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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 3

 

 

Verses 5-15

Because Of Solomon’s Heartfelt Worship YHWH Offers Him Anything That He Might Wish For, And Solomon Chooses To Have Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-15).

One night while Solomon was in Gibeon for worship at the Tabernacle, probably at one of the great feasts, YHWH appeared to him in a dream and offered him anything that he chose. Solomon, aware of the huge task of ruling his empire therefore asked Him for the wisdom to rule and judge His people rightly. This pleased God so much that He promised him also long life, great honour and wealth, victory over his enemies and wisdom of every kind.

We will discover later that Solomon was in fact given many different kinds of wisdom, not only the wisdom to judge rightly but also wisdom with respect to the natural world and the making of proverbs and sayings with the result that he became famous, so much so that people would come from far and near to hear the wisdom of Solomon.

During the course of this dream Solomon drew out the important fact that his kingship was firmly based on the covenant that YHWH had made with David in 2 Samuel 7:11-17, even though he himself was but as ‘a little child’, which was why he especially needed YHWH’s continuing guidance. (He was very young to be king, being anywhere between sixteen to twenty two) That was why he wanted an understanding heart in order that he might rule and judge YHWH’s people rightly. This then was why he was given such wisdom, and more.

In response to God’s revelation to him Solomon ‘came to Jerusalem’ and offered up many burnt-offerings, and peace offerings. The burnt offerings were dedicatory offerings, but the meat from peace offerings was seen as available to be shared with family, friends and neighbours in a feast, so that Solomon was able to make a feast for ‘all his servants’, thereby uniting them with himself before YHWH in giving thanks for YHWH’s great promise.

Analysis.

a In Gibeon YHWH appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5).

b And Solomon said, “You have shown to your servant David my father great covenant love, according as he walked before You in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You, and You have kept for him this great covenant love, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day” (1 Kings 3:6).

c “And now, O YHWH my God, you have made Your servant king instead of David my father, and I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in, and Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, who cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude” (1 Kings 3:7-8).

d “Give Your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to judge this Your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9).

c And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing, and God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have you asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your word. Lo, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart, so that there has been none like you before you, nor after you shall any arise like you” (1 Kings 3:10-12).

b “And I have also given you what you did not ask, both riches and honour, so that there will not be any among the kings like you, all your days, and if you will walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” (1 Kings 3:13-14).

a And Solomon awoke, and, behold, it was a dream, and he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the Ark of the covenant of YHWH, and offered up burnt-offerings, and offered peace-offerings, and made a feast to all his servants (1 Kings 3:15).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH appeared to Solomon in a dream in Gibeon, and asked what He could give Solomon, and in the parallel Solomon awoke from his dream and in view of that revelation went to Jerusalem and made gifts to both God and his servants in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ Solomon spoke of how his father David walked before God, and in the parallel YHWH called on Solomon to walk in the same way. In ‘c’ Solomon expressed his need for wisdom, and in the parallel God promised him great wisdom. Centrally in ‘d’ Solomon’s request was for wisdom so that he could rule God’s people rightly.

1 Kings 3:5

In Gibeon YHWH appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” ’

While Solomon was at the Tabernacle in Gibeon, possibly attending at one of the great feasts, YHWH appeared to him in a dream during the night and offered to give him anything that he asked for. The dream would be seen as a confirmation of the approval of his kingship by YHWH.

Such dreams at the commencement of a new reign were regularly seen in the ancient world as a confirmation of the approval of a new king by the deity, being then communicated by the king to his leading servants at a feast arranged for the purpose. An account is given in Egyptian inscriptions of a dream revelation (possibly drug induced) given to Thothmes IV at the Sphinx at Giza (which was, of course, a holy place) stressing his election by the gods to his kingship before he was born, and giving him their assurance that they would continue with him into his reign. The great kings of Assyrial also stressed their election by the gods. It was a way by which the kings sought to ensure that their people recognised their divinely given authority.

So YHWH was ensuring that Solomon, His chosen king, was not to be one whit behind the kings of other nations. He too would receive his divinely given authority in such a way that all his servants would recognise that it was so. As so often God used established patterns through which to reveal Himself. Revelation through dreams at unique times in history had been a feature of the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 15:12-17; Genesis 28:12-16; Genesis 31:10-13; Genesis 31:24; Genesis 37:5-10; Numbers 12:6).

