The Titanic Experience. It’s a new tourist attraction in Belfast, where the Titanic was built. I always thought it was a funny thing to advertise – that you’d been responsible for building the most famous shipwreck in history.
But it’s apparently very popular. It’s WHY PEOPLE GO.
And that’s the funny thing about THE MOVIE, The Titanic. People WATCH it, even though they know how it’s going to turn out. There’s no SURPRISE ENDING, is there? I mean, we all know what happens! The SHIP SINKS!
The Titanic is a DISASTER STORY.
And what many people don’t realise is that’s exactly what the Old Testament is. A disaster story, just like Titanic.
So far in the story we’ve seen what THE ARCHITECT’S PLANS look like. God’s promised to BLESS ABRAM. To give him a name, to give him a LAND, and to give him a NATION of DESCENDENTS to FILL it. And then to USE those descendents to BLESS THE WHOLE WORLD. That’s the PLAN. He’s building the good ship, Israel.
And the CONSTRUCTION’S BEGUN. Abram’s family has grown into a NATION. God’s given them THE LAND. And, after a shaky start, he’s appointed a CAPTAIN for the ship.
King David had a heart to serve God. To live under his rule. He was determined to do things God’s way. And so God made him a promise (2 Samuel 7). That David’s family line would rule FOREVER.
And the good ship Israel was launched, with much fanfare. And for a number of years, things were sailing along SMOOTHLY.
David gets older. His son Solomon is chosen as king. And in 1 Kings 2, David calls him in for a final father-son chat. Hard to imagine more important advice. V2
2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, 3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, 4 and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they WALK FAITHFULLY before me WITH ALL THEIR HEART AND SOUL, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’
He’s repeating the promise God made to HIM. That there’d be a Son of David on the throne forever. As well as THE CONDITION that goes with it. As long as Solomon keeps his eyes FIRMING on what God wants. As long as he walks FAITHFULLY before God. Keeping all the requirements written in the Law of Moses.
And not just doing the LETTER of the law. Doing it under compulsion. HEART AND SOUL says David. Doing it with an INTEGRITY OF CHARACTER. Someone who is God’s man ON THE INSIDE as well as the outside. Who LOVES to keep the law of Moses.
As good as it gets
And when Solomon becomes king, for a number of years, he follows David’s advice.
And if David’s reign brought special days for Israel. Then Solomon’s was THE GOLDEN AGE. As good as it gets. Skim through some of the highlights with me. 1 Kings Ch 4 v29.
20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.
Or down to the end of v24
25 During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.
Peace, security, prosperity. What more could you want? Each man with his own grape vine and fig tree!
And then, to top it off, Solomon BUILDS THE TEMPLE. There’s a great celebration. And, in ch 8, when Solomon dedicates it, he praises God as the One who kept his promise and brought it all to pass.
“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has FULFILLED WHAT HE PROMISED with his own mouth to my father David
But Solomon recognises God’s not just keeping his promises to DAVID. But ALL his promises. Promises to bring in his KINGDOM. His blessing. Jump down to v56.
56 “Praise be to the LORD, who has given REST to his people Israel just as he promised. NOT ONE WORD HAS FAILED OF ALL THE GOOD PROMISES he gave through his servant Moses.
It really is the golden age of Israel. Of God’s kingdom. The PINNACLE.
But, like most things, when you reach the pinnacle, the only way you can go from here is DOWN. Like the guy who climbs Mount Everest. From here, it’s all downhill.
And the FALL when it COMES, comes QUICKLY. Remember, I SAID it was a disaster story. Just like the Titanic – everything going BEAUTIFULLY. The band playing, the people dancing and dining. Right up to the moment the iceberg loomed out of the fog. And the SHIPWRECK was INEVITABLE.
And the iceberg for Solomon was the condition God attached to his promise. That Solomon followed the Law of Moses HEART AND SOUL.
The Law of Moses which includes ONE LITTLE PASSAGE in PARTICULAR. Back in Deuteronomy 17 v16 (p138). Probably didn’t seem that significant back when Moses gave it. The people were out in the desert, surviving on manna, trudging through the sand, putting one foot in front of the other. Choosing a king was probably the LAST thing on their mind.
But all the way back then, Moses gave a job description for their future king. An obedience checklist. “When you finally make it into the Promised Land,” said Moses, “And you ask for a king to rule over you like the OTHER nations. Make sure you pick the RIGHT MAN. Someone with INTEGRITY. Someone who’s right ON THE INSIDE. Even more important than on the OUTSIDE.”
And the way to know THAT is to make sure there’s three things he NEVER DOES. Because they’re a DEAD GIVEAWAY there’s something rotten on the INSIDE.
First, v16, make sure he doesn’t collect great numbers of horses for himself. Especially, that he doesn’t head back to Egypt for them.
Because the NUMBER of horses you have says something about WHERE YOUR HEART IS.
