"In Solomon's old age, his wives turned his heart to worship their gods instead of trusting only in the Lord his God, as his father, David, had done. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Thus, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord's sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. 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 worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord's command." 1 Kings 11:4-10
"The king (Josiah) also desecrated the pagan shrines east of Jerusalem and south of the Mount of Corruption, where King Solomon of Israel had built shrines for Ashtoreth, the detestable goddess of the Sidonians; and for Chemosh, the detestable god of the Moabites; and for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. Then he desecrated these places by scattering human bones over them." 2 Kings 23:13-14
In the days of King Josiah, a pile of imposing buildings of Tyrian architecture, crowned the southern eminence of the Mount of Olives. Gigantic idols--some, unshapely blocks of wood, others of stone, all strange to look upon in that site--peered above the groves of myrtle, olive, and terebinth which encircled them. In one swift hour of retribution, this pious King and youthful Reformer swept the abominations away. The images of Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Molech were broken in fragments, and rolled down to the channel of the Kedron; and the shrines they guarded were left a mass of ruin.
How came these idolatrous sanctuaries, on the opposite side of the Jehoshaphat ravine, thus impiously to confront the Temple of God? What is their history, and what the lessons to be deduced from them?
Their builder was Solomon--Solomon, the most complex character in Holy Writ--a strange intermixture of intellectual greatness and moral degradation. Never did vessel leave the harbor with expectation of a brighter destiny--never was there a more humiliating wreck. Like his own beauteous Temple on Mount Moriah, he stands before us, in early youth, pure and noble; his name "Jedidiah," "the beloved of God;" the pride and hope of his father, "tender and only-beloved in the sight of his mother," (Prov. 4:3.) But the clouds gather in the midst of that fair sunshine--the lightning leaps forth--the fair alabaster pillars are scathed and blackened--"O Lucifer! son of the morning, how are you fallen?" Unlike the customary progression in the virtues of the good and the true, his life--and that, also, not only after a morning, but a manhood, of promise--was a history of deterioration. Not "from strength to strength" did he go, but rather from weakness to weakness. Surrounded with all the gifts of fortune and genius, raised to the pinnacles of unexampled and unparalleled earthly grandeur, he became the victim of degraded passions and dark, gloomy, atheistic thoughts. The golden-dowered prince degenerated into the most miserable of men–
"Melancholy marked him for her own."
It is a mournful "Memory of Olivet" this; but, as we stand in thought on the slopes of Moriah or Zion, gazing across the Kedron valley on these ruined pagan shrines, let us gather from the contemplation the lessons they are so well fitted to convey, viewed in connection with the character and history of their builder. Let us confine ourselves to two of these.
1. Learn the sad but righteous result and recompense of sin. Solomon had acted in direct violation of God's will and purpose in singling out Israel from the surrounding nations as the depositary of the true faith. A wise barrier had been erected between them and the rest of the world; and their safety consisted in conserving the ancient landmarks and remaining a standing witness to the unity of the divine Being. He had, in the pride of empire--the lust of political power and aggrandizement--cultivated and encouraged political alliances with adjoining Pagan kingdoms, specially with Egypt and Phoenicia. The extension of commercial trade by means of the navies which floated on the Mediterranean in the west, and the Red Sea in the east, was dearly purchased by contamination with the principles and the creeds of the heathen. The silver of Tarshish and the gold of Ophir were procured at the expense of tarnishing nobler traditions and betraying more sacred trusts. "Evil company" corrupted "good character."
One false and fatal step led on to another; political alliances were followed by social and domestic ones. In violation of a still more sacred and more rigid moral enactment, the Polygamy of these other oriental kingdoms, with which he had been brought into commercial relation, was in an evil hour imported to Palestine. Not Egypt and Phoenicia alone, but the border nations of Edom and Moab and Ammon, whose religious worship was idolatry of the darkest type, consisting in cruel and licentious rites, contributed wives to his Palace.
