Day 076: Personalizing or Making It Personal? (Deuteronomy 17-20)

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

The first thing a king of Israel would do when he took the throne was sit down and write “for himself on a scroll a copy of this law.” This guaranteed at least two things: first, that the king be able to read and write (a valuable skill in the ancient world, and not necessarily a given); and two, that the king be familiar with God’s word.

Side note: I personally think every elected official in this country should be required to write a copy of the US Constitution for themselves the day they take office. For all the times they seem to ignore it, I can’t help but think many of them don’t know what it says!

Tragically, this tradition didn’t seem to be followed all that often. Throughout Israel’s sad history of the monarchy, there seem to have been more kings that didn’t know God’s word than did. Many of Solomon’s actions, for example, were everything Deuteronomy 17 said not to do. Compare 17:16-17 to the life of Solomon recorded in 1 Kings:

Verse 16: The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, 

26 Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen.  (1 Kings 4:26)
28 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. (1 Kings 10:28)
Verse 17: He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh… from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:1-3)
Verse 17: He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. (1 Kings 10:21)

There was a great disconnect between what Solomon wrote down and what he lived out. Maybe he didn’t understand the assignment. God didn’t say, “Write down the law for yourself.” The language is precise: “Write for yourself on a scroll a copy of THIS Law.” Let’s take that phrase by phrase, starting at the end and working our way backwards:

  • This Law: Not just any law, Not your interpretation of the law. Not picking and choosing from other religions, self-help books and civic religion. The law, the whole law, and nothing but the law.
  • A copy: When the king made a copy of the law, it wasn’t a forgery. He wasn’t pretending he owned something real that he knew was fake. God’s Word is the most real thing there is, and by copying it down exactly, the king was taking God’s great and precious promises and making them his own.
  • On a scroll: God wanted the king to carry the law with him, not engrave it on the walls of his palace. God wasn’t interested in His Word to become a museum piece on display behind a velvet rope. God’s Word is practical and portable.
  • For himself: If the king delegated this task to his scribes or slaves, he would have missed the point entirely. This was not about reproducing God’s Word. When we make God’s word our own, it will increase and multiply (see Acts 12:24).

Personalizing God’s Word is about implementation, not interpretation. One of the most useless and dangerous questions a Sunday school teacher or small group leader can ask is, “What does this verse mean to you?” The right question is, “What does this verse mean?” followed by, “What adjustments do you need to make in response to it?”

Before I judge Solomon too harshly, I have to examine my own life. Is there a disconnect between what I read, what I preach, what I’ve memorized, and how I live? Do I live my life in such a way that it is obvious I’ve internalized God’s Word and made it my own? All too often, I fear the opposite is true. What I do says more about what I believe than what I say.

Day 175: The Clash of Experience and Arrogance (2 Chronicles 10-12)

8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. (2 Chronicles 10:8)

In an old cartoon, a twenty-something marvels, “You know, old people these days are so much smarter than they were when I was a teenager!” And the point isn’t that the boy’s elders necessarily got any smarter; it’s that he only realized how wise they had been all along as he got older.

How different the history of Israel might have been if Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, had realized that! Rehoboam started off well. He asked the men who had advised his father to advise him. They told him to ease up on the demands he put on the people. This was sound advice. After a generation of building projects—seven years on the temple and thirteen years on Solomon’s palace (see 1 Kings 6:38-7:1), the people were in need of a break. Building projects were not only labor intensive, they were also cost intensive, and Solomon had likely taxed them heavily over the past twenty years.

So the advice of the elders was sensible. Rehoboam would win the hearts of the people if he gave them a break from the harsh demands of work and taxation. Moreover, if Rehoboam demonstrated that he would be a servant leader to the people of Israel, they would follow him forever.

How do you make decisions? Do you seek wise counsel from multiple perspectives, or only from those you know will tell you what you want to hear? Wise leaders seek the counsel of experienced advisors.

It’s worth noting that, according to verse 8, Rehoboam had already rejected the elders’ advice before he ever even heard an alternate perspective. So of course the young men told him what he wanted to hear!

Twice (verse 8 and verse 10), the text emphasizes that the next group Rehoboam sought for advice were the young men who had grown up with him. Verse 8 adds the additional detail that these men had “attended him.” Likely, these young men knew Rehoboam would be the next king of Israel, so they were well practiced in sucking up to power. In all probability they also reasoned that if they appealed to the king’s ego, they were more likely to gain favorable status in the new administration. Politics truly hasn’t changed all that much in four thousand years!

