Now the LORD grew angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.
I. How THE ANGER OF GOD IS PROVOKED. It is provoked -
1. By the turning, away of the heart from Him.
(1) And justly so, for to do this is to outrage the highest propriety. God is everything that should engage the affections of an intelligent creature - "the perfection of beauty;" "the altogether lovely."
(2) For to do this is the straight road to the deepest demoralization. Man is made in the image of God expressly that his nature may have its perfection in union and communion with Him. To turn away from God must lead to depravation evermore. This, in other words, is everlasting damnation.
(3) Then let us keep our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). No diligence should be spared. Our life is in it.
2. By doing this wantonly.
(1) It was an aggravation of Solomon's sin that God had appeared to him. Review the circumstances of the vision he witnessed before he set about the building of the temple (see 1 Kings 3:5-15). He could not have been wholly ignorant of the glorious character of God.
(2) It was a further aggravation that God had appeared to him twice (ver. 9). Review the circumstances of the vision after the work of the temple was finished (see 1 Kings 9:1-9). Note: Privileges imply corresponding responsibilities. Note further: God keeps account of His favours conferred upon us, though we may forget them. He will remind us of them all in the great day of judgment.
(3) It was an additional aggravation that he had been forewarned of the very evils into which he fell. And the promises of God to him had been so remarkably verified that he had the best reason to accept the truth of His admonitions. How slow of heart are the men to believe the inflexibility of Divine justice!
(4) A king who exacts obedience from subjects, or a master who claims the obedience of servants, should be the last to forget his duty to God. Consider -
II. How THE ANGER OF GOD IS EXPRESSED. It is expressed -
1. In the severity of justice.
(1) The kingdom of Solomon was now doomed to be rent. He had divided his affections (between Jehovah and Molech), so are the affections of his subjects now to be divided.
(2) A considerable portion of his kingdom is to be turned over to one of his servants. What a fitness there is in this judgment also! Solomon, the servant of God, rebelled against God; Jeroboam, the servant of Solomon, rebels against Solomon.
(3) What a melancholy reversal! Time was when God loved Solomon (see 2 Samuel 12:24; 1 Kings 10:9; Nehemiah 13:26). Severe is the fall from the height of a throne. From a vastly greater elevation is the fall of one east from the bosom of God.
(4) Behold how sin works ruin! It ruins individuals, families, nations. The anger of God is expressed -
2. With the mitigations of mercy.
(1) For the sake of David his father these judgments were not to come upon Solomon in his day. We little know the benefits or the evils entailed upon us by our forefathers. We should see that we entail not evils but benefits upon our descendants.
(2) "For David's sake!" David, the beloved, was a type of Christ, for whose sake the entail of infinite mischief is cut off from his sons, and they are made heirs of inestimable blessings.
(3) Even Rehoboam was to reap the benefit of the faithfulness of David. One tribe, the most important, was to be retained to him. The promises respecting the true son of David must be fulfilled.
(4) "For Jerusalem's sake," also, mercy must rejoice upon judgment (ver. 13). The temple was there. The shechinah was there. Kingdoms are spared the severity of judgments in respect to the interests of religion in many ways little dreamed of by statesmen and rulers. - M.
Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh.1. Proverbs, it has been said, are "the wisdom of many and the wit of one," at least they are most often trustworthy exponents of a uniform experience. And there is a proverb which tells us that no one ever became thoroughly bad all at once. And so it was with Solomon; as the stream of his career sweeps by us in Holy Scripture, windows, as it were, are opened for us through which we gaze out on that sunny flood, so full of promise, carrying on its bosom such rich opportunities and varied treasures, and we note that as it gets wider it loses its pure beauty, as it gets deeper it parts with its simplicity. Here and there these glimpses into his life prepare us for a catastrophe. It requires a vast store of wisdom to keep a man unspoiled amidst popular applause. The power of wealth with all its opportunities may very easily sweep away the calmer dictates of a higher reason. Solomon is the liberal patron of error. He is not an idolater; it would not be fair to call him that. But as he would tell us, "he is no bigot," that the Zidonians and Moabites were sincere in what they believed and practised. That his first duty was to the empire, and to consolidate the acquisitions which he had made. After all, there is an element of truth underlying all religions — "All worships are true." Take care, Solomon! The next step is only too easily taken,. which goes on to proclaim, "All worships are false." I suppose there is no chapter in Church history which we look back upon with such unfeigned horror and humiliation as that which deals with religious persecution. We never shall forget the fires of Smithfield, or look with anything but disapproval at the stern and repressive violence of the Puritan Rebellion. At the same time it must be remembered that there is one thing which, if less repulsive, may be equally deadly in God's sight. Toleration, which springs from a real respect for our neighbour's convictions, is one thing; indifference, which does not feel strongly enough to oppose, is another. At the present moment we are oddly enough confronted with these two developments combining in their efforts to weaken religion.
