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

Edifice Complex

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.

The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house, and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar. 10 He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.

11 Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:1-13 ESV

David had begun the preparations for the construction of the temple long before he died. It had been his idea to build a “house” for God, but he had been denied David the honor of overseeing its actual construction. That task fell to his son and successor, Solomon. And even though David had given Solomon the plans and provided a vast amount of the building supplies necessary to start the project, it would be four years into Solomon’s reign before construction began. The sheer size and scope of the project required careful planning and the time to amass and transport all the materials David’s ambitious plans required.

Massive stones had to be quarried and moved to the building site. Lumber from Lebanon had to be cut and transported by ships from Tyre to the coastline of Israel, then carried inland to the city of Jerusalem. The site itself, located on the summit of Mount Zion, had to be leveled and prepared for the actual construction to begin. So, four years after taking the throne, after all the preparations were complete, Solomon officially launched the construction phase of the project, and the author points out that it was 480 years after the people of Israel had been released by God from their captivity in Egypt. This link back to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is significant because it provides a vivid contrast between the nation’s past and present circumstances. This temple was being built to honor the God of Israel, the same God who, nearly half a millennium earlier, had rescued their ancestors from their dire conditions in a foreign land and had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance – all in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. He had provided the people of Israel with the land of Canaan as their inheritance, and now Solomon, the son of David, was honoring his father’s wishes by building a temple worthy of such a great and gracious God.

While the author provides detailed descriptions of the temple’s size and dimensions, there is not enough information to know exactly what the temple looked like when completed. It was roughly twice the size of the Mosaic tabernacle and built of massive hand-carved limestone blocks and lumber made from cedar from the forests of Lebanon. And the completed structure was ornamented with gold. Solomon spared no expense in the construction of God’s house. It was to be a showplace, a one-of-a-kind structure meant to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even with tens of thousands of conscripted laborers working around the clock, it would take nearly eight years to complete the project.

Sometime during the course of construction, Solomon received a message from God. In the midst of his ongoing efforts to build a house for God, he was reminded that a beautiful building would not ensure the presence of God.

“Concerning this Temple you are building, if you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David. I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel.” – 1 Kings 6:12 NLT

God had made a commitment to David, promising to place one of his sons on the throne after him. And this son would fulfill David’s dream of building a temple for the Lord. But, more importantly, the Lord would place His protective hand over David’s son.

“…when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.’” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 NLT

But even David knew that this promise from God came with certain conditions. He believed God would fulfill His part of the covenant, but he also knew that his son would need to remain faithful to God. Just prior to his death, David had even warned Solomon that faithfulness would be essential if he wanted to experience God’s fruitfulness.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

Building God a house in which to dwell was not going to guarantee His presence, power, and provision. In fact, God didn’t require a dwelling place. And in the book of Acts, Luke records a powerful sermon given by Stephen to a crowd of Jews who would eventually stone him to death. In that sermon, Stephen reminded them that the temple was never meant to be a sign of God’s presence.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” – Acts 7:46-50 NLT

And Luke also records the words of the apostle Paul, spoken to a crowd of Greeks in the middle of the city of Athens.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” – Acts 17:24-25 NLT

God wasn’t standing around in heaven, waiting for Solomon to complete the temple, so He could take up occupancy. God did not need Solomon’s temple. God had made the stones and the trees used in the construction of the temple. He had created and breathed life into the men who labored to build it. And He had placed Solomon on the throne and given him the privilege of making it all happen.

But what God really wanted from Solomon was obedience. He desired a king who would live in faithful adherence to His laws and display a commitment to all His commands. Solomon’s own father understood that God was far more interested in the condition of a man’s heart than the accomplishments of his hands.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

As the temple neared completion, Solomon was given a powerful reminder that the key to his success would not be found in a building, but in his commitment to the will and the ways of God. The temple would be nothing more than a symbol of God’s presence. It would provide a daily reminder of His majesty and glory, but should never be seen as a guarantee of His pleasure with or approval of His people. As the grand edifice of the temple neared completion, it rose from the heights of Mount Zion and became the pride of the people of Israel. But, if they weren’t careful, they would end up being more impressed with the work of their hands and worshiping their creation, than obeying and revering the Creator God.

