This article was originally written for 1517.
One of the prevailing marks which, I think, irrefutably evidences the fact that the Bible is not a human invention is the precise fact that human ineptitude is never glossed over. Flip through the pages of Scripture and you will, likewise, flip through countless examples of mankind’s failures. The horrors of human life are continually on display — from extortion, to bribery, to lust, to betrayal, to revenge. Indeed, the Old Testament often sounds more like a reality television show more than anything else. What’s more, however, is the Bible is never skimpy on detailing the blunders of even its best characters. Abraham, David, Peter, and the like, are all included in its index of vice, corruption, and failure.
This runs contrary to human logic and reason. We are instinctually given to zealously excusing, explaining, and erasing our failures from the record books. You no doubt feel this pressure in your own life. You cannot bear to think about your failures being broadcast for all your friends and family to see, let alone the entire world centuries after you are gone. But this is precisely what happens in Scripture. Folks from all walks of life have some of their worst moments immortalized forever.
I take this to be among the clearest indications of divine involvement in the construction of the biblical narratives. If the books of Israel’s history were mere human contrivances they would look much more like propagandist material meant to revive national patriotism. The blunders of Israel’s kings would be jettisoned in favor of making it apparent that her exile was the result of circumstances beyond her control. If 1 Kings was anything other than a divinely inspired book of truth, there would have been some other explanation given to account for Solomon’s decline and the dissolving of his kingdom. Instead, we are given explicit reason as to why and how this all occurred.
The Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had commanded him about this, so that he would not follow other gods, but Solomon did not do what the Lord had commanded. Then the Lord said to Solomon, “Since you have done this and did not keep my covenant and my statutes, which I commanded you, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.” (1 Kings 11:9–11)
You see, God has a different story to tell. The story God tells in the Bible is less concerned with mankind’s ability than it is his own sovereignty over all things and times and events and peoples. The Scriptures not only say that “there is no God like Jehovah,”1 they prove it over and over again throughout the course of history. No other God even comes close to the Lord Jehovah in power, in majesty, in might, in glory, in grace, in patience. And nowhere is this more evident than in the story of Solomon’s fall from grace, which constitutes 1 Kings 11. This chapter showcases God’s unique, unparalleled hold over and involvement in mankind’s history in order to bring about his desired ends.
A lesson about Israel’s unnecessary pain.
Among the words that stand out in the message of warning from the Lord is the word “tear” or “rend” (1 Kings 11:11). It is repeated in verses 12–13, stressing the magnitude of the impending judgment. As a consequence for Solomon’s infidelity and indiscretion, God was set to shred the grandeur of Solomon’s empire into tiny bits. The magnificent kingdom that flourished under Solomon’s rule would be fragmented, torn apart by his own descent into corruption — a dismal end to a once-promising reign. And all of that was entirely unnecessary.
I say this was “unnecessary” because it is not as though Solomon (and, by proxy, Israel) was not warned (1 Kings 2:2–4; 3:13–14; 6:12–13; 9:1–9). Scripture is brimming with references detailing the manifold warnings against the very things Solomon was wholeheartedly pursuing. All of which to say: this outcome was entirely avoidable. Solomon chose to go after “other gods.” He made the deliberate decision to compromise his devotion to the One True God by entertaining these other voices and philosophies and vices — and, in so doing, he instigated the ruin of the kingdom with which he was charged to steward as God’s anointed leader. Solomon ignored the warnings; therefore, God was stirred to anger.
That word — “angry” — presents us with a hard picture of God, one with which we are more that a little uncomfortable. It evokes a severe “displeasure,” as though one is furiously breathing. God was, in a sense, fuming with Solomon (and all of Israel, for that matter) — precisely because they had “turned from” him. The hearts of God’s people were bent from the love of Yahweh alone to the love of “other gods.” And where they were supposed to influence the nations to worship the One True God, they were being influenced in the opposite direction.
This amounted to a veritable dethroning of God. His sovereign choice to bless Israel was dismissed and disdained, which, of course, is something God takes very seriously. And as it is within his sovereign ability to grant blessings, it is also within his sovereign ability to take them away. To “rend” them from his people’s hands. He is both the Sovereign Giver and Taker. “I will tear the kingdom away from you,” rebukes the Lord, “and give it to your servant.” Like Solomon, our wayward pursuit of “other gods” often ends with God intervening and interrupting our lives in very demonstrable ways.
A lesson about God’s unceasing patience.
One of the most fascinating aspects about this word of judgment on Solomon, however, is that even as it details the profound penalty that is about to take occur, it is infused with patience. It is interesting to note that this tearing apart of Solomon’s kingdom would not come about in his lifetime (1 Kings 11:11–12). It is only after Solomon is dead and gone that this rupture would take place — which, I think, suggests two things: (1) That up until his death Solomon could have repented. Perhaps, by that point, it might have been too late and God’s chastisement would have been experienced regardless. But, even still, the opportunity to repent was ever-before Solomon. Such was the prevailing theme of his dedicatory prayer for the Temple (1 Kings 8:46–50; cf. Lam. 3:31–33). But also: (2) That up until his death, Solomon resisted the Lord’s admonishment to repent.
As noted previously, God’s warnings went unheeded as Solomon plunged himself, and all of Israel along with him, into corruption. But not only was the king dismissive of his Lord’s words of warning, he also disregarded the most obvious of God’s disciplinary measures, which were undoubtedly meant to stir him to repentance. In 1 Kings 11:14–28, the historian relays the accounts of three separate men (Hadad, Rezon, and Jeroboam) who are stirred up by the Lord himself to instigate conflict in Solomon’s otherwise peaceful domain. Through both internal and external contention, God was seeking to recapture Solomon’s attention. But how does the king interpret these conflicts? As nothing but ill-advised attempts to procure power and steal his throne, which deserved to be dealt with in swift bloodshed (1 Kings 11:40).
The events of 1 Kings 11 ought to compel us to recognize the unswerving patience of the Lord our God. Those years of pleading and prodding with Solomon’s soul — through this warning and that — served as patent evidence that God wanted Solomon to turn back to him. And yet, despite that, he stubbornly chases after the wind (Eccl. 1:1ff).
A lesson about God’s unimpeded plan.
But perhaps the most compelling aspect of God’s pronouncement of judgment on Solomon is the glimmer of grace that is present in it. Sometimes that is a hard truth to recognize: the “grace” of God’s punishment and chastisement. But it is a predominant truth of Scripture that the Lord derives no joy out of punishing his children. And the same is true here. Inherent in this divine pronouncement of judgment is the promise that his word (read: covenant) with David would remain (1 Kings 11:12–13). “For David’s sake,” God was going to both delay punishment and entrust a shard of the ruptured kingdom to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. In so doing, God was ensuring the fulfillment of that which he promised beforehand. Namely, that the throne of David would be “established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). This is clarified further in the prophet Ahijah’s oracle to Jeroboam:
However, I will not take the whole kingdom from him but will let him be ruler all the days of his life for the sake of my servant David, whom I chose and who kept my commands and my statutes. I will take ten tribes of the kingdom from his son and give them to you. I will give one tribe to his son, so that my servant David will always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city I chose for myself to put my name there. (1 Kings 11:34–36)
Solomon had utterly failed to uphold the conditions of Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:12–16). However, in spite of his unfaithfulness, God pledges not to take away the “light of Israel.” He keeps his word. This is the prevailing theme of Scripture itself, evidenced in life itself. God always keeps his promises even if/when we don’t. God is always faithful even if/when we aren’t. He never breaks a promise he makes with us (2 Tim. 2:13). The rhythm of the Bible reminds us how the Covenant-Maker becomes the Covenant-Fulfiller on behalf of the covenant-breakers. This is God’s way with the world.
Imagine, though, that you are one of the original readers of this historical account. You are an exiled Israelite now recalling the abhorrent failure of the house of David. All of the wretched realities about which God warned King Solomon have come true. Indeed, you are still feeling the horrid consequences for his infidelity. You might be given to ask, How is this in keeping with God’s promises? How is this part of the plan? Did God fail? Did he make a mistake with that covenant with David? In short, no, God did not fail. Even in this moment, his plans were moving forward.
A lesson about our unperturbed peace.
You see, this moment in Israel’s history is proof-positive that God can bring good out of anything and everything bad.2 “His power runs so deep,” asserts Dane Ortlund, “that he is able to redeem the very worst parts of our past into the most radiant parts of our future.”3 That is sort of his specialty.
Despite the rupturing of Israel’s kingdom being primarily a self-inflicted wound — brought about by their own duplicity — God was not about to relinquish his plans with them and for them. Yes, there would be affliction, but not abandonment. (1 Kings 11:39) This humiliation wouldn’t last forever (Lam. 3:31–33). There was a day on the horizon when all this disruption would be mended. The division would cease and the fragmented kingdom repaired. True and everlasting peace would reign — not just for Israel but for the whole world! This, to be sure, is the penultimate outcome of the gospel, which finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ alone.
The “light of Israel” which never burns out is ultimately and finally fulfilled in Jesus. He would be the true and better King of Israel, whose reign would be marked by true and everlasting peace (John 14:27). He would be the King whose precise ministry would be to “assemble the outcasts and gather together the dispersed” (Isa. 11:10–13; cf. Luke 1:32–33).
So says the Lord through his prophet Amos:
In that day, will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this. (Amos 9:11–12)
Accordingly, despite Solomon’s (and Israel’s) abject failure, God’s plans were still on track. Nothing had delayed them or impeded their succession. And, even more good news, this is still true in our day as well.
“God,” comments Dr. Thomas Constable, “sits in perfect control and continuity over all the human chaos caused by peoples’ failure to rule themselves.” Notwithstanding the apparent fracturing of our world, God is not paranoid, neither is he nervous. He is both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36), the King of kings (Rev. 1:5; 19:16), the Governor of all history (Is 9:6), and the Ruler of the raging seas (Ps. 89:5–37). All of nature and time bows to the will of God as he bends each according to his sovereign purposes. We need not panic so long as he is enthroned. “The Christian never needs to panic,” continues Dr. Constable, “God has revealed His plan for history. Knowledge of the Word should give us stability in uncertain times.”
And so it is that whereas the historian was relaying an expansive view of Israel’s history, God’s Spirit was doing something much different in and through him. He was using this history to tell of all his dealings with his people. “The Old Testament histories,” Rev. Alexander Maclaren comments, “are not written to tell of Israel’s glories, or even, we may say, to recount its history, but to tell of God’s dealings with Israel — a very different theme, and one which finds its material equally in the glories and in the miseries, which respectively follow its obedience and disobedience.”4 Through Israel’s irresolute history, we are made to see the resolute sovereignty of the God of all grace. And the more we catch a glimpse of his untroubled plans, we are made to rest with unperturbed peace.
See, for instance, 1 Kings 8:23, 60, along with Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; 44:6; 45:21.
Which, by the way, is the truest definition and realization of Romans 8:28.
Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 161.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 2:2.202.