By David Tulis
The Bible reading schedule from church last week included passages in 1 Kings and the rise and fall of King Solomon. That monarch’s prayer at the dedication of the temple is particularly affecting. I devoted three instances of family worship to reading and discussing it.
My argument on the home front has long been familiar to my wife and children, and the matter of alienation comes up often in the Bible readings. It is this: that God’s people and other Americans are under captivity, one that encompasses the political and economic, and to a great extent a legal one. (We are not, however, chattel quite yet). Solomon petitions that God “grant them compassion before those who took them captive, that they may have compassion on them.”
To perceive that ordinary Americans are part of a captivity is not pessimism or gloom. This perception is not a sense of despair, nor does it immobilize or paralyze us. Rather, the claim that we have been alienated from our ancient rights and privileges is liberating. If I see peonage and accept it provisionally, I am enabled to work for its eventual loosening well beyond my own lifetime.
Solomon’s warning about coming slavery is made at the highest point of his kingdom’s wealth and glory — the dedication of God’s temple of which Solomon had spared no labor and expense in construction.
Our distress rises from our sins
Solomon’s prayer bows as it considers the propensity of God’s people to sin. Rebellion was a virtual custom among God’s people in the old covenant. The king’s prayer soars upward with the understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty over all the earth.
Solomon’s prayer is prophetic and projects the consequences of disobedience. Its main points:
➤ Our response to God is obedience. Solomon, hands spread toward heaven, asks God to “keep what You promised your servant David.” He acknowledges the nature of God’s covenant with man — that curses and blessings flow ordinarily and predictably from obedience and disobedience to God’s commands, and that God’s favor is conditioned upon His people’s loving Him and living for Him. God’s ways, in the light of revelation, are not mysterious as to His expectations.
➤ God searches out secret sin in disputes. “When anyone sins against his neighbors, and is forced to take an oath, and comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this temple, then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous *** ” (v. 31, 32). Solomon asks divine wisdom in criminal and civil cases.
➤ Sin causes battlefield humiliation. When sin among God’s people causes wartime defeats, Solomon begs God to forgive; “when they turn back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your people *** “ (v. 33).
➤ Internal blight brings external chastisements. When famine, drought or war besiege the people of God, Solomon says, the people should look into their hearts for the cause, and “when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands towards the temple; then hear in heaven Your dwelling place and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways *** “ (v. 39).
Being subject to empire, alienated from liberties
Solomon’s prayer keeps going, reminding us how God frames ethical reality. The question of alienation and captivity is important for us Christians because we have, in the West at least, been made ineffective by having been bought off. We’ve lost our saltiness because we’ve rejected the divine antithesis that is Christianity. We reject the concept of sovereign grace, and equally the validity of God’s commandments. Our mass consumption masks our debts; our sexual liberation masks our slavery and lack of offspring. We have been removed to Babylon, as it were.
Our subjection to an occupation is not in the form of physical removal and depopulation as practiced by ancient monarchs. Rather, it is one that removes from us the law of the land (common law, equity, enumerated powers constitutionism, minimalist biblical law) to the law of the sea (the maritime and interstate commercial jurisdiction that is federal).
Solomon pleads that Israel will find mercy in the sight of its captors:
When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and when You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near; yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; *** (v. 46 , 47)
Solomon keeps going, in a long and very lawyerly sentence, as in an amicus brief:
[A]nd when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who led them away captive, and pray to You toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built in your name: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause, and forgive your people who have sinned against You, and all their transgressions **** ; and grant them compassion before those who took them captive, that they may have compassion on them (v. 48-50).
After all, Solomon says, these are the people He freed by miracles from Egypt, a people whom God separated from among all the peoples of the world to be his own. Israel was God’s property; He extended a unilateral treaty and covenant with that people, whose duty was to love, glorify Him and obey Him.
In a temple dedication, Solomon offers a huge sacrifice — 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep, turning Jerusalem into an abattoir, where the groans of death and blood of slaughter on such a scale required architectural innovation, dedication in piety and sweat. God’s people need no such bloody sacrifices today, the old economy replaced by the efficacy of a better sacrifice. Today, we have our sins atoned for by the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, according to the scriptures.
What’s Dad going to say tonight?
How is this Bible reading relevant today? What is a dad to tell his sons when these passages come up in reading at family worship?
Are we enslaved today? We haven’t been deported to a Siberia, as were enemy populations in the Soviet Union, or to a Babylon, as were the Israelites led by the Chaldeans. Our captivity lets us stay at the domicile of our own choosing. Yes, there are many reminders of our status that are surely innocuous, and readers of the Internet’s free press (lewrockwell.com, for example) are well informed as to how far despotism has gained.
As I try to explain it over an open Bible at the breakfast table or in the living room, where sometimes we meet, Solomon’s point of application is that we need to pray for our captors, that they will favor God’s people, who under faithful Bible preaching will become more useful, more vigorous and serviceable to the empire. The terrible crises of persecution that some evangelicals predict will, if it happens, come to an end on the basis of Christians’ loving their enemies and proving a true and good people.
‡ The elders of Brainerd Hills Presbyterian church publish a reading schedule in the Lord’s Day bulletin to encourage the body of believers to faithfully read the scriptures together, to improve our conversation at table and during the week. Two of the week’s readings are read and discussed in each public worship service. Since we have two services on the Lord’s Day, that gives us four heads-up mini-sermons looking into the weeks’ Old and New Testament readings. Sure helps with family worship.