“Show Me Your Friend…”


1 Kings 10& 11

Why would a person who had everything going for them allow themselves to blow it? Solomon had everything going for him. He blew it. Why? God made him, who had no claim to his father David’s throne, to be the king of Israel and then God granted Solomon all the wisdom a person could ever have, and financial riches vaster than anyone else in the entire world at that time, and esteem among his ruling peers. All that God asked was that Solomon keep God’s law for all Israel’s kings:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses…He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14,15a,17-20)

In the middle of those verses read, I took out some of the verses so that I could emphasize them now, the verses in which God said to Israel’s future kings: “Don’t go back to Egypt!” Egypt, with its gods that the Israelites in slavery there had worshipped, was not a safe place for the Israelites. They needed to establish themselves as God’s people, not as residents of Egypt. Israel was not to have anything to do with Egypt. They were to be different! Egypt had not been a positive force in Israel’s history but an enemy who had enslaved God’s people. Egypt had been the oppressor whom God had rescued Israel from. All of those instructions from God were in a conditional pattern which is often repeated in the Bible, that of “if” and “then”. If the king doesn’t take many wives, if he doesn’t become a lover of money and get rich off the backs of his people, if he doesn’t go back to Egypt or send his people back to Egypt, if he reads God’s Word, reveres God, and follows carefully God’s law and decrees, then life will go well for him and his descendants. “If” and “then”. We will see these next two Sundays how Solomon did with obeying that conditional “if” and “then” pattern after becoming king. After Solomon dealt with those potentially dangerous individuals who were opposed to his kingship:

So, the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. (1 Kings 2:46)

So far, so good, in Solomon’s kingship. We already read that shortly after becoming king, Solomon had asked God for His divine wisdom and God had granted it to him, but reading that passage more closely, we find that Solomon asking for God’s wisdom was not the first thing he did after becoming king. What he did was not good. Here it was:

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem. (1 Kings 4:1)

What the heck? So disappointing. A marriage to a non-Jew, to a foreign lady, and, to make matters worse, one from Egypt. God is not opposed to marriages between ethnic groups or marriages to someone whose family background is “foreign”. God is opposed to marriage to those who will bring the worship of their foreign gods into the picture. With the Hebrews, this could only lead to bad things. God had forbidden such marriages and yet, Solomon did it anyway. As well, in chapter 11 of 1 Kings, we read more:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 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.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, 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. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So, Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, & for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. 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. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So, the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:1-13)

My very British grandmother – who lived with our family when I was a boy – had a lot of old sayings in her arsenal of British wisdom, and one saying she would often state was, “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.” In other words, be very careful as to who you let influence you. Will goodness influence bad, or the other way around?

There is an old joke about two men. Each had a pet parrot. The first man used very foul language and so his parrot picked up his linguistic habits and swore all the time, but this became embarrassing to that man as the parrot swore continually around his house guests. That first man, though, knew of a second man who also had a parrot. That second man was a Christian. He did not swear in his normal speech but would often punctuate his normal language with Christian phrases such as “Praise the Lord”. His parrot heard his owner’s words and “parroted” them, including saying, “Praise the Lord” on a regular basis. Well, the first man got the bright idea that if his swearing parrot could just spend a week in the cage of the righteous, clean-speaking parrot, that perhaps the righteous parrots’ language would influence his swearing parrots’ language in a good way. So, he asked the second man, “Can I bring my swearing parrot over to your place for a week so that it can listen to your parrot and clean up its language?” The second man agreed to the request. Well, after one week, when the first man came to pick up his parrot, the two men they found that what they now had was each of them had a parrot who would intersperse righteous, clean, language of praising the Lord with a bunch of swearing. Well, that was just a joke, but it tells a powerful truth: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are!” Be careful who you let into your life and who will influence you! Solomon needed to practice that but didn’t. He ignored God’s wishes and would pay the price for doing so.

Now, in our sermon series through the Book of Jeremiah, we learned that the goddess Ashtoreth as well as the gods Molech and Chemosh, were not harmless or nice. People talk about playing on oujia boards as if they are harmless fun. They aren’t! They are dangerous. In the same way, those gods and goddesses were, as the Bible says, “detestable” for they demanded allegiance from their followers in doing such things as murdering their children by tying them up and throwing them as sacrifices into the fiery pits at their altars of those gods. The pounding of drums we often hear in movies and associate with pagan sacrifices was designed to drown out the screams of the children as they burned to death, so that their parents could not hear them. Right from the start of his rule, Solomon worshipped those gods. We read,

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 4:3)

