Our culture is fascinated with wealth. It used to be “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” more recently has been the obsession with the Kardashians. I even heard an advertisement for what one former pastor calls the Biblical Money code. Supposedly, the Bible has a scheme for getting rich quick or at least gaining vast amounts of wealth. I’ll tell you straight out- it’s not there. I suspect that the former pastor is making a lot more money from subscriptions to his newsletter than most of his subscribers will ever make.
Our culture is fascinated with wealth. I’ll never forget working for a small home building company in the quad cities. Their specialty was mansions. I worked on a $20 million mansion in rural Milan Illinois for a heart surgeon. One of his 6 bathrooms was bigger than my bedroom. His great room had more square feet than our whole parsonage including the garage. Sadly enough I don’t know what happened to that house. Last I knew he had run out of money and couldn’t pay the company I worked for. That’s when I collected my check and moved onto a different company. Apparently, like many in our culture, the Dr. was obsessed with the appearance of wealth that he may or may not have actually had.
There was nothing questionable about Solomon’s wealth. It was real. Never before and never since has there been anyone as wealthy or as wise as Solomon.
In the lower story, Solomon received the throne from his father David. Of course David’s oldest son Adonijah thought he should be king, but David made sure that Solomon got the job.
Solomon took over the kingdom at a great time. David had ruled over Israel’s most prosperous time ever. There was greater peace, greater security, greater wealth, and greater faith than about any other time in Israel’s history.
Right away, however, there is a strange foreshadowing that something is going wrong. Out of the clear blue sky, the Bible tells us that Solomon married an Egyptian princess. The Bible doesn’t comment on it at that point, but remember that God commanded the Israelites not to marry foreign women?
In the next scene, Solomon is visiting one of the High places called Gibeon. The high places were where the Israelites went to worship other gods. God gives him every opportunity to be faithful. In fact it was while he was at Gibeon worshipping another God that our God came to him in a dream to offer him anything he asked for.
Do you remember his answer? Was it wealth? Was it long life? Was it power and prestige? NO, NO, and NO. Solomon asked for wisdom.
Solomon says, you have given me such an important job and I have no idea what I am doing. Give me wisdom to rule your people. So God did, and because he asked for wisdom rather than wealth or long life, God gave him those things too.
Solomon became the wisest and wealthiest man the world has ever known.
I kings chapter 10 lists some of his assets. He received nearly 2 billion dollars in gold annually not counting tax revenue and gifts from the Arabian kings. The way I figure it, that would just about pay the credit card bill from his 1000 wives shoe shopping trips.
“the king made a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. 20 Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold…22 The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.”
“Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.”
Get the picture? Donald trump, Warren Buffett, Melinda Gates, and Mark Zukkerberg added together don’t hold a candle to Solomon’s wealth.
Unbelievably, however, that was not Solomon’s priority.
His priority was building the temple. He used his vast resources to build a beautiful temple for God. He used only the best materials: sawn stone, cedar from Lebanon, gold and more gold.
As a measure of how much work they put into it, It was just a little bit bigger than the parsonage, but took 180,000 men 7 years to build. I kings 6 and 7 tell you more about the temple if you are interested. My point is that Solomon’s priority in all of his life was that temple and he did it right.
Building a temple like that, one would rightly assume that there was a revival of faith. People were excited and devoted to God. Mostly.
The problem is that they devoted themselves to God, but they also devoted themselves to the worship of foreign Gods. Remember I told you that the Egyptian wife was a foreshadowing? Now we come to the rest of Solomon’s 1000 wives most of whom were apparently foreign women. They were Egyptians, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonains, and Hittites. Each, of course, brought their respective religion with them and tried to entice Solomon to worship their Gods. God had said, many years ago, don’t marry foreign wives because they will be nothing but trouble.
I kings 11 says HOWEVER Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides pharaoh’s daughter. … He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines and his wives led him ASTRAY. As Solomon grew old his wives turned his heart after other gods. And his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord, his God, so Solomon (the wise, wealthy, blessed king and temple builder) did evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not follow the lord completely, as David his father had done.
Even though in the lower story Solomon was unquestionably one of the most influential kings in all of Israel’s history, in the upper story the Lord became angry with Solomon for straying to other Gods and not keeping the first commandment. The punishment was that his son would not inherit most of the kingdom. 11/12ths would be take away and given to someone else.
