In studying his life we can learn a lot about who God is and how to partner with him in what he is doing in the world. We are going to begin today by looking at the context around the book of Chronicles and the story we are reading
Roughly 4-500 years before Solomon ruled over Israel, the Israelites, with the help of God were freed from the clutches of Pharoah in Egypt and led into the Promised Land. For the next 2-300 years the Israelites lived as loosely united Tribes scattered all over modern-day Israel, Jordan, and Syria. At various times and to varying degrees God helped raise up men and women to defend these tribes from the non-Israelite tribes around them. These people were called judges. Israel had no King, no capital and no Temple.
Around 100 years before Solomon, the leaders of the scattered Tribes asked God for a King, primarily so they could have a King to lead them in battle, like all the other nations surrounding them.
He obliged and gave them Saul, a man with many great strengths and flaws.
After Saul, came David and then his son Solomon, the two main characters of our story today. David was a warrior who fought with God’s help to free the Israelites from the rule of other tribes and expand Israel’s geographic footprint. During his reign he established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and regularly worshiped God at the Tabernacle.Probably after seeing the large, elaborate temples of the neighboring people he conquered, David became passionate about building a more permanent place for Worship in Jerusalem and asked God if he could build a Temple.God in his graciousness acquiesced to David’s plan and agreed to bless it on one condition, David’s son rather than he himself would construct it.
With that agreement David set about collecting supplies and plans for the Temple.His son, Solomon, who we read about today put into action the will of his father and built a Temple as we will read about for the next few weeks.
After Solomon’s reign, the Kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms.The northern tribes followed a man name Jeroboam who had fought against Solomon at the request of God. These 10 tribes took the name Israel with them.
The Southern tribes which contained Jerusalem and also the Temple, took the name Judah and followed Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Jeroboam, Israel’s king quickly realized that in order to keep power he needed to make sure his people completely cut ties with their brothers and sisters in the south. He feared that when they went to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple they would see its beauty and swear loyalty to Solomon’s son.
To counter this he setup rival places of worship inside the boundaries of his new kingdom and demanded that his people worship there instead of Jerusalem. For the next years the two kingdoms existed side by side.
Generally, the southern tribes were more faithful to God than their northern siblings, however both had some very wicked kings and queens. The northern tribe especially seems to have struggled with idolatry, that is worshiping the gods of other tribes and peoples.
After about 200 years the Northern tribes, the Kingdom of Israel, were conquered and taken as captives to Assyria in what is now northern Iraq as punishment for their infidelity. The people of the northern tribes gradually assimilated into Assyrian culture and never to returned to the Promised Land. They are called the lost tribes of Israel because all record of them seems to have vanished.
Judah, the kingdom of the south continued on for another 200 years fluctuating between faithfulness and unfaithfulness towards God. Because of the Temple they had a natural place to worship.But this didn’t keep them from worshiping other gods. Eventually due to their own disobedience they were conquered by the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The walls of Jerusalem were burned down and the Temple was destroyed. Most of the people of Judah were taken to Babylon. Only A few were left behind to work the land.
While the people were in exile, Cyrus king of Persia defeated Babylon. About 70 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, Cyrus allowed the Jews in captivity to return.Not only did he allow them to return he encouraged them to rebuild the Temple and gave them money from his treasury to do it. Slowly the people returned.
Many of those who had stayed behind during the exile had married non Jews and taken to worshipping both Israel’s God and the gods of their spouses. They made sacrifices on the high places setup by Jeroboam and sacrifices before completely pagan idols. I would guess for many it had reached a point where they didn’t even question whether what they were doing was wrong anymore. It had become the new normal. They had settled into a compromised life.
Those exiles coming from Babylon had also learned to compromise. While in exile many had doubted God’s unique relationship with them. Why had he allowed this to happen?
When many exiles returned they were grateful for peace and security but they were not passionate about God or is temple. They settled down thankful for their freedom but without any spiritual passion.
