Sermon preached on 1 Kings 11:1-13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/20/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 11:1-13
His Heart Was Not Wholly True to the LORD
King Solomon had received so much glory and riches from God. He especially had received so much wisdom from God. And yet despite all that, we see such a major failing by such a major leader among God’s people. He had been such a reformer of worship. He had been such an advancer of the cause of God’s people. He had led the people internally in justice and righteousness. He had brought international renown to the country and the wealth and treasures of the world had been flooding in. God’s hand of blessing was evident upon him. Yet, this one had such a moral failing as we see in this passage. May this be a warning to any and all of us. If one of the greatest amongst us could fall like this, let us beware of prideful thinking that we ourselves are too holy or godly to have such a fall. Rather, let’s learn from this passage of Scripture and ask that God would use it to help fortify our faith against such temptations.
Let’s begin then in our first point by observing the context for King Solomon’s major failing described herein. The context is given there in verse 1. Solomon loved many foreign women. He took many such women and either married them or made them concubines: some 700 hundred women from royal families and another 300 hundred in concubines. Now there’s a problem right there even with the word “many”. This is what I briefly said in last week’s sermon. What I mean is that we have been repeatedly referencing God’s regulations in Deuteronomy 17 for kings among his people. There in Deuteronomy 17:17, it says the king must not acquire many wives for himself. Now we’ve pointed to that passage before how it also said that the king must not acquire excessive silver and gold for himself. I counseled us to have caution before declaring Solomon as breaking that simply because he took in a lot of silver and gold; that we weren’t in a place to know if he was taking in excessive amounts. How much gold and silver is too much for a nation of its size and need? But when it comes to having too many wives, I can say with confidence that 700 wives and 300 concubines was indeed too many!
Yet the text shows restraint and merely reports in regard to the amount of wives. But in terms of the “foreign” aspect of them, it does give commentary. He married foreign wives that he shouldn’t have. Now here we need to make an important clarification. The concern isn’t that they were foreigners in terms of their nationality or ethnicity. The concern is explained there in verse 2. They were the kind of foreign wives that were previously on the ban list by the LORD. Why they were on the banned list is also stated there in verse 2 – out of concern that they would turn your heart away after their gods. Here, verse 2 is simply referencing what God had previously commanded in the law in Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and Exodus 34:11-16. In other words, the concern is that these are heathen wives; pagan wives; wives that don’t worship the one true God but false gods. God’s people weren’t supposed to be unequally yoked by marrying someone who didn’t worship the one true God.
Interestingly, Solomon’s Egyptian wife seems to be a bit distinguished from the rest of the women in this list. When verse 2 mentions the list God gave of banned foreign women, it is noteworthy that Egypt is not on that banned list in the Torah. Furthermore, we don’t see any reference to the Pharaoh’s daughter leading Solomon astray after Egyptian gods. As I said in a previous sermon, there is even some Jewish tradition that believed she became a proselyte to Judaism. Nothing in this text seems to specifically fault Solomon’s marriage to her – it’s these other wives that seem to be the particular concern – ones that clearly led Solomon’s heart astray after their pagan gods.
And yet what is also noteworthy is that on the list of foreign wives Solomon married in verse 1, it only contains two entries that are on the forbidden list that God previously gave, namely the Hittites and the Sidonians. In the list God gave of banned nations in Deuteronomy 7 and Exodus 34, only the Hittites appear explicitly, though the Sidonians would be implied because they were of the Canaanite peoples who were named explicitly. But the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites were not specifically on the banned list in terms of marriage. It is true that elsewhere in Scripture that the Ammonites and Moabites were forbidden from entering the assembly of the LORD (Deuteronomy 22), but that same passage specifically says Edomites weren’t to be banned from the assembly. What’s my point here? Two points, actually. First, with so many wives, it’s seems very likely that he also had wives from other nations that were explicitly on the banned list – that seems fairly well implied here. But second, it seems very clear that the Bible is applying the spirit of the law to Solomon, not the letter. In other words, the spirit or the principle of the banned list was not to be woodenly applied to only the specific nations mentioned. But the spirit or the principle is don’t marry someone who worships another god – whatever their nationality. That’s why, on the flip side, it was not wrong when earlier Boaz had married the Moabitess Ruth – since Ruth had abandoned her pagan gods for the one true God of Israel. But it’s also why it would be wrong for Solomon to marry Moabites, Ammonites, or Edomites if those women were yoked to false gods. And so, I love to see how the passage emphasizes the principle here first and foremost. Let me help put all this then in language that I think is more helpful for us in English. The issue here is not that Solomon married foreign women. It’s that he married pagan women.
