Sunday morning brought the not entirely straightforward prospect of starting our series on the life of Solomon from 1 Kings, and doing it on Remembrance Sunday. The passage (1 Kings 1-2) is certainly a tricky one – an account of ancient realpolitik with all kinds of court machinations and skullduggery.

But part of the challenge from the passage was simply the problem of OT narrative. There are many things we need to be aware of when tackling it, as well as a number of good books to help get into it. A good start is the classic Fee & Stuart How to read the bible for all its worth. But two things in particular struck me as requiring clarity. With OT history, we must:

  • Remember to draw our own conclusions – the writers tend to offer minimal editorial comment, let alone divine comment. This is partly a matter of style; partly because of what is assumed. They assume that the Torah is known and the basis for interpretation of events. Therefore we are invited to apply what we know from that to what we read in the narrative. Of course, that is a problem in a biblically illiterate age such as our own, and so it is one of the reasons people are so quick to dismiss or condemn such narratives. The job of the teacher today then is in part to fill in those gaps, to explain the moral benchmarks we should be working with.
  • Remember it’s grey and not always black and white – this follows on. We are not to assume that the protagonists can always claim the moral high ground. In fact, often they do terrible things which must, rightly, be condemned (e.g. raping a sister, fratricide, coups d’état etc etc). When it comes to human politics, there are always problematic decisions are at best somewhere on the sliding scale of shades of grey. And the Israelite monarchy is no exception, even at its best. In fact, the only king and ruler who can truly be said to make clear cut, black and white decisions, is Great David’s Greater Son, King Jesus.

These then provided a methodology for expounding these two big chapters. The two big ideas are relatively easy to dig out because of the repeated phrases, so these formed the two main sections of the talk.

  • 1 Kings 1: one phrase is repeated 9 times (1:13, 1:17, 1:20, 1:24, 1:27, 1:30, 1:35, 1:46, 1:48), of which the first example is – “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.
  • 1 Kings 2: one phrase is repeated 4 times (2:12, 2:24, 2:45, 2:46), of which the last closes the chapter – “The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands.”

The other problem with these chapters is the blizzard of names, unfamiliar to most. So I took that ultimate expression of Court Politics and rivalries, the game of chess, to illustrate it. So here is the outline:

Then once Solomon is anointed king, there’s the small difficulty of his rivals and potential schemers.

Click here to download the talk.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nick

    Thanks, Mark, this is very helpful. However I wondered what we are meant to do with OT narrative that precedes the Torah, or is within it, where the narrator says very little? A story like that of Jacob contains some terrible events – a wife hiring her husband for sex (as Leah did), sons deceiving fathers and brothers (as Jacob did), and so on. But as I said the writer offers little comment, but could not have expected his audience to be familiar with the Law that was to follow – or could he? And if he could, is it right to expect Jacob and others to live according to the standards of a Law had not yet been given?

    1. quaesitor

      that’s a totally fair question, nick
      I wonder if we’re to do two (apparently contradictory) things here:
      – understand the Torah as a canonical whole – and so apply the framework it provides to the whole in terms of how we are to understand and judge the situation.
      – understand that there is a sense of progressive revelation – especially in terms of how far removed the world of Genesis is from Moses’ after Sinai. So you can’t expect Jacob to keep a law he didn’t know. But I’m sure we’re meant to be shocked by what he does to his brother for example…

      The same rules apply then about not taking the apparent silence of the narrative as endorsement of the protagonists’ actions. Far from it! In fact, I’d say that all OT (let alone NT) narratives demonstrate time after time how God consistently rescues and transforms the morally dubious and downright dodgy!

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