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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 11

 

 

Verse 9

THE DOWN GRADE

‘And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice.’

1 Kings 11:9

This is a very sad chapter. It recalls at once the greatness of the opportunity that Solomon had—what Solomon might have been.

I. Solomon’s folly.—Solomon recognised his own folly. Nothing is more sad than the way in which Solomon, in his Book of Ecclesiastes, said of the world, ‘All is vanity,’ and yet he himself held to the influences of the world, and checked not the evil influences that surrounded him. He has handed down some wonderful writings—wonderful thoughts—in the Book of Proverbs, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and that spiritual love song, ‘The Song of Solomon.’ And how often in his later years must his own words have seemed to come back to him, like heavenly voices of angels! To have known higher things and more glorious conditions, and yet to have fallen away from them! No man was ever born to greater opportunities probably than Solomon.

II. His spiritual decline.—But it was not only earthly greatness that led him astray; there was a certain spirituality in his early days which he lost. For instance, he makes noble choice of proper gifts when he chose not riches and honour, but wisdom as the gift of God. The energies of the early part of his life were occupied with the building of the Temple, over which he bestowed much thought, labour, and interest; and when we read his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, full of earnestness and reality, we begin to see from what wondrous heights this man seems to have slipped back, not only in worldly greatness, but even in his spiritual position in relation to God.

III. The secret of his fall.—What was the secret of his failure? It was rather the passive than the active characteristics which led to his degeneration. Unused powers, spiritual as well as physical, are lost if they are not exercised. There must be force at the back if there is to be any real result in what we do in the worldly life; and in the spiritual life if we just let things go, and fall in with the circumstances by which we are surrounded, then we soon lose that which we might have had. When the body has lost its vitality, how soon it goes to decay; how soon the influences around absorb the dust which returns to dust. And if this is so with the body, is it not true also of our spiritual life? Solomon just yielded himself to the influence of the world around him. As the head of a great court, as the king of a race that had now become great, he took all the homage that was brought. He sucked the honey from every flower; and the influences which were surrounding him in his earthly greatness were such as would actually demoralise, pull to pieces, and bring to decay all that was spiritual. So the morality which was his in the earlier days became demoralised, and was gradually lost—in degeneration!

IV. The lesson for ourselves.—What then does this character teach us? It teaches us that we must not put too high a premium upon our surroundings in life; because the influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil, which will surely come, will pull to pieces our higher spiritual powers. If God grant us privileges of any kind let us see what we are doing with them, because the higher spiritual nature, the higher spiritual life, will not be brought to its fulness in us unless there be effort, unless there be spiritual push and force of character, submitting to the will of God, seeking continuously guidance and power from God. Let us beware, when we read of the degeneration and the backsliding of Solomon, of yielding passively to the influences by which we are surrounded; and let us constantly exercise that spiritual life which God has granted to us, ever and continually seeking His power and help, that our life may bring forth its true harvest to glorify God.

Rev. W. P. Alford.

Illustrations

(1) ‘No man ever gets so old that he has outgrown temptation. It is a very common thing to say that if a man starts right, he will keep right; but there is no foundation in truth for that statement. It is safe to say, that if a man starts right and keeps right, he will be right; but that is as far as we can go in prophesying confidently as to a man’s outcome. It is not he that endures at the beginning, but “he that endureth unto the end,” who is to have the reward of endurance. It is all right to urge boys and the girls to start right and to go on right; but it is well for parents and teachers and pastors, even aged members of the church, to have a care lest their heart and their ways are turned away from God even in their old age.’

(2) ‘Progress by steps of persistent advance into deeper sin may always be expected, when one has taken a start away from the right.

Solomon began with a weakness and dullness in Jehovah’s service; then he “went after” heathen gods; then he built “high places” for them; then he took “his strange wives” with him instead of teaching them better things; then he “burnt incense” openly to baser deities, and “sacrificed” publicly on the altars. Led, he ends by leading. Turned away by his wives at the first, he finishes his surrender by rushing his vast family into ruin.

It is just this subtle power of the adversary which overthrows the good in our world. There is nothing more to be feared than the unperceived inroad of what might be termed a little sin.’

