THIS WEEK: Except… A Mind Transformed… The Greatest Story Ever Told… Growing Up… Future of Civilization
DAY ONE – 1 Kings 3-4, 2 Chronicles 1, Psalm 72
This fascinating story of King Solomon–his dream sent from God, his request, the amazing results–is marred by only one small word: ‘except.’ No king or world leader, before or after, can claim the wisdom, knowledge and renown of Solomon, whose fame drew leaders from all over the world to come sit at his feet and wonder at his amazing faculties. The wealth, influence and abundance in Israel has sometimes been called her ‘Golden Age.’ It’s quite remarkable and has no equal in ancient history. It’s all so wonderful… except. We might even suppose that Israel with Solomon was God’s masterpiece paraded for all the world to see… except. Why does there always have to seemingly be an exception? Why can’t all the goodness and blessing just continue? For that answer, we consult Moses’ warnings to Israel regarding kings, hundreds of years before: Deuteronomy 17:14-20 When you have come to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, and possess it, and dwell in it, and say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me;” 15 you shall surely set him king over yourselves, whom Yahweh your God chooses. You shall set as king over you one from among your brothers. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he may multiply horses; because Yahweh has said to you, “You shall not go back that way again.” 17 He shall not multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away. He shall not greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. 18 It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites. 19 It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; 20 that his heart not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he not turn away from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the middle of Israel.
And so, Solomon was distinguished by the Lord as the greatest king who lived, who went down in history with unusual acclaim, and who might be considered exemplary… except. 1) Except he took multiple foreign wives who turned his heart to idolatry. 2) Except he multiplied silver and gold in abundance. 3) Except he built garrisons and staffed them with thousands of horses and soldiers. 4) Except he went back to Egypt to buy horses. 5) Except… and we could go on. Can we not see that, while God blesses and keeps us, supplies and prospers us, we ourselves are the problem when we succumb to the ways of the world? Romans 12:2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. Even the wisest and most highly acclaimed king of Israel, under God’s protection, made mistakes and demonstrated fatal flaws that eventually diminished God’s great work. 1 Kings 3:3 Solomon loved Yahweh, walking in the statutes of David his father; except that he sacrificed and burned incense in the high places. Except… it is because of ‘except’ that everyone of us needs the grace of God and His salvation. In our broken world, no amount of excellence or exceptionalism exempts us from our need to be repentant and humbled before the Lord. In fact, pardon me a moment as I lift up my soul to Him, to thank Him, to praise Him, and to ask that He help me… today.
DAY TWO – Psalm 119:89-176
Perhaps you noticed that this song is laid out in paragraphs, each one headed by a successive letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Of course we are reading the Bible as it has been chronologically arranged. I might suggest that some time you would enjoy a journey through this psalm by reading a paragraph a day for twenty-two days. We are told that habits are formed by repeating an action for three weeks, so I can certainly conclude that this psalm is intended to suggest lifestyle more than action. Our western mindset is to ‘do’ things in a performance manner. This psalm, however, suggests incorporating the underlying message into our daily routines by a process of transforming our mind. Imagine then, reading and meditating and processing each paragraph, day after day, until the total message begins to resonate in our unconscious behavior; in other words, it becomes PART OF ME. What is that message? Your Word, Yahweh, is settled in heaven; I LOVE your Word–laws, commandments, statutes, ordinances, testimonies. Without them I lose my way. Without them the wicked are emboldened and culture diminishes. With them my path is illuminated and my heart is instructed in the right ways. With them I find protection and safety that keeps me on a straight and right path.
King Solomon was encouraged by his father to do what Moses instructed: get your own copy of God’s Laws (His words) and keep it close to you; read it daily; meditate on it. Make it part of your daily lifestyle. Evidently he didn’t do that; and that oversight allowed him to drift–not run but drift away, from following the Lord God closely. It really cost him the kingdom, for his son Rehoboam, whom we shall soon meet, took a wrong turn and split the kingdom for hundreds of years. Reformation is not the key; TRANSFORMATION is the key, and that comes as we make God’s words part of us every day.
DAY THREE – Song of Solomon 1-8, Psalm 45
The Greatest Story Ever Told is a love story. Among all the creatures fashioned by Creator, only one is given the gift of love. Living beings of all species breathe, feel and procreate. They instinctively live out their useful life as part of God’s earthly provision. Some become domesticated and are capable of forming bonds and attachments with humans. Their service, loyalty and proximity endear them to us so that we are enriched by their presence. But the gift of love is reserved only for human beings–God’s masterpiece of creation. Originally in the garden of Eden, the first man and woman–Adam and Eve–lived in divine relationship with Creator God, Yahweh. Given dominion over all the animals, they were earth’s first steward/managers. And they did it well. But they found a unique love in the Creator that they shared with each other, a love that surpassed all other relationships in the created world. That gift of love brought joy and fullness to the human experience then, and still does now. The highest expression of love is reciprocity–loving and being loved. So God loved the world–His creation. He loved it so much that when sin marred its perfection, He continued to love as He laid His plans to save the world and restore its divine order.