Why did this happen? Solomon probably thought, “I am too wise to let that happen. I am too wise to fall in that trap. I am too wise to go after other God’s.”
I am sure it didn’t happen overnight. He probably went with one wife one time to worship her God. Thinking, “I am so wise just once won’t hurt.” And then another and then another. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, it wasn’t long before Solomon was regularly worshipping other gods.
Do you know what I am talking about when I say the frog in the kettle? It is the idea that if you put a frog in a boiling pot of water, he will jump right out. If you put him in warm water he settles in like it is a hot tub and you can turn the heat up slowly on him and he’ll never realize he is being turned into someone’s frog leg supper.
That’s the way it was for Solomon. He didn’t decide one day that he would start worshipping other Gods. It just happened slowly little by little he strayed into that dangerous territory.
Isn’t that the way sin happens to us?
In 22 years in the ministry, I have never heard anyone say “I decided to wreck my marriage today so I went out looking for an affair.” Unfortunately, however, I have seen a lot of marriages fall apart because of infidelity. But it happened slowly… the water didn’t seem to hot at first.
I have never heard a woman say, “I think I’ll become addicted to prescription pain killers.” I have, however, seen several women slide slowly into that sad situation. The water didn’t seem to hot at first, in fact it felt pretty good.
I have never heard anyone say, “I am going to jeopardize by family and job by stealing from my boss today.” But I have seen it start with paper clips and evolve into large sums of cash that land people in prison. The water didn’t seem too hot … at first.
I’ve never known a committed Christian who said, I’m going to quit coming to church so I can do other things on the weekend. But I have seen plenty of families miss one Sunday here and there,,. then two here and there, then three, and before you know it the once active members are only in church on Christmas and Easter. The water didn’t seem too hot … at first.
I have never known anyone who decided they were going to start abusing their children. I have never known anyone who just up and started beating on their spouse and kids one day. But it starts with a spanking here, and slap there, a shove here and eventually the water is so hot that the police and DHS are standing at the front door. They didn’t even notice the water getting hotter and hotter.
Some people can have a few drinks and be just fine. For others that first drink is like settling into the warm water and each successive drink turns the heat up more and more until they are pretty well cooked.
I’ve never know a child to say, “I want to grow up to be a liar.” Yet I have seen it over and over, first one lie, then one to cover that one, then another and pretty quick the water is so hot they can’t keep track of the truth.
That is the say sin is.
Our lower story lives can seem like everyone else is having all the fun. Everyone else can do whatever they please, but I’m stuck with these rules from God that keep me from having any fun. So we start to compromise and the water doesn’t seem to hot … at first.
Solomon probably though these foreign women were so exotic and beautiful that they he deserved to enjoy their company. He probably thought he would be too wise to fall into that idol worship trap. The water didn’t seem very warm at all… to start with.
God’s upper story rules are given for a reason. They are not influenced by what we want or what we think we deserve. There is no such thing as a little sin. There is no such thing as just dipping out toes into the kettle of sin. Ultimately breaking those upper story rules in the lower story of our lives even just a little bit, will lead us away from being able to enjoy life with God. Remember God’s big picture in the upper story is building us into a community who can treat each other with respect, and love him with our whole heart. Any sin jeopardizes that plan.
What about you? Do you find yourself tempted from time to time to dive into that luke warm sin water and say “come on in the water is fine.” Do you find yourself just dipping your toes in the kettle and saying, “It doesn’t seem too hot.” We have to remember that what feels warm and comforting to us today may become the cauldron that cooks our goose tomorrow. Our prayer must be, that like Solomon, we begin with a strong faith, and UNlike Solomon we finish with a strong faith. Free from sin and experiencing the goodness of God’s upper story vision.
Our prayer must be that we stay away from those “harmless” pots of warm water because they will ultimately boil us to the bone.
When God puts up a no swimming sign he means it.
But if you find yourself already a little wrinkly or even a little cooked, know that it is never too late to come back to God. God is a forgiving God. Always more ready to forgive than we are to be forgiven. Instead of crying, “come on in the water’s fine.” Listen for the voice of Jesus saying come on out, because the kingdom of God is better.