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Wise & Otherwise

Wise & Otherwise

Life of Solomon—I Kings 1-11, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes

November 29, 2015

 

How many of you have ever played the game Wise & Otherwise?  I was introduced to it by the Stapletons and our family played it again on Thanksgiving.  It’s a delightful game whereby everyone tries to complete the first part of a wise saying from some culture of the world.  One person will read the first part of the saying while everyone else individually comes up with what they think would sound like a good conclusion.  Then everyone playing votes for the version they think is the real one and if someone votes for your version rather than the actual one, you get to move ahead so many spaces. 

            Not only is it entertaining to hear how some people try to finish wise sayings; it is sometimes surprising how wise… or strange…some “wise sayings” are.  And it’s sometimes very hard to figure out what another culture’s sayings really mean.  Let me give you a few examples

Here’s a few from one card:

  • There’s an old Croatian saying, “Every house has…a black chimney.
  • There’s an old Catalonian saying, “He is a good surgeon who has been…well-cut.”
  • There’s an old Swedish saying, “Many make themselves a dog for the…sake of a bone.”
  • There is an old Swiss saying, “Marriage is a…covered dish.”
  • There is an old Finnish saying, “Two hard stones do not make…good flour.”
  • There is an old Brazilian saying, “By the roll of the cart one knows…who is inside.”

My favorite from Thanksgiving was, There is an old Italian saying, “If you let them put the calf on your shoulders… it will not  be long before they throw on the cow.”  (Translated into an Americanism:  “If you give them an inch…they will take a mile.”)

How many of you like the O.T. book of Proverbs?  WHY do you like them? 

How have you tried to learn/memorize different Proverbs…or tried to teach your children Proverbs?  HOW?  Successful?

Who wrote most of the Proverbs in the book of Proverbs?  Yes, King Solomon, the son of David who inherited his throne.  He was also the son of Bathsheba whom we studied briefly last week. He’s also the human author of what other books of the Bible?  (Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)  ALL of them are what we call books of wisdom or poetry

Reading poetry is a lot different than reading the Sunday newspaper, isn’t it?  How so?  (Lots of “poetic license”, word-pictures, figurative or nuanced language.  Use some of the opening sayings as examples.)

            So when we pick up the book of Proverbs, we must be careful not to treat it like, say, the book of Genesis…or the Gospel of Luke…or the Epistle to the Ephesians.  Wisdom sayings are generally true observations, norms about life.  They are not iron-clad promises or blanket statements of how reality is 100% of the time.  Wisdom literature calls us to think more than feel or believe like other books do.  It is practical theology for living day-to-day godly lives in a complicated world. 

NOTEProverbs presents the rational, ordered norms of life, while the other 3 books of wisdomJob, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon—present the exceptions and limitations to the rational, ordered approach to life.

Job = Exception #1 to the general principle that the righteous usually are blessed.  Job deals with the suffering of the righteous.

Ecclesiastes = Exception #2 to the general principle that a rational, ordered approach to life provides ultimate meaning in life. It shows, at the very end, that the only way to find meaning in life is to be in right relationship with God. 

Song of Solomon = Exception #3 to the general rule that rational thinking about marriage leads to good choices and blessings. (EX: Prov. 21:9,19—advises men not to marry women who are quarrelsome or negative while warning women of marrying men who are lazy fools and drunkards.)  Song of Solomon shows the irrationality of romantic love in a marriage.

So let’s take a look at some of the experiences and words of King Solomon as we watch God unfold more of His Story through human history.  Hopefully we can all walk away today with greater wisdom that will lead us to better living. 

            Turn to I Kings 3:3ff. 

Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

            Solomon inherited a nation on the rise, ascending to the peak of its political and spiritual power.  What King David had fought for through many a bloody war, his son, King Solomon, was able to enjoy in years of peace and prosperity.  It was a lot like the years following WWII for America.  Out of victory came tremendous industry and prosperity. 

