foolishwisdomwordslowres

“Wisdom Close-up” Gary Millar || 16 October, 2016 || Foolish Wisdom: Part 3

“Wisdom Close-up” by Gary Millar || 16 October, 2016 || Foolish Wisdom: Part 3 ||  MP3 || .EPUB || .MOBI || YOUTUBE

Other sermons in this series

Sermon Manuscript

Since we were married in 1992, Fiona and I have now moved house 9 times. Now at one level, I don’t mind moving – the idea of a change of surroundings is often quite exciting for me. But, compared to my wife, my level of interest is virtually non-existent. Out of nowhere, colour charts and swathes of fabric, and possible bathroom layouts appear, and the atmosphere is charged with discussion about rugs that pick out the colour on that picture, and the advantages of stone over ceramics and a thousand other things that, I have to say, do nothing to fire my creative juices. Which for me at least, produces a certain sense of foreboding as I come to 1 Kings 5-7. Because on the surface at least, these chapters are about building and interior decorating. Structurally, they read like plans for a major home reno followed up by a scrapbook of Fiona’s plans to give our new home that something special. They elicit in me just about as much enthusiasm as an episode of ‘The Block’. For me at least, this is one of those parts of the Bible which a friend of mine has described as ‘inspiration that demands perspiration!’ And yet… and yet…

Despite having given the chapter such a massive build up, buried in the detail of these inspired by apparently uninspiring chapters are 4 ideas which, when you put them together give one of the most concise and basically complete guides to living for God – I would even go so far as to say living for Jesus Christ – that you are going to find anywhere in the Bible. Need convinced? Come with me!

POWER IN THE PROMISE

Before we are drowned in a deluge of pomegranates, cherubs and other carefully carved details, I want you to see what’s driving this narrative. There is something very specific highlighted in the text which explains why Solomon – and his vast army of willing and unwilling helpers – do what they do. What is it? Everything that happens in these chapters is driven by God’s promise. There is power – power that motivates people for action – power that moves people to do stuff – in the promise of God.

That’s obvious in Solomon’s exchanges with his royal mate to the north, King Hiram of Tyre – 1 Kgs 5:3:

You know that because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the LORD his God until the LORD put his enemies under his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David, when he said, ‘Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.’

Everything that happens in international diplomacy is grounded in theology. So even Hiram blesses Yahweh in verse 7, and the narrator gives us a none too subtle reminder of the overarching important of the promise of God in these chapters in 5:12 –And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him.

This emphasis on the divine promise continues all the way through this section. In 6:1, chronology is pressed into the service of theology – 1 Kgs 6:

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the LORD.

God’s promises may not always be fulfilled at breakneck speed – but make no mistake – they will be fulfilled! And the emphasis on the timeframe here undoubtedly implies that this really is the biggest thing that has happened since the Exodus itself! The land is now officially occupied. They have moved in. God has come through on his promises. So what now?

6:11-13, which we’ll come back to later, makes it even clearer that what’s happening in the Jerusalem construction industry has got everything to do with God’s covenantal dealings with his people: 1 Kgs 6:11:

The word of the LORD came to Solomon: 12 “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. 13 And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”

This is classic covenantal language.

Even the enormous bronze water dish – called simply ‘the sea’ underlines this. That big bowl served both as a reminder that Yahweh is the Lord of the chaotic sea, whether the Red Sea as a symbol of earthly powers, or simply of pre-creation hostility and disorder, the covenant God Yahweh has it covered.

Similarly, the detailed information concerning the installation of two free-standing pillars, complete with some particularly impressive lily-work on top, reminds Israel that God is a promise-making God: 7:21:

He erected the pillars at the portico of the temple. The pillar to the south he named Jakin and the one to the north Boaz. 22 The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed.

The names of the pillars mean ‘strength’ and ‘he establishes’. If you were to ‘read’ these pillars from right to left, as Hebrew speakers are prone to doing anyway, these pillars together announce ‘In strength he establishes… ‘ The pillars speak of the power and the promise of God. They speak of our helplessness, but also of God’s determination to bless through the Davidic dynasty. They were a great reminder to insiders – to those who knew – of the faithfulness of Yahweh. Because it is the simple fact that ‘In strength God establishes’ – it is the fact that God keeps his promises that is the ultimate motivation for sticking at serving Jesus.

