Monday, 20 November 2006

False gods

1 Kings 11:1-13

Solomon had everything going for him.

He had the promise: the promise that God had made to his father David.

2 Samuel 7:12 “When your days are over .. I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father and he shall be my son.. My love will never be taken away from him .. your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever”

He knew the word of God, the law of God. And he knew what God’s law was; he knew the consequences of following God’s law and the consequences of rejecting God’s law.

He had the experience: He had met God. In fact God appeared to him on two occasions, both times through dreams. And he had also been there at the dedication of the temple, when suddenly the glory of God appeared

He knew that God answered prayer: because he had asked for wisdom and he had been given wisdom

He was wise: The books Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were either written or commissioned by him

He knew love: the Song of Songs is a love poem, written to his beloved

He had wealth and power, and was respected. 1 Kings 10:23 states ‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth’.

And he loved God, and was obedient: “Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David”

And Solomon was not only a ruler of his people. He was also a teacher and a preacher. He urges his people: “Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time” (1Kings 8:61)


He had everything. But it all goes wrong. He does not do what he preaches

In 1 Kings 11, Solomon turns away from God. He was not fully committed to God. As he grew old he allowed his love for his wives to turn him to other gods. He followed them, and even built places of worship for them.

In fact, the problem had started many years earlier. There were two things:

1. God had said that the people of Israel were not to inter marry, because they would be led astray – but Solomon, probably in his desire to build alliances – had ignored that command and married women from other nations

2. Solomon had, from the beginning, continued to worship at places dedicated to other gods.

And so now, as he grows older, as the get up and go gets up and goes, as it becomes slightly harder to make personal sacrifices or to put up with unnecessary hardship, as he slips back into old patterns of thinking, as he begins to look for a quiet life surrounded by the people he loves, so he drifts further and further away from God.

In one sense it is very easy to apply this passage to ourselves.

Maybe we have glimpsed a little of what Solomon glimpsed. We know the promises; We have met with Jesus; We have begun to get to know the word of God; We have experienced answer to prayer; We have begun to discover gifts that God has given us, and to use them in his service.

But it is still very easy, whether we are older or younger, to lose the devotion, the whole heartedness and the love for God that we once had. It is very easy for us to worship at the altars of false gods.

When we read this passage we might think that it is an injunction to our nation to tear down the places of worship that belong to other gods (gods of Hindus or Moslems or whoever), and that it is a command to keep yourself racially pure.

It is not.

Our Queen and government are not in the position of Solomon. England is not Israel. It is not and it never will be the Kingdom of God (that has been the big mistake of the Christendom model: to try and impose Christianity on people by law); And the cathedral or parish church will never be in the place of the temple.

Jesus Christ is in the place of the King; The church, the people of God, are the new Israel, and we are an international community. The Kingdom of God is in this world but not of this world. And our place of worship is before the throne of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, the New Testament does encourage and teach that believers should marry believers – because then you share a common God, goal and vision, and there can be so much pain when one partner is a believer and the other is not. But the bible also teaches that believers should stick with and pray for their non believing partners.

But when this passage talks about the dangers of following others and worshipping at the altars of false gods, it is really talking to us about our own false gods. Our own false gods as a church and as individuals.

As a church: what are the things that we put in the place of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? A particular liturgy? A particular experience? A building? A denomination? A particular understanding of communion? A particular way of interpreting the bible? A particular doctrine? Sometimes the communion service or the bible itself becomes our God: (there are times when those of us who would claim to be bible believing Christians can look as if we worship a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Scripture). I am not saying that any of those things are wrong. What is wrong is where our worship is focused, and when we do focus on the wrong things, we end up with the ludicrous situation of say the (mythical) 36th Philadelphian Baptist church who have a list of the churches that they are not in fellowship with: starting, of course, with the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, and ending with the first Philadelphian Baptist church, the second Philadelphian Baptist church and so on..

And as individuals: What is it that we put in the place of God? What is sacred to us? What drives us and motivates us? What has our heart: women, men, children, career, things, desire to prove ourselves, money, avoidance of conflict, hunger for revenge or credibility or respectability?

It is actually quite easy to identify our own false gods if we are prepared to do so: What do we spend our time doing? What are our ambitions? What do we watch on TV? If someone came into your house and into the living room, what is the focus? If someone went through our internet cookies, what internet sites would they discover that we go to? What do you spend your money on? What would you like people to say of you in your obituary?

Someone said that on judgement day when the books are opened, there will be two books that we will be judged by: our diary and our cheque book.

And the warning to us is not to become complacent. Solomon shows us that knowledge, giftedness or experience of God or of great worship or of answered prayers is no guard against our falling away. And if we know that there are currently things in our lives, or attitudes that we have, or people who we are allowing to lead us astray, and we do nothing about it, then we are laying up serious trouble for ourselves in the future.


Just one final note. The passage does talk about judgement. But even in the judgement there is mercy: God says to Solomon, “I won’t do it in your lifetime”, and “one tribe will remain”. He says that there will be mercy – for the sake of David and for the sake of Jerusalem

However hard we try, we will all mess up. For each of us there will be those hidden and those not so hidden high places that we still worship at. That is not a council of despair. It is a council of reality. And when I stand before God, I know that I will need mercy. What I do know is that there is mercy – not for the sake of David and for the sake of Jerusalem – but for the sake of David’s descendant, Jesus Christ, who died for us and rose again.

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