Deut. 8:10-18; I Kings 10:1-10; 14-29
This is the second Sunday of our new sermon series on “the economy of God”. Given our current economic crisis I thought this would be a good time for us to reflect on money and stewardship and how we can organize our life to better reflect Jesus’ way of generosity.
Last Sunday I focused on “God’s abundance of enough”.
We looked at the biblical story of God feeding the Israelites Manna in the desert after they were liberated from slavery in Egypt.
By feeding them Manna in the desert and only giving them just enough for each day – God was retraining them, after years of slavery, to trust God as their provider and to learn to live with enough so that everyone had plenty.
I suggested God instituted a Sabbath day of rest to help them remember that God had delivered them from slavery and would provide for their needs.
By honoring the Sabbath day they were being formed in God’s economy of enough for everyone and that there is a rhythm to life of work and rest – work and rest.
Now, God’s intent in calling Israel out of slavery was to form them into a new people – living in God’s economy of enough. God wanted a people shaped – not by greed, violence, and abuse of power – but by compassion, justice, generosity, and care for one’s neighbors.
The Ten Commandments that God gave them on Mt. Sinai were meant to teach the people how to be human again after years in slavery. These laws were meant to form them into a new community of love and justice.
The Israelites were to be the anti-Egypt people – they were to live by different values and standards.
As a people freed by God’s mercy they were to be a light to the nations of God’s new way of living in the world.
So, to help the Israelites never forget how to live in God’s abundance of enough – God specifically warns them about the dangers of wealth after they enter the Promise Land.
In our scripture today from Deuteronomy 8:11 God says to them – “Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commandments, regulations and laws.”
And then in verse 16 it says, “He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy. Always remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you power to become rich.”
God seems to know that when the Israelites settle down, possess land and property and become wealthy – that their possessions will have a tendency to make them greedy. They will forget that God delivered them and fed them Manna and they will begin to think they did it by their own brute strength and energy.
So God warns them ahead of time to never forget Exodus and the Manna.
Well, this morning I want to look at what happens to Israel when they forget the manna.
In just a few generations, the descendants of those wandering freed slaves did settle down and they even asked for a king like other nations. God is opposed to them having a king, but allows them to do so anyway.
Solomon, the third king of Israel, came to power with the blessing of God. What was particularly impressive about Solomon was that when he became king he only asked for one thing.
Solomon said – I don’t want riches or a long life or even the defeat of my enemies. The only thing I want is wisdom from God. (I Kings 3:11)
Since Solomon only asked for wisdom – God was pleased with him and he was known as the wisest man on the planet at that time. Listen to some of Solomon’s wisdom regarding money and riches.
Proverbs 11:28 says – “those who trust in their riches will fall.”
Proverbs 23:4-5 say – “Don’t weary yourself trying to get rich. Why waste your time? For riches can disappear as though they had the wings of a bird.”
Proverbs 22:7 says – “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
Or Proverbs 15: 27 says – “those who are greedy for unjust gain make trouble for their households, but those who hate bribes will live.”
Solomon was a very wise person and this was great advice but sometimes even the wisest people don’t follow their own wisdom. Solomon certainly didn’t follow his wisdom.
In First Kings 10 a picture emerges of Solomon and how he allowed his riches to change him.
In this passage from First Kings 10 a Queen from the land of Sheba has come to visit Solomon.
She comes from a different land, a different kind of people, and from a different religion. She comes wanting to know more about these Israelites, their king, and their God who had brought them out of slavery.
After hanging out with Solomon, eating with him, worshipping with him in the temple, and observing the Israelites she writes in verse 9 – “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel. Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness.”
Notice here that she doesn’t say he is “executing justice and righteousness” – only that that is what he was suppose to do.
Godly kings in Israel were to use their power and wealth on behalf of the poor, the weak and those suffering injustice.
What is interesting to me here is that the Queen of Sheba, a woman from a different land and religion, seems to get what God wants to do with Israel more than Solomon does.
Solomon’s wealth and power has made him greedy and changed his values and lifestyle.
If you go back a few chapters to I Kings 6 we begin to learn something about Solomon’s heart.
Listen to what it says in verse 37 – “The foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid in midspring of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. The entire building was completed in every detail by midautum of the eleventh year of his reign. So it took seven years to build the temple. Solomon also built a palace for himself, and it took him thirteen years to complete.”
What do you notice in these verses about Solomon’s priorities?
