ASPECTS OF THE KINGDOM
Readings: 1 Kings ch. 8; Jeremiah ch. 34; Mark ch. 8
Our readings from the Word during the past few days have led us through some very different phases of the kingdom of God. From the 1st Book of Kings we are sharing in the excitement of the kingdom as it rose to the peak of glory and supremacy under the rule of Solomon, and the prayer of Solomon which we read this morning surely epitomises the greatness of the kingdom in those far-off days. “Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.” Nothing had or will fail of all the good things that the Lord has promised.
What powerful exhortation there is in these words of Solomon, spoken so long ago, and yet they are that marvellous guarantee that the promises that have been made to us will not fail, not one word.
Solomon enjoyed enormous privilege but he also faced equal responsibilities. There could be no other way, and there is no other way for us either, because we too enjoy great privilege and there are attendant responsibilities, as we know. David had counselled Solomon his son because he knew just what the pressures would be for him. In that very lovely poem of praise constituting part of the “last words of David” he said: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” While Solomon observed this wisdom his reign matched his name, Solomon, peaceable; but our middle reading passes forward to the very end of the kingdom, a kingdom no longer an undivided monarchy but a kingdom in disarray, ruled over by one described as a “profane and wicked prince of Israel.” We know him as Zedekiah.
I suppose the decline of the kingdom is a very depressing story of infidelity on the part of king and people; but even as we can rejoice in the glories of Solomon’s time, so too we can be instructed by considering what happened to the kingdom, the bad times of the kingdom in decline. In our New Testament reading the kingdom was in relative dispersion, and in a few years total dispersion had taken place. No king ruled, even though some recognised that “the consolation of Israel” was in their midst. The spiritual leaders of the day, as we saw from our reading from Mark, continued in the tradition of a corrupt priesthood so largely responsible for Israel’s downfall, and they sought a sign of the future king. “There shall no sign be given unto this generation,” said Jesus. But Peter needed no sign. “Thou art the Christ, “the anointed one. He was among them to preach the good news of the kingdom; as Jesus truly had said, “The kingdom of God is within (among) you.”
When Solomon dedicated the temple of God before all Israel he expressed amazement that God should dwell in their midst, We look at the words from 1 Kings 8 and particularly reading from v. 26. Solomon says there in his prayer: “And now, 0 God of Israel, let thy word, I pray thee, be verified, which thou spakest unto thy servant David my father. But will God indeed dwell on the eurth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded.” Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Solomon, of course, knew very well the answer to that question. It was a question which surely was asked in a spirit of humility. God had dwelt on the earth and had signified His presence amongst Israel by the flame of fire and the pillar of cloud. But the terms of His tabernacle upon earth were simple and essential, and they have not changed from that day to this: “Be ye holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
So David had advised his son in some words we read a few days ago in the 2nd chapter of the 1st Book of Kings: “Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man; and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself: that the Lord may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, Ifthychildren take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.” It was a marvellous promise, and David knew very well the terms on which that promise would continue.
An interesting point comes out from what David said there. He referred to the fact that the laws of God were written in the testimony. We wonder, was this a hint to Solomon, a reminder of the responsibility of kings: “It shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law. . . And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God.” What wise counsel that was, to write out a copy of God’s law that it might be ever with them! The kings occupied an exalted position in ruling for God. In their hands lay the destiny, humanly speaking, of God’s people. Compared with the kings of the surrounding nations they were unique, The other kings that surrounded them were cruel, ambitious, avaricious. Not so the successful king over God’s people if he were faithful,
Now whilst David had been a man of courage—we see him fight with the bear, with the lion, with Goliath—whilst he had been a man of the sword—we have seen him in battle—he had shown in moments of trial that he had an armour that was of God. His fight was “the good fight of faith,” and in this he had laid hold on eternal life, because the promises are sure and certain. So David by word and by example speaks to Solomon, and surely to everyone of us today: “My son,” he says, “know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, lie will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.”
If we seek God, we will find Him. It is no good sitting down and waiting for Him to find us. He has done that in our calling to the Truth and now the responsibility lies with us. David’s counsel to Solomon is surely counsel for all of us. David’s source of strength, his success, was founded upon trusting in God. We read not so long ago how he said: “. . . by my God have I leaped over a wall.” So in all his exploits he recognised that it was God who powered his legs, that gave strength to his sword and spear arm and the unerring aim of his eye. God gave him this, and this he had shown from his early encounters with the bear, with the lion, with Goliath.
