Posts Tagged 'Solomon'


1 Kings 2, assorted verses, 1 Chronicles 29:26—28

Most people who read the Bible have noticed the similarity between the books of Kings and Chronicles. There is a very good reason for this: both books (4 in our English Bibles) cover essentially the same material from slightly different perspectives. Often details missing in one version of a story may be found in the other account. Such is the case of the account of Solomon’s first few days as solo king of Israel. For an unspecified period of time, a co-regency existed in Israel; Solomon reigned alongside his father, David.

As we begin our study, David has passed away and Solomon has become the king of Israel in earnest. The account in 1 Chronicles makes the transition sound simple and uneventful:

David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. He ruled over Israel forty years—seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king.

As for the events of King David’s reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer, together with the details of his reign and power, and the circumstances that surrounded him and Israel and the kingdoms of all the other lands. (1 Chronicles 29:26—28)

This brief account screams out for more details, which are thankfully provided in 1 Kings 2.

1. David’s charge to Solomon, verses 1—12

Hebrews 9:27 is a verse that we think of as we read David’s charge to his son:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. (KJV)

Even though this verse was written many centuries later, David knew his final appointment was near, so he took his son, Solomon, aside to share from his heart the things that the old king thought were important. His charge is easily divided into two sections. The first section, verses 2—4, covers Solomon’s spiritual life, and the second section, which covers verses 5—12, deals with practical political advice.

The very first thing David tells Solomon is this:

So be strong, show yourself a man. (verse 2b)

In other words, David encouraged his son to “act like a man.” David, even in his last days, had discernment; he knew that Solomon was not much of a man. In fact, Solomon was nothing like his father. David was strong, rugged, and a decisive man of action. Solomon was raised in luxury by surrounded by women. This seems to explain why, later on life, he had a thousand wives and concubines; all he knew was women! However, with David’s life ebbing away, it was time for Solomon to “grow up” and “put on the long pants.” Israel needed a strong leader, not a “girlie man” who would be easily swayed and influenced.

In David’s mind, what constituted a “man?” The answer might surprise you:

[O]bserve 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. (verse 3)

It is interesting, is it not, that the warrior-king considered devotion to God the mark of a true man? David’s legacy to Solomon was much more than just a kingdom with a strong military, secure borders, prestige and wealth. Of infinitely more value was the love for God which he instilled in Solomon. Though David must be considered a failure as a father throughout his life, at his death he provided Solomon with the proper orientation to life and leadership. Everything Solomon would do as king must find its foundation on and motivation in the Word of God.

No father could give his son more than David gave Solomon: a heart that truly beat for God. It reminds of what Jesus would later say in Mark 8:36—

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

Solomon had everything; what he needed was a relationship with God. Thanks to his father’s charge, Solomon now had that.

2. Following his father’s advice: taking the stand.

David gave Solomon some very specific advice about dealing with the traitorous Joab and Shimei. But we shall see that the first thing Solomon had to do as sole regent was deal with his traitorous brother, Adonijah.

(a) Another plot, verses 13—25

You will recall that Adonijah had attempted to “steal” the throne from David and Solomon, with the help of two of David’s good “friends,” Joab and Abiathar. The coup failed and Solomon, exercising mercy and grace told Adonijah this:

“If he shows himself to be a worthy man, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.” Then King Solomon sent men, and they brought him down from the altar. And Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.” (1 Kings 1:52, 53)

It was not long before Adonijah showed himself anything but worthy. Even though he admitted in verse 15 that God had given the kingdom to Solomon, Adonijah was still not satisfied. He stubbornly continued to advance his rebellious and selfish agenda.

