Pride Goes Before Destruction

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place.

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 11:41-12:15 ESV

As God had promised, Solomon was allowed to complete his reign with his kingdom still intact. But upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne, would find himself facing a God-ordained crisis that would leave his kingdom divided and greatly diminished. It would be easy to sympathize with poor Rehoboam because he is completely unaware of what is about to happen. The day of his coronation should have been one of the most joyous occasions of his life. He was inheriting the vast kingdom his father had established but all the wealth and riches that Solomon had accumulated over the last four decades. He was a lucky young man. But the reader has a distinct advantage over Rehoboam. He knows something of which the new king is most likely unaware. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to divide the kingdom of Israel, awarding ten of the tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Rehoboam with only one.

For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:34-36 NLT

But any sorrow one might feel for Rehoboam is quickly dispelled when his true nature becomes apparent as he attempts to handle his first official crisis as king. For some undisclosed reason, Rehoboam had decided to hold his coronation ceremony in the city of Shechem, located in the land that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. His decision to hold this important ceremony outside the city of Jerusalem may indicate that he was aware of the potential problem with Jeroboam. It is likely that Solomon had warned Rehoboam about the potential threat from the Ephraimites. Prior to his death, Solomon had become aware of the prediction concerning Jeroboam, made by Ahijah the prophet, and he had attempted to have Jeroboam murdered. Jeroboam, who was an Ephraimite, had been assigned the task of supervising the conscripted labor force from among his own people. And in performing his duties, he had become aware of the heavy burden Solomon had placed upon the Ephraimites and other northern tribes.

So, Rehoboam may have moved his coronation to Shechem in an attempt to placate and win over the disgruntled Ephraimites. But this ploy would prove unsuccessful.

From his place of exile in Egypt, Jeroboam heard the news that Solomon had died, and he returned to Israel, where he was promptly appointed the official spokesperson for the tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam arrived in Shechem for his coronation, he was met by a large contingent of the people who made an appeal through their appointed leader, Jeroboam.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

Notice that Jeroboam did not restate the words of the prophet. He did boast about the promise God had made, declaring that he was going to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. There were no threats of insurrection or insurgency. He simply expressed the grievances of the people and their desire to have the heavy burdens of labor and taxation reduced.

This was a defining moment for Rehoboam. He could have seen this as an opportunity to unify the nation by demonstrating his intentions to be a fair and just king. Even though he was the son of Solomon, Rehoboam was going to have win the favor and trust of the people. And he was being given the opportunity to rectify some of his father’s less-than-stellar policies.

Having heard their complaints, Rehoboam sent the people away, assuring them that he would take everything into consideration and return with a decision. As the son of Solomon, the man who compiled and edited an entire book of proverbial sayings, Rehoboam would have grown up hearing all the sage advice his father had gathered.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22 ESV

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18 ESV

Only with sound guidance should you wage war, and victory lies in a multitude of counselors. – Proverbs 24:6 BSB

So, it should come as no surprise that Rehoboam sought counsel. He first “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). These men advised Rehoboam that he could win over the hearts of the people if he would respond favorably to their request. He could forestall any potential unrest by demonstrating that he was, first and foremost, the servant of all the people. While Rehoboam was from the tribe of Judah, he was expected to serve as God’s shepherd over all the tribes of Israel. By making this concession, Rehoboam could avoid a rebellion and establish himself as a compassionate and caring king.

But Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard. The author flatly states, “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). And in doing so, Rehoboam lived out the truth revealed in the proverbs his father had so painstakingly collected.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. – Proverbs 8:33 BSB

Unlike his father, Rehoboam had not been given the gift of wisdom from God. He was young and inexperienced and in desperate need of wise counsel. But when he received it, he rejected it, choosing instead to seek out those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Disliking the counsel of the older and wiser men, Rehoboam turned to his peers for advice. And they were more than eager to give it.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’” – 1 Kings 12:10-11 NLT

These brash young men appealed to Rehoboam’s ego. They advised him to law down the law and establish his reputation as a no-holds-barred disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist. These young men knew Rehoboam well and their advice was meant to appeal to his over-inflated ego and his desperate desire to escape the shadow of his father’s reputation. And in a demonstration of his inherent foolishness and pride, Rehoboam heeded the counsel of his peers and handed down his decision to the people. And in doing so, he fulfilled the words of the proverb.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe. – Proverbs 28:26 NLT

Rather than humbly heed the pleas of his people, Rehoboam listened to his own heart. But the author reveals that this was all part of the sovereign will of God.

…it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. – 1 Kings 12:15 ESV

God didn’t force Rehoboam to do what he did. This stubborn and prideful young man simply acted according to his own sinful nature. But in doing so, he was fulfilling the will of God. Rehoboam’s decision would fuel the fire that would end up burning down his kingdom. In his foolish attempt to establish himself as a great king, Rehoboam was unwittingly destroying his own kingdom. And, once again, he was living out the wisdom of the proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the Blessings Become a Curse

14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels of gold went into each shield. 17 And he made 300 shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and the throne had a round top, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, 20 while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

23 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24 And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25 Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.

26 And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 28 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. 29 A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria. 1 Kings 10:14-29 ESV

Up to this point in his narrative of Solomon’s reign, the author of 1 Kings seems to have spent far more time describing Solomon’s vast wealth than providing evidence of his great wisdom. He has only provided one concrete example where Solomon utilized his God-given gift of wisdom to settle a dispute between two prostitutes who were fighting over legal custody of a newborn baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). There have been several allusions to Solomon’s wisdom, such as the statement made by the Queen of Sheba.

“Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. – 1 Kings 10:6-7 NLT

But it would appear that the author has purposefully placed more emphasis on Solomon’s rapidly expanding financial portfolio. God had promised to bless Solomon with riches and honor (1 Kings 3:13), and it is quite evident that God had kept that promise. In just a single year, nearly 25 tons of gold was added to Solomon’s treasury. That’s a staggering figure. But it represents only a fraction of the revenue that flowed into the kingdom each year. Income for his many business ventures, tributes paid by vassal states, and gifts from various kings and dignitaries further enhanced his annual revenue. His proverbial cup was running over.

