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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

1 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-34

The Church Triumphant

1 Kings 4

IN David we have seen, vividly enough, a picture of the Church militant. When was David not at war? When was he not persecuted, followed hotly upon the mountains by vengeful rivals and hostile men of various names? Did he not live often in the rock and in the den and in the cave of the earth? Was he not often without shelter, without food, without friends? Verily no better type for the Church militant can be found in history, and it is questionable whether a more vivid representation of the militant Church could be conceived by human fancy. We have heard the clash of arms; we have watched the king fleeing away from his enemies; we have studied much of his policy, and acquainted ourselves familiarly with his temper and his purposes; and again we revert to David as fitly and strikingly typifying the militant Church. The Church of Christ has often been in precisely the same circumstances spiritually. Friendless, persecuted, hunted, hated, suffering all manner of distress and evil, driven away in the night-time, pitilessly pursued by enemies athirst for blood, the Church has had a weary life, a long struggle, a battle almost without pause night or day; the Church has suffered every variety of pain, indignity, humiliation, and loss. In proof of this read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews in the concluding verses, and there see what the Church has been and done in many a long age. Putting the two histories together, there can be no disagreement as to the statement that David represents the militant Church in all the variety of its anxious and distressing experience. Coming to Song of Solomon , we come to one who typifies the Church triumphant. The figure must not be driven too severely; we must take its poetry and its suggestiveness rather than its literal narrative and course. Solomon did not begin life as David began it. Solomon was born to the purple: David was no king"s son; he was the son of "thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite." Jesse probably was not a great landed owner and prince, for David was asked with whom he had "left those few sheep in the wilderness." Which of the two began life under the better auspices? Is it better to be born a shepherd, or a prince? Song of Solomon , however, was a king"s Song of Solomon , and must take all the disadvantages of high birth. Who would be born high if he could help it? What restraint, what limitation of liberty, what fierce criticism, what unreasonable censure, what irrational and untenable expectations, all mark the position of a man who was born a prince. These are the disadvantages, and Solomon must encounter them. Wherein, then, does Solomon represent the Church triumphant even typically? surely he does so in the universality of his reign:—

"So king Solomon was king over all Israel."—( 1 Kings 4:1).

Make these words bear their very highest meaning, and we begin to approach a true conception of the position of Jesus Christ as he sits enthroned above the riches of the universe, ruling an obedient creation, receiving the acclaims of the nations he has redeemed. Even this is prophesied. The prophets were bold men. They followed their logic to its conclusions; yea, even until it became poetry, and surprised themselves with unexpected music. We must not regard millennial glory and millennial music as representing only imagination, fancy, a vivid or overwrought dreaming faculty; all that is brightest, sweetest, most melodious, expresses an underlying solidity of fact, history, reality. This is the meaning of prophecy,—namely, that seed shall come to harvest; that the one little ear shall die, and rot, and out of its very putrescence lift up a head sixty-fold in fruitfulness and gold-like in beauty. The prophets said, Right shall reign; the day must come when men will see that right is better than wrong, justice better than injustice, and peace to be preferred above battle; and all this will be wrought out in connection with the name of Immanuel—God with us,—whose name is the Prince of Peace: the government shall be upon his shoulder, and all men will wish it to remain there; and so they flung their words upon the ages, and all the centuries as they come and go are tending in the direction of establishing peace, brotherhood, love, unity, and sanctifying the whole by its cause—namely, the spirit and purpose of the Son of God.

So far, then, we feel no difficulty in this typology. Now observe the perfect appointments of Solomon"s kingdom:—

"And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision. And these are their names."—( 1 Kings 4:7-8).

And then comes the honourable list. Even here we get some hint of the order which shall prevail in the Messianic kingdom: every man in his place, every man doing his simple duty, or discharging his complex responsibilities; willing to be a master, willing to reign with princes; willing to go on errands, willing to light a lamp, or willing to take the highest offices in the Church: all done in the spirit of order, because done in the spirit of obedience and love, and all expressing the new-born sense of moral harmony and acquiescence in the eternal fitness of things. The servants of Christ will not choose their places. They are not peevish and petulant men who say unless they can go first they will not go at all. When a man says Song of Solomon , he dispossesses himself of the Christian name, and he crucifies the Son of God afresh, and puts him to an open shame. The servants of Christ say, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Is it to stand at this door? Is it to run with this message? Is it to arise at midnight and flee away to tell some soul a word of heaven that he needs to hear? or is it to stand first in all the procession, and to be the leader of the people? What thou wilt—not what I will. To be what thou wilt have me is to be in heaven. Lord, undertake for me, appoint me my position, define my duty, and give me grace to bow in dishonour or to stand in princely dignity before men who do not know thee." That is the Christian spirit, and until that spirit is realised by Christian believers, and carried into effect by the Christian Church, we shall have rupture, distrust, controversy, and final disappointment of the bitterest kind.

So far, then, we need not be discontented with the typology of the text. Let us take another point, which may be described as eternal festival:—

"Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry" ( 1 Kings 4:20).

