John Bradshaw - Solomon
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Mel Fisher was a chicken farmer in Indiana before he moved to California and opened one of the country's first dive shops. He went on to become one of the greatest treasure hunters of all time. The website bearing his name calls him "a legend" and "the world's greatest treasure hunter". And that's because in the mid-1980s after 16 years of searching, he and his team discovered the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a Spanish treasure ship that sank off the Florida Keys in 1622. Fisher recovered 40 tons of gold and silver, 114,000 Spanish silver coins, and a laundry list of other valuables, valued at nearly half a billion dollars! What a find!
And the Bible compares hidden treasure to wisdom: "My son, if you receive my words, and...incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; ... if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God". That's in Proverbs, chapter 2. And the person who wrote those words knew a thing or two about wisdom. His name was Solomon, and he went on to quote the famous words that his father David had written in Psalm 111, verse 10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". And then he continues this thought throughout Proverbs: "For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her".
We're continuing our ongoing series "Great Characters of the Bible" looking at the wisest man who ever lived. But Solomon's great wisdom didn't prevent him from utterly squandering the opportunities God had given him. From great wisdom to marrying 700 women and keeping 300 mistresses is quite the leap. We want to explore how Solomon made that leap. Now, he was royalty, royal born. His destiny was to be king, but not just any king. He'd be the king of God's own people. He'd be Israel's third king. The first king was Saul, whose reign as Israel's monarch ended catastrophically. Second king was David, whose reign began in triumph, but was impacted by poor decisions. Late in life, David abdicated, and his son Solomon ascended the throne. The testimony of Scripture is that "Solomon the son of David was strengthened in his kingdom, and the Lord his God was with him and exalted him exceedingly".
Israel flourished under Solomon. The Bible says, "Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under [the] vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon". In his dying charge to Solomon, David said, "I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and [where] you turn". And Solomon followed his father's counsel, for a time. He was a man with both wealth and wisdom. He had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots and 12,000 horsemen. He had 10,000 people working for him at his palace. His drinking vessels were made of pure gold. He had silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.
The Bible says he made silver to be as abundant as stones in Jerusalem, and cedar trees were as plentiful as sycamore trees. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 psalms. He excelled as a judge and as a philosopher. His understanding of the deep mysteries of life and natural history were unmatched by any before him. Young Solomon needed all the wisdom he could get. His own brother Adonijah tried to take the throne, and eventually Solomon had no choice but to... deal with that situation. It was his responsibility to build a magnificent temple while ruling a thriving nation. It would have been a daunting job for anyone. The young king asked God for help. He went to Gibeon, the home of the tabernacle that had been built in the wilderness, and sacrificed to God. "At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, 'Ask! What shall I give you?'"
How incredible would it be to be able to choose anything you want, to have God say, "You name it"? What would you ask for? Wealth? Long life? Good health? Solomon wasn't thinking about any of that. He answered, "O Lord my God, You have made your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in". Solomon was never so rich or so wise or so truly great as when he confessed, "I'm but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in". He realized his complete dependence upon God. And then he said, "Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours"?
Solomon demonstrated humility and a desire to honor God. And God answered his prayer in a miraculous way. He said, "Behold, I've done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you". And then God promised everything he didn't ask for: riches, honor, fame, and protection from his enemies. You see, God wanted to bless this young king so that the world could see the results of following God faithfully. He concluded his conversation with King Solomon by saying, "And if thou wilt walk in my ways, [and] keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days". Solomon had been set up for success. God couldn't have given him anymore. He couldn't fail, could he? But there was that word, "if". That one little word made all the difference. "If you keep my statutes and my commandments". So would he? Would Solomon do that? We'll find out in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. God appeared to Solomon in a dream and promised to give him anything he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom, and God answered his prayer in a big way. Gracious words poured out of his mouth like rivers of pure water. His judgments were incredibly wise. Two women disputing about which of them was the mother of a certain infant child were shocked when Solomon gave the command to divide the child with a sword and give both women half the child each. He knew that the real mother would rather give up the child than allow the child to die. And Solomon's belief proved to be absolutely correct. Even the queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and traveled a far distance to see him.