1 Kings 3:6

And Solomon said, “You have shown to your servant David my father great covenant love, according as he walked before you in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with you, and you have kept for him this great covenant love, that you have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day” ’

Solomon began his reply by expressing his gratitude to God for all that He had done for his father David in showing him ‘great covenant love’, the love that, having been initially set on His chosen people by God’s grace, choice and favour through the covenant, continued to respond generously to their obedience within that covenant. Note the emphatic connection with the covenant. Solomon wanted the connection of his kingship with both of the divine covenants (Exodus 20 and 2 Samuel 7) to be quite clear And Solomon knew that YHWH had shown His covenant love for David because, apart from certain sad lapses, he had walked faithfully before Him in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart. He had constantly held fast to God’s truth, had continually done ‘rightly’ by the covenant and had specifically obeyed His Instruction given through the Torah (Law, Instruction), and had had an open and honest heart towards God. That was why God had especially shown His covenant love to David by giving him a son to sit on his throne (2 Samuel 7), the throne where he, Solomon, was at this present time seated (in great contrast to what had happened to the covenant-ignoring Saul). Men in those days had no greater delight (apart, at least in David’s case, from that of pleasing YHWH) than that their sons should prosper and do well. Thus having Solomon seated in peace and security over his empire could be seen as one of God’s great covenant gifts to David.

But equally importantly the words made clear to the people that Solomon held his position from YHWH in accordance with a divinely revealed covenant. For ‘uprightness of heart’ see Deuteronomy 9:5.


Verse 7

And now, O YHWH my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father, and I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.”

But having received his authentication by YHWH Solomon recognised what his great problem was, and that was that he was ‘but a little child’ when it came to running an empire. He was openly acknowledging that as a very young and inexperienced man the task was too big for him and that he did not know how precisely to go about it (thus revealing that he already had some wisdom). The idea of ‘going out’ and ‘coming in’ refers to a person going out of the house or city in order to fulfil his purposes in life and do his duty and fulfil his responsibilities, and then returning, both to rest from his labours, and also to see to the internal problems at home in order also to fulfil his responsibilities there. It thus referred to all aspects of life both near and far. And he was admitting that he needed help with regard to all of them.

An interesting example of a similar humility shown by a king, and vividly depicted, is found in a sculpture at Pi-Rameses of Rameses II where he is portrayed as squatting like a young child and sucking his thumb under the protection of an image of Horus depicted as a giant stone falcon. It was an indication that in the hearts of all men, however great, there is a recognition of their own inadequacy and need for supernatural help, which if not met by trust in God, will find other avenues by which to express itself such as in Nature, ‘Evolution’ or the occult.


Verse 8

And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, who cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.”

Furthermore Solomon felt the burden of having responsibility for so many people, a people who were so numerous that they were beyond counting, and who were all the chosen of YHWH. This was especially so as he was aware that for this huge mass of people he himself was accountable to God. It was a huge responsibility indeed.


Verse 9

Give your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to judge this your great people?”

So he prayed to YHWH from the bottom of his heart that He would give him an understanding heart so that he could rightly judge and rule over His people. The ‘heart’ was regularly seen in the ancient world as the source of thought and mind, as well as of emotion. With the heart man thought, and willed, and experienced. Solomon wanted to be able to judge ‘between good and evil’, both between right and wrong, and between what was wise and unwise. For how else could anyone judge this great people of YHWH?

“Good and evil” can refer to moral good and evil, or to the good and bad things that can come on mankind, e.g. sun, rain, storms and earthquakes. Thus it often indicates ‘everything’. We should note for example that when Isaiah said that ‘God creates evil’ he meant that God was overall responsible for bad things that happened to the world as well as good things, not that He was responsible for creating sin. (Compare ‘shall evil come on a city and YHWH has not done it?’ - Amos 3:6).

1 Kings 3:10

And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.’

