Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Truly Wise King

Photo by Carolyn Burnam
The birth narrative of Matthew presents Jesus as a new Moses coming out of Egypt to deliver his people. But have we missed another connection that Matthew is making between Jesus and another famous Old Testament figure?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the mention of swaddling cloths in Matthew's nativity scene connected the birth of Jesus with that of Solomon found in the intertestamental book, The Wisdom of Solomon 7:1-6. It’s possible that there is an even stronger connection between Jesus and Solomon.

On her wonderful blog, Our Rabbi Jesus: His Jewish Life and Teaching, Lois Tverberg wrote an article about the Magi in which she references 1 Kings 10:1-2; 10—
When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon (fame due to the name of the LORD), she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones; and when she came to Solomon…Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones; never again did spices come in such quantity as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
Gold and spices like frankincense and myrrh were brought to the king. It’s not a far stretch to see the visit of the Magi as a re-enactment of the queen’s visit to Solomon.

As a child I remember being taught about the wonderful scene in which God promises to give Solomon anything he wants, and all he asks for is wisdom in ruling the people of Israel. And there is that wonderful story of the two women who both claimed to be the mother of a baby, when Solomon used his wisdom to expose the imposter.

Solomon is extolled to this day as the wisest of the Israelite kings, but few seem to notice that he does some very unwise things.
  • His alliances with foreign kings were sealed with marriages to their daughters, who brought their gods and idols with them.
  • Solomon’s building programs were accomplished through a labor tax: each Israelite male was required to work for the king for an entire month each year. The Israelites likened this to their slavery in Egypt.
  • There was one exception to this forced-labor tax: the men of Solomon’s tribe, Judah, were exempt. Only the northern tribes had to contribute their labor, and they resented it.
  • Solomon thus built up great wealth, but did so at the expense of the common Israelite who had to work twelve months just to survive. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, all because of Solomon.
As a direct result of his actions, the nation fractured after Solomon’s death, dividing into the nations of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Idolatry and neglect of the poor flourished in both lands, leading to their eventual destruction. A reign that began with promise ended in idolatry, injustice, rebellion, and exile.

With these allusions to the birth and reign of Solomon, Jesus is presented as a “New Solomon,” one who will truly reign with justice for the poor, will deliver the people from slavery, and who will finally end Israel’s exile and bring them back together as one nation.

“People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” (1 Kings 4:34) Solomon blew it, unfortunately, so God sent a new king from the line of David, one “who became for us the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

In Jesus a truly wise king has been born, and the promise of his kingdom will be fulfilled.

A new Moses, a new Solomon.

What child is this, indeed?

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