(3) ‘“Love not the world,” cries St. John. A multitude of voices echo his words. The shores of time are strewn with many a wreck, each serving as a beacon to point out the rock on which they stranded. Here the merchant who worked seven days in the week, who forgot God in piling up riches, and failed at last, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the millionaire who inherited a fortune and doubled it every ten years, and drained every cup of pleasure, and now faces death with a tainted body and a leprous character, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the statesman who reached the Senate chamber and laid his hand on dishonest gold and went down in ignominy, cries, “Love not the world.” Here the brilliant journalist, the clever student, the gifted artist, who reached distinction at the sacrifice of strength, life, reputation, cry, “Love not the world.”’

(4) ‘In the doom of Solomon—the rending of his kingdom from him—there were two gleams of light across the cloud. The one was that the rending was delayed (v. 12), the other was that it was not total loss (v. 13), and both alleviations in the doom were given to Solomon for David’s sake. Now all through the Bible, from the first book to the last, that truth of vicarious mercy is inscribed. For a mother’s sake, a wayward son is guarded. For a daughter’s sake, a father is restored. And it culminates in our Saviour Jesus Christ, for whose dear sake God shows such boundless mercy, hearing the prayers that are offered in His name, and welcoming every heart that comes through Him.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

Solomon presents himself to us in the Bible under a twofold aspect. He is an embodiment of glory and greatness, so conspicuous as to be a type of Christ, the King of Glory; and he is also a warning of the most serious—I might say, of the most tragical—description, pointing out the dangers which may surround all the best and greatest on this side of the grave. The lesson for this afternoon leads us to consider his fall, and it would be difficult to name an Old Testament subject which ought to be more interesting, more useful, more instructive. It is the building of the Temple, the great work of Solomon’s life, which throws out his later apostasy into such painful relief, which makes his fall in his later age so strange, so paradoxical. Solomon, the builder of the Temple which David might not build, raised round about the sacred city shrines to the foul idols of the neighbouring idolaters—shrines to Ashtaroth, shrines to Moloch, shrines to Chemosh. Solomon, who had organised the priests and Levites, the services and sacrifices of the sacred ritual, was now encouraging, if he was not assisting at, rites which were cruel and impure as well as idolatrous. It is not merely the intrinsic magnitude of Solomon’s offence—it is its inconsistency with the main work of his life, its inconsistency with what were, undoubtedly, for many a year, his strongest and most enthusiastic convictions—that mainly strikes us. In Solomon we see a man to whom religious fidelity has brought—was still bringing—every earthly blessing, and who yet, in the fulness of his days and honours, fell away from its requirements. The spectacle is too strange, too suggestive, not to lead to an inquiry beyond.

I. What was it, we ask, that could have tempted Solomon to practise and support idolatry?—The temptation came to him, we are told, chiefly through his affections. He was not, anyhow at first, intellectually convinced that the idol-worship of the neighbouring nations was right. But then ‘he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.’ The current and most true proverb that a bad woman is much worse than a bad man owes its force to the fact that women, when they fall, fall deeper, as a rule, because, as a rule, they fall from a higher level than men. And therefore it is that women influence men as they do, sometimes undisguisedly, more often without its being at all suspected. And when this influence is misused the results are proportionately disastrous. Solomon’s wives could do what probably no one man in his empire could possibly have done: they perverted the heart of the wisest of men.

II. And closely connected with this temptation was another. Solomon was the victim of a sort of false cosmopolitanism.—His wide range of interests, his immense wealth, his contact with men of all creeds and of no creeds, brought to him too a temptation which often comes to those who, from the nature of their duties, see many sides of human life. In such cases the difficulty is to be fair, just, generous, to the convictions of others, without compromising what we ourselves know to be true, to recognise what is true in creeds which yet are largely false, without shutting our eyes to their substantial falsehood. Solomon’s sympathy with all forms of human thought and life would probably have gone hand in hand with his anxiety to promote and to develop the commerce of his country.