Solomon’s reply ‘pleased the Lord’ (adonay). It gave Him great joy that Solomon’s first concern was to serve Him satisfactorily, by ruling His people righteously. Note the rare use of ‘Lord’ (adonay) in 1 Kings (not apparent in most English translations where YHWH is regularly translated as LORD). It occurs twice in the phrase ‘Lord YHWH’ (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Kings 8:53), once of ‘the Ark of the covenant of the Lord’ (1 Kings 3:15), and once on the mouths of false prophets (1 Kings 22:6) and only here, when used by itself, of YHWH. In 2 Kings it occurs twice, once where it refers to ‘the Lord’ causing a noise to be heard by means of a ‘miracle’ (2 Kings 7:6) and once where YHWH rebukes the king of Assyria through Isaiah on the grounds that he has ‘reproached the Lord’ by what he had said (2 Kings 19:23). Thus it is used in order to indicate God as the Sovereign Lord over creation and all men, and its use here must be seen as significant. It is emphasising that it was the Great One, Who was over all things and from Whom he could have asked anything, to whom he had made his request. Well is it for us to remember also, that when we pray for things we are praying to our Sovereign Lord and Creator as those who are His servants as well as His sons. Then, like Solomon, we might be more thoughtful about what we ask.

1 Kings 3:11-13

And God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have you asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your word. Lo, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart, so that there has been none like you before you, nor after you shall any arise like you. And I have also given you what you did not ask, both riches and honour, so that there will not be any among the kings like you, all your days.”

The use of the divine names in the passage is interesting. In 1 Kings 3:4 his dream comes from ‘YHWH’, his covenant God, but it is ‘God’ (Elohim) the Lord of all the world Who speaks to him and desires Solomon to tell Him what He should give him, thus not binding him in his reply to keep in mind the covenant. In 1 Kings 3:7 Solomon replies to ‘YHWH my God’, recognising Him from both viewpoints and acknowledging that he has covenant responsibilities. In 1 Kings 3:10 it is ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (adonay) who was pleased at what Solomon had asked for. Here now it is ‘God’ Who addresses him and confirms that He will give him much more than what he has asked for, because his request had only had in mind being able to serve God fully and rightly.

And God informed him that because he had asked for wisdom to rule rightly, rather than for long life, wealth or glory in warfare, He would not only give him understanding in order that he might discern what was just and right, but would also give him such a wise and understanding heart that none before or after him would stand comparison with him, and would furthermore also give him the wealth and glory that he had not asked for, so that none in his day would be able to compare with him.

The wisdom that Solomon was given will be expanded on in the narrative, it would include:

The wisdom to make right judgments on behalf of the people (1 Kings 3:16-28).

Wisdom in respect of speaking proverbs which give wisdom; instruction; discernment; ability to deal rightly in righteousness, judgment and equity; prudence to the simple; and deeper understanding (see Proverbs 1:2-6), and wisdom concerning nature and natural things, both of which were universally respected (1 Kings 4:29-34).

Wisdom as regards the decision to build the Temple (1 Kings 5:7).

Wisdom to seek peace rather than conflict (1 Kings 5:12).

Wisdom concerning YHWH as revealed in his prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-53.

Wisdom to answer all the Queen of Sheba’s hard questions with which she came to test him (1 Kings 10:1-8).

His wisdom thus covered all aspects of existence.


Verse 14

And if you will walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

What was more, if he would continually walk in YHWH’s ways and keep His statutes and His commandments, thus remaining faithful to the covenant, he would also have length of days and live to a mature old age. For ‘keep my statutes’ see Leviticus 19:19; Leviticus 20:8; Leviticus 20:22. For ‘keep my commandments’ see Leviticus 26:3. For walking before God and keeping His statutes and commandments see especially 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 6:12; 1 Kings 8:58; 1 Kings 9:4; Joshua 22:5; Leviticus 18:3-4; Leviticus 26:3; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 26:17; Deuteronomy 30:16; Judges 2:22; and compare Genesis 17:1; Genesis 24:40; Genesis 26:5; Genesis 48:15; Exodus 15:26; Exodus 18:20; Leviticus 26:21-41; Deuteronomy 6:1-2; etc. Thus the citations conform with various Biblical books.

1 Kings 3:15

And Solomon awoke, and, behold, it was a dream, and he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of YHWH, and offered up burnt-offerings, and offered peace-offerings, and made a feast to all his servants.’

Then Solomon awoke and recognised that he had received a supernatural dream confirming the covenant and his own acceptability to YHWH as king within it (1 Kings 3:14), and in consequence he came to Jerusalem, to the Sacred Tent where the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH was to be found, and standing before it (although it would, of course, be unseen behind its curtain), dedicated himself and his people to YHWH, and offered up on the altar there burnt offerings and peace offerings, the former being for dedication, the latter being in respect of wellbeing, peace with God and thanksgiving. The burnt offerings were for dedication and atonement (Leviticus 1), and would be fully consumed, but the peace-offerings were for acceptability, well-being, thanksgiving and atonement, and meat from them could be consumed at a feast (Leviticus 7:11-21). Consequently Solomon made a feast to all his servants, and it may presumably be assumed that at that feast he communicated to his servants all that YHWH had said to him, thus making them one with him in it and assuring them that he had received the divine seal to his kingship.