People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules. – 1 Kings 10:24-25 NLT

As a result, “King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth” (1 Kings 10:23 NLT). It seems that his wisdom and wealth shared a symbiotic relationship. Both were gifts that had been made possible by God. And yet, like all gifts given by God to men, the real test lies in how they are put to use. Both wisdom and wealth can be misused and abused. Any God-given gift can be exploited for ungodly purposes. And it would appear that Solomon had allowed his wisdom and wealth to become a distraction. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of the divine purpose for his gifts – that he might govern the people of Israel with justice (1 Kings 3:11). He began to repurpose his wisdom and riches in a vain search for meaning in life. He would later write of his

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 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 2:9-11 NLT

Notice how many times Solomon uses the personal pronoun, “I.” He had become totally self-consumed, focusing all his attention on what he could gain from what he had been given. Even his God-given wisdom became little more than a tool for trying to decipher the mysteries of life. And while he understood wisdom’s inherent value, it wasn’t long before he came to despise this valuable gift from God.

Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:14-17 NLT

Twenty years after ascending to the throne of his father David, Solomon was experiencing unparalleled success. He had the Midas touch. It seems that everything he touched turned to literal gold. In fact, gold was so prevalent in his kingdom that “silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day” (1 Kings 10:21 NLT).

Solomon had built his own fleet of ships that returned every three years with their holds full of additional treasures of “gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22 NLT). He had amassed “a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses” ( 1 Kings 10:26 NLT). And many of those horses had been imported from as far away as Egypt.

All of these descriptions of Solomon’s incredible wealth must be placed within the context of the commands God had given concerning all those who would serve as kings over His people.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:16-17 NLT

God had blessed Solomon with unparalleled resources, but Solomon was using them in ways that were contradictory to God’s will. His use of God’s gracious gift was in clear violation of God’s command. Solomon’s wealth had never been intended to feed his ego or fulfill his wildest dreams. It was meant to enable him to provide the people of Israel with proper care and protection. And while accumulating chariots and horses may have sounded like a good strategy for ensuring Israel’s national security, it was against the will of God. Solomon’s own father had written about the futility of placing one’s hope in such things.

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 NLT

Solomon seems to have been obsessed with all the outward trappings of royalty. He had built for himself an opulent palace, where exquisite meals were served on golden plates and the finest wine was served in golden goblets. And when it came to the throne upon which he sat, Solomon spared no expense.

Then the king made a huge throne, decorated with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it! – 1 Kings 10:18-20 NLT

Solomon looked like a king and lived like one. He had all the trappings of success and, from the outsider’s perspective, was living the dream. Yet, the day would come when Solomon finally recognized that he had confused the gift with the Giver.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! – Ecclesiastes 10-11 NLT

The wisdom and wealth given to him by God had never been intended to fulfill his every self-centered desire or provide him with some form of personal satisfaction. Solomon had been anointed and blessed by God so that he might lead the nation of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and faithful service to God. Solomon had started out well, even asking God for the capacity to lead the people of Israel with wisdom and discernment.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

But somewhere along the way, Solomon had let the blessings of God go to his head. He had allowed the gifts to take precedence over the Giver and, in doing so, turned the blessings into a curse.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All That Glitters is Not Gold

1 Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.

He built the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Its length was a hundred cubits and its breadth fifty cubits and its height thirty cubits, and it was built on four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams on the pillars. And it was covered with cedar above the chambers that were on the forty-five pillars, fifteen in each row. There were window frames in three rows, and window opposite window in three tiers. All the doorways and windows had square frames, and window was opposite window in three tiers.

And he made the Hall of Pillars; its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth thirty cubits. There was a porch in front with pillars, and a canopy in front of them.

And he made the Hall of the Throne where he was to pronounce judgment, even the Hall of Judgment. It was finished with cedar from floor to rafters.

His own house where he was to dwell, in the other court back of the hall, was of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had taken in marriage.

All these were made of costly stones, cut according to measure, sawed with saws, back and front, even from the foundation to the coping, and from the outside to the great court. 10 The foundation was of costly stones, huge stones, stones of eight and ten cubits. 11 And above were costly stones, cut according to measurement, and cedar. 12 The great court had three courses of cut stone all around, and a course of cedar beams; so had the inner court of the house of the Lord and the vestibule of the house. 1 Kings 7:1-12 ESV

Once Solomon had completed the construction of the Lord’s House, he turned his attention to the building his own royal palace. The author indicates that it took Solomon seven years to complete the temple and he spent an additional 13 years constructing the complex that would include separate residences for he and his wife, the daughter of Pharaoh. According to 1 Kings 9:10, Solomon spent two decades of his reign overseeing these various building projects.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. – 1 Kings 9:10 NLT

From the descriptions provided, it seems that Solomon’s palace complex consisted of a series of different structures, including the two royal residences, as well as the House of the Forest of Lebanon, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of Judgment, and the Hall of the Throne. These were evidently separate, but interconnected buildings arranged around a common courtyard. And each of them was equally impressive in size and grandeur. The House of the Forest of Lebanon alone was larger in size than the temple itself and featured the same degree of meticulous detailing and costly craftsmanship.

It would be easy to forget that these impressive structures were only made possible by the forced conscription of Israelite citizens. Back in chapter five, it was revealed that Solomon instituted a nationwide “draft” that would the large labor force necessary to accomplish his ambitious and ongoing building projects.

Then King Solomon conscripted a labor force of 30,000 men from all Israel. He sent them to Lebanon in shifts, 10,000 every month, so that each man would be one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of this labor force. Solomon also had 70,000 common laborers, 80,000 quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 foremen to supervise the work. – 1 Kings 5:13-16 NLT

Tens of thousands of Israelites were forced into service and required to dedicate 20 years of their lives to these seemingly never-ending construction projects. When one building was done, another one would begin. Stones had to be quarried, transported, and carefully carved. Massive amounts of trees were cut down and moved to the various construction sites, where they were transformed into wood flooring and panels to adorn the walls and ceilings of Solomon’s royal residence and administrative offices. The sheer number of common laborers, skilled craftsmen, and project foremen to complete 20-years-worth of construction projects is impossible to calculate. And this doesn’t include the additional labor force required to manage Solomon’s household, care for his extensive flocks and herds, cultivate his fields and vineyards, tend his gardens, cook his food, and provide ongoing maintenance for his extensive and growing kingdom. And all of this was in fulfillment of the words of Samuel the prophet, when he had warned the people of Israel about the consequences that would come with their demand for a king.

