Random musings on life, the universe and nothing in particular...
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
James Jordan on Solomonic Literature 1
I recently attended a conference in Poland, where James Jordan spoke on the subject of Solomonic literature. I took extensive notes. The following is the first of two installments.
The Solomonic literature — Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes — have to do with kingship. A high prophet establishes a kingdom. Moses as a high prophet establishes Aaron as a priest. The historical process, however, is from priest to king to prophet.
What is a priest? The Hebrew word is 'cohen', a word still used today. This word means servant or palace servant, one who obeys the commands of his master. The priestly literature consists primarily of laws. In God's palace, set up in Exodus, the priest is one who prepares food — a holy chef. The sacrifices and uncleanness rules concern food. ‘Abominable’ and other related expressions refer to the spitting out of food. The Jubilee and Sabbath year rules are about preparing food. In his liturgical function the priest keeps the house clean and prepares the food. The house represents Israel, the people are taught by the priest. When applied to the people, the Word of God cuts up like a sacrificial knife. The early Church calls ministers 'priests' for this reason. What the old priest did with animals the new priest does with the congregation.
The priests’ life was very simple, primarily a matter of obeying rules. We can think that the book of Leviticus is pretty complicated: 9 different kinds of leprosy! However, it is no more difficult than car repair. Those who performed priestly duties from day to day would hardly struggle to understand the laws.
The priests were only responsible for the sanctuary. Israel under the law had a similar position. They may disobey, but they know right and wrong. This is similar to the way that we treat children. God says, “If you disobey Me, I'll spank you”. Law is associated with childhood and priesthood. It is associated with the centre and beginning of things, the small area of the sanctuary.
Law, obedience and service come before wisdom and rule. We don't expect much of our children. We don't expect voluntary suffering. A priest never dies for anyone else. It is not true that Jesus dies as a priest for our sins. A priest sacrifices others. In Leviticus 1:5 the priest slays the 'son of the herd'. It is a son that is killed, and offered as an ascension offering. What would Israel be reminded of? Abraham and Isaac. The animals that you kill are sons. When I sin, I cannot pay. My own boy must die for my sins. Absalom dies for David. Esther may have to die for Mordecai's rebellion. Jesus― the Son― must die for us. The priest does not have a people to die for, he is just a servant. The king, on the other hand, is an adult. He must creatively apply the law in new situations using wisdom.
While the priest deals with right and wrong, things aren't as simple for the king. It is easiest to see this in the battlefield. The kings were warriors first. As a commander you choose people who could be your sons to die so others could live — not an easy decision. Such decisions are not decisions between right and wrong, but decisions between two evils (albeit not ‘moral evils’). The priest deals with animals as sons, the king with people as sons. The priest deals with the sanctuary, the king with the land. The priest continues in the inner area.
God expects us to learn the Law very well before He makes us kings. The priest is concerned with the first day; the king with the other days. Jesus is primarily a king as he dies for us. The king has a people. David is ordained as king and suffers for his people. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is like Melchizadek. As a priest he offers himself; as a king he dies. 'Son of God' refers to the king. Animal sons dying for sins point to a human son dying for sins ― a king with a people to die for.
What is a prophet? Prophets represents the third phase in Old Testament history. The king rules by an army. The priest kills animals and the king kills enemies. The prophet, however, operates by word alone. He is most like God in this respect. Prophetic books are not about the sanctuary or land alone, but about the world. The great change is recorded in 1 Kings 19 ― a new prophetic covenant. The world is falling apart. Jezebel has killed all but Elijah. God appears to Elijah as He appears to Moses. All the prophets have been killed, but there are 7000 faithful. Elijah must raise up prophets.
In 1 Kings 19:15 we see something that we might easily fail to pick up: the anointing oil of Israel is used to anoint a Gentile king. God is claiming other nations. Jonah will go to Nineveh and take the kingdom there; Daniel to Babylon. The prophets conquer the world with words alone. They speak the word and a new world comes into being. They tear down an old world and create a new one. They seldom say, “Judgment is coming, but if you repent you will be saved.” The prophet is not interested in patching the old world. Judgement is fixed and determined. The message brought by the prophet is one that declares that if people repent and are faithful they will pass through death to resurrection.
Prophets give the people a vision of the new world, often a vision of restoration. Jesus is the greatest prophet. Jerusalem will be destroyed. People must trust Him and flee to the new kingdom. This is what Habakkuk 2:4 means: faithful people will pass through judgment.
