Psalm 126; 1 Kings 9:20-10:29; John 15:9-17

Psalm 126: Probably written from Babylonian captivity, this psalm reveals the longing of Israel for God to return them to times and places that have been lost:

“When the LORD restores Zion’s fortunes,
we should be like dreamers.
Then will our mouth fill with laughter
and our tongue with glad song.” (1,2)

For me this speaks of loss that only God can restore. Rather than the loss of a kingdom and of a land, it is the loss of faith. That God is not who He says he is or that the universe really is empty of Anyone greater than what we can see physically. That I have been abandoned to my fate in an empty universe where humans believe they know it all.

But then, a person says something kind to me or I witness the grandeur of the stars at night from a dark place (as I just have at Mono Lake), and I realize  that “Great things the Lord has done with [me].” (3) Faith is dynamic and many days it can wane. The day may begin like the farmer who “walks along and weeps, the bearer of the seed-bag.” But then, God makes Himself known, usually in small, unexpected ways, and I “surely come in with glad song bearing his sheaves.” (6) We may sew in doubt but we reap in assurance.

1 Kings 9:20-10:29: Solomon has conscripted the “all the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel” (20) as slave labor to build the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This will come back to haunt Israel in later years as the Israelites intermarry and adopt the customs and religions of these other tribes and races.

As noted before, the author if I Kings seems to be an accountant and certainly an admirer of Solomon’s business acumen; now he describes Solomon’s commercial activity and trade with other nations down through the Red Sea that results in accumulation of vast wealth for Israel that ends up mostly in the king’s hands.

Our author lovingly describes the shields of gold, the ivory throne and the “fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.” (10:22) Peacocks? We also learn the price of chariots imported from Egypt: 600 shekels each (10:29)

Solomon’s fame spreads far and wide and the admiration in which is best represented by the visit of the Queen of Sheba, who surely speaks for all the other nations when she says, “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard.” (10:7) Interestingly, it is the queen, not Solomon who gives credit where it is due: “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” (10:8)

Trade with other nations is what built Solomon’s and Israel’s–wealth. It’s worth noting that Israel today seems to be following Solomon’s example as it exports everything from produce to technology. Written from the deprivation of captivity, these passages must have created intense longing among the Jews for what had been and what had been lost.

John 15:9-17: The segue from Solomon and worldly wealth with Jesus’ disquisition on love–“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (9)– makes us realize that there is something far greater than the acquisition of material things and of power. It is the power of love.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Jesus’ statement here is the juxtaposition of love and commandment: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” (10a). Our society pushes its idea of “love” about as far away as it can from the idea of “commandment.” After all, “love” is supposed to be all about “freedom.” But as anyone who has been married for a long time, love is about commitment and “commitment” is pretty close to “commandment.”

True love is not airy-fairy flitting of sweetness and light. True love is the hard work of faithfulness and commitment.  Because, as Jesus says, out of this commitment comes joy. Not just joy, but “complete joy.” Which I take to be a joy that is not temporary, a response to the moment, but a permanent joy that suffuses our entire being.

Then Jesus tells us what the commandment is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (12).  This is perhaps one of the most famous verses in the New Testament, but one whose context is essential. Jesus makes it clear that his disciples are not servants, but friends. And we are his willing disciples because we love Jesus.

The question then obtains: if Jesus is my friend and I am his disciple am I willing to lay down my life for him? Certainly the martyrs of the early church and those still dying today because they proclaim Jesus Christ in a hostile place know better than I exactly what the cost of discipleship actually entails. And yet they do it willingly.


Speak Your Mind