Solomon’s Folly: The Revival of Religious Syncretism in America - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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1 Kings 11:1-14, “But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s sake, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen. And the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: he was of the king’s seed in Edom.
During the reign of Solomon, we find the most prosperous period in the economy of Israel. He had 4 navies, over 10,000 chariots (and stables enough for the horses), a temple which was second to none, a rich and lavish palace, and an ivory and gold throne unlike any other. His accumulation of wealth is staggering, even in numbers equivalent to today’s economic market. All admired his accomplishments, even those kings and queens from far lands who paid him tributes. Certainly, God had raised Solomon to material splendor.
Not only did he accumulate great wealth, but Solomon pleased his sinful flesh with his growing lust for women. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. That alone is beyond staggering. In the beginning, his love was dedicated to the Shulamite, as we find in the Song of Songs which he wrote as a eulogy to her. Yet, in his pursuit to find a love equal to her own, he searched out women from far lands and from his own home country. His political marriages also amassed him a number of brides. He did not stop simply at “political marriages” but also obtained 300 concubines. His interest in women was not platonic in any sense. He continued to accrue sexual “partners” as a collector would collect stamps or baseball cards. As he states in Ecclesiastes, 2:10, “And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy.” Solomon was now out to make a test of pleasure, even is it was based in the sinful acts of the heart and mind.
The “absolute” kingly power Solomon had became a cause of diverse temptations. Deut. 17:16-17 explicitly states that kings are not to multiply wives, horses and money. Solomon disobeyed God on all these points repeatedly. “But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” Was Solomon listening? As a result of continued disobedience to the Law and the commandments, God gave Solomon over to his own wickedness. The text says that Solomon did “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (Verse 6) This is the same evil that Judah, Nadab, Baasha, Omri, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Ahab, and others committed in idolatry before God. They were all involved in breaking the first commandment with zeal. They set up foreign gods and worshipped them instead of the one true God. Solomon ultimately set the stage for all the wickedness of later kings who followed his example. Here we see that Solomon, with all his God-given wisdom, still backslid onto the road of apostasy.
Solomon “clave” unto his wives and concubines, and as a result, desired to please them. How can a man please 1000 women? (How could a man really please more than one!) Even as the apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:33, “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” Husbands desire to please their wives. Yet, Solomon attempted to please all his wives in an evil and sinful manner: he setup shrines to other gods that they may worship them in Israel. This pagan deity worship is expressly forbidden all through the Old Testament. God repeatedly instructs the Israelites to put away the foreign gods of the other nations, and not be ensnared by them. Deuteronomy 8:19 is explicit, “And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.” Solomon did not listen.
If men worship other gods, their hearts are turned away from the true God. The emphatic repetition in this primary passage alone demonstrates the gravity of the offense. It is said that “for surely they will turn away.” This idea culminates through the passage. Solomon is said to have “turned away” three times, then “went after” once, then “did evil.” He was turned away from the living God, went after foreign gods, and ultimately culminated this evil in the sight of the Lord. He “built” high places to the abominable gods of the other nations, and sacrificed to them in participation of the ritual services with his wives. The Lord rebuked him stating that such actions are a violation of His “commandments” and “statues.” This is the same as saying Solomon “did evil” in God’s sight by breaking God’s holy Law; such ideas are synonymous. Solomon should have recalled that the breaking of the first commandment was a moral act punishable by death.
As a result of his apostasy, Solomon was given a promise that the kingdom would be ripped away from him through his son, Reheboam. The only reason God did not rip the kingdom away from Solomon’s own hand was on behalf of the covenant promises which God had made with David. However, it seems that Solomon did not repent of these sins even after God’s words to him. At this time, unlike in former days, God sent a prophet to warn Solomon instead of coming to him personally. This also heightens the indignation that God has towards Solomon. The kingdom would be taken from Solomon and his line, and given to his servant Jereboam, the son of Nebat. Unfortunately, Jereboam walked down the same ungodly and wicked path that Solomon had taken, and further apostatized the nation in subsequent years. However, Solomon is initially to blame.