Prophets suffer for the whole world. The early part of the book of Isaiah teaches us that Israel is doomed. The Assyrians will destroy Israel. At the centre of the book the Assyrians come and then go away. How can God spare the wicked nation? What happens next? The king begins to die. But then God spares Hezekiah. Who dies for the king? The rest of Isaiah teaches us. The prophetic servant dies so that the king may be saved. Living before Jesus, who would we see this prophetic servant to be? Jeremiah reveals what the suffering servant is like. This is why Jeremiah is so biographical. Jeremiah is a type of Jesus.
If the priest is like a child and the king like an adult, the prophet is an elder. The experiences of his life have made his voice powerful. Prophets create civilizations (e.g. Augustine, pronounced the end of Roman time and describes a new Christian civilization). People start to live in terms of a new picture. Calvin and Marx are two examples. Marx pronounced the end of capitalism and gave a vision of a new world. Marx had no sword, only a pen.
The lips of a priest teach knowledge. The priest teaches what has already been given. The prophet creates a new tradition. As the Bible is completed we generally teach it as priests. As we apply God's word as new answers to new questions we are prophets. The priest serves in a new kingdom; the king rules and manages. The prophet announces the end of one kingdom and the start of a new one. This gives us a picture of life. In life people serve until they are thirty; Joseph and David did not begin to rule until they were thirty. Men were not ordained as priests and Levites until 30. They could be apprentices from the age of 20. The Levites would retire from manual labour and become teachers at 50. In Leviticus 27 we see that a man became an elder in civil life at 60. Perhaps we are not under these rules today, but they do indicate the wisdom of God. This is why Solomon was fearful of kingship.
At this stage we will consider the first things that the Bible says about wisdom. In Genesis 2:8 we see that God plants a garden in the east side of the land of Eden. A river starts up, flows out and divides into four rivers, which flow into the rest of the world. The garden is in elevation between the mountain and the world.
Adam is newly created and naked (as an infant child is naked). God is clothed in glory. Our clothing is self-expressing and glorifying. God is clothed in a rainbow. Joseph is dressed in many colours. Adam and Eve were not naked because it's the best way to be, but because it's the first way to be. Adam and Eve have a choice regarding which way they go. The Bible implies that, if they are faithful, they will be brought up higher. Jesus speaks this way. Taking the low seat is conceptually parallel to what we see with Adam and Eve. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the high seat. By seizing the high seat they were cast down.
In Genesis 2:16-17 Adam is given a priestly law about food. The priest distinguishes between what is and what is not eaten. We become unclean (symbolically dead) if we eat unclean food. We are cleansed by sprinkling. This law is the beginning of a priestly life for 'baby Adam'. We speak to our children in terms of yes and no, not in terms of subtle complexities.
Outside the garden there are lands. Upstream is the land of Eden. There are some great lands downstream. A different kind of animal is found there. There are three kinds of animals ― domestic animals, beasts of the Earth (wild animals) and small things. In Genesis 2:19 we see the past perfect tense: 'out of the ground God had already formed'. God brings the wild animals. Adam names the domestic animals. They were already in the garden. Sheep, goats and oxen were already in the garden. Lions, brontosauruses and bears were brought in.
The serpent was one of the outside animals. He was characterised by wisdom ('as wise as a serpent'). The serpent brings with him the wisdom to rule the land. His job is to bring wisdom and train Adam and Eve for rule. We know from the rest of scripture that the highest angel was with the serpent. He was the chief teacher of Adam and Eve. He was to train them and give them knowledge of good and evil. In passages like Galatians 3:19 and Acts 7:53, we see that the law came through angels. In Galatians 4:1-5 we see four parallel statements. Verse 1: Those destined for salvation are like children or slaves ('cohen'). Verse 3: Held in slavery under the elementary things of this world. Verses 2 and 4 are parallel. We were under guardians; Jesus came under the Law. Being under the managers/guardians (angels) is equated with being under the Law.
There would come a time when we would no longer be under the Law, but would use the Law. We don't forget the lessons we once learnt. We still follow the same principles. We are no longer under the Law. We have now internalized the Law and apply it to others. Paul teaches us that this is true of the human race as a whole. In verses 9-10 we see that the elementary things are no longer strong. They consist of days and times, laws concerning what we touch and eat. The archangel Satan was in charge of man's education before his fall. Christ comes as the Angel of the Lord (He is not ‘incarnated’ as the angel of the Lord; rather, He plays the role) to replace Satan. Hebrews 1 and 2 contrast the fullness of God's revelation in His Son with the earlier revelation through angels. In Hebrews 5:11-13 we see that the Hebrew Christians should be teaching others, but they need skill to be taught the baby things (milk). 'Pork' is for those who mature, whose senses are exercised to discern good and evil. There is a 'milk tree' and a 'sausage tree'.
