Look with me at three texts that I find deeply moving, and so indicative of Solomon's problems.
Passage #1: 1 Chronicles 28. This is the occasion of David commissioning Solomon to rule. David says in verse 5, "Of all my sons, and the Lord has given me many, He has chosen my son, Solomon, to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel." Solomon should not have been the one to rule, he was not the firstborn son...but in God’s providence and plan, he emerged as the ruler of Israel. Vs. 6-9, "And the Lord said to me, Solomon, your son is the one who will build my house and my courts for I have chosen him to be my son and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time. And so now, says David, I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord and in the hearing of our God, be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord, your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants. And you, my son, Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father. And serve him with all your heart or with whole-hearted devotion and a willing mind. For the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever." So, here's the charge. Solomon, be careful. Serve God with wholehearted focus. Keep his commandments. Have a willing, have a humble, have a yielded mind. What happened? But before we answer that, let's look at Deuteronomy 17.
Passage #2: Deuteronomy 17. The Lord, of course, sees what is going to happen in our lives and he warns us about these things. He says to the Israelites, verse 14, "When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you (this is Moses speaking) and have taken possession of it and have settled in it and you say, let us set a king over us like all the nations around us, be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among you own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite." Now, listen to this. This is amazing. Vs. 16-19, "The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horse for himself. Or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them. For the Lord has told you, you must not go that way again. He must not take many wives. For this heart will be lead astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll, a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests who are Levites. It is to be with him and he is to read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord, in other words, have fear of God. And follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees."
Passage #3: 1 Kings 11:1-3. And now, for the rest of the story, turn to 1 Kings 11:1-3, "King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women, besides Pharaoh's daughter. Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites. They were nations about which the Lord, had told the Israelites, you must not intermarry with them because they will surely turn your heart after your gods. Nonetheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. (Maybe that should be spelled l-u-s-t.) He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines and his wives led him astray." Now verses 4-11, and this is what is so sad, "As Shlomo grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God." Remember when David commission him... Have wholehearted devotion towards God. And now, at the end of his life, his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord. He was partially obedient, but not fully devoted, as the heart of his father David had been. "He followed Astoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. And so Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Hamosh, the detestable god of Moab, for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from him, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord's command and so the Lord said to Solomon, since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees which I commended, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates."
What are the credentials of Solomon to speak on the subject of wisdom? He knows whereof he speaks. How sad that Solomon, the peaceable man, Yedidiah, the one beloved by Yahweh, now in his partial obedience - which is really disobedience - no longer knows peace. Jedidiah now is angered of God. The man had boundless fame and fortune and power and pleasure. Now his heart has been turned and God is angry and so the Lord stirred up adversaries to come against him. A rod of affliction. There was internal rebellion by Jereboam. And then when Solomon died, his son, Rheboam took over, but the die was already cast. The oppressive taxes that Solomon had laid on the people, Rheboam increased, and the two kingdoms split; there was no longer a single monarchy. Israel and Judah became separate nations. Dissolution of the states. Now that it is at the end of his days, afflicted on all sides, old age overtaking him and yet I suspect, although it's disputable, that in Solomon's life there did come, in response to this disciplining, this rod of affliction--some repentance. There came some brokenness, some humility. And now, he reflects at the end of his life on the very thing that begin his meteoric rise to fame on wisdom. The thing he had asked God, with a child's heart, of all the things, what do you desire? And he said, wisdom. At the end of his life, he still has wisdom. Even though his old age is creeping in on him and the years have been spent in carnality and sexual escapades, he still has wisdom. Remember Paul says that the gifts of God are without repentance, they are irrevocable? God gave the gift and he still has it. He still has his wisdom. And now, he is about to speak. And what is it that he says? Hevel, hevelim, hochol, hevel. It’s empty, my riches, my wealth, my pleasures, even my wisdom, it’s all such a vapor. It's all so meaningless. He has the credentials. He knows whereof he speaks. And, my friends, we do well, you and I, to listen to Kohelet.
Father, forgive us for so often chasing after our breaths, grasping at our vapors, seeking out those temporary and fleeting values that this world offers us. Forgive us for the lust of our eyes and our flesh, for that drive to be ambitious, and for fame and success in the world's eyes. Forgive us, Lord, have mercy on us and grant us wisdom. Give us a heart to diligently search out that supreme skill in living abundantly. Give us a heart to grasp hold of wisdom; a heart to be receptive to the teachings of Koheleth. Let us receive this wise instruction. Let us heed this profound counsel, so that our lives count for something in your kingdom. Let them count for something of eternal value by serving your holy purposes. Seal this message; sear it on us like a brand so that when we are tempted to follow after our evil inclinations and the vanities of this world, we'll remember the words of Koheleth - it’s all meaningless, under the sun. Amen.
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