I tell you all this because it was during this time, the time that the exiles were returning and they were beginning to rebuild the Temple that many scholars believe the 2 books of Chronicles were written. They weren’t written as just purely historical records, as It is very likely that the people already had the historical record of Samuel and Kings, rather these books retell Israel’s history as a way to convince the Israelites to return to the glory of the good old days, when Israel was united politically and worshipping together at the Temple.
If these books had been part of a political campaign their slogan would have been, Make Israel Great Again. With that background in mind let’s look at our text.
In the first part of the text, verses 1-8 David addresses a group of Israel’s leaders in Jerusalem.It is getting towards the end of his life and he wants to pass on his vision for Israel’s future and especially his plan for a Temple. He stands up before these leaders and speaks to them about his conversation with God about building a temple. He tells them the story of asking God to build a Temple for Him and God’s response to him, rejecting his request but promising that his Son Solomon would be able to build the Temple and that his Kingdom would exist forever.
To those returning from exile and those in the land already the glories described here were in the distance past. The temple had long been destroyed. The Sons of David were not longer kings over Israel. The author of Chronicles wanted them to know that the current state of affairs was not how life was supposed to be. They had settled for less than the best.
God wanted them to be able to worship Him in their own Temple. He didn’t want them to continue to worship on the random alters setup around Israel that mixed the worship of him with the worship of false Gods.
So how had they ended up here. What had happened? Look at verse 9, here David singles out his son, imploring him “Solomon my son, acknowledge your father’s God and serve him with enthusiastic devotion, because the Lord searches every mind and understands the motive behind every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him he will reject you forever.”
The blessings of the Temple and the promise of his sons sitting on the throne were available to Solomon only if he sought after God and obeyed his commands. The fact that the Temple had been destroyed and a son of David was not on the throne could mean only one thing, the Jewish people had quit seeking God and had quit obeying his commands. They were currently settling for less than God’s best.
Many of us have settled for less than God’s best in our lives.
- We have settled for an average marriage.
- We get along, but we don’t enjoy each other.
- We don’t fight a lot but we don’t have a love in our marriage that reflects God’s love for us.
- Many of us have also settled for a life of addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, sex, money, or power over others.
- We have convinced ourselves that whatever we are addicted to isn’t really bad for us or that we are going to quit but not today.
- Some of us have also settled for less than God’s best in our relationships with our kids or our families or our friends.
- We hold onto wrong, refuse to forgive, and have lots of unreconciled relationships.
- We aren’t loving others as Christ loved us.
How did we get here? How did we settle for this kind of life? I think either consciously or subconsciously we have all done a certain calculation in our head. It’s a ratio actually for those of you who like math.
On one side we have a cost (personal suffering) and on the other we have happiness (good feelings).
Our whole goal in life is to have the greatest amount of happiness for the least cost to us. Some of us are willing to suffer a little more, others a little less. But generally we all settle into a groove in our lives, willing to suffer up to the point we are comfortable with but never beyond. And once we have found this groove we generally never get out of it. Why? For a couple of reasons.
One reason is that the longer we settle for less than God’s best the easier it gets to continue to settle. Eventually we don’t even notice we are missing out on anything
How many have heard of the anecdote about a boiling frog. I had it told to me this way. If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in cold water which is then brought slowly to a boil, it will not perceive the danger and jump, but will stay in the water until it is cooked to death. Has anyone else heard this?
The week before I got married I went hiking some of my buddies. One night we were camping by a lake and captured a frog. Me, knowing this anecdote decided that we should try it out. We got ourselves a pot of cold water and put it on a burner. Almost immediately the frog jumped out. Apparently the anecdote isn’t true, Regardless we quickly captured the frog and threw it back into the pot but this time put on the cover.
While the anecdote isn’t true the lesson its teaches is, small compromises can lead to a permanent change in our ability to discern that something is right or wrong, or average or best. The longer we settle for average the harder it is to go for great.
The Israelites gradually accepted the fact that they didn’t have a temple and didn’t have a king. It became the normal for them. So normal in fact that they probably lost their desire for anything more.
We do the same thing.