Second, says Moses, v17, He mustn’t take MANY WIVES, or his HEART will be led astray. That’s even MORE obvious than horses. Someone who’s a LADIES MAN has a HEART problem.
Don’t go for a king LIKE THAT, says Moses.
Third, v17. He mustn’t accumulate LARGE AMOUNTS OF SILVER AND GOLD. It’s one thing to be well-off. It’s ANOTHER thing to just ACCUMULATE. When you don’t even NEED it. That just says something about YOUR HEART.
So how’s Solomon gone against THAT checklist? Are things really as golden as they seem? Well, the smart readers of Kings will have picked up a number of warning signs as they read through the description of Solomon’s golden age. As they read through 1 Kings 4-10.
One of which is that it was LITERALLY a golden age.
It’s interesting, you can actually trace Solomon’s gold stock pile building up right through chapter 9 and 10. Chapter 9 verse 14. Hiram King of Tyre sends King Solomon 120 talents of gold. Which is 4 tons. Verse 28, there’s another 14 tons. Chapter 10, when the Queen of Sheba visits, verse 10, she adds another 4 tons to the pile.
In fact, by the time you get to verse 14 in chapter 10, you can see it says “The weight of the gold that Solomon received YEARLY… was 666 talents. Which according to my helpful little footnote is 23 metric tons. Which at this week’s gold price…is worth just over $1.1 BILLION. YEARLY.
And you’ll see in verses 16 to 22, it’s gold, gold, gold everywhere. Two hundred large shields of hammered Gold; as well as 300 smaller ones. And so everywhere he goes, Solomon is surrounded in the glory of glimmering soldiers with their polished gold shields.
Verse 18. A throne of gold.
Verse 21. All his goblets were gold. And all the household articles in the palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Everywhere you looked, everything you touched… gold.
In fact, verse 21… nothing was made of silver. Because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days.
Sounds impressive. Until you remember that God had said this… Deuteronomy 17 verse 17: When you get a King, “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”
But that’s not ALL. 1 Kings Ch 10 v26. You’d probably just read right over it. Except if you’d noticed Moses’ obedience checklist for a king. V26.
26 Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and TWELVE THOUSAND HORSES
But notice where they’re FROM. v28
28 Solomon’s horses WERE IMPORTED FROM EGYPT and from Kue
Exactly what God said a king WASN’T to do. “Don’t accumulate horses from Egypt”. Because that’s where Israel’s been RESCUED from. From SLAVERY. And now Solomon’s gone back there DOING DEALS.
Suddenly Solomon’s golden age is looking a little RUSTY AROUND THE EDGES. Perhaps a bit like Solomon HIMSELF. Fine and impressive on the OUTSIDE, but not quite so impressive on the inside. Where it COUNTS.
And when we get to TODAY’S passage. Ch 11. We see warning sign number 3. Do you remember what Moses said? A king’s not to accumulate 1. much GOLD, or 2. HORSES. And three, Deut 17 v17, he must not take … MANY WIVES, or HIS HEART WILL BE LED ASTRAY.
So what do we read at the start of 1 Kings 11?
11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter-Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
And, just in case we didn’t realise that was a bad idea. It goes into a bit MORE detail.
2 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.
And just like the gold and the horses, Solomon doesn’t do things by halves.
3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines,
And they do exactly what God, through Moses, said they would.
And his wives led him astray. 4 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.
It’s hardly surprising really, when we notice the hints. The ship has drifted off course. There’s icebergs ahead. There’s a collision, and the ship’s headed for DISASTER.
The kingdom goes
And God’s judgment falls. Just like he PROMISED. The kingdom COMES. And the kingdom GOES. V9. God becomes ANGRY. Solomon hadn’t kept the Lord’s command. So he promises AGAIN. V11.
I will most certainly TEAR THE KINGDOM AWAY FROM YOU and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 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. 13 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.”
The kingdom will be shipwrecked. But not COMPLETELY. For the sake of David, God will show faithfulness to his promise. It will be SPLIT IN TWO.
And that’s the way things turn out. Almost instantly, there’s opposition everywhere. Things start to head downhill.
At the end of Ch 11 Solomon DIES. And his son Rehoboam is set to become king. Of a kingdom we KNOW is going to be split in two.
The search for a servant king (1 Ki 12:7)
And that’s how it turns out. The 10 northern tribes come to Rehoboam with a demand. Their spokesman Jeroboam says (v4)
4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Solomon’s building program was impressive. Unequalled. But along the way there are hints that it CAME AT A COST. FORCED LABOUR. Conscription. Not just from foreign prisoners and slaves, but from ISRAELITES. And it seemed like the NORTHERN TRIBES bore the GREATEST burden.
And the people WANT THINGS TO CHANGE. “Give us a lighter yoke, and we’ll FOLLOW you,” they say. What they want is a SERVANT king.