2. But Solomon does not stop at undenominationalism. No one does. It is an impossible position. He settles down a step further into aestheticism — the worship of the beautiful, the luxurious, the fascinating. A protest against Ritualism is, no doubt, an excellent thing in which every intelligent Churchman should join, if we mean by the term a religion which consists of mere rites and ceremonies, void of real significance, subversive of the sterner realities of religious truth. There is always a tendency, in view of the extreme difficulty of religion, to put up with something easy, in which the heart and the intellect, and the better part of man, need of necessity have no share. Some people think they can saunter into heaven on a ceremony; or be wafted there on the wings of music; or be carried there on a text of the Bible; or be admitted without any trouble, if they sufficiently protest against somebody else. But the very essence of religion is intense personal exertion and personal devotion, and religion has always had to pay the penalty of this difficulty, which belongs to all true excellence, in the various shifts and substitutes invented by indolent humanity. Ritual, music, the accessories of Divine service, are utterly abhorrent unless they mean something. Solomon was not spreading religion when he erected his numerous shrines for the manifold superstitions of the East, and their attractive rites. He was degrading it, he was vitiating the religious instinct and depraving the religious sense. Do let us remember, dear brethren, that all the beauty, all the magnificence of the services of the Church, are for the honour and glory of God, and that if we fail to honour Him, fail to find Him, fail to worship Him, they only add to our own condemnation.
3. But the worship of aestheticism has no finality about it. It is a religion of butterflies after all, who flit from flower to flower, who expand in the sunshine and die in the frost, who are here to-day and are gone to-morrow. Ephemeral, creatures of a day! Do not suppose it, for one moment, if any of you have given up vital belief, if you have teased to believe in God, that you will be able to go on finding religious satisfaction in beautiful sounds, and artistic sights; you will either get better, or you will get worse — and it is terribly easy to get worse. The end of Solomon's career is not encouraging; the best you can say of it is, that it is shrouded in gloom. It was an easy step from a worship of the beautiful to the nature-worship so-called, which was the distinguishing feature of so many of the cults which he imported to Jerusalem. There is a seamy side to many a renaissance, so-called, and there is a seamy side to much which is dignified now by the name of the love of the beautiful. Nature-worship in its simplest form, and apparently its least harmful form, takes the shape of the worship of what we take to be our own nature. It is startling to find how intensely people dislike anything in religion which is stern, or causes them trouble, or appeals to self-denial. This appears in all manner of little ways. Solomon erects his nature-shrine for the pent up denizen of the city, at some little distance outside, and tells him that it is far better for him to go and worship God in the green fields, and among the hedgerows, or even on the river, than to shut himself up in a musty church in Jerusalem. He will tell him that "the Sabbath was made for man," and that to fill his lungs with pure air, and to scent the flowers and be cheerful, is the best worship which God seeks from him. And the worshipper of nature comes back with a tired body, a dissatisfied mind, and a starved soul, and believes that he has spent a happy Sunday. There, in the old temple at Jerusalem, are the double sacrifices and the long round of services, because those who have studied the mind of God believe that He requires on His day a certain proportion of our time, not the smallest contribution which a Christian can make, at the earliest possible hour in the morning, or the latest moment at night. And if they ask for happiness and enjoyment, they remember how Mary says, "He fills the hungry with good things," or how the Psalmist says that God "never fails them that seek Him." But Solomon turns his back, his wisdom departs from him, and he seeks for other gods. He is indifferent, and he calls it toleration. He is intolerant, and he calls it religion. He dishonours the Church, and he thinks that he does God service. He becomes aesthetic, he is lingering now in the courts of the temple, he has turned his back on her realities, he is like a man who just stays a little longer to hear the anthem. He has turned his back, he is gone, he is worshipping nature, in all the downward gradations of that terrible cult. Wise Solomon! who began with building the temple, goes on by tolerating error, to become a besotted voluptuary, and to insult God. It is the history of many a soul, who has forgotten the lesson of his youth, who is false to his tradition, and falls below his own standard. "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceits? There is more hope of a fool, than of him."
(W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
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