Solomon spent 7 years on the temple for God and 13 years on his own palace. The writer is conveying to us how Solomon has become more important than God. Solomon is full of himself. His own house is much bigger than the temple of God. Solomon’s heart is following his treasure.
And then in I Kings 9 it talks about how Solomon built the temple and his palace. Verse 15 says –
“This is the account of the forced labor that Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, the royal palace, the Millo, the wall of Jerusalem, and the cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.”
It is easy to read these verses and miss what is going on here. Did you notice that Solomon now has slaves?
This is another major turning point in the biblical story because the God who set slaves free – is now having a temple built – by Solomon – with slaves.
The defining event in Israel’s history is the Exodus where God delivers them from slavery. And now, in just a few generations, the oppressed people have become the oppressors.
Solomon isn’t maintaining justice as God desires – he is carrying out the very injustice his ancestors once needed redemption from.
Solomon here is seen as the new Pharaoh and Israel is becoming the new Egypt. The Israelites who once cried out because of oppression are now causing others to cry out for freedom.
It also mentions here that he used slave labor to build the cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. Why are these cities important?
These cities are all military bases. Solomon is using his massive resources and wealth to build military bases to protect his massive resources and wealth.
Solomon turns to “homeland security” to protect all that he has accumulated and so more and more of his resources are going to preserve his wealth.
In First Kings 10:26 we also learn that Solomon has a huge military force of chariots and horses.
It says “he had 1400 chariots and 12,000 horses. He stationed many of them in the chariot cities and some near him in Jerusalem… Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150 – so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram.”
The very weapons that were used against his people in Egypt – Solomon is now accumulating in order to use them against others.
Horses and chariots were the tanks and fighter planes of Solomon’s day and so Solomon acquired them to protect all of his possessions.
But furthermore, it says here that Solomon also became an arms dealer. He not only imported these high tech weapons to protect his wealth, but it says he exported horses and chariots to other kings.
Solomon is now making money from violence. He has discovered that war is profitable.
By this time in his life Solomon has completely lost his way. In Deuteronomy 17:16 specific instructions were given on how a king is to act. This is what it says:
“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself, and he must never send his people to Egypt to buy horses there, for the Lord has told you – you must never return to Egypt. The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will lead him away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate vast amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.”
Well, Solomon did all of the things he was told not to do. He built up large stables of horses and he returned to Egypt.
And then we also learn in First Kings 11:3 that “he had 700 wives and 300 concubines and they led his heart away from God.”
I don’t care how strong of libido someone has – this is over-the-topl. But more importantly – Solomon’s heart is turned away from God. Solomon breaks covenant with God through these relationships.
And then in First Kings 10:14 we see exactly how much wealth Solomon has accumulated.
It says each year “Solomon received about 25 tons of gold and this didn’t include revenue from other kings.”
Verse 18 goes on to say King Solomon made a huge ivory throne and overlaid it with pure gold.
Now, generally ivory is something that is precious in its own right and people want it to be seen. But Solomon builds a throne of ivory and then he covers it up with gold.
Why would you cover ivory with gold?
My guess is – he covered ivory with gold simply because he could. He had become greedy.
It even says Solomon only drank from gold cups. There was no silver in his house – silver was too common.
So, what we see throughout this story of Solomon – is how in a few generations Israel forgot Exodus, forgot being fed Manna, forgot God’s abundance of enough and actually became the oppressor.
Israel became the new Egypt and Solomon the new Pharaoh.
The book of Ecclesiastes, which is associated with Solomon and this period of his life, is his attempt to understand his life. Listen to what Solomon says about himself. In Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 this is what he says:
“I tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned great herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many concubines. I had everything a man could desire.
So I became greater than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. Also, my wisdom remained with me. Anything I wanted, I took. I did not restrain myself from any joy. I even found great pleasure in hard work, and additional reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.”
As Solomon looked back on his life he concluded – that everything was meaningless!
Now, you might be thinking – how does this story apply to me? None of us here have the wealth of Solomon and so it is easy to think it doesn’t apply to us.
And yet, I want to suggest that the story of Solomon and the children of Israel is also our story.
Like them, we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance of enough and the power of our belief in scarcity – a belief that says there isn’t enough so we must take more and more and more for ourself.
We want to trust God to provide for us, but we all struggle with greed and this desire for more. Greed is the feeling that if I just have a little bit more, then I will be secure; then I will be happy; then I will be satisfied.