Another way we end up settling for less than God’s best is through the influence of people around us. The Israelites who had not been taken to Babylon had intermarried with people who didn’t worship their God. They practiced all kinds of immorality. They didn’t worship at the Temple. No doubt eventually many Israelites came to have the same values as the people they lived with. They didn’t consciously chose to do that. It just happened.
We all have people in our lives who influence how we live. They influence our values and our desires. They model lives of compromise before us. It isn’t long before we start to want what they have or to justify ourselves by saying they do it to and they are good Christians. We then start to believe that an average marriage or an average family, or being an average Christian, is ok. That an average life, a life that is lived in the sweet spot of maximum happiness for the minimum cost is the best kind of life.
So how do we escape these ruts? How do we become unsettled and uncompromised? Our text today hints at an answer. Look at verse 20.
20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.
David is telling Solomon what he needs to know in order to be successful at building the Temple. He tells him three things, be courageous, trust in God’s faithfulness, and rely on the Levites for help.
To the first people who heard Chronicles, the people who had just come back from exile or intermarried and stayed in the Land, David’s charge to Solomon became God’s charge to them: if they wanted to regain what they lost, a life center around the Temple , they needed to be courageous, trust in God’s faithfulness, and rely on others to help…
Today God is saying, if you want to have the best kind of life, a life connected to God, you must be courageous, trust in my faithfulness, and rely on others. Courage is doing the right thing even though it might cost you. Courage is necessary for growth because the only way to move from where we currently are in life, the rut we find ourselves in, is through suffering, not necessarily physical suffering, although God does use that, but through the suffering that comes from making tough choices.
God’s plan to save the world was only possible through suffering. Christ had to come and chose to die so that we could have a life of intimacy with God. This is a template, or a model of how we gain true life. Just like Christ, we have to make hard choices that might cause temporary suffering and pain in order to grow in our intimacy with God.
What does that mean practically?
It means that if we want to have more than a compromised life we will have to do things that might cause us to suffer.
- It might mean we have to admit we have a problem and go to rehab or counseling,
- It might mean we have to choose to be honest with our spouse and face the consequences,
- It might mean we have give all our money away because it has come to control us,
- It might mean we have to give up our time because others need it,
- It might mean we have to risk our safety in order to show love to people who are different from us
- It might mean we have to forgive those who have wronged us
So Is it worth it? Is it worth it to risk the possibility of suffering in order to gain true life? That all depends on what true life is doesn’t it?
In the Old Testament there was this idea, an idea we see in this passage, that if you obeyed God he would reward you with physical blessings, wealth, children, land, etc… I think that based on other passages of the Old Testament, most notably the story of Job, where a completely innocent man unnecessarily suffers, that this idea was flawed.
There is not a 1-1 coloration between obedience to God and an easy life or a life filled with good feelings, good jobs, good houses, a good boss, and endless promotions. Obedience to God doesn’t assure us of a cancer free life, that ends with us dying in our sleep at a good old age with all our family at our bedside. That is not the kind of life God is offering...
So what is the life God has offered us? This passage and even all of Chronicles is centered around the building of the Temple… Why was the Temple important to the people? Was it because God lived there? No Isaiah 66:1 says, “This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” God didn’t need the Temple. In fact he never asked for it. David asked to build it and due to God’s love for David he acquiesced, eventually blessing the it with his presence. After God did this, the temple became the place where God chose to reveal himself to his people in a special way.
It wasn’t that he was located there anymore than anywhere else but that when people went to the Temple they came to understand more and more of who God was. The author of Chronicles wanted the people to support the building and institution of the Temple so they could encounter God. True life is a life lived in the continuous presence of God. It begins now and continues after we die…However, this new kind of life is only available to us by making hard choices, choices that might cause us to suffer. These choices won’t necessarily bring us wealth, or prosperity, or safety, or physical health, but they will bring us more fully into God’s presence.
Today then, together lets agree to not settle for the life we have now. A life that is comfortable. Instead lets choose to risk our safety, our comfort, our reputation, in order experience a better kind of life. A life intimately connected with God.