John Calvin famously said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual forge of idols”. Or as Tim Keller has phrased it, an idol factory.
We are prone to worship and give our allegiance to idols (things that are not God), thus sinning by breaking the first two commandments.
In Old Testament times, Samuel said to the people of Israel:
“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:3)
The Israelites had succumbed to the false idols of that day and age.
They worshipped and gave their allegiance to Baal and Ashtoreth, tribal deities of the surrounding nations.
Samuel said that if the Israelites wanted to repent and turn to God their repentance must be tangible and will be difficult.
In Old Testament times, God had promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites (Genesis 12:1-3).
Under Joshua the Israelites invaded the land and conquered a great deal of it. The book of Judges is the follow-up account. Would the next generation believe God’s promise, obey God’s word and nail down their territory with a final conquest?
The people of the land of Canaan, the Canaanites, worshipped various tribal deities. The most popular was Baal and his female counterpart, Ashtoreth – the gods of fertility.
But rather than conquer the land and destroy its people, the Israelites compromised their faith and ended up following the false gods and wrong practices of the Canaanites.
Last week the pastor of Christ’s Community Church in California was arrested by the Sheriff’s Department and charged with seven counts of committing lewd acts upon a child. He allegedly was carrying on a two year sexual relationship with a teen congregant. The pastor in question is 50 years old and married. Shocking news of another so-called man of God falling into gross sin and bringing Jesus name into disrepute. But the news is not too shocking as we quite often hear of men and women falling into massive sin.
Solomon was a great man of God. But, in spite of all his wisdom he too ended up falling into sin and turning his heart away from God. Solomon has some important lessons to teach us.
The three commandments
According to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 17) there were three basic instructions for any king of Israel:
* The king was not to buy many horses. Horses and chariots where the forefront of modern weapons technology. The king would be tempted to rely on horses rather than God. He would start thinking he is great and not God.
* The king should not have many wives (as was the practice of the pagan kings of the time). God’s guideline from Genesis 2 of one man married to one woman has never changed. God also instructed his people not to marry unbelievers as it would turn his people’s hearts to other gods.
* The king should not acquire much silver and gold. Excessive money would make him arrogant, self-sufficient and proud.
Today we all, especially men, struggle with the same three temptations: Glory, Girls and Gold. We are tempted by fame, power and reputation, even if it means lying, cheating, and exploiting. We are tempted to be unfaithful to our wives, to view pornography, or to have an inappropriate relationship with a member of the opposite sex. We are tempted by money and we are quite aware of what people will do to get their hands on more cash.
Slowly, slowly, catch a monkey
Solomon’s fall did not happen overnight but was the end result of years and years of accumulated small compromises. It didn’t happen overnight – it took years. Solomon’s heart turned from God as the result of accumulated compromises and a conscience de-sensitized by repeated sin. I value warning systems. The low-oil light on your car’s dashboard, smoke detectors in your office, even the little bumps in the road that let you know when you’re crossing over the yellow line. If there’s any device that’s able to warn me of danger or impending catastrophe, I want it working for me. Your conscience is your early warning system. But your conscience alone can’t save you. It’s only a mechanism—a warning device.
Although Solomon was known as the wisest person on earth, in one area he was very unwise – the area of women. The author of Kings mentions this worrying trend early in Solomon’s career. 1 Kings 3:1 says, “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter”.
God does not have a problem with a believer marrying a person from another culture, ethnic group or language, as long as they are believers. (Even Moses married a black African woman according to Numbers 12:1) God knows that having such a close relationship with an unbeliever would have negative spiritual consequences for his people. And, of course, if you shouldn’t marry unbelievers, you shouldn’t date unbelievers either. At the start of his reign Solomon messes up.
Gold and glory
But women are not Solomon’s only downfall. We read in 1 Kings 10 that Solomon had accumulated great wealth (which was a gift from God). Instead of using the money for the good of the kingdom, he spent the money largely on himself. In 1 Kings 10:26 we read another one of Solomon’s small compromises. It says, “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem”. He blatantly disobeyed God’s word.