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

A Hidden Danger

20 Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of fine flour and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates. And he had peace on all sides around him. 25 And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon. 26 Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. 27 And those officers supplied provisions for King Solomon, and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month. They let nothing be lacking. 28 Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds they brought to the place where it was required, each according to his duty.

29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. 1 Kings 4:20-34 ESV

Solomon inherited a vast and sprawling kingdom from his father, David. But in time, Solomon would expand it borders until it reached from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Euphrates River in the far northeast. And its southern border reached all the way to land occupied by the once-powerful Egyptians. As the author makes clear, many of the regions under Solomon’s rule were vassal states which were required to pay an annual tax to the royal treasury. Some of the land under Solomon’s rule was located outside the original geographic boundaries as designated by God and allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel. Through alliances and treaties, Solomon had managed to expand the influence and scope of his kingdom without waging a single war. His reign was marked by a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And it was in direct fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.” – Genesis 22:17 NLT

David had been the conqueror, completing much of the work the 12 tribes had failed to do when they first took possession of the land. David had successfully defeated and subjugated many of the remaining remnants of those nations that the Israelites had been charged to eliminate from the land. But Solomon’s expansion of the kingdom would take place through peaceful negotiations and economic alliances.

There are some who believe that the author’s reference to Judah and Israel is proof that he wrote his book after God had divided the nation into the southern and northern kingdoms (1 Kings 11:43). But even when David had announced his decision to make Solomon the heir to his throne, he used these two designations when referring to his kingdom.

“he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” – 1 Kings 1:35 ESV

It seems likely that, over the years, the Israelites had already aligned themselves into these two factions that were nothing more than loose confederations of the tribes structured around geographic boundaries. Regardless, Solomon ruled over all of Israel and Judah, from the north to the south. And it was a period of unparalleled peace and abundance.

During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden. – 1 Kings 4:25 NLT

Everyone benefited from Solomon’s reign, including Solomon. In this passage, the author outlines the extent of Solomon’s great wealth, providing tangible proof that God had kept the promise He had made to Solomon.

“I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

The detailed lists provided by the author are intended to stagger the imagination and illustrate the vast nature of Solomon’s wealth.

The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry. – 1 Kings 4:22-23 NLT

The budget required just to operate his royal residence was astronomical. And yet, Solomon had cleverly created a system that helped to underwrite this ongoing expense.

The district governors faithfully provided food for King Solomon and his court; each made sure nothing was lacking during the month assigned to him. They also brought the necessary barley and straw for the royal horses in the stables. – 1 Kings 4:27-28 NLT

A rotating schedule was put in place that equally distributed the responsibility for providing food for Solomon’s court, as well as for his growing collection of horses. And this note should catch the reader’s attention because God had clearly prohibited the kings of Israel from amassing for themselves large stables of horses.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

Yet, the author reveals that “Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses” (1 Kings 4:26 NLT). While the text reads “40,000,” it is thought to be a copiest’s error.  In 2 Chronicles 29:5, a companion passage, it reads: “Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

But the important point is that Solomon had managed to collect a stable of 12,000 horses that were specifically used to pull chariots. Later on, the author will provide further details concerning Solomon’s extensive collection of horses and chariots.

Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He stationed some of them in the chariot cities and some near him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stone. And valuable cedar timber was as common as the sycamore-fig trees that grow in the foothills of Judah. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Cilicia. – 1 Kings 10: 26-28 NLT

It is interesting to note that Solomon’s own father had described the vanity of putting one’s hope in horses and chariots.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7 NLT

Yet, Solomon seemed to have bought into the concept that a strong offense was the best defense. But in building up his formidable collection of chariots and horses, he had violated the command of God. And even though this passage paints a glowing picture of Solomon’s wealth, fame, and influence, a feint, but dark cloud can be seen on the horizon.

Solomon was wise, wealthy, and highly successful. His kingdom was marked by tremendous prosperity and unprecedented peace. And God had blessed him with a degree of wisdom that was unmatched by any other living human being.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 NLT

And the wisdom that God bestowed on Solomon was extensive, providing him with an encyclopedic knowledge and vast interests in a wide range of disciplines.

