14. And Yet…

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 14. And Yet….

1 Kings 11:11-13  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. 12 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. 13 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.”

Ongoing Folly: The shambles of these foolish kings that we have been observing, forgetting their history and forgetting the Lord, continues as the people reject Zimri who only reigned for seven days (1 Kings 16:16) in favour of Omri. When Omri dies, Ahab his son takes over and a whole new ball game ensures as we soon read, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) God’s prophet is on the scene and big things will occur.

To hold on to perspective and observe contrasts, let’s just recap again the six kings we’ve been observing:

  1. Jeroboam – He ignored God’s prophetic help and when he became king he established a replica religion with idols. His family will be wiped out. Defeated by Judah. No record of his mode of death.
  2. Nadab – Bad as his father. Killed by Baasha
  3. Baasha – Did nothing to improve Israel ‘s spiritual state & was thus condemned. Rebuked by prophet Jehu. Later died but no record of mode of death.
  4. Elah – Same as his father. Killed by Zimri.
  5. Zimri – Followed the idol worship, committed suicide after a week of rule.
  6. Omri – Was worse spiritually than the others. No record of any judgment.

And So?  Not, you might think, a very edifying passage of history to study. No, agreed! But they do go to show what I have often said was one of God’s reasons for creating Israel – to reveal the sinfulness of mankind left to ourselves and thus our need of salvation.

And Yet: Despite all this going on there is a shadow hanging over all of this – the past testimony of David against which all these kings are measured which is referred to again and again in the south but it’s absence in the north is contrasted with their sins.

In the south again and again we find such words as, “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done,” (1 Kings 11:6) and, Abijah became king of Judah… He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been,” (1 Kings 15:3) and, Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done.” (1 Kings 15:11) What an example to be followed, what failure to follow. David is held up by the Lord as the measuring stick against which all the other kings who follow in the southern kingdom are measured.

In the north, observe the contrast: Nadab son of Jeroboam…. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit,” (1Kings 15:25,26) and, Baasha son of Ahijah …. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” (1 Kings 15:33,34) No mention of David. Why?  Perhaps two reasons.

David’s Family Tree: First, in the south it is expected that the royal line will continue on from David: Solomon his son, his son Rehoboam, his son Abijah, his son Asa, his son Jehoshaphat, his son Jehoram, his son Ahaziah, his son Joash, his son Amaziah, his son Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, his son Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, his son Amon, his son Josiah, his son Jehoahaz, his brother (still part of the family tree) Eliakim renamed Jehoiakim, his son Jehoiachin, his uncle Zedekiah made last king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Thus again and again, there is reference back to David as their example who they should be following – because they are all part of his family tree.

A Backup Plan? Second, in the north, God’s offer to Jeroboam – I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever,”  – appears a genuine offer conditional on them following the Lord. IF they had done that then there would have been a second godly stream in Israel if the family tree of David failed. Of course someone might say, but surely the Lord knew how it would work out in both the north and the south, and the answer to that has to be, yes, but not because He makes it happen like that but because when He gives them the freedom to take up these two opportunities to create two godly kingdoms, it will only be their own foolishness that stops it happening – as it did. Nevertheless the record is still there – for us – and we can see the sinfulness of the free-will of mankind at work. The need for a saviour has never been greater. It is now seen in two streams!

And Us? I concluded the previous study with what is one of my favourite quotes which bears repeating, “The one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing,” and so I will ask again, will we allow Scripture to teach us, challenge us and keep us on the right path? The picture is very clear once you grasp the facts, the testimonies are there, the teaching is there, and the warnings are there. May we not think they simply applied back then. As the apostle Paul wrote so simply to the Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and elsewhere, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) and perhaps as we might put it, ‘the payback for self-centred godlessness is surely spiritual and eternal death’. What a warning. We are now the people of God, empowered by the Spirit, with a wonderful Savour and amazing destiny; that surely should keep us on track.