But as we consider and compare Solomon’s life with David’s we realise that trusting God is compounded of three main elements:
knowing about our God, believing Him and obeying Him. Then all our experiences in life take on a very different meaning. If we attempt to defeat the Goliaths of this world on our own, we may or we may not succeed. If perchance we do succeed, how can we know whether time and chance have been on our side, or we have prevailed simply by our own strength? But if all that we do is done with our Heavenly Father on our side, His strength and guidance sought, then successes will be very sweet and humility will prevail.
So David’s knowledge of God came from a deep appreciation of God’s laws; hence his words to Solomon which emphasise the source of his help. Keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, His testimonies, “as it is written in the law,”“0 how love I thy law! it is my study all the day.” It is salutary to recognise that David’s sorrowful experiences came about as a direct consequence of forgetting one of those laws, It was a momentary lapse, which was with him for the rest of his days. Yes, the sin was forgiven but the consequences of his sin remained with him for his whole life as a trial, as a test, and by those consequences his character was made into that which pleased God.
Now we are not told whether Solomon in fact did write out a copy of the law. Certainly he wrote extensively and his words have become part of the inspired Scriptures, but even Solomon in all his wisdom, and with the good advice of his father, failed to remember God’s instructions. Now we are not going to catalogue the sins of Solomon because we know very well how he failed. The principles of marriage and of trusting in horses, in which Solomon erred, are applicable to us today. We too have, you know, that unerring instinct and ability to return to Egypt. Surely the lesson from the lives of both David and Solomon lies in God’s Word: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
That word “trembleth” is an interesting one. We learn from the Hebrew that it is the word “chared” and it means “to trouble self.” How much do we trouble ourselves with the law of the Lord? David would have known the Pentateuch, the book of Job, perhaps the book of Ruth, and would be well briefed on the exploits of Joshua; indeed, we notice that the words of encouragement to Solomon are almost a word for word copy of what Moses had said to Joshua as he prepared him for the great work of leading God’s people.
Now we are privileged not only to have the Pentateuch, the book of Job, the book of Ruth: we are privileged to have David’s writings in the Psalms, together with the entire canon of Scripture. Surely it is a privilege of astounding proportions, and yet sadly it is evident that not all of us afford this Word of God the place in our lives which it warrants. Without His Word written in our own language, tested and tried, we would know nothing of His love for us. It is not a question of
—Do we do our readings? or—Do we attend the Bible Class and the lectures?—because these are but the visual and vital disciplines of life in Christ. To tremble at God’s Word is to be troubled by it, so that everything we do and say is tempered by what we know to be God’s will. It must be a paramount influence in our lives and given always the place of honour that it warrants.
Having encouraged Solomon, then, to be strong in the Word, David gave him a charge: “Take heed now; for the Lord hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it.” Our readings this week from the 1st Book of Kings have recorded for us Solomon’s commitment to this great work. He said: “I purpose to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God.” That God was indeed with him, dwelling in the midst of His people, there can be no doubt. The effect of his reign upon Israel’s fortunes—and I use that word advisedly—is set out in words we read a day or so ago from I Kings 4. v. 20. Think about what Solomon said, that “not one word had failed” of God’s promises, and you will recognise these words:
“Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.” Would not Abraham have delighted to see that! V. 24: “For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tiphsah even to Azzah, over all the kings on this side the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him. And Judab and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” Not one word had failed.
The temple that Solomon purposed to build was to be the crowning visual masterpiece of the kingdom, built for the honour and glory of the God he served, It epitomised in a sense the people of God at the peak of their natural and spiritual ascendancy; but it was only a type. It was a type that was destroyed, moreover, by the foolishness of the king and the waywardness of the people. It is salutary and sad to read from Jermiah’s prophecy, the lamentation of the fact that God was to cut off His people, cut off Israel, overturn the king and the throne, awaiting the one whose right it is. “Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah, and tell him, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.” He did, too; it came to pass that the great and beautiful temple so carefully thought out by David and constructed under Solomon’s supervision was effectively reduced to ruins.
Now these things must surely be instructive for us. Just compare for a moment two kings—Solomon and the Lord Jesus. Solomon led the people of God into a type of the kingdom. There can be no doubt about that from those words we have looked at. It was a type of the coming kingdom. It pointed forward, though, to the time when a greater than Solomon will rule the world in righteousness. Solomon was a king; he was not a king-priest. For Solomon there is even a hint of reproach, despite all his wisdom and right approach to God; the record says, he “loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father”—then the hint of reproach—”only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places.”
