Solomon: A Study in Trusting/Failing to Trust God

I often cringe when I hear Sunday School teachers talk about characters from the Old Testament as moral examples we can look up to. I remember a well-meaning children’s pastor once saying to a group of small children, “if someone in the Bible does it, that means we should probably do it too.” That might be the worst advice you could give someone. Yes, that suggestion probably was intended to encourage young believers to trust the character of God, but if we apply that advice to the entire Bible, it could lead to murder, lying, and a host of other unhealthy and sinful situations. When we look at the people described in the Bible, there is only one perfect example of what it looks like to be human: Jesus. The others are examples of the fallen state of humanity. Though we should not follow their examples in many cases, we have as much to learn from their failures as we do from their successes. King Solomon is a great example of this.

Recently Helen and I had the great privilege of team-teaching the books of 1 & 2 Kings to a School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in Nepal. We approached the team-teaching in a tag-team style, with Helen and I covering material in different areas, particularly looking at different themes in the books. One of the areas I (Michael) looked at, was King Solomon. In the inductive method of Bible study that we teach on SBS, we look at the structure of the different books of the Bible. One type of structure is called “principality.” Principality states that when an author focuses much of the text on something or someone, that thing or person is of increased importance to the overall message of what is being written. In the case of Kings, no other king gets the coverage Solomon does – eleven chapters in all. Clearly, the author sees Solomon as a key to the main message of the book. Stated simply, I believe the reason the author wrote Kings was to show the Israelites why they find themselves exiled in Babylon: the kings and the people did not trust God and did not obey the covenant. Additionally, I believe the author wanted his readers to understand that they are called to walk in obedience to God and the covenant, especially when the exile ends and they return to their land. If Solomon is so important to this message, he must then be an example of both a good king (one who trusted God, as the audience is urged to), and a bad king (one who failed to trust God, contributing to the reason why the audience is in exile). In Solomon we get an archetype of what it looks like both to succeed and fail in trusting God as a king of Israel.

Throughout the author’s description of the reign of Solomon, we seem to be getting a mixed message. Right from the beginning, things are not exactly right with Solomon’s rise to power. The prophet Nathan has to go out of his way to remind David that he had promised Solomon the throne after Adonijah made claim to it; not exactly the dominant rise to power one would expect of such a prominent king in Israel’s history. Many would say that the picture of Solomon’s life we get in Kings is one that starts well but ends poorly. I, however, see the seeds of the poor finish from the beginning. 1 Kings 3 is such a great picture of Solomon’s humility and God’s blessing that humility, but it starts with a very interesting statement:

Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places (1 Kings 3:1-3).

The statement that Solomon loved the Lord and walked in the statues of David his father communicates that Solomon desired to obey the covenant. Right before this, however, the reader sees clear violations of the covenant in Solomon’s making an alliance with Egypt (an image of a return to slavery) by marrying a foreign woman and then sacrificing not at the tabernacle, but on the high places where idols were customarily worshiped. The tension between these statements is not an accident. The author wants that nagging feeling of things not being completely right to be in the back of his readers’ minds. After receiving wisdom from God, however, the first thing Solomon does is to correct his wrong worship practices, going before the ark of the covenant to offer sacrifices.

Before finishing my thoughts on Solomon, allow me to go on a bit of rabbit trail about wisdom. The first thing that most of us know of Solomon is that he was the wisest man on earth. I often picture him as a combination of the greatest minds of our time. Regardless of what this actually looked like, the author makes a point to say, “God gave Solomon wisdom.” The great minds of my time acquired their wisdom from dedication to study and learning. They earned their wisdom for themselves. Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. That’s not to say that learning was not involved, but the author wants to highlight God’s role in this wisdom. We see this idea elsewhere. For example, in Daniel 1:17 we read of Daniel and his friends, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom.” My point in all of this is that wisdom from God is a gift. That gift may be received through study and that gift might come through revelation of the Holy Spirit, but in both cases it is gift with its ultimate source being found in God. My encouragement here is that many of us may feel foolish in the eyes of the world, but in our fear of God, we have access to the same gift of wisdom that made Solomon the wisest man on earth.

In addition to Solomon’s alliance with Egypt and his worship on the high places, I want to highlight one more example of the author foreshadowing Solomon’s failure as a king. In the middle of describing Solomon’s great act of devotion in building the temple of God we see that it took him seven years to build the temple (1 Kings 6:38). This information is immediately followed with the statement that it took Solomon 13 years to build his own house (7:1). Once again, the tension is intentional, and it should cause the reader to not be surprised when s/he sees the undoing of Solomon in 1 Kings 11. All along we get glimpses of the seeds of Solomon’s fail.