12. Offers & Rebuke

PART TWO ‘A’ – The Northern Kingdom

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 12. Offers & Rebuke

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

God’s Intent Declared: So, having sought to gain some historical and geographical perspective in the previous study, we now need to step back into the flow of history as it affected Israel. Following God’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom, we next need to see the word from God that should have established Jeroboam in creating the northern kingdom: “the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.” (1 Kings 11:31,32) As a declaration, for the moment all it tells us is that the kingdom of Israel is going to be split in two with ten tribes following Jeroboam, forming the northern kingdom, and just two tribes left with Rehoboam as the southern kingdom.

The Terrible Fall:  But then comes the explanation for this: “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (1 Kings 11:33)

The “they” in that verse must refer to the nation with and after Solomon, now under Rehoboam. That is the state the land had fallen into after Solomon had turned from the Lord and followed the gods of his many foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-6).  From being a great nation under David and an even greater one under Solomon in his early days – so great the Queen of Sheba had declared the greatness she found there (see 1 Kings 10:6-9) – the nation had followed Solomon’s example and followed all his false gods, instead of remaining the holy nation they were called to be. What an incredible and terrible fall!

Jeroboam’s folly: But this word that Jeroboam had received becomes more personal and goes on, “I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. (The general offer – but see the condition)  If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, (the detailed offer) I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’” (1 Kings 11:37-39) See the five times he refers to ‘you’.

So he knew why the Lord was acting against the nation as a whole and he knew how he should behave as the leader of the new northern kingdom – faithfully to God. So what does he do? Does he rejoice over this wonderful opportunity that is being handed to him, does he take careful note, not only of the offer being made but the conditions attached to it?  No, he doesn’t, he does none of these things! He sets up two idols, one on the boundary at the south and one on the boundary in the north – golden calves no less!!! (see 1 Kings 12:26-33) Moreover he instituted a priesthood of his own and established copy-cat festivals in order to stop the people drifting south to Jerusalem to follow the Lord there.

To see the terrible significance of this, if you read the history-of-Israel part of the Old Testament, watch out for a description that occurs again and again of subsequent kings of the north: He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit,” (for example see in respect of each of the final kings in 2 Kings 15:9,18,24,28). The idols he set up were never removed and their presence seemed to give legitimacy to everyone in the north in the years to come to have their own idols. Even when the king appeared to be on the right track, the people generally weren’t!

Watch what follows. THIS is at the heart, the cause if you like, of all the struggles and eventually destruction that the northern kingdom face. That’s why we are considering this.  “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 12:33,34) If you want to see the awfulness of all this, do a study in Deuteronomy sometime and see the number of times Moses warned and exhorted Israel against idolatry that would separate them off from God (start with 4:15,16,23,25).

And So? What is surprising, and you see it more and more as you follow the history of Israel, the Lord allows these various sinful kings to continue. Why does He do that? Why does He not destroy this people who keep idols at the heart of their national and individual lives? I have pondered this in the past and the following are the reasons I conclude must be there:

  1. He allows us to do what we will, to reveal our sinful natures and reveal our need of His salvation.
  2. He allows sin to build up to show our potential for evil without His intervention.
  3. He allows us free rein because He wants to give us space to repent.
  4. He allows our sin to build up as nations to act as self-destructive discipline.

And Us? Now isn’t that just how it is for us? Some of us grew up with Christian parents and a strong moral and spiritual background, others came from non-Christian backgrounds but were called by the Lord out of that. But whatever our background we are still individually responsible before the Lord for how we live out our lives – today. From time to time (often or occasionally) we may fall short and (often or occasionally) we may experience the discipline of the Lord to bring us to repentance. What is tragic is that most of us do not realize what is going on in our lives in this respect.

What we should be quite clear about is that a) the Lord has blessed us greatly, b) He wants us to live lives that are characterized by thankfulness, goodness and love, c) we are always prone to failure and therefore need to be on our guard against this and be ready to repent quickly when we do fail, and d) the Lord is always therefore working for our good, working to redeem us, working to change us and working to bless us and take us on to maturity and to receive our inheritance in heaven. Part of His working, we should also realize, involves discipline and discipline is always designed to break us free from our reliance on the idols of modern life and get us back on track. Hold on to that in all these studies.

