2 Chronicles 8:1-18 (Part 2) – In The Bible, Never Forget Context!

Posted: August 7, 2020 in 14-2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles 8:1-18 (Part 2 of 2)

Solomon’s Many Achievements

Opening Illustration/Comments

In the retail word, there is an age old maxim, “there are three things that are important: Location, Location, Location!” For our purposes in this blog for today, let’s change it up a bit. “In Bible study there are three important things: Context, Context, Context!”

Many of us have heard the very definitive and explicit statement, “if the Bible says it, it must be true!” When people say that, what they really mean is that they can drop a finger on any verse in the Bible and they will believe what it says. Such people often misuse the Bible by quoting verses out of context and thus misinterpreting what God is saying to us in a whole passage or whole book of the Bible.

We must remember the Bible is a mirror of humanity at its best and, more often, at its worst. Therefore, the Bible contains descriptions of human behavior at its worst as well as that which is godly. The Old Testament is generally a history of God’s chosen people. In the Old Testament, God uses the history of His people in all their sinful humanness as an eternal mirror for man to peer into. We see ugliness. We see sin. We see ourselves. We see God’s call to holiness and we see man’s failure to be holy as God is holy. We see pride. We see greed. We see murder. We see all those things that our sin nature (beginning at Genesis 3 and all forward after that) makes us see ourselves in the Israelite people. The Old Testament is a testament as to why we need Jesus.

The New Testament also shows us that even after the ministry of Jesus (where God in the flesh walked among us) we still had problems being His church. If everything had been rosy and perfect after Jesus returned to the Father, we would not have had need for any of the apostolic letters. The Bible shows us ourselves in all our ugliness and failure and then compares that to the holiness of God. The Bible is real lives of flawed people held up under a microscope in comparison to God’s holiness. In the real lives of biblical era people, we are to learn of our likeness to them each and every day and how we need Jesus to have hope of reconciliation to a perfect and holy God. That’s why I love the Bible. It’s real and it’s honest and it points us to our desperate need for a Savior in Jesus Christ. We see ourselves in all the imperfections of the characters of the Bible.

However, there are those have not really taken the time to study the Bible but read through it on occasion without deep thought so that we can check it off the checklist can default to such blanket statements as “if the Bible says it, it must be true”. We must remember that sometimes the characters in the Bible say things in their sinfulness that are evil or untrue. For example, In Acts 15:1, newly converted Jewish Pharisees says to the council of Christian elders in Jerusalem that, “Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This verse alone in isolation, under the “if the Bible says it, it must be true” mentality, then there are hoops that we have to jump through to be saved.

However, this verse must be taken in a larger context of late Chapter 14 and all of Chapter 15 of the Book of Acts. In the larger context of these two chapters, there was a raging debate within the young Christian church as to whether non-Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior should have to become Jewish as part of salvation. What was determined by the Jerusalem elders, through researching books of the prophets in the Old Testament, was the prediction that God fully intended that salvation through the Messiah would come to non-Jews. Thus, the intent of the biblical laws and regulations for the Jewish people were to set them apart as different from all the pagan cultures around them so that the world would be drawn to them and it was to be through them that the Messiah would come. The Jerusalem council thus decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews first to be saved. The Messiah was to bring salvation to all. Thus, faith alone is what is required of any person to be saved. That’s where we apply “If the Bible says it, it must be true!” It is that larger context of an overarching biblical principle repeated and confirmed throughout Scripture, faith alone brings salvation, nothing else.

All of this extended brings us to the point of whether the Bible condones slavery. We see it right here in this passage that the Bible mentions the great King Solomon conscripting foreigners (making them forced laborers) to do the work of building the Temple and the king’s palace. In isolation, this passage seems to imply that the Bible condones slavery or forced labor. Without seeing that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is a mirror to the darkness of our own souls by showing you the sins of our biblical forefathers, we might take these verses as saying that forced labor is OK. What do you think? Is that consistent with what the Bible’s overarching message is?