The basic principle here – and in a thousand other places in the Bible – is that hope is the engine that drives discipleship. Or if you prefer, eschatology drives ministry. If you want to follow Jesus Christ for the long haul, if you want to throw yourself into serving him by serving his church for a lifetime, then it’s vital that you have grasped this simple point – the motivation to keep going in life and ministry comes from eschatology. The power to live for Jesus comes from his promises!

How does this work? I reckon I have 5 basic reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and doing what I do – and they are all based on promises made by God through Jesus:

  1. Christ will build his church
  2. God will finish his work in us
  3. God will judge the world through Christ
  4. God will recreate the Universe, reconciling all things to himself through Christ
  5. We will see God as he is and enjoy him forever

If you don’t get any of that, if this stuff doesn’t move you and shape you, then you will lack oomph, motivation, urgency and stickability in your Christian life. Gratitude is important, and works as a motivator for a while. But it wears off. People like us need to be moved by hope. We need to realize that there is power in the promise. That’s the first thing I want you to notice. And the second? It’s the delight in the detail.

DELIGHT IN THE DETAIL

One of the things that I love about Australia, is that it is normal to be interested in cricket. To know Don Bradman’s test average, for example, is no longer the mark of a sports nerd, but a well-adjusted member of the human race who is also a patriotic adopted Australian! To notice that the ball has started to reverse swing, or that Steve Smith has a terrible habit of playing around his front foot – to take delight in the details of the game is not only acceptable, it’s actually admirable! I think I would have got on well with the writer of these chapters, because this is a man with an eye for detail.

When describing the labour force which built the Temple, what do we get? Detail – 1 Kgs 5:13:

King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel-thirty thousand men. 14 He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. 15 Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, 16 as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers. 17 At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. 18 The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.

When talking about the doors of the Temple, what do we get? Detail – 1 Kgs 6:33:

In the same way, for the entrance to the main hall he made doorframes out of olive wood that were one fourth of the width of the hall. 34 He also made two doors out of juniper wood, each having two leaves that turned in sockets. 35 He carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers on them and overlaid them with gold hammered evenly over the carvings. 36 And he built the inner courtyard of three courses of dressed stone and one course of trimmed cedar beams [probably an earthquake protector].

When he’s talking about the massive bronze water holder, what do we get? Detail 1 Kgs 7:23:

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it-ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. 25 The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. 26 It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths.

Detail. Detail. Detail. But why?

There are two reasons for all this space being given to apparently insignificant detail:

The first reason is theological. The attention paid to carvings and replicas of generic flowers and gourds and lilies and palm trees and pomegranates and all kinds of leaves, and the importance of using cedar and cypress is not accidental. There is a strong Eden symbolism going on here. This Temple is where God has made it possible for his people to meet with him again, albeit in a much restricted sense after the Fall. The detail paints this picture. But there is another reason.

The second reason is doxological. All this detail is given, all this painstaking care is required because of the sheer, overwhelming beauty of God. God is worth it. I think that is rammed home by the fact that no-one would ever see a significant part of this building. No-one would ever walk on the gold floor. The gold leaf on the walls wasn’t there to stop little fingers from getting splinters, because there wouldn’t be any little fingers – or big fingers for that matter – anywhere near it! All this craftsmanship was going into a room which no-one would ever enter! So what’s the point? The point is that such care is demanded simply by the splendour and perfection of God. That’s the symbolism. This audio tour is given for the benefit of those who would never get into the Temple – at least not past the porch – to give them a picture of the magnificence and attractiveness and majesty of the living God.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds very strange to us today. We inhabit a world of comfortable seats, large mixing desks and high quality speakers. Our aesthetic concerns stretch to the quality of the graphics on the screen and the fonts on the bulletin, but not much further. I think that we are rightly concerned about how what we do looks to the outsider – and it is a challenge to match the quality of what we routinely see outside church when we gather as God’s people. Don’t get me wrong – I think that’s vital. But that’s not what’s going on here. The Temple was not particularly seeker-sensitive! In fact, almost no Israelites were going to get in here, let alone outsiders! Something else is going on here. All this stuff is done purely for God. This is beauty – art – work – for God’s sake.