There is important application here today to Christian singles. If you are a single Christian looking for a mate, the Bible commands you to marry someone who shares the same Christian faith with you. 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” I could go a step further and even point you to the wisdom of not only marrying someone who identifies as a Christian, but to seek to find someone who is generally on the same page with you in terms of various Christian doctrines. I’m not saying you have to agree on every jot and tittle of doctrine. But there is a wide range today about what someone means when they call themselves a Christian and how they live out their faith. Making sure you are generally on the same page in terms of the doctrines of the Christian faith is so important and is surely part of the spirit or principal of this law.
I would like to give a clarification here. This question came up during the Apostle Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians: What do you do if you as a Christian find yourself married to an unbeliever? Maybe one spouse became a Christian after getting married. Maybe one spouse fell away from the faith. Maybe the Christian married a non-believer when he shouldn’t have. However, it happened, the question Paul addressed: “Should the Christian then divorce their non-Christian spouse? Paul very clearly says “no” (1 Cor 7:12). Paul calls the Christian to honor their marriage covenant. In such marriages, I would especially commend the Christian spouse to particularly love their non-Christian spouse in every way so as to shine forth the love of Christ to their spouse. And so, I think it is important to remind us of this clarification by Paul even as we talk about how single Christians should only pursue marrying a Christian.
Let’s turn now in our second point and specifically note the major failing by Solomon. Verse 4, “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” This is so important to understand. Yes, it was wrong and against God’s law for him to even marry those girls in the first place. But not all sin is as equally heinous as others. If he had just married those girls, it would have been wrong, but surely it would not have been highlighted like it is here. The much bigger failing is that his heart turned away after these other gods; after the gods of his various foreign wives. We get some examples here, but the text says in verse 8 that these were just examples. He goes after the gods of the Sidonians, and the Ammonites and the Moabites. He not only worships them along with his pagan wives, but for at least some of them he built them houses. Remember, Solomon’s greatest achievement was that he built a house of worship for the one true God. Yet, sadly, he also made houses of worship for other pagan gods.
So, while it was wrong for him to marry pagan girls, the reason God declared such to be wrong was because of this concern. There is a temptation that if you marry a pagan spouse, they will lead you astray. It’s amazing today how too many Christians go down this path thinking they can convert their unbelieving spouse or girlfriend. Maybe you can or maybe you can’t, but God’s command to not go marrying an unbeliever is rooted in the real temptation that they will turn you away.
Again, realize then the ultimate issue here is not about who you marry but about where things end up in terms of your allegiance to God. To say it another way, Solomon’s major failing in this passage was not about a form of violating the 7th commandment – a commandment about adultery and marriage, but about his explicit violating of the 1st commandment – about having only one true God as your God. Unless of course, you apply the 7th commandment in regards to Solomon committing spiritual adultery against God – that Solomon betrays his first love of the LORD to go love other gods instead. But no, the specific command here being violated is the 1st commandment – Solomon was bringing additional gods into his religious practices and worship. To further bring home this point remember David’s great sin. David’s great sin was a 7th commandment violation – I’m talking about the adultery with Bathsheba. David then compounded that great evil by adding on a violation of the 6th commandment when he had Uriah killed. Yet, despite all that, God could say here in our passage that David’s heart had been in a better place than Solomon. Solomon’s evil was not a 6th or 7th commandment violation. It was a 1st commandment violation, and surely that commandment is first for a reason. The sin of having any other gods is of chief importance and to violate it is of chief egregiousness.
With those strong words, let me then point us then to verse 4’s clarification. It says that Solomon’s heart was “not wholly true to the LORD his God”. The same is essentially restated in verse 6. In other words, this passage doesn’t say that Solomon completely turned away from the faith. It doesn’t say that he recanted his faith and allegiance to the God of Israel. His sin wasn’t in abandoning God, per se, it was about adding additional false gods into the mix. This kind of polytheism was quite normal at that time for the world. The nations’ pagan religions at that time would not have had a problem with someone worshipping various gods. But the God of Israel, the one and only true God, does have a problem with that. This text clearly teaches that God calls us to monotheism and not polytheism. Solomon in his old age started taking on gods like his wives: too many! God says that any more than one god is one too many. And the God of the Bible says that he alone is to be that one and only God in your heart. This of course has much application today. Today’s movements of interfaith and syncretism and religious pluralism is an afront to God. It is an egregious violation of the first commandment. Let us not have our heart split among different gods. May we seek to have hearts wholly devoted to the one true God – the LORD God who brought his people out of Egypt – the same God who sent his only begotten to son into this world to redeem a people unto himself by his sacrifice on the cross.