The Bible says, "Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her". She was so impressed that "there was no more spirit in her". As the queen was leaving, she said, "Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you!... He made you king, to do justice and righteousness". This kind of witness was exactly what God had in mind. He wanted the world to see the evils of idol worship and the beauty of God worship. He wanted Israel to be a lighthouse in a sea of darkness. Solomon was being used by God to reveal the goodness and power of God to the world. As wealthy as he was, Solomon realized riches weren't the answer to all of life's problems. He wrote, "Do not overwork to be rich.... For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven".
That's in Proverbs 23. Reminds me of a recent news story that said, "Research shows money stress can make people up to 20 times more likely to make a suicide attempt". Getting life out of balance causes long-term harm, and Solomon knew that. He wrote, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger". Proverbs 15, verse 1. "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad". Proverbs 12:25. "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction". Proverbs 13:3. Wisdom. If you haven't read Proverbs in a while, you want to read it. Powerful book. There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. Read one chapter a day for a month, and you'll have taken on board a lot of wisdom. As well as the book of Proverbs, Solomon also wrote Ecclesiastes, which speaks to the purpose of life. At times it appears to be a little melancholy, but that's the point, really.
It's the story of Solomon's search for meaning, a search that was long and difficult. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote of the futility that consumes so much of life. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," he said. "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes". You find that in Ecclesiastes, chapter 1. And there's that question: purpose. What's the true purpose of life? And how can we find meaning in our existence? A lot of people have wrestled with that. Maybe you have. Solomon knew life is short, that when he died, the planet would go right on turning. He wrote, "I communed with my heart, saying, 'Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem.' ... I perceived that this... is grasping for the wind". Just like you can't hold the wind, you can't make time stop or hold on to the things of the world.
So, maybe Solomon should have all the fun he wanted. He dedicated himself to pleasure, only to realize that an all-consuming pursuit of a good time actually diminishes a person. So he decided to see if doing great things would bring him satisfaction. He planted vineyards and fruit orchards and built water pools. He built parks and acquired more servants. He wrote, "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure.... Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done...; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun". So Solomon contemplates death. He wrote, "So I said in my heart, 'As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me.' ... And how does a wise man die? As the fool"!
Notice the shift in emphasis. In Proverbs, Solomon couldn't say enough about God. In Ecclesiastes, it's different. He's gradually taken his eyes off God. Inspiration allows us to go on this intriguing journey with him. The same man who wrote that "pride goes before...a fall" in Proverbs 16 shifted his focus and plunged into sin. Solomon knew what God had said about marriage: "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold". That's in Deuteronomy 17. But that didn't stop him. Initially, Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter. Looking on, you might think it wasn't a bad decision. There'd be peace between Israel and Egypt. Solomon's heathen wife was converted and united with him in worship of the true God. But Solomon's problem was that once he started, he didn't know when to stop. He became a serial marrier, maybe thinking he could convert his wives to faith in the true God.
But what actually happened was that he trusted less and less in divine guidance and more and more in himself. Here's something we can learn from Solomon. When you're fabulously wealthy or extremely wise, when you're a brilliant person, there's a real danger of trusting in yourself more than you trust in God. Of course, that's backward. If it was God who gave you what you have, it would make sense to continue to rely on God. Happens all the time, though, success leading a person away from a humble reliance upon God. It doesn't have to be that way, but wealth can and does lead some people away from God. You'll find people with a high IQ whose intellectual acuity leads them to feel that they know more than God. It can be a trap. And Solomon got caught in it.
So how bad did it get? "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect for the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father". That pagan worship was darkly immoral. Solomon sank a long way into sin. His terrible treatment of his subjects was directly responsible for Israel dividing into two kingdoms.
You'll remember the people complained to Rehoboam that, "Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you". The complaints Rehoboam didn't take seriously were complaints about his father Solomon, the man who'd been granted immense wisdom, who'd seen the glory of God fill the new temple, one of the most beautiful structures ever built, who saw fire come down from heaven, whose fame filled the earth. That man ended up mixing with the heathen until he became like them. He gave himself to idolatry and debauchery. It's like he got to the high point of greatness, got dizzy, and lost his balance. So how could he possibly find his way back? The good news is that he did. And we'll see that in just a moment.
If ever there was someone who lost his way, it was King Solomon. Set on the throne of his father David, Solomon was blessed by God in ways never again seen. But he lost sight of God's purpose for him. He lost sight of God. "King Solomon loved many foreign women...from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, 'You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.' ...And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart". You wonder how that could happen. God spoke to Solomon, twice: once in a dream at the beginning of his reign as king and then after the temple dedication when He urged him to be faithful. Solomon turned from God after God blessed him with anything a person could possibly want. It's hard to imagine. Or is it? You might not be Solomon, but God has blessed you in huge ways, and in spite of that, we often choose not to look to God, but to trust in ourselves, to choose sin instead of righteousness.
