It's always struck me as a little unfair that David doesn't get to build the temple in Jerusalem. That great honor and responsibility goes to his son, Solomon. God tells David: "You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me upon the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace" (I Chronicles 22: 8-9). Since the temple is built to honor God's law and be a dwelling place for God, the choice of Solomon as temple builder raises interesting questions about the meaning of this law. What kind of law does God want if it is to be enshrined by a man who favors wisdom over strength?
I think we can learn quite a bit about the functioning of law by parenting. For example, my low moments as a parent come when I get legalistic and play the "because-I-said-so" card. Usually it goes like this: The boys want something badly enough to get demanding, and they figure that louder, higher-pitched pleas will make me relent. Finally, in response to their final "but whhhyyyyyy?" I say, "because I said so!" The moment the phrase passes my lips, I feel the thrill of order restored and power confirmed. I'm not merely the dispenser of the law, I am the law.
But the euphoria disappears faster than a Southwood donut hole at 9:30 a.m. The only lesson I've taught my children is that they can wield their own ultimate power when they have kids, or maybe a dog. "Because I said so" is the catchphrase of tyrants and a terrible example of authority for children.
Luckily, kids are rebellious. Like tiny lawyers with less expensive clothing, they test the boundaries of the rules, establish precedents, and file relentless appeals. They thereby discover which rules are truly for the common good and which are unnecessary. Testers transform law from the brute enforcement of power to the wise uplifting of the common good. The law teaches them both obedience and wisdom.
As Christians in the tradition of the apostle Paul, we get uneasy with the notion of law. "By grace alone" we cry. But in the choice of Solomon as the wise keeper of the law, we see God's move away from a "because-I said-so" law. David asks that God may give Solomon "discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God" (I Chronicles 22: 12). In Solomon we look ahead to law that is less about keeping disobedience in check and more about the compassionate development of human potential.
Questions for Reflection:
- What is the purpose of worldly law? What is the purpose of God's law?
- What do the differences teach us?
- In what different ways does Jesus' arrival uphold the law? In what ways does he abolish it?
Lord, you have given the law to protect us and to teach us to live with each other in peace. Please make my life a temple of compassionate and forgiving love that brings honor to you.