Tag Archives: Legend

The Man Solomon

The Man Solomon (CaD 1 Ki 10) Wayfarer

King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.
1 Kings 10:23 (NIV)

Solomon is one of the most intriguing characters in the Great Story. He inherited a kingdom from his father that stretched far enough in every direction to exploit trade routes from Africa to Asia. Solomon obviously had a head for business, diplomacy, and trade and he made the most of it. The description of his wealth and power in today’s chapter is impressive enough to make an oligarch envious, and it has led some to dismiss all of it as an exaggeration.

I thought I might take this chapter-a-day journey on a bit of a trivial rabbit trail this morning. Beyond the Biblical account, Solomon’s legend has ripple effects that are still felt today, though few people know about it. The story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in today’s chapter has impacted the nation of Ethiopia for centuries, as well as having ripple effects in our popular culture to this day.

Scholars debate who the Queen of Sheba really was, but centuries-old tradition in Ethiopia holds that she was a queen from a tribe in that region. According to their tradition, the Queen of Sheba slept with Solomon and became pregnant by him. This notion is would not be a stretch of the imagination. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so a one-night stand with a visiting female dignitary was certainly not out of the question for Sol. She purportedly gave birth to a son who became King Menelik. The “Solomonic Dynasty” in Ethiopia ruled for centuries until 1974.

But the tradition gets even more strange. The Ethiopian tradition goes on to report that Menelik returned to Jerusalem to meet his father and that Solomon taught his son many things, sending him home with riches including the Ark of the Covenant. To this day, Ethiopians believe that the Ark and the tablets of the tablets with the 10 Commandments are secretly held and maintained by priests in a church there.

And we’re not done yet. The final Emporer of the Solomonic dynasty was Haile Selassie. Rastafarians in Jamaica, notably reggae legend Bob Marley, believed that Selassie was God incarnate, not only the descendant of Solomon but the reincarnation of Jesus; A messiah who would lead African peoples of the African diaspora to freedom.

As I sit in the quiet this morning, I ponder once again this intriguing man named Solomon whose legend still resonates in fascinating ways to this very day. As I look back at historical figures, it’s easy to want to place them in binary camps of being a “good” person or a “bad” person. My experience with Solomon in church tradition is that he’s revered as a “good” person for his wisdom and wealth. As I’ve observed in recent posts, I find Solomon to have had major flaws and blind spots. Does that make him “bad?” I think it makes him human. He was obviously gifted in many ways, and those gifts led to legendary earthly success revered by people to this day. His blind spots and his flaws doomed his kingdom to fall immediately after his death and his country to splinter into a bloody civil war.

Isn’t that true of me? I have my gifts and abilities that have led to a relative measure of earthly success. I also have my flaws and my blind spots which have led to foolish choices and a relative measure of human failures. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to use wisdom in investing the former in growing an increasing measure of spiritual maturity and a legacy of love, while using the same wisdom in minimizing the latter and the destructive fallout that follows.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Legendary

Legendary (CaD 1 Ki 9) Wayfarer

This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’
1 Kings 9:8 (NIV)

I have recently been listening to a podcast called This is History with Dan Jones. For any fellow history geeks reading this, I highly recommend it. The first season tells the story of the “Plantagenet” kings of England, including the crusading Richard the Lionheart and his brother, Prince John, who are typically familiar to most people because of their presence in our regular, contemporary retellings of the legend of Robin Hood. The truth is that the Robin Hood legend was not originally set in the same period of time as Richard and John. Modern writers and producers have connected the two to give the story a little more pizazz.

How fascinating that most people today have better recall of the fictional Robin Hood legend than anything about the very real histories of Richard, John, and their Plantagenet family whose real stories are every bit as entertaining as that of the legendary outlaw.

In today’s chapter, Solomon receives a second appearance from God in which God acknowledges the now completed and consecrated Temple in Jerusalem and then warns Solomon and his descendants that if they are unfaithful and worship other gods the Temple will be reduced to rubble and publicly ridiculed. The rest of the chapter goes on to list other accomplishments of Solomon’s impressive 40-year reign.

As I was pondering these things in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but mull over the reality that there is scant evidence that King Solomon ever existed. In fact, I had teachers in school who proudly boasted that the entire story of King Solomon was as legendary a fabrication as Robin Hood. It is true that compared to other historical figures such as Richard the Lionheart and Prince John, we have little actual physical evidence to corroborate the story. Of course, Solomon lived a couple thousand years before the Plantagenet kings.

Having said that, modern archaeology has unearthed actual evidence of the building of fortifications at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer that date to the time of Solomon and corroborate the text in today’s chapter. In addition, horse stables have been unearthed as described in the text (note: today’s featured photo is of unearthed horse stables at Megiddo). Recently unearthed clay seals have also provided historical evidence to prove the historicity of both David and Solomon.

What I find fascinating, however, is the spiritual lesson that lies at the heart of this modern doubt and dismissal of the great and successful Solomon. Solomon had a successful forty-year reign. He fortified the territory his father conquered. He pulled off extensive building campaigns. He established trade routes on both land and sea and established treaties and alliances with neighboring kingdoms and empires. He was, according to the text, the most successful king by earthly standards in the history of Israel.

And he’s popularly dismissed in modern times as nothing but an exaggerated religious legend.

