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Solomon - Staying the Course

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 Kings Solomon – Staying the Course 1 Kings 11 Pastor Pat Damiani August 13, 2017 Last February, the Atlanta Falcons took a 21-3 lead over the New England Patriots into the locker room at half time of the Super Bowl. They came out and expanded their lead to 25 points midway through the third quarter when quarterback Matt Ryan completed his second touchdown pass. But led by their MVP quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots stormed back to tie the game at 28 all at the end of regulation and then went on to win the game in overtime. The 25-point comeback was the largest in Super Bowl history and Super Bowl LI was the first to be decided in overtime. The Patriots demonstrated that what Yogi Berra had said over 40 years earlier – “It ain’t over till it’s over” – is indeed true. The Patriots also demonstrated something that is very crucial to us as disciples of Jesus – the importance of staying the course and finishing well. Most of us probably know someone who was once on fire for Jesus, but over time just kind of burned out and drifted away from God. It’s even possible that some of you here this morning have experienced that in your life. Maybe you would honestly have to say that as you sit here this morning, you’re further away from God than you once were and your love for Him is not as intense as it once was. And all of us here this morning are certainly susceptible to that happening in our lives. This morning we’re going to look at the account of someone who started out on fire for God, who was blessed greatly by God, but who just didn’t stay the course and finish well at all. And the consequences of that poor finish didn’t just impact him or his family – it had a devastating effect on an entire nation. By now, you probably know that I’m speaking of King Solomon. Most of us know that after the promises that God made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that we looked at last week, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed. Even though David repented after he was confronted by Nathan, the child that was conceived out of that union died in spite of David’s fervent prayers. But God, in His grace and mercy, gave David and Bathsheba another son named Solomon and promised that he would become king in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with David. Starting this morning we’re going to be spending some time in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, so let me give you a brief overview of those books. Originally this was just one volume titled Kings. It was not separated into two separate books until the Old Testament was translated into Greek. The name comes from the fact that the reigns of forty different kings from both Israel and Judah covering a period of about 400 years are described therein. The events are not always chronological but are arranged according to a theological purpose. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are basically parallel accounts that provide additional insight and information about this period in the life of Israel. As we’ll see this morning, Solomon was kind of like the Atlanta Falcons. He got off to a great start, but even then there were some hints that there were some chinks in the armor that were going to keep him from finishing well. Solomon had a lot going in his favor, including the legacy of his father, David, who was described as a man after God’s own heart. Obviously David didn’t obey God perfectly, but he had a heart that was fully devoted to God. So when he sinned, he confessed that sin and turned back to God. On his deathbed, David summoned Solomon and shared these final words of encouragement and instruction: When David's time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:1-4 ESV) That is a message that God would continue to speak into Solomon’s life throughout his time as king, but unfortunately, not one that Solomon would heed. At the beginning of 1 Kings 3, we see some hints that Solomon’s heart is not completely devoted to God like his father’s heart had been. Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh's daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD. Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. (1 Kings 3:1-3 ESV) Here we see that Solomon begins to speak what may very well be… Two of the most dangerous words for a child of God: “It’s only…” God had consistently given the Israelites specific commands that they were not to take wives from the surrounding nations. But in order to make peace with the Egyptians, Solomon decided it was OK for him to go ahead and take an Egyptian wife. Perhaps he reasoned something like this: “It’s only one foreign wife. I’m sure God will understand. I’m doing it for the good of the country and I can handle her just fine. I’ll only do it just this one time.” But that’s not the only area where Solomon begins to compromise his obedience to God. We see here is that the people were sacrificing at the high places. As king, Solomon could have easily put a quick stop to that. But because his heart was divided, it appears that he reasoned “It’s only until the temple is built. Once we finish that we can get rid of the high places. I’m sure God