Adonijah is the perfect example of a rebellious believer: knowing exactly was God’s will is but not accepting it. In asking for the hand of Abishag, his late father’s concubine, he was not interested in romance, but in trying once again to secure for himself a legitimate claim to the throne. Here is where understanding the rather odd cultural traditions of that time is helpful. At this time in Hebrew history, the king’s harem used to pass on to his successor. For example, David received the wives of Saul when he was given the throne (2 Samuel 12:8). When Absalom attempted to wrest the throne from David, one of the ways he asserted his claim to the throne was to publically approach the concubines of David in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:21—22). Possession of that harem was literally viewed as a clear title to the throne.

What Adonijah was doing must not be viewed as innocent in any way. This man was fueled with overweening ambition and was looking for a way to circumvent God’s will. Whether or not Bathsheba understood this is not known, but Solomon was smart enough to see through his half-brother’s request:

Then King Solomon swore by the LORD : “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request! And now, as surely as the LORD lives—he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised—Adonijah shall be put to death today!” So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died. (verses 23—25)

To our touchy-feely feminized culture of today, what Solomon did may seem harsh and over-the-top. However, it was a necessary action since to leave Adonijah alive would have meant leaving an open, festering sore in the land. Adonijah had proved that he was not to be trusted; he himself had forced on Solomon the action the king took.

Furthermore, it must also be pointed out that Solomon was not out for revenge nor was he being vindictive. There is no mention in this detailed account any punitive actions taken toward the other brothers, who most certainly had, at the very least, passively supported Adonijah (see 1:9).

(b ) A little temple-cleaning, verses 26—27

With Adonijah removed as an opponent, Solomon turned to Adonijah’s main supporters, Abiathar and Joab. Even though he is not mentioned in David’s charge to Solomon, the priest Abiathar’s opposition to Solomon did not go unnoticed. Abiathar was, at one time, a close friend and associate of David’s. He was anointed of the Lord to be priest over Israel. Though he could have been put to death for his treasonous acts, Solomon showed this priest a measure of clemency. He was forcibly removed from office and banished to his home in Anathoth.

What many do not realize is that Solomon directly fulfilled a prophecy in what he did this day. Not only did Abiathar cease to be a priest, but his banishment ended the line of Eli, as foretold in 1 Samuel 2:27—36.

Once again, Solomon took the hard-line approach, but what he did was precisely what the Lord had intended. With Abiathar out of the picture, Zadok assumed the role of high priest in the land. David had avoided this thorny issue for some time, but God’s will came to pass, thanks to Solomon.

(c) The execution of Joab, verses 28—34

This was part of David’s charge to Solomon: take care of the traitor Joab. As with the previous incidents, personal revenge was not the motive; it was a matter of justice. As long as Joab went unpunished, there was guilt on David, and this guilt was passed on to Solomon, since David had not, for whatever reason, been able to remove it. The only way to remove this guilt was to deal with Joab properly, as prescribed by law.

Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my father’s house of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed.” (verse 31)

“May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the LORD’s peace forever.” (verse 33)

When we look at the judgment of both Abiathar and Joab, a couple of points jump out at us. First, one’s position before God does not dictate how they will be treated if they sin. Abiathar was a high priest, yet he was apparently unrepentant for his sin and therefore punished accordingly. We might think that he got off easy because he was basically fired instead of being executed. However, that is not the case. Imagine the shame of being fired from what should have been a lifetime position. For the rest of his days, this one-time priest was known as an unfaithful traitor and unfit priest. That would have been a heavy burden to bear.

Second, while the horns of the altar provided Adonijah with refuge, not so with Joab. Joab ran to the altar but it did him no good. The lesson here is two-fold: what worked for one does not always work for another. God treats us individuals. God is also sovereign. It was His will to give Adonijah chance, but Joab’s fate was sealed. The sin Joab was being punished for not only struck at the integrity of David, but also that of Solomon because the murders he committed were not a private matter, but public. In a sense, they were not really murders but political assassinations! Therefore, the whole nation had a stake in his punishment.

(d) The sad case of Shimei, verses 36—46

Who was this Shimei? Back in 2 Samuel 16, we learn that he had blasphemed God’s anointed, David, and was part of Absalom’s treasonous revolt. David did not deal with Shimei at all because he had given him his word that he would not. This piece of unfinished business needed to be dealt with, however.