18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

1 Kings 11:11-13 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.”

 Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well.  And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.

Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.

The Players (1): So, let’s note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second, there is Solomon, a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.

The Players (2): The third ‘player’ in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin, another thorn in Solomon’s side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth, a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel’s failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.

But why?  The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good’ king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.

Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord’s reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second, a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away!  Third, it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth, the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth, it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God’s purposes for the earth. Sixth, it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God’s people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary.  Seventh, it is a sign of God’s grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!

In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God’s people and revert to idol worship. As we’ve already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God’s people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.

28. Expectations Recap 3

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 28. Expectations Recap 3

We have come to the end of this part of the series that took us through historical characters in the Old Testament and concluded at the beginning of the Gospels with Simeon. From now on we will consider expectations in the more familiar form of ‘hope’ that is now part of our Christian lives as a result of the work of Jesus. But before we do that, we will do what we have done twice before in this series and have a Recap to cover those studies since Recap 2, to highlight and hold on to the key points that have been made in these latter studies.

In the studies prior to this we had seen David chosen by Samuel, David having to wait some time for the fulfilment of that anointing to become king, and David slaying Goliath. Moving on from there we then considered the growing awareness that David had that he was in fact there by the working of God. We saw that we can have expectations formed by a word from God coming but, very often, the ‘vision’ has to die as we wait for the Lord to bring it about. Once He starts bringing it into fulfilment, we then have the challenge of believing that is what is happening and cooperating with Him in that.  We realise that our earlier expectations were real but now they become more concrete, we might say.

Following David, we then considered his son, Solomon who, as his father was clearly in his last days, first worked at removing remaining ‘belligerents’ from the previous reign and then, when confronted by the Lord in a dream, recognised the difficulty of the task before him and his need of the Lord’s wisdom, which had then been granted him. Solomon’s expectations of the future before him as the king following in his father’s footsteps were quite realistic. He knew it would be difficult and he recognised his need. We asked the question whether we too recognise the need for the Lord’s wisdom in our lives as we look forward to the things before us.

As we watched the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon died, we considered that variety of expectations that people have of God and suggested that it was inadequate expectations of God that were behind all that happened in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The north stumbled over idol worship and never recovered from it. We saw the number of times the Lord spoke into the situation but His determination was to divide the kingdom after Solomon’s disobedience, and pondered on reasons why it should be. The primary reason seems to be to double the chances of future kings getting it right. The opportunities of Israel – north or south – to get it right with God, were thus doubled. The tragedy is that both kingdoms failed to get it right. It was, therefore, also a double opportunity for sin to be revealed through these two kingdoms and perhaps as we compare them as we read about them, their failures are accentuated in the comparison. We also noted that an observation of history reveals that what we see in Israel is repeated again and again in the nations of the world. Sin is clearly the motivating force behind multiple wars at national or international level and family divisions at individual level.

Jumping to the end of the existence of the southern kingdom, the north having passed away long before, we saw Jeremiah speaking to the nation in the years running up to the exile and pondered on the folly of the nation that (unlike the rest of the world) had amazing records of their dealings with God through well over three centuries, and marvelled that they obviously disregarded or forgot these. These was a people who had received prophetic words galore and who knew what was expected of them after they had entered into the covenant with God at Sinai.  Although words of hope were brought through Jeremiah, the main thrust of his ministry had been a call to repent. He laid out clear cut expectations of what would happen if they failed to heed him, but nevertheless their lived in deception with the expectation that it would be ‘all right’. It wasn’t.

Staying with Jeremiah we observed the circumstances that rolled out in the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the life of freedom that was granted to Jeremiah by the Babylonians. We saw how a remnant gathered after the Babylonians had left, leaving behind a governor, and we saw how some of that remnant killed the governor and then made everyone decamp to Egypt despite Jeremiah bringing a clear warning against doing that. It is a story that tells us that even if we are God’s servants, the ways of this fallen world may carry us into circumstances we wished we didn’t have. But the biggest lesson, as we watch Jeremiah continue to prophesy in Egypt, is the call to faithfulness regardless what we expect of the days to come. As a subtext to that story, is the awareness that in this fallen world, changing hearts does not come easily and often it seems, it is only the pressures of trials and tribulations that will truly change a heart towards God.