The move to Jerusalem for this purpose was necessary because that was where the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH, containing the two tablets of ‘commandments’, was to be found. It was emphasising how much the covenant was to be seen as involved in what had been said.

One vital lesson that all of us can draw from the above narrative is the necessity of ensuring that when we make choices in our lives, we do so with the prosperity and blessing of the Kingly Rule of God in mind.


Verses 16-28

Solomon’s New God-given Wisdom Is Revealed In His Judgment Concerning Two Prostitutes Who Claimed The Same Baby (1 Kings 3:16-28).

Solomon’s new God-given wisdom was soon to be tested out when two women came before him, each claiming that of two new-born babies, one dead and one living, the living was hers. The way in which he solved the case was seen as evidence by all that here truly was one who enjoyed the wisdom of God and could thus dispense His justice. This was a further seal on the fact that he was YHWH’s chosen king.

Sadly this was an example of what was a common experience throughout the world, and similar stories about swapped babies are known from elsewhere. The suggestion that they must all have one source is laughable. Such a situation must often have happened where the circumstances allowed it. In the case of the closest parallel, an Indian version, both the mothers were wives of one husband. The narrative style here, with its vivid direct speech expected at a hearing (compare 2 Samuel 14:4-20), is typical of Samuel and Kings.

It was common practise for Mesopotamian kings to have unusual examples of their judgments recorded so that they could present them before their deity for His approval and commendation. This would appear to be one such example in Israel, in which case it would underline the fact that it was genuine.

Analysis.

a Then there came two women who were prostitutes to the king, and stood before him (1 Kings 3:16).

b And the one woman said, “Oh, my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house, and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came about on the third day after I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only we two in the house” (1 Kings 3:17-18).

c “And this woman’s child died in the night, because she lay on it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while your handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom” (1 Kings 3:19-20).

d “And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead, but when I had looked at it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, whom I had borne” (1 Kings 3:21).

e And the other woman said, “No, but the living is my son, and the dead is your son.” And this one said, “No, but the dead is your son, and the living is my son” (1 Kings 3:22 a).

f Thus they spoke before the king (1 Kings 3:22 b).

e Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who lives, and your son is the dead, and the other says, ‘No, but your son is the dead, and my son is the living’ ” (1 Kings 3:23).

d And the king said, “Fetch me a sword.” And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other” (1 Kings 3:24-25).

c Then the woman whose the living child was spoke to the king, for her heart yearned over her son, and she said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and on no condition slay it.” But the other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours, divide it” (1 Kings 3:26).

b Then the king answered and said, “Give her the living child, and on no condition slay it. She is its mother” (1 Kings 3:27).

a And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged, and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice (1 Kings 3:28).

Note that in ‘a’ the two women came before Solomon for his judgment, and in the parallel all wondered at the judgment given. In ‘b’ the true mother claimed the baby as her own, and in the parallel she was to be given the baby. In ‘c’ the problem of two claimants to the baby, the true mother and the false mother, was laid before Solomon, and in the parallel the true mother was prepared to relinquish her child rather than see him killed, while the false mother was perfectly willing for him to be killed. In ‘d’ the true mother looked at the dead baby and recognised that it was not her son, and in the parallel Solomon ‘decided’ to kill her living son so that both would be dead. In ‘e’ the two women wrangled, and in the parallel Solomon summed up their wrangling. Centrally in ‘f’ the presentation of the case was concluded and awaited Solomon’s decision.

1 Kings 3:16

Then there came two women who were prostitutes to the king, and stood before him.’

We have in this incident evidence of the way in which, like many ancient kings, there was provision for common people to approach Solomon in order to obtain his verdict on their case (compare 2 Samuel 14:3 onwards where the same was true for David; see also 2 Kings 8:3-6), possibly on one specific day of the moon period. It was even the practise of many Pharaohs. The fact that the women were prostitutes and lived on their own together explains why the incident could happen. They were not surrounded by loving families who would have prevented any possibility of the babies being mixed up. They may, in fact, have been innkeepers (the same Hebrew word is used for both innkeepers and prostitutes, who in fact often doubled up) who would often also be prostitutes as well (in a similar way perhaps to Rahab in Joshua 2). That would explain the reference in 1 Kings 3:18 to no strangers being present in the house at the time. The story rings true at every point.

