A divided heart
1 Kings 12:1-19
Solomon was in the eyes of his Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries the ideal of a successful king God judged the success of a king not according to their social, political or economic accomplishments but rather evaluated them based upon their covenantal fidelity to Him. He became a king who did “turn from the law” and angered God. Solomon’s disobedience cost his descendants a united kingdom.
As we have seen in these series of blogs the fault lines of Israel’s unity receded under the reign of godly kings. Under a godly king God’s blessing would cause Israel to unite, but without God’s blessings this unity between the South and the North was unstable. Solomon’s later reign placed even more pressure upon these existing stress points. Heavy taxation and conscript labour placed a heavier burden upon an already delicate unity between the tribes (1 Ki. 4:27-28), 5:13-18). This is a nation that emerged from civil war and those scar-lines were not completely healed. Solomon was in the eyes of his Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries the ideal of a successful king (1 Ki. 10:1-13). God judged the success of a king not according to their social, political or economic accomplishments but rather evaluated them based upon their covenantal fidelity to Him. The author of the Book of Kings viewed the division of the Kingdom of Israel as a prophetic judgement against the unfaithfulness of Solomon (1 Ki. 11:9-13, 29-39). In this blog we will consider how the faithlessness of Solomon elicited God’s anger (1 Ki. 11:9) and judgement against the nation.
The Book of Kings clearly viewed the secession of the North as the judgment upon the apostasy of Solomon. Solomon started his reign well, but by the end of his life he was gripped by his own sensuality and covetousness[i]. The very thing Solomon warned others against (Prov. 5:1-14; 7:6-27) became his own downfall (1 Ki. 4:11). Solomon’s unfaithfulness started by not giving adherence to the commands of Deuteronomy 17. It forbade the accumulation of wealth (Deut. 17:17) and Solomon accumulated great wealth (1 Ki. 10:14-25) It prohibited the collection of great numbers of horses (Deut. 17:16) and Solomon amassed a large amount of horses (1 Ki. 10:26-29). The warning of Deuteronomy (17:17) against many foreign wives, who will lead the king’s heart astray was the story of Solomon’s later days (1 Ki. 11:3-8). He became a king who did “turn from the law” (Deut. 17:20 NIV) and angered God. God appeared to Solomon twice before and warned him of the consequences of disobedience. Solomon’s disobedience cost his descendants a united kingdom. Due to Solomon’s father David, God will hold off full judgment for his lifetime. For the sake of the Davidic covenant one tribe will be left for Solomon’s son to reign over (1 Ki. 11:9-13).
God declared that in David He found:” … man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Ac. 13:22). David replaced Saul, because of Saul’s disobedience (1 Sam. 13:12-13). However the Psalms graphically described David’s own weaknesses, anxieties, imperfections, misgivings and acts of disobedience. David describes his struggles as follows: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight …” (Ps. 51:3-4). In various respects David was akin to Saul. What distinguishes David from other kings was his willingness to repent, his dogged faith in God and his passionate desire to follow the heart of God. As such David became the role model of a godly king whose mediated rule established national covenantal faithfulness. National faithfulness released the promised covenantal blessingsii. On his deathbed David encouraged Solomon to walk in the ways of the LORD. He told Solomon that the key to success and prosperity as king was covenantal faithfulness (1 Ki. 2:3). Solomon started his reign well. He “showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David “(1 Ki. 3:3). He had the privilege to build the temple and in his prayer of dedication Solomon instituted it as a house of prayer. He underlined the importance of prayer to the national covenantal life of Israel (1 Ki. 8:30; 2 Chron. 6:21)[ii]i.