The craftsmen who made all this were not doing it for public acclaim. They were doing their art not for an exhibition, but simply to honour and please God. There was dignity and satisfaction and fulfillment in doing work that no-one would see, simply because they were doing it for God! I wonder if we have actually lost sight of the idea of doing things purely and simply for God. I suspect we have misplaced any sense of devotion. Of finding joy in living for God and with God in all the details of life.

The air we breathe today is highly pragmatic. What is valued is what is effective. Doing is prioritized over being, and certainly over enjoying. I don’t think it’s pushing it to say that appearance and impact trumps reality and authenticity every time. And what Scripture does here is take us inside the emerging Temple, and makes us sit and watch as some unknown guys carve some pretty patterns that no-one else will ever see. Why? So that we get the fact that there really is delight in the detail! Charles Simeon, whose preaching revolutionized the city of Cambridge, and laid the foundation for the commitment to expository preaching in places like MPC today, once said – ‘There are but two lessons for the Christian to learn – the one is to enjoy God in every thing, the other to enjoy every thing in God.’ There are some things we do, we do simply to bring pleasure to God, and in that we find pleasure. Not everything has to have a function!Why? Because all these things, all truth, all knowledge, all order, is ultimately a reflection of the beauty of God! It’s OK for us to enjoy every thing good and true as coming from God and reflecting something of God – in fact more than that – we actually need to do it! We need to be able to delight in the detail. So there is power in the promise, and delight in the detail. And as this is clearly alliteration day, there is also contrast in the construction!

CONTRAST IN THE CONSTRUCTION

Right in the middle of the painstaking description of the blocks and bits and pieces in the Temple comes chapter 7. As you may know, interruptions in Old Testament narrative are almost always important – they grab our attention, and make significant points. And this interruption is no different. And the point?

In 6:2, we read that Solomon’s Temple measured 60 cubits by 20 by 30, where a cubit is just less than half a metre – so 30m x 10m x 15m. By Ancient standards, that’s a pretty respectable Temple. So well done Solomon. But read on – start with me at 6:37:

The foundation of the temple of the LORD was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv. 38 In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He had spent seven years building it. 7:1 It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace. 2 He built the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, with four rows of cedar columns supporting trimmed cedar beams. 3 It was roofed with cedar above the beams that rested on the columns-forty-five beams, fifteen to a row. 4 Its windows were placed high in sets of three, facing each other. 5 All the doorways had rectangular frames; they were in the front part in sets of three, facing each other. 6 He made a colonnade fifty cubits long and thirty wide. In front of it was a portico, and in front of that were pillars and an overhanging roof. 7 He built the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge, and he covered it with cedar from floor to ceiling. 8 And the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design. Solomon also made a palace like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter, whom he had married.

Now I don’t want to be too hard on Solomon here, but do the math. His house was almost twice as big as the Temple. It took him much longer to build. And whilst there’s no missing the fact that the narrator is much less interested in Solomon’s house that Yahweh’s house (same word), it’s also clear where Solomon’s priorities lie. Yes, he built a house for Yahweh, but he also built a bigger house for himself! That sent a pretty clear message in the Ancient World. And just in case you think I’m reading too much into the theological significance of the floor plan, the narrator helpfully adds in this little comment to show that we’re on the right track – and he also built a ‘house’ (it’s that same word again) for Pharaoh’s daughter. This jarring interruption is here to make sure we get the fact that even though old Solomon did a great job with the Temple, his building plans were spoiled by selfishness.

Now I would never want to say that King Solomon shouldn’t have built a palace. Nor would I argue that by definition, a palace has to be at the very least spacious. But I do want to say that the house that he builds says a lot about him. It tends to be that way, doesn’t it? Where we choose to live, the car we choose to drive, the way we spend our money is, whether we like it or not, a pretty good barometer of where our heart is.

