Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, not everything was wonderful for the church there. King Herod Agrippa I had taken over the role of persecutor-in-chief and also wanted to strengthen his own position by making himself more popular with the Jewish Authorities. The obvious strategy was to attack the Jews’ prime enemies, the Christians! He had James, John’s brother, executed and would have done exactly the same to Peter, but for the Festival of Unleavened Bread, during which killings were banned. So he imprisoned him until the feast was over. We see again the sovereignty of God in action: the Lord had clearly determined that one apostle was to die and the other to survive – with no explanation given to us for the difference.
Miraculously, Peter was rescued from his cell by an angel and presented himself to the group of disciples meeting at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Despite them having prayed fervently and constantly, no-one actually expected this answer to their prayers, resulting in Peter having to wait outside in the cold! I find it somewhat reassuring that even those early believers who seemed to live and breathe the miraculous, found it difficult at times to believe in the effectiveness of their prayers.
It is interesting too, that, instead of expecting to find Peter himself, they were reasonably optimistic that the door-knocking person might have been Peter’s personal angel. It is orthodox doctrine that every believer has an angel to help and protect them throughout their life and ministry. See also Matthew 18:10 and Hebrews 1:14. Do you ever thank yours?
The second problem in Jerusalem was that there was a famine and, inevitably, the persecuted believers were automatically amongst the poorest of the population. In response to a prophecy (Acts 11:27-30), the mainly-Gentile Antioch church had collected and sent a generous financial ‘relief’ gift to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, via Barnabas and Saul. To Antioch, this seemed the most normal action in the world, but then they had been well-discipled themselves by the apostles in Jerusalem, before being driven away to Antioch by persecution many years previously. Good discipleship often produces its own rewards (see Galatians 6:6).
1 KINGS 3 and 4
“Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places”. (1 Kings 3:3.)
It’s a simple way to show love, actually, and so simple that it sometimes gets overlooked. Grand gestures, huge sacrifices, ostentatious gifts, or public praise – these all seem so much more dramatic and meaningful. But Jesus says: “If you love me, you will do as I command” (John 14:15). And, in the Old Testament, the Lord says: “To obey is better than sacrifice…” (I Samuel 15:22). Solomon learned that secret early and put it into practice for most of his life. The high places were throw-backs to the old pagan Baal worship centres of the Canaanites, that had become modified to worship the Lord; it was still not fully approved of but was ‘tolerated’ until the time when the Temple was firmly established in Jerusalem.
What would you ask for if God offered to give you anything you wanted? It seems to me that Solomon already had a good measure of wisdom to ask for more wisdom! Or perhaps it reflects well on King David, his father, who modelled to his son what it was like to have a heart like God’s? Regardless of the reason, Solomon certainly asked for the right gift – and showed great humility with it – in asking for a discerning heart and wisdom. God, in return, so delighted with his servant, gave Solomon all that he didn’t ask for too. It reminds me of the words of Jesus: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these (other) things will be added to you also”. The one conditional promise was ‘long life’ – which Solomon, who only lived to just over 60, did not receive, due to his failure in walking in obedience all his life.
The first recorded test of wisdom was soon to come: two prostitutes disputing over the parentage of a baby. On the surface there was no way of distinguishing the real mother from the false claimant. The lack of DNA testing in those days was a nuisance! In wisdom, Solomon called for a sword and made as if to have the child cut in two halves. The real mother was more concerned for the child than for her ‘ownership’ and was prepared to do anything to keep the child alive. The sword revealed the truth! It is reminiscent of the verse in Hebrews: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word gives us the wisdom to act with discernment. And, as in Solomon’s day, God gets the glory!
In 1 Kings 4, Solomon arranged for 12 governors of each of the tribes in Israel to supply his court with all provisions for one month of the year each. These ‘districts were not entirely the same as each of the tribal lands since there were differences in size between the tribal populations. The population of Israel was huge, and the scripture says that “they were happy”! (1 Kings 4:20). It also says that “everyone had their own vine and fig tree”. So we see a collective, national happiness, and an individual prosperity within the nation.
The wisdom of Solomon was legendary; greater than that of any other famous wise man of the day. He was known among the surrounding nations for his proverbs and songs, his knowledge of biology and other aspects of God’s creation. Many visited him to hear his wisdom and were overwhelmed by it.
Digressing slightly, Psalm 72 was written by Solomon or for Solomon (by David?). It is a coronation hymn and extols the virtues of a great king. Judging righteously, creating a climate of prosperity for the people, defending the poor, the widow, and the orphan, and protecting the population from oppression. Such a man will endure in reputation forever and he will be a blessing not just to his own nations, but to all nations. Glory will go to the Lord who has established such a king.
This Psalm became seen as a Messianic psalm in later years. Jesus would come to do all these things for us – and more besides. “Praise to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” This doxology not only ends the psalm, but also the whole Book Two of the psalter.