Whispers: 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2

Elijah the Great Prophet. Drought Settles. God v. god. A Glorious Revealing. An Appropriate Assistant. Blood for Dogs. Taken to Heaven.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:11a-12 (NIV)

The lure of the Summer Service Project, or “Missions Trip,” grabbed a hold of me in eighth grade. In February, Pastor Hank started challenging us to pray about the summer trip – a week in an un-gentrified part of town, sleeping in sleeping bags and weeding lawns full of dandelions and Coors bottles. Could make some friends, could get lice, could build a tan from all that sun-work. So I followed his command and prayed about it, but my mind had been made up long ago about it. My brother did it the year before, and he brought back stories of all night games of sardines and cheesy gross dares and wrestling matches on the foam pads in the pre-school room. No thought to be had or prayers to be prayed – I was going.

What compelled me to go? Was it the serving, the playing, the constant games of dodgeball? It wasn’t God.

And then the internship at my church, the idea being that I would be a “peer mentor” to the middle schoolers going into high school, and since I was a Freshman in college and all, they would look up to me. Duties included fellowship with the kids and leading small group Bible studies, and then there was the expense account to take the guys out on day trips to Six Flags and the movies. A perk involved taking a diverse group of students to Creation, a Christian version of Woodstock, but that seemed much more like a downside to me. It would be a fun summer job, something to keep me busy, long hours, and what else would I be doing? I took the job and didn’t regret it; it was a great, memorable summer.

But why did I say yes? Was it the fellowship, the leadership, the free trips to theme parks? God was involved certainly – I took this one more seriously. But it wasn’t all God.

Then there was Oliver, who came to my theater party and danced like a dancer and drank too much and hugged me for three seconds too long. It took pestering a half dozen friends before someone felt comfortable giving his number to me. The excuses I made – he told me he wanted to read a play of mine and he left his sunglasses at my house… yes I know the party was at night. But I got it. No one encouraged me to text him; this was all my doing. And I did. I invited him to hang out that evening, on a lazy Sunday night. And he said yes. And I told my roommates to scram, because I had a lady coming over. And they grinned and grimaced and took their books and left.

No one told me to do it, nothing overtly compelling came forward. No… it was a whisper that said, go ahead… you want this, can’t you feel it? The hushed voice continued and sometimes fluctuated and said, stop, do you know what you’re doing, the horror, the horror, and just as quickly it’d whip around back to, but it feels good… so it is good.

It was a whisper.


Elijah is a spiritual superstar complete with unshakable Godly loyalty and a command over miraculous events. He parts the Jordan River by dipping his robe in the waters; fire pummels the Earth with a flick of his index finger. The authors of 1 and 2 Kings record no sinful behavior on his part, which is remarkable considering his company – not only the fallen leaders who have parted ways with their Creator but also a horde of angry denizens crying out for his head. God shuttles him off to the heavens before death befalls him – the only human to be awarded such a fate with the exception of Jesus Christ himself. But before accomplishing all of these exceptional feats… before crossing the Jordan and raining plagues and blessings from God, before thrusting into the hammocks of Paradise… God called upon Elijah to climb a mountain to meet Him.

As he climbed, the wind roared against him, but we are told that God was not in the wind.
Then the Earth shook from its core, but God did not cause the earthquake.
Then a fire burst forth and swallowed the area around it, but the fire was not from God.
And when all of the muck settled, a whisper sauntered in and hit Elijah’s ear – a faint voice that commanded him.

It was God.

The Sins of Your Father: 1 Kings 9 – 16

So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

1 Kings 11:11-12 (NIV)

So Solomon did all the things on his checklist. He got the temple taken care of as well as his own palace, sparing no expense on gold amulets and statues adorning each. Then he finally brought in the Ark of the Covenant to its final resting place in Jerusalem. Lastly when construction was complete, he led all of his people in a prayer of dedication, to both celebrate the task as well as cement his image as a powerful and wise ruler.

The Lord appears to him shortly thereafter and reminds Solomon to keep His decrees so that his kingdom will flourish and succeed.

And Solomon keeps those commandments! And there is peace in all the lands from Israel to Judah – jubilation and bumper crop abound!

No, just kidding. Solomon is a human after all, and this is the Bible. No, he screws it all up and in spectacular – almost hilarious – fashion. Solomon marries 700 wives (in addition to his 300 concubines), and as if that is not horrible enough, they are not even Israelites. God has expressly forbidden such intermarriage – with exceptions included – because foreign spouses tend to bring with them alien gods. And so it comes to pass that Solomon’s wives entice him into worshipping Molek and his other lowercase-g god friends, and our uppercase-G God does not like it one bit. So He lays it all out to Solomon. The kingdom will be ripped from his line and torn apart – but not during his lifetime. Instead, God will lay the punishment down on Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam.