“The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-17 NLT

Solomon was a good and wise king. He had been appointed by God Himself. But even his reign brought a certain degree of suffering and servitude upon the people of Israel. Their desire for a king had ended up costing them. Kings tend to build kingdoms. They go to war. They demand loyalty and allegiance. They wield power. They use their position to pursue their agendas. And sadly, they can end up treating their people as  little more than tools in their royal toolbox.

There’s little doubt that Solomon was successful in all his building efforts. When the final brick was laid on the last building, the completed project was a sight to behold. Combined with the temple complex, it must have made a powerful impression on all those who saw it. We know from chapter 10, that when the Queen of Sheba made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by the experience.

When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. She was also amazed at the food on his tables, the organization of his officials and their splendid clothing, the cup-bearers, and the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord. – 1 Kings 10:4-5 NLT

For 20 years, Solomon concentrated his efforts on building the physical representation of his kingdom. He built palaces, administrative buildings, throne rooms, judgment halls, and even a temple to accommodate the God of Israel. He was turning Jerusalem into a showplace where his power and prestige were on constant display. Visitors couldn’t help but be impressed by the opulence of his royal residences, the sheer size and scope of his administrative complex, and the grandeur of the temple.

But as will soon be made clear, there was something dark and foreboding lying beneath the shiny surface of Solomon’s kingdom. The trappings of success obscured a hidden danger that would prove to be Solomon’s undoing and the key to the Israel’s ultimate fall from grace.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus, another descendant of King David, would warn against the danger of building kingdoms on earth and investing all our time and energy into amassing treasures here on earth.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Hidden Danger

20 Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.

22 Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors of fine flour and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl. 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates. And he had peace on all sides around him. 25 And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon. 26 Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. 27 And those officers supplied provisions for King Solomon, and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month. They let nothing be lacking. 28 Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds they brought to the place where it was required, each according to his duty.

29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. 1 Kings 4:20-34 ESV

Solomon inherited a vast and sprawling kingdom from his father, David. But in time, Solomon would expand it borders until it reached from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Euphrates River in the far northeast. And its southern border reached all the way to land occupied by the once-powerful Egyptians. As the author makes clear, many of the regions under Solomon’s rule were vassal states which were required to pay an annual tax to the royal treasury. Some of the land under Solomon’s rule was located outside the original geographic boundaries as designated by God and allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel. Through alliances and treaties, Solomon had managed to expand the influence and scope of his kingdom without waging a single war. His reign was marked by a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And it was in direct fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.” – Genesis 22:17 NLT

David had been the conqueror, completing much of the work the 12 tribes had failed to do when they first took possession of the land. David had successfully defeated and subjugated many of the remaining remnants of those nations that the Israelites had been charged to eliminate from the land. But Solomon’s expansion of the kingdom would take place through peaceful negotiations and economic alliances.

There are some who believe that the author’s reference to Judah and Israel is proof that he wrote his book after God had divided the nation into the southern and northern kingdoms (1 Kings 11:43). But even when David had announced his decision to make Solomon the heir to his throne, he used these two designations when referring to his kingdom.

“he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.” – 1 Kings 1:35 ESV

It seems likely that, over the years, the Israelites had already aligned themselves into these two factions that were nothing more than loose confederations of the tribes structured around geographic boundaries. Regardless, Solomon ruled over all of Israel and Judah, from the north to the south. And it was a period of unparalleled peace and abundance.

During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden. – 1 Kings 4:25 NLT

Everyone benefited from Solomon’s reign, including Solomon. In this passage, the author outlines the extent of Solomon’s great wealth, providing tangible proof that God had kept the promise He had made to Solomon.

“I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

The detailed lists provided by the author are intended to stagger the imagination and illustrate the vast nature of Solomon’s wealth.

The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry. – 1 Kings 4:22-23 NLT

The budget required just to operate his royal residence was astronomical. And yet, Solomon had cleverly created a system that helped to underwrite this ongoing expense.

The district governors faithfully provided food for King Solomon and his court; each made sure nothing was lacking during the month assigned to him. They also brought the necessary barley and straw for the royal horses in the stables. – 1 Kings 4:27-28 NLT

A rotating schedule was put in place that equally distributed the responsibility for providing food for Solomon’s court, as well as for his growing collection of horses. And this note should catch the reader’s attention because God had clearly prohibited the kings of Israel from amassing for themselves large stables of horses.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

Yet, the author reveals that “Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses” (1 Kings 4:26 NLT). While the text reads “40,000,” it is thought to be a copiest’s error.  In 2 Chronicles 29:5, a companion passage, it reads: “Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

But the important point is that Solomon had managed to collect a stable of 12,000 horses that were specifically used to pull chariots. Later on, the author will provide further details concerning Solomon’s extensive collection of horses and chariots.

Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He stationed some of them in the chariot cities and some near him in Jerusalem. The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stone. And valuable cedar timber was as common as the sycamore-fig trees that grow in the foothills of Judah. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Cilicia. – 1 Kings 10: 26-28 NLT

It is interesting to note that Solomon’s own father had described the vanity of putting one’s hope in horses and chariots.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7 NLT

Yet, Solomon seemed to have bought into the concept that a strong offense was the best defense. But in building up his formidable collection of chariots and horses, he had violated the command of God. And even though this passage paints a glowing picture of Solomon’s wealth, fame, and influence, a feint, but dark cloud can be seen on the horizon.

Solomon was wise, wealthy, and highly successful. His kingdom was marked by tremendous prosperity and unprecedented peace. And God had blessed him with a degree of wisdom that was unmatched by any other living human being.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 NLT

And the wisdom that God bestowed on Solomon was extensive, providing him with an encyclopedic knowledge and vast interests in a wide range of disciplines.

He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. – 1 Kings 4:32-33 NLT

And along with his vast wealth and wisdom, Solomon found fame. The author states that “kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:34 NLT). He was a celebrity. He had a retinue of admirers who came from all over the world to witness his fabled wisdom and fabulous wealth. But you can almost sense the foreboding nature of this passage. In the midst of all the splendor and opulence, there is a shadow looming. There is a cancer lurking, unseen and undetected, that threatens the health of Solomon’s glorious kingdom. And, in time, it will reveal itself. But for now, the state of Solomon’s kingdom appears to be healthy and whole.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wisdom to Spare

16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” 27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. 1 Kings 3:16-28 ESV

In Solomon’s vision, he had requested that God would give him “an understanding mind” so that he might be able to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). And God had agreed to Solomon’s request, bestowing upon him the ability “to discern what is right” (1 Kings 3:11 ESV). All of this occurred while Solomon slept, and when he awoke there was probably little evidence that anything had changed. It is doubtful that he felt any different of could sense that he was wiser and more discerning. But, in time, he was given tangible proof that God had kept His word.