God warned Solomon and his descendants that their lack of faithfulness would result in the destruction of the Temple. What was also destroyed was Solomon’s legacy. Everything Solomon worked for, everything he built, everything he accomplished, and all of his worldly success ended up on the scrap heap of history that is still publicly ridiculed as rubbish to this day. His legendary success is dismissed as nothing but a legend.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about Jesus telling His followers to be mindful of what I treasure on this earthly journey. It’s basically a riff on the message Solomon received. If I invest my time, energy, and resources in building God’s kingdom, the “treasure” is an eternal legacy. All of the earthly treasures I acquire in chasing worldly success will, on the other hand, end up completely forgotten on the scrap heap of history right next to Solomon’s.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Achilles’ Heel

Achilles' Heel (CaD Jud 14) Wayfarer

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1-2 (NIV)

I was recently reading and proofing a business report that was written by a young colleague. One of the things I noted in his writing was the repeated use of a word that, though not incorrect, felt awkward in its use. In looking up the definition and etymology of the word, I discovered that the popularity of its usage in writing peaked a few hundred years ago.

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the origin and history of certain words and phrases. We commonly use terms that are rooted in epic stories from history. Shakespeare may have had more influence on the English language than anyone else. Many phrases we still use today came from Shakespeare’s works including “Break the ice,” “Too much of a good thing,” “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” “Come what may,” “Fair play,” “Laughingstock,” “In a pickle,” and “Wild goose chase.”

Likewise, the term Achilles’ heel derives from the ancient, historical hero of Troy who lived in the same general era of history as Samson and was made famous by Homer’s Iliad. The seemingly invincible Greek warrior is felled by an arrow through his heel. To this day, we speak of a person’s “fatal flaw” as their “Achilles’ heel.”

Which came to mind as I read today’s chapter. The chapter continues the legendary story of Samson, a similarly legendary hero known for his feats of strength and amazing victories. In today’s chapter, the author of Judges introduces me to three important themes:

First, there is Samson’s amazing strength. This is his divine gift, as the author continually reminds us that each feat is sourced in the Spirit of God coming upon Samson at the moment. In today’s chapter, he tears apart a lion with his bare hands and then single-handedly defeats and plunders 30 Philistine men.

Next, there is the fact that Samson always acts alone. This continues the theme of his birth which made him singularly special and set apart by God for the tasks to which he was called.

Third, there is the introduction of Samson’s fatal flaw. Unlike Achilles, it is not a physical flaw, but a spiritual one. Samson has an uncontrollable appetite for Philistine women, the very people from whom he was born to deliver his nation. In today’s chapter, Samson merely sees a Philistine woman, is infatuated with her and he demands that his parents procure her as her wife. His parents object, but Samson is adamant.

It does not go well, which will be a recurring theme in the continuing story.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I began to think about my own life as the story it will become after I pass away. When my great-grandchildren are doing their family tree for a school project and ask their parents about great-papa Tom, what will the story be?

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking the question one layer deeper. In the story of great-Papa-Tom, what will be identified as my Achilles’ heel?

“You know son, Papa Tom wrote all the time. God was a big deal to him, and he was a preacher. He owned a research business. He was a good grandpa, but…

What will come after the “but”?

As I meditate on this in the quiet, I’m reminded that every human being, save One, has his/her own human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin. There will be something that comes after the “but…” in my story. I can’t escape it.

Which, according to the Great Story, is the very reason that Jesus came. Jesus even said, “I didn’t come to condemn the world.” Jesus came to make a way so that matter what comes after that “but…” in my earthly story as told by my descendants, in eternity there will be an additional “but…”:

but.. he is loved beyond all measure. He is forgiven. All of those human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin? They’ve been redeemed and made right by what Jesus did for him.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

Top Five Tall Tales

Speaking of tall tales, for Top Five Tuesday, here are my top five favorite tall tales:

  1. Paul Bunyan. When I was a kid heading to the North Woods every summer for vacation, the lumberjack and his blue ox, Babe, was an all time favorite of mine. I even talked my folks into driving through Bemidji, Minnesota on the way home so I could see the huge statue of him there.
  2. John Henry. Loved the story, and you gotta love the cadence of the great poem about “the steel drivin’ man!”
  3. Johnny Appleseed. Everybody sing: “And so I thank the Lord, for givin’ me the things I need: the sun and the rain and the apple seeds!”
  4. Daniel Boone was a man, was a BIIIIIIIG man!” I still remember my backyard transformed by imagination into the hills of Kentucky and me in my imaginary coon-skin cap rescuing the frontier.
  5. Chuck Norris. You can’t say that there are many modern tall tales, but you can say it about Chuck Norris. I mean, the dude threw a grenade and killed 50 people….then it exploded!

Did I miss one of yours? Feel free to share  in a comment!

 

featured image from  jbergen via Flickr

My Daily Cross Road Blues

Cross Road Blues
(Photo credit: bontxi)

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
Proverbs 8:1-2 (NLT)

There was a collision in my head and heart this morning. Literary device and music legend met at the crossroads and slammed headlong into one another.

This morning’s chapter is amazing as Solomon anthropomorphizes (e.g. cloaks an impersonal concept in human form) wisdom. He morphs wisdom into a woman, no less, and juxtaposes her agains the harlot and adulteress described in the previous two chapters. Wisdom calls out, just as the adulteress did, but her message is all together different. While getting entangled with the harlot led to the grave, darkening Wisdom’s doorway ushers a person to life and God’s favor.

How fascinating that Solomon places Wisdom at the crossroads. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the blues knows that it was at the crossroads where the folk story of blues pioneer Robert Johnson is rooted. The legend goes that at the crossroads Johnson met and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for making him a great blues player. He is known for some of the great songs we still recognize today such as Crossroads Blues and Sweet Home Chicago.

So it was this morning that I stood at the crossroads. I saw Wisdom standing there and heard her calling out, but there I witnessed Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil.

How many times in life do we find ourselves at the crossroads and hear competing voices calling our name, whispering in our ear, and laying before us a choice? How many times today will we find ourselves at the crossroads making a choice between Wisdom and her nemesis?

Robert Johnson sang “Went down to the crossroads, got down on my knee.”

To whom will I bow today at the crossroads?