At first, Solomon showed this rebellious man great mercy by allowing him to live in Jerusalem. Essentially the king would keep him close by, thus keeping an eye on him. The problem with Shimei was that he was a troublemaker, and all troublemakers are the same: they continually sow seeds of discontent wherever they go. While Shimei was not one of the conspirators in league with Adonijah, he had great potential for stirring up trouble for the House of David. He couldn’t stand anybody related to the late king.

Solomon, perhaps out of respect for his father, cut Shimei some slack and placed him under a kind of house arrest. This was a second chance for life! Apparently he behaved himself for three years:

But three years later, two of Shimei’s slaves ran off to Achish son of Maacah, king of Gath, and Shimei was told, “Your slaves are in Gath.” At this, he saddled his donkey and went to Achish at Gath in search of his slaves. So Shimei went away and brought the slaves back from Gath. (verses 39, 40)

How seriously did Shimei take his oath to the king? What was his life worth? Instead of doing the right thing and acting like an honest man and going to the king for permission to chase down his slaves, he barged ahead and broke his word. He staked his life on the value of two slaves and lost.

Solomon called Shimei to account for his breach of an oath to God:

“Did I not make you swear by the LORD and warn you, ‘On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die’? At that time you said to me, ‘What you say is good. I will obey.’ (verse 42)

Shimei did not disrespect the king, he disrespected the King! This man had been shown mercy upon mercy but now justice had to be extracted because Shimei by his actions showed that he was not worthy of another pardon.

The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the LORD will repay you for your wrongdoing.” (verse 44)

The final opponent to the House of David was eliminated and the throne firmly established. All his life, David had his detractors, but God caused him to prevail and prosper, not only during his own rule, but that blessing carried over onto his son, Solomon. The covenant God made with David was well on its way to toward fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ. Solomon was given a kingdom of peace and prosperity, and in his amazing wisdom and insight he will become a type of another Son of David, the Messiah.

Adonijah: Rebel without a clue

1 Kings 1, assorted verses

The historical books of 1 and 2 Kings continue the history of Israel began in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel.  The early chapters of 1 Kings give us details of Solomon’s reign, which after his father David’s, was the most significant period of peace, prosperity, and political unity in Israel’s checkered history.

The historical account in Kings begins with the very sad circumstances of Solomon’s ascension to the throne and the pathetic behavior of another son of David, Adonijah.   Like so many Jewish men of the time, Adonijah had been given a promising name by his father David in hopes that he might live up to it; “Adonijah” means my Lord is Jehovah, but as we will see, Adonijah’s heart was, in reality, full of himself.

1.  Setting the scene, verses 1—4

When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him.  (verse 1)

David’s roller-coaster of a life was drawing to a close, and verse 1 indicates that he had grown feebler as he aged.  As the story opens, King David is around 70 and in very poor health, likely due to the years he spent in exile and the rigors of battle, not to mention the stresses that came with managing a massive kingdom as well as a highly dysfunctional family.  It is hard for us conceive of David as being a feeble, senile, and indecisive old man; we always picture him as either as a shepherd boy or as a handsome, vital King.  But the years had piled on David and they had not been kind.

In the New Testament, we read a verse that serves to sum up David’s life:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow.  (Galatians 6:7)

This “rule of the universe” applies equally to every person, even David, who was so dearly loved by God and who returned that love in kind.  Despite that close relationship, David was a sinner, like us all, and like us all he suffered the consequences of a terrible decision he made.  Because of his disgraceful act of adultery and the indirect murder he committed to cover it up, a series of disasters was let loose on him and his family that, probably more than any other factor, caused the King to govern sloppily and indecisively in his declining years, contributed to his poor health, and led to the problems he was about have with his son, Adonijah.  This awful chain of events included Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar; his subsequent murder by his half-brother Absalom, Tamar’s full brother; Absalom’s failed political coup which led to his death; David’s ill-conceived census which led to a terrible plague; and Shibni’s revolt.  All of these horrendous experiences, together with the knowledge of his sin—though forgiven by God and his people—robbed King David the mental, physical, and even spiritual prowess he possessed in his prime.

