Monday, June 25, 2012

If it can happen to Solomon...

I’ve been reflecting on worship yesterday (I’m writing this on Monday). It was powerful. Jason, Bryan (McKaig), and Rachel led us with concert-quality music and songs that spanned centuries—from 1700s hymns to original pieces written by Jason this year—with the simplest of instruments and soaring vocal harmonies. Wow, I hate it for those who had to be away! Then Bryan Parris (affectionately called BP around here) did an excellent job making sense of a hard week’s reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. All week last week I was kind of thankful that I was not bringing the message, in part due to the difficulty of the book! Solomon is easy to talk about when we are considering the early part of his reign as king. He’s the wise son of David who was so successful. It was during this first part of his reign is when he apparently wrote Proverbs, those incredibly practical truisms that still make wise those who apply them. But then something happened. I don’t think it happened overnight. I think it happened over many years. Solomon strayed. Something I love about the Bible is its brutal honesty (as contrasted to human-authored books which tend to edit out conflicting or unpleasant character-flaws of our heroes). BP showed us this from 1 Kings 11. I’ll include a few more verses:

1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God,as was the heart of David his father. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.6So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

There’s so much there that deserves comment...but I’m gonna stick to my point. What happened to Solomon?! How did he go from godly, wise king to one who had “turned away his heart,” “not wholly true to the Lord” and doing “evil in the sight of the Lord”? All the work of David to remove the high places, idolatry, and vanquish the pagan nations seems to have been reversed! All of this certainly didn’t happen overnight. Our small group met last night (Sunday) and had some great discussion about what happened to Solomon. Here are some of their thoughts:

Sensuality overcame morality. It is true that when we pursue the flesh we do not walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17). It is obvious that he gained an appetite for “many foreign women.” Although polygamy was practiced then (although it was not God's desire), sexually desiring others besides our spouse is no strange concept to us—people love (i.e. lust after) others all the time, as Jesus said, committing adultery in their hearts. When sensuality becomes your motivation, morality is cast aside. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Material wealth choked out spiritual health. This is a huge danger. We can get our desires set on the wrong things. BP made this point well. Stuff can become a god. Jesus said, you cannot serve both God and mammon. Like the seed that fell among the thorns, “they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Matt. 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Maybe that’s why he said it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

The will to please God gave way to the will to please people. I don’t know how, but “Solomon clung to [his wives] in love.” I would not have been able to even remember their names! He had about as many wives as we have in average attendance at Providence! Dude! All joking aside, these women had a profound influence on him. He started making compromises. He made allowances for them to be able to worship false gods—even built places for worship near Jerusalem “for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.” He didn’t lead. He followed the crowd. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Low accountability allowed high vulnerability. As kids we all dream of what it would be like to be a king. Nobody could tell us what to do. Now that I’m old, I realize how dangerous that situation really is. Even David had Nathan who would point out sin in his life. Solomon seems to have no one. We need accountability! It is healthy to have people in a place of spiritual authority in our lives who can lovingly tell us when we blindly begin to compromise. None of us like it our sin is pointed out. If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

Pride replaced humility. A curse of great intellectual ability, accomplishment, power, or wealth is pride. Humans can hardly help to think of themselves as smarter or better than others. Although it’s not as obvious, we can see in Ecclesiastes that Solomon thought himself smarter and better than any in his own time and before him. Oh, if he would have only obeyed his own Proverb (16:18): “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If it can happen to Solomon, it can happen to me.

There are other possible factors that contributed to Solomon’s fall. Our small group thought of many more. But I like how BP pointed out Solomon’s own self-assessment—given at the end of Ecclesiastes—the regretful, realization of a repentant old king:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

BP said to “fear God” is to “desire God’s authority” and to “keep his commandments” is essentially to “desire Christ’s character.” Well said. By keeping this focus we can avoid repeating Solomon’s folly. God, help me do this.

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