Read: 1 Kings 3, 10-11
I was considering calling this sermon, “Shalom’s Eden, Solomon’s Egypt” because the English shrouds the fact that Shalom and Solomon are essentially the same word in Hebrew. There is a lot going on in this story — it’s sophisticated literature with a very intentional ambiguity. It invites introspection and dialogue. Let’s dive in.
You won’t understand the Solomon story without a quick reminder about the Eden story. In Genesis 2 we see God prepare a special garden sanctuary in Eden. There are rivers and precious gems and Adam and Eve are presented as royal (image of God) Priests (working and tilling the land 2:15). These verbs (work and till) are only ever used elsewhere to describe the role of the Priests in the Temple. Adam names the animals and lives naked and unashamed with his partner Eve. They are told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2 is the first ‘temple’ story and Adam and Eve are the first priests. They are members of a royal priesthood with divine authority to rule in the first sanctuary, fully connected to neighbor and creator. This is the first glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
The second Royal Priesthood story comes from the book of Exodus. The horrible awful Pharaoh has enslaved God’s people and it takes Moses and a bunch of awesome and terrible plagues to get them out from under his bondage but they do eventually get out. Once out, they have a heart to heart with God at Sinai. In Exodus 19 God speaks saying, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ God’s invitation was for them to be a peculiar people — an alternative community, connected to neighbour and God – Royal Priests in the Sanctuary Dwelling of God.
In 1 Kings 1 we are told that Solomon (Shalom) was anointed King at the Gihon river (that’s the river from Eden in Gen 2) and once he’s king he has a dream where he asks God for the knowledge of good and evil (dun dun dun). He goes on to ‘study’ animals and cattle and birds and reptiles and fish (Adam!!??!?!) and then he cuts down the sacred cedars of Lebanon to build a ….TEMPLE! A sanctuary dwelling of God. He takes Seven years to build the Temple (creation?!?!?!). He builds his own Eden and he bears the image of God (royal authority). That’s good right? We like Solomon right? It’s the garden of Eden!
But wait …. Solomon becomes obscenely wealthy…. and he enslaves 30,000 of his own men …and he marries Pharaoh’s daughter and binds the house of Israel to the house of Egypt….. he takes twice as long to build his own palace and builds another for his Egyptian wife. He has 1400 chariots and 12,000 Egyptian horses and he’s so rich that they didn’t even use silver in those days because it was like dust (10:21)?
In Deut 17:14-20 Moses says, “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”
Boooooo! Solomon is bad. You’re not supposed to go back to Egypt to buy horses Solomon — do you have any idea how hard God had to work to get his people out of Egypt? To establish them as a *different* community — something **set apart**? Good job team. You went and anointed your own Pharaoh! You went and became *exactly* like the nations you cried to be rescued from.
The narrator is very clever — he presents Solomon as building an Eden and an Egypt. The narrator winks at the reader and lets the reader find what he’s looking for. Do you want an inspiring story about how to get rich and famous (or paid and laid as my little brother likes to say when reflecting on Solomon’s 1000 wives)? Well this is the story for you. Move along. Do you want a story the subtly critiques the empire and dominant culture’s prosperity and oppressive regime? Well right this way. When you read the Bible — it’s often easy to find what you’re looking for. That’s why it’s a dangerous book. That’s why you should defend the authority of scripture but NEVER the authority of your own interpretation. That’s why you should read it in a community (not an echo chamber….a diverse community).
When you read the bible there are THREE worlds you must consider. The world in the text (Solomon’s world). The world behind the text (who wrote this story? why? What is the hidden agenda? Why is the critique so subtle…?) and the world in front of the text (that’s YOU! YOUR WORLD! What is your hidden agenda?). Can you hear the voices preserving this text — whispering to those who have ears but seldom ear? Sometimes you read the bible and sometimes the bible reads you, amiright? Check your motives and de-colonize the text!
God never asked Solomon to build a Temple. He said as much in 2 Sam 7 when David pitched the idea. God never wanted his people to put a king over themselves and become like the nations. He never wanted them to be their own Egypt. He never wanted them to be slaves in Egypt or Taskmasters over the slaves! There’s a third option (and no, I’m sorry Moses it’s not for you to live a nice cozy life in Midian with Zipporah and Gershom either ….). The goal is to be a new thing …. a new people. But we’re never going to get there if we don’t de-colonize our minds and de-colonize the text – de-colonize our faith. We are used to reading without considering the place of privilege we read from. We are used to being spoon fed the text without a close, critical, responsible reading. We aren’t used to hearing the voices behind the text — the voice of the occupied, the voice of the faithful ancient ones passing this story down generation to generation. We aren’t used to listening to people who aren’t free to speak freely.
In Jeremiah 7, the prophet poetically condemns those who would depend on the Temple (religious structures that give us a sense of control). He says, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?”
Now consider Mark 11:15-17 when Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, takes a hard right towards the Temple and goes in condemning the ‘den of robbers’ and with great anguish insists that the Temple (sanctuary dwelling of God) was intended as a house of prayer for all people — the whole Royal Priesthood! Consider in John 2 when Jesus shouts, “DESTROY THIS TEMPLE! WATCH ME REBUILD IT IN 3 DAYS.”
Do you notice the critique of Solomon hiding behind the text? Can you hear the voice of the faithful whispering across the ages, “the Kingdom is in your midst”. Our job is not to build temples or destroy temples. Our job is not to anoint Kings or elect politicians that will secure our place in the world. Our job is not to grasp for control and the power to determine good and evil for ourselves. We aren’t building an empire — we’re resisting that temptation and gathering together to be a new thing – a new kind of human upon the land. A Royal Priesthood with divine authority to dwell with God and neighbour, fully connected, fully Shalom.
Have you ever personally experienced the church attempt to vie for more power?
Have you ever personally experienced the church try to turn God’s space into an empire instead of a house of hospitality and prayer for all people?
Have you ever been unable to speak freely about people in power over you and had to find clever ways to resist their oppression?
How would your reading of the bible be different if you were to consider the voice of the community writing and preserving the text? What if you imagined that process of writing, subtly critiquing, and preserving the ancient stories as part of what gives the text divine authority?