Originally Israel worshipped the windy, spiritual God ‘YHWH’ in freedom and spontaneity. Then they became ritualized and started worshipping ‘Elohim’. They were Protestants and they became Catholics! If you think this way, you don't put Genesis 1 and 2 together. In Genesis 1:29, God tells Adam and Eve together that they can eat of every tree. Only Adam is warned not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good for food. The prohibition was temporary. Adam and Eve needed their senses trained before they would be fit to eat of it.
How would they gain wisdom? God would send an agent ― the wisest of the animals of the outside world, possessed by a chief angel ― and train Adam and Eve. The serpent actually starts well. He asks the right question. Adam is Eve's priest and pastor and he stands by. Eve answered well. She drew out the implications: what you do not eat, you do not touch, lest you become symbolically dead (we see this principle in Leviticus 11). Wisdom draws out the implications of Law in new situations, which is what Eve was doing. Eve was learning wisdom through this catechetical approach. Satan reveals his foolishness at this point. God's Law leads to wisdom, rejecting God's Law leads to foolishness, which leads, in turn, to judgment.
Knowledge of good and evil has to do with kingship and ruling. It is parallel to wisdom. In 2 Samuel 14:17 we see that the angel of God is said to have the knowledge of good and evil. This is a kingly attribute, associated with the angels. Wisdom is an angelic quality — knowledge about the land (verse 20). This is what kings, not priests have. 2 Samuel 19:27: 'Do good in your sight'. God sees that it is good. This is how He passes judgment. Sight enables you to pass judgment, to discern. Light is needed for sight. Children do not have knowledge of good and evil (Deuteronomy 1:39). When you have knowledge of good and evil, you are able to rule in a land (as Moses points out in the Deuteronomy passage).
In Genesis 31:24 we find Laban pursuing Jacob with a group of men — not an army, but men to form a law court, to pass judgment on Jacob to find him guilty. 'To speak... good or evil' to Jacob is to pass judgement, to speak concerning Jacob. It is mature people, especially kings, who are said to have knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and evil is not ‘knowing right and wrong’, but rather the ability to rule and pass wise judgements in the wider world. The word 'knowledge' carries considerable force, as Calvinists should know. It is a deep and wise familiarity with what is fitting and not fitting.
As Genesis 1 and 2 teach us what wisdom is, it will teach us what wisdom literature is. Men as images of God model what God did in Genesis 1 when they act as kings. Ecclesiastes is reflecting on Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, God sees that things are good. God sees and passes judgment. What does the word 'good' mean here? We tend to use such language in timeless ways, unlike Genesis 1. 'Good' refers to what is fitting. God makes the world good and then makes it continually better. Passing judgment requires a discernment of time (Ecclesiastes 3). Law does not have this time component (e.g. adultery is always wrong). Wisdom does have a time dimension. Things can be good one day and not good the next.
Wisdom discerns what is not good and knows how to make it change. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are about discerning what is not good and knowing what to do to change it. God brings animals to Adam to make him think, so that he can appreciate that something must be done about his situation in the garden. Nathan 'brings the animals’ to David, leading to repentance. When Rebekah wants to bring repentance to her rebellious husband, she dresses Jacob in animal skins and brings him to Isaac. He could have taken the blessing back, but instead he blesses him further.
In Genesis 2:21-22 we see that Adam has a 'death sleep'. This is similar to what the NT talks about as 'sleeping in Jesus'. Adam is then raised up and glorified by the woman. Death, resurrection and glorification precede sin and judgment here. The death mentioned in 2:17 should be read in the light of 2:21-22. The day would come when Adam would be given to eat of the tree and would have experienced death and resurrection.
In Hebrews 6:12-15 we see that when a promise is made concerning the future we are to patiently wait for it. David is the perfect example. He is tempted to seize the kingdom before time. During this time he gains the knowledge of good and evil as he is given Adamic tasks. Death and resurrection is how God rules the world; it is not just because of sin. Why did God create Eve in the way that he did? Why does the world get dark before it gets light? These did not merely follow after sin. When Job goes into death and darkness, it is not necessarily because of sin. That which God put Job through increased his knowledge of good and evil.