That brings us to the story of Adonijah, the young man who wanted to be king of Israel.  These verses give us a clue as to why Adonijah was the way he was:

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)  (verses 5, 6)

2.  Adonijah exalted, verses 5—10

It seems as though Adonijah and many others in the court were well aware of God’s selection and David’s declaration of who the next king of Israel was to be.  Nevertheless, Adonijah, aided and abetted by David’s once-faithful military chief of staff Joab, and Abiathar, one of two high priests, conspired to take advantage of David’s ill health and seize the throne.   There is a great lesson here as we realize how utterly tragic it was that these two men, life-long loyal supporters and friends of David, would turn against him.  Joab had stuck with David for years, but now he sees David failing and, wanting to be on the winning side, chooses to support Adonijah.  Abiathar the priest had been the sole survivor of King Saul’s merciless massacre of Israel’s priests.  He had come to David while young David was in exile and had served faithfully as the King’s high priest for years.  This only serves to illustrate that the only One a person can truly depend on is God, not any man.  Man will always let you down.

These men, and especially the priest Abiathar, must have known that this coup was in direct opposition to God’s will and David’s explicit wishes.  But Adonijah, like Absalom before him, was self-willed, selfish, and full of himself.  He apparently was never properly disciplined by his father, which only added to this rebellious nature.

Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon.  (verses 9, 10)

He followed Absalom’s pattern and exalted himself; he put forth himself as the natural successor and obvious successor to the throne.  There were, however, some influential men who did not support Adonijah.

  • Zadok, a warrior and priest who served alongside Abiathar.  Zadok was a descendant of Eleazar, the third son of Aaron, the high priest.
  • Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, was well-known as one of the greatest of David’s “Mighty Men.
  • Nathan, the prophet, who, though far behind the scenes, played such an important role in David’s reign.

These men would have nothing to do with Adonijah and were not part of Adonjah’s carefully crafted scheme to impress and bride other influential men.

What we see happening with Adonijah reminds us of what Jesus taught in Luke 18:14—

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

3.  Adonijah ignored, 11—40

Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.  (verses 39, 40)

It was Nathan the prophet who took the lead in initiating a plan that stifled Adonijah’s political ambitions.  The wise prophet correctly understood that should Adonijah be successful, both Bathsheba and Solomon would be mortal danger.  As the favored wife of the King, Nathan knew that David would listen to her, so he urged her to speak to him about what Adonijah was doing and to remind him that Solomon was already chosen to be king.  Nathan would later follow Bathsheba by confirming what she said and tactfully urge the King to act.

The validity of Solomon’s claim to the throne was not the issue; David’s continued inaction was.  The King needed to be roused to action; the feeble old monarch needed to be pushed in making a decision; the future of the kingdom and of Bathsheba and Solomon, depended upon it.

My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.  (verse 20)

Act David did, and act quickly!

King David said, “Call in Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah son of Jehoiada.” When they came before the king, he said to them: “Take your lord’s servants with you and have Solomon my son mount my own mule and take him down to Gihon.  There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah.”  (verses 32—35)

Even while Adonijah and his cohorts were celebrating, Solomon was being anointed the true king.  The people of the nation obviously saw that Solomon was the true successor to his father’s throne.  The fact that he was mounted on his father’s royal mule demonstrated to everybody who saw Solomon that this anointing had David’s complete blessing.  Had Nathan, Bathsheba, and Zadok not urged David to “do the right thing,” it is likely that the people would have supported Adonijah’s bogus claim to the throne.

Today many people continually exalt themselves above Jesus, who is our anointed King.  Does that offend you?  If you are a believer, it should.  But take heart!  Anybody who tries to exalt themselves at our Lord’s expense will find their feeble claims on His throne or our freedoms will find themselves completely ignored by the Lord.