Soloman's character, originally bold and independent, became enervated and effeminate--the tool and slave of others. His fine sensibilities were blunted--his conscience seared. The lauded justice and magnanimity of his early reign was changed into tyranny. Once the idol of his people--by profligate expenditure on self and sin, he became the despot. His extravagance was maintained at the expense of a grinding taxation. Poor fail human nature! "He who had prayed for his people at the dedication of the Temple, 'Let your hearts be undividedly given unto the Lord,' (1 Kings 8:61,) now himself began to divide his heart." The life which was once like the delicate tracery of one of the marble pillars of that Temple, became scarred and mutilated. The mind that could dictate the everlasting truths of his own Book of Proverbs, had lapsed, by all these evil influences, into moral imbecility, mistaking wild licence for liberality and toleration. He attempted (what was impossible) to fuse all religions into one. He tried to incorporate light with darkness, Christ with Belial, purity with impurity, good with evil. The inevitable result and penalty soon developed itself. He became indifferent to all religion. Providence was an insolvable problem, life itself a profound enigma.
What do we learn from this mournful travesty of genius and wealth and renown? Is it not, to beware of anything that would mar and endanger the simplicity of our faith and spiritual character. If God has given us prosperity--whatever that outward prosperity be, wealth, position, intellect--let us beware of prostituting the gifts of the Great Giver to our spiritual ruin. If these, as in Solomon's case, lead us to tamper with the divine safeguards of our peace, let us hear (as he refused to hear) the warning voice--"Come out from among them, and be separate."
What especial carefulness is demanded in the formation of friendships and companionships likely to imperil the soul's best interests, by tending to lower the standard of spiritual principles, or to sap the foundations of religious beliefs. Nor need we be deterred from specially including, the most sacred and momentous of human alliances; the most fatal in its influences for evil--the most permanent in its influence for good.
How many, like the King of Judah, rush thoughtlessly into an unholy, unsanctified MARRIAGE union? In the case of how many who have begun life full of bright promise and noble aspirations, has their first retrograde step been traced to a frivolous, ungodly connection! Solomon's political alliances and commercial adventures doubtless produced their unwholesome and fatal results too; but it is expressly said of him--"His WIVES turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God." This is no theme to be turned aside with a flippant smile. Many there are, who, in old age, review the bitterness of a misspent life; and a life misspent, because those who shared its hours frittered them away in superficial excitement or selfish pleasure. Hundreds of such could warn, with tearful eyes, those venturing on the precipice--those who make outward attractions, or wealth, or brilliant connection, a substitute for moral and spiritual qualities. Though beautiful as Tirzah--though patrimonied with the gold of Ophir, the silver-mines of Tarshish, and the ivory palaces of Phoenicia--though encircled with every splendor of house and equipage, which, in our own times, money can bestow--better far is the man whose wealth is "the clean hands and the pure heart," and the noble purpose--better she, who, destitute in anything else, has "the ornament of a meek and a quiet spirit, which, in the sight of God, is of great price." Solomon, nor Solomon's Bride, in all their glory, were not arrayed like one of these!
As we gaze yet again on these ruined Temples, let us learn, the perpetuative power of evil influences. More than three hundred years had elapsed since the idolatrous shrines had been erected; and even although in the spirit of a reformer--an ancient iconoclast--Josiah had demolished them as places of worship, their relics, (the old stones and debris, if not some of the pillars and architecture,) remained so late as the days of our Lord--yes, indeed, even to this day the old site retains a name of bad pre-eminence--"the Mount of offence."
To all the true-hearted among Israel, these stones were, for generations, an "offence." They shook the dust off their feet as they passed them by. Solomon may have reared them at the time in a moment of caprice, never dreaming of their permanency, or that they would even outlive his reign. It may have been simply to satisfy the pride or vanity, the superstition or passion of some of the heathen women to whom he had sold himself. But long after he was laid in the last still sleep in the sepulcher of David, they lived! The sad memory of his apostasy was handed down and perpetuated from generation to generation. It needed no divine chronicler to write, as in the case of Jeroboam, "who made Israel to sin"--the mournful truth was carved on these tablets on the brow of Olivet.
Every worshiper in the Temple-courts read, morning and evening, the humiliating fact--that the most renowned of all their kings--the builder of their Temple--the penman of some of their sacred books, had miserably forsaken the Lord God of his fathers--that the mightiest ruler on earth, had failed to rule his own spirit. It matters not what is the truth respecting that often-debated question of Solomon's state of mind at the end of his life--whether he went down to his grave in the deep darkness of despair, a ruined unreclaimed castaway, or (as we are rather far disposed to think) repentant and saved--saved at the eleventh hour--saved, "yet so as by fire."
