Getting to Know the Major Characters of the Old Testament: Part 3 (Solomon, Daniel, Ezra)
By Christopher Reese
This is the third and final part of our series introducing major characters of the Old Testament. In our first article we looked at the lives of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, and our second examined Moses, Joshua, and David. We’re now surveying the lives of Solomon, Daniel, and Ezra, while also drawing out some lessons we can apply to our own lives as followers of Christ.
During his 40-year reign, Solomon conducted an extensive building program and expanded Israel’s trade with other nations. He’s remembered most for building the temple in Jerusalem, which would stand for several hundred years. The temple took seven years to complete and involved the work of tens of thousands of laborers. 1 Kings 8:22-66 describes Solomon’s prayer of dedication and the celebration of the people at its completion. Importantly, Solomon acknowledges in his prayer that “even though God had chosen to dwell among his people in a special and localized way, he far transcended being limited by anything in all creation,” including the temple.
Solomon was also known for his great wisdom, which he asked God to grant him early in his reign (1 Kings 3:1-15). He’s the author of numerous wise sayings recorded in the book of Proverbs, and is traditionally believed to be the author of the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. He was famously visited by the Queen of Sheba who “came to test Solomon with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). After talking with him about “all that she had on her mind,” she exclaimed, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. . . . you have far exceeded the report I heard” (1 Kings 10:1-7).
In spite of Solomon’s great wisdom, he made the destructive mistake of allowing the worship of false gods in Israel, primarily through the influence of his many wives from other nations. Scripture records that “on a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (1 Kings 11:7-8). A “high place” was “a place of worship ordinarily situated on a hill or mountain and commonly associated with false religions.”
As a result, “the LORD said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates’” (1 Kings 11:9-13). As the Asbury Bible Commentary observes, “How few proofs does [Solomon’s] life give that the gracious purpose of God was fulfilled in him! He received much, but he would have received much more, had he been faithful to the grace given.” This is a reminder that there is a big difference between knowing what is right, and doing what is right. Solomon was well aware God hated idolatry, but persisted in it for the sake of political alliances through his marriages. James reminds us, we should not merely hear God’s word, but also act on it. Still, Solomon is remembered for the wisdom of his writings and the temple he built for the worship of the true God.
Daniel was a Jewish prophet whose story is told in the Old Testament book that bears his name. He was a member of the royal family in Jerusalem, but as a young man was taken away to Babylon by its king, Nebuchadnezzar, who besieged Jerusalem. The Babylonians aimed to indoctrinate Daniel and others who were taken into their own culture, and Daniel was given the Babylonian name Belteshazzar (Daniel 1:7). Three of Daniel’s fellow Israelites, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who were renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—are remembered for being thrown into a fiery furnace—and surviving—because they refused to bow down to a golden idol set up by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3).
Daniel quickly distinguished himself as a leader and wise counselor, and he won Nebuchadnezzar’s favor by interpreting a dream no one else could explain. This led Nebuchadnezzar to declare, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2).
Daniel also had four visions that predicted how future world kingdoms would unfold, all the way to the end of time (Daniel 7-12). One of these visions foresaw the future reign of Jesus—hundreds of years before Jesus was born:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days [i.e., God] and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
Jesus applied this prophecy to himself in the Gospel of Matthew, stating, “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
One key lesson we can learn from Daniel’s life is what it looks like to be faithful to God in the midst of a culture that worships false gods and doesn’t recognize God’s authority. The Theology of Work Bible Commentary explains, “Daniel managed to walk the tightrope of partial cultural assimilation without religious and moral compromise. The stakes were high. Daniel’s career and even his life were on the line. . . . Yet by God’s grace, Daniel remained composed and maintained his integrity. Even Daniel’s enemies would later admit that ‘they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was found in him’” (Daniel 6:4).
This reflects the apostle Peter’s advice to Christians that we should “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God . . .” (1 Peter 2:12).
After Daniel was taken to Babylon, the Babylonians once again attacked Jerusalem and many citizens of the region were deported to Babylon. After Babylon fell to the Persians, the Persians began allowing the Jews to return to their homeland. This happened in three separate waves, and Ezra led the second wave back to Jerusalem. By this time, the temple had been rebuilt (Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it), but the people lacked instruction in God’s Word and law, and spiritual leadership. Ezra was well qualified to provide this as a priest and a scribe—that is, “a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6).
One of the major issues Ezra had to confront was the many marriages between the Israelites and people from the surrounding pagan nations. In a mournful prayer to God, Ezra lamented, “Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit . . . detestable practices?” We saw earlier how Solomon had been led into idolatry by the pagan practices of his foreign wives. The result of this kind of idolatry was that “we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today” (Ezra 9:14; Ezra 9:7). Thus Ezra made the people swear an oath to separate themselves from their foreign spouses. Had the foreign spouses committed themselves to the God of Israel, there would not have been a problem. But the implication is that the vast majority still worshiped their own gods (Ezra 10:19).
The book of Nehemiah tells more of Ezra’s story, including how he read God’s Word to an assembly of the people, and how the Levites—the temple workers—assisted him by reading “from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Nehemiah 8:8).
Because “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” the “gracious hand of his God was on him” (Ezra 7:9-10). A recurring theme throughout the Bible is the importance of reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 1, for example, says that the person who meditates on God’s Word is “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
A steady diet of Scripture reading and study is essential for spiritual growth, so we encourage you to make use of the resources we offer at Bible Gateway including tips for fully engaging Scripture, Bible reading plans, and other tools for growing deeper in your knowledge of God’s Word.[Sign up to get the Know the Bible free email lesson series from Bible Gateway]
Also see these articles in this series:
- Getting to Know the Major Characters of the Old Testament: Part 1 (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph)
- Getting to Know the Major Characters of the Old Testament: Part 2 (Moses, Joshua, David)
BIO: Christopher Reese (MDiv, ThM) (@clreese) is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Worldview Bulletin. He is a general editor of the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017) and Three Views on Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2021). His articles have appeared in Christianity Today and he writes and edits for Christian ministries and publishers.
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July 29, 2021