will understand.” But not only did Solomon permit the worship to go on in the high places, he actually participated in that worship, even though He is said to have loved the Lord. Again, Solomon seems to be thinking “It’s only a once in a while thing. I still love God and worship Him, too, so I’m sure He won’t have a problem if I occasionally worship in the high places, too. So we see that early on, Solomon had a divided heart that was not fully devoted to God like David’s had been. One day, Solomon went to worship at one of those high places and God appeared to him in a dream and asked Solomon what he wants God to give to him. And rather than asking for wealth or fame or power, Solomon asks God for wisdom. God is very pleased with that and promised to give Solomon not only the wisdom he asked for, but riches and honor as well. And once again He reminds Solomon that if he will walk in God’s ways, God will give him a long and prosperous reign. During the early part of his reign, Solomon exercises the wisdom that God has blessed him with and he is blessed with great material riches. God grants a lengthy period of peace to Israel and Solomon embarks on a building program that last 20 years – 7 years to build the temple and another 13 years to build his own palace. Given what we’re going to see this morning, I have to wonder if the fact that Solomon spent nearly twice as much time building his own palace as he did the temple might not also be evidence of his divided heart. I also have to wonder if Solomon wasn’t more fixated on doing rather than becoming the man God wanted him to be. Upon the completion of the temple, Solomon prays one of the most amazing prayers in the entire Bible at the dedication of the temple. It is recorded for us in 1 Kings chapter 8. There, Solomon demonstrates a very complete and accurate understanding of God and after he finishes his prayer he urges the people of Israel to be wholly true to God in their hearts and to keep God’s commandments, something that he had unfortunately failed to do in his own life. Solomon became so famous in the surrounding nations that the Queen of Sheba comes to visit him and she showers him with even more riches than he had already amassed. At the end of 1 Kings 10, there is a summary of all the riches that Solomon had amassed during his reign, including chariots and horsemen, most of which probably had come to him as a result of his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh. But while everything looks really good on the outside, we’re about to see the consequences of all those earlier times that Solomon had said “it’s only…” Go ahead and turn with me to 1 Kings chapter 11. [Read 1 Kings 11:1-8] What began with a marriage to daughter of Pharaoh had now developed into a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. Now I’ve got to tell you that I love my mother-in-law, but I sure can’t imagine having 700 of them. I read a number of commentators this week that concluded Solomon had accumulated all these women because of physical lust. But we see here that Solomon was an old man by this time, so I’m not so sure that was his motivation. We know from historical records that it was not uncommon for kings in the Ancient East to accumulate harems of trophy wives that they could parade around as evidence of their influence and power and to make political alliances and it seems like Solomon had taken that to an extreme. What began with one “It’s only” had gotten way out of hand. Most of you are probably familiar with the illustration of the frog in the kettle. If you throw a frog in a pot of hot water, he’ll immediately jump out. But if you put that same frog in a pot of room temperature water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog gets used to it little by little until it’s cooked to death. I really think that Solomon figured with all his wisdom, he was too smart to allow things to get out of control. He figured he could determine when the water was beginning to get too hot and just jump out of the kettle. But one “it’s only” gave way to a second and a third and a fourth and pretty soon Solomon was in so much hot water that it was too late. But before we’re too quick to condemn Solomon, we need to take a look at our own lives and see how many times we tell ourselves “It’s only…” • I know that they are promoting a lot of things that contradict the Bible, but It’s only a television show or it’s only a movie. • I know that it promotes violence and desensitizes me to it, but it’s only a game. • It’s not harming me or my marriage, after all it’s only a picture on a computer screen. • I know that the lyrics degrade women and are vulgar, but it’s only a song. • I know that I need to take better care of my body, but it’s only one more bite or one more drink. • I’m not really stealing from my employer, after all it’s only a few office supplies and I don’t have time to stop and get them on my way home. All of those “It’s onlies” don’t seem to be a bit deal at the time, but the problem is that they almost always get out of control just like Solomon’s harem. But it wasn’t just the fact that Solomon had disobeyed God’s commands about marriage. That act of disobedience led to his heart being turned away from God little by little until he was so far from God that He not only accommodated the foreign