In the Divine order of things Solomon, we know, gives place to a king-priest through whom a new dynasty will rule the world in righteousness, and we remember now not only the priestly work of our King to come but also the greatness of the covenants of promise to which we are related, and the establishment of God’s Kingdom upon earth. It is recorded in the Apocalypse: “They sunganew song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Not one word will fail.
Solomon had asked: “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?” We have seen that He has in the past, when His people provided Him with a suitable and holy place for Him to dwell, and His promise to do so again is surely embodied in the words of the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us,” so Matthew records. Yes, the type set by Solomon’s early reign will be fulfilled so very soon, we believe, and we have met to remember our Lord’s great work and our association with God’s plan for the future.
Now Mark’s gospel record, and particularly the early chapters, contains a number of parables of the Kingdom. Let us just look at one very briefly. It is found in Mark 4 from v. 30. Jesus asked the question: “Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God?”—you see, the times of Solomon were a likening of the Kingdom of God and here is the future King over the world telling of the great things of the Kingdom. “How shall we liken it?” “With what comparison shall we compare it?”“It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: but when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.”
The parable here, then, of the growing seed reminds us that the Kingdom of God is even now in preparation. This is what Jesus told his hearers. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” He told the scribes and the Pharisees: “I am not giving you a sign.”“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” In their midst was the future King teaching them of the re-establishment of the Kingdom of God and reminding them of the great benefits kr them and for the world.
In our presence this morning is the Head of our house, the same King. What does he see today as he walks in the midst of the candlesticks, the lampstand, the lightstand that our ecclesias form? Does he see preparation for the Kingdom, or does he see a preoccupation with leisure, with business or the trivia of this present life? Does he see a community in which the Word of God troubles us by our recognition of the highest standards, epitomised in the standard recorded by Mark towards the end of that chapter which we have read:”Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”? Jesus went on to say, It doesn’t matter if you lose your life in this time because you will save it for the life to come.
We wonder how the disciples contemplated effectively ‘commiting suicide’—to follow Christ, to take up the same cross—because Christ had been at pains to tell them what was going to happen to him. The Son of man was to be “taken by wicked hands, and crucified, and slain,” and unless we are prepared to accept that as the standard of our calling we are wasting our lives. Is it not fundamental that those who anticipate living together for ever should make every effort to do so now, in the spirit of humility and love? I would just like you to look at some words of the apostle which are found in I Cor. 3. These are well-known words; you will recognise them straight away. The apostle is talking about our work in the Truth and how it will be tested in the day of judgment, and he says in v. 16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God.” That is an interesting thought—we have been thinking about Solomon’s temple. “Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
Now those are very sobering thoughts. The ecclesias—shall we say, the ecclesia, the household of faith—is the temple of God, and our God by His power dwells in our presence. How does He dwell in our presence? We have a clue from the times of Solomon and that first temple, because we are told that “God’s name is there.” Is God’s Name here amongst us? When we think of that Name, Yahweh, and its full outworking, we begin to understand how it is that God dwells with us. Then in the 6th chapter we are told about the individual building blocks of the Kingdom. Yes, if the temple of God is the household of faith, then our bodies also form part of that temple; and so he says in v. 18; “Flee fornication.” V. 19: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Now that is a concept for us to take on board. We are the individual building blocks of the household of faith, and the Name of God dwells in each one of us. What an astounding privilege! Nut, like Solomon, what astounding responsibilities we have also! The standards for us, yes, they are higher than ever before; and that does not mean in any sense double standards on the part of our God, but is a reminder of the “better covenant” to which we are directly related.
Yes, the examples set by kings such as Solomon and Zedekiah are there to remind us of the dangers and the opportunities we have to contend with in our lives. Well, Solomon and Zedekiah will answer for themselves. They had a kingdom, albeit of a temporary nature. When Jesus was assembled with his disciples in the upper room, having shared with them bread and wine, he said this: “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
As we now share together the bread and the wine, what will our response be? The Kingdom is real. Nothing save our own foolishness can separate us from its reality. Not one word will fail of all His good promise. “If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, that there should not be day and night in their season,” says God, “then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant.”
On those occasions when our faith wavers, go into the garden, consider the ordinances of heaven and earth. “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered,” so we have the Divine guarantee that not one word will fail. Our Lord will come and appoint unto us the Kingdom. As Paul exhorted: “We, receiving a kingdom which cannotbe moved (or shaken),” let us be thankful, and so worship God “acceptably with reverence and awe. “:
—D. J. Evans