The religion of the Israelites was to remain pure. They were a people dedicated to God and were not to obtain mixed marriages with foreign wives, and interracial mixing of religions. However, they did this repeatedly. As a result, the tendency to allow it to continue to happen was all the more desensitized. Solomon had no problem intermarrying where God told His chosen people they were never to do this because, at this time, it would have been more commonly accepted. It is here that Religious Syncretism takes a toll on Israel. As men intermarried, they would continue to be influenced by their wives and the religions that their wives had been nurtured under. (Does this tell us something about the sinfulness of the usurping power of women over men?) The gods of Molech, Chemosh, Dagon and the like would not have been repulsive representations to these women, but images of the gods they had long prayed to. No doubt, their persistence in sacrificing to these gods would have worn away some of the religious morality of the men of Israel. If this were not so, the very fact that an Israelite would marry a foreigner would have been “foreign” to their minds at the outset. Solomon was tempted in this to a much more significant degree. Not only did he desire to please his wives, and allow them to worship freely, but a disdain towards this would have placed him in a precarious political situation. For instance, Solomon married the princess of Egypt. If he were to deny his new wife the ability to continue to worship the gods of Egypt, this could cause an animosity between Israel and Egypt. There is no doubt that Solomon would have had to take, by necessity, these things into consideration. It may be that he justified the abomination of setting up idols under the mask of political expediency, but the end never justifies the means.
Religious Syncretism always results in separation from God. Every time the Israelites intermarry and mix religions they wind up in a religious mess. Religious Syncretism is a term used where a plurality of religions are mixed together to form one commonly accepted avenue of worship, and where each ideology in this avenue is received as commonly as any other. For instance, the Egyptians may have worshipped Ra, god of the sun, and the Philistines worshipped Dagon, the fish god, and the Israelites worshipped the invisible God of the universe. During Solomon’s reign these three distinct and separate religious ideas would have been combined, and the three would have been equally accepted by the same people. Solomon could attend a service to Ra with an Egyptian wife, while moments later, he could pray with his Hebrew wife to the invisible God of the universe. This is synchronizing the religious flavor of the day. When three people synchronize their watches, they are setting them all to the same time. When religions are synchronized they are viewed as equally acceptable and tolerated avenues of worship. In other words, they thought that though Ra, Dagon, or God be worshipped, they will ultimately lead the worshipper to the same place. In our day and age such a notion of Religious Syncretism is called Religious Pluralism.
As a result of his sin Solomon fell into great folly. He allowed Religious Syncretism to penetrate the cultus of a people who had been deemed a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” They should have known better. But what of America, or the world today? Much the same relativistic tendencies from the affects of Solomon’s blindness has penetrated our world and country today. As Solomon should have known better, so should American churches as well. Religious Pluralism (or Syncretism) is alive and well on planet earth. It is alive in your own church to a great extent. It may be even alive in your mind. For instance, the witnesses of the Old Testament, of the New Testament, of the Apostles and of Jesus Christ all attest to the Biblical fact that Jesus Christ is God. However, people are shouting, “God bless America” without acknowledging the crucial fact that Jesus Christ is the God they desire to be blessed by. Yet again, their idea of blessing is far different than the Bible’s. They have restructured religious thought into a conglomeration of contradictory ideas which allow anyone to speak the words “God bless America” whether New Age, Muslim, Jew, Catholic or Protestant. They are looking for a temporary blessing and a temporary comfort that is disassociated with the blessing and comfort of the God of the Bible. The spiritual air of America reeks with the smell of Religious Syncretism.
When I say that America should know better, this is a truism. We are a country where knowledge is a problem. We do not really know how to think, much less think rightly about spiritually significant facts that determine our conceptions of ultimate reality. Not that the information highway of the Internet is lacking in information – it is certainly not. But our knowledge of the “religious” is certainly something where we choose what we like. It is like a smoothie. My wife makes herself a smoothie each morning. She mixes a variety of frozen fruits in a food processor and purifies them into a cool, savory shake. The spiritual processor of America is much the same. America is chopping up the world’s religions and placing them into a religious “smoothie.” But this smoothie is by no means healthy.