gods of his wives, he actually began to embrace them. Most of our “It’s onlies” don’t seem like a big deal at first. But as soon as we take one step in a direction away from God, we find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads us further and further away from Him. None of us would ever intentionally take just a little bit of rat poison and think that would be ok because we can handle it. But often that is what we do with sin, which can be far more dangerous. As we would expect, God wasn’t very happy with Solomon. Let’s see how God responds to him. [Read 1 Kings 11:9-13] God is going to do exactly what He had told Solomon earlier that He would do if Solomon chose to disobey Him. He was going to take the kingdom away from him and give it to another. As we’ll see in more detail next week, that was going to involve the nation of Israel being split in two, with two different kings ruling the two separate nations. For the sake of His promise to David, God would allow Solomon’s son to rule, but that rule was going to be limited only to the southern kingdom, which primarily consisted of the tribe of Judah. So Solomon’s sin not only impacted him personally and his family, it had a continuing effect on the entire nation. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to once again do something that it seems we’ve had to do far too often in our journey through the Old Testament – learn from the mistakes of others. But once again I’d like to turn that around and approach it more positively. So this morning I want to share with you five things that we can do to stay the course and finish well – five things that will keep us from speaking those two dangerous words – “It’s only” that hinder us from staying the course and finishing well. HOW TO STAY THE COURSE 1. Stay in God’s Word Since this is by far the most important principle we’ll look at this morning, I’m going to spend a fair amount of time here and then we’ll move through the others much more quickly. We know that Solomon knew God’s word. Undoubtedly he had heard it from his father from an early age. And he is reminded by David and by God on multiple occasions about the importance of obeying the commands of the Lord. But, as we’ve seen, that really wasn’t a high priority for Solomon. In Deuteronomy 17 (Deuteronomy 17:14-17), God had specifically warned the future kings of Israel not to return to Egypt to acquire many horses, not to acquire excessive silver and gold and not to acquire many wives because they would turn his heart away from God. And even though Solomon undoubtedly knew of that warning, he disobeyed God in all three of those things. One of the most striking differences between Solomon and his father, David, is in their desire to seek out the word of God. There are at least nine instances recorded in the Bible where David “inquired of the Lord”. When he faced a trial or an enemy, his consistent practice was to inquire of God. But I can’t find even one instance where Solomon did that. It’s also interesting that this encounter in 1 Kings 11 is only the third time that God has spoken to Solomon. Remember back in 1 Samuel 3, where we saw that the word of the Lord was rare during the time when Samuel was born because the people weren’t interested in listening? I have to believe that the reason God spoke to Solomon so infrequently was that, as we’ve seen, he really wasn’t interested in listening to God or to obeying what God commanded. Although we can’t be sure if this is the case, Jewish tradition holds that David wrote Psalm 119 to teach his young son, Solomon, the alphabet - not just for the purpose of learning to writing those Hebrew letters, but as a tool for implanting God’s word into his heart. Near the beginning of that Psalm we read these relevant words: How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11 ESV) Obviously reading the Bible on a consistent basis is important, but it’s only part of the process of staying in God’s Word and storing it in our hearts. We also need to memorize, study, meditate and apply what we’re reading if it is going to be the influence on our hearts that it must be. 2. Stay on my knees While Solomon prays an amazing public prayer at the dedication of the temple, we so no evidence that he spent any time at all in personal prayer. While David was constantly praying to God and asking for God’s direction, there is not even one time where we see Solomon doing that. Maybe this is only my own personal experience, but I’ve noticed in my life that it’s a lot easier to say “It’s only” on those days when I didn’t spend time in prayer with God that morning. I find that when I’ve started my day by talking to God I tend to be much more aware of the times that I’m tempted to start down a slippery slope with one of those “It’s onlies”. 