However the account of Solomon’s great start to his rulership is seeded with actions that later would lead him away from his true devotion to God. In the previous blog we looked at how Solomon’s uncontrollable lust for power, status and wealth caused him to disobey God’s instructions. Egypt was the oppressor from whom God redeemed Israel. Solomon entered into a marriage treaty with Egypt (1 Ki. 3:1; 9:24; 11:1) which was an act of extraordinary prestige in Ancient Near Eastern culture[iii]. He traded horses with Egypt (1 Ki. 4:26-28; 10:26-29) which God forbade and described as a returning to Egypt (Deut. 17:16). In biblical imagery Egypt represents a returning to or compromising with the world[iv]. The author of the Book of Kings reminds us that the building of the temple (1 Ki. 6:1) fulfils the essential purpose of the exodus, namely worshiping God at His chosen place in the promised Land (Deut. 12:1-11). Yet, this small compromise in Solomon’s heart would grow into full-blown apostasy. Solomon during his reign more and more reflected an Egyptian Pharaoh. He built store cities, chariot cities, and cavalry cities (1 Ki. 9:19; 10:26) just like Egypt. Solomon built ships on the shore of the Red Sea (1 Ki. 9:26) in order to go back to Egypt to trade. Thus instead of Israel being saved by God from the Egyptian chariots by way of the Red Sea, Solomon goes back to buy chariots [v].
Through Solomon’s enforced labour system (1 Ki. 5:13) his own people become enslaved again. Solomon became the very embodiment of Samuel’s warning that “the ways of the king” would lead to the enslavement of the people, who would then cry out to God for salvation from their own king (1 Sam. 8:10-18). In Egypt the people cried out to God because of their bondage (Ex. 2:23) under a new Pharaoh. The people later cried out for relief from the heavy burden Solomon placed upon them (1 Ki. 12:4). Just like Pharaoh (1 Ki. 8:51), Solomon oppressed, exploited and punished them with whips (1 Ki. 12:4, 10-11, 14) [vi]. Part of Solomon’s drift from full devotion to God starts in 1 Ki. 3:1-3, through Solomon looking back at Egypt[vii]. Solomon allowed the thinking of the nations around him to influence him. From having his thinking influenced he also started to follow their ways and customs[viii]. Jesus in Matthew 6:4 states that one cannot have two masters, yet Solomon did. His striving for worldly defined success by worldly means divided his heart between two masters. The personal accumulation of wealth also led him away from caring for his people[ix].
Solomon’s first step away from God was due to the fact that he “loved many foreign women” (1 Ki. 11:1). Israel was forbidden to marry foreign women (Deut. 7:3-4), due to the real and present danger they represented to covenantal faithfulness. The king was also instructed to protect his devotion to God by not having many foreign wives (Deut. 17:17). During the covenant renewal in Deuteronomy (6:5; 10:12,20; 11:1,22; 13:4; 30:20) Israel was instructed to: ”Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:5). Jesus reiterated that this is the greatest command in all of Scripture (Mat. 22:34-40; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:25-37). The phrases with all of your “heart”, “soul” and “strength” emphasise that the whole being and life are to be wholeheartedly devoted to God[x]. Nonetheless Solomon is described as having a divided heart, instead of being stanchly loyal to God Solomon loved and held fast to many women (1 Ki. 11:4)[xi]. Solomon prayed that the people’s “…hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” (1 Ki. 8:61). Yet his heart was divided and not totally yielded to God. Solomon did not reject God, but his heart was not solely devoted to God. He started worshipping God alongside other gods (1 Ki. 9:25)[xii]. Solomon’s divided heart caused him to break covenant with God.
Solomon’s idolatry was not all-out idolatry in the beginning. It started with his sensual love for his wives that consumed him more than the required wholehearted love for God. “His love for spiritual values was replaced by a love for physical pleasures and material wealth, and gradually his heart turned from the Lord.”[xiii] In his letter James warned the church that a double-minded or a person who is “facing-both-ways”[xiv] is unstable in all his ways (Jas. 1:8). Solomon’s love for his foreign wives caused him to allow them to practise their idolatrous worship of their own gods. It is not recorded in the text that any of Solomon’s wives become Jewish proselytes or converted to the Jewish worship of God. It seems that all of them remained pagan and demanded that temples be built for their deities (1 Ki. 11:7-8)[xv]. Solomon started to worship these gods with his wives (1 Ki. 8:25; 11:8) and thus broke covenant with God who demanded that there were to be “no other gods before” Him (Ex. 20:3-6). The unstableness of Solomon’s way is shown in the fact that his polytheism does not make sense in his own Ancient Near Eastern culture. As a powerful king who ruled conquered territories, the gods of those territories would have been viewed as been vanquished by Solomon’s more powerful God. Nevertheless Solomon stoops low by worshiping that which even his own culture viewed as powerless, compared to the worship of the conquering LORD[xvi].
