So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:6)
King Solomon was third King of Israel. He succeeded his father David who was known as ‘a man after God’s heart’. Although David did not always fully obey God, his heart was not rebellious and his lapses in moral judgement were followed by times of deep repentance. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Solomon.
Solomon was blessed with special visitations from God. One night, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and gave him ‘a wise and discerning heart…..riches and honor.’ 1 Kings 3:12,13. This was no ordinary dream. What a blessing to bestow upon an individual!
Sometime later, we read of God coming again at night to Solomon, speaking to him and instructing him. One of those instructions has echoed down throughout the centuries and has given hope to nations:
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
However, in spite of God’s personal revelations to Solomon, we read in the key verse above that ‘he did not follow the Lord completely’. We also read that “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites…. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God”. (1 Kings 11:1,4)
How could this happen? How could a man to whom God had drawn so close, go so badly wrong? Ironically, we can find the answer in a book that is traditionally attributed to Solomon.
Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom. (Song of Solomon 2:14,15)
Solomon’s life had been blossoming. The news of his wealth, magnificence and wisdom had spread throughout the world. Solomon’s name was spoken of with awe and admiration. However, Solomon failed to pay attention to temptations that came upon him and, rather than ‘catch’ them, he entertained them and assimilated them into his life. They became part of his ‘vineyard’. He did not ‘follow the Lord completely’.
Like Solomon, we have been deeply blessed by God. Many enjoy the nearness of His blessed presence daily. It is a delight to wake each morning to peace and contentment. However, we must be watchful for the ‘little foxes’ that the devil will try to place in our vineyard. Perhaps already there is a ‘little fox’ that is trying to turn your eyes from your Saviour. Are you struggling with the challenge of complete honesty in financial dealings ? Or perhaps you are struggling to keep the foxes of resentment, bitterness or jealousy out of your vineyard. Oh the dangers of not following God completely!
Like Solomon, we have a choice of what to do with the ‘little foxes’. We can choose to entertain their presence or we can choose to ‘follow the Lord completely’. Which will be your choice?
"Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
In the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, we read of a sumptuous garden that God planted. Eden was earth’s paradise and must have been beautiful beyond our wildest imaginings. When we enter the New Testament, in its first book, we read of two more gardens. One speaks of death, the other of life, yet both are inexorably linked.
The first of these gardens is called Gethsemane, an olive grove at the foot of the western slopes of the Mount of Olives. Jesus at times withdrew there with his disciples. On this occasion, a hush had descended upon the garden. The mood was somber, ominous. It was like no other ordinary night.
“Then Jesus... took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:37-38)
Peter, James and John managed to stay awake long enough to witness Jesus praying in an agony and saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
A short time later, the hush was broken as soldiers descended upon the garden, taking with them the one who people hoped ‘would be the one to redeem Israel’ (Luke 24:21). The following hours would witness the trial, crucifixion and death of Christ and then ultimately his burial in the second garden.
We enter the second garden a few days later. Gone is the somber mood. This garden echoes with the glad pronouncement of the angel:
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:6)
Two gardens. Two very different scenes. The first is the gateway to death, the second the entrance to life. But the truth is that without the Garden of Gethsemane there would have have been no Garden of Resurrection. The second could not have been possible without the first.
How many times in life have we dreaded our Gethsemanes? How many times have we shrank away from speaking the word, ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will’? Maybe even now, you are facing a situation that you feel will tear a part of you to pieces. Maybe the pain and agony is even now almost unthinkable.
It’s at times like this that you must turn your thoughts to the other garden, the Garden of Resurrection. No-one who drinks the cup of suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane is denied entry to the joy in the Garden of Resurrection. One garden speaks of death, the other of life; if we want to enter the garden of life, we first need to visit the garden of death. Christ showed us the way. Let us joyfully follow him.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Many years ago, a strange question was put to me. It was, ‘ How do you eat an elephant?’ Never having had the choice of this delicacy on the menu of any restaurant I had visited, I felt that I was at a bit of a disadvantage in answering this. After some fruitless consideration on my part, the questioner enlightened me by saying that it was easy to eat an elephant; you take ‘one bite at a time’. Since that day, I haven’t come across any Elephant Curry or 'Entrecôte au Éléphant’ on any menu, but I have found the principle, ‘one bite at a time’, to be an invaluable piece of advice for setting priorities and tackling what often seems to be an insurmountable mountain of work.
The Bible uses a slightly different term for speaking about priorities. The term used is ‘one thing'. Here are some examples.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
The psalmist’s ‘one thing' here is a desire to be in the close presence of God throughout his life. He is very sure and definite about his priority.
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
There is a more sombre note to this ‘one thing’. A rich young man, purporting to have kept all the commandments since his youth, is facing the challenge of prioritising between the love of money and devotion to God.
”Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Mary is rightly prioritising her time. Poor Martha hasn’t quite tuned in to what is more important here and has allowed resentment to creep in against her sister.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
The apostle Paul was steadfast in his priorities from the moment he met Christ on the Damascus Road. Gone were all other concerns. Only one thing would matter to him for the rest of his life and that would be to ‘press on’.
There are times when the Holy Spirit also draws near to us, as he drew near to the psalmist, the rich young man, Martha and Paul. Sometimes he draws near in great quietness and gentleness; other times, he comes with seeming more power. But, either way, he communicates clearly what God’s ‘one thing' is for our lives at any point in time. Sometimes, it’s not always what we would have chosen. Is there a ‘one thing’ that you have been struggling with lately? Do you identify with the rich young man and Martha and find this a challenge? If so, just think about this. Who do you think, of the four people mentioned above, was the happiest at the end of the day? Who went out into eternity with fewer regrets? As we seek to accept God’s ‘one thing’ for our lives, we will find our lives the richer, fuller and happier as a result.
When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. (Luke 8:35)
The story of Jesus healing the demon possessed man in the Gerasenes doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking of the Easter story, yet this is a wonderful example of part of what Christ’s death and resurrection means for mankind.
As we picture the scene, it’s impossible not to feel a compassion for this man who the devil has so cruelly tormented. Not only was this a spiritual torment but his mind was deranged, he would have been exhausted with emotional pain and his body would have been injured, sick and weary. Every part of him was affected. What a terrible plight for a man who had been created for God’s purposes.
But the end of the story is not tragedy but rather an awesome display of Jesus’ power. He cast the ‘Legion’ of demons that was inhabiting the man into a whole herd of pigs, demonstrating to the people the magnitude of the force that was possessing this wretched man. He was also making it clear that one man is more valuable than many swine and that his desire was to heal this man’s mind, spirit, body and emotions. He was declaring his ability to make mankind whole... completely whole. This is just one part of what Easter means for humanity.
There is much more to being whole than just release from bondage. When we read of the angel Gabriel appearing to Joseph in a dream, he speaks about Mary saying:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
In Hebrew, the name ‘Jesus’ is ‘Yeshua’ which means ‘to save’ or ‘to rescue’. Sometimes Christians can concentrate on what Christ has saved us from; the fact that we are saved from the punishment of sin and that we are allowed to enter heaven after death. But friends, salvation is much more than this... much, much more! It’s also about what Christ has saved us ‘to’. It’s about restoring that relationship with the Godhead that was marred by the fall. It’s about entering into it in this life, now, today and not waiting until we are in heaven. We read:
‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3)
How much richer our lives would be, if we would avail ourselves of what the saving work of Christ has opened to us and make it a priority to daily deepen our relationship with God.
Rescue, deliverance, healing, redemption... and restoration. This is Easter’s treasure.
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Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.