III. And, thirdly, of course there must have been some subtle, some unconquered evil in Solomon’s nature which led him to sympathise with the wrong thus recommended to him from without.—No outward influence can really overmaster the rectitude of a regenerate will. If outward attractions or terrors prevail it is because of some weakness or rottenness within. As St. James says, when he is resisting the plea that temptations can overmaster human weakness, when a man is tempted every one is led away of his own lusts and enticed. But the history of this increasing sympathy with what is wrong, of its gradual, its invisible development up to the point at which it triumphs in some outward act—this is a dread secret open only to the all-seeing eye in its completeness, although partly traceable by all of us if we even look within the chambers of our hearts.

IV. Nor was Solomon secured against failure by his previous sincerity.—As it is true for all of us that while there is life there is hope, so it is not less true that while there is hope there is more or less danger. No man here can be made mechanically secure of heaven. There is no such thing on earth as indefectible grace. If St. Paul himself could be under an apprehension lest, after he had preached to others he himself should be a castaway, who shall presume that confident feeling, assurance, or anything else of the kind, shall give him an absolute certificate of eventual triumph? God, no doubt, on His side, is faithful, so far as He is concerned. None can pluck a soul out of His hand. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ Certainly we may say, with the Apostle, nothing external to us; neither tribulation, nor anguish, nor persecution, nor peril, nor the sword. But, then, that which nothing outward can do, we, each one of us for himself, most assuredly may do. ‘The grey-haired saint may fall at last.’ The fortress which no enemy can scale may be betrayed by its defender. God does not oblige us to serve Him by giving us His grace. His gifts, in other words, do not reduce us to the level of machines: they simply enable us to make the best of that freedom which is our manhood’s noblest attribute. There is no reason for questioning Solomon’s sincerity in his early life because in his closing days he broke away from God into paths of his own devising.

Illustrations

(1) ‘As the years pass and the end draws near, the course of the soul is not by any means always upwards and onwards. It is, I might almost say, as often downwards and backwards. Judas was an older man when he betrayed our Lord than when he became a disciple. Demas was older when, through love of this present world, he departed to Thessalonica than when he first joined St. Paul. Men think that as they get older they always become more far-sighted and more sensible, that they only get rid of the false enthusiasm, of the misleading hallucinations, which beset a young man, that they retain their old interest in goodness and in truth, only that it is tempered now by reflection and experience. It may be in many cases. In many cases it is not so. What really too often takes place is that conscience becomes less sensitive, the heart less tender, the sense of truth less quick and apprehensive.’

(2) ‘Keble writes:—

The grey-haired saint may fail at last,

The surest guide a wanderer prove;

Death only binds us fast

To the bright shore of love.

Many who have begun well, and for a time fulfilled the promise they have given, have, ere they have finished their course, sadly declined. They have come under influences that have been very injurious, and that have taken away from them the freshness, lustre, and power of their best qualities.’


Verse 22

PATRIOTISM

‘Then Pharaoh said unto him, But what hast thou lacked with me, that, behold, thou seekest to go to thine own country? And he answered, Nothing: howbeit let me go in anywise.’

1 Kings 11:22

We can scarcely doubt that love of country was the ruling feeling in Hadad’s wish to return to Edom. Had it been revenge or ambition he could have named it to Pharaoh, and he would have been understood; but it was a feeling he could not explain. It is an old Edomite anticipation of the saying of the Latin poet, ‘I know not what charm it is which leads us captive in the love of native land; it will not let us forget.’

I. The love of country is a feeling not only deep in our nature, as we do not need to show, but acknowledged and approved in the Bible.—(1) It is one of the ways by which God secures that the earth should be inhabited. The world must have an anchor as well as a sail. Rocky Edom is dear as fertile Egypt, and bleak, storm-struck islands more than southern Edens. (2) This love of the native soil has been one of the great springs of the poetry of the race. Apart from the region of the spirit itself, imagination is never more pure and purifying than when it takes for its subject the things of native land and home.

II. Another thought suggested by this feeling is that it leads to acts of great self-sacrifice and endeavour.—Next to religion there is probably nothing in human nature which has called out such a heroic spirit of martyrdom, or such long, persistent labour, as the love of native land.

III. This feeling should enable us to understand the hearts and work for the rights of all men.—Augustine has said that we may make a ladder of the dead things within us to climb to the highest; but there is another ladder of living things by which we can rise as high, and by which our sympathies can be travelling to and fro like the angels in the dream of Bethel. The vision begins in the dreamer’s own breast, and then it passes up into the skies.

IV. This feeling may help the conception of another and a higher country.—It is one of the ways by which God keeps the heart above sensualism and bitter selfishness, a kind of salt that saves nations from entire corruption. He takes hold of this, as of other natural affections, to lift men to the ‘fatherland of souls.’ We should purify our affection for the lower, that it may lead us on and lift us to the higher.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The fate of Hadad is recounted to us not so much on his account as on our own, in order that we may learn to regard the ways of God with man, and order our own ways by Him Who is ever mercy and wisdom (Psalms 25:10). If God brought back the heathen Hadad by mysterious ways to his native land, how much more will He lead those who keep His covenant and testimony to the true native land and to the eternal rest, how dark and inscrutable soever may be the ways by which He leads them? “Let me go into mine own country.” The power of love of country. Not ubi bene, ibi patria, but ubi patria, ibi bene. Yet must we not in the earthly country forget the heavenly “Fatherland.”’

(2) ‘When Hadad reached riper years, the keen remembrance of his native land, his lost kingdom, and the slaughter of all his house, gathered strength within him; and all the ease and princely honour which he enjoyed in Egypt, availed not against the claims of ambition, vengeance, and patriotism. He dreamed of recovering the throne of his fathers; he dreamed of exacting stern vengeance for the blood of his kin and country; he dreamed of making to himself a name like unto the names of the great ones that were upon the earth. These things he dreamed, and

Dreams grow realities to earnest men.

And he was earnest. It was not without difficulty that he obtained leave of the Egyptian king, by whom he had been so generously entertained, to take his departure. It does not appear that he ventured fully to disclose his real objects, for which a reason may be found in the fact that this king was in amicable relations with Solomon, and the same, apparently, whose daughter had been espoused to the Hebrew king.’


Verse 28

AN INDUSTRIOUS YOUTH

‘The man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph.’

1 Kings 11:28

It is interesting to observe the beginning of Jeroboam’s prosperity. It commenced in merit, and it was advanced by the same cause. Industry and activity commended the young man to the attention and confidence of his superiors. If his moral principles had been equal to his ability and diligence, Jeroboam would have occupied an honourable position in the Hebrew chronicles, and to his name there would not have attached the stigma, ‘he made Israel to sin.’

I. Ability and diligence in the young are deserving of admiration.—To a certain extent men are not accountable for their ability; the capacity and faculty are inborn, are the bestowment of Divine Providence. But natural gifts are increased by use. To him that hath shall be given. Most young people are endowed with such a measure of ability that, if cultivated earnestly and faithfully, it may enable them to render good service to their generation.

II. Ability and diligence lead to promotion.—Men intrust more to those who make a good use of what they have. There is no department of life in which merit is so superabundant that it will be left unheeded and unemployed. The opportunity, the time for advancement, comes to most young men who have prepared for it.

III. Ability and diligence may be either wisely used or shamefully abused.—In the service of sin men work hard, and they ‘have their reward.’ But none can seek and serve the Lord without finding in Him a gracious Master ready to acknowledge devotedness and to recompense service, beyond desert or expectation.

Illustration

‘The instrument for shattering Solomon’s kingdom was shaped by himself. It is the old story of a young man of mark, attracting the eyes of the king, being promoted to offices of trust, which at once stir ambition and give prominence and influence which seem to afford a possibility of gratifying it. Jeroboam made himself conspicuous by his energy (for that rather than “valour” must be the meaning of the word), and so got promotion. It was natural, but at the same time dangerous, to put him in command of the forced labour of his own tribe, as the narrative shows us was done; for the “house of Joseph” is the tribe of Ephraim, to which, according to the correct translation of verse 26, he belonged. In such an office he would be thrown among his kinsmen, and would at once gain influence and learn to sympathise with their discontent.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 11:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-kings-11.html. 1876.

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