3. Stay away from known temptations Like I said earlier, we can’t be totally sure of what motivated Solomon to take on all those wives and concubines. But whether it was physical lust, or more likely, his pride, that led him to just keep adding to his harem, at some point Solomon had to know he had a weakness for women. The same goes for his worship life. At some point, he had to realize that his wives were enticing him to serve other gods and engage in idolatry. But Solomon never did anything to stay away from those temptations. In fact, from what we can tell, he actually kept putting himself in a place where he could be tempted respond with “it’s only”. I’m constantly amazed at how my Christians put themselves in a position where they know they are going to be tempted to say “It’s only.” • If you’re going to be tempted to say, “It’s only one more bite, don’t go to the all you can eat buffet. • If you’re going to be tempted to say, “It’s only a picture on a computer screen” don’t get on the computer when you’re alone. • If you’re going to be tempted to say, “It’s only a TV show, don’t turn on the TV. Or maybe you just need to get rid of the TV altogether. • If you’re going to be tempted to say, “It’s only just this once. I know we can’t afford it, but I just have to have that new car,” then don’t go shopping for cars. I think you get the idea, so let’s move on. 4. Stay close to godly friends Unlike his father, David, who consistently sought counsel from Nathan the prophet, we see no evidence that Solomon had surrounded himself with godly men who could give him wise counsel, and maybe more importantly, to confront and rebuke him when he disobeyed God. Not only do we all need to be living in community with our church family, we all need to have a person or two in our lives that loves us enough to be brutally honest with us when they see us disobeying God. Do you have someone like that in your life? If not, you need to find one or two people who can serve that role. 5. Stay focused on the finish line Whether it’s a 100-meter dash or a marathon, a successful runner keeps his or her focus on the finish line. So many great athletes have lost important races over the years because they lost their focus on the finish line. They began to look around at the other runners and the very moment they did that one of the other runners went right by them. So as a Christian, what is our finish line? The apostle Paul frequently compared the Christian life to a race and if you read what he wrote about that, you’ll find that the finish line for us is when we get to be with Jesus – either at our death or when Jesus returns to this earth. But unlike a running race, none of us know when we’re going to arrive there. For any of us, it could be seconds from now and for some of us it may not be for decades. I think that in our lives we are often tempted to say “it’s only” because we figure the finish line is still a long way off and we have plenty of time to “fix” things before we get there. Because none of us know where the finish line is, it may very well be that it is much easier to say that we need to stay focused on the finish line than it is to actually do it, But fortunately the writer of Hebrews gives us some really practical advice that will help us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV) We stay focused on the finish line by keeping our eyes on Jesus and remembering how He finished well by enduring the cross for our sakes and then imitating Him. I don’t think that Solomon intentionally started out to live his life in a way that would cause him to stumble at the finish line and lose the race. And I doubt that any of us here would intentionally do that either. But every time we say “It’s only” we are one step closer to having our hearts drawn away from God and getting on that slippery slope that will take us far from the finish line. But fortunately God has provided us with everything we need to stay the course and finish well –His Word, the church and godly friends, and most important of all, His own Son, Jesus, who has shown us the way. We’ve covered a lot of territory this morning and there is no way that any of us can put all that we’ve learned into practice all at once. So what I’m going to ask all of us to do is to think about the times in our lives when we’re most tempted to say “It’s only…” and to pick just one of the five principles that we’ve identified this morning that would help you the most personally to not give in to those temptations. Then will you write that down in the space I’ve given you on your sermon outline.?Then will you ask God to help you take some concrete steps in your life this week to apply that principle in your life? And then write those things down and put them in a place where you’ll see them throughout the week. The principle that will help me most when I’m tempted to say “It’s only…” is: Here is how I will apply that principle in my life this week: [Prayer] Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. As far as we can tell David was a godly father who instilled the things of God into Solomon’s life. And yet Solomon strayed far from that. What can we learn from that about parenting and about personal responsibility? 2. Solomon seemed to have a good reason (at least in his mind) for violating God’s commands (it will bring peace to the country, it’s only until the temple is finished, etc.). What are some ways we do that in our lives? How do we guard against that? 3. Even though Solomon knew God’s Word, he still disobeyed it. Why is just knowing God’s Word not enough? What else can we do to make sure we live according to it? (See Colossians 3:16) 4. What do the following verses teach us about staying away from known temptations: • Genesis 39:12 • 2 Timothy 2:22 • 1 Corinthians 6:18 • 1 Timothy 6:11-12
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