Even though Adam and Eve seized the fruit of the tree well before the appropriate time, it still had the effect of making them kings. God is like a father who leaves the car keys with the rebellious son. What does Genesis 3:7 mean? Adam and Eve were not blind before. This verse has to do with the opening of the eyes of their wisdom and understanding. When you are a king you need a robe of authority. They had stolen authority but they were not ‘outfitted’ for it. We see this with Joseph. Joseph's father grants him a garment of authority. Potiphar's wife tears off Joseph's robe of authority. Pharaoh later gives Joseph another robe of authority. The garments Adam and Eve make for themselves are not good. The word for garments in Genesis 3:21 is 'tunic'. Tunics are garments of royal authority. God gave them garments to symbolize their rule in the wider world.
Genesis 3:22a is not mere irony. Adam and Eve are now in a position of passing judgement. They are cast out of the easy world into the difficult world, quite unprepared. They have opened the door into the wider world, and they have to go through. Adam didn't want to go, he was driven out. He doesn't get to go into the land of Eden at all. Adam and Eve were far to immature for the task, as was Solomon.
In 1 Kings 3:7-9 God gives Solomon the wisdom he asks for. Solomon is pushed into a position for which he is too young. The situation presented by the harlots is one for which there is no law. Knowledge of good and evil has to go with death, as well as wisdom. The king needs to know how to use death, how to make war. The king makes life and death decisions. This is wisdom for the land, not law for the sanctuary.
There are four testaments, or groups of books in the Bible. The first six books of the Bible bring a period of revelation to an end. Only at the beginning of the kingdom period can Judges and Ruth be written. The books of wisdom are like a new testament added to the old testament of the Law. Exodus-Joshua is one continuous story in one large chiasm. It begins with the Hebrews in slavery, for reasons we do not discover until the last chapter of Joshua — their worship of Egyptian gods. In the light of this statement we can reread the whole earlier account; the plagues challenged the Hebrews gods too.
Following these books there is a transformation into a kingdom period. The book of Kings is put together from several blocks of material. For example, much of the Solomon narrative could stand alone. The book about Solomon would help the Israelites interpret the wisdom literature. There is then a period of silence. The book of Kings is completed. There is a return to the priestly theme. Rather than animal sacrifices the people will be sacrifices, serving the world. Elijah's anointing of the king is important here.
There is another period of silence, followed by another kingly testament. Christ is a king over the whole world. We need to remember the manner in which God revealed himself. Israel started with six books, then the kingly books were added, the prophetic books and then finally the NT was added. We tend to start with Paul, add the gospels over time and then occasionally flip back. It is no surprise that you are a Baptist if you read this way. We must start where the Bible starts. If we do this, a few things will be changed. For example, it will make sense to see pastors being referred to as angels, because the tabernacle was a symbolic ladder to heaven. Jesus is now the ladder to heaven. Who are now the angels who lead people up and down? The pastors are now those who bring the people into the Holy of Holies.
The ox is a symbol of the priest in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 4, if the priest sins, he brings an ox. The symbol of the king is the lion. The symbol of the prophet is the eagle. These are the first three faces of the cherubim. We now no longer use animal symbols and stories. New Testament stories and parables are generally not animal stories, unlike Old Testament parables. The man is mature. The ox plods, the lion leaps, the eagles soar; man is above everything.
In Leviticus 8, when the priest was ordained, blood was put on the ear, hand and foot, in that order. The ear is far more priestly, the hand is the king's, the foot is for travelling prophets. Luke is the foot book. It starts on the international scene. Luke is the gospel that goes with the third phase of Old Testament history. Luke starts off with a census; the Roman emperor is trying to take over God's empire (recalling David’s census should alert us to the fact that the text of Luke is trying to tell us something). Judgment is imminent. Mark is the only kingly gospel. Mark concentrates on Jesus' suffering for the people. Matthew is the Mosaic gospel, in which Jesus is lawgiver and priest. John is completely different, just as a man is different from animals. John is structured as a tour through Genesis 1: a bread section, a water section, a light of the world section etc.