The young men advised Rehoboam to power up on the people, essentially telling them, “If you thought my father was harsh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” He promised to increase their workload and to make their punishments more severe. Like many tyrants and dictators throughout history, Rehoboam and his young friends seemed to think that oppression was strength and compassion was weakness.

Most of us will probably never be high ranking government officials. But if you manage people on any level, or even if you are simply a parent leading your own children, ask yourself which of these two leadership styles reflects the way you lead people in your sphere of influence?

Day 163: Hear from Heaven, Your Dwelling Place (1 Kings 8)

Through the Bible Reading Plan: 1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) at the Jewish Museum, New York
27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. (1 Kings 8:27-30)

From 1 Kings 8:31-49, Solomon presents seven situations in which God’s people would find themselves in need and then turn to God. There are several things these seven situations have in common. First, there’s the inevitability of sin. Each stanza of the prayer begins with “when,” not “if.” The clearest expression of this is verse 46: “When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—.” The Bible never shies away from portraying human beings honestly. 

Second, these seven stanzas of Solomon’s prayer show the consequences of sin. Because of sin, Israel would be defeated by her enemies (v. 33); suffer drought (v. 35); as well as famine, blight, locusts, warfare, and disease (v. 37). The Bible never says that every negative thing that happens to us is the result of sin. But it does teach that every sin carries with it negative consequences.

The final stanza prophetically anticipates the time when the people of Israel would be overrun and exiled. This would happen over four hundred years later; first when the Assyrians overthrew the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and then the Babylonians exiled the southern kingdom of Judah in 586. Sin brought consequences, which eventually brought the people to repentance.

Perhaps the most important thing the stanzas of Solomon’s prayer have in common is that each ends with some variation of the phrase “Hear in heaven, your dwelling place” (see verses 30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). Solomon has faith that God will indeed hear when we call out to Him. But Solomon is also reminding the people that although the Temple is dedicated to the Name of God, God does not live there. Go back to verse 27, where Solomon exclaims, “Even the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less the temple I have built.” These multiple reminders that heaven is God’s dwelling place would ensure the Jews would worship God at the temple, instead of worshiping the temple itself. Furthermore, it would give the Jews tremendous assurance when they were in exile that God was still present with them, even though Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the temple. We have the same assurance today. We don’t have to come to church–make a pilgrimage to Israel—for God to hear our prayers of repentance. He meets us where we are, and He hears.

Solomon’s prayer of blessing praised the character of God. God gives rest to His people, and He is faithful to keep his promises (v. 56). He would be with the people just as He had been with their ancestors (v. 57). This is a promise we can bank on even to today, for the Lord does not change!

Notice that even our ability to be devoted to God comes from God Himself (v. 58). Left to our own devices, we are not able to obey God. But God’s abiding presence with us through the Holy Spirit enables us to live God honoring lives. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things, remind them of all that Jesus had said, and convict them of sin (John 14:26; 16:8).

Even though the Solomon’s temple is long gone, believers today can be assured that God still hears, and we can still come to Him. We know this because He is in His heaven, and we ourselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19)! 

Day 151: Ask What I Shall Give You (1 Kings 3-4)

5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” . . .
. . . 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:5,9)

The Bible demands and rewards careful reading. It’s tempting to approach Scripture with what you think you already know about it. It’s the “I’ve heard this story a million times” syndrome. Today was one of those days when I was surprised by something that isn’t in the text that I had always thought was there. See if you noticed it too.

At Gibeon, God spoke to Solomon in a dream. As a side note, did you know that Solomon is the only king of Israel God ever spoke to in a dream? There is a definite connection between worship and hearing from God. When believers participate in worship, they put themselves in a position to more readily hear from God.

God appears to Solomon and says to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”

And in the Hebrew, that is all God says. Notice that the text doesn’t say God promised to give Solomon whatever he asked for. Unfortunately, there are several English translations that have added that phrase. I know I gave a shout out to The Living Bible a few days ago in a blog post just a few days ago, (See A Mom Who Taught Me to Love God’s Word), but here, the Living Bible paraphrase is just bad:

The Lord appeared to him in a dream that night and told him to ask for anything he wanted, and it would be given to him!

