Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finishing Well

I’ve been thinking about my father-in-law this week, as his birthday was April 12. He died of a heart attack four years ago, and his 67th birthday was also the day of his funeral. Our whole family was not able to fly back to Missouri at that time, so Charly made the trip by himself. He was greatly impacted at the funeral by the number of people who testified about his Dad finishing well. They shared that Tom’s greatest joy in his last months was to talk with people about Jesus. As we live on the other side of the world and are able to share only limited windows of time with our families in the US, it was a great blessing for Charly to hear testimonies from his Dad’s friends who witnessed the way his Dad finished his life.

As we watched Tom’s physical health steadily decline over his last few years, through Parkinson’s Disease, we could also see his heart become more humble and repentant. At the funeral, Charly shared that what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about temporary suffering, was true of his Dad. “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) Paul also wrote that “the troubles we see will soon be over but the joys to come will last forever.” (v. 18) We rejoice that Tom has entered into eternal joy with the LORD, after finshing well his life on this earth!

After King David’s death, when his son Solomon was just starting his reign, the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said that He would give him whatever he asked for. Solomon viewed himself as a mere child with the great task of ruling God’s people, so he asked the LORD for wisdom. “Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong!”
(1 Kings 3:9)

The LORD was pleased with Solomon’s request, and blessed him with wisdom beyond that of any other man. Solomon started his reign well, in governing the Israelite nation and in undertaking his father’s dream of building the Temple of the LORD. However, even early on, there were signs of weeds that would eventually choke out his reverence for the LORD and his pure devotion to Him. Solomon would be remembered for his great wisdom, but not for his faithfulness.

“Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, and married one of his daughters.” (1 Kings 3:1)

“Solomon loved the LORD and followed all the instructions of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local altars.” (1 Kings 3:3)

After seven years of building, Solomon dedicated the magnificent Temple, and “shouted this blessing over the entire community of Israel, ‘Praise the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may He give us the desire to do His will in everything and to obey all the commands, laws, and regulations that He gave our ancestors...May people all over the earth know that the LORD is God and that there is no other God. And may you always obey His laws and commands, just as you are doing today.’” (1 Kings 8: 55-58, 60-61)

The LORD then appeared to Solomon and answered him, “I have heard your prayer and your request. As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, always obeying my commands and keeping my laws and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father David, ‘You will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendents abandon me and disobey my commands and laws, and if you go and worship other gods, then I will uproot the people of Israel from this land I have given them…” (1 Kings 9:3-7)

Years earlier, the LORD had given clear instructions to Moses at Mt. Sinai regarding Israel’s future kings (recorded in Deuteronomy 17: 16-20). The king was not to build up a large number of horses, to return to Egypt, or to get horses from there. He was also not to take many wives or to accumulate vast amounts of wealth. He was instructed to copy the laws on a scroll to read for himself every day. “This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. This will ensure that he and his descendents will reign for many generation in Israel.” (v. 20)

How well did Solomon keep these instructions given to Moses?

“King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king in all the earth.” (1 Kings 10:23)

“Solomon built up a huge force of chariots and horses.” (1 Kings 10: 26)

“Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt.” (1 Kings 10: 28)

“He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And sure enough, they led his heart away from the LORD.” (1 Kings 11:3)

So, “the LORD was very angry with Solomon for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshipping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the LORD’s command. So now the LORD said to him, ‘Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my laws, I will surely tear this kingdom away from you and give it to one one your servants. But for the sake of your father David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.’” (1 Kings 11:9-13)

And so, because Solomon did not stay true to the LORD, after his death, the kingdom was divided into Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). All of Israel’s kings followed in the ways of idolatry of their first king, Jeroboam, until they were eventually conquered by the Assyrians. God remained faithful, however, to his covenant with David, and one of his descendents ruled over Judah, until they were taken captive by the Babylonians. While some of Judah’s kings had humble, faithful hearts, as they followed in the path of their father David, other kings had hardened, proud hearts, and were more influenced by the surrounding nations and their gods than they were by the Word of the LORD.

How can we stay faithful to the LORD, avoid having our devotion to the LORD choked out by weeds of sin (like Solomon's did), and finish our lives well?

“…the LORD has already told you what is good and this is what He requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
(Micah 6:8)

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