Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

People are always searching for the secret to success.  Depending on your favorite number and work environment you will find a series of answers.   Three Secrets to Success.  Five Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs, and Ten Patterns for Successful Leadership. Consider this list of seven tips to success. 1) When the going gets tough, the tough get creative.  2) Don’t do more, do different. 3) Don’t be great, be consistently good. 4) Use rejection as motivation. 5) Working hard is the best way to network. 6) Don’t wait for permission. 7) If you can’t be #1, be clever.  Yes, people having been searching for the secret to success for generations.

Nearly a thousand years before King Solomon, the ancient patriarch Abraham had been promised that his descendants would receive the land of Canaan for their inheritance, but not until the reign of Solomon was this promise fully realized. Solomon extended the domain of Israel from the Red Sea on the south to the Euphrates River on the north. The golden age of Israel, which started under the reign of Israel’s first king Saul, and his son-in-law, and military hero, King David, continued under Solomon, and during his forty- year reign, there was peace and unity throughout his vast domain.  He was successful, powerful and wise. And he possessed great riches.  Scripture tells us that gold and silver were as common in Solomon’s capital as stone was elsewhere.  Unfortunately, ever since then, men and men have grossly misinterpreted Solomon’s success and wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and reward.  Let me assure, nothing could be further from the truth.

It is easy to be misled by success and riches.  God had blessed Solomon with great wealth, but he did it for a reason. In a dream, God promised Solomon that he would grant him any request, the young king asked for, and Solomon answered wisdom to rule the people. God was so pleased that Solomon didn’t ask for wealth that he gave it to the young king along with wisdom as a second gift.  God intended that Solomon would use the two gifts together, wisdom and wealth, for the betterment of his people.

Solomon’s reign was promising, listening to the counsel of his father, David, “Be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.” And God was true to his promise that if Solomon walked in his way, he would be blessed with promised wisdom, riches, honor, and long life. We read that King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. Indeed, all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought a present, objects of silver and gold, garments, weaponry, spices, horses, and mules, so much year after year.

The Queen of Sheba was one of those visitors. Her name is not mentioned in scripture, but the name Makeda has been passed on through other historical writings. When the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon about 950 BC she was awed by his wealth, power, and wisdom. Sheba, a country of commercial importance, was 1,500 miles south of Jerusalem in what is now Yemen. In art Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, is often portrayed as Black woman because of the land she represented.  Solomon’s fame and success was now great.  He had made international treaties, collected wealth through trading, and had built the temple on Mount Zion and an ornate palace for himself. His wisdom was legendary. The queen’s reaction was, “only half was told me.”  She came to Jerusalem to test his wisdom with riddles, to learn of his wisdom in collecting wealth, and spent six months in regular conversation with Solomon.  The Queen was drawn not simply to Solomon’s wisdom, but she was drawn to Solomon’s God as well. Fulfilling the promise spoken by God to Abraham that the descendants of the nations and people’s would come to praise his descendants.  Some Jewish scholars write that Makeda was the first true foreign royalty to open themselves to the faith of Israel, and she converted to Judaism and brought the faith back to her homeland. Legends about their meeting include a claim by the imperial family of Ethiopia unto Haile Selassie that the first king Menelik was the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Thus there were two Solomonic dynasties. As a gift to his Ethiopian son, King Solomon was rumored to have had made a second ark of the covenant for him to bring home to Sheba.

Over time, however, Solomon forgot his own counsel and guidance of his father David. God had given clear instructions for anyone who would be king: no amassing of horses, no multiplying of wives, and no accumulating of silver and gold.  This might be success in the eyes of the world, and other worldly leaders, but not in the eyes of Gods. These commands were designed to prevent the king from trusting in military might, following foreign gods, and relying on earthly wealth.

God, you see, had intended that Solomon would use his wealth to love his neighbor as himself, but Solomon used it to love only himself. He multiplied gold, silver, horses and wives for himself, in direct disobedience to God’s commandment. He ultimately married seven hundred wives and possessed three hundred concubines, effectively robbing one thousand men of wives. Nor did his marriage alliance intrigue begin and end with the daughter of Pharaoh in Egypt.  Eventually all these marriages with foreign women and princesses turned his heart away from love and loyalty to the God of Israel alone.  His key to success had its price. All the wealth and abundance that he thought was a sign of divine blessing had become the means to a sad story of slow compromise, leading to disaster.  As we read, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God.”  Within a year of Solomon’s death, the land was divided into two kingdoms.  And we find ourselves back at square one: Saul was the first king to fall, then David’s moral compromise, and now Solomon.

So what are we to learn from this final story of Solomon’s success, and the whole world coming to him to learn his secret? King Solomon had everything going for him.  He was a gifted poet and author attributed to writing Proverbs and Song of Solomon. None of the decisions from early in his reign seemed malicious or ill-intended. But slowly, as he went through life, his heart became insensitive. As a result, his great wisdom that once represented a divine gift became an instrument for self-service, and the wealth he had been given was used not for others, but for his own pleasure.   It can be true for any one of us.

Self-deception is impossible to spot on your own. You’ll never see yourself going down the road of no return. No one ever sets out to ruin their life on purpose, and certainly not to ruin anyone else’s, but it happens all the time.  It is true for the alcoholic, the gambler, the workaholic, the self-absorbed, the wealthy who believe there are more riches waiting out there for just for them, and it true for everyone who is seeking the key to personal success at the expense and oppression of others. The story of the fall of Solomon should be a warning that we should take our own dark, shadow side seriously.

But there is good news here as well.  It is especially poignant for who believe that that have wandered to far from Go’s ways. God will not leave you- even when you fall and abandon him. God remained true to his promise to his people in spite of the actions of his chosen kings.  His promise to King David would become true, even if another thousand years would pass before it became reality.  When David pleaded with God to let him build a Temple, God said no, but instead God declared that he would build an everlasting house for David. “My lovingkindness shall not depart from you; your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”  For a time, the kingdom, did all but disappear, but God did not forget his promise.

A thousand years later, a descendant of the house of King David, would enter the world, who would reign as God intended his Messiah to reign.  He came to serve and not to be served. And the kings of Tarshish of the isles would render him tribute, and the kings of Sheba and Seba would bring him gifts, like the Queen of Sheba, gold, frankincense and myrrh.  All the nations of world will come to seek his   This new born king would teach with profound wisdom, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto thee that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”  It would be one of the most familiar and striking lines from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Surprisingly, also one of his most controversial.  After all, King Solomon was wise, powerful and rich, and ever since then men and women have used his fabled wisdom as a justification for their own pursuits and wealth.  But Jesus would offer a new key to success. Use God’s wisdom and wealth not for yourself, but for others- in love.  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.  Amen.