Why is it that gold is the perpetual image our hearts long for?
consider the fact that before we discovered it was such a good conducer there was really no practical use for the metal besides adornment, yet it was what people exchanged for food which is of ultimate utility.
is it because use used it as an idol of the sun, which gives life to the plants of the world which give life to us?
Or was it because it was of all things we had, the only thing that didn’t decay in this age of decay?
Solomon had a golden kingdom, a kingdom ruled but a king wiser than any king there ever was or ever would be. Gold was so plentiful it made silver of little value. What is the difference between silver and gold? Silver is useful, but it tarnishes. Gold never does.
Did Solomon establish this kingdom? Read the book. No, his father David established it, and his father David did so at tremendous cost and sacrifice. David was, the old testament man of sorrows. Everytime God tells Solomon of the amazing fortune he received it was always because of his love for David. David was the source of the glory and the wealth. Solomon was not the generator of the wisdom as much as the wisdom was simply another reflection of the grace and good fortune that God lavished on him because of his father David.
And Solomon then builds the golden temple, all covered with God on the inside. everything in the temple is covered in gold, did you notice? The temple is eden, eternal eden. the temple is heaven, the realm where the sun shines from, but remember, for the Jews, the sun, unlike other religions, isn’t itself a God, but simply a thing that the one God makes to bless the earth, to give life to the just and the unjust.
But how is the golden kingdom lost?
We have in chapter 12 and 13 three stories, and all three stories reflect decay and corruption.
1. The wise king’s foolish son
2. the shrewd man’s pragmatic heart
3. the holy man’s susceptible fall
Reheboam: He never had a chance. Remember the prophesy given to Solomon about the future and the promise given to Jereboam? But you can’t blame Solomon or God for Rehemboam’s ignorance. Reheboam is a fool who has no idea what it takes to build or maintain a kingdom. He can’t see beyond the externality of his father’s Golden kingdom and confuses the great works which express a greatness which cannot be seen thinking that these works themselves create greatness. The glory of the art of Michelangelo or Da Vinci express their talent, the works themselves are not the talent. Reheboam forgets that Israel is really not a human tyranny built on terror and raw power. It keeps slipping into that. We saw that with Saul. Reheboam is no Solomon and he’s no Saul and the tribal elders simply walk away from him exposing him to be the child that he actually is.
Jereboam is a shewed, business man. He’s more of a David than Solomon or Reheboam ever were. He’s made his own way in the world and people recognize his leadership and his ability. God does to and opens the door to greatness for him. What he needs to add to his greatness is devotion to God. God promises him the world if he will only serve God and not simply himself. God has of course given Jereboam these amazing gifts of leadership and capacity. The only question is whether Jereboam will recognize this and through the law accept that no man, even the capable one who can create kingdoms and do politics is above the law? Jereboam gets his change.
10 tribes are torn from Reheboam and the tribal elders give themselves to him. He is king! As a shrewd man who imagines that religion is finally a tool of state for the control of people he knows what he must do. He, like Aaron in the desert, creates two idols and two new temples so that Israel won’t go down to Jerusalem again. God is simply a construct to be used just like desire for money or fear of punishment (the state’s use of the sword).
God will give Jereboam a chance to repent. God will make his lesson in a way that Jereboam will understand. God will threaten the member of the body that represents what Jereboam is, the greatest practical thing in all of creation, the human hand. As Jereboam is governing over the dedication of his new practical religious centers a man of God is sent from Judah is rival. The man of God denounces the violation of the law and when Jereboam gives the tyrant’s order to suppress him his hand withers and Jereboam is horrified. The practical, can-do man can’t do without a hand. In his horror he repents and the man of God restores his hand. We should note that this kind of repentence is usually short lived, which is the case in Jereboam. Jereboam will become the paradigmatic king of the Northern Kingdom for whom religion is the opiate of the people, a useful tool of statecraft to control and manipulate the people that fuel the pragmatic king’s desires for glory and empire even if little Israel is seldom up to that task in a world caught between Egypt and the fertile crescent. Jereboam has been warned, but he will not learn.
