Songs of our heritage – in praise of Redwoods and parsley?

‘People of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon,’ which he vocalised in 1005 songs [inheriting his father David’s gift for music] as well as 3000 proverbs, few of which have survived. And his themes?  ‘He spoke … of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish’ (1 Kings 4:32-34) to express his heavenly insights.

Well, I certainly got a surprise when I went hunting for all these creatures in Solomon’s collected sayings. For a start, there’s not a single mention of fish. And I found very few beasts and reptiles in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But I will admit that his enjoyment of earth’s flora and fauna blossoms effusively in his Song of Songs.

Jesus, his descendant, the ‘greater than Solomon’ (Matthew 12:42) – who also spoke of creatures of the air (ravens and eagles) and of the land (sheep, scorpions, swine etc) – was the one who was big on fishes from the sea: he ordered two miraculous hauls, as well as bidding his followers to go fishing for people (Luke 5:4-11).

Of course, all those plants and animals were simply illustrations. But, of what?

Solomon’s edited proverbs are full of moral sound bites:

[] Work diligently
[] Speak truthfully, without slander
[] Fear the Lord
[] Stay faithful to your spouse and friends, flee adultery
[] Care for your animals
[] Avoid money lenders and their high interest rates

But let’s not miss the lesson of our text, 1 Kings 4:32-34, which adds that Solomon ‘spoke [and maybe didn’t write] of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.’  (Hyssop, a tree? that’s an honour!)  Now cedars and hyssop are as diverse as ‘Californian redwoods and parsley’! As an architect and builder he panelled every room in his royal palace with cedar wood (1 Kings 7:11-12) to express the glory and grandeur of God’s kingdom over which he ruled. And he never, apparently, forgot that God’s nation had been born out of slavery in Egypt. For on that first Passover night the doorway of every humble Hebrew home had the blood of an unblemished lamb brushed on by using a handful of the humble hyssop (Exodus 12:21-28).

Solomon may also have been inspired to speak of cedar and hyssop because they were used together in the ritual cleansing of anyone defiled by touching a corpse, and any leper or mildewed house (Numbers 9:6,18; Leviticus 14:3-6, 48-53).

In his coronation psalm (Psalm 72:0), Solomon’s prayer starts with a plea for his reign to be carried out in [hyssop-like] humility, and concludes with his longing for the whole earth to become God’s glory-filled [cedar-panelled] palace, because heavenly wisdom has spread [through the fame of his wise rule] to all nations and their monarchs. And we must humbly pray, ‘forgive us our sins’ as well as ‘your kingdom come.’

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