He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. – 1 Kings 4:32-33 NLT

And along with his vast wealth and wisdom, Solomon found fame. The author states that “kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:34 NLT). He was a celebrity. He had a retinue of admirers who came from all over the world to witness his fabled wisdom and fabulous wealth. But you can almost sense the foreboding nature of this passage. In the midst of all the splendor and opulence, there is a shadow looming. There is a cancer lurking, unseen and undetected, that threatens the health of Solomon’s glorious kingdom. And, in time, it will reveal itself. But for now, the state of Solomon’s kingdom appears to be healthy and whole.

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

Good and Godly Leadership

1 King Solomon was king over all Israel, and these were his high officials: Azariah the son of Zadok was the priest; Elihoreph and Ahijah the sons of Shisha were secretaries; Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the army; Zadok and Abiathar were priests; Azariah the son of Nathan was over the officers; Zabud the son of Nathan was priest and king’s friend; Ahishar was in charge of the palace; and Adoniram the son of Abda was in charge of the forced labor.

Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household. Each man had to make provision for one month in the year. These were their names: Ben-hur, in the hill country of Ephraim; Ben-deker, in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth-shemesh, and Elonbeth-hanan; 10 Ben-hesed, in Arubboth (to him belonged Socoh and all the land of Hepher); 11 Ben-abinadab, in all Naphath-dor (he had Taphath the daughter of Solomon as his wife); 12 Baana the son of Ahilud, in Taanach, Megiddo, and all Beth-shean that is beside Zarethan below Jezreel, and from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah, as far as the other side of Jokmeam; 13 Ben-geber, in Ramoth-gilead (he had the villages of Jair the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead, and he had the region of Argob, which is in Bashan, sixty great cities with walls and bronze bars); 14 Ahinadab the son of Iddo, in Mahanaim; 15 Ahimaaz, in Naphtali (he had taken Basemath the daughter of Solomon as his wife); 16 Baana the son of Hushai, in Asher and Bealoth; 17 Jehoshaphat the son of Paruah, in Issachar; 18 Shimei the son of Ela, in Benjamin; 19 Geber the son of Uri, in the land of Gilead, the country of Sihon king of the Amorites and of Og king of Bashan. And there was one governor who was over the land. 1 Kings 1:1-19 ESV

Through his record of Solomon’s deft handling of the dispute between the two prostitutes, the author has provided an example of Solomon’s Spirit-imbued wisdom. And Solomon would put that wisdom to use in a variety of ways, including in the formation of his royal administration. His father’s death had left him as the sovereign authority over a large nation with a sizeable population spread over a vast area. And to understand the nature of Solomon’s actions, as outlined in this passage, it is important to remember the historical context that precipitated the establishment of the royal position in Israel.

Until the day Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel, the nation had functioned as a loose coalition of 12 tribes, with God as their King and sovereign. The tribes, while varying in size, each maintained independent control over the land they had been allotted by God. As the priestly tribe, the Levites were not given any land, but instead, were allocated cities within the territories of the other 11 tribes.

When the tribes first entered the land of Canaan, they had to defeat the existing inhabitants before they could occupy the land awarded to them by God. To do this, the tribes formed alliances with one another, fighting side-by-side until they could settle in their respective territory. Once this task had been completed, the tribes tended to operate independently. There was no centralized governing body or system of government in place to provide guidance or regulate behavior. In time, each of the tribes began to drift away from God and take on the pagan practices of the land’s former inhabitants. They began worshiping false gods, a decision that forced Yahweh to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness.

…the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. – Judges 2:14 ESV

This led to a period of time in which God governed the tribes through the administration of the judges. This was a disparate and diverse group of individuals sent by God to deliver his disobedient people from their enemies and call them back into fellowship with Him.

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. – Judges 2:18 ESV

This arrangement persisted for hundreds of years, until the day when the people demanded that God give them a king.

“Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 ESV

Samuel, who had been God’s official spokesman and the last of the judges, had been offended by their demand. He took it as a personal slight. But God told him, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). During their years as a confederation of independent tribes, Yahweh had been functioning as their sovereign authority. He had been their King. But now, they were demanding a human king, which meant they would be ruled over by a fallen, sin-prone man whose actions would have devastating implications. And God had Samuel warn the Israelites of the consequences of their request.

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “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. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 NLT

They demanded a flesh-and-blood king, but God warned them that when they got their wish, they would end up regretting it. But they refused to take God seriously and reiterated their demand for a king.

“Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT

So, God gave them Saul. He was exactly what they had been looking for – a tall, good-looking man who had all the outward characteristics of a king.

Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land. – 1 Samuel 9:2 NLT

This guy looked like a king. And after he received his anointing by Samuel, Saul would give all the indications that he would prove to be a good king. But, in time, his true nature revealed itself. He would prove to be headstrong and stubbornly disobedient, refusing to rule according to God’s will. And God was forced to remove him as king over Israel.

“I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” – 1 Samuel 15:11 NLT

When faced with the prospect of his removal, Saul would attempt to assuage God by begging His forgiveness, but it was too little, too late. Samuel had to break the news to Saul that his refusal to obey God was unforgivable and his kingship was irredeemable.

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
    your burnt offerings and sacrifices
    or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
    and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
    and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
    he has rejected you asking.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT

And to make matters worse, Samuel told Saul that God had already chosen his replacement.

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. – 1 Samuel 15:28 NLT

God had shown the people what happens when they get a king who seemed to meet their hearts’ desire. Now, they were going to see what a king looked like whose heart beat fast for God. God even warned Samuel that when looking for Saul’s replacement, he could not allow himself to be swayed by outward appearances. He had to look beneath the surface – at the heart.

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

This wasn’t a beauty contest. It had nothing to do with good looks, pedigree, charisma, or natural abilities. Samuel was to look for a godly man, not just a good man. And God had already decided who that man would be.

the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people. – 1 Samuel 13:14 NLT

God chose David to be the next king. He wasn’t a perfect man, and he would prove to be anything but a perfect king. But he had a heart for God. He attempted to live his life in obedience to God. And God chose to make Solomon his successor. Early on in his reign, Solomon would also reveal himself to be a man after God’s own heart. He would be faithful to God. He would attempt to operate his kingdom in obedience to God. And he would use his God-given wisdom to establish a royal administration that provided structure and stability so that the nation might thrive. This entire section of chapter 4, with its list of difficult-to-pronounce names and obscure titles, is meant to reveal how Solomon used his divinely-ordained wisdom to establish a system of government that would allow him to rule righteously and justly over the people of God. He did not take his responsibilities lightly or use his kingly powers selfishly. He ruled with wisdom and discernment. And the end result was that “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy” (1 Kings 4:20 ESV). 

Solomon was demonstrating the truth of one of the proverbs he would later record.

Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers. – Proverbs 11:14 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 Gift That Keeps on Giving

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants. 1 Kings 3:5-15 ESV

Early on in his reign, Solomon was a man who loved and honored Yahweh. His devotion to God shows up in the regular trips he made to Gibeon where the tent or tabernacle was located. There he would offer burnt offerings to God, sometimes as many as 1,000 at a time. The divine regulations concerning these sacrifices are found in the book of Leviticus, where they are described as “a burnt offering, a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:17 NET).

One on such occasion, after a day of offering unblemished sacrificial animals on the altar to Yahweh, Solomon went to bed that evening and had a dream. In his dream, he was visited by God, who made Solomon a gracious and magnanimous offer: “Tell me what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5 NET).

Solomon had spared no expense when giving to God the thousands of unblemished animals from his royal flocks and herds. He had willingly offered the best of what he had as a way of expressing his gratitude and devotion to God. And now, God was offering to give Solomon a gift in return. As a blessing for his faithful obedience, Solomon was being extended a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted from God. He was being given carte blanche, a literal blank check from God, to name his own blessing. The God of the universe was opening up the doors to His royal treasuries and telling Solomon that he could have whatever he wanted.

The gravity of this moment should not be overlooked. In a sense, Solomon was being given a test by God, designed to reveal the true nature of his heart. He could ask God for anything, and whatever he ended up requesting from God would expose his hidden desires and priorities.

What would we do if faced with the same opportunity? How would we respond? What would we request from God? Would we ask for wealth, power, popularity, good health, long life? The problem is that many of us already think of God as some kind of cosmic genie-in-a-bottle, an all-powerful, divine being who exists to fulfill our wishes. We would relish the thought of being in Solomon’s sandals, faced with the chance to tell God our one request for Him to fulfill. But this was Solomon’s dream and, when given the opportunity to make his request known to God, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

First, Solomon expressed his gratitude to God for everything He had done already.

