I. THE GERM OF HIS KNOWLEDGE WAS FROM GOD. He was enriched with natural capacities above the average, as the preceding chapter shows. Men do differ widely in keenness of perception, in retentiveness of memory, in power of imagination, in love or dislike for the studies of natural science. A remembrance of this is of peculiar value to us in the training of children. The dullard in mathematics may prove the scholar in classics, etc. The wisdom of the Divine arrangement which makes differences between us in our natural tastes and capacities is seen in this, that it is on the one hand a blessing to society, enabling all spheres of life to be filled, and on the other a means of culture to character, by calling forth our sympathy, our forbearance, and our generosity in rejoicing over the triumphs of others.
II. THE GROWTH OF HIS KNOWLEDGE WAS FROM STUDY. Solomon did not have all the mysteries of nature unveiled to him by revelation. No "royal road to learning" existed then, or ever. His studiousness as a youth may be fairly inferred from his strenuous exhortations to diligence and his frequent rebukes of sloth. Out of the depths of personal experience he declared that the "hand of the diligent maketh rich" - in thought, as well as in purse. See also Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 19:24; Proverbs 26:13, etc. Press home on the young the value of habits of diligence. Illustrate by examples from biography. It would be interesting to know with certainty the substance of Solomon's discourses. Probably he knew more than any other of his own day of horticulture, physiology, and kindred topics. But the reference is not so much to scientific treatises and orderly classifications as to the ethical use he made of the phenomena of nature. This may be inferred, partly from the fact that in those days, and in Eastern lands, this rather than that would be accounted "wisdom;" and partly from such writings of his as are still extant - certain of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and the Proverbs. Study the text in the light thrown by these books, and it will be seen that through Solomon's wisdom the voice of Nature spoke to his people for God, in the same fashion as in far nobler tones it spoke afterwards through Him who made the lilies whisper of God's care, and the fallow fields speak of Christian duty. Inanimate things and dumb creatures spoke to Solomon's people through him, and should speak to us.
I. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF DIVINE CARE. Solomon, like his father, could say, "The heavens declare the glory of God;" or like One greater than himself, "Consider the lilies of the field," etc. See how he speaks (Proverbs 16:15) of the cloud of the latter rain that rifled out the ears of corn; of the dew upon the grass (Proverbs 19:12); of the gladness of nature, when the winter is past and the rain is over and gone (Song of Solomon 2:11-13). To see God's hand in all this is true wisdom. The phenomena are visible to pure intellect, but He who is behind them can only he "spiritually discerned." Many now are losing sight of God because the mental perception only is employed, and believed to be necessary. Once the world appeared to men as the expression of God's thought, the outcome of His will. Now some look on it as you may look on a friend who is not dead so far as natural life is concerned, but is worse than dead, because intelligence and will are gone, and he is an idiot! May we be aroused by the Divine Spirit to yearn for the lost Father, for the vanished heaven.
II. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF HUMAN DEPENDENCE. Neither "hyssop" nor "cedar" can grow without Heaven's benediction, and of every "beast," and "fowl," and "creeping thing," and "fish," it may be said, "these all wait upon Thee." Man, with all his attainments and powers, cannot create a single element required by his life. He can use God's gifts, but they are God's gifts still; and because He is good, our Lord bids us learn the lessons of content and trust (Matthew 6:25-34). We depend on these creatures in the natural world for food, clothing, shelter, etc., and they only live because God cares for them.
III. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF DAILY DUTIES. How often in Proverbs we are reminded of that. Agur, who had wisdom similar to that of Solomon, speaks of the diligence of the ant, of the perseverance of the spider, of the strength in union of the locusts, of the conscious weakness and provided shelter of the conies. Solomon speaks of the blessing that came to the keeper of the fig tree (Proverbs 27:18) as an encourament to servants to be faithful and diligent. Adduce similar examples.
IV. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF MORAL DANGERS. Take three examples of this.
1. In Song of Solomon 2:15 Solomon alludes to "the little foxes who so stealthily approach and spoil the vines and their tender grapes" as illustrations of the small evils which desolate men's hearts and homes. Apply this.
2. Then in Proverbs 24:30-34 he draws a picture of a neglected garden, grown over with thorns and nettles, and shows how looking on it he "received instruction," and warning against sloth.
3. Again turn to Proverbs 23:32, where, speaking of intoxicating drink, he says, "at last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." It was in this way he referred to the animals and plants around him.
V. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF SOCIAL EVILS. In those days, as in other days, foolish favourites, and unworthy.men, were exalted to places of trust and honour. Seeing it Solomon draws again on his observance of nature; and having noted the disorder and injury caused by untimely storms, says, "As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honor is not seemly in a fool" (Proverbs 26:1). Another example of this teaching occurs in Proverbs 28:3. A heavy rain after long drought, raising the streamlets to floods, would sweep away the mud-built dwellings of the poor and the harvest already reaped; and to those who had seen that the wise king said, "A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food."
VI. THE CREATURES OF GOD SPEAK TO US OF NOBLE POSSIBILITIES. Solomon saw growth around him on every side. The seed dropped in the crevice of a wall was not forgotten, but appeared in the "hyssop;" and the sapling, which a child could break, at last became the great "cedar of Lebanon." God's benediction and man's toil developed life; and the feeblest was not forgotten, the smallest not despised. We can imagine how from such facts Solomon would draw lessons of trust and hope.
