Shields of Brass for Shields of Gold 1 Kings 14. 26-27
Ivan Steeds, Bristol
The Glories of Solomon's reign were apparent to all. They were exemplified in the buildings he erected and were advertised in various attachments to his person that betokened enormous wealth and influence among the nations of that time. As a young man he had sought from God an understanding heart to judge . . . so great a people as God's people, and God took particular pleasure in the unselfish nature of his request, noting he had asked for neither riches nor the lives of his enemies! Such was God's pleasure that He not only conferred upon Solomon unparalleled wisdom, so that in this there was none like him before or after, but also He promised to confer upon Solomon riches and honour 'so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days,' 1 Kings 3. 5-15. Scripture records the extent of the wealth that poured into the kingdom during Solomon's glorious reign; it was a reign that prefigured the glories and the blessings of Christ's kingdom on earth in a coming day. Through revenue sources, gifts from visiting dignitaries, and profits from trading enterprises, we are told that gold was in such abundance that silver, of lesser value, 'was not any thing accounted of in the days of Solomon', 2 Chron. 9. 20. The king's great throne of ivory was overlaid with pure gold, with a footstool of gold; all his drinking vessels were of gold, and to proclaim to the eyes of the world the vastness of his resources, Solomon made two hundred targets (large shields) of beaten gold, and three hundred shields of beaten gold. It is on record that these shields were kept in 'the house of the forest of Lebanon', the lavishly appointed palace that Solomon had constructed for himself, 1. Kings 7. 1-2. From Rehoboam's reactions in the aftermath of Solomon's reign it may be assumed that traditionally the golden shields were borne by soldiery who guarded the king's progress when he went to the house of the Lord, 1 Kings 14. 28. We may judge that the public display of such costly objects, though they were part of the warriors' panoply and available for use in any hostile circumstance, was testimony to Solomon's greatness, But beyond this and more importantly, the restriction of their use to such an occasion must be seen as testimony to the supreme greatness of the Lord God that Solomon served. The gold that glinted in that royal procession, burning with the reflected brilliance of the sun, bespoke the supreme glories of deity! To all who looked on it was a reminder of the greatness of Almighty God, He who was pleased to dwell in the midst of His people.
The alarming development in the reign of Rehoboam which saw these shields of gold taken away by the king of Egypt reflected the massive decline in the state of the original kingdom. The nation was now divided, there was wholesale departure from God's commandments and a turning to idolatry. Acknowledged strength had become manifest weakness, and wealth and resources had become the prey of predatory neighbours. It would be only the introduction of worse things to come, times of unprecedented trouble for both Israel and Judah, reaching such intensity in the days of Jeremiah the prophet that his cry of lamentation and despondency would ring out: 'How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!' Lam. 4. 1.
Rehoboam's reaction to the loss of the shields of gold demonstrated a measure of ingenuity as to how the immediate problem might be overcome. In place of the original shields he made shields of brass and committed them to the hands of the chief of the guard . . . 'and when the king entered the house of the Lord the guard came and fetched them, and brought them again (afterwards) into the guard chamber', 2 Chron. 12. 10-11. So, by this device, he kept up appearances, and seemingly maintained worthy traditions established by his forbears. A casual review of the scene would have suggested that nothing had changed, but a closer inspection would reveal the magnitude of his loss, and the extent of national declension: gold had been replaced by brass!
Many are the lessons that may be derived from this unhappy event, for since the beginning of time the entire history of mankind has been littered with crises of a similar sort. Even in this glorious day of grace, the church era, God's own people have fallen away in similar fashion, so that all the evidences of declension are there to be seen by any who would give close examination, in the light of God's word. Any attempts made to conceal this fact may be regarded as entirely unworthy; they must be considered as only subterfuge. Appearance means nothing, even though it is maintained to a high degree in order to convince that all is well, and that things continue very much as in the early days of the church. What an affront this must be to all-seeing, all-wise God; for even men are not deceived by such a facade, and the posturings of the purveyors of nominal religion can rightly be judged as merely shades of former glories.
A brief analysis of the bible story will indicate the causes of such a breakdown, and the consequences that ensue.