Of all covenantal unfaithfulness, idolatry is viewed as very serious since it demolishes the very basis of Israel’s covenantal relationship with God. The faithful exclusive worship of God is the foundation of this covenant. In the past (Ex. 32-34; Nu. 20 and throughout the book of Judges) God acted immediately, with enflamed righteousness and ultimately redemptively against acts of idolatry[xvii]. Consequently God became angry with Solomon (1 Ki. 11:9). Moses stated that God would establish a place where He would be worshiped (Ex. 20:24; Lev. 17:3-9; Deut. 12:5). God outlawed all other high places, since it would contaminate the true worship of God with the worship of other deities. Early on it is stated that Solomon continued the practise of worshiping at the high places (1 Ki. 3:3), alongside the official worship of God at the temple (1 Ki. 9:25). Solomon in his old age went further and built specific places of worship for these foreign deities (1 Ki. 11:7-8) and worshiped there. The specific deities mentioned are Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians (1 Ki. 11:5), Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites (1 Ki. 11:5), and Chemosh the god of Moab (1 Ki. 11:7). Ashtoreth a Canaanite fertility goddess the consort of Baal [xviii] had in the past ensnared Israel (Jdg. 2:13). Her worship included legalised prostitution[xix], where both male and female prostitutes served at the temple (1 Ki. 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). Molech was an Ammonite astral deity (Zeph. 1:5) who was worship through child sacrifice (Lev. 18:21, 20:2-5; 2 Ki 23:10; Jer. 32:35), while Chemosh was a Moabite astral god who was their divine warrior[xx]. Solomon further according to the text worshiped other unnamed gods as well (1 Ki. 11:8). His actions legitimised polytheistic worship within the kingdom which had a long lasting influence upon the Judean kingdom (2 Ki. 23:13)[xxi]. This behaviour made a travesty of the temple amongst all the flourishing high places[xxii] .
David lived a life of devotion and whole hearted passion for God. In contrast Solomon lived a compromised life due to his divided heart[xxiii]. “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (1 Ki. 11:6). Solomon advised: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Pro 4:23). However he did not follow his own advice and allowed his heart to drift from God. God was not impressed by his accumulated wealth, acclaimed prestige and arresting might. These things may impress man, but God looks at the heart of man (1 Sam. 16:7). The LORD pronounced His love for Solomon by specially naming him “Jedidiah” (2 Sam. 12:24-25) at his birth[xxiv]. God twice personally spoke to Solomon about covenantal devotion (1 Ki. 3:5; 9:2). God now angry with Solomon addressed him for a third time directly about his unfaithfulness (1 Ki. 11:9-13). Though Solomon was unfaithful, God proves Himself to be a covenant-keeping and a faithful God. Solomon’s unrepentant idolatry is the cause for the God sanctioned division of the kingdom, which led to national decay and finally ended in the Babylonian exile[xxv]. Due to David’s faithfulness the division would not occur during the lifetime of Solomon and the whole kingdom would not be teared from the house of David (1 Ki. 11:13). The promise of the eternal Davidic kingdom would be fulfilled in the messianic Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:32-33, 69; Acts 2:29-36; Ps. 89:34-37). Solomon’s unfaithfulness is in sharp contrast to God’s faithfulness (Ps. 89:1-4; Lam. 3:22-23). As Paul wrote to Timothy: “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13).