Prostitution was frowned on for native Israelites, but it was nevertheless tolerated, presumably as an unpreventable evil. Compare Genesis 38:15. Fathers were forbidden to make their daughters into prostitutes (Leviticus 19:29) lest the land become ‘full of wickedness’, but there was no actual specific ban on women choosing that way of life for themselves (Deuteronomy 23:17 refers to cult prostitutes which were forbidden), although its unsavouriness was made clear both by the above statement, and from the fact that the children thus produced were banned from the house of YHWH for ‘ten generations’ (Deuteronomy 23:2). No son of Aaron could marry a prostitute (Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14) and if their daughters became prostitutes they were to be ‘burned with fire’ because they had profaned themselves (Leviticus 21:10). A prostitute’s gifts were not to be accepted by the Tabernacle (Deuteronomy 23:18). However, many women who were left husbandless and without close family support probably often had little alternative.

1 Kings 3:17-19

And the one woman said, “Oh, my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house, and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came about on the third day after I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also, and we were together. There was no stranger with us in the house, only we two in the house. And this woman’s child died in the night, because she lay on it.”

The first woman gave the details of the case, which were that they both lived together as prostitutes in one house, with no other company, and that they had both had a child within days of each other. But the second woman’s child had died because the woman was careless and lay on it during the night while she was sleeping. The reference to no stranger being in the house at the time may suggest that they were innkeepers (see on 1 Kings 3:16).


Verse 20

And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while your handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.”

So the woman whose child had died arose at midnight and took the first woman’s baby son, replacing it with her own dead son.


Verse 21

And when I rose in the morning to breast feed my child, behold, it was dead, but when I had looked at it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, whom I had borne.”

Consequently when the first woman arose in order to feed her baby she had thought that it was dead, but once she had examined it in the morning light she had realised that it was not her baby at all.

1 Kings 3:22 a ‘And the other woman said, “No, but the living is my son, and the dead is your son.” And this one said, “No, but the dead is your son, and the living is my son.”

The second woman then spoke up and declared that the truth of the matter was that her son was the living son, while the dead son was the first woman’s, at which the first woman said that that was not true but that the opposite was the case.

1 Kings 3:22 b ‘Thus they spoke before the king.’

This then was the case that they had brought before the king.

1 Kings 3:23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son who lives, and your son is the dead, and the other says, ‘No, but your son is the dead, and my son is the living.’ ”

The king no doubt eyed them both up and down, and then repeated the situation as described by the women. It appeared insoluble. One said one thing, and the other another. How could one possibly decide who was telling the truth when there was no evidence either way apart from the two women’s opposing testimony?

1 Kings 3:24

And the king said, “Fetch me a sword.” And they brought a sword before the king.’

But the king had not been given divine wisdom for nothing, so he called for a sword to be brought to him, which was immediately done.

1 Kings 3:25

And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.”

The king then gave his verdict that there was only one way in which to be fair to both and that was to divide the child up between them. Needless to say the living child would no longer then be living.

1 Kings 3:26

Then the woman whose the living child was spoke to the king, for her heart yearned over her son, and she said, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and on no condition slay it.” But the other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours, divide it.” ’

The thought of this happening to her son was more than the true mother could bear, and she cried to the king, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and on no condition slay it.” The other woman was, however, nonchalant about the situation and agreed wholeheartedly with the king. This immediately resulted in Solomon recognising which of them must be the true mother.

1 Kings 3:27

Then the king answered and said, “Give her the living child, and on no condition slay it. She is its mother.” ’

And he accordingly gave instructions that the living son be given to the woman who was prepared to do anything rather than see her son die.

1 Kings 3:28

And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged, and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.’

All around were filled with awe, and the story began to filter out to the whole of Israel, with the result they too were filled with awe at the king’s wisdom. And all recognised that it demonstrated that the wisdom of God was with him and that they could therefore depend on him in the future for true justice. There would be no more questioning his right to rule.

One lesson for us from this story is that we are always judged by the choices that we make. Like the false mother, false Christians will always give themselves away in the end, whatever their protestations, by the options that they subscribe to, and the choices that they make. As Jesus said, ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say?’ (Luke 6:46).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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