I want to suggest this morning that the big myth we have to confront is that “there is not enough to go around and that more is always better”.
Scarcity is this internal condition which is at the heart of our jealousies, our greed, and our prejudices. Scarcity drives us in this endless and unfulfilling chase for more.
Most of us swim in a culture of scarcity. We spend most of our waking hours worrying about what we don’t have.
I didn’t get enough sleep.
I don’t have enough time.
I didn’t get enough exercise.
I don’t have enough work.
I don’t have enough power.
I don’t have enough weekends.
I am not thin enough.
I am not smart enough.
I am not educated enough.
I don’t have enough money – and on an on it goes.
These messages of “not enough” shape us and then we begin to believe the cultural messages that suggest money can buy happiness and we begin to look outside of ourselves to be fulfilled.
Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said the other day that his policies didn’t always work out because “he had forgotten to figure in human nature.” Human nature wants just a little bit more.
A couple of weeks ago I heard an economist trying to explain the crisis we are in. He said many things, but one thing that made sense to me was when he said – “our central problem is that too many of us live life like there is no tomorrow. People borrow too much because of their inability to delay gratification.”
Congress and the president are providing trillions of dollars of bailout money to fix some of our problems, but they can’t fix the ultimate problem – greed – this desire for a little bit more. We have to change our lifestyles.
In closing I want to suggest a couple of things we can begin doing to live in God’s abundance of enough, rather than being formed by the myth of scarcity.
First of all we need to reset our hearts desire. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus said – “where your treasure is, there will be your heart.”
As Christians, most of us talk about the Lordship of Christ over our lives but often the real message to our children and the world is:
get your career in started.
Get a good paying job.
Get your upscale lifestyle started.
Buy your house in an upscale neighborhood.
And if you have anything else left over – come and follow Jesus.
Instead of seeking God’s kingdom first, the real message to our children and the world – by how we live – is that what really matters most are acquiring more and more things.
In order to reset our hearts desire, we will need to begin evaluating our spending habits in light of God’s overall concern for the poor and its impact on the world’s resources.
We will have to ask – not only what our budget will allow us to buy – but what do we really need and what is God most concerned about in the world?
When we seek God first and set our heart on what God desires- our personal needs often change and our life priorities begin to shift.
So we need to reset our hearts desire on doing God’s will and trusting God to provide for us.
A second thing to help us live in God’s abundance of enough is to “begin living beneath our means.”
It is so tempting to live up to or above our means. Those “by now, pay later” schemes are so tempting.
I read recently that when McDonalds started allowing credit cards to be used in their restaurants– people, on average, increased their spending from $4 to $7.
One of the reasons we are in our current economic crisis is because of easy credit. Many people took advantage of easy credit and then they were not able to pay.
In Proverbs 25:28 Solomon wrote – “like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.”
In those days, a city was surrounded by a wall to protect it. If an enemy broke through the wall – the city was in trouble.
Solomon is saying that self-control is like a wall protecting us. If we lose self-control, Solomon says – we become just as vulnerable as any city whose wall has been breached.
Without self-control we become slaves to greed, food, money, sex and many other things.
So, exercising self-control – living beneath our means is an important habit if we want to live in God’s abundance of enough.
And then lastly this morning I want to suggest that we can live in God’s abundance of enough by learning to share our resources with others.
The biblical understanding of wealth is that it is meant to be shared. The responsibility is on those of us who have -to share with those who don’t have enough.
Obama got it right when he told Joe the Plumber that he wants to “spread the wealth around”. Wealth is meant to enrich the whole community.
I am well aware this morning that many people in our world don’t have enough food or shelter or clothing. Many people are working 2 or 3 jobs just to get by and they still don’t have enough sometimes.
But that is not what God desires. God desires that we learn to share so that there is enough for everyone. God desires that we be communities of sharing. God’s economy is based on sharing and generosity.
The practice of sharing and giving things away can also help us break our addiction to greed. To de-accumulate – in a culture that worships accumulation – is an act of praise to God our maker and provider and sustainer.
So, if we want to live in God’s abundance of enough
Let’s reset our hearts desire to doing God’s will.
Let’s begin living beneath our means.
And let’s learn to share our resources with others.
I know we swim in a culture that says there isn’t enough to go around, but we also worship a God who says there is enough for everyone when we share generously.
May we walk gracefully with one another as we learn together what it means to live in God’s abundance of enough. Amen.