That word “except” stands out in a huge way. One small word which reveals that Solomon was a double-minded, two-hearted, person who participated with his people in the worship that his foreign wives brought in, of offering sacrifices and burning incense on the altars of those foreign gods at the “high places”. Solomon loved the Lord, “except”. This worship of false gods became an ongoing problem throughout Israel’s history and was the one sin that most led to its destruction. It was only after their exile in Babylon centuries later that the Jewish people got serious about worshipping YHWH God only. As for Solomon, he loved YHWH “except”. Shrines and altars built on the tops of hills and mountains were the sites in which foreign gods were worshipped. They were not where YHWH was worshipped. God said,

Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. (Deut. 12:2-4)

People in our day misunderstand Psalm 121 to think that it instructs God’s people to worship God in the mountains, but when he wrote,

I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? (Psalm 121:1)

the Psalmist was saying that he would not look up for help to the hills or up to the shrines on those mountainous places. That is what false worshippers did. Instead, he would look to YHWH God alone because…

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:2)

Solomon should have been looking to YHWH God alone “except” he capitulated totally. He gave in to ways of the world, to doing what his peers were doing. I hope that I am not capitulating in my life. I hope that I am not loving God “except”…We must examine ourselves as to whether or not we are doing that? Solomon, a man who had everything, threw it all away when he decided to ignore God’s laws, to become a polygamist, to marry non-Israelite foreign women, allowing them to erect shrines and altars to their gods throughout Israel. He loved YHWH “except”. However, there was one foreign wife who did not bring the worship of her gods to Solomon, but instead embraced the worship of YHWH and took that true religion back to her land. As we know,

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. 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)

One of those impressed foreign dignitaries was the Queen of Sheba, Sheba being a kingdom spanning southern Arabia/Yemen and Ethiopia.

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” And she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon…King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country. (1 Kings 10:1-10,13)

According to Ethiopian tradition, a tradition which I accept but which is disputed by others, the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem with a large entourage, and camels carrying expensive gifts from her homeland. The Queen of Sheba stayed and learned from Solomon for six months. On the last night of her visit, she was impregnated by Solomon, and Solomon took her as a wife. She returned to her kingdom, where she bore their son, Menelik. Later, Menelik returned to Jerusalem to visit his father, Solomon. Because his kingdom of Israel was falling apart by that time – and this is where the history becomes disputed – Solomon gave to Menelik – or Menelik stole for protective purposes – the Ark of the Covenant. Menelik then returned to Ethiopia and the Ark of the Covenant has been there ever since, today being located in an Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the town of Axum, Tigray Region, in northern Ethiopia.

The story of the Ark may be disputed but what is not is that all the rulers of Ethiopia from that time on took the title “Lion of Judah” for themselves due to their Judean connection to Solomon. The last “Lion of Judah” ruler in Ethiopia was Haile Selassie who was assassinated in 1974. In any case, in Acts 8, we read that a servant of the Ethiopian court, a man known only as an “Ethiopian Eunuch”, went to Jerusalem to worship, which points to the story of the conversion of the Queen of Sheba and her countrymen as being accurate. Today still, there are 25,000 Ethiopian Jews/Falasha in Ethiopia as well as 160,000 Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted to Israel. As for the Ethiopian Eunuch, when the deacon Philip explained Isaiah 53 to him and that the Suffering Servant written about there was Jesus the Messiah, that royal official converted to Christianity. He returned to Ethiopia and shared the Gospel with his countrymen. In the 4th century AD, Ethiopia became the first nation on earth to proclaim itself “Christian”. Ethiopia was the only north African nation to not fall to the Muslim hordes in the 700’s AD. When European missionaries later went to Ethiopia, they were amazed to find a thriving Christian community.

What I personally am amazed by is that, in contrast to all of Solomon’s other foreign wives of royal birth who had brought into Israel the worship of their gods, this one wife, the Queen of Sheba, didn’t do that but instead converted to becoming a follower of YHWH and she took that message back to her homeland. I think that is why God preserved her story in the Bible. She is the only foreign queen whose story is told in the OT. Why? I believed God wanted us to learn from it. I believe that she was influenced by Solomon’s teaching as preserved in Proverbs 3:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

We are thankful for the Book of Proverbs that Solomon wrote down and is preserved in the OT. This particular set of verses were probably written by Solomon earlier in his life, before he had allowed himself to be led astray by those who worshipped other gods but it is a great teaching: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Remember, Solomon once loved God in that way. But, then after he allowed the wrong people to influence him, he loved YHWH God, “except”. May we be more like the Queen of Sheba than like Solomon!

Jesus warns us against having a divided heart or allowing ourselves to worship other gods. In a question about which is the greatest commandments,

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

Solomon started off doing that, “except” that he allowed the worship of other gods into his land, a practice that began when he disobeyed the Lord’s commands and married non-worshippers of YHWH, foreign women who worshipped other gods. For us, the issue is protecting our heart, our would, our mind. We simply must not capitulate on that. There are no exceptions to these truths: Be careful about who you allow to lead and influence you. “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Worship God alone with all your heart, your soul, and your mind. And trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Let’s be serious about this. Amen.

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