Signpost for Sunday 23 August, 2015 Twenty-first Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kgs 8:
22-30, 41-43; Ps 84; Eph 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Do you know when the Iron Age began?
It happened to different peoples at different times. It may be that the People of the Sea came from a Mediterranean island that had suffered from a violent earthquake. They brought their iron weapons to what we now call the Gaza Strip. They pushed out some tribes of Israel and these went further inland, even across Jordan to the edges of the desert. They only had bronze weapons, and stones.
The social upheaval was tremendous. The different tribes in what is now Israel/Palestine had begun to learn how to live together. They had formed the beginning of two loose federations. Now they decided that they needed unity, and the chose a King. Of course, the conservatives, like Samuel, thought that choosing a human king was a betrayal of God, the only true King. And when the king did bad things, like consulting witches, or trying to raise the spirits of the dead, they decided that they had the wrong king, so they decided to replace him with a local hero. It took a while to replace the first king’s son with the new man, but after seven years, it was done, and he reigned for another thirty-three years, and finished pushing back the invaders. The tribal unity was still a little fragile, so the king chose a conquered territory for his capital.
But the second king’s son had visions of power and glory. He built a Temple for the Ark of the Covenant. He made lots of alliances with neighbouring kings. He spent lavishly on the wives he collected as a result of those treaties. A lot of that spending depended on higher taxes and on forced labour. So it is not surprising that when he died the kingdom fell back into two parts.
The surprise was that it did not fracture into a dozen or more different tribes again as it had been three or four generations before. Now the conservatives no longer looked back to the good old days when the tribes were semi-independent, but to the good old days when there was a king and stability. God was still the God who brought the tribes out of Egyptian slavery and made them into one people. But now God was also the God of the Great King in whose image a future king would arise to re-unity the tribes.
The Philistines brought their civilised and Iron Age skills to invade Palestine. The tribes of Israel and Judah united under Saul, whose men, including David, pushed back the Philistines. Samuel chose Saul, then later chose David. It took David seven years to re-unite the tribes after the death of Saul; and Solomon was the one who spent up large on the Temple and the many wives.
So who was the wise man in all of this?