Following the years of the exile, we recognised that humanly speaking Israel’s expectations of the future had diminished to zero unless they heard and believed Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ prophecy. It was possible to maintain good expectations for the future only if they held on to God’s recent word to them. We are not called to have faith built on the obvious, because more often than not, the Lord does not reveal how He will bring about that which appears impossible to us at the moment. Israel could not have foreseen the coming of Cyrus and God’s ability to move on him and get him to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple. Similarly for us, we have to recognise that we may have expectations from the Lord in the form of personal prophecy, but more often than not we will not have a clue how that can come about, but it will. You cannot foresee a miracle! That is the shortcoming if expectations!

The years passed and then a man named Nehemiah heard the state of Jerusalem. Yes, the temple had been rebuilt but basically the city was still a demolition site. His heart was moved in anguish and the end result is Nehemiah back in Jerusalem rebuilding the walls of the city.  The expectations of the majority did not include the rebuilding of the city. It was down to one man to have such a hope and, we believe with God’s support, he brought it about. The expectations of just one person can change history; such is the significance of the individual – you or me? The Lord looks for those who will stand in the gap, who will intercede, or who will step up to serve, people who say we do not just have to accept the status quo if it runs contrary to God’s heart.

And so we eventually arrived at the New Testament and bedded these historical reflections of expectations of men or women of the Old Testament, and we did it with, again, just one man, Simeon, a man who was righteous and devout, a man of the Spirit, a man open to the leading of the Spirit and a man that God used to encourage His two servants, Mary and Joseph. Again, and we must emphasise it, it was just one man in Israel who was alert to the purposes of God being unfolded before him. He challenges us to be people who, similarly, will have our eyes and our hearts open to be alert for the moving of God.

Each of this last set of studies since the last Recap, have been about individuals:

  • David, who began to realise that the expectations he had as a result Samuel’s anointing, were now starting to be fulfilled.
  • Solomon, who realised that with the task of leading the nation before him, he needed the wisdom of God to match the expectations that he had of that role.
  • The two kings who caused the kingdom to be divided, whose expectations of God were too low, so that they failed to heed the opportunity to be godly kings.
  • Jeremiah, the faithful prophet of God in all the years running up to the destruction of Jerusalem, who recognised that his expectations for the future of the nation depended entirely on how the kings would respond to God’s word. One way – repentance – would result in future hope and continuation. The other way – rejection – would result in destruction and restoration only seventy years in the future.
  • Jeremiah, again the faithful prophet, but prophesying to the remnant escaping to Egypt. His expectations were not to do with his end but with his ability to keep on being the mouthpiece of God, wherever he was. His expectations were all about faithfulness.
  • Cyrus, who came to understand he could be God’s means of His people returning to their land and rebuilding the temple, an expectation probably no one else had had before that!
  • Nehemiah, one man whose expectations flowed against the general tide of acceptance of the status quo, a man whose heart moved him into dangerous territory to fulfil a hope that surely was based on the heart of God.
  • Simeon, another man on his own, who set his heart towards God and caught the heart of God as He brought His Son to the temple, so that His servants could be encouraged. Simeon’s expectations were based on the heart of God and thus caught the move of God.

This is the message of this last set of studies: individuals are important in the kingdom of God and the expectations we have of God are all-important: that we are called by God with a purpose, to achieve that purpose we need His wisdom, His power and His leading, that is at the heart of godliness, called to be witnesses to Him, to remain faithful regardless of what anyone else may be doing, open to Him to do what only He can do – a miracle to open a door or fulfil a vision, called to have hearts that can be moved by Him, called to be Spirit-people who can be led by Him, people who are called to achieve the impossible  because we are simply vessels of God. May we learn these things.

 

21. Solomon’s Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 21. Solomon’s Expectations

1 Kings 3:7-9  “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?”

Solomon steps up: Solomon coming to kingship is not a comfortable story. There had been palace intrigues as to who the next king shall be, and Solomon’s supporters win (see 1 Kings 1:5-53). As David is about to die he instructs Solomon on how to clean up the people round about him (see 1Kings 2:5-46).  Perhaps we find it difficult to understand but it certainly does establish the throne free from potential dissidents.

David’s counsel: David, his father, gave him good advice: I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: `If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.” (1 Kings 2:2-4) Obey God and you will prosper is at the heart of it.

Solomon’s Encounter with God: After David dies, we read, “Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.” (3:3) He goes to offer sacrifices to the Lord and has a dream in which the Lord asks him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (v.5b) It is then that we find our starter verses in which Solomon acknowledges his need: “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.” (v.7-9)

Existing Wisdom: Now what is interesting about this story is not so much the fact that the Lord gave him great wisdom that made him a great king, but that he had demonstrated he had a measure of wisdom already in the way he had dealt with the various dissidents left over from David’s reign and the way he recognized the difficulty of ruling over this people. This wisdom is about self-knowing and being aware of the difficulties of the life before him. This is quite a significant issue that we have here; it is all about being aware of the realities of life. Now we can put it so simply like that but the truth is that many people are not self-aware, are not aware of the need for God’s wisdom.

And Us? The truth of this is revealed if I ask the question, how often do YOU ask God for wisdom to know how to deal with life that confronts you? For many of us, the absence of wisdom is demonstrated by our expectation that, “I can handle it!” The problem for some of us is that we are bright people. We have had a good education, we may be highly qualified and have a good job that gives wide experience. We may be ‘experts’, and all these things lead us to the conclusion that I can handle life. Look around you and see if you have these sorts of people around you. Maybe you see success. The people you see are ‘successful’ people, some may even be in high places. Now look more discerningly. Look at their marriages. Look at their children.  Look at their integrity when temptations are put before them. We have fallen into times of deception. We look at someone and say, “He is a good leader. She is a good leader,” and we ignore the questionable aspects of their lives, the ‘private’ side of their lives. Sometimes we accept the questionable because the alternative ‘leader’ is even more questionable. In this respect, I believe we are living in crisis times, but God will not be mocked.

A Unified Life? Leadership is difficult, leadership is almost impossible – without God. We need His wisdom to be able to walk righteously and to maintain good family lives. We need His wisdom to be able to lead a committee or a company or a church righteously. Solomon saw the need and recognized his need of God’s help. Do you and I?  We cannot compartmentalize our lives so people see our public success but behind the scenes we are a rubbish husband or wife or parent. We cannot appear good spiritual people on a Sunday at church but never give God a thought for the rest of the week. We cannot be one person on a Sunday morning but then someone different on Monday morning at business.

If anything, the more successful we are at business or any other form of leadership, the more important it is that we pay attention to the other aspects of our lives, our private lives and our spiritual lives. The great danger of success is that at some point we start to think that actually I am what I am because of me and not because of God. That is the first step towards deception.

Now here is the most terrible thing: we can be like Solomon and appear to have immense wisdom that leads to great success but then we can forget some of the fundamentals of life; our expectations change from being God-centred to being me and my wisdom centred. The folly of that is that my ‘wisdom’ is self-centred and godless and before long I have crossed the line of what is right. For Solomon it was taking foreign wives, allowing their worship in his palace, and then joining in their worship and drifting away from God – because you cannot have competing loyalties. Solomon’s expectation changed from being God-centred to wife-centred; his many wives would dictate the future, not God. How terrible.

Now what is remarkable about this story is that God in His grace and mercy did not destroy him for his apostasy, but He did say that the ongoing kingdom would be a divided one, and that we’ll ponder on in the next study.

The big lesson, looking at the whole of Solomon’s life, is never to take for granted the gifting of God. When the Lord gifts us with wisdom or whatever other grace He bestows, realise that it comes with responsibility. It is not to elevate us but to glorify Him. If He grants us success in whatever it is we do, always make sure you give Him the glory. Don’t be foolish enough to think it was all you. If you do that you have drifted into godlessness and that means a dark future. Don’t let that happen.

17. 1 Kings

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 17.  1 Kings

1 Kings 3:12   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.

1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.

When it comes to 1 Kings, one verse is not enough for one verse alone would paint a distorted picture and two verses apart would take up unnecessary space, so I pull together these two verses even though they come years apart.

The first verse and all that comes both before and after it is quite remarkable. King David is dying and Solomon is brought to the throne though clever strategies (see 1 Kings 1 & 2.)  To cut a long story short Solomon has a dream in which the Lord comes to him and says He will give him great wisdom to enable him to rule his kingdom. The extent of the Lord’s promises is worth noting: 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. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:12-14) First the promise was of great wisdom and a discerning heart. Second the promise was of great riches and honour. All the Lord required was for Solomon to obey His laws.

Now again, to cut a long story short, these promises were fulfilled in abundance. The kings wisdom and discernment was shortly seen in a wise judicial decision (1 Kings 3:16-27) with the result that, “all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” (v.28) We read of his rule, “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life,” (1 Kings 4:20,21) and “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.” (v.29,30) He also built the first temple and, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10,11) Sometime later the Lord appeared to him in a second dream with a call and a warning to ensure he kept to all the Lord’s commands and did not worship foreign gods (1 Kings 9:1-9). It was a very clear warning.

The extent of his blessing is perhaps nowhere seen so clearly as in the visit of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13) and her testimony of how incredible it all was. If you have never read it, pause now, look it up and read it. The rest of the chapter 10 extols all the greatness of what he was doing. Thus our first highlight verse showed the reason for what followed in chapters 3 to 11. Amazing!

Which brings us to our second verse and I suggest it is a highlight verse because it highlights the human folly that resides in each one of us (oh yes, don’t kid yourself that you are different from the rest of the human race!). “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.” (11:1,2)  Moses had prophesied about Israel’s future and their desire to have a king and warned about him, “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” (Deut 17:17) but worse than that, the Law warned again and again against taking foreign wives (see Ex 34:16; Deut 7:1-3; Josh 23:12-13; Ezr 9:2; 10:2-3; Ne 13:23-27) but Solomon ignored that.

And there was his downfall!  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (11:4-6) In response to this the Lord declared (11:9-13) he would split the kingdom and leave only one other tribe with his son’s tribe after he had gone. The practical reason for the split is not given but possibly the Lord knew that his son was foolish and rather than let him lead the whole of Israel astray He limited his reign to just two tribes that we refer to as the southern kingdom. What is tragic is that every single king of the northern kingdom tolerated idols at a national level and every king was a poor king. Did the Lord think that ruling just two tribes would be easier, we don’t know but that was the future.

Our area where I live is visited every summer by a circus, not always the same one. Often the circus tent is of the sort supported by two main poles with a horizontal ridge between them. In silhouette at dusk there is this sloping roof and you can imagine a figure scaling the slope on one side up to the first pole, then along the ridge to the second pole and sliding down to the slope on the other side, shooting off the eaves and dropping eight feet to the ground. That is how I see these two highlight sets of verses. After David, the Lord offers Solomon greatness and it will come through the first verse – through great wisdom. Solomon will operate at that level for much of the earlier part of his reign but as he gets older, he reaches the second verse and from there it is all downhill until he dies and the kingdom crashes to the ground in two pieces.

It is a terrible picture of the folly of mankind or, if you like, of the terrible power of sin which, if you give way to it, leads to calamitous outworkings. Here was Solomon who is handed the throne that had been well established by his father who, mot of the time presented a good example of a heart following God. David’s lack of wisdom came through having a number of wives and even though he was not swayed by them (Deut 17:17 warning) the many children fought. Solomon had not learned from that.

And us? beware the temptations to think that God doesn’t know best! Beware making excuses about teaching you don’t like and becoming disobedient. Even the most blessed of us, and with the most powerful ministries are vulnerable to the outworkings of Sin. The call is to always we alert to these things and resist them.

1. Big Picture Stuff

Meditations in Meaning & Values   1:  Big Picture Stuff

Eccles 1:2,3    “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?

For quite some time I have focused on meditations that work verse by verse through a Bible book. For the last few weeks I have had this idea floating in the back of my mind to revert to a themed series and the theme being ‘Meaning and Values’, and to do that we really need to look at the big picture portrayed by the Bible. Now post modern people don’t like ‘big pictures’, they don’t trust them because they question both the origins and the accuracy of such big pictures, but I believe that is a cop out, a failure to truly assess the evidence for such big pictures and to write out those that are dubious and validate those that can be trusted. This is not the place to take space to validate Christianity’s big picture and why we can trust the evidence – but we may do that as we proceed through these meditations. So, meaning and purpose and values.

In the New Testament, John’s Gospel is my favourite for its profundity and revelation of the Son of God. In the Old Testament my favourite is Ecclesiastes because it so points to the dilemmas of the modern world, and it is this book that will be the starting point for much of our thinking.  It was probably written by King Solomon who started his reign with the blessing of God and so became the wisest man in the world and thus became incredibly rich and powerful. Tragically over the years he rejected God’s wisdom and took foreign wives who pressed him to worship their foreign idols. Nearing the end of his life, he had clearly drifted far away from God and had a jaded perspective of life.

I observe this jaded outlook in modern atheists. In one of his earlier books Richard Dawkins in his Preface, quotes one of his friends, Peter Atkins who had written, “We are the children of chaos and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” Dawkins realises that such rhetoric doesn’t do well for the atheist cause  and so while agreeing with this assessment  acknowledges that none of us live with this long-term gloom. Indeed in future writing he goes on to try to show what a wonderful world we live in, but you can’t help feeling it is slightly cynical propaganda that flies in the face of his foundational gloom. His wonderful world is still a world of accident and chance although he tries to paint into it meaning through evolution – but it is still by chance however much he tries to insert some meaning.

It is the same foundational gloom that cynical and jaded Solomon starts out with when he declares everything ‘Meaningless’. But even in those opening verses there is a clue to the root cause of his jadedness when he speaks of man’s labour “under the sun”. Now that expression occurs, I believe, twenty eight times in this book and it speaks of the material world and only the material world. It excludes any other possibilities. Whether he does this purposely or it is a Freudian slip or even a nudging of God, is unclear but everything (well virtually everything – we will note the exceptions) is about life in the material world.

How tragic that a man who had  an encounter with God in a dream (1 Kings 3:5-15) and received such wisdom that he was able to become so rich and powerful through it, should end up in such a jaded state. We will in some of the meditations ahead, look at some of his causes for feeling like this because they challenge us, what will we make the basis of our lives. It is an appropriate question for intelligent people to ask: what is the meaning of life, why do we exist, is there any purpose in my life?  And yet, as Solomon was to go on to write, there appears a frustrating mystery about life: I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” (Eccles 3:10-12)  Yes, the truth is we have these yearnings – a sense of eternity – and yet we cannot fathom how it all works.

The history of philosophy shows us great thinkers who came up with great ideas, only to be debunked by the next set of great thinkers, but one thing I notice, whether it is from Plato to the most modern philosopher, is that their thinking is “under the sun”. Yes, there are many world religions that seek to reach out to the spiritual world to find answers but so often come up with ideas that a rational and intelligent  mind rejects as weird. In the foundation of Judaism and Islam we find the rational evidence of the Old Testament but it is only in Christianity with its New Testament that there is revelation of this ‘mystery’.

The intriguing thing about Solomon is that as he recognizes this mystery, he blames God. Even in his jaded state, he is not an atheist, which makes him one step better than the modern crusading atheists with their shallow knowledge of the Bible. It will only be as we ponder these things in the light of the Bible that we will come up with real and meaningful answers. Come with us on this adventure and face up these gloom makers of the world who only observe (and then misinterpret it) the things ‘under the sun’. There is more to life!