For many years, there was a TV show in the UK called ‘Through the Keyhole’ in which two teams would try to identify the minor celebrity who had allowed the host to go poking around in their house. What if we were to have our own version of ‘Through the Keyhole’ right now, and I told you that I had sent Jayesh with a video camera to go poking around in your affairs, and we were about to see your room, your house, your bank account details on the screen – how would you feel? Does the way you live say ‘sacrifice and simple living’ or ‘self-indulgence’? Does it say ‘It’s all about Jesus’ or ‘It’s all about me’? Sadly in Solomon’s case, a walk down Jerusalem’s main street was enough to answer that question. Which takes us to the final movement in this passage. Power in the promise, delight in the detail, contrast in the construction, and, wait for it – dependence on the Davidide (sorry – that really was the best I could do!).

DEPENDENCE ON THE DAVIDIDE

The key passage in this whole section is very telling. In fact, it’s quite remarkable. It’s 6:11-13:

The word of the LORD came to Solomon: 12 “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. 13 And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”

What’s so remarkable about that? The fact that it actually downplays the significance of the Temple!

It’s as if Yahweh says ‘Now about the Temple… Don’t worry about the Temple – it’s not the main issue – YOU ARE!’ No pressure Solomon, but it really is all about you! God makes it clear that the future of his people (including the future of the Temple) hinges on one man, and more than that, on the obedience of one man. If this one man manages to walk in Yahweh’s statutes, obey Yahweh’s rules, keep all Yahweh’s commandments and walk in them, in other words, if this one man manages to keep the covenant, then all will be well. What specifically will happen? God says he will ‘establish his word‘ among them.

This is pure Deuteronomy. How does God show his presence in Deuteronomy? How do we know that God has shown up? We know when he speaks – when he establishes (that Jachin pillar word again) his word among his people. That’s the reality of Yahweh dwelling among his people Israel. If Israel is to flourish, this is what it’s going to take – it all depends on David’s son – the Davidide. It all depends on Solomon. The problem of course, as we’ve already seen is that Solomon really isn’t that dependable. Oh yes, he has his moments. He built a great Temple. He made some great choices. He wrote some great books, and as we’ll see next week, he prayed some great prayers. But he also made some terrible choices. He also built a very great Temple – to himself, and another one for his pagan wife. If it all depends on the son of David, then the future doesn’t look all that bright after all!

CONCLUSION

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book of 1 Kings for you, but you do need to know that this Son of David won’t pull this off. He won’t keep the covenant, walking in the laws, the statutes and all the commandments of Yahweh. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the Old Testament for you, but you do need to know that Yahweh’s word won’t be established in his people for all that long, and one day, the voice of God will go quiet.

Until, one day, God speaks to Joseph, Son of David, about his descendant. And suddenly, everything changes. In his gospel, Matthew describes how, in chapter 12, a controversy flares up when Jesus and his disciples eat grain as they walk through a field on the Sabbath. An argument starts about whether or not Jesus is greater than David. When they encounter a demon-possessed man a few verses later, and Jesus delivers him, the crowd asks ‘Could this be the Son of David?‘ Just a few lines after that, Jesus himself announces that one greater than Solomon is here.

Here is the one who is the fulfillment of Gods ultimate promise, the one in whom all the promises of God converge and then explode in unanticipated glory. Here is the one who truly delights in the Father, and who makes it possible for us to share in that delight. Here is the one who doesn’t just build a Temple, but who is the Temple of God. Here is the one who not only keeps the covenant, but sets up a new covenant through his death.

So is your life short on power? Lacking delight? Are you wasting time building with the wrong materials in the wrong place for the wrong reason? Do you desperately need someone to bail you out? To do for you what you can’t do for yourself? Then look no further. A greater than Solomon is here. And his name is Jesus Christ. The one in whom all the promises of God find their fufilment, the one who brings glory to God in every detail of his life and in his death for us, the one who doesn’t build a Temple, but who is the ultimate Temple. What are these chapters here for? Why all this decorative detail? Simple. To encourage us to gaze on the beauty of the king.