            So here is a young king seeking to obey the instructions that his father had given him.  Yet there is this little “exception clause” tacked on to God’s commentary about his leadership: 
“…except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”  I think what is happening here is that the Israelites, despite being forbidden from offering sacrifices any old place in Israel, had set up different places on various mountain/hilltops around the country where people were worshipping God by offering sacrifices.  God wanted the sacrificial system to remain at the place of the Tabernacle or Temple and in the hands of the priests and Levites He had tasked with that worship. 

            I’m sure there were plenty of good “wise-sounding” arguments about why it was “better” to have multiple places of sacrificial worship around the country.  Care to imagine a few?

  • It’s more convenient so we can be better stewards of our time and money.
  • It’s going to allow us to worship and sacrifice more!
  • It puts reminders of God’s presence in more places in Israel.
  • It gives more priests and Levites more work.
  • ???

The problem as we shall see is that by the end of Solomon’s life, this and a few other “little compromises” ultimately took him on a disastrous detour from God’s will for his life.  But for now, let’s learn from something Solomon did right.  I Kings 3:4-- The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 

            And that is precisely what God gave to Solomon.  Never was there a king in Israel who had more peace, more wealth, more favor with people, larger armies, more building projects, etc. than Solomon.  Here’s a foundational principle about wisdom we can all benefit from:  Seeking God’s wisdom for life’s roles & responsibilities will lead to both wisdom and blessings.  God has a way of giving blessing when we ask for wisdom.

Wisdom is one of those things that a.) God has, and b.) He gladly shares with people who really desire it.  As James 1:5 tells us, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

But there is a condition on asking for wisdom:  we must be ready and committed to actually following it when God shares it with us. 

 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Then James goes on in chapter 3 to show us what God’s wisdom looks like. Listen.  James 3:13ff—

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Solomon was a man who recognized something most of our politicians seem to have forgotten: that the task of national leadership demands more than what any one person can bring to the table.  Just look at the fruit wisdom bears in this list and ask if this is descriptive of our national political leaders? 

APP:  But every one of us has been given different roles and places of responsibility to lead.  It might be simply a friendship you are responsible for.  It might be a marriage.  It might be children, or a job, other employees, a ministry in God’s church somewhere, an income or excess disposable time.  One of the prayers that the life of Solomon calls us to often is simply this:  Dear God, please grant me Your wisdom…and the faith to then live it out obediently…immediately.  Make wisdom one of your regular prayers…and you will find that God gives you a lot you didn’t ask for but can enjoy as well. 

Solomon goes on to be this unimaginably wealthy king in Israel.  In fact, in Chapter 10 of I Kings, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit.  And here’s what she says about her discovery.

10 When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions.Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed.

She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”

            No doubt about it; Solomon was a wealthy hombre.  It was that kind of wealth that allowed him to experience all the different things he writes about in the book of Ecclesiastes.  From writing books to building massive projects to throwing opulent parties to expanding his kingdom and empire, Solomon had the money needed to do just about anything humanly possible in his day.  And I’m sure it made life fun, enjoyable, “easier” in some ways and less stressful.  But money didn’t… and never can…make life more meaningful, purposeful or God-filled.  In fact, Ecc. 2:17 is typical of numerous similar statements Solomon makes about life with lots but divorced from God:  “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”   

So here is another bit of wisdom we can live and prosper by from this man Solomon who got to try far more than any of us will in our lifetime:  Wealth can make life more fun, enjoyable and easy but not more meaningful or blessed by God.

APP:  So how can this change and improve life for every one of us here today?  For starters, it should probably make those of us who have more financial resources less tight-fisted and more generous. Depth of life will never be found in getting and holding onto but in giving and letting go of.

Solomon should also make those who have less but are tempted to believe the lie of materialism that the more we get the happier we’ll be…it should make us look to God more and material things less for our internal well-being. Meaninfulness in life isn’t found in things; it’s found in God.

Ecc. 12:13—“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the duty of all mankind.”  