Now our attention turns to the “man of God” himself. Surely there we can find our hope. Surely in scrupulous and self-tyranical obedience to the letter of the law we can, within our own power, secure the desires of our hearts.
This man of God from Judah who is so clearly God’s own hand, able to wither the hand of powerful and practical Jereboam is the idol we’re looking for through which to take within our hands the power of heaven.
This man has been given a practical and fitting command by God. He must not partake of any Northern hospitality. In that culture doing so would endanger his severe incorruptibility. He must not eat in the North but return to the south.
There is a culture war afoot, and the religiious aspect is always key in such wars, so another religious man in the North has an idea. The text is marvelously opaque in his motivation. Is this holy man in awe of this greater profit and simply wants to associate with him so that perhaps this power can rub off on him? Is he engaging in the culture war and so wants to expose the southern prophet in hypocracy and thus win points for his northern religious faction? We don’t know. What we do know is that he lied, taking God’s name in vain (Jereboam breaks the second commandment and the holy man breaks the third). He tricks the man of God into breaking God’s command.
What could the man of God do? Couldn’t God have given him immediate revelation to say “no, this man is lying to you”? Couldn’t God have understood that the holy man was duped, and that his violation of the rule wasn’t his fault and therefore accept that reason to excuse breaking what seemed to be what looks to us to be a rather arbitrary rule to begin with? What’s the deal with God and all these petty tyrannical rules?
Isn’t the God of the severe religious man exactly that kind of God? Certainly the God who can’t dismiss Jereboam building golden calfs because, after all, that’s really the only practical option to counter the presence of the temple in Jerusalem can’t give the holy man a pass on his failure to live by the letter of the law in this case.
God reveals his sin to the man of God AFTER his violation and decrees his sentence in sufficient obscurity as to afford sufficient mystery and public awe in its execution. So yes, what happens is that a lion kills him on the way, but the lion doesn’t eat the donkey and there his body rots with the miracle of the lion and the donkey standing vigil. The religious man of the North then seems to find a conscience and takes the man of God from Judah home with him and offers him the best burial he can.
All three stories illustrate the loss of Golden kingdom.
The foolish king who is both the product of his greater fathers and the expression of the corruption normally produced by indulgence and wealth.
The practical king who suffers no god before himself. Only when confronted with immediate practical threat can he find religion but with its release relapses back into himself and he dreams of power. He is like Lazarus’ rich man who only in the heat of Hades repents too late and has brothers that would not repent even if Lazarus were to come back from the grave. that is his natures.
The severe prophet of the law who himself can’t keep the law. He is impressively used in the moment but his hypocricy and ironic weakness is publicly exposed. The law itself cannot be fashioned into a golden calf to harbor one from God.
Misery: The Golden kingdom of Solomon is finally lost not because God is ungenerous (the lie of the serpent in the garden) but because we, like our first parents do what we always do in terribly predictable ways.
Deliverance: The answer to the three stories is the son of David who unlike Reheboam will not make the people around him slaves for mere works of glory. He in fact loves people well treats them with what is imagined to be irresponsible generosity by the descendants of the men of God from Judah.
Jesus is the practical king who actually submits to his Father in all things. When in Gethsemane his practical heart asks his father for another path besides the costly, impractical, path that is the opposite of the opiate of the masses, his Father says no.
Jesus is finally the man of God from heaven who stands against those who turned the law into an idol and fulfills the law. He keeps his father’s will to the letter, teaching it with authority, yet understanding it beyond mere conformity for supposed supernatural pragmatism, seeing for what it always was. In his own words if the severe law-binders of his own age had known the law they would have recognized Jesus.
Gratitude: The Golden Kingdom, where the streets are paved with gold, where nothing is corruptible or subject to decay is always and finally a kingdom received yet participated within. David, Solomon and the three stories in 1 Kings 12 and 13 all point to that king and the coming kingdom. Citizens of this kingdom live by its laws gratefully and freely even before the day of its consummation.