Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 23. Solomon's Death

Prophets And Kings
Day 23
Solomon's Death

Yesterday we learned that a prophet of God met Solomon's official Jeroboam to tell him that God weres goin to divide the kingdom and make Jeroboam king over ten tribes. Solomon falls to the low depths of King Saul by tryin to haves this rival killed. Immediately after this event, the author records the death of Solomon.

1 KINGS 11:40-43
Word must have gotten out that God intends to hand over the kingdom to Jeroboam later when Solomon's son sits on the throne, for Solomon tries to have Jeroboam killed. The reason for wrenching the kingdom away from the house of Solomon during the days of his son is because Solomon has brought idolatry into Israel and has caused the people to stray from the faith. This is a dreadful sin to lead others astray. The Lord Jesus had harsh words for anyone who causes someone new in the faith or someone weak in the faith to stumble, "If anyone causes one of these little ones---those who believe in Me---to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42) The Lord spoke of believers as little ones and children, similar to the way the Apostle John spoke to believers, calling them little children and dear children. Solomon was in a position of authority over the entire nation and he set a terrible example of not being faithful to the God of Israel, and he caused the citizens to stumble in their faith. 

Although Solomon has to know the downfall of the kingdom is his own fault, much like King Saul he places the blame on the man who will later sit on the throne. Just as Saul hated David and wanted him dead, Solomon hates Jeroboam and wants him dead. "Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon's death." (1 Kings 11:40) Only a few pharaohs of Egypt are named in the Bible and I believe this is the first one mentioned by name. The Egyptian version of his name is Sheshonq I and there are records in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles that after Jeroboam returns to Israel, the pharaoh sees a good opportunity to attack the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. There are still-existing Egyptian records of the many military conquests of Sheshonq I and they include forays into Judah and the area of Megiddo in northern Israel. We don't know if the man known in Hebrew as Shishak was the father of Solomon's Egyptian wife and I was unable to find out in my research. There are several different opinions of who Solomon's father-in-law was. I think it's unlikely that he was Shishak for several reasons. If he was old enough to have a daughter of marriageable age when Solomon took the throne, he was likely quite a bit older than Solomon. Solomon reigned for forty years so I doubt Shishak is the pharaoh who led the major military exploits against Israel and Judah during the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam. Shishak is probably the pharaoh who came to power after Solomon's father-in-law died. It's very difficult to align pharaohs mentioned in the Bible (often without names) with the Egyptian records because the Bible tends to give few clues about the identities of most of the pharaohs mentioned there. 

The author doesn't tell us how long Jeroboam lived in Egypt while he waited for Solomon to die. The death of Solomon is related to us right after telling us he tried to have Jeroboam killed, but there may have been a passage of time in between, maybe even a lengthy passage of time. What's interesting to me is that after the downfall into idolatry and after the downfall into a murderous plot, we are told no further accomplishments of Solomon. He may very well have repented in his old age as the book of Ecclesiastes seems to suggest, but I think God was no longer able to use him as a spiritual leader. I think Solomon had lost his ability to give a testimony and be a witness for the Lord because he had set such a terrible spiritual example in the public eye. He had no credibility left. Have you ever known anyone who lived a long life of excess and waste, using and abusing everyone around them, and then later they converted and tried to force everyone around them to convert? Their faith may be genuine but the people they harmed through the years are suspicious of the person's newfound faith. They think it's just one more crazy episode in that person's life, like a fad or an obsession. This might have been how the nation would have regarded Solomon if he suddenly stood up near the end of his life and tore down all the pagan altars of Israel and passed laws that nobody could worship any god but the God of their father Abraham. Even if Solomon could command people to worship only at the temple, it would be impossible for him to make the hearts of the people return to the one true God. He could have forced them to go through the motions but he couldn't force them to believe. It was probably during these final years that Solomon reflected on his life and realized everything he'd done without God was meaningless. This is likely when he wrote the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. 

"As for the other events of Solomon's reign---all he did and all the wisdom he displayed---are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon?" (1 Kings 11:41) 2 Chronicles 9:29 puts it like this, "As for the other events of Solomon's reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat?" Unfortunately, the books mentioned here are lost. Apparently they gave details in addition to what the author of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles had to say about Solomon.

"Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. Then he rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king." (1 Kings 11:42) We don't know the age of Solomon at his death because we were never told his age when he ascended to the throne. It's estimated he became king somewhere from his late teens to early twenties, so he may have been about sixty at his death. That isn't elderly by today's standards but it was a long life for a man of his time, when the average life expectancy for an adult male of comfortable income would be about forty-five to sixty. Given Solomon's tendency to excess, he may have shortened his life with the plentiful wine and abundant rich foods, not to mention all his womanizing. 

