Meditations in Meaning & Values 7: Beware Feet of Clay
Eccles 1:16,17 I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
In the previous meditation I suggested that this story we have been considering about Solomon, highlights three subjects we need to think about. The first is wealth and that Solomon’s wealth came as a result of God’s gift of wisdom. God is not against wealth but it is what we do with it and what it might do to us that needs thinking about. We considered that briefly.
But the second thing Solomon’s story highlights is the whole subject of wisdom. Wisdom is simply the ‘knowledge of how to’. Solomon clearly already had wisdom because when the Lord came to him in a dream we find Solomon saying to the Lord, “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9) The acknowledgement of need was an indication of existing wisdom. The Lord’s response to this followed: “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings,” (1 Kings 3:10-13)
The outworking of that was seen in the next chapter: “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.” (1 Kings 4:29,30) So this is why Solomon was as successful as he was.
Now we know the reason for Solomon’s downfall, as we have considered it previously, was taking foreign wives contrary to the will of God and thus the Will of God is the third issue to be considered. How is it possible that such a man can accumulate incredible wealth as a result of the wisdom of God but fail to maintain the will of God? The answer has to be what I call people’s ‘feet of clay’.
The idea of ‘feet of clay’ comes from the book of Daniel where king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of an idol and in its description we find, “its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.” (Dan 2:33) Iron of course is very strong but clay is weak. These feet of clay made the image vulnerable and weak, even though the rest of it can be strong. What I have observed over the years is that every great person has feet of clay. I like reading biographies and autobiographies and I note with every person they had their vulnerable areas, their areas where they were weak and got it wrong – every single person without exception has feet of clay.
So here is Solomon who has been given great wisdom and that wisdom has made him wealthy and strong – but he still has feet of clay, he has a weakness for women and that weakness leads him to take more and more foreign wives, all contrary to the will of God, and the result is his downfall. We read, “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. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:9-13) The rebels who rise up and the eventual divided kingdom are disciplinary measures brought by the Lord.
Now the challenge that comes to us in the midst of life is will we recognize our feet of clay and act to prevent them bringing us down. Remember, we may be bright, we may be successful and we may think we are wise, but if we tolerate just one area of our lives that is contrary to the will of God, we make ourselves vulnerable and open for the discipline of God. Is this why in the past fifty years a number of great men of God have fallen? Despite their anointing they held on to one little area of self-rule and that made them vulnerable to the discipline of God. He may tolerate it for some time but eventually He will act. Don’t let the thought that you have got away with it for some years fool you. He will call you to account. It is better to repent while you can and deal with the vulnerability. Despite all his wisdom, Solomon thought he could get away with doing his own thing contrary to the will of God. His wealth didn’t save him and his wisdom didn’t save him because the most important thing, the will of God, was being flouted. It is a salutary lesson.