On Remember When Wednesdays, I look back at a post from the past and publish it again for newer readers. Having posted about the topic of grief and loss this morning, I thought it apropos to share this memory which I published back in January of 2008 (and which still makes me laugh whenever I think of it)…
He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.” John 11:11 (TM)
When my Grandma Golly died, the girls were only 3 or 4 years old. Our nephews, Sam and Sol, were the same ages. The entire family had been at the funeral home for the long hours of visitation. There had been a steady stream of visitors, friends and family throughout the evening to share in our grief.
Like most toddlers, the reason for the occasion was lost on the girls and their male cousins who took the opportunity to run around the funeral home playing together. Late that evening, all was quiet in the visitation room as most everyone but family and a few dear friends had departed.
My nephew Solomon, ripping around the room in a playful fury, stopped short right in front of the casket. He looked at the lifeless body of his great grandmother lying before him. He looked at his wrist (where there was no watch), and then shouted at the top of his lungs for all to hear…
Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord.
Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18 (NIV)
For those reading the prophetic visions of the ancient prophets for the first time, they must seem like nothing more than the recollection of an LSD induced hallucination at a Grateful Dead concert. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of these visions in the vacuum of the chapter itself. There is a broader context that has to be considered in order for things to start making sense. Think about it, if someone simply read the “prophecy” about Harry Potter and Voldemort revealed at the end of The Order of the Phoenix and didn’t know anything about the rest of the story, would it make any sense by itself?
For me, there were three pieces of information outside today’s chapter that brought Ezekiel’s vision out of the haze and into focus:
Moses experience on the mountain of God. Way back in the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain to receive the tablets with the commandments on them. He sees God “face to face” and when he returns from the mountain his face is “radiant,” so bright that he had to cover it (Exodus 34). It wasn’t sunburn, it was God’s “glory” or radiance. In fact, at the end of the Great Story when eternity is described, there is no Sun or Moon (or day and night) because God’s glory provides all the light needed. God’s glory throughout the entirety of God’s Message is a sign of God’s presence.
The dedication of Solomon’s temple. When the temple was built by King Solomon and the ark of the covenant (think Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) was brought into the temple, God’s presence filled the temple in the form of a cloud. The cloud, like the veil over Moses’ face, was a sign of God’s presence and a protective covering for the bright radiance of God’s glory (Did you notice when Indy opened the vault that contained the ark it glowed? That was Hollywood wizardry doing their version of the glory of God) . After the dedication of the temple, God warned Solomon: “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them,20 then I will uproot Israel from my land,which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.21 This temple will become a heap of rubble.” (2 Chronicles 5,7)
The context of the last few chapters. Today’s vision is part of a broader vision Ezekiel is recounting from chapters eight through 11. It began with God revealing to Ezekiel the idolatry (the same idolatry He warned Solomon about) in and around the Temple and it continued with God’s judgement on the idolators. Today, what Ezekiel is seeing from the spiritual realm is a further consequence of the idolatry and further fulfillment of God’s warning to Solomon. God’s glory and presence is being taken out of the temple in preparation for its destruction.
Today, I am mulling over the events Ezekiel describes in this broader context of the entirety of the Great Story being told throughout God’s Message. When God warned Solomon about idolatry, He knew very well what would eventually happen. It’s a grand word picture of my own personal experience. Despite my best intentions, I fall short of spiritual perfection. Look close enough (actually, you probably don’t even have to look that close) and you’ll find plenty of ammunition to accuse me of hypocrisy. Guilty as charged.
And, that’s really the main point I find in these Old Testament stories. Try as we may, we can’t achieve an acceptable spiritual level on our own that meets God’s standard. We keep slipping back into our own personal forms of idolatry by choosing our own way. The results, as Ezekiel is seeing in his vision, are disastrous. It seems like God was trying to let humanity fail so we’d learn the lesson the same way a wise parent sometimes let’s a child fail for the same reason. “You can’t do this on your own,” God seems to be saying. “If you are to escape the deathly consequences of your own choices, you need a savior to save you from yourselves.”
“How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” Job 8:2-4 (NIV)
Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, and Bildad doesn’t mince words. In fact, Bildad has all the tact of an atomic bomb. He opens his argument with an insult (“Job, you’re a blowhard”), and quickly follows with a sharp accusation of Job’s children (“They had it coming”). By the time Bildad got to all of his talk about hope and restoration I’m afraid he’d already alienated his audience.
Wise King Solomon observed that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I’m afraid Bildad’s harsh opening only assured an angry response from Job.
Today I’m thinking about a handful of recent situations in which harsh words were spoken. I cannot control what others say or think, but I can certainly control my reaction and response. Along the journey I’ve come to realize that conflict is like a math equation: Two negatives result in a negative. I’m not always the best at responding appropriately, but disciplining myself to keep anger in check and respond in a gentle, controlled manner leaves the door open for meaningful dialogue and hopefully, a positive resolution will eventually follow.
King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. 1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)
A few weeks ago we were reading about Solomon’s reign and I commented:
Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.
I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon.
Today those words came back to me as I read the conversation between Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and the nation. It sounded to me like the people were being more gracious and reasonable than I might have been if I’d been standing in their sandals. David and Solomon had built a great kingdom, but somewhere along the line they forgot a small principle that Jesus was fond of reminding his followers: Anyone who wants to be great among you must be the servant of all.
I can see the progression across the generations. David, and to a greater extent his son Solomon, and to an even greater extent his grandson Rehoboam, were willing to advance their own self-centered desires by using their power, authority, and position to subjugate their own people rather than serve their own people.