“You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne. – 1 Kings 3:6 NLT

Solomon was grateful for God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. He was well aware of the many ways in which God had blessed his father, David. And now, he was sitting on the throne of David because it had been ordained by God. His newfound position of power and authority had been a gift from God. He had not deserved it. If anything, Solomon felt ill-equipped and unprepared for such an important role.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted!” – 1 Kings 3:7-8 NLT

When faced with a situation that could have easily exposed his greed and opportunism, Solomon displayed remarkable humility. His mind was not immediately filled with thoughts of riches or glory. His first thoughts were not of a new royal wardrobe, a faster chariot, a bigger palace, or a larger kingdom. His mind focused on his inadequacy and inability to do the job he had been given by God. So, he asked Yahweh for the one thing he knew he lacked: Wisdom.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

Solomon already possessed unsurpassed power and tremendous wealth. He didn’t need more of either one. In the short time he had ruled over Israel, he realized that what he lacked was the wisdom to govern God’s people. It had been said of David, that he shepherded the people of Israel with “integrity of heart” and he had “guided them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 BSB). Solomon wanted to do the same thing but knew he was deficient. He did not have what was required to govern wisely and well. So, he asked God to provide what he lacked, and it pleased God to do so. 

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” – 1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT

In essence, God said, “Good answer!” He liked what He heard and was more than willing to give Solomon exactly what he had requested, and more.

“And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

God blessed Solomon. First, by giving him what he needed most. God provided this newly crowned king with wisdom that would set him apart from every other king on the planet. Solomon would become world-renowned for his wisdom. And, even today, he is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. But God also gave Solomon something he didn’t request and didn’t really need. He blessed him with riches and fame. But those unrequested gifts would actually come as a result of Solomon’s wisdom. God didn’t suddenly fill Solomon’s royal treasuries with gold and silver. His great wealth was a byproduct of the wisdom given to him by God. One of the proverbs later collected and compiled by Solomon personifies the voice of wisdom, declaring its many residual benefits.

Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness. – Proverbs 8:18 ESV

Solomon would grow wealthy and he would become famous. But those were side benefits. The gift of wisdom, given to him by God, would allow Solomon to govern his kingdom according to divine principles. Every aspect of his decision-making was divinely influenced and inspired. As long as he relied on God, he would experience the blessings of God that accompany the wisdom of God.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:29-34 NLT

Fame and fortune were not the gift. Wisdom was. And as Proverbs 8 clearly points out, the wisdom of God is of far greater value than any residual benefits it may bring.

Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. – Proverbs 8:10-11 ESV

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

Divided Allegiance

1 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 1 Kings 3:1-4 ESV

Chapter two ended with the words, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV). He had successfully completed his purging of those who had played a part in the failed coup attempt that would have robbed him of his right to the throne. He had also kept his father’s dying wish and brought to justice a small list of individuals whom David had declared worthy of judgment.

But the opening verses of chapter 3 provide a change in tone and purpose to the historical narrative. David has died, and the reign of his son has begun. The last vestiges of David’s influence have been removed, and Solomon has the opportunity to begin his rule on his own terms. And it’s interesting to note that the author records as Solomon’s first official act as king an alliance he made with the Egyptians. The Pharaoh of Egypt sealed their agreement by giving Solomon the hand of his daughter in marriage.

The matter-of-fact manner in which this news is conveyed gives the impression that it was nothing more than an official act of business on the part of the royal administration. Making treaties and alliances were a necessary part of being a king. And marital alliances were commonplace among the nations of the world at that time. But there is something ominous and prophetic about the news of Solomon’s first official act as king. And any Jew who read this historical record would have recognized it.

Long before Israel had a king, God had provided His chosen people with a list of prohibitions concerning the behavior of any man who would rule over them. He knew that the kingly role would come with all kinds of temptations and snares. The power and prestige that accompanied the crown would prove to be addictive and dangerous. So, God provided His people with non-negotiable rules that were to govern and regulate the actions of the kings of Israel.

“You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-17 NLT

As a precautionary measure, God commanded that any man who ruled as king over Israel was to have a personal copy of the Mosaic Law, which he was to read from daily. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:21 NLT).

And notice that the king was prohibited from accumulating all the normal trappings of kingly success. All Israelite kings were to be different, refusing to model their administration on the nations around them. Stables filled with fine horses, treasuries overflowing with great wealth, and palaces full of wives and concubines were off-limits to the kings of Israel. And notice that God forbade His kings from doing any business with Egypt, even denying them the right to buy horses from their former enemies. And yet, one of the first decisions Solomon made as king was to make a deal with Pharoah that would set a dangerous precedence for his reign.

