Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sand On The Seashore

The Biblical descriptions that are given to Solomon’s reign paint a picture of a people living the life of exodus, with God’s will for His people solidly in place, and those people operating in the midst of that will.  It is a time in which Israel is firmly in control of the land that had been promised to Abraham, with no threatening enemies on any side.  They are living in a state of permanent rescue.  In fact, it is recorded that “Solomon ruled all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt,” and that “These kingdoms paid tribute as Solomon’s subjects throughout his lifetime”  (1 Kings 4:21).  At this point, Israel is far removed from being subject to any foreign powers, and instead, finds itself in the subjecting position.  Exile, which is represented by the Levitical and Deuteronomic curses, is not a concern, as Israel is, for what seems like the first time, living out the Abrahamic covenant. 

Israel, through and because of Solomon’s “discerning mind” for “judicial decisions” (3:9), is executing justice in their land and for the surrounding nations.  According to God’s promise to Abraham, they have been made into a great nation that is being a blessing, as well as being exemplary of divine blessing (Genesis 12:2).  When details of the life of Solomon would be shared within the oral community, and when the author writes that “The people of Judah and Israel were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore” (4:20a), such would be designed to draw attention to the Abrahamic covenant and the totality of its promised blessings, along with the God that stands behind it as supremely faithful to all His covenants. 

Before recalling the Abrahamic covenant in connection with Solomon, the author first calls attention to the Davidic covenant, as Solomon, with God appearing to him in a dream, saying “You demonstrated great loyalty to your servant, my father David, as he served you faithfully, properly, and sincerely.  You have maintained this great loyalty to this day by allowing his son to sit on his throne” (3:6).  A consistent reference to the Davidic promises, with a movement on to the Abrahamic promises, would be an ongoing reminder of the divine sanction that has been accorded to Solomon’s rule. 

Now, not only has it been said that the people of Judah and Israel were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore, but we go on to read of Solomon that “the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the seashore” (4:29b).  The two uses of this phrase would be designed as a reference to the two uses of this phrase in the book of Genesis.  In the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, Abraham, after demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, is told by God that “I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore” (22:17a).  This same promise is made to Jacob, as he returns from his self-imposed exile so as to face his brother Esau.  Jacob pleads before the Lord to remember the covenant that he knows belongs to him because of Isaac’s blessing on him (“May those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you be blessed” – 27:29b), and to rescue (exodus) him from his brother’s hand, which Jacob was certain would be against him.  With this pleading, Jacob reminds the Lord of the portion of the promise that said “I will certainly make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand on the seashore, too numerous to count” (32:12). 

The promise of a vast number of descendants, of course, would be closely linked with the possession of land, and it is under Solomon that Israel is finally able to truly enjoy their land.  Therefore, there appears to be a widely-held understanding that the Abrahamic covenant, to some extent, was fulfilled in Solomon’s day.  Of course, any mention or discussion of the Abrahamic covenant, and the promised land attached to it, would be incomplete without a reference to the promise to Abraham that his descendants would make their way into Egypt and there find oppression before being exodus-ed to the land of promise.  So the “grains of sand” references would, as a result, serve as yet another reminder that Israel’s covenant, Creator God was also the powerful, delivering God of the exodus, which would then color the whole of the narrative, as the hearers and readers would reflect on what had been accomplished for them by their God, as He redeemed a chosen people for Himself to be a light to the nations and to reflect His glory into the world. 

Finally, we must remind ourselves of the fact that specific references to Mosaic passages would not limit themselves to drawing attention to only the words referenced, but that they would call attention to the wider narrative in which those words appeared.  So in making a return visit to the first mention of grains of sand in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, we find that it is immediately followed by “Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies” (22:17b).  This is not a singular statement, as the family of Isaac’s chosen wife is later positioned within the Genesis record as having knowledge of God’s covenant with Abraham, and they send her off by saying “Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands!  May your descendants possess the strongholds of their enemies” (24:60b).  The very fact that Israel’s former enemies were now subject to them during the reign of Solomon, with peace on all sides, would have been looked upon as further evidence that Abraham’s blessings had reached Israel, which would have been the author’s (whether contemporary with Solomon or coming later) clear and obvious intention. 

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