It's been hard to get a real sense of Solomon's personality. We've been given a lot of detail and insight into other characters we've studied and it made me sad to say goodbye to some of those good guys like King David and Jacob's son Joseph and Saul's son Jonathan. We've gotten a better sense of the personalities of some of the villains of Scripture than we've gotten of Solomon, such as King Saul and David's shrewd and cold-blooded nephew Joab. I don't want to give the impression I think Solomon was all bad, for he's a highly-revered character of the Bible. His wisdom was real wisdom given by God. No king was ever like him when it came to making good decisions in the judgment hall. He had honorable intentions when he began his reign as a young man and it was the disobedient marriages with pagan women that turned him away from the right path. Like all of us, he had weaknesses. There were certain things and certain situations that really tempted him. Your weakness might not be my weakness. My weakness might not be your weakness. But Solomon's weakness was women and he loved them to the point of doing anything to please them, including building altars to false gods for them. He could have insisted they convert to his own religion but I suppose whenever those beautiful women batted their eyes at him and cried soft tears of distress over abandoning their fertility goddesses and cult symbols, he gave in and let them have what they wanted. One little sin after another piled up, slowly and over time, and probably he didn't realize just how far he'd fallen into trouble until he was in trouble up to his neck. 

The best way to get some idea of what Solomon was really like at heart in his later years is to read the books he wrote. He is the author of one of the most familiar passages of Scripture, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) Solomon is giving good advice to his son based on bitter experience. Solomon made some bad mistakes and hopes to prevent his son from making bad mistakes. He now knows the value of giving the Lord "all your heart" and that the best thing to do is submit "all your ways" to Him. 

Solomon warns his son, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23) He is saying, "Guard your heart, my son, from the lusts of this world. Don't let anyone or anything turn you away from the Lord. Don't let anyone or anything into your heart that doesn't belong there. Opening your heart to what is wrong will affect everything you do."

Solomon wrote a verse that has given hope to many a godly parent whose child seems to have strayed from the faith, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6) This verse gives me hope for Solomon as well, because I think we can be certain David started his son off on the way he should go. Now that David's son is old, he remembers the lessons of his youth. He remembers the faith of his father. He wants David's faith to be his faith.

Solomon has made many mistakes but he has also learned that the Lord is merciful. "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (Proverbs 28:13) Aren't we all thankful for that? Hidden sin gnaws at us. It makes us sick inside like a disease. The longer we hide it the worse we feel. But when we come humbly before our God to confess and renounce our sins, we find mercy. 

There are a lot of characters in the Bible who found mercy in the Lord. Just think about all the sins some of the best known characters committed, yet they turned to the Lord and found mercy. The Bible is full of liars, adulterers, murderers, blasphemers, and idolaters. But the Bible is also full of grace and redemption. When Solomon was born we are told "the Lord loved him". (2 Samuel 12:35a) Solomon had not yet done anything good or bad but the Lord loved him. The Lord knew everything Solomon would ever do but He loved him. The same could be said of all of us. When we are born, without having yet done anything good or bad, the Lord loves us. From the creation of the universe, the Lord knew everything each of us would ever do but He loved us anyway. He gave Himself for us anyway. He looked down on us in our wretched sins, at our lies and thievery and covetousness and lust and hate, and His heart hurt for us. The Lord loved us so much that He made a way for us to confess and renounce our sins and find mercy. 

Solomon learned all his lessons the hard way. So have I. I've often said that everything I ever learned was the hard way. Maybe some of you could say the same. But if the Lord was willing to be a Redeemer to these scoundrels in the Bible, why would He refuse mercy to any of us? A man who called himself the "chief of sinners", a man who was responsible for the imprisonment and death of Christian believers, assures us that the Lord extends mercy to every one of us through Christ and that all we have to do is give Him our hearts and be made whole. The death our Redeemer died for us was enough to pay our every debt. "For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy," the Apostle Paul says in Hebrews 10:14. We are being made holy. The improvement to our character is an ongoing process as we walk with the Lord Jesus day by day. Solomon messed up in some big ways but at the end of his life he returned to the Lord and got on with the process of being made holy. We are saved the day we come to Christ, but becoming more and more like Him is a daily dying to self and a daily submission to Him. Its a daily taking up of our cross and following Him. Solomon laid down his cross for a time. Many of us have. But what counts as we study the life of Solomon is that, at the end, he took it up again. 

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