As the king, he was expected to act as the preeminent judge over his people. One of his duties was to ensure that the citizens of his kingdom were governed with order and justice. He was to see that there was a fair and equitable system for hearing and settling all civil disputes. And this responsibility was not to be taken lightly. When David was king, it seems that he failed to make this aspect of his kingly duties a high priority, and his son, Absalom, used this oversight to his advantage.

He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” – 2 Samuel 15:2-4 NLT

Absalom knew that the people wanted a king who showed care and concern for them. His daily appearances at the gate were intended to win them over the convince them that he was a more reliable advocate for them than David. And his actions paid off.

Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel. – 2 Samuel 15:6 NLT

But unlike his father, Solomon didn’t shirk his kingly responsibilities. He was willing to do the dirty work that came with his new role, which included presiding over disputes between the citizens of his kingdom. And, as this passage makes clear, Solomon didn’t practice a form of judicial snobbery. He could have limited his cases to those of the wealthy and influential and relegated the disputes among the common people to a subordinate on his administration. But here we find the king presiding over a case involving two prostitutes. These women would have been considered the scum of the earth. The Hebrew word used to describe them carries a strong pejorative meaning, most often being translated as “whores.” They were guilty of adultery and sexual immorality, and their reputations were well known within the community. Yet, Solomon graciously admitted them into his royal court and took the time to hear their dispute.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus Himself was accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and other sinners” (Matthew 11:19 NLT). He had a reputation for associating with the despised and disreputable of society. But, when faced with these accusations, Jesus didn’t deny them, he simply stated, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results” (Matthew 11:19 NLT). Jesus was emphasizing that, in time, His choice of friends would prove to be right and just. After all, Jesus had come into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). When Jesus was condemned by the Jewish religious leaders for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He had responded, ““Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). And then He added, “For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” ( Matthew 9:13 NLT).

Solomon understood that he was the God-appointed king over all the people. He didn’t have the right to pick and choose whom he governed. And these two women, while clearly sinners, were still citizens of his kingdom and no less deserving of his time.

So, Solomon patiently listened to their story, and it proved to be a convoluted and complicated tale. These two women not only shared a common occupation, but they also lived in the same house. And as a result of their chosen form of livelihood, both women eventually became pregnant. Within a few days of each other, both gave birth to healthy baby boys. But one of the infants died in his sleep, accidentally smothered by his own mother as he slept by her side in the bed. During the night, the woman woke to find her son dead, so driven by grief and jealousy, she took the body of her deceased baby and switched it with the living child. There is little doubt that this ploy would fail, but she was driven by grief, not logic.

And when the other woman awoke and discovered the lifeless baby by her side, she quickly discerned that it was not her child. The babies had been switched in the night. But the other mother vehemently denied any wrongdoing and vociferously declared that the living baby was her own. Unable to settle their dispute, the women brought the matter to the king. And now, it was up to Solomon to deliver a wise and discerning resolution to their conflict.

After hearing these two emotionally charged mothers state their cases, Solomon simply stated, “Bring me a sword” (1 Kings 3:24 ESV). His words must have come as a shock to the women. Why was he asking for a sword? What was he intending to do? Was he going to enact judgment and personally execute one of them on the spot? What they didn’t realize was that Solomon was utilizing the wisdom and discernment promised to him by God. Without even knowing it, Solomon was putting into practice his newfound ability to discern what was right. Having heard the details of the case and the conflicting claims of the women, Solomon somehow knew exactly what to do. 

Sword in hand, Solomon declared his shocking “solution” to the problem.

“Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!” – 1 Kings 3:25 NLT

In essence, Solomon was declaring that since there was no way of knowing which woman was telling the truth, the only alternative was to kill the remaining child, so that neither had an advantage. This judgment sounds preposterous and totally unfair. One of the women was clearly lying, and this solution would have produced an inequitable and unrighteous outcome. But Solomon was operating under the divine influence of God Almighty. He had no intention of killing the baby. His “judgment” was a carefully crafted ploy, designed to expose which woman was the liar. And the disparate responses of the two women quickly revealed the identity of the real mother. She was the one who begged for the life of the child to be spared. She was willing to lose custody of the child in exchange for his life. Yet, the other woman was more than willing to see the living child killed so that the other mother might be deprived of joy.

This entire episode is intended as a demonstration or proof that God had kept His promise to Solomon. The vision given to Solomon had been far more than just a dream. It had been a prophetic word from God and now Solomon knew that he had received the very gift he had requested: An understanding mind that could discern between good and evil. Even Solomon must have been surprised by his own actions. But as Jesus had said, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” The positive outcome of this dispute revealed that the wisdom of God had been at work. It had not been the result of human intelligence or Solomon’s inherent cleverness. He had been given the ability “to discern what is right” (1 Kings 3:11 ESV), and he had put it to good use. The result was the joyful reunion of the mother and her child. There is no indication that Solomon condemned the other woman for her lies and subterfuge. She had already suffered the loss of her child and that was punishment enough.

And, in time, news of Solomon’s novel approach to justice began to spread throughout the kingdom, and the people recognized it for what it was: The wisdom of God.

When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice. – 1 Kings 3:28 NLT

They found comfort in knowing that their king was governed by the wisdom of God. They could expect to receive justice because their king operated according to divine wisdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants. 1 Kings 3:5-15 ESV

Early on in his reign, Solomon was a man who loved and honored Yahweh. His devotion to God shows up in the regular trips he made to Gibeon where the tent or tabernacle was located. There he would offer burnt offerings to God, sometimes as many as 1,000 at a time. The divine regulations concerning these sacrifices are found in the book of Leviticus, where they are described as “a burnt offering, a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:17 NET).

One on such occasion, after a day of offering unblemished sacrificial animals on the altar to Yahweh, Solomon went to bed that evening and had a dream. In his dream, he was visited by God, who made Solomon a gracious and magnanimous offer: “Tell me what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5 NET).

