1 Kings Bible Study (The Decline of God's People)

1 Kings 3-4, A Wise Heart

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If there is anything God could give you what would it be? If there was one single offer from the Lord to give you anything you request, what would be your request? This is the opportunity that is presented to King Solomon, the son of David. The story begins in 1 Kings 3. The first two verses of chapter 3 are a bit puzzling because we see violations of God’s law already being tolerated. Solomon enters into a marriage alliance with Pharaoh. Further, the people are sacrificing at the high places because there is no worship complex for the Lord in Jerusalem. Notice the author does not elaborate on these errors. The people are not perfect. The king is not perfect. He is not good. He is not righteous before God in some sort of moral absoluteness. We also may have a foreshadowing of what will be Solomon’s downfall. There is a weakness in Solomon that is going to lead him into trouble in the future.

Ask The Lord (3:3-15)

But verse 3 sets the tone for the chapter. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father. David told his son to pursue the commandments of the Lord and we learn that as Solomon’s reign begins that this is exactly what he is doing. Solomon goes to the greatest of the high places, which is Gibeon about seven miles from Jerusalem. The first chapter of 2 Chronicles fills in some of the details that while the ark of the covenant had been transported to Jerusalem, the tabernacle and the bronze altar were at Gibeon.  Solomon goes there and offers 1000 burnt offerings on that altar. 1000 offerings! Consider the enormous expense. Consider the great sacrifice. This is a reflection of Solomon’s love for the Lord. David told his son Solomon that if he would be faithful to the Lord, be strong in the Lord, and walk in the ways of the Lord, the Lord would establish his ways and make him prosper wherever he turned. Notice what happens in verse 5. The Lord appears to Solomon in a dream by night and says, “Ask what I shall give you.”

Listen to the response of Solomon. Listen to the heart that speaks in these words. He does not sound like a kid in the candy store with money to burn. Listen to his careful and thoughtful response in verses 6-9. Verse 6 reiterates the promises of the covenant declared to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. Notice his humility in verses 7-8. You have given me a great people to rule over, too many to be numbered our counted. But I am a little child and do not know how to go out or come in. Solomon is not speaking of his age. This is a Hebrew word that is used to speak of a dependent child. To not know how to go out or come in is an idiom that refers to the skills of leadership. Hence the HCSB reads, “no experience in leadership” and NET reads “inexperienced.” Solomon is humbling himself before the Lord. God is the cause of his rise to power. God has called him to lead a great nation and feels unqualified to do so. Therefore Solomon makes his one request to the Lord: a discerning heart. He wants a mind for understanding. Solomon desires an obedient, listening heart to be able to administer justice in Israel.

The Lord is pleased by this request. Notice in verse 11 how the Lord is pleased that he did not ask the Lord for anything selfish. He did not ask for a long life. He did not ask for riches. He did not ask for power over his enemies. He asked for the understanding to discern what is right. This is exactly what James means in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” God wants us to be asking him for an understanding heart, to discern the ways of the Lord so that we can live and act properly in his kingdom. Solomon is praying for the kingdom first. He is seeking the kingdom of the Lord first, just as David instructed him to do in the second chapter. The Lord says he will give Solomon this understanding and discerning heart, and everything he did not ask for like wealth, honor, and power so that no one will compare to him in his reign. Notice that verse 14 is the Lord confirming the covenant promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. Keep these promises in mind as we continue through the story.

Solomon’s Great Wisdom (3:16-28)

The rest of the third chapter shows that God has fulfilled what he said he would do. Solomon is shown to have amazing wisdom and discernment. The key is in verse 28: “And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” (1 Kings 3:28 ESV) The wisdom of God was seen in Solomon. What an amazing declaration. People knew that God was with him based on the decisions Solomon was making. This is what the godly life looks like. People will see that God is with us because we are making godly, wise decisions that reflect our lives in submission to God. Foolish decisions reflect poorly on our Lord whom we serve. We know this because we say this all the time when we study the life of Solomon. How can a person like Solomon who had this wisdom stop serving the Lord and turn his heart away from him? Friends, how can we who have the wisdom and the words of the Lord stop serving the Lord and turn our hearts away from him? Foolish decisions reflect poorly on our Lord whom we serve.

Establishing The Kingdom (4:20-34)

The first 19 verses of chapter 4 record the administration of Solomon. Verses 20-21 are the key to the chapter. “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” (1 Kings 4:20–21 ESV)

Do you hear these words? This is not an accidental statement but declaring the establishing of this kingdom and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic promises. God made a covenant promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land/earth, would be a great nation numbering the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky, and all the nations of the earth would be blessed (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 22:17-18). These three things are being described in 1 Kings 4. The people are possessing the land. In fact, they are ruling over all the kingdoms. The first 19 verses describes the land that Solomon rules over. Israel is a great nation, described as being as many as the sand of the sea, just like God promised Abraham. Solomon uses the same language in 1 Kings 3:8 in his prayer. The people are a great people, too many to be numbered. The earth is being blessed. Notice that the nations are coming to Solomon and serving Solomon. First Kings 4:34 declares that the nations are coming to hear Solomon and all the kings of the earth have heard of his wisdom and are coming to him. In chapter 10 we will read the Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon to learn from him. Instruction is coming out of Zion. The wisdom and words of the Lord are coming from Jerusalem. The kingdom is expanding. Nations are flowing to Jerusalem. The people are as numerous as the sands of the sea. The kingdom is at rest as they are blessed and happy. God is fulfilling the covenant to Abraham.

He is also fulfilling his covenant to David. Listen again to what the Lord said to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12–16 ESV)

The kingdom has been established. Listen to how the Chronicler describes this time: “Solomon the son of David established himself in his kingdom, and the LORD his God was with him and made him exceedingly great.” (2 Chronicles 1:1 ESV) The next chapter is Solomon beginning to build the temple to the Lord, just like God promised.

God is doing it. God is keeping his word. God is fulfilling his promise. The borders are expanding. The wealth is growing. The people are numerous. They are enjoying blessings and wealth. God is with Solomon and establishing the kingdom and making it very great. But there is a sad disclaimer in that Davidic promise: “When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men.” This is a picture of the glorious kingdom, but it is not going to work. The great king, the son of David, is going to fail. The son of David is going to be disciplined for his sins. Do you remember what we saw as the first verse of the third chapter? We were given a foreshadowing warning of what problems are coming as the downfall to the kingdom. I want us to see that the people are experiencing the promises of God in fulfillment, but it is going to be removed. Through the failure of Solomon, the kingdom is going to recede, the blessings will be retracted, the people will not longer have joy and happiness, and the kingdom will turn into nothing, such that nations do not come to it to learn, but to conquer and ruin.

However, the Lord promises that he would not remove his steadfast love. This Davidic throne will be established forever. But as we read the pages of the scriptures we see king after king fail. The kingdom never returns to the glory of Solomon. Even when the people restart after the exile, the kingdom never becomes what we are reading about on these pages in the days of Solomon. So the prophets come along and amplify the promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant. There is one who will come who will be like Moses and deliver the people from their sins in a great new exodus. There is one will come like Joshua and fully subjugate the nations. There is one who will come like David who will seek the will of the Lord with all of his heart. There is one who will come like Solomon who will establish this kingdom and it will never be destroyed and never be taken away. We need one to come and do what we could not do.

We cannot access the promises of God because our sins continue to be the obstacle. Just as God begins to bless us and fulfill his promises, we ruin them with our sins. We need someone to do what we could not do. So the hope arose for the Messiah who could establish these covenantal promises for us so that we can enjoy the steadfast love of God. We need Jesus to come as the Son of David to be the king Solomon could not be and establish his kingdom so that we can dwell safely with the Lord under his guidance and protection. Now through Jesus all the earth is blessed and the nations flow to it as the kingdom of King Jesus expands every day as one more heart yields to the Lord and bends the knee to the Father. Solomon’s reign shadowed what was going to happen when the perfect King came and established his kingdom.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV)

God has kept his covenant promises and revealed his steadfast love for us. In a physical picture we see the glorious kingdom in the days of Solomon, a mere shadow and faint picture of what it is like to be in the kingdom of Jesus the Christ.

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