The Foolishness of Solomon audio (4MB)
I’m not a betting man. In fact, I hate the way gambling usually takes from the poor and gives to the rich. But if you were talking odds, you’d have to say that Solomon was a sure bet. Solomon was a winner. Solomon the wise ruler;Solomon the great temple builder;Solomon the famous king.
1 Kings tells us that when the Queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the LORD, there was no more spirit in her. So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. Not even half had been told me; your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard. Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:4-9)
How could something so right go so wrong? When we first read the history of Solomon’s failure it seems almost unbelievable. How could the king who decided so wisely bring disaster upon his family and his country? I believe we can only really understand Solomon’s fall if we understand ourselves and our own weaknesses. In chapter 11 we discover that despite all his wisdom, power, and fame, Solomon had a fatal weakness. He had 700 wives and 300 mistresses (v. 3). Surprisingly, the number of Solomon’s marriages is not condemned. In the ancient world it was common practice for a king to have arranged marriages to create political alliances. (Not that I am suggesting that it’s okay for us to have 700 husbands or wives, even if we could afford them during the Global Financial Crisis!) Solomon’s marriages are condemned because they led him into idolatry.
Solomon’s offences (v. 1-8) In chapter 11 we see how Solomon’s weakness caused his idolatry. v. 1: “King Solomon loved many foreign women”v. 2: “Solomon clung to these in love”v. 3, 4: “his wives turned away his heart” after other godsv. 5: “For Solomon followed” idolsv. 7: “Then Solomon built a high place [=a place of worship]” for idolsv. 8: “He did the same for all his foreign wives”
It seems to me that verse 2 tells us something very important. “Solomon clung to these in love”. The language here is strong. God had warned Solomon of the danger. But Solomon stubbornly kept up his relationships with women who worshipped other gods. Of course, none of us have ever made foolish decisions because of our feelings for a member of the opposite sex, have we? And none of us have stubbornly pursued that relationship even though we knew it was wrong for us, have we? We can be very stubborn, about pursuing things we really want for ourselves. Often we persist even when we have been warned that consequences may not be good for us and for others!
Today’s reading shows that Solomon’s heart ruled over his head: v. 2: “for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"v. 3: “and his wives turned away his heart”v. 4: “his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the LORD his God”v. 9: “Then the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD” I think there is a deliberate contrast being made here. The author of Kings is intentionally contrasting Solomon’s unfaithfulness with the faithfulness of God.
We see this contrast in the section of chapter 9 which was read to us: The LORD said to Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (1 Kings 9:3) God’s eyes and God’s heart were on Solomon. But Solomon “turned away his heart after other gods” (v. 4)!
I think that we are meant to pay careful attention to the way that Solomon turns away from God. It doesn’t happen overnight. Solomon does not make a deliberate decision to exclude God from his life. But he does make a decision to let other gods into his life. And over time he allows them more and more space in his life. There is no instant rejection of God. But in the end Solomon turns his heart away from the God of his father David and towards the false gods of his foreign wives.
Perhaps you have seen this happen to people you know. Some people reject God on the basis of one particular experience. They might have had an argument with someone in the church. Or they didn’t like the new minister (or the new curate!). But in my experience most people who give up their faith do it over a period of time. Over time they allow other things to take the place that belongs only to God.
I am reminded of my friends from the Christian Fellowship at my university. Some of them are still just as passionate about God and sharing their Christian faith today. Others have turned their hearts away from God. For some of them I believe this was because of romantic relationships. Others turned their hearts away from God because their job came first. For one reason or another they didn’t go to church so often. For one reason or another they didn’t read their Bible as often. For one reason or another they didn’t pray as often. Until one day they didn’t go to church, they didn’t read their Bible, they didn’t pray at all.
God’s judgment on Solomon (v. 9-13) In the next sermon in this series we will hear about the civil war among Solomon’s family and the division of his kingdom. These things will happen after Solomon’s death. But in today’s reading God makes it very clear that Solomon himself is responsible for what will happen. In verse 11 we read God’s judgment upon Solomon: Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant.” (1 Kings 11:11)
Why did God judge Solomon so severely? Surely it was because of the responsibility that comes with leadership. “What a king tolerates is soon copied by his people” (Howard Marshall). We know from what follows in the Bible that Solomon’s idolatry was copied by the people of Israel. And idolatry continued to be a major issue in Israel for the next 350 years. And in the end it even resulted in God allowing the destruction of the temple Solomon had built.
It is a tragic irony that it was Solomon, who built the temple, who actually sowed the seeds of its destruction with his own behaviour! Solomon’s life serves as an example of special importance for those of us who have positions of responsibility among God’s people today. Like Solomon, the example of our life and teaching will be copied by God’s people.
In his letters in the New Testament the apostle Paul makes this point many times. He urges God’s people to imitate him (see 1 Corinthians 11:1; and also in 2 Timothy).
Are we confident enough about our Christian life to encourage other people to imitate the way we live? In 1 Corinthians chapter 8 Paul writes about the issue of idolatry which led Solomon and then his people astray. The issue of food which has been offered to idols was a problem for many new members of the church. Paul says that the idols themselves have no power. He says that “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we eat it and no better off if we do. But”, Paul cautions the Corinthian Christians, "take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall." (1 Corinthians 8:8-12)
Paul is not suggesting that we become vegetarians. He wants to avoid doing things that might lead us away from God. But he also wants to avoid doing things that might lead other people away from God.
The contrast with Solomon could not be clearer. Solomon both did things that turned his heart away from God and did things that turned the hearts of his people away from God.
I believe God’s message to us from today’s reading is two-sided. God does want us to look carefully at our lives and to deal with anything that might turn our hearts away from God. It might be our relationships; it might be our job; it might be some other commitment which comes before God.
But I believe God also wants to encourage us to regularly keep doing the things that will help keep our hearts turned towards God. To keep meeting with God's people. To keep studying the Bible regularly. To make regular time for prayer. Let’s pray that God will help us to keep our hearts turned towards him, and also give thanks that God’s eyes and God’s heart are turned towards us for all time!