Solomon had spared no expense when giving to God the thousands of unblemished animals from his royal flocks and herds. He had willingly offered the best of what he had as a way of expressing his gratitude and devotion to God. And now, God was offering to give Solomon a gift in return. As a blessing for his faithful obedience, Solomon was being extended a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted from God. He was being given carte blanche, a literal blank check from God, to name his own blessing. The God of the universe was opening up the doors to His royal treasuries and telling Solomon that he could have whatever he wanted.

The gravity of this moment should not be overlooked. In a sense, Solomon was being given a test by God, designed to reveal the true nature of his heart. He could ask God for anything, and whatever he ended up requesting from God would expose his hidden desires and priorities.

What would we do if faced with the same opportunity? How would we respond? What would we request from God? Would we ask for wealth, power, popularity, good health, long life? The problem is that many of us already think of God as some kind of cosmic genie-in-a-bottle, an all-powerful, divine being who exists to fulfill our wishes. We would relish the thought of being in Solomon’s sandals, faced with the chance to tell God our one request for Him to fulfill. But this was Solomon’s dream and, when given the opportunity to make his request known to God, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

First, Solomon expressed his gratitude to God for everything He had done already.

“You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne. – 1 Kings 3:6 NLT

Solomon was grateful for God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. He was well aware of the many ways in which God had blessed his father, David. And now, he was sitting on the throne of David because it had been ordained by God. His newfound position of power and authority had been a gift from God. He had not deserved it. If anything, Solomon felt ill-equipped and unprepared for such an important role.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted!” – 1 Kings 3:7-8 NLT

When faced with a situation that could have easily exposed his greed and opportunism, Solomon displayed remarkable humility. His mind was not immediately filled with thoughts of riches or glory. His first thoughts were not of a new royal wardrobe, a faster chariot, a bigger palace, or a larger kingdom. His mind focused on his inadequacy and inability to do the job he had been given by God. So, he asked Yahweh for the one thing he knew he lacked: Wisdom.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

Solomon already possessed unsurpassed power and tremendous wealth. He didn’t need more of either one. In the short time he had ruled over Israel, he realized that what he lacked was the wisdom to govern God’s people. It had been said of David, that he shepherded the people of Israel with “integrity of heart” and he had “guided them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 BSB). Solomon wanted to do the same thing but knew he was deficient. He did not have what was required to govern wisely and well. So, he asked God to provide what he lacked, and it pleased God to do so. 

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” – 1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT

In essence, God said, “Good answer!” He liked what He heard and was more than willing to give Solomon exactly what he had requested, and more.

“And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

God blessed Solomon. First, by giving him what he needed most. God provided this newly crowned king with wisdom that would set him apart from every other king on the planet. Solomon would become world-renowned for his wisdom. And, even today, he is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. But God also gave Solomon something he didn’t request and didn’t really need. He blessed him with riches and fame. But those unrequested gifts would actually come as a result of Solomon’s wisdom. God didn’t suddenly fill Solomon’s royal treasuries with gold and silver. His great wealth was a byproduct of the wisdom given to him by God. One of the proverbs later collected and compiled by Solomon personifies the voice of wisdom, declaring its many residual benefits.

Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness. – Proverbs 8:18 ESV

Solomon would grow wealthy and he would become famous. But those were side benefits. The gift of wisdom, given to him by God, would allow Solomon to govern his kingdom according to divine principles. Every aspect of his decision-making was divinely influenced and inspired. As long as he relied on God, he would experience the blessings of God that accompany the wisdom of God.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:29-34 NLT

Fame and fortune were not the gift. Wisdom was. And as Proverbs 8 clearly points out, the wisdom of God is of far greater value than any residual benefits it may bring.

Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. – Proverbs 8:10-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Divided Allegiance

1 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. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 1 Kings 3:1-4 ESV

Chapter two ended with the words, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV). He had successfully completed his purging of those who had played a part in the failed coup attempt that would have robbed him of his right to the throne. He had also kept his father’s dying wish and brought to justice a small list of individuals whom David had declared worthy of judgment.

But the opening verses of chapter 3 provide a change in tone and purpose to the historical narrative. David has died, and the reign of his son has begun. The last vestiges of David’s influence have been removed, and Solomon has the opportunity to begin his rule on his own terms. And it’s interesting to note that the author records as Solomon’s first official act as king an alliance he made with the Egyptians. The Pharaoh of Egypt sealed their agreement by giving Solomon the hand of his daughter in marriage.

The matter-of-fact manner in which this news is conveyed gives the impression that it was nothing more than an official act of business on the part of the royal administration. Making treaties and alliances were a necessary part of being a king. And marital alliances were commonplace among the nations of the world at that time. But there is something ominous and prophetic about the news of Solomon’s first official act as king. And any Jew who read this historical record would have recognized it.

Long before Israel had a king, God had provided His chosen people with a list of prohibitions concerning the behavior of any man who would rule over them. He knew that the kingly role would come with all kinds of temptations and snares. The power and prestige that accompanied the crown would prove to be addictive and dangerous. So, God provided His people with non-negotiable rules that were to govern and regulate the actions of the kings of Israel.

“You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-17 NLT

As a precautionary measure, God commanded that any man who ruled as king over Israel was to have a personal copy of the Mosaic Law, which he was to read from daily. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:21 NLT).

And notice that the king was prohibited from accumulating all the normal trappings of kingly success. All Israelite kings were to be different, refusing to model their administration on the nations around them. Stables filled with fine horses, treasuries overflowing with great wealth, and palaces full of wives and concubines were off-limits to the kings of Israel. And notice that God forbade His kings from doing any business with Egypt, even denying them the right to buy horses from their former enemies. And yet, one of the first decisions Solomon made as king was to make a deal with Pharoah that would set a dangerous precedence for his reign.

While the author provides no immediate commentary regarding Solomon’s actions, he will later reveal the sinister and infectious nature of this decision.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

There is something foreboding in the statement that Solomon “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” (1 Kings 3:1 ESV). One of his very first acts as king was to bring this foreign-born, pagan princess into the city of David, where her presence would have a profound impact on not only him but also on the entire kingdom. Solomon had not even taken the time to build a palace. He had not yet constructed the temple for Yahweh for which his father had provided the funding. And he had taken no action toward expanding and protecting the city of Jerusalem through the construction of defensive walls.

