Old Testament Readings: Proverbs 29-31; Song of Solomon 1-8; 1 Kings 5; 2 Chronicles 2
The last chapters of Proverbs offer collections of saying ascribed to leaders other than Solomon: Agur (ch. 30) and King Lemuel (ch.31). As with the larger collection ascribed to Solomon, we cannot be sure whether these men are the authors or merely the collectors of these sayings. The vision of the “capable wife” (Proverbs 31:10-31) is familiar to many. In this book which more often alludes to the training of young men, it is refreshing to read the portrayal of wisdom’s embodiment in woman’s life.
“The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (1:1) is Hebrew love poetry. Undeniably beautiful and sensuous, the work portrays the experience of love—desire, attraction, longing, and fulfillment—recounted by a young woman and a young man. One may appreciate it from a purely literary perspective, but interpreting its role as scripture is more challenging. Why is this poetry in the Bible? What purpose does it serve?
Traditional interpretation through the centuries has seen the Song allegorically, as a picture of the divine love for God’s people: either the covenant people of Israel in the OT, or the Church in the NT and afterwards. More recent interpreters acknowledge the poetry as fundamentally a depiction of human love—a celebration of the goodness and power inherent in God’s gift of sexual intimacy.
Some have suggested that the Song of Solomon tells the king’s story: that Solomon is the male lover wooing the young woman whose voice is primary in the book. [Solomon is mentioned in the text (3:11), but the text does not clearly identify him as the speaker’s lover.] Others believe that Solomon collected the poetry, but that it serves as an idealized portrait of young rustic lovers. And does this poem portray a marriage (as suggested by some editors like those of the English Standard Version), or just a passionate assignation? The view that this book depicts a couple entering marriage places the sensuality in the context of Biblical morality, making it more legitimate as scripture.
Does the Song of Solomon convey a unified narrative of one couple’s love, or is it a looser collection of separate poems along the same basic theme? The voices of the lovers provide most of the narration; occasionally some others speak collectively about the action. This narrative style makes a definitive reading a challenge, but the technique conveys power and intimacy: we get the lovers’ unfiltered thoughts and desires, voiced during moments of deep intimacy. The work as a whole confirms the view that “love is strong as death . . . Its flashes are flashes of fire” (8:6).
New Testament Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4-5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3
The last chapters of 1 Thessalonians offer us a vivid peak into the early Church’s experience. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the Church lived in constant expectation of Jesus’ return. They believed that this promised return would be a sign of the “day of the Lord” prophesied in the OT—the season of God’s judgment on all the earth and the vindication of the faithful. Those who trust in Christ would then share in the resurrection.
But what if a Christian died before Christ returns? Do those who die in the faith share in the resurrection? Presumably some of the Thessalonians despaired of the salvation of their dearly departed. Paul writes to this concern in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. At the coming of the Lord, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (4:16-17). The physical images are compelling, suggesting the commanding power of God invading the world with liberating might. The pastoral import, however, is the comfort of the last part of v.17: “so we will always be with the Lord.” Followers of Christ need not fear the threat of separation from God. As Paul will say years later to the Romans, “neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
In 2 Thessalonians we see again the urgency of living in expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. Paul acknowledges that the church in Thessalonica has undergone “persecutions . . . and . . . afflictions” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Their vindication will come when Christ returns in judgment (1:5-10). Paul assures them that the day of the Lord has not yet occurred, as some have alleged (2:1-3). Rather, there must arise first “the man of lawlessness, . . . the son of destruction” (2:3). This figure represents, either symbolically or actually, the opposition of Satan to the purposes of God. Paul is preparing the church to endure through the spiritual trials of opposition and persecution from those who are deceived by Satan and fight against the truth of Christ. The answer to these challenges is to stand firm in the truth revealed by God and preached by Paul and the church (2:13—3:5).
One final note of interest is Paul’s instruction in 3:6-13. Some who served the church were apparently freeloaders! Throughout his letters Paul consistently reminds his brothers and sisters that he worked at a job while serving with them, so that he did not have to presume upon their generosity. Paul says that those who follow him should “do their work quietly and . . . earn their own living” (3:12).
Psalms: 72, 127
Psalm 72 fits the genre of royal psalm, extolling the attributes of the king. The headnote suggests that Solomon is the subject, although this label may have been added by later editors of the psalms. The psalm functions as a prayer asking God to provide the blessings and gifts to enable the king to rule in splendid power. Importantly, this rule belongs to God, not to human beings: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!” (v.1). See also the portrayal of God’s mercy in the king’s rule in vv.12-14. Israel’s kings thrived when they sought to serve as human agents of God.
Psalm 127 is one of the Songs of Ascents, presumably the reflections of worshippers headed up Mount Zion to the Temple in Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. The headnote adds “Of Solomon”: perhaps the image of building the house (v.1) suggested his role in constructing the Temple. The theme of vv.1-2 is reliance upon God rather upon human strength, which only increases anxiety. Verses 3-5 celebrate children as a gift from the Lord that strengthens a parent’s resources in the face of life’s challenges.