King Solomon whose reign is normally dated from around 970/960 BCE to 930/920 BCE is best known for being extremely wise, extraordinarily wealthy and as a supremely powerful monarch. He is also described as a great lover, with the legendary harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. He was probably also very busy 😉
He is listed as the tenth of seventeen sons of King David in 2 Samuel 3, born to Bathsheba as her second son; or in 1 Chronicles 3 he is listed as the tenth son of nineteen sons, being born to Bathshua as her fourth son. He was said to reign for forty years – like his father David – or the equivalent of a single generation. He is still young when he becomes King and has not yet reached adulthood, after a bitter dispute with his other brothers; David is still alive during the first few years of his reign, but he grows increasingly fragile and perhaps even senile. It is in the fourth year of his new reign that Solomon lays the foundation stone of the temple – which his father David had wanted to build but the Lord had not allowed this. When the temple begins, 480 years have passed since the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The temple construction takes seven years, and the building of the rest of the citadel and palace takes another thirteen years so that the project is completed 500 years after the Exodus. Most of these dates should be understood as symbolic which is the reason that the dating of Solomon is so difficult.
When we meet him today in 1 Kings 3, he is still in his youth. The burden of becoming King is weighing heavily upon him. He is deeply aware of his own sin – and as the fruit of the adulterous union between David and Bathsheba, he is also aware of the consequences of sin in his beloved father. So when the Lord appears to him in a dream while he is at the northern shrine of Gibeon and offers him whatever he would ask, Solomon to his credit first acknowledges his frailty and need – yet still requests a heart wise and shrewd.
Solomon probably wrote some of the Proverbs (just as his father David had composed a good number of the Psalms) but the remainder of both books would only achieve final form many centuries later. Other books are ascribed to him – Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (or Canticle, or Songs) and Wisdom of Solomon – but these were all written likewise centuries later. His wisdom comprises three kinds – administrative, encyclopedic and aphorisms and riddles. Although his prayer for wisdom is answered, in his maturity he fails to live from within the blessing of this promise and allows his heart to be led astray, especially because of the influence of so many of his foreign wives and the worship of their gods.
Today we bring to a close the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel which is jam-packed with parables and their explanations with these three short parables drawn from ordinary life. The chapter lies at the very centre of this Gospel, and it seems that we are being invited to be the scribes who draw out of our storeroom things both new and old. The new things are this brand new and magnificent vision that the kingdom of heaven is bringing; the old things are the wisdom of the centuries and the witness of the people of Israel and her stories and hopes. The way of the Gospel is about planting the new deep down within the old and allowing the ancient wisdom to come to fresh and exciting expressions in the new.
The shape of this gospel is meant to remind the careful reader of the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, or the Books of Moses; but the content of this gospel is new and explosive. There is a decision that has to be made urgently. It was fashionable then as it remains fashionable now to imagine that there were many pearls or many treasures that you could collect in the various religions that are on offer; no, says Jesus – there is only one pearl and one treasure which is the Gospel of the kingdom of God which Jesus was declaring and living out.
Besides all this Jesus declares that the world is not just going around in circles – but it has a clear direction and is heading in a straight line towards its goal in the final judgement. It continues to move towards that glorious day when God will remake the whole world in truth and justice.
These parables continue to challenge us to both understand them and to place them into action as the wise scribes that we are urged to be. We are called in our thinking, speaking and living to be firmly rooted in the old and also the bearers of the fresh new work that God is doing. Today we are invited to carefully reflect upon our lives to make sure that the fruit of our lives is both old and new.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (10’09”)
Sunday 17, Year A