1 Kings 11:1 does not come as too much of a surprise to us, “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.”
Verse 3-4 says blatantly, “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…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 did mighty Solomon fall? It’s true that Solomon had a bad example of polygamy from his father David. I’m sure that he justified the taking of many wives and live-in girlfriends (concubines) from the life of his father. Although David never married a pagan wife or took a non-Israelite wife or concubine. Perhaps Solomon thought he could convert the women he loved. But he couldn’t. God had warned that it would turn out the other way around — the women would turn him to their gods. This was Solomon’s pride. He thought he could be different. He thought he could resist any such temptation. And he ended up getting burnt. That same issue hounds men today. Men can handle everything from finances to million-dollar-deals to complex contracts, but not their sex drives. Do you think you’re special? You’re immune to temptation? You can play with fire without getting burnt?
Ask yourself, Am I compromising in small areas? Am I doing things my conscience says I shouldn’t? Undoubtedly it will lead to bigger sin. It may be in the area of pornography. Perhaps you view just a little pornography? Perhaps nothing too hard-core? Perhaps you think you deserve the porno thrill after a long week at work? It may on the other hand be an inappropriate relationship? You say, “Its just a coffee and chat, you won’t let things get out of hand.”
Notice too when Solomon’s downfall came, verse 4 says “As Solomon grew old”. We may think godliness becomes easier the older we get. Yet the Christian life is often compared to a marathon in the Bible, which gets harder the further you run!
1 Kings 11:3 gives us the final outcome, “Solomon held fast to them(his foreign wives) in love.” Solomon’s disobedience led to idolatry. Instead of holding fast to God, he clung to his wives. His heart ended up far from God. He ended up putting something which is not God before God. He started disobeying God with small compromises and ended up living for some idol that could not save or satisfy.
God is angry
Probably the scariest verse in this whole account in verse 9, “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” The God of Israel and the universe is angry. Solomon did not only have God’s word written down in the scroll of Deuteronomy, but God himself had appeared twice to Solomon. Solomon had no excuse. Solomon learnt that nobody gets away with anything. God knows. God sees. God is displeased. Because of the sin of Solomon the Kingdom would be torn in two at Solomon’s death. Solomon learnt that sin has consequences. God deals seriously with sin and idolatry because he knows it is absolutely destructive. Of course God will forgive and cleanse, but often we still have to bear the natural, earthly consequences of our sin.
Guard your heart
How do we guard our hearts to make sure that we don’t turn away from God? Here are 5 ways (thanks to The Gospel Coalition for the insights).
1. Don’t say it can’t happen to you.
Pride always come before a fall. Never forget that Satan wants to destroy you and your family
2. Put up boundaries and keep them there.
Here are some stats:
* Half of marriages end in divorce
* Over half of all men face real and ongoing struggles with cyber porn.
* 56% of divorce cases involve one party having an obsessive interest in online porn
* 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn before the age of 18.
* The average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old
These scary stats confirm that will live in a highly sexualized culture. A culture that makes much, in a wrong way, of girls, gold and glory.
We know we should have active porn filters on our computers, but do we? We know we should not have any inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex, but do we keep careful watch? How do you know if a relationship is inappropriate? Well, ask yourself:
* Do I look forwards to those appointments?
* Do I try to meet with that person away from the office?
* Do I prefer if my co-workers and wife didn’t know about the appointment?
I read of this Christian guy who struggles with porn when he travels. His company puts him up in hotels where there are porn channels on TV. So before he leaves home he phones the hotel and gets them to unplug the TV and take it out of his room. This guy is committed to sexual purity.
Put up boundaries!
3. Have a personal plan for spiritual growth
Have a plan that includes reading the Bible regularly, being part of a cell group, having a prayer partner, praying yourself and having an accountability partner that will hold you accountable for your personal godliness. Your accountability partner should ask questions like, Have you viewed any porno this week? Have you been with a woman in an inappropriate way this week?
4. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Be careful how you touch members of the opposite sex, be careful what you say to them and be careful what you wear around them. Don’t be perceived to be a pervert, a flirt, or easy. In churches some people like to hug as a form of a warm Christian greeting. I have nothing against hugging and have been known to hug in my time. But often times it seems like the older men feel especially called to hug the younger girls!
5. Never forget that we are in a spiritual battle with real winners and losers.
Though we may try to ignore it, we have three very real enemies – the world, the flesh, and the Devil – who are more than happy to play their part in helping us get burnt. The kingdom of darkness enjoys seeing Christian men going down in flames for moral failure because, like a grenade, its shrapnel does damage to many others.
A better king
Solomon was a fallen sinner. In fact, the book of Kings leaves us waiting for and expecting a better king. A king in the line of David who will not sin, who will always do what is right and will rule over his Kingdom forever. This king is Jesus. He was born in the line of David and came to conquer sin and death and establish his eternal kingdom. The scandal of the gospel is that King Jesus dies for the sins and wrongdoings of his subjects and then rises again to give them new life and a fresh start.
How are you doing in your walk with God? Remember it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts – ask Solomon.
I enjoy mountain biking, but I hate being unfit (as I am). The other day, cycling with a friend, I had to stop half way through a route to get off my bike and sit down!
Steve Farrar wrote a very good book for men called: “Finishing Strong – Going the distance for your family”. Farrar points out the danger to men of messing up and not finishing the Christian life as faithful men, or as Paul described, as being “disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
We all want to finish strong as Christians. We all want to be effective, productive Christians. We don’t want to slip into sin and addiction. We don’t want to fall in the wilderness as the majority of Israelites did after the Exodus. As Christians, we can’t loose our salvation because God is faithful, but we can live in disobedience and suffer God’s discipline and withdrawal of blessing.
The Bible says that the Israelites all shared the same spiritual privileges, but still the majority did not enter the Promised Land and finish strong (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Similarly, you may have enjoyed many spiritual blessings, been a member of a good church and even attended a great bible study, yet you may be in danger of slipping up half way. How do we prevent this from happening? The Bible uses the Israelites example as a warning to us to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7,14). Idolatry is the root cause of all sin. Idolatry is putting a created thing before the creator. Idolatry is the default position of our hearts. If you want to finish the Christian race strong, guard your heart against idolatry. We can idolize anything: food, sport, marriage, sex, status, money, and ourselves. Idolatry leads you to take your allegiance and worship away from Jesus, and to worship at the altar of a foreign god. If you worship the sex god, you will end up an adulterer or pornographer. If you worship the food good, you will end up obese.
What are you tempted to worship? Jesus, or something or someone else? The Bible goes on to say that God will not permit us to be tempted beyond what we can endure and God will provide a way through the trial in order that we, through persistent trust and obedience, may finish strong (1 Corinthians 10:12-13.)
Growing up I never took seriously the Bible’s warnings against idolatry as I thought there were not that relevant. Maybe in Thailand where bus drivers take their hands off the wheel to say a silent prayer at every Buddha shrine they drive past! Very few of us have private shrines in our homes to other gods. How wrong I was. Idolatry is, according to Roman 1, the underlying sin of our age as people have “worshipped and served created things rather than the creator”. Our hearts are idol factories.
Have no other Gods before me, is the first commandment. The Bible is not politically correct and the competition commission would certainly not be happy. But God demands that we treasure him alone for he is the only God. This means turning from rebellion towards God and trusting in Jesus.
Have no idols, the second command, clarifies the first. To have other gods before God is idolatry. An idol can be ANYTHING that takes the place of God in your life. ANYTHING that demands your devotion and where you seek your security and significance. ANYTHING you treasure instead of God.
It could be the sex idol. You know you’re serving this god when you demand sex – when you want it, how you want it and you’re angry when you don’t get it. You’re even willing to hire an escort, watch porno or swing with someone else’s wife.
The work idol demands that we spend all our daylight hours in the office and only see our children on weekends
The money idol demands that your happiness is caught up with the JSE.
The leisure idol allows you to worship Jesus at church only when the weather on Sundays is too windy to go the beach or not wet enough to stay in bed.
The worship of the acceptance idol calls for your Facebook status to be changed every hour and it is also because of the worship of this idol that girlfriends allow boyfriends to take naked photos of them. Of course there are also religious idols like my right-doctrine idol or my moral-record idol, and even my ministry-achievement idol.
The media calls you to worship these and other idols by “worship-calling”, known also as advertising.
So, do you worship Jesus alone, or some other idol? Do you strive to keep the first two commandments?