The establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel takes ten long chapters to describe (1 Kings 1-10). But it only takes one chapter for the kingdom to begin to fall apart; the crash and burn is inevitable (1 Kings 11).
1 Kings opens up following the exploits of David from 2 Samuel: David is clearly king, but now he’s old and dying (1:1-4). Who will be king in his place? Because David had multiple wives who had multiple sons, many people vied for the throne, like Adonijah (1:5-10). After some political intrigue, however, Solomon eventually becomes king over Israel (1:11-53).
Solomon settles old scores and consolidates his power (chap. 2). God then promises to grant Solomon’s prayer request; Solomon asks for wisdom in how to administer justice (chap. 3). The next six chapters detail Solomon’s building of the temple, the beautiful and intricate artistry which goes into the temple, and the dedication of the temple (chapters 4-9). The Queen of Sheba (possibly Ethiopia) shows up and asks Solomon a bunch of questions which he wisely answers, flabbergasting her with his wisdom and the wealth of the kingdom (10:1-13). The rest of 1 Kings 10 is pretty much flaunting Solomon’s wealth (10:14-29). I mean, in Solomon’s reign, silver was devalued because it was so common (10:27). The summary verse: “So Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (10:23). Not bad.
But after those ten lengthy, detail-filled, chapters, 1 Kings 11 opens on an ominous note: “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…” (11:1a). What’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that God explicitly commanded the Israelites (especially the king) not to marry foreigners (11:2). God said this not because He is racist. He said this because He is anti-idolatry, “for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods” (11:2b). As expected, Solomon turned to idolatry: “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab” and he built other shrines as well (11:7).
God did not take Solomon’s idolatry kindly and promised—remember this was after ten long chapters to get the kingdom established under Solomon—God promised that He would “tear the kingdom from [Solomon]” (11:11). All is lost. The slide into exile is inevitable now. The wealthiest and wisest king in all of Israel’s history is cut down after the first eleven verses of chapter eleven in 1 Kings.
What does this all mean for today? I am reminded of a few things:
- It can take years to build something, but only a few moments to tear it down
The kingdom of God in Israel took years to establish, beginning all the way back in 1 Samuel with the selection of Saul. But even though it took such a long time to build the kingdom, God did not hesitate to judge His people and tear the kingdom away from Solomon in an instance. God is not above judging churches the same either way, I suppose. It could takes years to build up a church into a thriving ministry, but only a few moments of sin to cause it to come tumbling down. God won’t necessarily keep a church running just because it seems successful from a human perspective.
- Who you closely associate with matters a lot
Solomon’s heart was turned away from God because he loved foreign women. The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that believers have to be very careful of who they get into bed with—both literally and figuratively. When you love someone, they will influence you. If their heart is not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord, then they can lead you away from Him. It this same mentality which undergirds Paul’s admonition: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 6:14). Now, Paul is not forbidding friendships or association with “sinners.” As Christians, we must be in the world (befriending people to share Jesus) but not of the world (living according to its value system). I like the image of being “yoked.” It calls to mind farming imagery where two oxen are yoked together to plow a field: they are working in unison for the same goal. Are you “yoked” to someone who loves God or someone who doesn’t? Their influence on us is real.
- Idolatry is the root of most (or all) sin
Solomon was lead away into idolatry with the fundamental issue being worship: Who will he worship? Will he worship Molech or Chemosh? Or, the true and living God? The same issue is at the heart of church ministry today. Will church leaders worship the one, true living God? Or will we worship “success,” numbers, the lust for bigger and bigger? Will we surround ourselves with faithful followers of God, or “yes-men” who merely affirm every decision we make? If we love God, we will then allow our practices to be shaped by God’s word and not merely human wisdom?