The change from Law to Kingdom is a prophecy of a greater change from Old Covenant to New Covenant. The first great change is the addition of music. There is no music in the tabernacle and the ark. There are cymbals, 'guitars' and trumpets, recreating the sound of the glory cloud. A trumpet makes a loud, 'bright' sound (this is the Hebrew meaning). It also means a ray of light. One generation after David establishes the glory sound, Solomon creates a glorious architectural wonder. The bright singing glory of the gold parallels the sound. The tabernacle looked like a dark cloud on the outside and glorious on the inside, like Sinai. The Temple was glorious both inside and outside.
There were two pillars, Jachin and Boaz. They were like giant lilies, with pomegranates hanging like fruit. The bronze sea, off to the side, also had a lily design. The other bronze furniture represented the glory. Maybe they kept them polished, or maybe they let them turn green as they formed a symbolic garden. There are many allusions to this symbolic garden in the Solomonic literature.
The bronze sea holder is the firmament. The sea itself is the waters above the firmament. The word 'lily' used with reference to the bronze sea is feminine. The bronze sea is an image of the feminine. Where did the patriarchs meet their wives? Next to wells of water. The word 'lily' when used with reference to the pillars is masculine. The priest and king are the husbands.
The bronze sea represents Israel, borne by the twelve bulls, representing the twelve tribes. Water has to be brought up to the sea. It comes down from above. There are ten water chariots, coming from the temple down to the altar. There are lion and bull faces on either side of the chariot, representing the king and the priest. In the new kingdom they must work together. The chariots (water in motion) become a river in Ezekiel.
David comes first. He gives the Psalms ― wisdom for worship. Out of meditation on the Law comes the 'liturgical' or 'priestly' wisdom for the sanctuary. Solomon gives us worldly wisdom for the land. Solomon builds architectural images around the temple. Bull and lion represent domestic and wild animals. A wall surrounds the temple and the symbols of the land within the temple complex. In David's day it is just the worship that is transformed; in Solomon's the worship and the land. David begins the glorification of worship with music. Solomon begins the glorification of the land. 1 Kings 4:29-34 we see that Solomon's wisdom, because it goes out into the world, goes beyond the wisdom of the Psalms (Ethan and Heman — Psalms 88 & 89). David gives us a liturgical response; Solomon gives us a whole life response.
The Solomonic literature is all tied together, and tied to the temple. The Song of Songs is full of imagery taken from the temple and the land. The Song takes place in the temple, not in the bedroom. It is not an Israelite Kama Sutra. The Bride in the Song is parallel to the wise woman in Proverbs. The first chapters of Proverbs concern the wise woman; the last chapter is an allegory of Wisdom as a queen. The last chapter of Proverbs is not primarily about the general pattern for a wife, no matter how many people have traditionally read this passage. The appropriate wife for a king is Lady Wisdom. At the end, Proverbs returns to its beginning.
The young man in Proverbs and Song of Solomon is the old man in Ecclesiastes. We should regard and compare these things as part of one biography. In Song of Solomon there are descriptions of the man and the woman in temple (man) and agricultural (woman) imagery. The man is the king/YHWH; the woman is the people/land. The strong man of Song of Songs is falling apart in Ecclesiastes 12.
The wise men are the advisors of the king. Rehoboam refuses to listen to the old men. Lady Wisdom is associated with the wise men. The wife is the advisor. Job's 'friends' are his chief advisors. They do not give wise advice. The theme of advisers to the king connects Proverbs and Job. Proverbs can be found in the book of Ecclesiastes and in Job. Wisdom is praised in the book of Proverbs and Job 28 (written by the author of Job) is a long praise of Wisdom. These things all serve to connect these books.
There are seven 'pillars' of wisdom in proverbs, pointing to the temple. The temple and Wisdom literature contextualize each other. The wisdom literature concerns king and people. Ruth tells us of Boaz marrying a Gentile woman, teaching us what Israel should do. David perverts this by stealing the wife of a Gentile convert ― Uriah the Hittite. The woman in the Song of Songs is a dark skinned Egyptian. Boaz (the temple) takes a Gentile into the land. The temple is built on the threshing floor, the place of marriage.
The book of Proverbs speaks of the king’s relationship with his people. He should relate to the wise. Ecclesiastes has the kingdom in view too. Man is the image of God. The king as the mature man has knowledge of good and evil. Like God, the man makes the world through wisdom. However, man's world keeps falling apart. Solomon is not describing himself as sinning in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a mistranslation to say he tries ‘many women’, the word is better understood as referring to musical instruments. The message of Ecclesiastes is that everything man tries falls apart. Job is about the king and revolution, led by Satan. How does the king deal with weakness? What happens when the king is sick?