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 54:17)

4.  Adonijah confronted and saved, verses 42—49

At this, all Adonijah’s guests rose in alarm and dispersed.

Can you imagine the shock?  Right in the middle of their celebration, the real world invaded.  Notice that Jonathan, the messenger, held nothing back.  The truth has a way of hurting but it also has a way of setting one free.

The gospel is like that.  For those of us who love the Lord and are serving Him, the Word of God is a comfort; but at times, when we fail Him, it can hurt.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

In the case of Adonijah, the truth both hurt and freed.  What happened to Adonijah shows us something of God’s loving forgiveness.  Consider the following:

(a)  Adonijah was scared of Solomon, verse 50a.  And properly so!   Solomon was now king, finding favor in his father’s eyes, in the people’s sight and in the heart of God.  Poor Adonijah was on the exact wrong side of God’s will, and he knew it.  Adonijah was right to be afraid.  The fact is, when anybody sees how awful they truly is when compared to the perfection of God will, they will fear.  There is no living creature that can live out of God’s will without some measure of fear or anxiety.

Here is something a lot of preachers don’t want you to know:  Fear can be a wonderful motivating factor in a sinner’s salvation.  Not fear of man, of course, but fear of an all mighty, all powerful and holy God; this can move a sinner to confession and repentance.  The message of God’s love may move some to seek Him, but some people will only be moved by the fear of God.

(b)  Adonijah’s fear drove him to the altar of God, verse 50b.  It is interesting; the altar held no attraction for the would-be king until the fear of death seized him.  Brought face to face with the magnitude and humiliation of his brought Adonijah to the place of seeking God.  In grabbing the horns of the altar, he was literally binding himself to the altar; he was making a sacrifice of himself!

(c)  Adonijah’s whole life changed, verse 53.  Adonijah came and bowed down to King Solomon, and Solomon said, “Go to your home.” Back in verse 5, we see Adonijah exalting himself but now we see him bowing down before the king.  This rebellious man had been turned into a servant of the King.  Solomon, for his part, treated Adonijah far more fairly than he deserved to be treated!  Obviously Solomon didn’t read Machiavelli!

Adonijah expected to be severely punished by King Solomon because that is exactly how he would have treated Solomon if the roles had been reversed.  But Solomon was far more gracious than Adonijah could have imagined; he guaranteed Adonijah’s safety as long as he behaved himself.

“If he shows himself to be worthy, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die.”  (verse 52)

To “be worthy” in the context of this verse means that Adonijah would have to renounce any claim he had to the throne and that he would become a supporter of King Solomon.   Solomon, co-regent with his father at this time, bids Adonijah to go home in peace.  The rebel had found peace through the altar of sacrifice.

What a marvelous picture of what our King, Jesus Christ, has done for each repentant sinner.

(c)  2010 Witzend

A Survey of Ecclesiastes, 3

End of the Search


Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

In these concluding verses of Ecclesiastes, the koheleth summarizes and concludes the matter. The Preacher, who at some point in his past, left the Lord for a time to explore life on his own, learned many valuable lessons, and as a result, he who Preached become one who Taught. After all, what good is knowledge if it can’t be passed on?

1. A model preacher

Here is good picture of a model preacher for Pastoral Search Committees. A model preacher should be:

  • A wise person. A good preacher should have a good education, that is, have secular knowledge. Knowledge is subservient to the preacher’s art and can be used by the preacher to get his point across to his listeners effectively and efficiently. But secular wisdom is never enough, a model preacher must have wisdom from above. Earthly wisdom changes and is temporary because the earth will pass away. But wisdom from God is eternal and never changes because He is eternal. One commentator wrote: “A preacher without the former wisdom may be rude; without the latter he must be ineffective.”
  • A student. Like the Preacher, he must be always learning, seeking out wisdom and teaching it others. Like Timothy, he must do it with his focus on God, 1 Timothy 4:13. In particular, the model preacher must be a student of: (1) the Word of God, 2 Tim. 3:16; (2) human nature, so he can relate to the people around him, Isa. 53:3; (3) the world around him, Romans 1:18—20.
  • A skillful teacher. All the men of God were able to teach Scripture to others. Consider: Ezra, Nehemiah 8:8; Jesus Christ, Mark 10:1; the apostles, Acts 4:2; 11:26; 18:25; etc.