But the author clearly states that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (1 Kings 3:3 ESV). Yet, it will become increasingly more obvious that Solomon suffered from divided allegiances. Notice the important contrast between 1 Kings 3:3 and 1 Kings 11: 1:

Solomon lived the Lord…

King Solomon loved many foreign wives…

God had warned that any king who accumulated many wives for himself would run the risk of having his heart turned away from the Lord. His love for God would be distracted and diminished. And because Solomon had put a higher priority on making an alliance with Egypt than building a house for God, he ended up having to make offerings and sacrifices on the high places (1 Kings 3:3). As will become evident, many of these high places were actually the former sites of pagan shrines to false gods. The Israelites had repurposed them for the worship of Yahweh, but God had given Solomon the responsibility and privilege of constructing a permanent temple where all worship and sacrifices were to be made. David had provided Solomon with everything he needed to build the temple, from the construction plans to the financial resources to pay for it. And David had warned Solomon to make this task a high priority.

So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”

Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary—which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the Lord’s Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the Lord. The king also gave Solomon the instructions concerning the work of the various divisions of priests and Levites in the Temple of the Lord. And he gave specifications for the items in the Temple that were to be used for worship. – 1 Chronicles 28:10-13 NLT

But Solomon had established other priorities. He had chosen to align himself with Egypt, making what he believed would be an important treaty with a powerful foe. But in doing so, Solomon was placing his hope and trust in something other than God Almighty. Rather than building a house for God, Solomon went about building his kingdom – on his own terms and according to his own agenda.

The prophet Isaiah would later warn the people of Israel about their propensity to seek alliances with and assistance from Egypt.

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:1-2 NLT

Without even realizing it, Solomon was stepping outside the protective boundaries of God, and pursuing what he believed to be the best strategy for building his kingdom. But through it all, Solomon maintained a love and devotion for God, even offering thousands of sacrifices to Him on the high place in Gibeon. The book of 1 Chronicles provides us with the reason why Solomon chose Gibeon as the place to offer his sacrifices to God.

For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time in the high place at Gibeon. – 1 Chronicles 21:29 ESV

This location had been designated by God. Formerly the site of a threshing floor, David had purchased it and transformed it into the primary worship center for the nation of Israel. And it would be at this important location that Solomon would receive a gracious and undeserved gift from God. Despite his impulsiveness and blatant disobedience to God’s commands, he would be given the one thing that would set his reign apart from all those who would come after him. And it would become the defining characteristic of his life. Solomon didn’t need more horses, wives, wealth, or treaties with his enemies. What he really needed was something only God could provide: Wisdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God’s Ways Escape Us

12 Are you not from everlasting,
    O Lord my God, my Holy One?
    We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
    and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he?
14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
    like crawling things that have no ruler.
15 He brings all of them up with a hook;
    he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
    so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
    and his food is rich.
17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net
    and mercilessly killing nations forever? Habakkuk 1:12-17 ESV

Habakkuk questioned God and the Almighty responded. But the answer Habakkuk received was not what he had hoped for, and in these verses, you can see he is desperately trying to reconcile the divine pronouncement with what he understood about God.

After hearing God announce that the Babylonians worship strength as their deity of choice, Habakkuk declares “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). This statement seems to be partially a confident assertion of Yahweh’s unique status as the one true, eternal God of the universe, and an attempt by Habakkuk to shame God into doing something about Judah’s predicament. After declaring God’s holiness and eternality, the prophet states: “We shall not die.” 

While this appears as a statement in the English Standard Version, I believe the New Living Translation provides a more accurate rendering of the original intent behind Habakkuk’s words.

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—
    surely you do not plan to wipe us out? – Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

Habakkuk had been seeking God’s intervention but had been expecting Him to deal with the wicked who were causing all the trouble in Judah. He never dreamed that God would use a pagan nation and its godless king as His chosen instrument of judgment. And God had warned Habakkuk that what He had planned for Judah would be a shock to the senses.

“I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5 NLT

Now that Habakkuk knew God’s plans, he was concerned as to the extent of the judgment. Would it be complete, bringing an end to the nation of Judah. He had seen what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel when it fell to the Assyrians. They ceased to exist as a nation. Their land was devastated, their cities and towns were destroyed, and the people were taken into captivity or left to live in abject poverty. Was that God’s plan for Judah?

Habakkuk could handle the thought of God sending the Babylonians as a form of reprimand and reproof.

O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us,
    to punish us for our many sins.
– Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

He knew that he and his people deserved God’s punishment and he understood that God had chosen to deliver it by means of the Babylonians. But his concept of God made it difficult for him to accept the logic behind God’s plan.

But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they? – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

To Habakkuk’s way of thinking, this was only making matters worse. If you recall, in his opening statement to God, Habakkuk had described the sorry state of affairs in Judah, declaring, “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT). As far as Habakkuk was concerned, Judah had more wicked people than they knew what to do with. He had been asking God to do something about the wicked living in his own country. Now God had announced that He was going to use the wicked Babylonians as His instruments of judgment. That made no sense. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire in a vain attempt to douse the flames.

To Habakkuk, God’s plan seemed like an overreaction to the problem – a literal form of overkill. And the prophet is not shy in sharing his concerns with God.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? – Habakkuk 1:14-15 NLT

Submitting to the righteous judgment of God was one thing. But having to endure that judgment at the hands of pagan Babylonians was something different altogether, and the thought of it left Habakkuk in a state of confusion and consternation. And just in case God didn’t understand the problem with His plan, Habakkuk attempted to inform Him. Knowing that Yahweh hated idolatry in any form, Habakkuk warns that any victory by the Babylonians over the chosen people of God will be followed by worship of their false gods. It will rob God of glory and give the appearance that He has been defeated by the gods of Babylon.

Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:16 NLT

This was too much for Habakkuk to comprehend. If this was the divine plan, Habakkuk wanted to know how long God was going to let it go on. Would the Babylonians destroy God’s people and enjoy uninterrupted rule over that part of the world?

Will you let them get away with this forever?
    Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquests? – Habakkuk 1:17 NLT

As usual, Habakkuk was operating with a limited perspective. As a mere human, he had no capacity to understand the mind of God. He couldn’t look into the future and see the outcome of God’s divine strategy for Judah’s rebuke and eventual restoration. He had no way of knowing how God would eventually punish the Babylonians for their part in Judah’s demise.

