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Friday, September 6, 2013

Loving Them Foreign Women

In our daily readings at Morning Prayer we have been in 1 Kings. Last week we learned of Solomon's prayer for wisdom. He was heard and became the wisest king of all. (It may be noteworthy that the description of  Solomon's wealth, wisdom and 'abundant living' resembles the stereotypical description of the kings of Israel's foreign neighbors. Perhaps he is spoken of in the same way not to glorify him but to make a subtle insinuation that he was just like them?) This week we have read about King Solomon's prayer to God in the Temple. We also heard, again, that conditional covenant which God strikes with the ones He loves.

IF you keep in my ways, THEN I will bless you forever. The word everlasting and forever takes on a different tone when used in conditional contexts. The Temple where God's Name will be forever (1 K 9:3) will be destroyed by the end of 2 Kings, only to be rebuilt (Ezra/Nehemiah; later by Herod) and leveled again in 70AD. Today it does not exist...

Conditional Covenants are notoriously unstable. While God seems able and willing to keep up His end of the agreement, we humans have a terribly difficult time returning the same fidelity. David, for all his many flaws, never chased after other Gods. He was faithful to the One God of Israel (even if that faithfulness was riddled with all manner of selfish and sinful behavior). The descriptions of David as one who walked faithfully and with integrity seem overblown in light of his biography. [It is an insight into Biblical prose to understand that sometimes it means something that may not be literal.] But this is not a reflection on David, it is about Solomon, the wisest man ever.

A preview to the trouble appears in 9:24 when we learn Pharaoh's daughter had a house built and then Solomon built the Millo [ ]. Her presence is a foretaste of 1 K 11:1-13 where we read King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh. We read that this includes Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite. These are the very nations, the text goes on to explain which God had commanded the people not to mix with and intermarry with. (see Dtn 7:3 & 17:17) Israel is told "to hold fast" (Hebrew dabaq) to God alone repeatedly (Dtn 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; 30:20; Joshua 22:5; 23:11) but now that Hebrew term appears in a different context. Solomon, we are told, 'cleaves/holds fast' to his many wives (definition of many? "among his wives were 700 princesses and 300 concubines"... St. Augustine writes of this "Solomon's libido was not a passing guest, it reigned as king")

Chasing skirts seems to have been a full time occupation for the wisest man in the world. It does not appear his wisdom saved him from his folly. That is worthy of meditation. How often we say "if only I were smarter I would not have made such mistakes" when in truth any one with moderate intelligence can see 1,000 wives is not a good idea and marrying foreign women against God's direct command is a truly bad idea.

The end result? Solomon's heart is "turned away" and "his heart was not true to the Lord his God." He follows the god's of his pagan neighbors (Astarte, Milcom) and "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." Please note, Solomon did not reject YHWH; he simply did not go "fully" (Hebrew male') after God. To me this is the defining element of what is called "tolerance" in today's church.

The Progressives are "loving them some foreign women" who lead the hearts astray. It isn't that they want us to reject Jesus, they just want us to tone it down. Call Jesus "a" way, one of many, not "the" way. Back off on the total demands and leave room for alternative practices and different view points (different view points which are beyond the limits). It sounds "nice" to accept into our faith community those who stand against our faith, and would restructure our community. [The foreign women here are not meant in terms of xenophobia. This is no clarion call to exterminate other peoples. They are, however, a type and a metaphor for something vicious and deadly: infidelity to God, the key is "leading hearts astray."]

In other places the condemnation of foreign wives (see also the restoration in Ezra/Nehemiah) is tempered by a more universalistic understanding (the underlying theme in Ruth and Jonah, see also Psalm 87; so also Ps 67). The point is not to hate other people and their teaching. However, one must be clear of the danger. It is the problem of "cleaving to" that produces the infidelity. It is what is quite literally destroying the foundations of many churches. Tolerating Milcom provides that demon/god the opportunity to unseat the Lord of Israel. (I am reminded of the Catholic school which considered removing crucifixes so as not to not offend its Muslim students) Solomon is a warning to us of many things: the danger of opulence, the socio-economic issues surrounding exploitation of labor, the deadly sin of unjust taxation for the benefit of the few... However, it is his failure to be faithful and exclusive in loving and serving the Lord which produced the downfall of his people. We act foolishly who duplicate his errors in the name of "tolerance" today.

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