The story of Solomon is bookended with the statement “Solomon loved.” In the beginning of this story we see that he loved the Lord (3:3); in the end we see that he loved many foreign women (11:1). Before we end up in the unfortunate place of blaming women for the faithlessness of men, let me emphasize that the women are not the problem here. The problem is that Solomon was not wholly devoted to God. When Solomon walked in humility before God, he and the nation were blessed. As arrogance led to trusting in things other than God, both Solomon and the nation suffered. Throughout the rest of Kings, the reader will see that when the kings are humble before God and trust in Him they receive blessings; the moment they are arrogant and trust in things other than God, they suffer. The message is that God’s people need to walk humbly and trust God if they are to enjoy the blessing of relationship with God. This is true for me as a reader of Kings today. The blessings may not look physical, as they did for Israel under the Old Covenant, but the blessing of relationship with God is still dependent on my willingness to walk humbly and trust in God. I am so glad that my hope is not in imperfect people like Solomon, but in a perfect God who put on flesh and died so I might have relationship with Him.

What A Privilege

The word that comes to mind when I think of our time in Nepal is “privilege.” What a privilege to delve into Kings with the students at Pokhara! What a privilege to share God’s Word with nine individuals who are pursuing Jesus, though Hinduism and its effects are felt all around them! What a privilege to worship with Nepali believers and intercede for the country of Nepal, all while surrounded by the breathtaking Himalayas.

While the Nepalis we met were extremely friendly and welcoming, our time in Nepal differed greatly from Thailand in that there is very little accommodation made for tourists in Nepal. Yes, this nation is the home of eight of the world’s ten largest mountains and therefore a destination for trekkers, but there is really nothing Western about it. In Thailand it is not difficult to find Western food, Western toilets, or tourist destinations geared towards Europeans and North Americans. These little luxuries were interspersed throughout our time in Thailand. In Nepal, however, these luxuries are not as easily found. Perhaps it was because we were staying with Nepalis and not in guesthouses, but we found ourselves embracing the Nepali way of doing things, whether that meant taking rickety buses through Pokhara, eating dal bhat (lentils and rice) every day, or greeting others by saying “Namaste” or “Jaymushi” (Jaymushi is the way Christians greet one another in Nepal). We loved our time in Thailand and had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture there as well, but we are so blessed to have had the privilege of also getting to know Nepali culture.

It’s somewhat ironic that the word “privilege” should come to mind as we think about our time in Nepal, as this nation is filled with incredible need and poverty. Before our time in this nation, I did not appreciate the extent to which a country’s spiritual condition influences its physical condition. The predominant religion in Nepal is Hinduism, and this is apparent everywhere. The caste system makes it impossible for people to improve their situation in life, so there is no rising out of poverty for the poorest of the poor. What a difference it would make if all Nepalis knew that Jesus has died to set them free, making us equal brothers and sisters in His church! There is little basic knowledge of sanitation and healthcare in Nepal. One of the schools we saw in Pokhara was promoting National Handwashing Day (on October 15th). The hope behind this event is to make handwashing a mainstream part of everyday life in Nepal. The values of sanitation and cleanliness we find in the Old Testament Law are apparent in many Western nations (nations that were founded on the Bible, even if that foundation is disintegrating today), but such principles are not part of the Hindu worldview, and hence, are not necessarily valued in Nepal. What a difference the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit would make (and is making) to this nation!

The church is growing quickly in Nepal. Our friend and host, Jenneke, told us that most of the Christians she has met in Nepal have come to Christ because one of their family members were ill, and after trying everything that Hinduism, Buddhism, and magic had to offer, they finally prayed in Jesus’ name, and their family member was healed! Unfortunately, because of the hold that Hinduism has on the nation, the pressure on new believers is intense, and some return to Hinduism. Many Christians are the only believers in their families.

As we reflect on the amazing privilege of being in Nepal for nine days this summer, we ask you to join with us in prayer for this nation. There are so many ways to pray; here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray for the people of Nepal to come to know Jesus. Pray that God would shine His light through those who know Him in this nation.
  2. Pray for those in Nepal who already know Christ. Hinduism is such a strong part of the culture in Nepal, and the pressure to abandon Jesus and return to the lies of Hinduism is intense. Pray that believers in Nepal would stand firm in their faith, strengthened by the Lord as they hold fast to Him.
  3. Pray that as people come to know Jesus, the nation of Nepal would be transformed. Nepal’s government has been unstable for years, the poverty of this nation is apparent everywhere, there is very little knowledge of basic healthcare and sanitation, and women are regarded as property. Hinduism’s caste system means that people never have the opportunity to lift themselves out of their desperate situations. Only the Truth of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit can truly change this nation.
  4. Pray for the SBS students and staff in Pokhara. They are going into the last three months of their studies, and this is an intense time (especially considering that the SBS is down to only four staff, who will have to teach through all of the prophets). Pray for grace for both staff and students during this challenging time – that they would know God’s presence is with them as they study and teach His Word.
  5. Pray for missionaries in this country – those like our dear friends who invited us to Nepal, who feel called to this nation. Pray for more missionaries to go to Nepal, to teach the Truth of God’s Word, to bring teaching on community development, and to ultimately lead Nepalis to Christ.