The model preacher needs to know three words:

  • Words of truth. What the preacher imparts to others must be words of objective truth, not his own thoughts and opinions.
  • Words of uprightness. 2 Cor. 4:2; 13
  • Words of delight. The model preacher must be able to convey the objective truth of Scripture to people so as to inspire them to dig deeper in the Word of God themselves. W.F. Adeney once said, “Dullness, darkness, dryness, deadness, are inexcusable faults in a preacher.”

2. Reading, Writing, Speaking

Looking at the life of Solomon, we can find some more applications for those of us who sit in the pew. Consider the following points, courtesy of Sir Francis Bacon:

A. Reading makes a full man

Of course, pushed to the extreme can make a man boring, and it’s not all that healthy, either, see 12:12. However, when pursued in moderation, it can serve to educate the mind and add to one’s understanding of many things, see 8:1.

B. Writing makes a correct man

In other words, take notes during Bible study and during the sermon! This is important for a number of reasons, including: (1) Note taking promotes clearness of thought. You listen more carefully to a sermon or a teaching and you summarize what you hear. Often the Lord speaks to us through the words of a sermon. (2) Keeps your mind from wandering. Paying attention to what is being said, writing down key points, will help keep you focused and, as a side benefit, the pastor becomes a better preacher. (3) Helps make sense of a sermon. As one writer so aptly stated: If brevity is the soul of whit, and loquacity the garment of dullness, the the sure way of attaining the former, and avoiding the latter, is to write.

C. Speaking makes a ready man

Solomon said it best in 12:11. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your faith. Take your notes to heart, and share the Word. Living your faith is important, but speaking about it important too. (1) Your words stimulate. That is, they make people think. They may also be persuasive. (2) They stay with people. The Word of the Lord, spoken by the preacher or the hearer, lodge in people’s hearts, see Isaiah 55:11.

3. The conclusion of the matter is the duty of man

Verses 13 and 14 give us Solomon’s wrap up. Really, man’s duty seems pretty simple.

The essence of man’s duty is two fold: (1) The fear of God. This is not servile or guilty fear, but rather it is: reverential fear (Deut. 28:58; Matt. 10:28; Heb. 12:9). (2) The service of God. This is not just outward worship (Deut. 7:11; Heb. 10:25), but inward devotion (John 4:24), which expresses itself in obedience to God’s Word.

The reason for man’s devotion to God is obvious: the certainty of judgment. (1) God is the judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25), of all (Heb. 12:23); and He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). (2) The judgment is yet to come. This will happen in the world to come (Dan. 7:10; Matt. 11:22; 16:27, etc.). (3) It will be a judgment of works. For the believer, God will judge man’s works. God will judge the individual (Rom. 2:5—6); He will judge the inside of man, not just the outside (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5); not of good works only, but also of evil works (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Pet. 2:9).

A Survey of Ecclesiastes 2

Reverence God Always, 5:1—7

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, there are a number of “interludes,” similar to the parenthetical passages in the book of Revelation. In that book, those pauses in the action serve to explain certain things John saw in a previous vision. In Ecclesiastes, the interludes give Solomon an opportunity to review various attempts to find the satisfying and unifying key to life and its purpose. Up to chapter 5, the Teacher has concluded that the only satisfaction comes from accepting God’s plan for one’s life, even if the sum total of that plan is not clear. Life should be marked by acceptance, not by making demands of God. In fact, the one who fears God must continually draw near to God if he is to be sensitive to his will.

