Things Are Not As They Seem.
1 Kings 11-12, 2 Corinthians 4
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV
Chapters 11 and 12 of 1 Kings mark a dramatic turning point in the life of Solomon. His troubles don’t begin here, but things take a marked turn for the worse in these passages. All along the way, we have been given a glimpse into Solomon’s ongoing struggle with unfaithfulness. He loved God, but he also loved fame, prosperity, power and pleasure. In fact, Solomon himself records his mindset at this time in the book of Ecclesiastes.
4 I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. 7 I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. 8 I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
9 So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 NLT
Solomon had it all. But he was dissatisfied. And one of his many “loves” ended up turning him away from God. Chapter 11 opens up with the foreboding words, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…” (1 Kings 11:1 ESV). What an understatement! Solomon had more than 1,000 wives and concubines. His “love” could be better classified as an obsession. And as a result of his addiction to the opposite sex, Solomon would allow his heart to be turned away from God. He would end up constructing idols and places of worship for his many wives to worship their various false gods. All in disobedience to God’s commands. His many earthly “loves” would cause his love for God to grow cold, “…for his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
What Solomon did was evil in God’s eyes, and God would not tolerate it, so He split Solomon’s kingdom. God would allow Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to keep the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but the other ten tribes would break away to form the nation of Israel, under the leadership of Jeroboam. Everything that happened as a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness was “brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (1 Kings 12:15 ESV). God had warned Solomon what would happen if he failed to live in obedience to His commands. He had made it perfectly clear what the consequences of unfaithfulness would be. And yet, God did not fully destroy Solomon or his kingdom. Why? Because God had made a promise to David that one of his descendants would reign from his throne forever. God was going to raise up a future king from the tribe of Judah and so He was going to preserve and protect David’s tribe at all costs. In all the bleakness surrounding this story, there is a glimmer of hope and light because of the faithfulness of God. He was not done yet. God had told Jeroboam, “Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)” (1 Kings 11:31-32 ESV). In spite of the sins of Solomon, the unfaithfulness and subsequent sins of Jeroboam, God was still in full control of the situation. He was still working His divine plan of redemption, setting the stage for a future time when the one true king would establish His kingdom.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The events recorded in these two chapters of 1 Kings are filled with less-than-flattering portrayals of mankind. We don’t come across too well. Solomon had an obvious sexual addiction. He was driven by his own physical appetites and allowed his lusts to control his actions. Rehoboam, his son, rejected the wise counsel of his elders, and chose to listen to the foolish advice of his peers. Jeroboam, literally handed a kingdom by God, quickly revealed his true heart, by setting up his own gods, his own sacred cities, and his own priesthood. He led the ten tribes of Israel into spiritual apostasy right from the start. Over and over again, we see the sinful disposition of man on display. Solomon, the wise, proves to be a fool. Rehoboam, the undeserving heir, reveals that wisdom is not an inherited trait. Jeroboam, the undeserving recipient of a kingdom, shows just how quickly gratefulness can turn to unfaithfulness. But we must remember that these men were simply “vessels of clay,” weak, fragile, ordinary men who, when left to their own devices, quickly revealed just how worthless and sinful they really were. But their unfaithfulness is juxtaposed with God’s unwavering faithfulness. Their infidelity is contrasted with God’s unfailing love. Without God, all of these men were helpless and hopeless. They were weak and powerless to battle their own sinful dispositions and inclinations. Driven by their own self-centered desires and motivated by their sinful passions, each of them paints a vivid picture of man’s moral bankruptcy.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
But God was far from done. While He would end up punishing Solomon for his sins and split the once-powerful kingdom in two, God was still going to fulfill every promise He had ever made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The amazing thing is that God uses “jars of clay” like us to accomplish His will. Paul knew this reality well. He reminded the Corinthians believers, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). Paul knew that he was no better than anyone else. His life was a product of God’s incredible mercy and grace. He knew that, left to his own devices, he was fully capable of the same sins as Solomon, Rehoboam, or Jeroboam. But because of what Christ had done in his life, Paul knew that his human weakness was like a canvas on which God was painting a beautiful image revealing His own glory and power. Paul’s life was anything but easy. “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT). Yes, he was weak. Yes, his circumstances were less-than-ideal. But he understood that God was at work, revealing His power through Paul’s own human weakness. Which is why he could respond, “So we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV). Paul knew that his current circumstances were merely a precursor to a future glory that God was going to reveal at some future date. Rather than dwell on the visible, physical realities of his circumstances, Paul chose to focus on the unseen, as yet unfulfilled, promises of God. Solomon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. Their focus was on “the things that are seen” which “are transient” (2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV). When we love sight of the eternal, we find ourselves focusing all our attention on the temporal. Like Solomon, we can find ourselves seeking all our hope and fulfillment in the things of this world. “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT). We are vessels of clay – weak, helpless, fragile, and without value – apart from the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. But it is through our inherent weakness that God has chosen to reveal His surpassing power and glory. It is through our struggles and trials that God wants to prove Himself faithful and strong. Things may appear desperately bad, but things are not always as they seem.
Father, You are always at work. You are always faithful. You are always strong. Help me focus on the reality of Your presence and power, the undeniable fact of my own weakness, and the unwavering promise of Your love for me as proven through the death of Your own Son on my behalf. Thank You that things are never quite they appear to be. May I learn to see You in the circumstances of my life. I want to see Your power through my weakness. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men