It is that idea of not reading verses in isolation and remember that the Bible is a mirror to us of our sinfulness through the actions of people in the Bible that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 8:1-18. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

11 So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. 12 Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. 13 At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. 14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 15 My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 16 For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

17 “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 18 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 20 then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 21 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

22 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see must ask the question, “does the Bible condone slavery or forced labor?” Taking mentions of it isolation without considering the larger picture and story of a book of the Bible and the Bible in whole, one might think that it is true. However, we must consider context always when studying the Bible (note that I said, study, and not just read!). In the context of this particular passage, Solomon was a great builder. And as such, he needed workers whom he secured through the institution of forced labor. This was not an uncommon practice in ancient times. So how should we read it-shall we read it as slavery or as employment? Has Solomon enslaved the masses or provided jobs? We tend to think of slavery as an ultimate evil of sorts, but the fact is that it was an accepted form of labor for thousands of years. Remember, after the Fall of Man in Eden, we have been sinful imperfect creatures and have been cruel and ugly to one another.  Thus, in the context of the larger picture of man being sinful, forced labor and enforced servitude were just a part of life as much as the sun coming up each morning. Our disillusionment with it is only about 300 years old-and only about 150 years old in America.

Given that God knew how sin had wracked us up into being horrible to one another, the Law and the regulations surrounding them as laid out in the first five books of the Bible have very extensive rules about how to treat slaves. Even in the New Testament, there was mention of how to properly treat those who were in servitude to you and about how to ensure that they were treated with dignity. The idea was to humanize and civilize an aspect of economic reality that virtually everyone accepted as a fact of life.

Does this make slavery acceptable in God’s eyes? Should we infer that by reading all of the slave and slavery references in the Bible that the Bible is OK with slavery. That’s where we must remember context. The overarching message of the Bible is that man is sinful and is in need of a Savior. Because of sin, our world is pretty messed up. The Bible does not whitewash how messed up man is. In a world that was wracked by sin and its results being man’s meanness to man, the Bible says all men have access to God through the Messiah. The Bible says that we are ALL created in His image. The Bible says here read in my pages of man’s inhumanity to man and compare it to the holiness of God. In that mirror, we shall see their need for a Savior and our own need for a Savior (since we can see ourselves in its pages). The Bible then calls us to be different as the people of God and seek the holy ways of God in our dealings with Him and with others. That’s the overarching message of the Bible. Many of its characters show us how far away from God we are and why we need the Messiah.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we must study the Bible and not just read it. We must remember that we cannot read verses in isolation from their passages. We cannot read passages in isolation for the book in which they appear. We cannot read a book of the Bible in isolation from the role it plays in the overarching story and themes of the Bible as a whole. Understanding the Bible is more than just reading a passage in 10 minutes in the morning before you go to work. It requires thought and meditation on what we have read. Sometimes, it will require us to research what we have read amongst the biblical resources that are available to us. Sometimes, it will and should make us be troubled and think real hard and ask questions of others about what we have read. That’s how we learn. Give me Bible study instead of just Bible reading.

Further, in that line of thinking, help us to understand that the Bible shows us the ugliness of man in comparison to a holy God. Some of the things that characters in the Bible say are to demonstrate how wrong they are in comparison to God’s holiness and the overarching theme of the Bible. In the ugliness of sin of man throughout the Bible, it sure does confirm through their ugliness of our desperate need for a Savior. The fact that slavery is part of the landscape of the biblical era does not mean that the Bible condones it. The Bible is set in real history folks. It is not some fictional story. It is real people living in real historical moments. Because of the sinful nature of man, enslavement became a deeply ingrained part of the fabric of human society. Thus, shows us, in comparison to the overarching theme of the Bible, that it is wrong, but it also shows us in the midst of the ugliness we should treat those who are subject to it with the dignity that they deserve as children of God. Does that make enslavement right in God’s eyes? No. Thus, the Bible is, like I said, a mirror that compares man’s ugly sinfulness to the holiness of God and thereby points us toward Jesus Christ. It is only through faith in Him that we have any hope of rising above our ugly, sin filled nature and become more and more holy like Christ.

Amen and Amen.

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