While the author provides no immediate commentary regarding Solomon’s actions, he will later reveal the sinister and infectious nature of this decision.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

There is something foreboding in the statement that Solomon “brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem” (1 Kings 3:1 ESV). One of his very first acts as king was to bring this foreign-born, pagan princess into the city of David, where her presence would have a profound impact on not only him but also on the entire kingdom. Solomon had not even taken the time to build a palace. He had not yet constructed the temple for Yahweh for which his father had provided the funding. And he had taken no action toward expanding and protecting the city of Jerusalem through the construction of defensive walls.

But the author clearly states that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1 Kings 3:3 ESV). Yet, it will become increasingly more obvious that Solomon suffered from divided allegiances. Notice the important contrast between 1 Kings 3:3 and 1 Kings 11: 1:

Solomon lived the Lord…

King Solomon loved many foreign wives…

God had warned that any king who accumulated many wives for himself would run the risk of having his heart turned away from the Lord. His love for God would be distracted and diminished. And because Solomon had put a higher priority on making an alliance with Egypt than building a house for God, he ended up having to make offerings and sacrifices on the high places (1 Kings 3:3). As will become evident, many of these high places were actually the former sites of pagan shrines to false gods. The Israelites had repurposed them for the worship of Yahweh, but God had given Solomon the responsibility and privilege of constructing a permanent temple where all worship and sacrifices were to be made. David had provided Solomon with everything he needed to build the temple, from the construction plans to the financial resources to pay for it. And David had warned Solomon to make this task a high priority.

So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

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. The king also gave Solomon the instructions concerning the work of the various divisions of priests and Levites in the Temple of the Lord. And he gave specifications for the items in the Temple that were to be used for worship. – 1 Chronicles 28:10-13 NLT

But Solomon had established other priorities. He had chosen to align himself with Egypt, making what he believed would be an important treaty with a powerful foe. But in doing so, Solomon was placing his hope and trust in something other than God Almighty. Rather than building a house for God, Solomon went about building his kingdom – on his own terms and according to his own agenda.

The prophet Isaiah would later warn the people of Israel about their propensity to seek alliances with and assistance from Egypt.

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:1-2 NLT

Without even realizing it, Solomon was stepping outside the protective boundaries of God, and pursuing what he believed to be the best strategy for building his kingdom. But through it all, Solomon maintained a love and devotion for God, even offering thousands of sacrifices to Him on the high place in Gibeon. The book of 1 Chronicles provides us with the reason why Solomon chose Gibeon as the place to offer his sacrifices to God.

For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. – 1 Chronicles 21:29 ESV

This location had been designated by God. Formerly the site of a threshing floor, David had purchased it and transformed it into the primary worship center for the nation of Israel. And it would be at this important location that Solomon would receive a gracious and undeserved gift from God. Despite his impulsiveness and blatant disobedience to God’s commands, he would be given the one thing that would set his reign apart from all those who would come after him. And it would become the defining characteristic of his life. Solomon didn’t need more horses, wives, wealth, or treaties with his enemies. What he really needed was something only God could provide: Wisdom.

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 Buck Doesn’t Stop Here

1 When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

“Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” – 1 Kings 2:1-9 ESV

The text provides no indication as to how long David lived after Solomon was crowned king. But the book of 1st Chronicles seems to indicate that as long as David remained alive, the two of them served as co-regents.

And again they crowned David’s son Solomon as their new king. They anointed him before the Lord as their leader, and they anointed Zadok as priest. So Solomon took the throne of the Lord in place of his father, David, and he succeeded in everything, and all Israel obeyed him. All the officials, the warriors, and the sons of King David pledged their loyalty to King Solomon. And the Lord exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and he gave Solomon greater royal splendor than any king in Israel before him.

So David son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. He reigned over Israel for forty years, seven of them in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a ripe old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth, and honor. Then his son Solomon ruled in his place. – 1 Chronicles 29:22-28 NLT

As long as David lived, Solomon acted in a more ceremonial capacity, sitting on the throne and serving as the titular head of state. Officially, his father remained the true king of Israel, providing Solomon with counsel and maintaining a final say in the kingdom’s affairs.