Thinking individuals cannot be satisfied with religious smoothies when it comes to understanding Christianity. The reason lies in the claims of the Bible and the claims of Jesus Christ. World Religions, or religious ideas, are mutually exclusive and against Christianity though people would like to enter into a kind of “Religious Syncretism.” America has adopted this mindset. They believe God will bless America no matter what we believe about God, or what we think about Jesus Christ – even if the preferable pattern is throw Christ out all together and disregard God’s character. There is a failure to realize that there are non-negotiable aspects of Christianity that cut across the grain of the religious smoothie. Christianity will not be mixed up in the Religious Syncretism of America since four main reasons (though there be more) are readily apparent in the teachings of the Bible which condemn all other deviant religious teachings: the nature of divine revelation, the character of God, the character of man, and the nature of Christ and his work; amazingly enough, as with America, Solomon disregarded these truths to a great extent as well.
For our purposes the statement “The nature of divine revelation is redemptive,” will suffice. As the unfolding drama of redemption takes place through the epochs of history, God reveals His saving will progressively. Adam was given the proto-evangelium (the Scripture in Genesis 3:15 which speaks of the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent), Noah was given the covenant rainbow ( a sign that God would not destroy men by a flood ever gain), Abraham was given the sign of the Old Testament covenant in his flesh through circumcision, Moses was given the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, and so on. Each one received a portion of God’s revelatory will. And each revelation was progressive. Previous revelation was not thrown away but continually built upon. However, it was not until the fullness of time at the appearing of Jesus Christ was God’s revelation complete. This revelation is only found in the Scriptures, the God-breathed words of His will for the salvation of mankind. It is not found in the writings of the Mormons, of Confucius, or of Mohammed. Its unique character, harmony of its parts, and agreement in its writings, is unparalleled in the history of the world. It claims divine inspiration on every page. However, America holds their hands over their ears as the Bible preaches its message, yet, they incessantly shout “God bless America.”
Americans often object to this point. The objection is stated in this way “men wrote the bible, not God.” At this point appeal to some of the most simplistic arguments for the nature of divine revelation will be sufficient. There are only three sets or classes of beings that could have written the Bible: it could only have been written by good men or angels, by wicked men or demons, or by and through God’s power. There are only these three choices. It cannot be written by good men or angels since the Bible, all through the Old Testament and New Testament, claims that God is speaking and God is commanding men to repent and turn to Him. Good men or angels would be liars to write believing they were “God.” They could never have written it as good men and then claimed, “Thus says the Lord.” Nor could evil men or demons have written the Bible. The Bible expresses the commands and statutes of God towards holiness and sanctification. It also teaches that men who are not holy, or saved by the blood of Christ, will be damned to hell. Thus, evil men or demons would never prompt men to holiness, which they are against and hate, nor condemn themselves to hell for the actions they enjoy. The only option that is left is that God wrote it. It is the book of God which demonstrates the means and manner of saving grace through Jesus Christ. God privileged men with the Bible to show them the way of salvation and of escape from His terrible wrath. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Literally this means “God-breathed.” To cover your ears and eyes to this fact is to stop thinking, or have never started thinking about ultimate questions initially. Not only is it God’s inspired word, but it houses claims which are diametrically opposed to the religions of the world. They teach different ideas altogether.
The voice of Religious Pluralism accepts all other religious views of God (except the view of the Bible and Christianity) with few exceptions (maybe Satanism, or other occultist teachings – thus, their toleration seems to have limits). Buddha’s maxim “all paths lead to heaven” is simply America’s cry underlying the statement “God bless America.” However, in contradistinction to this false religion of blessing, the Bible does not teach that men may approach God in any way they choose. God’s nature is such that He must be approached in the manner He has provided in order to know Him savingly. The holiness of God is central in understanding this. As Isaiah 6:1 states, “And one [angel] cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” God is not simply holy, but thrice holy! What does it mean to be “holy?” In this particular verse the word is qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) that means “sacred,” or “set apart.” Men cannot approach God as they desire, but as God commands. He will not be tainted with sin and must punish sin; He cannot dwell with sin in any form. He is the God who dwells in unapproachable light. His holiness will not compromise with sin – He cannot, of necessity, do it. So, God must have a sacrifice to appease His wrath and atone for men’s sin, lest His justice consume them. Here is where we see the work of Jesus Christ and His Atonement as of prime import. Men cannot claim the blessings of God unless they are under the blessing of Jesus Christ, and under His blood. Why? Because men are sinners, and God is holy. God has provided one means by which sinners may approach Him, and that is through Jesus Christ and Him alone. Acts 4:12 says, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Christ is the God-man who came to save His people. Fully God and fully man He offered up an infinite sacrifice to the Father on behalf of His elect. Romans 3:25 asserts, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” Here we see the character of God, the sinfulness of men, and the acceptance of the work of Jesus Christ. They are all interrelated and cannot be separated. All of the Biblical record points to this.
