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A Legacy Untainted
His name has become synonymous with wealth and wisdom, and he is known for his sacred writings, many of which are found in the Old Testament. He inherited a kingdom of prosperity and peace from his father David, one that had been through many battles. Solomon had the privilege of building a temple for the Lord that replaced the portable tent where God’s presence had dwelled for so many years. That temple became the focal point of worship for God’s people.
Solomon had everything going for him, but where did his wisdom come from? The Bible tells a story about him having an incredible conversation with God upon completion of the temple. God was pleased with him and offered him anything that he wanted. Can you imagine the God of the universe talking to you, ready to offer you anything that your heart desired? What would you choose? To be better looking? Famous, rich, powerful? Or maybe you would choose something more altruistic like world peace or an end to poverty.
7 That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” 8 Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. 9 Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” – 2 Chronicles 1:7-12
What an incredible answer Solomon gave, with all humility he asked for wisdom and God said yes. And not only did he say yes to wisdom, but he also threw in a whole bunch of other earthly blessings. I mean, Solomon truly had it all. He was the most powerful, influential, wealthy leader in the world. On top of that, he possessed the added bonus of divinely inspired wisdom. People from all over the world travelled to see just how wise he truly was.
I wish that was the end of the story, and a summation of Solomon’s entire legacy, but Solomon, like so many, did not finish his life well. I’m so disheartened when I see influential leaders who have done so much good for God’s kingdom, make choices that forever alter their legacy. It happens far too often.
This past week at the Oscars, millions of people watched a critically acclaimed actor walk up on stage and slap another man in the face. After which he returned to his seat and then subsequently won the best actor award. He then proclaimed to the world that he wanted to be a ‘vessel of love’. Those words rung a little hollow, especially for those who were in attendance that night. It was a sharp demonstration of how one foul move can taint one’s career and reputation. When people look back on that night, they’re not going to be talking about his award, but rather his unexpected and disturbing behaviour. His greatest moment of achievement will be forever overshadowed by a lapse in judgment.
For better or worse, our actions and not our words define us. You can’t say, “I want to be a vessel of love,” after slapping someone. Your credibility for loving behaviour has completely gone out the window. I’m going to assume that actor didn’t show up to the world’s most prestigious award show with the intention of doing what he did. Right now, I’m pretty sure he wishes he hadn’t behaved in such a way.
In the same way, Solomon knew what was right, what was true, and what was pleasing to God. So, what went wrong in his life?
His divided heart led to a divided kingdom. Solomon was the last king of a unified Israel. After his reign, the country was torn into two until it was ultimately conquered by Assyria and Babylon. Israel and Judah’s continual disobedience and rejection of the one true God finds its beginnings in the heart of Solomon.
Now this didn’t happen overnight, it happened over years, and was a culmination of small compromises. First, in order to secure peace, Solomon chose to marry foreign princesses of the neighbouring nations. This was a common strategy for peace because as a king, you were much less likely to invade a country that your daughter lived in. But just because it was common didn’t make it right. In fact, God specifically commanded his people to not intermarry with these foreign nations because he knew they would entice them to worship other gods. This was something that Solomon would have known, yet he chose to do things the way the world did instead of the way God intended.
In order to keep all his new wives happy though, Solomon also built them temples to their own gods. Israel was supposed to be a different, holy people, set apart to worship God alone. As time passed these wives persuaded Solomon to participate in their own temple worship and rituals. Here you can see the compromises beginning to add up. The man who had wisdom was breaking the first of the ten commandments, you know, the ‘have no other gods before me’ one.
God also said that a king must not take many wives, or his heart would be led astray (Deut 7:17). But Solomon had over 700 wives. God also said He didn’t want the king to look back and become like the Egyptians who previously enslaved them. God said don’t go back to Egypt to get horses and chariots, and yet Solomon did, and he sold and distributed them to other nations. This was the modern-day equivalent of being an arms dealer, as horses and chariots were incredible weapons of war. God had clearly instructed that this was not the way to live as His holy people. Through the lens of the Exodus story, we see how Solomon almost became like another Pharoah. He oppressed his people with massive building projects, focussed on the accumulation of wealth, and embraced the worship of many gods, the same way that Egypt did. It’s ironic that at the peak of Israel’s power, God’s people experienced a similar environment that they once had while being slaves in Egypt. The very thing they had been delivered from.
One of the most important commands from the law found in Deuteronomy, was for the king to learn, study, and keep the holy scripture close to him. In fact, the king was supposed to write out a copy of the entire law in front of a priest, just so that he could embed it in his heart (Deut. 7:18).
This command alone could have saved Solomon, and who knows what effect that could have had on the generations who followed. It’s more difficult to make compromises when you have God’s law in front of you all the time, on your heart, in your mouth, and in your hands. It’s so easy to forget God when everything is going well. When all your needs are met, and struggle and opposition are at a minimum. That’s how it was for Solomon.
God knows this about us, which is why He instructed the kings to write out His word by hand. He wanted them to learn it, and then live it. And he wants the same for us.
Imagine what Solomon’s legacy could have been. It’s easy to start strong. It’s a lot harder to finish well. The good news is that God can and will help us if we allow Him to.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” -2 Peter 1:3
We have everything we need in order to finish well, but we need to choose to do so. We need to stay firmly planted in God’s word, in His house, and in His family. As followers of Jesus, we can run the race of life with our eyes fixed on Jesus until the very end. Our story doesn’t have to end like Solomon’s. It may be hard to stay on course, to stay obedient, to finish well, but it is more than possible with God’s help.
“..being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Phil 1:6