1. Watch your step! Keep your mouth shut!, verses 1—3

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

The KJV renders “guard your steps” as “Keep thy foot.” The emphasis is on the individual to use control and restraint as he approaches God. Perhaps Jesus had these verses in mind when He told the story of the two who went into the temple to pray in Luke 18:9—14. Believers ought to approach God confidently, yet with the right motives. We come before God in humility as we recognize His majesty and His absolute right to our lives.

Far too many Christians approach God with a profusion of words, but without a receptive spirit. That’s what Solomon is hinting at when he writes, “Go near to listen.” As surely as we are able to talk to God, He is able to speak to us. But we need to willing to receive what He is saying to us. It is always better to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say than to be focused on telling God what we want Him to hear. Smith and Goodspeed see in the word “listen” more than merely hearing the words of God, but obeying what God says. Their translation:

To draw near to obey is better than that fools should offer sacrifice.

This notion goes along very well with 1 Samuel 15:22,

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

In coming near to God, we seek His guidance as we listen to His words. The alternative to this is to suppose that offerings can be a substitute for a God-ordered life. “The sacrifice of fools” would be any irreverent or insincere approach to God. Moffatt translates the last clause of verse 1 as:

All a fool knows is how to do wrong—even in worship.

Some commentators see this as an attempt to bribe God. See Isaiah 1:11—20. While this is possible, I see two other possibilities:

  • Sometimes it is easier to offer some sort of sacrifice to God than it is to what He tells us. Thus, we make ourselves feel better, thinking He will accept something from us in place of what He wants from us.
  • Sometimes we offer boisterous worship in place of obedience, thinking that will appease Him. We draw His attention to our worship and away from our disobedience, and we think that will make for the deficit in our spiritual lives.

And yet, we are made to communicate to God in prayer. The emphasis in verse 2 is on rashness and haste. A.F. Harper writes:

Respectful silence or reverent and thoughtful prayer is more appropriate than much speaking in patterned liturgical forms.

Early Jewish writing mirror what Solomon has said:

Always let the words of a man before the Holy One (blessed be His name) be few.

True prayer is not reciting a list as quickly as possible so you can get on other things in life. One of the best commentaries on these two verses is what our Lord said in Matthew 6:7—8,

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Verse 3 seems to be by itself, like an isolated proverb. But it is related to verses 1 and 2. How many times have you gone to bed and tossed and turned thinking about the day you just lived through? That’s what happens when your focus is inward, instead of outward. What you think about is what you dream about. Similarly, what is on your mind when you come before the Lord is what you’ll be thinking about, even when you’re praying. That is the prayer of a fool.

2. Keep your vows, or keep your mouth shut!, verses 4—7

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

A vow is really a contract with God; it is a binding commitment made by us to Him, and as Solomon notes, its is dangerous to not keep a promise made to God. The RSV hints that the vow involves money or offerings: “When you vow a vow made to God, do not delay in paying it…Pay what you vow.” This would be in keeping with making excuses to the “temple messenger,” or preacher. However, this verse certainly applies to any kind of promise made to God, at any time. How often have we made a vow to God to do something for Him when we find ourselves in trouble? A vow made at such a time is just as binding as a vow made during a time of prayer.

Vows made to God, if kept, have power to lift us to new levels of devotion and service, but a broken promise to God jeopardizes our standing with Him.

What keeps us from keeping a vow made to God? Very often it is greed or a lack of faith. Yet a vow is much more than just a promise; it is a spiritual bond between man and God. Numbers 30:2–

When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

When we don’t keep our end of the commitment, we offend two parties:

(1) It is disrespectful of and an insult to God.
(2) It is a self-inflicted injury, for God will be recompensed (Acts 5:4).

God is not looking for for vain dreams or lofty words and big promises. He is looking for people to do His will, and that begins with keeping our word to God. Indeed, obedience IS better than sacrifice.

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