A misunderstanding of honor

Devotional thoughts for Sept 2020

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... where I discuss the thinking that led to this article.)

King Solomon answered his mother, “Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother—yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!... May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request!”
(1 Kings 2:22-23)

What’s going on here? Why did Solomon want to kill his older brother for what seems to be a reasonable request — a request for a wife? Abishag came with some baggage. But it was the type of baggage that someone like me — a son of Western Civilization — might not pick up on. This is a relatively common hermeneutical challenge... but it’s one we can overcome.

Abishag was the late King David’s wife… sort of. She came on the scene in the last few days of David’s life — but as a heating pad! ( ... and no, I’m not kidding.) David could not keep warm, so they brought two young women to lay in bed with him... and my Western-brain-auto-Bible-commentator muses, and that was their solution?

Now, the Bible doesn’t give us the details, but she was more likely a concubine than a wife... but concubines still had something of a wifely status. Either way, I doubt that the relationship was consummated. So — and here’s my Western brain again — what’s the big deal? I just don’t see the injury to Solomon! But I know there was an injury from his response. So what’s going on?

It turns out that I had a similar disconnect with the church in Corinth. One of their members had a domestic relationship with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5:1). The church didn’t see the problem — but Paul did! In fact, Paul wanted that man removed from the church — not merely counseled. Here, he is like Solomon to me. I don’t see Paul’s actions as proportional.

If I lived in Corinth back in Paul’s day, I’m sure I’d be one of the clueless in the congregation. I just don’t “see” (“see” as in “feel”) the offense. Life is hard enough... and I tend to be for love — wherever you can find it! But whether or not I agree with it, it’s my responsibility as a Bible reader to understand it in context... so, what’s going on? What’s the big deal!

Paul said that even the pagans know enough not to do this! ... and he told them, you — the local iteration of the Body of Christ — are doing this with impunity! His rhetorical question, “Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?” puts his objection in perspective. This was a big deal.

But again, I simply don’t “feel” the offense (Leviticus 18:8). Such unions are usually legal in the contemporary Western world. But we tend not to be honor-based societies... which is today’s point. Reading the Bible can be tricky enough. But overlaying ancient customs on modern mores is a formula for emptying churches... so those of us who remain should be faithful exegetes.

Solomon saw Adonijah’s request as a grab for the kingship. That’s what was important to the story. The Bible is not teaching about sexual or martial mores here... other than to say they existed. They contribute to the story — but they are not the point. So, even though I don’t “get” the sexual/martial overtones, I “get” the story... which is the point.

(For a greater perspective on these and related hermeneutical challenges, I recommend reading the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes [IVP, Richards, O’Brien]). 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200831 We did not sit in our father’s chair).

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