Old Testament Readings: 1 Kings 6-9; 2 Chronicles 3-8
We have concluded the narrative arc of King David’s epic rule. Now, in the account of his son and successor, Solomon, we see the full flowering of Israel’s potential. Politically, David’s achievement was unifying the tribes of Israel and consolidating the government and worship of the nation in Jerusalem. Solomon is the wise beneficiary of his father’s accomplishment. The nation’s military strength allows a season of peace with its foes. Solomon’s many wives are the functional sign of strategic alliances with foreign rivals, and the growing international trade increases Israel’s wealth and influence. The chapters we read this week represent the high-water mark of Israel’s power and influence.
From the perspective of the scriptural writers, Solomon’s greatest accomplishment in this season of wealth and power is the construction of the Temple. The extended narrative details every aspect of the construction and decoration of this building. Clearly we are to see the Temple not only as the fulfillment of David’s vision (cf. 2 Samuel 7), but as the culmination of Israel’s centuries of sojourning with the Lord—from the Exodus through the conquest of the Promised Land, and now to the fully-established nation of Israel. The glory of the Lord now has a permanent residence, not just a tabernacle, with God’s people. The Temple is both the place of Israel’s worship and a symbol of God’s central place in the life of the nation.
Solomon’s magnificent prayer of dedication (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 6) expresses the gravity of the moment: “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel according to all that he promised; not one word has failed of all his good promises” (1 Kings 8:56). The Temple is God’s accomplishment, not Solomon’s or David’s or Israel’s. Yet the faithfulness of God to fulfill this promise will soon meet Israel’s unfaithfulness; the people and their kings will stray from the worship of the One for whom the Temple exists.
New Testament Readings: 1 Timothy 1-5
1 Timothy is one of the NT’s three “Pastoral Epistles” (1&2 Timothy and Titus), so called because they focus on how leaders should guide the church. The letter is written in the name of Paul and addresses Timothy, his younger partner in mission (cf. Acts 16-20).
Many scholars believe that the Pastoral Epistles are actually the work of a follower of Paul, and not the Apostle himself. One reason is that the writing style differs somewhat from that of the undisputed letters of Paul. Moreover, he addresses concerns of a church more developed and institutionally mature than the one emerging from the synagogues soon after Pentecost. For example, he specifies the criteria for “office of bishop [overseer]” (1 Timothy 3) and “deacons” (1 Tim. 4), suggesting that these ministries had become codified by the church. If Paul himself did not pen these words, they surely follow in the spirit of Paul’s leadership and instruction for the churches he helped to establish. The practice of such pseudonymous authorship—writing in the name of a valued leader—was not uncommon and was not considered deceptive by the larger culture in Paul’s time.
Paul warns foremost against false teachers who would deny or distort the good news (1:3-7; 4:1-3,7; 6:3ff.). He cites the dangers of those who would be “teachers of the law” (1:7) but who concoct “myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations” (1:4). This empty and deceitful teaching leads to harmful practices, like the dietary disciplines in 4:1-3, which may have suggested that our salvation somehow depends upon our self-purification.
Instead of such distortion, Paul enjoins Timothy to adhere to the gospel he had proclaimed (1:8-11,16-17; 6:20). Toward this goal the letter weaves in some early creedal affirmations that likely were already a part of the Church’s regular worship (1:17, 2:5-6, 3:16, 6:15-16). Three times in this letter Paul asserts that a particular instruction is trustworthy: “the saying is sure, and worthy of acceptance” (1:15; cf. 3:1, 4:9). The reason for unhealthy church life is bad teaching, the antidote for which is the “sound” (healthy) teaching based on the pure gospel from the Lord (1:10, 6:3).
The good practices that ensue from this sound teaching include rich and generous prayer (2:1-10), leaders with lives of moral purity (ch.3-4), a generous but disciplined ministry to widows (5:1-16), and elders who are treated fairly (5:17-22). The structure of the letter reinforces the clear message: congregations thrive because they live rightly, and right living results from our steadfast belief in the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Psalms: 44, 30, 121
Psalm 44 offers a communal prayer of lament—the nation’s plea for help in the face of a calamity. Verses 1-8 offer a confession of faith; verses 9-16 lay out the request for help. Uniquely among biblical psalms, the community asserts its blamelessness (vv.17-22); their military defeat (vv.10ff.) is not the Lord’s judgment for disloyalty, for they retain their faith in God. Paul quotes v.22 in Romans 8:36, inviting Christians to understand their suffering in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 30 is an individual song of praise, voicing thanks to God for an answered prayer and a restored life. The psalmist had pleaded with God to preserve him so that his voice of praise would not be silenced by death (vv. 8-10), so the psalm’s praise is the perfect expression of gratitude, joyfully confirming his argument and inviting all the faithful to join in kind (v.4). The headnote ascribes this psalm to David, to be used for the dedication of the temple.
Psalm 121 is easy to envision as a Song of Ascent. A pilgrim to one of the annual festivals climbs to the Temple atop Mount Zion. Looking out at the hills surrounding Jerusalem, the speaker ponders the vast creation and finds comfort and encouragement from the Creator. Whatever the burdens we carry in life, we can remind ourselves that the same Holy One who made the heavens and the earth attends us with never-failing care—day and night, going out or coming in, now and forever.