To be “blessed” is to have one’s sins forgiven. Psalm 32:1-2 states, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” It is not a temporary comfort from hijackers or terrorists. To be blessed is to be protected from God’s wrath. Our sin exposes us to His indignation. It is the privilege of God’s choice to redeem fallen men. Thus grace is really grace. Men can be saved from their sins if they receive the Savior God has provided. The problem is that people in America (and all over the world) deny their fallenness. Men are basically good they say, well, except for people like Osama Bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, Genghis Kahn and Joseph Stalin. Yet, the Bible is emphatic that all men are fallen and wicked, and this includes all Americans. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Men must be seen for what they are – sinners in need of salvation. They are imperfect men in Adam. Adam’s sin is our sin. His transgression is our fall. And the term “wicked” is not reserved for men like Hitler. To be wicked means that we are imperfect. Imperfect creatures in God’s eyes are wicked because He is holy. He requires perfection, and no man enters heaven unless they are one of two things: 1) perfect (which no one is except Jesus Christ), or 2) saved by God’s appointed Savior, Jesus Christ.
Christ must be seen for his infinite worth here. Jesus Christ must be received by faith as the only means by which sinners may approach God. This is God’s only means of salvation. Gathering together under the banner of “God bless America” simply will not due. Religious Pluralism has no place in God’s agenda. God is a God of order. He is a God who commands people to believe certain truths concerning His character, His Son, and of themselves. Religious Pluralism is the “anything goes” of theological ideas. It is not the God of the Biblical record, or of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
America desires God without the character of God, good men without the sinfulness of sin, or divine comfort without the preciousness of the Savior Jesus Christ. Instead, they have followed Solomon into a form of Religious Syncretism. They have a spiritual smoothie which they think is benefiting them in its guise under the rubric of ecumenicalism. But unity is not the test of truth. “Can two walk together except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)” No, they cannot. That is why the Bible and the religious pluralism of America do not mix. The smoothie they are drinking does not have the One True God at its center, or the Son of God as their Savior. They have not read the ingredients on the package. Really, their smoothie can be likened to spiritual junk food that rots the soul and will ultimately damn them. It sure does taste good, but in the end you are under the dentist’s painful drilling. Yes, sin is fun for a season, but the worst of all sins is the denial of the One True God as God, and loving His appointed Savior Jesus Christ. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha (1 Cor. 16:22).”
Religious Syncretism procures the wrath of God on men and nations. It is quite interesting that the Religious Syncretism of America has against so angered the Lord that He would, again, stir up a descendant from Esau as the current spark that unified the “God Bless America” banner. Osama Bin Laden is from the line of Esau; a wild man, who has his hand against every man, and every man’s hand is against him. Even our passage says, “And the LORD stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: he was of the king’s seed in Edom (1 Kings 11:14).” Edom is from the line of Esau. God stirred up a wild man to attack the people of God because they tolerated the Religious Syncretism that Solomon allowed into the nation. His personal sin endangered the entire nation because they followed their anointed and beloved king into wickedness. As a result, the children of Israel rebelled against God, and God ultimately sent them into exile under a foreign nation. What is stopping Him from doing this again? America professes itself as a dominantly Christian nation, which is simply not true. We may claim the faith of most of founding fathers and the Constitution as a document that is useful only to a religious nation. We may gather in churches and hold vigils. We may rally in stadiums to pray with thousands unified under the American Flag. But all of this is triviality, a smoke screen, if the basic tenants of true spiritual fulfillment are cast by the wayside. The nation as a whole has stumbled into Solomon’s folly all over again. If men disregard the holiness of God, the sinfulness of men, and the Salvation only found in Jesus Christ, then they remain as deceived as they were before. Only now, they shall receive greater damnation on judgment day since they have a form of godliness but deny its power.