Any time God blesses us, the devil, the world, and our sinful selves lurk in the shadows to misuse them or suck us into a sense of entitlement.
I thought of this during my quiet time this morning, when I read 1 Kings, chapters 4-6. These chapters recount the early days of the reign of Solomon, Israel's third king and the son of David.
Here, everything is going great for the young king. He uses the wisdom God has given to him in answer to his prayer in order to bring peace and prosperity to Israel. He builds a permanent, if modest, temple (2700 square feet), to house the holy of holies and be the center for the worship of God. Everything is going well, according to 1 Kings 4:20: "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy."
As a student of Scripture though, it's hard not to remember how badly all of this went. Acquiring more power and wealth because of the wisdom God had given to him, Solomon seemed to forget Who gave the wisdom and all the blessings.
Wealthy and celebrated everywhere, Solomon would later allow the worship of all sorts of idols. The people of his country followed suit.
Israel was so busy eating, drinking, and being happy that they didn't notice that they had become arrogant, self-reliant, and ungrateful, all while duly offering sacrifices and saying their prayers. They were great people, they seemed to think, and so the good times were their entitlement and would keep going on forever.
When Solomon died, Israel blew apart and its spiritual bankruptcy, along with its national and economic vulnerabilities, became apparent. Faithful people came to learn that Israel was nothing without God.
Ancient Israel, of course, was a theocracy. Modern nation-states, like the United States, Canada, Mexico, the countries of Europe, modern Israel, and elsewhere, are pluralistic democracies. We (I) don't want kings or despots. We (I) don't want national governments that tell me what religious affiliation if any, we (I) should adopt. It was in a religiously, culturally, and socially pluralistic culture that Christian faith, the fulfillment of ancient Israel's unique role in history, took root and grew into what it is today, the fastest-growing religious movement in the world.
So, while I think that there are lessons to be learned by contemporary nation-states and modern peoples from what happened to ancient Israel, as a Christian, I prefer a democratic republic over either theocracy or empire.
But the life of Solomon and the life ancient Israel do underscore that lesson I mentioned at the beginning: Any time God blesses us, the devil, the world, and our sinful selves lurk in the shadows to misuse them or suck us into a sense of entitlement.
God gives me the gift of life and there's nothing I've done to earn it.
In Christ, God gives me new and everlasting life with God and there's nothing I've done to earn it.
The Holy Spirit empowers me to believe God's good news in a bad news world and there's nothing in me that makes that possible.
I was born mired in self-absorption and self-worship. (No one is more about "me" than a baby.) But, as I trust in Christ and live in daily repentance and renewal, a daily close relationship with Him, the Lover of my soul, God is setting me free from me so that I can live as the grateful child of God who loves God and loves (all) my neighbors, just as human beings are meant to live. (Have you noticed that to be mired in ourselves not only can make us insufferable to others, but also to ourselves?)
I sometimes grow confused and think that the blessings in my life have come from my work, my insight, my shrewdness, my smarts. How can the pot presume to think that he's entitled and not utterly dependent on the potter?
It's to such stupid presumptions, often subtly and imperceptibly, that the devil, the world, and my sinful self try to lure me, sometimes successfully.
This is why maintaining daily appointments with God--through the reading of Scripture and prayer, as well as weekly worship and fellowship with other believers--is so important. God uses "means of grace" to reach me, interact with me, and, as is appropriate at any given time, call me to repentance and assure me of His grace and forgiveness.
Solomon, who started well, wandered from the God Who, nonetheless, always loved him. The same was true of Israel.
Dear God in heaven, You love me and want what's best for me. In Christ, You give me life for all eternity. As I look at Solomon and Israel, I ask you, don't let me be that guy. When I'm prone to wander, stop me in my tracks and turn me back to You. When I get full of myself, bring me back to reality. When I'm tempted to think about what I deserve, remind me that I am only Your child by grace. Let me always be Your guy, Lord, whether I'm wealthy or poor, powerful or a nobody of the world. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]