DEITY. The shields of gold were to be seen as evidence of God's presence in the midst of His people: they were token to the fact that He must ever be paramount in their activities, and that He must not be offended by any form of ungodliness in their midst. These shields were unique, as God's people were unique among the inhabitants of the earth, 'a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned amongst the nations', Num. 23. 9.
God dwells in the midst of His people today, and this wondrous fact should be demonstrated before the eyes of a watchful world; it should be seen in our manner of life, and in our testimony. Sadly, we live in a day when much of Christendom rejects the deity of Christ: brass has been substituted for gold!
DEPARTURE. Rehoboam led his people into apostasy and decline, 1 Kings. 14. 21, but the seeds of bitter harvest were sown in the reign of his illustrious father. It was Solomon who took an Ammonitish woman as his wife, and she bore him a son, Rehoboam, who would later accede to the throne. Solomon again looked beyond the borders of Israel for a wife, and took to himself a princess of Egypt, a move of political expediency, 1 Kings 3. 1. Both of these marriages brought with them a legacy of tragedy, for if Rehoboam presided over the decline and breaking up of the original kingdom, then it was Egypt that 'came up against Jerusalem, and took away all the treasures of the house of the Lord, ... of the king's house ... and all the shields of gold which Solomon made', 1 Kings. 14. 25-26. The allurements of the flesh (Ammon) and the attractions of the world (Egypt) in whatever form must be rejected, and the pathway of separation to God must be followed.
DIVISION. David, Rehoboam's grandfather, extolled the advantages of brethren dwelling together in unity, Psa. 133. Alas, it had not followed in the case of his own family, and this caused him intense grief! What might his reaction have been to the break-up of his kingdom, yet such a development would follow at this later stage! The ten northern tribes (Israel) and the two remaining tribes (Judah) would go their separate ways in a climate of hostility, bringing grief to the heart of God.
How sad that today Christians are segmented into so many different factions, presenting a picture of disunity. In consequence, the fragrance, refreshment, and blessings of Psalm 133 are not in evidence. Departure from God must lead to divisions among His people, as men of fleshly calibre vie for position, and the clear instructions of God's word are rejected. Let us be reminded that after Pentecost, believers 'continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers'; they 'were together, and had all things common', Acts 2. 42. 44. God's first intention for His believing people is demonstrated vividly in those early days of Christianity: today's situation represents a travesty of that intention.
DETERIORATION. Loss of the golden shields was only a part of the wholesale deterioration of the nation's resources of that time, a process that would continue until virtually nothing remained. It was a reflection of moral and spiritual decline and no amount of replacement with shields of another material could hide that fact. In today's situation the slick organisation, and concentration of resources amongst religious communities cannot hide the feebleness of their witness, or disguise their lack of spiritual strength..
DELUSION. The condition of the church at Laodicea would seem to represent the condition of God's people today. There was blindness and delusion as to their true state. They were lukewarm, in contrast to the burning fervency of the earliest Christians, and this brought them into disfavour with the risen Lord. As to their resources, they were unaware of their pitiful limitations. 'Thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked', Rev. 3. 17. This is how they were seen by One whose 'eyes were as a flame of fire', and His comments must have shattered their delusions.
Any possible recovery for God's people today must begin with realistic self-appraisal according to the teachings of God's word, and acknowledgement in His presence of all shortcomings.
DIRECTION. Our Lord's words of censure to Laodicea were followed by words of counsel; His initial 'rebuke' had been in 'love', and so He sought to direct them along a road to recovery. 'I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire', Rev. 3. 18. In such a way their poverty would be removed. But poor as they were, how could they possibly 'buy' the gold that was necessary? The answer is that grace allows us to buy of Him though we have 'no money', Isa. 55. 1. To acquire this 'gold' is to gain greater awareness of the glories of His divine Person through His word - this is a privilege beyond valuation. This is 'gold tried in the fire', the purest, costliest form of wealth. It is to 'know' Him more fully and then to 'show' Him to others in life and testimony. By this means will the 'shields of gold' again be borne by God's people in confirmation that they uniquely are His 'chosen generation', His people among whom He dwells.