This leads to another wisdom lesson from Solomon:  It is often more difficult to stay close to God in abundance than in need.  Just looking at the difference between Solomon who enjoyed amazing wealth and peace and his father, David, who seemed to always be at odds or war with someone, living from cave to field, it becomes evident that the “good life” rarely leads to the “godly life.”  Rather than believe the lie that wealth will lead us closer to God, let’s believe the truth that wealth often distracts from God.  It’s our times of lack that have more spiritual power than our times of luxury.   

ILL: There have actually been studies done about what wealth does to your character (let alone your relationship to God).  Wealth actually changes people’s character for the worse. One University of California at Berkeley study installed note takers and cameras at city street intersections with four-way Stop signs. The people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars. The researchers then followed the drivers to the city's crosswalks and positioned themselves as pedestrians, waiting to cross the street. The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians' right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2 percent of the time — a finding that was replicated in spirit by another team of researchers in Manhattan, who found drivers of expensive cars were far more likely to double-park.

VIDEO:  Just watch what happened with this elderly lady and some Mercedes-driving rich guy meet.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F90XkUXI-c

So how did a man who had been gifted with such amazing wisdom end up making such a mess of certain areas and chapters of his life?  There are two particular one’s that stand out to me. 

            First, Solomon had a problem with women. It’s summarized in I Kings 11:1ff—

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred 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, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

            How does such a wise guy get so stupid that he tries to take some 1,000 women into his life as spouses thinking this is going to work out well?  Simply, one woman at a time! 

            This is, I think, directly connected to the opening problem Solomon had with engaging in worship on the “high places.”  Now he’s taken the next step.  Instead of worshiping the true God on those high places, he’s allowed another compromise—worshiping false gods at those places.  

            I’m sure it made perfect sense at the time.  His foreign wives with foreign gods probably just asked for permission to do their own worship.  I’m sure they didn’t demand Solomon join them.  And I’m sure that once one of his 1,000 wives got permission to worship just one of her gods at just one of the high places, the rest were not about to settle for anything less. 

            You see, here’s the wisdom principle about this failure of Solomon’s life:  It’s easier to fail at major issues when you’ve compromised on minor ones.  What started as just a “minor” change to God’s command to offer sacrifices only at the Tabernacle or Temple ended up with people worshiping false gods all over Israel.  And that eventually led to God disciplining his people by exiling them to Assyria and Babylon.  It’s easier to fail at major issues when you’ve compromised on minor ones. 

            Most of people’s really spectacular failures are not the result of people waking up one morning and, out of the blue, saying to themselves, “I think I’ll destroy my marriage and reputation by having an affair today.”  Or, “I think I’d like to embezzle from my boss today and go to prison for 5 years.”  No, big sins come from a series of smaller sinful compromises, things like flirting with a coworker…or cheating on your income tax…or talking negatively about your boss. It’s just easier to fail on the major issues when you’ve compromised on the minor ones. 

APP:  Is God bringing some “minor” issue of compromise to mind right now?  Instead of continuing to argue or rationalize why it’s O.K., how about agreeing with God that it’s leading you in the wrong way and asking for His help to move into truth? 

There is another great truth to be learned from this episode in Solomon’s life.  Your closest human friendships WILL influence your friendship with The Divine.  I Kings 10 told us that, despite God’s prohibition against taking foreign wives, “Solomon held fast to them [his wives] in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” 

            When I think of Christians being turned away from the faith by their friendships, peers or heartthrobs, I usually think of young believers who are teenagers and feeling strong peer pressure…or college students being pressured in secular living and schooling environments.  I don’t tend to think of seasoned believers turning away from Christ in their 50s or 60s.   

            Verse 4 gives this sad commentary about Solomon with these words, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  How does the wisest man of the day fall into the worst foolishness of mankind at a time in his life (old age) when he should be demonstrating the most wisdom?  The only answer I can come up with is the power of human relationships… particularly “love-based relationships.” 