When you do that, God honors your choice. He knows things will get tough for you. But He hopes you'll learn from your mistakes and turn back to Him. Solomon found his way back to faith in God. And that's good news for anyone disconnected from God, anyone who's living without reference to God. There's a way back. Solomon found that way. And if you need to find the way back, you can, too. Solomon wrote a book of the Bible that doesn't get talked about too terribly much: the Song of Solomon. It's a book that serves two purposes. On the one hand it's a full-on love story, the story of Solomon and one of his wives, more than likely written early in his reign when Israel was flourishing. The woman in question was a Shulamite woman, a country girl. So this wasn't a marriage that was entered into for political expediency. And it's been said, and I think very accurately, that Song of Solomon also illustrates the love between Christ and the church, His people.
"Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved"? Chapter 8, verse 5. "Who is she who looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, awesome as an army with banners"? Song of Solomon 6:10. The book makes clear that Solomon knew something about love, and had experienced the love of God. Ecclesiastes is sort of the record of Solomon's life without being surrendered to God. And it's unique among books of the Bible in that it resolves. It comes to a summary statement right at the very end. After 12 chapters of "vanity, vanity, all is vanity," Solomon figures it out. And he tells us the sum total of what he learned; that is, that is what he learned the hard way. Hundreds of wives, massive building projects, foreign diplomacy, international trade, great wealth, great resentment from his people, and that desperate feeling you experience in your heart when you realize you have squandered the opportunities God has given you. I sense that right now there's someone feeling that way.
"I was raised to know better". "I had every opportunity". "I knew right from wrong, yet here I am about as far from God as a person can get". Well, if that's you, that was Solomon. And yet God reached Solomon and helped him find his way back to spiritual security and safety. And you can find that place, too. Here's what Solomon finally realized. The last chapter of Ecclesiastes starts like this: "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" Interesting, isn't it? That's a message to young people. Remember your Creator when you're young, before life's challenges really hit you, before you get older and less enthusiastic about even life itself. He contemplates death again: "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it". He says, "Vanity of vanities, ...all is vanity".
And then he brings it all to a crescendo. Here it is. This is Solomon, after realizing there is only one thing in the world that can give any person real, lasting peace. Solomon said, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil". There it is, the last two verses of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12, verses 13 and 14. This from a man who'd lived life on his own terms, who'd become so enamored with the world, so enchanted by what his wealth and wisdom could acquire, that he forgot God. And when God's Spirit was able to break through his hard and jaded heart, he saw it clearly.
The whole point of being on this earth is to serve God. One day soon God will weigh every human being in the balances. The sinner's hope is in trusting in Jesus, in claiming His righteousness. And then as Jesus lives His life in you, you "fear God", that's serve God, and you "keep His commandments". The rebellious Solomons of the world can be transformed and live a completely new life. Solomon's long up-and-down journey ultimately brought him to a place of repentance. Solomon couldn't have made it any clearer. Houses, land, a prestigious job, your possessions, they're not bad, but none of it can give you lasting happiness. Faith in God can and will. A surrender to God will. So let me ask you: What is it you want, really?
You want more than what this life offers on earth. We are here today and gone tomorrow. James said that life is like "a vapor that appears for a moment and then vanishes away". But life in God stretches on forever. How fulfilled are you, really? If you don't have Christ, I can tell you that you're not as fulfilled as God wants you to be. If you can only see as far into the future as your last day on earth, that's not very far. God wants you to look forward to an eternal future. And if God can gift that to Solomon after his highs and his, and his desperate lows, God can give eternal life to you. He wants to. The only thing preventing eternal life from being yours is your own unwillingness to receive it. Would you receive it today? If you would, it's yours. Eternal life, yours, right now.
Let's pray together. In fact, you might want to pray after me. Let's pray:
Father in heaven, I thank You for being willing to save me. What You did for Solomon, You can do for me. I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for me. I believe there's a place in heaven for me. I choose to surrender my life to You. Are you praying with me? Take my heart. Make it Yours. Keep me in Your arms. And on that great day, take me to be with You forever. In Jesus' name, amen.