This would seem to be part of the parable of the prodigal son before its time. A coarse view may be taken of all this festival, but it can only be taken by coarse minds. Eating and drinking, and making merry, may be to some persons very shocking proceedings, but to the true heart, the simple modest spirit, they are all sacramental, they have all high religious meanings, and it is to their spiritual applications that the pure soul looks. There are of course gluttonous men, wine-bibbers; even the Son of God was compared to such: but we need not regard the passage in this light, but as suggesting the home-life, plentifulness of all necessaries, and the resources so thankfully appropriated that in their appropriation they actually become luxuries. No Christian man eats for eating"s sake, or drinks for the mere enjoyment, or makes merry simply because he offers sacrifice to the foolish spirit of frivolity; all these exercises and engagements are lifted up into their highest signification. We have read of the gourmand who would have all his dishes brought to the table in alphabetical order, and for aught we know he went daily through the whole alphabet. This typical feast of Solomon"s has no reference to gluttony of that kind. We have read of Caligula who would never eat bread unless it was gilded—had a coating of gold over the crust; but we are not commending such men in representing Solomon"s feast as the feast of fat things and wine upon the lees well refined, as being part of the viands and provision of the table of God, which is so abundantly—yea, lavishly—spread. When did God give just enough? When was there less at the end than there was at the beginning? When he had five loaves and fed five thousand, how many basketfuls of fragments took ye up? Let God be judged by the fragments, whoever found the loaves; let God be judged by the harvest, whoever lent the seed out of which it sprang. Do not, therefore, be discouraged because some coarse and debasing minds would lead you away from the spiritual suggestiveness of a text like this, and fix your eyes upon mere eating and mere drinking and upon the mirth of fools. Eating may be partaking of the broken body of Christ; drinking may be as the appropriation of his sacrificial blood; and as for the merriment, who commended it when the house resounded with music and the walls vibrated to the strains of melody, because the son who was lost was found, who was dead was alive again? Take all these suggestions in their highest spiritual meanings.

Then there is the point of universal tribute:—

"And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life" ( 1 Kings 4:21).

These words are not to be taken literally. Solomon was not king at that time over all the earth, but he was king over all Israel, and represented so large a royalty and noble a majesty that men were willing that he should be accounted chief of kings, princeliest of all the princes that ruled among the neighbouring nations. Here the type is perfect:

Kings are to bow down before him, and gold and incense bring; kings of Sheba and Seba are to offer gifts to this great Christ of God, and all men will call the Redeemer blessed. We are willing that it should be so; yea, it is verily right that such tribute should be paid to him, for be loved us and gave himself for us; he washed us in his own blood; he hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father. All that he is and has revealed himself to be, and all that he proposes to do, brings him before us as the one king who is worthy to reign from the river unto the ends of the earth. No sense of harmony is violated, no consciousness of right is marred; we feel that if there is to be one king his name should be Wonderful, Counsellor, Prince of Peace, the everlasting Christ of God. So in the tribute which is poured at the feet of Solomon we see what is yet to take place with regard to him whose feet were nailed to the cross for us.

Many persons are fond of quoting an expression in the twenty-fifth verse which describes social security under the reign of king Solomon.

"And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon."

There is hardly any sentence in the Old Testament more popular than this when describing the blessings of peace and the enjoyments of security. But the text is often falsely applied, it is not historically understood, and therefore is perverted to false and mischievous ends. Persons who are inclined to great quietness, who wish to take no part in the exciting controversies of the times, who love to fall into deep sleep, and let the ages pass away without troubling themselves as to their destiny and issue,—they describe their condition as sitting under their vine and under their fig tree. If they are, they have no right to be sitting there; they have no right to their vine and they have no right to the seat: they are wrong altogether. It is by this very spirit that the Church is weakened and debased. Let us take no part, say the persons we are referring to, in tumult and controversy, in political excitement and religious discussion, dispute, and contention, but do let us sit under our vine and under our fig tree. They are supposed to be respectable persons; they lyingly call themselves "good, old-fashioned people." Never was a greater falsehood spoken in the religious cause. The good, old-fashioned people were all fighters; they slept with one eye open; their sword was nearer than their pillow; they heard the bugle-blast, and answered it with hearts of fire. Good old-fashioned sort! If we were, no wrong could live in our presence, the liar could not tarry in our sight, no corner in all the house could hold the coward or the deceitful person. How did all Judah and all Israel come to have a vine and a fig tree under which to sit? Shall we listen to poetry about the vine and the fig tree, and forget David? Was Solomon the first king? Did Solomon plant the vine, or nurture the fig tree? The vine and fig tree were sown or planted by men who hazarded their lives for the truth"s sake; who would give no sleep to their eyes nor slumber to their eyelids until they had done something worthy of the ark of God and the house of the Most High. When, therefore, we praise our peaceful time, and are thankful that we have nothing to do but exchange opinions which nobody wishes to hear, let us remember that the very sanctuary whose security we enjoy is founded in blood, and that the walls are built of the bones of dead men—heroes, valiant soldiers, and captains of God! It is right to value peace, it is right to be thankful for security, for environment that cannot be violated, but whilst we congratulate ourselves upon the possession of such securities and privileges, let us raise our felicitation to a higher tone by thanking God that we follow men who counted not their lives dear unto themselves that they might serve the altar of God.

Then have we not in Solomon"s history at the first what may be called sanctified pomp and circumstance?

"And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen" ( 1 Kings 4:26).

Here again we must resort to spiritual interpretation in applying these circumstances to our Lord Jesus Christ and to his reigning triumphant Church. Christ is to have all resources at his command: all the ships are to sail from shore to shore on Christ"s business; all the electric lines are to quiver with his messages; all the ways of travel are to be crowded with his messengers and missionaries and pilgrims and evangelists; "Holiness unto the Lord "is to be written upon the belts of the horses, and not a bird in the air but is to be part of the obedient household of the living Christ. Thus we see the spiritual meaning of all this pomp, and that spiritual meaning alone is the course apposite and applicable in the case of Jesus Christ. He had not where to lay his head: he shall have forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen; he had to beg his bread: his Church shall have victuals provided: "for all that came unto king Solomon"s table, every man in his month: they lacked nothing;" he was despised and rejected of men: he shall be the desire of all nations; he came unto his own, and his own received him not: they shall pray for his coming, and shall make their prayer impatient by its final word—Even Song of Solomon , Lord Jesus, come quickly,—an impatience which he may not reply to, but which he will never chide.

And how did Solomon bear himself under all this grandeur? Was the purple too heavy for him? Was the gold too much? Was he dazzled by the sheen which blazed upon him on every side? Or was he greater than his house, and was he intellectually superior to his circumstances? The answer is—

"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon"s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the Wisdom of Solomon , from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom" ( 1 Kings 4:29-34).

Mark wherein his excellence consisted: not in his horses or chariots or horsemen only, not in his eating and drinking and merriment merely, but where he was most supreme was in his wisdom. No man could answer an enigma as Solomon could answer it. We never knew how great a man Solomon was until other men competed with him. I have sat in one of our courts of justice and heard the most illustrious judge which England then had pronounce what I may call his final judgment. I did not know to what a speaker I was listening until the other judges began to give their judgments when the Master of the Rolls had ceased; then I knew under what a spell I had been held for one whole hour. So with this Solomon. Other men were clever, sharp, facile of mind, easy to flippancy in expression, and not without a species of merriment; but when Solomon spoke they all listened; they said, This is music; when he gave judgment, they held their peace. Now it is even so with the words of Christ: never man spake like this man. I hold, however, that he has spoken in many other languages than the one which he employed whilst he was in his earthly ministry. I find the words of Christ in the wise utterances and judgments of every language. In what language can we find finer sentiments than in the language of China? I do not say that Christ has never been in China, that his inspiration was not in the prophets of that great celestial empire so called. When I hear the great Chinese teachers say, "He who finds virtue to be a burden and vice a pleasure is a novice in both," I say this is none other than the counsel of God; this also cometh forth from him of Nazareth who was filled with all the fulness of God. So I do not exclude from the sanctuary anything of beauty moral and spiritual, but claim it in the name of Christ: this is a diamond out of his crown, this is a flash from his eye, whose eyes were like flames of fire. We do Christ injustice when we find him only in certain places and in certain books; there we may find him definitely and peculiarly, with quite special revelations and benedictions, but wherever there is good, seize it, and stamp it with the image of Christ.

Was Solomon always in the banqueting-hall? Not he; he was much among the trees: "he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall." He was a great naturalist too: "he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes." Quite an Esau for love of nature and love of sport, love of study and sympathy with the fresh air and all things that live and sing. So far, if he will keep along this line, we need have no fear of him; the man who makes these his subjects will know how to conduct himself amid the blandishments of the palace. He had great enjoyment in music—"his songs were a thousand and five." Yet perhaps only one of them is retained in its entirety. It is enough. Even the Bible is limited as to bulk. A great deal was left out of the Bible, but nothing that is not of its own quality. What is in the Bible is enough—seed for bread, seed for flowers, sustenance for life. Think of the Bible as thus scattered. Even if we have but one of Solomon"s Song of Solomon , in that one, rightly interpreted, we have the whole number. So if all the things that Christ had spoken and done had been written, "even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." But we have enough: the Beatitudes will sow the ages with breadstuff throughout eternity if need be, and the parables would furnish the picture-galleries of centuries, and the centuries would never complain of monotony. Balance your riches by your reading. If you never open a book, I do not wonder that your gold counting has befooled you. There is nothing in the chink of it that ever gets into the soul with satisfaction to the best faculties. Balance your power by your beneficence, or you will become tyrants, despots, wicked men. Balance your feasts by your studies, and then the feast will do you no harm. When you awaken the world"s attention see that the world comes to hear your Wisdom of Solomon , and not to look at your horses.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 4:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-kings-4.html. 1885-95.

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