By “love relationships” I don’t just mean romantic relationships.  Friendships…good friendships…ought to be a form of “love relationships” in that true friends will always be living love towards each other.  While David may have suffered from an absence of close relationships in his life, his son Solomon suffered from the opposite—too much influence by the closest people in his life.  And those closest to him were not passionate followers of God.

APP: All of us should have good relationships with lots of people outside of Christ.  But our closest and best relationships really must be with passionate followers of Christ.  For those of us who are married, hopefully our spouse will be one of those (if not THE most influential and important).  But married or single, all of us need solid friendships with solid God-followers. 

That’s not always easy to accomplish.  But it’s not really rocket science either.  Influential friendships come through time spent together + transparency of soul.  Take either of those two components out of the picture and you won’t have life-altering friendships. 

What a difference it might have made in Solomon’s life if he had cultivated just a handful of God-based influential friendships like that?  Surely someone would have said as he was contemplating, say, marriage #15, “Hey Solomon, what are you doing?  What’s the hole in your soul that you’re trying to fill with pagan women?  You can’t do this and not drift from God!  Stop it, man!  It’s time for some serious talking about your soul!” 

Personal Experience:  While I have some really good people I would call great friends that I’ve had since college, none of them are still “influential friendships.”  WHY is that?  Because while we still experience transparency of soul when we get together… every 5 or 10 years, that is… it’s not regular enough.  We don’t spend enough time together. 

On the other hand, I’m blessed to meet with a couple of groups of men weekly or semi-weekly (read “TIME”) who are serious about transparency at a soul level.  Add to that a wife with whom I experience both time and transparency, and I’m a blessed man!  Those are the friendships that are truly influential in my life today. They’ve made me a much wiser man than I ever would have been on my own.

APP:  So who is influencing your soul these days?  Whose names can you plug into that equation:  time + transparency = influential friendship…NOW??? That question can reveal a couple of serious danger signs:

  • If the pool of those types of friendships are primarily or entirely non-Christ-followers, you’ve got a problem.
  • If there are only 2 or 1 …or 0 Christ-passionate people in your “pool”, you’ve got a problem.

That problem won’t change unless YOU change.  You will need to change both the amount of time you invest in transformational relationships and the level of transparency you experience in those relationships. 

            And trust me, it doesn’t have to be a ton of time each week.  But it does have to be regular…and meaningful, transparent, honest and Spirit-led communication in that time.

            APP:  Do you need to make a change in terms of influential friendships in your life?  What is it?  When will you do it?  Who will you tell?

So let me end with this final principle from Solomon’s life.  Wisdom in one area of life doesn’t guarantee wisdom in all areas of life. 

            The nature of wisdom is that it’s just as daily as life.  Yesterday’s wise living isn’t enough for today.  I need wisdom today for today.  And I need it in every area of my life.  Today’s wisdom doesn’t guarantee I’ll live wisely tomorrow.  Wisdom as a parent of a toddler isn’t enough for wisdom as a parent of teens…or adult children, for that matter.  Wisdom about financial matters isn’t enough for wisdom about relational matters.  Wisdom to live the building years of life (the 20s, 30s and 40s) isn’t good enough for wisdom needed in the senior years (60s, 70s and 80s). 

            I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that somewhere along the line in Solomon’s life, sometime after God granted him the wisdom he asked for to lead a nation, he failed to pursue wisdom for, oh, say the marital part of his life?  Or the religious affection part of his life?  Or the personal friendship part of his life?  While he achieved unrivaled heights in the area of finance and political leadership and justice, he failed miserably in some very, very important areas and seasons of his life. 

            Solomon’s life is a call to wisdom.  But it is also a warning flag about wisdom

  • It is a call to seek the wisdom that comes from above every day of our lives.
  • It is a call to seek God’s wisdom for every area of our lives every day of our lives.
  • And it is a warning flag to not let wise success in one area of life eclipse our lack of wisdom in another.

             

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