Old Testament Readings: 1 Kings 1-4; 1 Chronicles 22-29; Proverbs 1-2
Our readings in 1 Kings this week focus on the accession and early reign of Solomon, David’s son. While the account in 1 Chronicles minimizes the possibility of discord in this transition, 1 Kings continues the clear-eyed reporting we saw in 1 & 2 Samuel.
By the death of King David, the fault lines in the kingdom are apparent, and the question of who will succeed David is not obvious. The narrator shows us the maneuvering between supporters of David’s two surviving sons, Adonijah and Solomon. Adonijah is the older son and presumed heir, and he acts preemptively to consolidate power. When Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and Nathan the prophet tell the aging David of Adonijah’s transgression, David bestows the rule on Solomon and instructs that he be anointed king.
David’s parting gifts to his son and successor include lots of unfinished business. His pious instruction about obeying the law of Moses (1 Kings 2:2-4) quickly turns toward vengeance. Though David may have demonstrated restraint and forbearance with his foes during his life, he advises Solomon to kill Joab and Shimei after his death. Once again, the narrative shows us the complexity of David’s ruling character—at the same time spiritually aware and politically astute. This three-dimensional portrait of David underscores the divine warning about kings (2 Samuel 7) and foreshadows the subsequent failures of Israel’s kings: however impressive they are by human criteria, kings’ true value rests in their faithfulness to the Lord whose rule they represent.
Solomon’s rule begins auspiciously, with his earnest desire to be faithful to the Lord. When the Lord appears in a dream and says, “Ask what I should give you” (3:5), Solomon asks for “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, for who can govern this your great people?” (3:9). This desire pleases God, who blesses Solomon not only with wisdom but also with “riches and honor” (3:12-13). It is this wisdom for which we remember Solomon: the scriptures celebrate it in the famous judgment between the rival mothers (3:16-28) and the summary in 4:29-34.
God answered Solomon’s request for wisdom in governing. His reign coincides with the height of Israel’s economic and political power, and he is celebrated for his wise administration of this power both internally (4:1-20) and internationally, through diplomatic arrangements and trade agreements with regional powers (4:21-28).
The scriptures ascribe the Book of Proverbs, which we begin reading this week, to Solomon’s authorship (Proverbs 1:1; 1 Kings 4:32). As we read through this impressive collection, we can note many observations about human nature and the created world. But the deeper value is its testimony and instruction about faithful living. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). This guidance about life in obedience to God’s will is the wisdom tradition in scripture—a concern found in many of the psalms, proverbs, and poetic works of the Old Testament. Living in faithful responsiveness to God’s loving guidance is the height of wisdom and the surest path toward our blessing and fulfillment.
New Testament Readings: Romans 5-9
This week we resume our rewarding study of the heart of Paul’s letter. In the previous chapters Paul has argued that God has definitively addressed the universal problem of human sin in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. See Romans 4:25: Jesus “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” The death of Christ answers the demands of a righteous God against sin; the resurrection of Christ signals God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial work on our behalf.
Chapters 5-8 explore the implications of this saving work on our living. As a result of our justification—being declared righteous before God—“we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). We need no longer “boast” in our supposed self-righteousness (cf. 3:27, 4:2). Now, justifiably, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” and even in “our sufferings” (5:2-3), knowing God’s love through the gift of the Holy Spirit (5:5). Our faith in the reconciling work of Jesus Christ gives us confidence in our status with God (5:11).
In 5:12-21, Paul illustrates the grand scope of this salvation in Christ by contrasting it to the universal inheritance of sin in Adam. For all humanity, sin exacts its toll of death. But the free gift of grace through Christ is greater: righteousness, not sinfulness, is the power that rules the one who believes. The grace of God and eternal life offered in Jesus Christ exceed the power of sin and its deadly effect.
Chapters 6 and 7 offer a closer look at what this grace means for Christian living. Three questions shape this section (6:1, 6:15, and 7:7), all of them versions of the same general question: “Why not sin?” First, Paul engages the question “should we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (6:1) He answers that Christians cannot continue to live under sin’s power, since they have died to sin. “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4). Our baptisms conform our lives to Christ’s death and resurrection; they signify the crucifixion of our sinful nature and our resurrection to new life in the power of God. Our bodies then become instruments not of sin but of righteousness (6:13).
The second perspective on “why not sin?” occurs at 6:15: “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Paul begins with the image of slavery: “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (6:16). The Christian has been set free from sin and has now become a slave of righteousness (6:18). Conversion to Christ reverses our obligation and our freedom. Instead of serving sin, we serve God’s righteousness: “you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God” (6:22). This new “slavery” to God pays better than our slavery to sin: “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23).
The question of the law’s relationship to our sin comes into focus next. Paul uses the analogy of marriage to illustrate our changed relationship to the Law of Moses. Just as the death of a spouse frees the surviving spouse from their marital covenant, so our new life in Christ frees us from our obligation to the law. “Now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (7:6). Once again, Paul is using the imagery of death and rebirth to portray our new lives in Christ. We are dead to sin, alive to righteousness (6:1-11); dead to the law, alive to the Spirit (7:1-6).
But do not be mistaken: the law is not sin! (7:7). The next section explores the gift and the limitation of the law. The law is “holy . . . and just and good” (7:12), but it could not achieve for us the righteousness of God, since we are “of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin” (7:14). The power of sin within us wars with our desire for God’s will. Paul offers a meaningful description of this struggle in 7:14-25. Our human composition, “this body of death” (7:24), needs a greater power than God’s law for us to live righteously unto God.
God gives us that power in the gift of the Holy Spirit. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:2). When we die to sin and the law and receive the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” then Christ’s righteous life becomes our powerful, righteous new life. The question for us is whether or not we will trust and receive this new life to become ours: see 8:1-17. Paul uses a new duality here. We live either “according to the flesh”—oriented toward our old sinful human reality--or “according to the Spirit”—yearning for and responsive to the divine gift of Christ’s life within us. The majestic Romans 8 builds toward a triumphant proclamation of the victory of God in Jesus Christ, one we share gloriously when we place our trust in Christ.
Chapter 9 begins a new unit of thought that covers the next three chapters. Since chapter 8 claims the full blessing of God for those in Christ, regardless of their identity under the law, how are we to think of the Jews? Specifically, are God’s saving promises to Israel still in effect? If righteousness comes by faith and not by law, what of those who still abide under the law? See how earnestly Paul engages this question in chapters 9-11. By the end of this unit, we will see how Paul satisfies this concern in a way that gives glory to God.
Psalms: 78, 42, 43
Psalm 78 is an historical psalm, proclaiming the “things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us . . . to the coming generation” (vv.3-4). The “glorious deeds of the Lord” (v.4) focus on Israel’s liberation from Egypt, its wilderness travels, and its settling in the promised land, but this review of Israel’s history highlights the people’s rebellion, unbelief, and ingratitude. Such behavior kindles God’s anger, but the divine judgment, though fierce, is not a complete rejection: the psalm ends with a celebration of David’s rule on Israel’s throne, a sign of hope and mercy. The composition of this psalm clearly intends to warn future generations of the spiritual danger of the behaviors it recounts.
Psalms 42 and 43 function together as an individual’s prayer to God for help. The help is the presence of God and the assurance that comes from worship: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (42:2). Three times these psalms repeat the refrain: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (42:5,11; 43:5). The psalm depicts in its progress the fulfillment of this hope: the fond remembrance of prior festal worship (42:4) pairs with the anticipation of a return to worship in the temple in Jerusalem (43:3-4). How beautiful to think that our individual spiritual thirst for God finds its answer in the community’s worship of God together!