Habakkuk was a prophet of God, but that did not mean he understood the will and the ways of God. Like any other man, he was dependent upon Yahweh to provide him with divine insights and even the words to speak. The extent of his knowledge was solely dependent upon what the Almighty determined to share.  And in most cases, the prophets were all required to operate on limited data, restricted to sharing only that which God had chosen to reveal. But in time, God would divulge the rest of His plan, providing His prophets with a clearer understanding of His strategy in its entirety.

Concerning the Babylonians and Habakkuk’s worry that their global domination would be permanent, God revealed His plans for them to the prophet Jeremiah.

“You rejoice and are glad,
    you who plundered my chosen people.
You frisk about like a calf in a meadow
    and neigh like a stallion.
But your homeland will be overwhelmed
    with shame and disgrace.
You will become the least of nations—
    a wilderness, a dry and desolate land.
Because of the Lord’s anger,
    Babylon will become a deserted wasteland.
All who pass by will be horrified
    and will gasp at the destruction they see there.” – Jeremiah 50:11-13 NLT

God had plans for the Babylonians. Yes, those plans included their role as God’s agents of judgment upon the people of Judah. But those plans also included the ultimate destruction of the Babylonians for their willful participation in Judah’s subjugation and suffering. God would eventually repay Babylon for its wickedness and wanton destruction. And Habakkuk is going to learn of God’s plan for Babylon in the very next chapter.

Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence. – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

One of the benefits of reading Scripture is that we get a glimpse into God’s sovereignty and man’s constant attempt to make sense of the Almighty’s ways. Even the prophets of God wrestled with the ways of God. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day found it impossible to understand what God was doing in their midst. He had sent His Son as their Messiah but these learned men failed to recognize Jesus as who He truly was. Jesus even accused them of missing the forest for the trees.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They were knowledgeable of God’s Word but remained ignorant of God’s will. They enjoyed an encyclopedic understanding of God’s law but failed to understand that the law could not provide them with salvation. It could convict of sin but had no capacity to provide escape from the condemnation of sin. Only Jesus could do that.

Habakkuk was operating on limited information. And each time God revealed another aspect of His divine plan, the prophet found himself trying to reconcile God’s version of reality with his own. But part of being a child of God is learning to trust our heavenly Father’s ways. Habakkuk had been right when he said, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He recognized God’s holiness and transcendence, but now he was having to come to grips with God’s sovereign will over all things, including Judah’s judgment and the Babylonian’s role in it.

Learning to trust God is a big part of choosing to follow Him. We don’t always know where He is leading us. We won’t always understand what He is doing around us. The circumstances of life will not always appear just and fair. There will be times when He appears distant or disinterested in what is happening in our lives. But God is always there and His plan for us is perfect and unstoppable. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust in His will. And, in the meantime, we can express the words of the apostle Paul.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Cost of Giving Advice

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. – Philemon 1:17-20 ESV

It’s quite easy to give advice to others. In fact, it comes naturally to most of us. Sharing our opinions and providing free counsel to our friends and family members just seem like good things to do. We can even back up our good intentions from the “Good Book.”

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

But even the best counsel, motivated by the best intentions, doesn’t always produce the best outcomes. Telling someone what they ought to do, without providing them any hint as to how to do it, can be demoralizing and even damaging.

Paul was asking Philemon to accept his runaway slave back with open arms. Not only that, but he was also advising Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother and not as a slave. And everything Paul wrote to Philemon was biblically sound and spiritually appropriate. It was wise counsel coming from a godly and well-meaning friend. And yet, from Philemon’s perspective, it was all “easier said than done.” Paul, under house arrest in Rome and with plenty of time on his hands, could write Philemon a hundred letters full of godly advice on a wide range of topics, but at the end of the day, it was Philemon who would have to turn Paul’s rhetoric into reality. And that was not going to be easy.

And Paul was quite clear in expressing how he expected Philemon to treat Onesimus.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. – Philemon 1:17 NLT

Philemon was to show Onesimus the same courtesy and respect he would extend to Paul if he were to walk in the door. That was a tall order. Paul was asking Philemon to respond in a manner that was antithetical to logic and social protocol. For him to treat any slave with that kind of respect and honor would have been unheard of in civil society. And yet, Paul was asking him to extend this kind of courtesy to a runaway. Remember, Paul told Philemon that Onesimus was “no longer like a slave to you” (Philemon 1:16 NLT). That was easy for Paul to say. But in Philemon’s social circle, everyone would have known that Onesimus was his slave. And when he returned, they would have expected Philemon to deal with him according to Roman law. To not do so would have set a dangerous precedent. If Philemon failed to punish Onesimus for running away, it might encourage other slaves to follow his example. Other slave owners in the community, and possibly in the church, would have viewed his kind and gracious treatment of Onesimus as unacceptable behavior.

And Paul was fully aware of the gravity of his request of Philemon. He knew his request would not be easy to follow, and it could also prove costly. Paul was cognizant of the fact that Onesimus represented a financial investment for Philemon. In the economic system of Rome, Onesimus had a monetary value that was greater than his human worth. He was a commodity whose appraisal was based on his production capacity or resale value. So, when Paul asked Philemon to set Onesimus free, he was asking his friend to take a substantial hit to his bottom line.

But look closely at what Paul wrote next: “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” (Philemon 1:18 ESV). You might say that Paul was putting his money where his mouth was. He was backing up his wise words with the promise of action. Paul was personally investing himself in the process of reconciliation between these two men.

When Paul told Philemon, “charge that to my account,” he was essentially saying “impute the debt of Onesimus to me.” It was like saying, “put it on my tab.” Paul was committing himself to make up any financial liability Philemon might face as a result of following his advice. Paul was willingly putting skin in the game. And Paul’s model for this kind of selfless and sacrificial commitment was Jesus.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

Jesus had come to earth so that He might reconcile sinful men to God. And in order to do so, He took on their debt. He bore their sins on the cross and died the death they deserved to die. And because those who place their faith in Christ enjoy a renewed relationship with God the Father, they have the capacity to view things from a totally new perspective. Consider Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth.

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 NLT

Philemon and Onesimus had both been reconciled to God through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. But Paul deeply desired to see Philemon and Onesimus reconciled to one another. They had both been set free from slavery to sin and death, and now they could live in newness of life together. And Paul was willing to invest himself in the process of reconciling their differences – even to the point of underwriting the financial debts of Onesimus.