But what of this? His repentance could not demolish these stone memorials, nor obliterate the memory of his great crimes. His penitence may have been (and we charitably trust was) sincere--accepted by Him whom he had disowned and provoked. Twice over, called "the Beloved of God," we may trust, that when laid in his regal tomb on Zion, God gave "His beloved, sleep." But it was enough to disturb that quiet "sleep" in the adjoining mausoleum, to think of these ruined walls and pillars, bearing witness for a thousand years to his lust and cruelty, his selfishness and atheism--that instead of the memories of a holy, saintly life, uncontaminated with the impurities of the heathen, he had transmitted a legacy of foul example, to those who would not fail to screen and cover their own infamy by his greatness.
Parents! you who have in any way compromised truth, and honor, and virtue, and religious principle in the eyes of your children--bear in mind the truth, that, in a dreadful sense, you too must come one day to be like these ruined temples on Mount Olivet. When you die--when your voice is silent--the memory of your sin will remain. The sad memorials will be still there! Your children will look at them. To some, they may be beacons of warning--to others, encouragement and authority for similar guilt and wrongdoing.
May the reverse rather be the happy reality. How many among us can call up the unblemished recollections of a sacred parental home--its pure light guiding and comforting amid the treacherous billows which have since been traversed. God keep us, in our turn, from being "mounts of offence;" that when we die, the world, or those dearer to us than the world, may gaze back upon us with the sigh and the tear--we, who are now, in a nobler sense, God's living Temples, becoming ruins, blackened and rent with the lightning and storm! We must be one or other. The temple of God, or the temple of Ashtoreth. We must either transmit a heritage of good or of evil.
Look at Abraham with his altar, pitched side by side with his tent. The tent was taken down--demolished. It left no vestige behind it. But the altar was enduring. The roving Canaanite marked the spot where the patriarch had prayed and vowed; and his own children (generations afterwards) loved to gaze on the memorial-stones, and associate them with the faith and devotion of their great progenitor. Shall ours be Abraham's commemorative and votive altars of faith, and trust, and holy hope? or Solomon's memorial-stones of apostasy and licentiousness and crime? Shall we be a blessing or a curse? Shall we be missed, revered, loved, when we leave the world? or shall our names be whispered with saddened look and bated breath? Shall our children point to our graves and say, "He ruined me," or "He saved me?"
Let us close, with what the subject naturally suggests, a word to those occupying the two extremes of existence, Youth and Old age.
YOUTH--look at these ruins on the Mount and be warned. Do not say, 'I require no warning, I have been piously brought up--religiously educated--no fear of me.' So also was Solomon. Never did father dote more fondly on a son--and he appeared, also, all that a father's fondest hopes could desire. The Book of Proverbs, written in his best days, attests the purity of his life and the grandeur of his aim and purposes. But what the old writers call "the world's trinity"--"the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life"--these, which he had trifled and tampered with, proved his ruin.
Go and read another of his sacred writings, that plaintive and dolorous "utterance of the heart," the Book of Ecclesiastes. That book, may we not fondly hope, was composed in the last hours of penitent life. It is a mournful autobiography--a mournful retrospective diary. In it, he records all his various and ingenious ways of solving the problem of existence--the problem of happiness--by intellectual pursuits, aesthetic pleasures, schemes of ambition, commercial enterprise, splendor of court and palace and honor--all that eye or ear or heart could wish or devise.
Yes, come to this shocking drama; come seat yourself in front of that stage--watch the scenic effects there, and the characters which flit to and fro in that bright and bewildering background. A magnificent palace first attracts the eye, with its vast colonnades--its central tower, with a thousand golden shields hung outside, gleaming under an oriental sun, "all shields of mighty men." Gardens or paradises stretch away in the distance, beautified and adorned with every tree and shrub, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop on the wall; while birds of rare plumage flit from bough to bough! Presently, the scene is lighted up with living actors--five hundred youths, clad in purple, and their dark-flowing ringlets powdered with dust of gold, await with fleet steeds outside the palace gates. The gush of music meanwhile sweeps through adjoining cedar-galleries, and an expectant crowd line the distant highway.
But while these are the brilliant accompaniments--see the chief actor in this scene of imposing grandeur. In the foreground is a throne of ivory--its base is of gold, with six golden lions flanking the flight of golden steps. Seated on that throne, is the object of all this pomp of circumstance. But alas! it is a countenance dark with despair--a faded--wasted--glutted voluptuary. All that array of magnificence behind, seems to be but a mockery of his anguished thoughts, as he wails out the confession of a misspent life--a futile chase after happiness--"All is vanity and vexation of spirit!"
From Solomon's sad but brilliant life we surely have the truth forcibly brought home to us, that goodness is alone true greatness. It is neither the gifts of fortune, nor the gifts of intellect which give happiness. It is worth--the state of the moral affections, which makes the man. There are many possessed of great wealth and great intellect without souls. Many of great means and of great attainments, who are little else than cold masses of physical or intellectual fuel, unlit by the glowing fire of goodness. They become cynical, supercilious, unsympathizing, unloving; in religion often skeptical. And a sadder phase still is, when, as in the case of Solomon, great genius is wedded to great crime!
You who have the dew of youth upon you--if God has given you gifts, bring them early to Him as consecrated offerings. Solomon's was one of those strong, ardent, impetuous temperaments, which, had they been guided aright, would have made him the greatest and best, as well as the most gifted of all kings of antiquity. But in an evil moment--to use a modern simile--with rash hand the engine was reversed just at the top of the incline, and, without rope or brake, down it plunged through the dark tunnel, and no mortal power could avert the fatal crash of ruin.
Had virtue been the helm of his life, what a freight of glory would that noble vessel have carried, in its course through summer seas. But he recklessly surrendered the helm to passion; and with him, as with thousands on thousands of hapless ones, the saying of a later and wiser Christian philosopher became true--"Lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death!"
The life and example of Solomon has a special moral and warning also to the AGED--to those--not who are climbing the mountain--but who are descending, and are facing the westering sun. We often hear of the unsteadiness of giddy youth--youth wavering between the right and the wrong--vacillating between fixed principles; and, alas! the current of evil too often proving the strong and the fatal one. But we seldom think of unsteadiness and vacillation in connection with maturer years--we generally suppose that on the turn of manhood or womanhood, character is fixed, principles rooted, and that once the ship has cleared the sand-bar, there is no more fear of foundering.
Generally, it is so--but not always. And in the case of Solomon, we have a beacon lighted on a rock in that open sea, and warning words wafted to us on the wings of the storm--"When you think you stand, take heed lest you fall!" Here was no young, easily broken sapling--no reed shaken by the wind--but an old gnarled cedar of Lebanon, a sturdy oak of Bashan bent before the blast of temptation. It was not in early blossom nor in tender bud, but in full flower, that the frost nipped him--in full blown glory, leaf by leaf withered and fell. What a lesson for watchfulness! What a testimony as to the need of grace to the very last, in the battle with inward corruption and outward temptation! Truly, "there is no discharge in that war."
Nor must we conclude, without a word of comfort and encouragement to the erring, the backsliding--it may even be the apostate--who, in the memory of their sin and ingratitude, can at times think of nothing but abandonment and despair. Solomon, we believe, low as he fell, was not allowed to die unreclaimed. We cannot now go to the proof of this. But there are gleams of light emitted in the sad story of his life, which lead us to think and hope the best--that for this (in one sense) greatest "Jerusalem sinner," there was mercy.
Shut up as he was in the dungeons of "Doubting Castle," Giant Despair was not permitted to include his bones among the skeletons of similar hapless pilgrims. The volcanoes of lust and crime had poured their lava-streams over a heart once full of noble emotions--but as existence is closing, we can discern, through the seams of that crust, the buddings of a new and better life--vine-leaves are bursting through these ashes of desolation.
The mid pages of his life-volume are soiled and tattered, but the last leaf of the last chapter, ends, as life had begun, with "Jedidiah--the beloved of the Lord." Hear the words of the great and good Nehemiah regarding him, many generations after he had slept with his fathers--"Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God," (Neh. 13:26.)
And are we not warranted to say, that for the most wandering and erring sheep, there is the blessed possibility of restoration and return to the Great and Good Shepherd? We dare not--even to the life-long prodigal with gray hairs and tottering step, say, "There is no hope for you!" Gazing upwards, once more, on these desolate temples on the Mount of offence--while pondering the silent lessons their mouldering ruins convey--let us hear, amid this saddest of Olivet memories, the voice of one Greater than Solomon--in one of the noblest and tenderest of His parable-discourses, describing the truant wanderer from the spiritual fold--"And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost!" (Luke 15:5, 6.)