No He didn’t! And bless your heart, Living Bible, but the exclamation point at the end somehow makes it worse. It’s like the paraphrase is saying, Can you believe it? You’ve found the greatest vending machine in the Universe! You just put your coin in, pull the knob, and it will be given you!

No. A thousand times no.

There’s actually two assumptions to deal with here. Not only did God not promise to give Solomon what he requested, but He also did not invite Solomon to ask for whatever Solomon wanted. Look at what the verse says, and not what we wished it said:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

God was inviting Solomon to express what he needed most as a king. There is a huge difference between “What do you want?” and “What do you need?”

Rather than begin with a wish list, Solomon replied by praising God for His great and faithful love—first to his father David and then to Solomon himself. Solomon then acknowledged his own shortcomings and inadequacy (v. 7); followed by the overwhelming nature of the task. Only then did he make his request:

9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

Solomon concluded his request by once again acknowledging his own inability to accomplish such a great task on his own.

We should never see this passage—or anything else in Scripture—as a formula for getting what you ask for in prayer. However, verses 6-9 do serve as a great pattern for us to follow as we make our own requests to God.

  • Begin with praise for God’s character and His love toward you.
  • Humbly admit your need and agree with God that you are powerless to meet that need on your own.
  • And make sure what you are asking for is aligned with what God has already expressed to be His sovereign will.

Look at verse 10:

 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.

Can you imagine what a joy it would be to know that God was pleased by what you requested in prayer? We can experience that joy on a regular basis when our requests are in accordance with God’s will. In this case, God desired for His people to be led by a wise and discerning king, so He delighted in doing what Solomon had asked.

God doesn’t merely delight in giving good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11); God delights in His children! God so delighted in Solomon that He even gave him what he didn’t ask for: riches and honor (v 13); and a long life (v 14). This is a great example of the truth of Ephesians 3:20-21; that God is able to give us even more than we ask or think!

Day 133: Because of the Lord (2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Chronicles 20)

“And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:24-25 ESV

The name Jedidiah means “beloved by the Lord,” and this is the only time Solomon is called this. This was where I saw God’s character on display in this whole mess of a story.

David sinned horribly. He got Bathsheba pregnant, then killed her husband to cover his sin. Bathsheba was taken from her home, widowed from her husband, and made a part of David’s harem. The child born of rape and murder dies without even being named.

So David; called out by God and judged for his sin, goes to Bathsheba; stuck in a marriage she didn’t ask for, and they do their best to pick up the pieces and move forward. They have a son they name Solomon. Solomon, which means “peaceable” (I had never picked up on this before, but in the Hebrew his name is SHALOM-oh).

What a picture of two messed up human beings, trying to find a way to repair, restore, or at least douse the flames of the dumpster fire David has made of his life. Desperate for some measure of peace, they name their son “peaceable.”

And then—God.

Verse 24: “And the Lord loved him.”

Regardless of how this child came into the world, the Lord loved him. No matter the sin of the father and the brokenness of the mother, the Lord loved him. Despite how far every human attempt at finding peace falls short, the Lord loved him.

God sends a message by Nathan the prophet—yes, Nathan! The same prophet who delivered the “You are the man” message to David, and warned him that because of his sin the life he’d built was about to go up in flames. God sends a message through Nathan the prophet that says, “I love this kid. You can call him Solomon if you want, but I’m gonna call him Jedidiah.”

Beloved by the Lord.

And verse 25 ends with a gloriously vague, ambiguous phrase, “because of the Lord.”

Peace isn’t going to come for a couple because they have another child. Or they reinstate date night. Or they go on a dream vacation. Or they agree to never bring up whatever shipwrecked them. We can name the child peace, but without the Lord, that’s just wishful thinking.

But when God says, “this child is beloved by the Lord,” that’s when true peace can be found. Not peace that we manufacture from the shards we sweep up, but peace we receive from the hand of a kind God. From a good, good Father.

Oh, and one more bit of glorious ambiguity: Verse 24 says, “And the Lord loved him.” “Him” who? “Him” David, who had fallen so far yet never fell out from under God’s love? Or “him” the child, who would not be held responsible for the sin of the father? Him whose parents named him Solomon in a desperate bid for peace, but from whose line would one day come the eternal Prince of Peace? Which him did the Lord love?


Because of the Lord.

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