IN CONCLUSION let us learn from the subject the following lessons -
1. Never be afraid of the teachings of natural science. Show how geology, botany, astronomy, etc., are regarded by some Christians with terror, as if their influence would affect the spiritual truths revealed of God. Demonstrate the folly of this. Let theology recognize the sisterhood of science.
2. Never become absorbed in pursuits which are merely intellectual. The soul of man needs more than his intellect can win. The "hunger and thirst after righteousness" only a living God can satisfy. Use the suggestions of nature as the witnesses of God.
3. Never neglect the wonderful works of God. Many a frivolous life would be redeemed from vacuity and ennui if young people were trained to observe and take interest in the habits of animal life and the marvels of inanimate existence. Show the wholesomeness of such studies, as those of Charles Kingsley and others. But let us walk through this fair world as those who follow Christ, and then from the fragrant lilies and golden harvest fields He will speak to us of our Father in heaven. - A.R.
Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon... to build the house.2 Chronicles 2:14, 15, we find the words, "My lord," "My lord David thy father." There is a notable mixture of affection and reverence in the spirit which Hiram showed to Solomon; Hiram was "ever a lover of David," and yet he speaks of David in terms which an inferior would use to a superior. Hiram preserved the continuity of friendship, and herein showed himself an example, not only to monarchs but to other men. Although Solomon was blessed with "rest on every side," and was enabled to look upon a future without so much as the shadow of an adversary upon it, yet he was determined not to be indolent. Suppose a man to come into the circumstances which we have described as constituting the royal position of Solomon, and suppose that man destitute of an adequate and all-controlling purpose, it is easy to see how he would become the victim of luxury, and how what little strength he had would gradually be withdrawn from him. But at all events, in the opening of Solomon's career, we see that the purpose was always uppermost, the soul was in a regnant condition, all outward pomp and circumstance was ordered back into its right perspective, and the king pursued a course of noble constancy as he endeavoured to realise the idea and intent of heaven. The same law applies to all prosperous men. To increase in riches is to increase in temptation, to indolence and self-idolatry: to external trust and vain confidence, to misanthropy, monopoly, and oppression; the only preventive or cure is the cultivation of a noble "purpose," so noble indeed as to throw almost into contempt everything that is merely temporal and earthly. Even the noblest purpose needs the co-operation of sympathetic and competent men. Thus the Jew seeks assistance from the Gentile in building the house of the Lord. How wonderful are the co-operations which are continually taking place in life! so subtly do they interblend, and make up that which is lacking in each other, that it is simply impossible to effect an exhaustive analysis, Nor would it be desirable that such an analysis should be completed. We should fix our minds upon the great fact that no man liveth unto himself, that no man is complete in himself, that every man needs the help of every other man, and thus we shall see how mysteriously is built the great temple of life, and is realised before the eyes of the universe the great purpose of God. Co-operation is only another word for the distributions which God has made of talent and opportunity. In vain had Hiram responded in the language of generous sympathy if Israel itself had been a divided people. This must be the condition of the Church as a great working body in the world. It will be in vain that poetry, history, literature, music, and things which apparently lie outside the line of spiritual activity, send in their offers, tributes, and contributions, each according to its own kind, if the Church to which the offer is made is a divided and self-destroying body. When all Israel is one, the contributions of Tyre will be received with thankfulness and be turned to their highest uses. A beautiful picture is given in verse 14. The picture represents the difference between cutting down and setting up; in other words, the difference between destruction and construction. It was easier to cut down than it was to build up. The two operations should always go on together. The business of the Church is to pull down, and to build up; even to use the materials of the enemy in building up the temple of the living God. The picture has aa evident relation to the ease with which men can pull down faith and darken hope and unsettle confidence. Thus the work of foreign missions should help the work of missions at home. Every idolatry that is thrown down abroad should be turned into a contribution for the upbuilding and strengthening of the Church at home. The care shown of the foundation is another instance of the wisdom of Solomon. The stones which were used in the foundation were in no sense considered insignificant or worthless. The stones which Solomon used are described as "great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones"; the terms which are used to describe the foundation which was laid in Zion are these — "A stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation." We read also of the foundations of the wall of the city which John saw in vision — "The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." A curious illustration of the union between the permanent and the temporary is shown in all earthly arrangements. Solomon laid foundations which might have lasted as long as the earth itself endured. Judging by the foundations alone, one would have said concerning the work of Solomon, This is meant for permanence; no thought of change or decay ever occurred to the mind of the man who laid these noble courses. It is the same with ourselves in nearly all the relations of life. We know that we may die to-day, yet we lay plans which will require years and generations to accomplish. Yet we often speak as having no obligation to the future, or as if the future would do nothing for us, not knowing that it is the future which makes the present what it is, and that but for the future all our inspiration would be lost because our hope would perish. Let us see that our foundations are strong. A beautiful illustration of contrast and harmony is to be found in the distribution which Solomon made of his workers and the labour they were required to undertake. Here we find burden-bearers, hewers in the mountains, officers, and rulers. There was no standing upon one level or claiming of one dignity. Each man did what he could according to the measure of his capacity, and each man did precisely what he was told to do by his commanding officer. It is in vain to talk about any equality that does not recognise the principle of order and the principle of obedience. Our equality must be found in our devotion, in the pureness of our purpose, in the steadfastness of our loyalty, and not in merely official status or public prominence. The unity of the Church must be found, not in its forms, emoluments, dignities, and the like, but in the simplicity of its faith and the readiness of its eager and affectionate obedience.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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