And it all falls apart from there. An adversary named Jeroboam usurps Rehoboam and takes ten of the tribes of Israel away from him – creating separating kings for Judah and Israel. And that conflict continues on for generations, leaving God’s kingdom in pieces. And all of the blame for this strife? Solomon and his sins – his concubines, his wives, their foreign lands, their strange gods.


 

I do not know the sins of my father (or my mother), and that is completely by design. It seems to me that while neither of them have any particularly dark skeletons in their closet, they just prefer me to live my life without regard to their past decisions. Simply, they do not want me to pay for their sins. I admire this approach to parenting, even while I admit that it can be distancing. Both the curious child within me as well as the relatable adult wish to know any secrets that there may be, but ultimately, it does me no tangible good to be in the loop about those things.

But why does God insist so heavily on punishing younger generations for sinful behavior of the parents? This is an interesting paradigm that differs vastly from our modern culture – that longevity of a family line is valued on top of any sort of individual (and thus limited) achievement. The greatest gift that God can bestow in a heaven-less world is a prosperous genealogy, and it is one that He often dangles in front of His top followers. And we see the results when these individuals ignore the decrees. God killed David and Bathsheba’s lovechild for their murderous bout of infidelity. Then, he allowed David to hand over seven of Saul’s male descendants to be killed for his sins. And now, Rehoboam is receiving mayhem for Solomon’s obsession with women and false idols. How is that fair?

I think it comes from a parent’s natural desire for familial continuity. As a child, I never understood the meaning behind the Christ sacrifice. I often asked my pastors, “If God wanted to sacrifice someone, why didn’t he sacrifice Himself? Isn’t sending His son a little… selfish?” They usually replied with some answer about parents valuing their children more than themselves, but as a child myself, it never made sense to me. But the Old Testament narrative seems to prove this notion, at least in reference to the 900 BC culture. Parents would much rather pay for their own sins, but that is not a punishment that fits the crime. Instead, they must watch their children suffer – through no fault of their own.

And that frankly sucks for everyone involved.

What Does Wisdom Look Like?: 1 Kings 1 – 7

A Weakened David. Sensual Companionship. Usurper Put Down. A Slippery Kingdom. Cut the Baby in Two. Wisdom without Bounds. Temple Built. Palace Built. A Dedication.

[Solomon said to God] “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

1 Kings 3:9

A feeble David makes a final request before he passes away – an attractive virginal woman to tend to him and keep him warm. He wants a companion, non-sexual in nature, to stay with him in his final moments. They find him a beautiful woman named Abishag. They have an innocent relationship. And then, King David dies.

After a momentary fight between the prospective heirs, Solomon is installed as the new king of Israel and Judah, and as a gift to his new mouthpiece, God offers to grant him any desire he has in the world. In humility, Solomon avoids the narcissistic requests for riches or longevity and instead asks for wisdom, as this is the key requirement for a man to rule over his people. God delights in this response and bestows a much wider blessing, promising not only his wisdom, but also those things he did not request. Now, he is wise, rich, and destined to a full life. Quite the haul.

But since man does not learn by didacticism alone, the writer of 1 Kings provides us with a potent example of Solomon’s newfound wisdom. Two prostitutes come to him with a unique quandary. They both claim motherhood over a baby, and there is no discernible way to figure out who is telling the truth. So Solomon commands his guard to take a sharp sword and split the baby down the middle, giving one half to each. The first woman speaks up immediately, offering to give the child to the other woman so as not to see him die. The second disagrees: go ahead and split it. Solomon calls his guards off and gives the baby to the first woman, knowing now by their responses that she is the true mother. The Israelites stand in awe of this decision, thoroughly convinced of Solomon’s wisdom.

It is an admittedly clever method to determine who is lying in that case, and it gives us a window into how the Bible views wisdom. The Law of Moses lays out so many rigid rules that a keen reader might wonder why such wisdom is even necessary. I mean… if everything is so clear (and if Moses says it is well within our abilities to hold true these laws), then judgment calls would rarely need to be made. But we all know this is not the case in reality, since gray areas tend to pop up more often than not. For instance, in Solomon’s original request, he references his desire to “distinguish between right and wrong,” and to me, this implies two distinct scenarios where such insight would be necessary. Solomon would need wisdom to see black-and-white within gray situations and to fish out the truth from deceptive individuals. This latter scenario perfectly characterizes the decision regarding the two prostitutes – one woman was actively trying to cloud Solomon’s judgment with deceit. And so, he thought of a clever solution, which involved a little lying himself.

I wonder about the gray area though, and how it is possible to discern right and wrong in those scenarios


 

For your listening pleasure… here is a link to John Mulaney doing doing a bit about the “wisdom” behind King Solomon’s cut-the-baby-in-half experiment. If you can overlook his inaccuracies in recalling the story, then you might find it pretty damn funny. A little bit of warning: it has some bad language in it… but whatever… you probably don’t care: