By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 11
The religion of Solomon has been much discussed. It has been generally supposed that he was not as good a man as David. Yet David was not ideal in his religious character. He had grave defects. The often quoted saying, that he was a man after God's own heart, probably had chief reference to his conduct as a king--rather than to his personal moral life.
The name of Solomon was not stained by such crimes and cruelties as was David's. He began his life worthily, showing a sincere desire to please God. He delighted in the worship of God. In building the temple he showed devoutness. His prayer at the dedication of the temple ranks among the most remarkable "devotional utterances to be found in pre-Christian devotional literature."
Just when Solomon's apostasy began, we do not know. "When he was old" is the only indication of the time in the Scripture. The nature and extent of his departure from the Lord are not definitely defined. It is said that his wives turned away his heart after other gods. He loved many foreign wives--and these drew him from his loyalty to Jehovah.
A good wife is a great blessing to a man. Many a man owes everything to his wife. Many great men who have risen to honor and power and to noble character, have said that they owed it all to their wives. But Solomon made two mistakes:
First, he had too many wives. Any plural number is too many. One wife is "a good thing," if she is a faithful and true woman; but more than one brings a curse, and not a blessing. Solomon had many wives, and it is no wonder that they turned both his head and his heart.
The other mistake was that his wives were not godly women. He did not follow God's counsel in choosing his wives--but married heathen women. They did not convert to the faith of Solomon's house--but remained heathen in the holy city. They must have chapels and priests for their different gods, and in the very shadow of the temple, the smoke arose from many a heathen altar.
At first Solomon only permitted these ceremonies, tolerating all religions; but later, as he grew older, he attended upon the rites, and his heart was turned away after heathen deities. These foreign wives were from the very tribes which the Israelites had been commanded to destroy utterly. "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. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 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." 1 Kings 11:1-4
Thus his religious life was wrecked! The lesson has its solemn warning for all young people, not to form intimate relations with those who are wicked. To do so almost surely leads to apostasy from God and to ruin in the end. It is pathetic to note that it was in his old age that Solomon was thus led away. Many men stand through their middle life and past it, and then in their advanced years depart from God and fall into sin.
His heart was turned away after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God. The trouble was in his heart. It was his heart that was turned away--not his head. It was not a change of theological views or opinions that led to his defection. His heart was not perfect in its loyalty. The life follows the heart wherever it leads. The heart determines the character; the heart is the character, as God sees it. It is the heart, therefore, that needs keeping with all diligence.
Solomon's heart wholly devoted in its aim and motive to God and His service. None but Christ was ever perfect in character. David's heart is here referred to as perfect. Yet he was not free from sin. He was perfect in his loyalty to God. He never turned away after any other gods. He fell once into sad sin--but his deep penitence afterwards shows how true was the cleaving of his life to God. David had an undivided heart for God; Solomon had a corner in his heart for the Lord, and then other corners for the gods of all the other nations.
The Master said: "You cannot serve God--and mammon." No one can serve the Lord--and any other god. We need to be on our guard against this Solomonian religion. There is plenty of it all about us. It is very broad Church, and liberal. It abhors the preaching of the severe truths of God's Word about sin and damnation, and about holiness. It sends well-nigh everybody to heaven, and regards hell as a mere fable. It calls strict Christians puritanic or strait-laced, and finds no use for such psalms as the Fifty-first. It is not hard to see in this verse, however, which of the two kinds of religion pleases God the better and which leads to the better end. If what his religion did for Solomon is a fair sample of the outcome of that sort of religion--it does not appear to be quite satisfactory.
The turning of Solomon from the Lord was very serious. It was not negative merely. It did not end with a change of opinion. "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. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and 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." 1 Kings 11:5-8.
His apostasy was complete. He seems to have abandoned the temple which he had built for the Lord. At least he built chapels and shrines for all the gods of his wives and worshiped in them, degrading Jehovah to the level of the idols of the heathen nations!
No wonder that Solomon lost the favor of the true God. All God's promises to him were conditioned upon his obedience and faithfulness. "The Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the Lord." We must not forget God's uncompromising hatred of sin, and His inflexible justice--while we extol His mercy and love. It is utterly impossible for us to turn away from Him, and yet have Him remain near to us in His gracious, favoring presence. We cannot leave His ways--and hope to have Him walk with us. Holiness of heart and life is the unvarying condition of divine blessing. God does not withdraw His love from His children when they sin--but He does withdraw His approving smile, without which life withers; and the blessedness of His favor can be restored only when we come back to Him from our wanderings with penitence and renewed consecration to obedience and holy living.
The fact that the Lord had graciously appeared twice to Solomon is noted as an element of aggravation in his sin. Matthew Henry says: "God keeps account of the gracious visits He makes us, whether we do or no; knows how often He has appeared to us and for us, and will remember it against us if we turn from Him." Every such gracious visit to us, adds to our responsibility for obedience and holy service. The more we know of God and the greater the favor He shows us--the sorer is our sin if we forsake Him and go back to sin.
A sculptor had a vision of Christ, which he reproduced in stone. He believed that he had seen the Christ in his vision, and that the form he had chiseled in the marble, was the very image of the glorious Person who had appeared to him. He grew famous afterwards and was asked to make statues of certain heathen deities. But he refused, saying: "A man who has seen the Christ would commit sacrilege, if he were to employ his art in the carving of a pagan goddess. My art is henceforth a consecrated thing."
When Solomon had seen the Lord in vision--not once only--but twice --he should have been forever a consecrated man. The eyes that looked upon the Lord, should never have lusted after earth's pleasures. The hands that had fashioned a glorious temple for God, should never have built chapels and altars for heathen deities. Solomon's sins were far greater because of the special favors God had granted to him. Have we seen Christ? Has He appeared to us in His Word, or in prayer, or at the holy table? Let us not forget that having seen Christ, should set us apart forever for His service and for holy living.
The Lord appeared again to Solomon in some way; at least He spoke to him in solemn warning: "Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my laws, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants." God will not leave His work in the hands of those who will not obey Him. The vessels that He employs must be clean. He tries men with trusts. If they prove faithful He continues the trusts in their hands, and adds others. If they prove unfaithful and unworthy, He takes from them the things He has committed to them.
It is personal obedience that is here made the test. Solomon may still have been a wise king, a good administrator--but he was no longer a godly man. His heart was not right, his life was not holy, he was disobedient to God's commands; and it was on account of this personal unholiness, that the kingdom was to be torn from him.
In these days there is a great deal of talk about public and private character in men who aspire to office. Some contend that the people have no right to inquire into a man's personal moral character; that they have to do only with the questions of his statesmanship and general ability for government. Very clearly, it was Solomon's private and personal character, that brought upon him the divine wrath. God wants men with pure hearts and clean lives to represent Him in places of power and authority.
The Lord was still gracious to Solomon. He would rend the kingdom from him--but not until his life was completed. " But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son." Lives are woven together, and the influence of one falls upon another. A godly man transmits blessings to his children, and one who turns away from God robs his children of blessings that ought to be theirs. David's godly life kept from Solomon the visitation of the full consequence of his sin.
There are many of us enjoying blessings on our thoughtless, reckless lives, because we had pious parents who walked in the ways of God and pleased Him. Their prayers form a shelter over our heads that shields us from the consequences of our own sins. But there are many people who, just like Solomon, live so as to rob their own children of the honors and privileges that they might and ought to transmit to them. Solomon's son did not receive the kingdom of all Israel, getting but a fragment of it--and it was Solomon's fault! The man who, by drunkenness or gambling, or indolence or extravagance, wastes the fortune God has given him and transmits beggary to his children--is guilty of like sin. Many children suffer sorely for the sins of their fathers!