August 26, 2012
First Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Chapters 4-7 describe Solomon’s building of the first Temple. The principal altar of worship to this point had been the mountain shrine at Gibeon. At Jerusalem there had been only a Tent of the Lord. The finished Temple was reputed to be a building of great beauty. It took sever years to build, using a conscription into forced labor of thirty thousand Jewish men, most from the northern area, called Israel. The temple was regarded as the most beautiful building of the Near East. The passages making up our reading tell of the opening ceremonies and Solomon’s public prayer before the altar.
Solomon ruled for forty years, most of them peaceful and prosperous. Toward the end, however, he grew careless of his duties to God, and enemies rose against him. He managed to keep his throne and died peacefully.
For nearly a century, Saul, David, and Solomon had ruled over a united people. After Solomon’s death, they broke into two nations. Ironically, the Temple, one purpose of which was to unite the people, was a large cause of their division. The northern Jews nursed a bitter memory of those thousands of northern men forced into labor on the temple (5:13, 12:1-19). The result was a northern kingdom called Israel, and a southern kingdom called Judah, which included Jerusalem. David’s line ruled only in Judah.
The Christian colonies known to the writer of this letter, be he Paul or a disciple of Paul’s, are beset with numerous threats form rulers and other authorities. But for this writer there is even more danger from the powers of “darkness,” “spiritual forces of evil,” even in places where they would be least expected, “the heavenly places.” Overcoming these evil spirits takes constant vigilance and struggle In practical terms, I suppose he means overcoming temptations to do evil, temptations to go over to the side of worldly power or to worship evil gods in the hope of protection.
The metaphor of faith spoken of as armor in a war against evil is not new. It is found in Third Isaiah, where the man of faith is said to wear “the helmet of salvation” (59:17). “His mouth shall be a rod to strike down the ruthless, and with a word he shall slay the wicked. Round his waist he shall wear the belt of justice, and good faith shall be the girdle round his body” (11:4-5). I haven’t myself heard much use of this metaphor recently, but it was certainly alive when I was a child. The most popular hymn in the Congregational church in which I was reared began, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war….”