To learn more about Nepal, and for more information on how you can pray for this nation, visit Operation World’s prayer guide for Nepal.

Favorite Photos from Nepal

On Saturday we arrived back in Canada after a long journey from Kathmandu. We look forward to sharing more with you about our time in this beautiful country, and about the book of Kings, which we taught at Pokhara’s SBS. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite photos from our time in Nepal!

Lakeside, Pokhara.

Fishing trip.

Helen & Jenneke at Lakeside, Pokhara.

Michael teaching Kings.

Helen teaching Kings.

SBS Staff & Students.

Delicious Nepali food!

View of the Himalayas from the SBS classroom.

Clouds and pollution over Kathmandu.

Every Tribe and Tongue

One of my (Helen’s) favorite things about outreach this summer has been the opportunity to worship with other believers. It’s such a beautiful thing to hear praises to God in Thai, Shan, Punjabi (that’s a long story…), and Nepali. Even though I don’t understand what I’m hearing, the heart and the passion with which believers sing transcends language. God is glorified no matter what language we use to sing His praises, teach His Word, or come before Him in prayer.

In Revelation, John writes of the vision he sees while on the island of Patmos – a vision of the things that will take place. Part of this vision includes “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10). The opportunity to meet believers from other tribes and tongues really feels like a taste of this vision – a taste of heaven, when all believers will worship God together before His throne.

As we make our way home to Canada (we bus to Kathmandu on Thursday and then fly home Friday night, finally arriving in Calgary on Saturday evening), we say goodbye to many brothers and sisters in Christ who we will likely never see again on this side eternity. What a comfort to know that we will spend forever praising God together, every tribe united in worshiping the King of kings.

Kathmandu in Color

As we wait for our bus on the side of the road in Kathmandu, we are asked over and over again where we are going by bus drivers trying to convince us to take their bus. We explain that we already have tickets, and for the most part, this deters the crowd that surrounded us as soon as we got out of the taxi. Around us, Kathmandu is in full Friday morning swing. Women in colorful kurtas and men in dress clothes walk through the streets, braving the traffic when they need to cross the road. Vehicles here drive on the left side of the road, except for when it is inconvenient to do so – it’s survival of the boldest here, and it is a miracle that there are no car accidents. Buses and motorcycles are continually driving straight for one another, veering away at the last second, all to pass the vehicle in front of them, or to make room for a cow on the side of the road. Exhaust fumes make the air grey and it is no wonder that many men and women have masks or scarves over their faces as they navigate the sidewalks.

We hear music in the distance – music that is getting closer and closer. Soon we discover the source of the music. A man skips along, wearing a costume, frightening red mask and a wild wig of long black hair. He is followed by a small parade of people, one of whom is playing a horn-like instrument. A couple children are part of this parade, clapping and shaking tambourines. The man in the red mask extends his hands, already filled with Nepali rupees; we shake our heads “no,” while the vendor whose make-shift shop we are standing in front of offers a bill. Idol worship. Hinduism is the predominant religion here, and though the streets aren’t filled with spirit houses and monks (as Thailand was), the need for Jesus hangs thicker in the air than the exhaust fumes from the vehicles that pass us as we wait for our bus.

Our bus arrives and we are ushered on to it quickly. The next six hours are spent on winding mountain roads that take us to Pokhara. Nepal is beautifully green, but we are too busy noticing how narrow the roads are, and how bold our driver is about passing those he deems as “too slow,” pulling back into his lane just in time to avoid oncoming buses, trucks, and motorcycles. At the half-way point, we stop for dal and rice, and the bathroom. The food is delicious. The bathroom…is not. We make it to Pokhara, eager for showers and somewhere to finally unpack our bags after spending the last six days on an assortment of buses and planes. Our room is comfortable. Our hosts are friendly. Because of the warmth of the day, there is plenty of hot water for showers, and we look forward to more dal and rice for dinner. We made it!

We couldn’t be more thrilled to be in Pokhara, and we are looking forward to a week here, connecting with fellow brothers and sisters, digging into 1 & 2 Kings, and getting to know another nation that God longs to see in relationship with Him. Please be in prayer for us!

A Few Favorite Photos of Village Life

Today is our last full day in Thailand (we leave for Nepal tomorrow), so we thought we’d leave you with some of our favorite photos from the beautiful and welcoming village we called “home” for two weeks. Please pray for us as we travel to Nepal, and as we journey back to Canada in a little over a week.

Teaching English to grade ones through threes at a nearby village school.

Village life – chickens and motos.

Dinner (frogs!) is served.

Eye glass clinics.

We saw over 260 “patients” in three days!

Rice fields everywhere.

Beauty.

View into Myanmar (near Mae Sai on Thailand side, not in the village).