Rehoboam goes away to think about it. He asks the OLD advisors. They sniff the political wind, and they say, Ch 12 v7,
“If today you will be a SERVANT to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be YOUR servants.”
Serve THEM, and they’ll serve YOU. Lighten their load, dial back the building program a bit. And things will settle back down. Give them the servant king they’re after, and you might just make it out of this with your throne intact.
But instead, Rehoboam listens to his young mates. The young hot heads with something to PROVE. They tell him to DIAL THINGS UP. Prove he’s a bigger man than his father. V14.
“My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it EVEN HEAVIER. My father scourged you with WHIPS; I will scourge you with SCORPIONS.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken.
Just like God had said. And the people reject him as king. And ten northern tribes go out on their own. And they became known as ISRAEL. The NORTHERN kingdom. And all Rehoboam was left with was JUDAH. The SOUTHERN kingdom. The year is 930 BC.
But neither kingdom learned anything from the mess. As we read through the next few books, whichever king was on the throne of whichever kingdom, the story was the same. Idolatry, wickedness, and SELF-service rather than SERVANTHOOD.
And so chapter 15 and 16; you get two lines of Kings. First of Judah. Then of Israel. And so on through both books of Kings. Judah and Israel. All a mess. All the same. Selfish, self-serving kings. Who refused to follow God heart and soul.
All because King Solomon served himself. And King Rehoboam wouldn’t listen. And there was no way he was going to serve his people. And lighten their yoke.
And that’s the way God’s people would remain for the rest of the Old Testament. Two kingdoms, north and south. Israel and Judah. Shipwrecked. Split down the middle, just like the Titanic. SEARCHING for a servant king. But not FINDING one.
The servant king – found
It’s just what I said at the start. That the Old Testament is really a DISASTER STORY.
But thankfully for us the story doesn’t END there. Because 1000 years after Rehoboam. ANOTHER king would arrive. And his first recorded public words signal his declaration. Mk 1:15.
15 “The time has come,” he said. “THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR. Repent and believe the good news!”
The kingdom is close because the KING HAS ARRIVED.
And his kingship really IS about serving. Mk 10:45
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to SERVE, and to GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”
A king who lay down his life as the ransom payment for the sin of his people. That’s the sort of king you’d follow ANYWHERE. The sort of king God WANTED for his kingdom ALL ALONG.
That’s the sort of King Solomon SHOULD have been. Who’s heart wasn’t set on God. Instead it was set on gold and horses and women. In the end, it was a heart that wanted to BE served, rather than to SERVE.
It was the sort of king REHOBOAM should have been. His old wise men told him to BE A SERVANT. To LIGHTEN the yoke on the people. But instead he MADE IT HEAVIER. He wanted to prove himself GREATER than his Dad, but ended up proving himself LESS.
It might have taken a thousand years. And a dozen failure-kings. And a shipwreck of a nation. But eventually God sends a king who QUALIFIES. The old counsellors said, “If you’re the sort of king who serves his people… then they’ll happily serve you.” And at last… King Jesus qualifies.
The people of Israel said, lighten our yoke. And, eventually, God DELIVERS. Listen to the words of Jesus. Matthew 11:29-30. He says this:
Jesus says, Take MY yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am GENTLE and HUMBLE IN HEART, and you will find REST for your souls. For my yoke is EASY and my burden is LIGHT.”
What sort of leader does God want for his people? A SERVANT leader. That’s the lesson the Old Testament teaches us. God wants A LEADER LIKE JESUS for his people. And Jesus says to follow HIM is no burden at all.
His kingdom arrives. And he says you get ready for that by REPENTING. Confessing your failures and your rebellions. And making a fresh start. And Jesus promises that for those people who DO that, there’s REST FOR THEIR SOULS.
Has that been YOUR experience? REST for your souls?
No more striving and earning and wondering and stressing. Just REST! No more performance anxiety. No more fear of death or judgment. Just REST!
And the yoke he gives you. The yoke of serving him in his kingdom. The yoke of BEING like him.
Not because it’s SIMPLE. It will take your WHOLE LIFE. And you’ll NEVER reach the end of what it involves.
But because there’s JOY in serving the king who served you FIRST. Who served you more than you can possibly ever repay.
That’s why it’s light and easy.
It’s a yoke of LISTENING to him. Learning from him. Resting in him. He’s gentle and humble. And that’s how he would have US live too, in his kingdom.
Solomon had all sorts of impressive advantages. On the outside he was solid gold. But on the inside there was no integrity. No substance. No heart after God. His heart lusted after gold and horses and women. For us, it might be all sort of different temptations. Money and career and stability and significance and comfort. We want to be FIRST rather than LAST.
But they’re just as deadly if they turn our hearts away from God.
In the end, following after a king like THAT will never give you freedom. It LOOKS that way. But it only ends in SLAVERY. Instead, take to heart Jesus’ words.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That’s the king worth following. The kingdom worth being part of.