In a recent sermon on Proverbs 3:5-6 I probed the contrasting features of verse 5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” How does understanding differ from the heart here? Do our hearts compete with our understandings at times? Is this a call for us to trust feelings in place of careful thought?
No, that’s not the point. Instead, the two certainly indicate overlapped qualities, with the heart speaking of underlying motives while understanding is our reflective exercise of applying the motives. Solomon, the presumed author of this proverb, illustrated the difference in his own life. And he violated his own advice in the process.
This conflict emerges when we compare Solomon’s temple dedication in 1 Kings 8 with his later decisions in 1 Kings 11. In the former section we find Solomon’s heartfelt prayer offered to God with unexcelled devotion and clarity: “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart …” Here he desires to follow God in every possible aspect of life—it’s what motivated his temple-building project.
But later, in chapter 11, we read of Solomon’s shifting desires. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharoah…” (11:1). This despite God’s instructions to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, “You shall not enter in marriage” with foreign wives, “for surely they will turn your heart after their gods” (11:2). Solomon, however, took in about a thousand ladies! The result followed in 11:4, “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God …”
The difference between complete devotion on the one hand, and a rationally contrived pathway on the other are apparent. Solomon used his “understanding” to abandon his pristine devotion to the LORD in favor of the compromised political benefits of a bridal treaty with Pharoah, king of Egypt. In this pragmatic arrangement both the father-in-law and his son-in-law affirmed bonds of mutual peace through marriage. The idea was that by becoming “family” both sides would avoid wars.
These arrangements also meant the “treaty brides” would move to their new nation along with their past cultural and religious ways as part of the arrangement. Solomon no doubt reasoned this was a good peacekeeping tradeoff that gave up a bit of spiritual precision in favor of broad national welfare. And if he sequestered his brides to live in properly distant palaces—well away from the Jewish temple—they could have their separate worship centers and gods.
So, in the transition Solomon may have continued to proclaim his love for God, but it didn’t fit another of his proverbs: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23). Before long Solomon’s heart was gone, and his spiritual compromise made life easy at first. But in the long term it undermined the nation as Solomon actually left Israel with a weedbed of idolatry. And Israel soon reaped that weedy fruit with tragic force. At first God divided the nation into faithless Israel on the one hand, and unstable Judea on the other. Then, many decades later, God allowed Israel to dissipate in an exile. And Judea was overrun by the Chaldeans which launched the seventy-year “Babylonian captivity.”
The writer of 2 Kings summarized the problem much, much later: “And the king [Josiah] defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim…” [vs. 13-14]. Solomon was the source of the problem—he hadn’t maintained his original heart focus and let other competing loves slip in.
We find help here in an addendum to Proverbs 3:5&6 and 4:23 offered in Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
In practical terms this calls for a spiritual conversation at each moment of life. If we, for instance, are planning our evening entertainment, just pause to pray, “Lord, I’d love to watch this show tonight. Can you join me?” Or, “Jesus, I want to get closer to you this Fall—can you help me find someone to read a good book with, or to do a Bible read-through together?” There are no end of ways to love God wholeheartedly. Or, on the other hand, to be a Solomon: to talk big and live small.
Cheering you on!