sent by God. Everything he said and did was on behalf of God. His entire mission had been to herald the coming of the Messiah.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV

And yet, the religious leaders of Israel had rejected his mission and message. When John had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had refused to believe it. They attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. They condemned Him for His association with sinners. They accused Him of being a drunk. They spread rumors that He was illegitimate. They declared Him to be guilty of blasphemy for repeatedly claiming to be the Son of God. And this charge had led them to try and stone Him to death.

These men refused to accept Jesus because they could not bring themselves to believe that His power and authority were from God. While they were unable to explain how Jesus did all the things He did, they refused to even consider that He might actually be the Messiah. To do so would require that they relinquish their own authority, and their over-inflated egos wouldn’t allow them to do that.

Since they were unwilling to answer His question, Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:33 ESV). He owed them no explanation. He had provided them with ample evidence that He was who He claimed to be. His miracles had spoken for themselves. And yet, time and time again, these stubbornly self-righteous men had refused to recognize and acknowledge the God-given authority of Jesus. And one of the greatest assessments of the sheer stupidity of their spiritual blindness came from the lips of a man who had been the undeserving recipient of Jesus’ divine authority.

“He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

Now, back to the lesson of the withered fig tree. When the disciples had witnessed the remarkable power of Jesus to condemn the tree to death, they had been amazed. And when He had told them, “you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen” (Mark 11:23 NLT), they had been thrilled. He was offering them access to the same kind of authority He had. All they had to do was ask, and anything was possible. But there had been a caveat. Jesus had told them to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22 ESV). This was not about their authority; it was about God’s. All that John had accomplished had been by God’s authority and for God’s glory. The same was true of Jesus. And the same was to be true of His disciples. The availability of God’s authority would be so they might accomplish God’s will and display His glory. The scribes and Pharisees were in it for their own glory. And Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand that faith in God was the key to bringing God glory, rather than self.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson