First Kings 11 records the final years of Solomon’s reign. We have watched a king, blessed richly by the Lord, slowly turning his heart away from the Lord because of the wealth and possessions he accumulated (1 Kings 10). There was foreshadowing in chapters 9-10 of the disintegration of the kingdom during his reign. Now the fall of Solomon will be complete. As we look at the fall of Solomon we must also consider the factors that caused the fall and what we can learn for ourselves so that we are not disqualified from running the race that is set before us.
The Divided Heart (11:1-8)
The reason God said to not marry foreign women was because “they will turn your heart after their gods.” We are reminded of this in verse 2. The command of the Lord was clear and explicit. But Solomon loved many foreign women and took them to be his wives and concubines. The total number of women tallied to 700 wives and 300 concubines. I want to make a quick side point about the sheer number of women that are Solomon’s. Friends, this shows us that your joy in life is not in finding another spouse. Your problem is not that you married the wrong person or that you would be happier if you would had an affair, found another person, or something like that. The problem is your heart. The problem is not the other person. Solomon shows this. If he was content, he would not have kept marrying more and more women.
In verse 4 we read that God’s command was correct, which we should expect. The heart of Solomon was turned away from being wholly devoted to the Lord. His heart becomes divided. As we read verses 5-8 it becomes clear that the problem is that Solomon wants to please his wives. This is why his heart turns from the Lord. He begins to build altars for these foreign gods. “And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods” (11:8). One can imagine Solomon’s rational. “I’m not going to worship these gods, but my wives want to, so I will let them do it.” But this is the subtlety of sin. Compromises away from the Lord come at a creeping pace. He does not give up on the Lord in one day. But over time, as he makes these seemingly insignificant compromises, his heart is being turned away from the Lord. Solomon did not renounce the Lord or reject the Lord. But his heart was not completely with the Lord, and this is how the compromises begin. We think that there is no harm in making what seems to be small compromise today. But how often those decisions slowly pull our heart away from devotion to the Lord. Small compromises like being too busy to read the scriptures. Small compromises like being friends with the opposite gender and being in circumstances that are not sinful yet, but are dangerous. Small compromises like choosing to not assemble with Christians for Bible study. Small compromises to put the desires of family over the desires of God. Sin often feels like a minor concession, just an allowance for a brief indulgence. But this simple concession leads to a major change of course in life.
We must see the warning that is strongly announced to us in this paragraph. God comes first, not our spouses and not our families. We need to hear this message today. We have turned family into the new spirituality. I witnessed churches cancel Bible classes and worship services in the evening so that families can spend time together on those holidays. That sounds so holy. It sounds so spiritual. It sounds like such a good idea. We are spending time with our families and that is what God wants, right? We cannot allow family — children, spouses, or parents — to keep us from exhibiting our full devotion to the Lord. Family time is not greater than time with God. God time and family time are not mutually exclusive but should and must be joined together. Yet how often we think we are doing something good and right by doing a family activity, yet we are compromising our faith because we have put family above the worship and service of the Lord. These are the decisions that turn our hearts away from the Lord, slowly and unnoticeable. Yet, our hearts are moving away.
Family is not the most important thing. God is the only thing. We must understand our priorities in this way. God is everything and there is nothing in second place. All that we do is because God is everything in our lives. When God is everything, then we will have proper love in our family. But too easily we focus on our family which causes us to compromise our love for the Lord. When God is everything, then you will be fathers and mothers as you ought to be. When God is everything then you will be husbands and wives as you ought to be. When God is everything then you will be parents and children as you ought to be. As soon as we focus on any of those relationships, then we lose sight of our purpose and compromise our hearts. But the more I look to Jesus and see his love and sacrifice, the more I am driven in my love for him to be giving and loving in my relationships.
I think I can prove this fairly easily. Supposedly all parents love their children, right? We think this is a natural love that every parent would love and give for the child. Then why is it that we see parents harm their children? How can it be that we see parents manipulate their children? How can it be that parents take from their children? How can it be that parents do not sacrifice or care for their children? The answer is simple: the parent’s focus is not on God. If you are just focused on being parent, you are going to fail. We must focus on Jesus and this will lead us into being right with God in how we handle our family relationships. Looking at Jesus means I cannot focus on myself which drives me to be what God wants me to be as a parent, as a spouse, and as a child.
Observe another truth that is given to us in verse 4. This turning away from the Lord happened in Solomon’s old age. Turning older is not the antidote to sin. You are just as in danger of leaving the Lord and letting your hearts become divided as you were when you were younger. Solomon teaches us that we must finish strong for the Lord. There is no retirement in the kingdom of God. I am sad to see how often Christians think of their retirement as a time to live for themselves and ignore the needs of the kingdom of God. Retirement is a dangerous time when our hearts can be turned away from the Lord, because we focus on ourselves. Do not waste the time God is giving you to serve the Lord. It is not a time for watching television all day. It is a great time to draw closer to God. How much more time you have to read and study God’s word! How much more time you have to pray! How much more time you have to serve your fellow brethren! You can become so useful to the kingdom of God during these days, leading the way in faith, worship, and serving.
With Solomon’s heart turned from the Lord, the rest of 1 Kings 11 describes the stripping of the kingdom away from the hand of Solomon. When Solomon dies, ten of the tribes will separate from Solomon’s family and become a nation under the rule of Jeroboam. Solomon’s son will only rule over one tribe, Judah. Judgment comes when our hearts are turned from the Lord.
It is amazing how often we spectacularly fail God in the face of all his goodness. As we experience his goodness, it should create in us a lifelong love and devotion of the deepest kind. But it is possible to leave the love that we had at the first, as Solomon did. Recall what the scriptures said of Solomon earlier in his reign.
Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father…. (1 Kings 3:3 ESV)
But 1 Kings 11:1 opens with Solomon loving many foreign women. He lost his first love, just as the church in Ephesus was warned against doing in Revelation 2:4. Do not abandon the love you had at the beginning of your walk with God.
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:11–12 ESV)
The warning is to us about thinking we are doing so well. Solomon had it all and fell. His life is a warning for our lives. Watch out if you think you stand. Watch out if you think you are doing well. This is an opportunity for Satan to steal your heart from God. Guard your heart against compromise. Guard your heart against the seemingly small and subtle choices that show a love for someone or something other than the Lord your God.