Reading large chunks of Scripture is always advantageous – it helps you to get the big picture in one go. If you read 1-2 Samuel you will learn about the rise and reign of David, and the establishment of Israel as a great kingdom. The story continues in 1 Kings where his son Solomon takes over the throne.
While getting the background of Israel’s rise to power under David is important, one can simply read the story of Solomon in a few short chapters: 1 Kings 1-11. There we read so many amazing things about King Solomon: his remarkable prayer for wisdom, and the application of it (ch. 3); his building of the temple (ch. 5-8); his great prayer at the dedication of the temple (ch. 8); and his worldwide fame, and honour (ch. 10).
The story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to him is just one example of how great and revered he was throughout the earth. He certainly had it all: riches, power, fame and fortune. Indeed, we are told in 10:23-25 just what a remarkable kingship he enjoyed: “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.”
The story of how David and Solomon gave the small nation of Israel such an exalted standing amongst the nations, such grandeur, and such exaltation is quite incredible – especially in light of what we read in 1 Kings 11. There we find out about the tragic fall from grace of Solomon.
And as the leadership goes, there goes the nation. Never again would Israel recapture this splendour and greatness. The reigns of David and Solomon were certainly the golden age for ancient Israel. And we can read all about this remarkable collapse, this horrific reversal of fortune, in just one tragic and depressing chapter: ch. 11.
There we read of Solomon’s fall from grace, and the end of one great nation. And even more tragically, Yahweh had warned Solomon about what would happen if he turned from the Lord. In 9:4-9 he said this to Solomon:
“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the LORD brought all this disaster on them’.”
So what did Solomon do? The very thing God told him not to do. He took upon himself many foreign wives, and ended up worshipping many foreign gods. In 11:9-10 we read about Yahweh’s reaction to this: “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, 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.”
The rest of the book speaks to the divided kingdom and all the bloodshed, misery and division which ensued. What a stirring testimony to the truths of Scripture: obedience and faithfulness are absolutely essential, and so very vital. Without them we not only forfeit God’s many blessings, but we bring devastation and ruin upon ourselves and others.
In Philip Graham Ryken’s expository commentary on 1 Kings, he points out two crucial lessons which must be mastered here. The first lesson is that the little choices we make are important, and if we keep making wrong choices, they will lead to some big, bad consequences.
Says Ryken, “We start falling into sin long before we ever fall into disgrace. So if we wish to avoid our own tragic downfall, we need to fight against every little sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The great downfall of Solomon of course did not happen overnight. He allowed sin and disobedience to creep in and establish a foothold long before the events of ch. 11.
“All the way through Solomon’s story we can see warning signs of an impending tragedy. The king was headed on the wrong spiritual trajectory.” He goes on to quote Mark Dever on this: “A small difference in trajectory can make a big difference in destination. . . . Sin often begins with what may feel like a minor concession … but that simple change of trajectory can set you on a course to a deadly destination.”
Ryken continues, “The Puritans sometimes compared little sins to baby snakes wriggling out of the nest: they are tiny, but deadly, and if they are not put to death when they hatch, they will grow into huge serpents. So whenever we see even the littlest sin that could turn our lives into a tragedy, we should fight against it with all the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The second major lesson to be learned from Solomon’s rise and fall is this: “sin is where the heart is”. Even “the greatest spiritual gifts will not keep us from sin if our hearts turn away from God.” The “gifts of God never operate independently or automatically, but always according to the affection of our hearts….
“Our talents can be useful for building the kingdom of God, but only to the extent that our hearts are committed to the glory of God. When our hearts turn away from God, even the gifts that he has given us will be used against him. This is a sober warning for anyone who is strongly gifted, because the more gifted we are, the more damage we are likely to do when our hearts turn away from the God of grace….
“Mastering theology, serving the poor, giving to Christian work, teaching the church – none of these gifts will protect us from spiritual failure if we love the world or love ourselves more than we love God. Solomon was one of the most gifted men who ever lived. If his wisdom could not save him, then how will our own gifts save us?”
We have just celebrated Easter. The cross demonstrates unequivocally God’s hatred of sin, and his willingness to take radical steps to deal with it. Given the truths of the cross, and the lessons of Solomon, what sort of persons ought we to be?