In today’s chapter the inevitable happens. Rehoboam has an opportunity to redeem the situation, but he chooses to follow his father’s example and his peers’ foolishness. The people rebel in a bloody coup. Adoniram, who has been the national slave master since the days of David, is stoned to death. Rehoboam barely escapes with his life.
Today, I am thinking about my own positions of leadership, power, and authority as they relate to my family, my work, and my community. I want my own life and leadership to be marked by Jesus’ admonishment to be a servant all, especially those I lead. I don’t want a blind spot of pride, self-centeredness, or foolishness to keep me from doing the right thing for those I serve.
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 1 Kings 11:1-2 (NIV)
Wendy and I have had held a running conversation throughout our relationship. It ebbs and flows. It weaves its way into our conscious thought, then goes away for a time. Its the never ending subject of Mars and Venus, male and female, man and woman. Wendy has publicly made the comment many times that she knows she can easily manipulate me any time she wants to do so. I, on the other hand, know that I can put my foot down and forcefully demand my way when I desire. So it goes, the give and take of power, control and negotiation within marriage. It has been mysterious ebb and flow of relationship between men and women since the Garden of Eden.
Solomon was a wise man in many ways, but he had a fatal flaw. Solomon loved women. He loved a lot of women. According to today’s chapter the dude had 700 wives “of royal birth.” Most of these were likely to have been arranged marriages with the daughters of kings and rulers throughout the region. A king threatened by Solomon’s power would give his daughter to Solomon in marriage figuring that his son-in-law would want to maintain an amicable relationship with family. Solomon also had 300 concubines. These were likely girls of a lower social class that Solomon saw, desired, and attained by leveraging his royal authority. How interesting that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was attained by his father David in a similar manner.
While I am married to one women, God has seen fit to surround me with females. Along with Wendy I have daughters Taylor, Madison who still stand under my umbrella, and sister-in-law Suzanna who has joined us under our roof. I will admit that I, at times, find it wearying to navigate my relationships with all the women in my life. They are each unique with their own unique personality, communication style, needs, and wants. I can’t even fathom trying to navigate relationship 997 other women at the same time. It would be impossible.
As a man, however, I can imagine that Solomon had his favorites among his 1,000 wives and concubines. I also imagine that Solomon’s wives were constantly, actively vying for power and position. They would have had to manipulate people, situations, and Solomon himself in order to gain attention and favor. The political intrigue within the royal harem had to have been intense.
There is also no way that Solomon could have meaningful relationship and influence over so many women from so many different tribes and backgrounds. His foreign wives would naturally want to worship their foreign gods. Solomon needed to keep the peace among all his wives. It’s not hard for me to imagine how it all went wrong. Solomon allowed his wives to worship the gods of their people. He had some favorite wives he wanted to make happy and compliant, and so when they wanted Solomon to build a shrine to their god he found it easier to say “Yes, dear. Whatever you want.”
Today, I am thinking about men and women. I am appreciative of the beautiful, strong women God has placed in my life and all that I learn about both God and life in the ebb and flow of our relationships. I am thinking about what it means to be a man and how I am called to bring balance to those relationships. I am thinking about fatal flaws and what happens if I don’t capably play my part. It is an eternal mystery, this dance of relationship between male and female. I have more questions than answers. I’m just trying to:
Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 1 Kings 10:2 (NIV)
It is said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
For the past couple of weeks Wendy and I have had our house cleaner, less cluttered, and more organized than it has been in nine years. We have had it on the market since the first of the month and have been entertaining a river of strangers flowing in and through. When you’re selling your house, you want the house to make a good first impression.
I thought about the Queen of Sheba this morning and the impression she must have made on Solomon with her traveling entourage and her caravan of goods and riches. Based on the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon, the favorable first impression went both ways.
Today, I’m thinking about the first impressions I make in business and in the community. Jesus said that we are to be Light in a dark world. I don’t want that light on a dimmer switch or utilizing a slow fade in. I want that Light to shine with instant brilliance when I meet others.
King Solomon sent to Tyre and brought Huram, whose mother was a widow from the tribe of Naphtali and whose father was from Tyre and a skilled craftsman in bronze. Huram was filled with wisdom, with understanding and with knowledge to do all kinds of bronze work. He came to King Solomon and did all the work assigned to him. 1 Kings 7:13-14 (NIV)
I come from a family of individuals skilled in construction. My great-grandfather started as a young man making small wooden dowels (used instead of nails) in the Netherlands. When he came to America he did construction and eventually owned a hardware store. My grandfather taught shop. My dad and my brothers are also skilled craftsman in their respective mediums. I, however, am not skilled when it comes to construction. I know my way around a tool chest, and I can capably handle minor repairs and things. I have learned over time, however, that when it comes to major renovations or repairs that I will save myself a lot of time and frustration by hiring a skilled craftsman.
Wendy and I have been watching our house being built, and I have been marveling at the craftsman as they ply their respective trades. I have so much respect for those who do these things well.
I thought about this as I read about Solomon searching out the best craftsman to work on the bronze for his palace and the temple. He wanted it done right, and he wanted it done well, so he found the best craftsman for the job. This same principle applies to spiritual gifts and God’s work. To each person is given certain gifts for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ and for the work of love to we are called. When we use our respective gifts then things are done right, and done well. When we have people plugged into the wrong activities for their gifts, the result is struggle and frustration.