The Slow Fade of Dying Embers (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3: I Kings 3, 11)
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
The man behind the book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most intriguing in all of Scripture. He is a case study in one whose heart lost its heat for God throughout a lifetime. His life prompts me to ask, How do giants redwoods of the faith fall from grace? Recently, the Christian world was rocked with the scandal of Ravi Zachariah. His posthumous witness has all but eroded his character while tarring and feathering his writings. Solomon and Ravi and so many others remind of a a fading ember in a late night campfire. They start as a roaring bonfire and end in cold stillness as only a distant memory of orange heat. My heart breaks when I think of these men and I know that all men are only a step away from a similar course and destination.
The author of Ecclesiastes is traditionally believed to be Solomon. The author states as much in verse one when he writes, "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem." Furthermore, he claimed to have great wealth and wisdom (2:1-11; I Kings 3:1-15; 4:20-34), as we know Solomon gained and demonstrated in his lifetime.
Solomon is one who began well, in the favor of God and men, but later faded and allowed his heart to be turned away from God. I Kings 3 paints a picture of a King who is dedicated to the Lord as a humble servant. There is only a small inkling that he would allow foreign wives and foreign gods to turn his head from the path of life. At the end of his, as recorded in I Kings 11, we see a man who has given himself over to other gods and has provoked the anger of God. Amid Solomon's evil, God maintained his promise to David not to take the kingdom from Solomon. However, when Solomon passed, his sons divided the kingdom, and it never recovered again.
Enter Ecclesiastes, a book written by an older Gandalf-like sage, looking back at a life lived for short-term pleasure and in pursuit of elusive long-term gain. The book is meant to awaken the soul satisfied with earthly delights and hearts for many idols to the reality of meaningless apart from fearing God and keeping his commandments. It was intended as a sermon to be read to a congregation. And, the end of the sermon must be heard to make sense of the beginning. In my opinion, it is best understood as being read in one sitting.
In this post, I would like to examine an overview of Solomon's life and resume. Also, I would like to consider his heart's journey from I Kings 3 to I Kings 11. Finally, I would like for us to consider some practical ways that we, as people of God, can keep our hearts awakened and warmed to following Jesus to avoid breaches in our integrity that compromise our God-given calling to fear and obey Him.
Solomons coronation was glorious. He began with the King's blessing, his father David, and the High Priest, Zadok. And yet, if we look closely in I Kings 3, we see cracks in the foundation of his integrity already forming. I Kings 3:1 says, "Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh's daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem." At the beginning of his kingship, Solomon can also be observed as active in worship and sacrifices (Vs. 2-3) to the one true God of Israel. Verse 3a says, "Solomon loved the LORD, walking the statutes of David, his father…" The Message version more fully explains, "Solomon loved GOD and continued to live in the God-honoring ways of David, his father…"
As Solomon is offering sacrifices in the most well-known sacrifice locations, Gibeon, God appears to him with a simple question, "Ask what I shall give you?" Now, think about that question. Here is a young man with his whole kingship in front of him, and he can ask for anything; military prowess, wealth, riches beyond compare. However, Solomon asks for wisdom to rule Israel's Kingdom (Vs. 7-9). God was so pleased with this request that he gave him insight beyond measure and riches and incomparable honor. God even offered to lengthen his days, but with a condition. He said, "And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days."
The conditional promise is something that points forward to his downward spiral away from God. It would appear that as his intelligence, honor, riches, and power grew large, his heart, like the Grinch, was shrinking and losing its heat.
The resume of Solomon is unlike any other person ever to live. He was a great organizer of governments, a master builder and architect, an astute business leader in national and international commerce, and a prolific writer of wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). He was a man of many pleasures too. He ate the best foods and dined with 700 wives and 300 concubines. His renown even beckoned the attention of the Queen of Sheba who came to see his fame and wisdom (I Kings 10). He was rich, famous, wise, and accomplished. And yet, with each passing accomplishment and marriage to foreign wives, his heart moved further away from God.
At the end of his life, we have the Book of Ecclesiastes as his reflections. We also have the inspired records of his final days in I Kings 11. AS we reflect, we remember that when he was first beginning his kingship, it is recorded that, "Solomon loved GOD and continued to live in the God-honoring ways of David, his father…" Furthermore, he humbly asks God for help to rule. Several decades later, his affections have been realigned, and, in error, his God-given wisdom eclipsed his need for God. The gift God gave him became an idol that possessed him.
I Kings 11:1 says, "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…" You may say, what is wrong with that? However, it is recorded that God forbid him to forge these kinds of relationships. He commanded, "You shall not enter into marriage with them [foreign wives], neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods." Solomon did not listen and disregarded the law of God and "clung to these (foreign wives) in love (vs. 2b)." One of the reasons God forbade the people of Israel to engage in marriages for foreigners was the danger of the heart losing its fire for Israel's one true God. Solomons, 700 wives, and 300 concubines "turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his Father (vs. 4)." The decisions to pursue foreign wives eventually led to a new love for foreign gods, just as God anticipated. The results of Solomon's decisions are recorded in vs. 6-11. Solomon "did what was evil in the sigh fo the Lord (vs 6)" and "the Lord was very angry with Solomon (vs. 9)." Why was he mad at him? God explains his reasoning to Solomon clearly and firmly. He said it is, "because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded."
Ultimately, Solomon lost the kingdom after his death. He defiled the covenant of God as a matter of "practice" and habit. In other words, he was regularly violating God with his heart in worship.
We may be tempted to think that Solomon and his downfall have nothing to do with us as believers or leaders in the church. However, we know people who have started with a white-hot heart for God and have ended with a cold heart running away from him.
A question arises as I consider this progression of events from I Kings 3-11. Is there something we can do to stop the heart fade from God? Ironically, the author of Proverbs 4:23-27, probably Solomon, gives us a clue. He writes:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. 24 Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. 25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
The crux of this section has to do with keeping the heart or keeping "watch over your heart (NIV)." Just as the human heart is the center circulatory system in the human body, so it is the center of thought, will, and feeling in the soul. When the heart goes bad in the human body, all else is negatively affected. So, it is with the spiritual heart. It must be kept well. In his book, as a man thinketh, James Allen writes, "THE aphorism, "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he," not only embraces the whole of a man's being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.". We think with our hearts. The spiritual heart is the engine of the soul, and without it, we lose the power to think right and live well before God and men. Even if the importance is acknowledged, we must admit that it is hard to keep the heart. In his book, Keeping the Heart, John Flavel writes, "The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles and the fountain of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God, and the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God. Here lies the very force and stress of religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and the gate of heaven a strait gate." 
One way to know your heart is being kept is look for the evidence described in Prov. 4:24-27. Crooked speech and deceptive talk will be far from you. You will be focused on the path of life and the call to walk out the Gospel. They will constantly consider the course they are on and the destination it is leading them. In the New Testament, we could frame these activities as walking the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit.
Perhaps, the most crucial element to keeping your heart is not to think that you can do this on your own. Solomon wrote of this but apparently did not listen to godly counsel. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, he writes, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. "
We need each other to stay accountable and encouraged. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to stay together. He writes, "23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." The pronouns in this passage are plural for a reason. By confessing Christ together regularly, we can stir each other up to love God. We cannot do this if we do life as lone-ranger Christians. We recognize and remind each other that there is an urgency to staying hot for the Lord, as someday we will face him as stewards in judgment.