“The exact relationship between David and Solomon during the period of coregency is not made clear. Normally in such coregencies, the father remained in supreme command as long as he lived, with the son more or less carrying out his directives. This probably was true with David and Solomon also, though the fact that David was bedridden during this time suggests such an arrangement may have been more theoretical than actual.” – Leon J. Wood, Israel’s United Monarchy

Solomon would assume all the power and authority associated with his title as king with David’s eventual death. So, when David recognized that his death was near, he called for his son so that he might give him some final words of instructions. This would be his last chance to advise Solomon and to pass on a few last-minute requests regarding some unfinished business within the kingdom.

First, David encouraged his son to “keep the charge of the Lord your God” (1 Kings 2:3 ESV). He wanted Solomon to remember that his role as the king had been assigned to him by God. It was a divine appointment and deserved to be treated with the requisite awe, reverence, and obedience that such a responsibility deserved. Solomon was not to take his new power and authority lightly or use it in a self-serving manner. The key to his success would be his faithful adherence to the law of Moses. So, David challenged his young son to “Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:3 NLT).

From his own experience, David knew that faithful adherence to God’s law was a non-negotiable requirement for the man who would rule over God’s people. Solomon would need to be a man who knew and obeyed the laws of God, setting an example for all those under his care. As the king went, so would go the people. He would need to provide a powerful example of moral, ethical, and spiritual integrity, operating according to all of God’s statutes, commandments, rules, and testimonies.

David knew that Solomon had the hand of God on his life. He had been given an assurance from God that his son would have a long and prosperous reign.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

But David was also intimately familiar with all the temptations that came with the throne’s power and prestige. Solomon was just a young man, and if he was not careful, he could find himself intoxicated by all the fame, notoriety, wealth, and power that came with the crown. Kings were worshiped and revered. Kings were feared and fawned over. But David wanted his son to understand that he ruled at the behest of God Almighty. His reign had been made possible by the sovereign God of the universe.

And like any good father, David longed for his son to experience the blessings of God on his life. So, he shared with Solomon a promise that God had given him.

“If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.” – 1 Kings 2:4 NLT

At this point, David’s death-bed discussion with Solomon takes a slightly abrupt and unexpected turn. He suddenly transitions from talking about faithful adherence to God’s law and begins giving Solomon a rather bizarre “to-do list” containing a few unfinished items of official business. In a sense, David passed the buck and assigned to his son some rather distasteful duties he had chosen to shirk during his own reign.

First, he ordered Solomon to punish Joab for two murders he had committed. We have already seen that Joab had sided with Adonijah in his ill-fated coup. But Joab had a track record of disobedience. On two separate occasions, while serving as the military commander over David’s forces, he had acted independently from David’s orders, putting to death two men. The first was Abner (2 Samuel 3), and the second was Amasa (2 Samuel 20). In both instances, Joab deserved to die for his actions. But David had chosen to do nothing. Now, he was passing off this distasteful responsibility to his son.

And David was not done. He also assigned Solomon the task of paying back a man named Shimei. His story is recorded in 2 Samuel 16. This man had made the mistake of cursing David as he fled from Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over his throne.

As King David came to Bahurim, a man came out of the village cursing them. It was Shimei son of Gera, from the same clan as Saul’s family. He threw stones at the king and the king’s officers and all the mighty warriors who surrounded him. “Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:5-8 NLT

When David had been restored to his throne, he had chosen to do nothing to repay Shimei for his actions. Now, he was expecting Solomon to clean up the mess and mete out justice on his behalf. But David had different instructions concerning Barzillai, an individual who had chosen to show David mercy by providing him and his companions with food as they fled the city of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 17:27-29).

“Be kind to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead. Make them permanent guests at your table, for they took care of me when I fled from your brother Absalom.” – 1 Kings 2:7 NLT

David was expecting his son to take care of his unfinished business. For whatever reason, he had chosen to allow these men to go unpunished for their actions. But, seemingly motivated by revenge, David gave his son strict instructions to pay them back for their crimes. It seems that David wanted to die in peace, knowing that his enemies were dealt with properly. But he wanted no blood on his hands. He would leave the unpleasant task of executing the guilty to his young son, Solomon. David, the great king of Israel, had shirked his responsibilities and was now expecting someone else to clean up the mess he was leaving behind. He probably knew these men could pose a threat to his son’s kingdom, so he recommended their elimination. But had he done his job, none of these would have been necessary.

