You’ve probably heard the saying, “Begin with the end in mind”. It sounds wise, but how often do you actually do it? Did you start your day, your week, your career, your marriage, your family, with a plan of how you’d reach your end goals successfully? Or are you like a ship without a rudder, being blown about by the winds of desire?
Today I want to look at a man in the Bible named Solomon and what his life has to teach us about finishing well.
And I’ll start with this. In a race or in a marriage or in education or life, generally, what matters most is not how you start. It’s how you finish.
Therefore, you have to start with the end in mind.
One of the lessons we learn from Solomon is you can come from a messed-up family and still be used by God.
Pretty much everyone I know comes from an imperfect family.
But I’ll bet hardly anyone’s story is worse than Solomon’s. To understand his story, you have to get the start.
His oldest half-brother, Amnon, had violated their half-sister, and when their father, David, did nothing about it, Amnon was killed by their second oldest half-brother named Absalom.
Absalom wanted to take the throne away from his own father, David, so he was killed by David’s general.
David was devastated by this. He famously cried, “O Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you.”
That’s actually what Absalom wanted (for David to die instead of him), but David was not willing to do that when Absalom wanted him to. Thirdly, Adonijah was also hyper-ambitious. We’re told David was still king, but he was growing old.
Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.”
He got chariots and horses ready with 50 men to run ahead of him.
By way of explanation of why his son would do this to his dad, parenthetically, his father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?”
David apparently was just passive as a father. If you’re a parent, a really good question to ask your kids sometimes is, “Why do you behave as you do?” David didn’t do this, and everyone paid a price. Meanwhile, Solomon was the child of David and another woman, Bathsheba.
Bathsheba had been taken by David in adultery.
David had her first husband killed on the battlefield. It turned out that apparently David had promised Bathsheba that Solomon was going to be king, but now it’s really clear if Adonijah becomes king, Adonijah will kill his half-brother, Solomon, so Solomon kills Adonijah first.
A little review — in a nutshell, David’s first son is killed by his second son.
The second son is killed by David’s general, Joab, who David with his dying breath left instructions to be killed.
The third son, Adonijah, is killed by David’s son, Solomon.
Do you know anyone who has a family worse than that one?
By the way, if you’re ever tempted to look at our current political climate and think, “Things could never get worse than this,” it was actually worse back then. Finally, Solomon is named king. He consolidates his power. Solomon is young and handsome and energetic and devoted.
One day he goes to worship God, and God appears to Solomon in a dream.
The Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
1 Kings 3:5
An amazing offer!
Solomon makes his request. He begins by thanking God for his goodness.
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant… you have made your servant king in place of my father David.”
1 Kings 3:6-7
It’s really interesting language here. Solomon is a king, but he describes himself like a servant who is a king.
Then, comes Solomon’s request. He says the challenge of being the king is going to be too much for him: <
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,
I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.
1 Kings 3:9—13
Solomon was very wise. Immediately after this comes a famous moment when two women come before him.
They’re both prostitutes, and both claim to be the mother of a little baby. They each demand custody.
Solomon thinks about this, and he tells them he’s going to cut the baby in two, and they each would get half.
One of them immediately cries out, “Don’t do that! In that case, give the baby to the other woman. Just let the child live,” and Solomon realizes she must be the real mother and gives the boy to her. The reason the writer of Scripture tells us their occupations is that in the ancient world prostitutes were the least likely to get justice. They were at the bottom of the ladder.
No little girl grew up hoping to enter that occupation. No one does today. They lived at risk. They lived in the margins.
And here’s a king who cares about them. Here’s a king who will bring justice and wisdom to those least likely to receive it.
He really is living like a servant, and we’re told the nation holds him in awe.
Words about what a remarkable man Solomon is get around.
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.
He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.
[This is like ancient Near East intellectual trash talk. “Our smart guy is way smarter than your smart guy.”]
He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls.
He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
1 Kings 4:29-34
We’re told when the Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon she came to test him with hard questions, but he passed with flying colors. Solomon answered all of her questions. Nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. I think mansplaining first began here with Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As you might imagine, with his wisdom came great honor, great recognition, great power, great wealth, and great glory.
King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.
1 Kings 10:23
The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.
1 Kings 10:22
Solomon has so much gold he doesn’t even know what to do with it. All of his goblets are made of gold.
But my favorite part is the baboons. What are you going to do with a ship full of baboons? That was just a way of saying there was unprecedented prosperity in Israel.
The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.
1 Kings 4:20
Take a look at what he consumed every day with his court, keeping in mind that a single head of cattle can feed over 800 people.
Solomon’s daily provisions were ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl.
1 Kings 4:23
The man is clearly not a vegetarian.
There was no tofu, no quinoa salads. Of course, it takes a lot of money to pay for all of this. We’re told the taxation system in Israel was regarded as a very heavy load on the people.
It seems a little odd for a servant king to live like that. On the other hand, Solomon was finally able to build the temple of the Lord that his father, David, had so badly wanted to build.
If you read through 1 Kings, the writer of Scripture gives a lot of details about how lavish the building materials were, and the point of the detail is not so the reader could rebuild it; it’s so that the reader would go, “Wow! Look at Solomon! Wow!” Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the temple is a spiritual masterpiece of wisdom. Then, there’s the tiniest little detail.
We’re told the temple was so fabulous that Solomon had spent seven years building it.
Then, in the very next verse:
It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.
1 Kings 7:1
The writer makes no comment on this. He doesn’t tell us how we’re supposed to evaluate it.
Biblical stories are often quite subtle. The writer just notes in passing, however, that Solomon spent twice as much time doing something for his glory than doing something for God. The temple was built, of course, to show Israel’s devotion to God.
Other nations had many temples because other nations had many gods and many idols.
Israel was unique in this regard. It had one temple because it had one God. And Solomon built it.
Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.
1 Kings 3:3
It’s a tiny little word (except).
“Solomon showed his love for the Lord…” — He obeyed, he followed, and he walked — “except…”
Now, the except here has to do with idolatries.
Making space in the high places meant making space for worship of other gods and idols. I was wondering, if someone was describing my life or yours, what might my “except” or yours look like? “He showed his love for the Lord by walking according to God’s instructions…
Except with his money.
Or except in his lack of action on behalf of the poor.
Or except in his sex life.
Or except for the anger and bitterness he would indulge.
Or except for unreconciled relationships.
Or except for his use of deceit.
Or except for the way he would judge other people.
Or except for the way he never seriously intended to become a student of God by reading his Word.
Or except for the way he never really intended to become a person marked by love.
Except, except, except.
Such a dangerous little word. Solomon’s life was not marked by a giant, “No” to God but just an “except.”
“I love you God, except…”
That’s a real dangerous word. Other than that, Solomon did amazing things with his wisdom.
He built the temple, wowed the world, had all of this gold, collected baboons, and ate like a king. He was the smartest guy in the room. He built the room… except… Then we come to the last chapter in 1 Kings that describes Solomon’s life (chapter 11), and the writer has chronicled so many impressive achievements, this remarkable résumé, this amazing life. Then, he adds:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.
1 Kings 11:1,4
That little except that was there earlier in the story never really went away. It just grew and grew and grew until it turned into a great big however. There is this odd cycle.
Wisdom will sometimes lead to success.
Which leads to prosperity.
Which leads to complacency and ego.
Which leads away from the very wisdom that started it all. Solomon was very wise. Solomon got everything he ever wanted, but he ended up doing the very thing that would lead him away from the God who gave him the wisdom, and Solomon knew this was wrong.
Solomon understood God’s instructions. Solomon was aware of the consequences.
“Solomon loved many foreign women.” How many?
Very many is what the writer of Scripture says.
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.
1 Kings 11:3
Yep! Seven hundred wives will tend to do that. The smartest guy in the world, and he gets married like 1,000 times. Really!
He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
1 Kings 11:5
A little background for why this stuff was so serious.
Ashtoreth was the mistress of the god Baal.
People in the ancient Middle East often practiced what was called sympathetic magic where human beings would do things on earth to try to get the gods to do the same things.
With Ashtoreth, they would often be involved in sacred temple prostitution.
Young women or young boys would be offered up to do this to get the gods to make the earth fertile. Molek is called detestable because people would offer child sacrifice.
Parents would have their children burned at Molek’s altar, and Solomon, wise Solomon, is now part of this. How did he get here? How does this happen?
Well, there’s actually a pretty simple answer, and it hits you and me, too.
There’s another force in life besides wisdom. Wisdom is wonderful. There’s another force, and if you let it, it will eat wisdom for breakfast. You can think of them as two paths. One path is wisdom; the other one is desire.
I can follow either path.
Wisdom is a gift from God.
The alternative is to just order my life around desire.
Now, it’s a good thing we have desire. God thought up desire. You couldn’t live a day if you didn’t naturally desire to do things like eat, breathe, move, and be with other people.
But desire is dangerous because, if it’s not tamed, it can take over a life. Desire by its nature is kind of obsessive.
That’s why James said in James 4:1-2:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
This is a very profound diagnosis of the human condition.
We have all kinds of problems like quarrels and fights, but those are really symptoms of a deeper problem — and the deeper problem is our desire. When I desire something and that desire gets really strong, I start to feel like I must have it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t think of anything that would get in the way of it.
Desire asks the question, “What do I want?” Look at a child with a donut. They just want the donut.
You try to appeal to wisdom. — “It’s not good for you. Your body needs protein. Your body needs vitamins. Sugar and fat and lard are not nutritious. They will not make you healthy. They will not make you strong, which is what you want.”
Does this convince a child?
No! — “But I want it! I must have it! This donut will make me happy forever. Give me this donut, or I’ll make you miserable. Give me this donut, and I will never ask for anything ever again.” Desire is that way, and desire is not always connected to what is good. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul talks about what he calls deceitful desires. It’s such an interesting phrase. Desire is deceitful because in the moment it makes me think, “If I just had what I want so badly, then I’d be happy forever,” but, of course, I wouldn’t. Desire alone always narrows my thinking because it wants my mind to focus just on this desire. In our day, it’s often thought that desire alone can tell you what is good for you. Just follow your pleasures. Love, which ought to be directed toward what is good and to will the good, gets confused to just mean desire.
If I desire something, I’ll say that I love it. Maybe the most famous commercial song of all time went like this. If you know it, feel free to join in and finish it. “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener…” Do you remember hearing that song? “That is what I truly want to be, for if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”
Really? Everyone would be in love with you if you were an Oscar Mayer Wiener? Just think about that song for a moment. That is one of the dumbest songs in the entire world, and we know it!
Here’s the truth. If you were a hot dog, even if you were a very good hot dog, everyone would not be in love with you. They would want to devour you.
If someone loves you, they don’t put you on a grill and burn you and cut you in half longitudinally and put you on a bun and smear you with mustard and then devour you! That is not love! That is desire. Desire asks, “What do I want?” If I desire illicit sexual gratification, there are a bunch of thoughts I will not think.
As desire gets stronger, I won’t think:
How would my spouse feel if I do this?
How would my kids feel if I do this?
What will it do to my conscience?
What will it do to my relationship with God?
Desire always narrows your thinking. It shuts all kinds of thoughts out of your mind that could interfere with its gratification without you even being aware of it. It does this to really smart people.
It’s common to read about smart, rich, powerful people who end up in prison, disgraced by how they handled sexual desire.
And I promise you in countless moments desire kept hundreds of thoughts out of their minds that could have saved them. And that force, that power, and that potential are in me and in you. I can follow desire, follow pleasures, and, “What do I want?” or I can follow wisdom. Wisdom asks the question, “What is good here? What is the best?”
Desire always narrows your thinking or your focus; wisdom always broadens it so I can quite calmly look at every option and consider every consequence and choose what is best. That’s why, for example, the writer of the book of James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God…”
God loves to give wisdom. God does this generously. To wisdom, whether I get what I happen to want right now is of relatively little importance, because I’ve taken my stand on devoting my life to God and what is best, and I’m quite willing to put up with unfulfilled desire.
It will not actually kill me in the service of a much higher and nobler life. Ironically, wisdom is what Solomon started out asking for.
Remember, he said he wanted a discerning heart to be able to distinguish right from wrong so he would not be driven by impulses. The impulsive will just runs on desire.
It doesn’t ask what is right or wrong. It’s just, “I want what I want.” Wisdom gives way to a reflective will that asks not just, “What do I want?” but:
What is good here?
What would love do?
What is best? When you see the phrase in the Bible — “Solomon, however, loved many foreign women” you have to put the word loved in quotes.
Because he did not will their good, or he would not have stuck them in his harem like cattle. What Solomon did was “desire” many foreign women. Since he was king and a really smart guy, who was going to stop him? What would this do to his heart?
What would this do to his devotion to God?
What would this do to his nation?
What would this do to his children?
What would this do to the women themselves?
He was a really smart guy, but those were questions that never occurred to his really smart mind.
And he got older, but he didn’t get wiser. Finally, he died a foolish, old man. He started really well. He didn’t finish very well. Israel would have to keep looking for someone else until one day another man came along who was also famous for his wisdom who said he was also a king but lived as a servant.
One of the most remarkable titles Jesus ever gave himself was in Matthew, chapter 12, when he said to people, “And now something greater than Solomon is here.”
Of course, anyone who heard that would have laughed —
“Really? This obscure carpenter who would become a penniless rabbi and didn’t have a place to lay his head while Solomon took 13 years to build his palace with ships full of baboons and every goblet made of gold? Really?” And of course, now, 2,000 years later, we know — “Yeah, really. Really.” And no one ever finished like Jesus — love and suffering to the end on a cross. And it turns out there was one who was wiser than Solomon. Follow him. Immerse yourself in his life and teachings.
And you’ll learn how to finish well. No matter where your journey has started. Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church