his ‘Song’ of Solomon, son of David and Israel’s third king, is a love song, plainly and simply. It is a story of married love between two people who have discovered the incredible fullness of loving and being loved. The openly sexual overtones of the poem lift love’s expression to the highest pinnacle of fulfillment, described in beautiful metaphors and spice-laden surroundings. While daily life goes on, the yearnings of love draw these two back together again and again, to revel in each other and create amazement in the observers–in this case the daughters of Jerusalem. Can this poem have other meanings? Well, the Apostle Paul in the New Testament likens married love to that of Christ and His church, His ‘loved ones.’ So what is our takeaway from this unique writing? 1) God’s love is the highest and deepest expression of all love. 2) We are given the gift of love to give away and to receive from another. 3) Married love is between a man and a woman in deepest respect and devotion. 4) Human love can be marred by sin and cheapened by sexual union outside of a permanent commitment. 5) Love will consummate in the eventual ‘homecoming’ in which Christ gathers all of His ‘loved ones’ to be with Him in His permanent home. Love is the yearning in all of us which finds its ultimate fulfillment only in God Himself, for GOD IS love.
DAY FOUR – Proverbs 1-4
What would be the wise thing to do? This is a great question; and so King Solomon, to whom God gave superlative wisdom to be shared with the world, wrote the Proverbs, addressing them first to his son–“My son…” Now in my 70’s, I can only wish that I had the kind of wisdom in my 20’s that I have now! That is essentially the priority of fathers and mothers, to impart life wisdom to their children, to hopefully start them in a right direction for the rest of their life. There are some basic tenets in these first chapters that need to be almost memorized in childhood if we are to avoid the most obvious pitfalls (and pratfalls!). 1) Get wisdom… get understanding! 2) Learn to fear God, to have respect and devotion, to get to know Him. 3) Listen to your parents. 4) Hang around with the right people. 5) Avoid, stay away from the wrong people, who are out to get what they want, even if it hurts others. 6) Learn to spot a fool! 7) Become personally responsible for your actions. Don’t blame other people for your problems.
The ‘how’ of these sayings is called ‘growing up.’ It’s what we’ve all had to do, by necessity. The world doesn’t suffer well grownup children, who can’t figure out who they are, what they want to do, or why they should take responsibility for their life. These first chapters should be read to them over and over again during their primary and secondary years. Let’s face it, wisdom is difficult to accumulate in our modern world, with so many philosophies and worldviews crowding the landscape. I can’t help but revert to the first words of the Bible–“In the beginning God…” This must be the beginning for all of us–God. Not just any god, but God, the Creator, the Savior. For want of God, a person will have a difficult time getting wisdom and understanding. What is the great yearning in all of us? To be loved, to be noticed, to be cared for? And so our beginning must be in God, who has loved, noticed and cared for us. Our heart must be engaged, for it is the wellspring of our whole life. Let us begin from childhood to cry out to God, to long for Him, to welcome Him, to seek His wisdom for life. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
DAY FIVE – Proverbs 5-8
To believe that we all start out good and can only get better given the right education, social atmosphere and economic opportunity is to close our eyes to generations of evidence to the contrary. The man with superlative wisdom knew better. He wrote copious instructions to his ‘son,’ his ‘children.’ He laid it out plainly and simply–immoral sex and imprudent use of money will take you straight to hell–at least you’ll think so! It reminds me of Foghorn Leghorn, the cartoon character, who was always trying to teach his little ‘chicken’ son… “I say boy, listen up… pay attention, son!” What is so amazing about these chapters is that they are a bold call for wisdom and prudence–not a bunch of someone’s ideas, but a wisdom based on the laws and commandments of God, given hundreds of years before Solomon lived, through Moses. In other words, wisdom is embodied in an objective instruction given to us humans by God Himself. We observe it to our wellbeing; we ignore it to our peril. The decline of our national culture can be traced back to the middle of 20th century when our ‘wise’ legislators and judges decided that church and state must be separate; therefore the Bible and other semblances of religion MUST be eradicated from all public education and other institutions. Within the decade that followed, the Ten Commandments no longer a visible influence, it seemed rather easy for the Supreme Court to rewrite the law that legalized abortion on demand by claiming a woman’s ‘constitutional’ right to privacy. This surely was a defining moment in our cultural evolution. Even a casual reading through Solomon’s Proverbs will call attention to the various forms of wickedness that have invaded western culture in the last half century!
As we read Psalms and Proverbs, one thing stands out clearly: We don’t really break God’s laws; they break US… eventually! To get wisdom; to follow wise instruction; to guard one’s heart against the evil; to inquire of and to seek after God… these are the path to Life. Our children don’t know this; how can they, unless we teach them? If the ‘village’ loses sight of God, the child is left out in the cold. And so Wisdom continues to cry out in the streets, seeking the prudent man, the wise woman, anyone who will observe godly counsel. The future of western civilization, fragile as it is, may well depend on who will stop… look… and listen.