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 Mission Validated, Tested, and Begun

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark dedicates no part of his gospel to the birth of Jesus. Instead, he opens with very brief descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and His testing by Satan in the wilderness. Even when covering these two significant events, Mark is stingy with the details. He seems to use them as further proofs of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah but then moves quickly past them in order to focus on the actual ministry of Jesus.

Mark mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was from Nazareth. Since Mark does not cover the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. For Mark, the most important details concerning Jesus began with His adult life. He is not negating the importance of the incarnation but is simply concentrating the focus of his gospel on the launch of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had spent His life growing up in Nazareth, a nondescript town in Galilee. Even among the Jews, Nazareth was a town of little import and low estimation. In fact, when Philip met Jesus for the first time, he told his friend Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). To which Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV). Yet, it was out of this unlikely and unimpressive town that the Savior of the world would come.

Luke reveals that Jesus was 30-years-old when He left Nazareth and made His way to the wilderness of Judea where John was baptizing (Luke 3:23). And Jesus chose to inaugurate the official launch of His ministry by being baptized. Now Mark has made it clear that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). It was intended to be a public expression of the individual’s admission of their sin and need for forgiveness. By submitting themselves to being baptized, they were indicating their willingness to repent and be cleansed of their sins, so that they might be ready for the Messiah and His coming Kingdom. 

But why was Jesus baptized? The Scriptures make it clear that He was sinless. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 BSB). And Paul adds that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

The author of Hebrews provides some much-needed insight into the motivation behind Jesus’ decision to be baptized that day.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

Not only had Jesus taken on human flesh and become one of us, He was willing to undergo the same ritual of baptism in order to associate Himself with sinful humanity. Even though He was sinless, He willingly submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is the same reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Though He was sinless, He willingly died the death that we deserved. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB). And Paul succinctly states that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT).

Jesus became one of us – in every way – so that He might give His life on behalf of us. And in being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the will of His Father. Matthew records that when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River and asked John to baptize him, John was reticent.

John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” – Matthew 3:14 NLT

But Jesus insisted, telling John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15 NLT). Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will. He would later claim, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And He described His faithful adherence to His Father’s will as a form of nourishment and sustenance.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” – John 4:34 BSB

Another reason behind His baptism was that it foreshadowed another kind of baptism He would undergo as a part of God’s sovereign will. Sometime later, Jesus would have a difficult exchange with two of His disciples. He had just told all of His disciples about what was going to take place in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:34-35 NLT

And in response, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus soberly responded:

You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

Jesus was going to be “immersed” in an overwhelming form of suffering that would no one else could have endured. And it would be the will of God for Him to do so. Jesus later described the unbearable nature of this baptism of suffering.

“I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.” – Luke 12:50 NLT

It was the Father’s will, so Jesus was determined to carry it out. It was also the Father’s will that the people of Israel come to John in the wilderness and submit to the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had clearly called them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And they were expected to obey the will of God. So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus was providing them with an example of faithful obedience, even though He had no sins that needed forgiving.

And Jesus had fulfilled the will of His Father, Mark records that something incredible happened.

…when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11 ESV

An amazing, supernatural sign from heaven appeared. And it culminated with the sound of the voice of God, calling out from heaven and declaring His pleasure with His Son. This scene provided a divine seal of approval on Jesus. God the Father was validating Jesus’ identity as His Son and declaring His complete satisfaction with all that was about to happen. The next three-and-a-half years of Jesus’ life would have the full blessing and approval of God.

But this fantastic scene is followed by the rather strange statement: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV). Yet, even what follows is to be clearly understood as the will of God for Jesus’ life. Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit of God in order to do the will of God. And His destination was the wilderness where He would undergo a series of temptations by Satan over a period of 40 days. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Jesus went without food and water the entire time He was in the wilderness. He would have been weak and famished. His physical condition would have deteriorated. But, as Jesus told His disciples, His nourishment came from doing the will of His Father.

And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And His suffering allowed Him to fully undertand and empathize with those whom He came to save.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:18 NLT

Jesus survived His baptism by fire. He overcame the temptations of the enemy and emerged from the wilderness 40 days later completely sinless and fully obedient to His Heavenly Father. And now, His real earthly ministry could begin.

tEnglish 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