Let’s turn now in our third and final point and see God’s response to Solomon’s great sin here. Verse 9, the LORD was angry. What makes it especially bad is what we find there in verse 9, that Solomon knew better. God had twice appeared to Solomon and had specifically commanded him about this. Solomon already should have known not to do this because it’s what was written in the law. But God had personally and specifically exhorted against such worship of other gods, 1 Kings 9:6.
The LORD’s punishment is announced then in verse 11. God was going to largely take away the kingdom from him. Remember, that God’s earlier exhortation to Solomon that if he and his descendants wanted to continue to rule God’s people, he would need to remain faithful to the LORD and carefully walk in the ways of the LORD. So, then we are not surprised per se that God would decree that the kingdom would be largely taken away from Solomon.
Yet, God’s chastening of Solomon is not without much grace and mercy. We see that in two ways here. One, God will not bring this about until Solomon’s son – so there will be a delay in the execution of this judgment. Two, God will give one tribe still to Solomon’s descendants to rule over. (It’s unclear here if that is a reference to a tribe in addition to the tribe of Judah – in which case that would likely include Benjamin – or if the one tribe reference was to the tribe of Judah which happened to include at least some of Benjamin – but I digress.) Note especially why God will show Solomon such grace and mercy – “for the sake of David” mentioned twice. God’s grace for David’s sake would benefit both Solomon in the immediate, and in the longer term it would benefit many of Solomon’s descendants who for generations would continue to reign in Jerusalem. If it were for Solomon’s own sake, God presumably would have just removed the kingdom right then and there and in its entirety. That’s what Solomon’s sin deserved. But for David’s sake that’s not what he received.
Well, if Solomon could know God’s grace “for David’s sake,” we recognize that, ultimately, it’s “for Christ’s sake.” Think about it. David, a man after God’s own heart, was flawed too. He himself needed God’s grace and mercy and atonement for sin in his life. For this passage to appeal to David’s sake isn’t ultimately to point us back to David’s own imperfect righteousness. It’s to point us back to that unconditional promise that God made to King David in that Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7. For “David’s sake” especially means “because of what God promised to David.” And as we’ve said before, we say again: what God promised David was ultimately about Jesus Christ being born in David’s lineage and the kingdom that Jesus would be established in forever. And so, if anyone knew grace for David’s sake, it was ultimately as it looked forward to Jesus Christ, the fulness of what God had promised David.
And so, this reference here “for David’s sake” point us forward again today to the grace we know in Jesus Christ. For we are all sinners of various sorts, but if we are in Christ, we don’t get the hell we deserve. Why? For Christ’s sake. Sadly, “For Christ’s sake” is a phrase used by many in the world today as a way to take God’s name in vain. They use it as a slur to express surprise or contempt. But for the Christian the phrase “for Christ’s sake” embodies our gospel hope. For our own sake, we deserve condemnation. For our own sake, we don’t deserve any prayer for forgiveness to be heard, nor any of our worship accepted. For our own sake, we don’t deserve to have any place in God’s kingdom. But for Christ’s sake, God forgives us. For Christ’s sake, he hears our prayers. For Christ’s sake, he receives and accepts our worship. For Christ’s sake, he not only makes us citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but places us as kings in his kingdom, kings who delight to serve the King of kings, King Jesus.
So then, as those who know such a glorious salvation for Christ’s sake, may that fuel our obedience and allegiance to him. So then, for Christ’s sake, if we are single looking for a spouse, let us seek only to marry in the Lord. And for Christ’s sake, may we walk humbly, and with much examination. May we not think we are immune to the great temptations of this world. Whether we are young and full of much youthful zeal, or whether we are older full of many years of acquired wisdom, may we be careful to live life for Christ’s sake. May we continue to be on guard against those temptations of the world that would look to pull even just a part of our heart away from the Lord. And in our struggles may we keep pleading Christ’s sake before God – and never our own – now, until that day when Christ’s kingdom comes into the fullness of its eternal glory. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.