And Paul made his commitment clear, telling Philemon, “I will repay it” (Philemon 1:19 ESV). And Philemon knew he could trust Paul to keep his word. And Paul added a little extra incentive for Philemon that basically stated, “You owe me.” This should not be viewed as a threat but as a gentle reminder that Philemon owed his new life in Christ to the ministry of Paul. He had sacrificed his life in order to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to Philemon’s community and, as a result, Philemon had been reconciled to God. By placing his faith in Jesus, Philemon’s debt had been paid in full.

Nothing would make Paul happier than to hear that Philemon and Onesimus had been reconciled. And he let Philemon know his decision to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ would be all the payment he needed.

Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. – Philemon 1:20 ESV

Telling others what they ought to do is easy. But how willing are you to commit yourself to help them follow your advice? What cost are you willing to pay to see that your wise words are followed? Paul was willing to put his money where his mouth was. Are you? Are you committed to walking alongside the ones with whom you freely share your counsel and dedicate your time and resources to see that they have what they need to succeed?

This all reminds me of the story of the chicken and the pig. In debating the degree of their commitment to a typical breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken bragged about how some brave chicken willingly made provision for the eggs. But the pig responded by pointing out that while the breakfast required the chicken’s participation, it demanded a pig’s total commitment. Paul wasn’t content to simply wise counsel. He was totally committed to seeing that it was followed, regardless of the personal cost.

Paul could have easily said to Philemon what he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. – Philippians 2:17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A God Who Is Near

1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?– Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ESV

God had just reconfirmed that Moses would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. With his little display of self-aggrandizement in the Wilderness of Zin, Moses had angered God by attempting to steal glory from God. In his anger with the people of Israel, Moses had disobeyed God’s commands and attempted to grandstand before the people, leaving them to believe that it was he who was supplying their need for water. Moses was out to win the respect of the people, when he should have been leading the people to honor, glorify, and revere God.

Yet, in spite of the news that he would not be entering into the promised land along with the rest of the people, Moses didn’t shirk his leadership responsibilities. He continued to perform the task assigned to him by God all those years ago in the land of Midian. While Moses had been caring for his father-in-laws flocks, God had appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, telling him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:7-10 ESV

God was going to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and He was going to use Moses to make it happen. But God’s deliverance of His people would include a deliverance to and not just from something.

“I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:16-17 ESV

Now, more than four decades later, the people had arrived at their final destination: The land of promise. And while Moses would be denied the joy and pleasure of leading them into the land, he was going to make sure that were well-informed as to their obligations to God once the arrived in the land.

God had personally given His laws to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and Moses had delivered them to the people of Israel. Those laws remained binding upon the people and were intended to regulate their conduct once they arrived in the promised land. They were not suggestions, but were irrevocable laws that required willful obedience on the part of the people. So, Moses wanted to make sure that the new generation of Israelites, who would be the first to enter the land, would know and obey the commands of God.

“…listen carefully to these decrees and regulations that I am about to teach you. Obey them so that you may live, so you may enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:1 NLT

Moses was taking no chances. He was not going to assume that the parents of these people had been affective in passing on the laws and statutes of God. Moses knew that ignorance of God’s laws would be just as deadly as choosing to ignore them. And he also knew that God would not tolerate any alterations or additions to His law.

“Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT

God would not tolerate any deviation from His law. His commands were not up for debate or open to interpretation. And, just to make sure the people understood the gravity of their situation, Moses reminded them of one of the many times when their parents had failed to keep God’s commands. It had happened on the plains of Moab at a place called Shittim. When the people of Israel entered the Moabite territory, Balak, the king of Moab, had attempted to hire a local diviner named Balaam to place a curse on them. But when Balaam discovered that God would not allow him to place a curse on the people of Israel, he came up with an alternative plan. He instructed the king to have the women of Moab seduce the men of Israel. And the book of Numbers tells us exactly what happened.

…some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

This was far more than a display of immorality that angered the Victorian sensibilities of God. It was a blatant violation of His law.

“You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them. Then you will accept their daughters, who sacrifice to other gods, as wives for your sons. And they will seduce your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” – Exodus 34:14-16 NLT

And yet, that’s exactly what the people of Israel had done at Shittim. And Moses reminded the people what God had done in response to their disobedience to His commands.

“You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor. There the Lord your God destroyed everyone who had worshiped Baal, the god of Peor. – Deuteronomy 4:3 NLT

Those same laws still applied and God was not going to allow His people to bend or break them, without suffering the consequences for their disobedience. Moses knew that the abundance and fruitfulness of the land would mean nothing if they people refused to remain faithful to God. The land flowing with milk and honey would become a killing field flowing with blood if the Israelites did not take God’s commands seriously. Partial obedience would not result in partial blessing. It would bring the full wrath of God. Which is why Moses warned them, “Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT).

God had a secondary purpose behind His laws. They were to guide and direct the lives of His people, providing them with clearly understood parameters for living in submission to His will for them. His laws were meant to protect them. His laws were intended to assure that they enjoyed His blessings and avoided His curses. But they were also meant to provide the nations living within the land with a visual testimony of what it looks like when men live in a right relationship with God Almighty.

The Mosaic Law was intended to display a never-before-seen relationship between a god and man. The pagan religions of the day featured a plethora of gods who were distant and, for the most part, invisible to their worshipers. Except for carved idols, these gods were nowhere to be seen. And the relationship between the worshipers and their chosen deity was a fickle one, with the people never knowing if their god was truly pleased with their behavior.

Yet, the God of Israel, while transcendent and all-powerful, had chosen to insert Himself into the lives of His people, providing them with laws that regulated not only their behavior concerning Him, but with one another. He wanted to influence every facet of their lives, providing them with righteous rules and regulations for every imaginable form of conduct. And as the people of Israel obeyed His laws, they would be displaying their wisdom and intelligence to the nations around them – a wisdom and intelligence that originated from God, not men.

Moses knew that if the Israelites would obey God’s commands, the pagan nations would be amazed at their wisdom.

“How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!” – Deuteronomy 4:6 NLT

But he wanted the Israelites to remember that it would not be their wisdom that set them apart. It would be their God.

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NLT

The very presence of God’s law was proof of God’s proximity. He was with them. He was intimately involved in their lives and cared about every detail concerning their conduct and character. Unlike the false gods of the nations living in the land of Canaan, Yahweh was real and His relationship with His people was intended to be all-pervasive and highly personal. He was not a distant, disinterested deity, but a loving, caring God who longed to display His glory in the lives of His chosen people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson