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Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Like People in the Bible

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I sympathize with all of the people in our church who struggle to read the Old Testament. They trudge through books like 1 Kings and wonder, Just what exactly am I supposed to take away from the life of Solomon? Here’s a guy whose life is nothing like ours—fabulously wealthy, married to 1,000 women, ruling over half the ancient world, renowned for his wisdom. Then he crashes and burns in a blaze of phenomenally foolish glory.

It makes for an interesting story. But what is that to me?

The key problem most people have when reading stories like this is that they try to jump right from the OT character to themselves. So, Solomon made some terrible decisions, inevitably becomes the application: Don’t be an idiot like Solomon was. You could do worse, I guess. But that’s not the primary lesson of Solomon’s life. The writer of 1-2 Kings doesn’t want us to follow the path of Solomon. But it’s not simply because Solomon made foolish decisions at the end of his life.

We tend to think our problem is educational. We don’t know precisely the right way to go, so we want God to show us. But Solomon had more wisdom in his noggin than any of us. It didn’t help. The problem wasn’t with head knowledge but with heart-level obedience.

That’s our problem, too. It’s not that we are oblivious to the right way to go; it’s that we lack the will to do it. God’s law is like railroad tracks pointing us where we ought to go. But we are like engineless train cars sitting on those tracks. We can see where we should go, but we lack the power to get there. Just like Solomon.

We don’t need more education to fill our minds. We need resurrection for our disobedient hearts.

And that’s where the beauty of the Old Testament kicks in. We aren’t supposed to emulate Solomon, not simply because he made bad choices but because the Old Testament isn’t a story of good examples to follow and bad examples to avoid. The Old Testament is a story in search of a promised Son—someone who would bring in a glorious, eternal kingdom, building a temple where people could meet God and ruling over God’s people with matchless wisdom.

Israel assumed that Solomon was that Son. Clearly, he wasn’t. Centuries later, the true Son of David—the Son of Promise that the entire OT was looking for—came in the form of Jesus Christ. He possessed all the wisdom that Solomon had and more. People came from far and near to hear him, just as they had for Solomon.

But the center of this Son’s life wasn’t wise teaching. It wasn’t a glitzy temple. It was a brutal, sacrificial, substitutionary death. Jesus didn’t come to correct the teachings that Solomon got wrong or to give us a better book of proverbs. His primary goal in coming wasn’t to educate at all, but to save. He lived a life of perfect wisdom and died an ignoble death, scorned and mocked as a fool.

Only a King like that can restore what we have lost through our own foolishness. A king like Solomon might be able to show us how we messed up. But that’s not good news. That’s good advice. What I need isn’t just a better life plan but the power to get up after I’ve blown it.

The point of Solomon’s life is summed up in the book of Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

I’d like to think that Solomon is in that great cloud of witnesses, urging us on, warning us against the ways he fell short. But he’s not just saying, “Watch out for my mistakes!” With everyone else in that crowd, he’s calling out, “Keep your eyes on Jesus! He ran the race in your place and already won it for you! The victory has been won, the crown is yours, and the verdict—pure, redeemed, overcomer, beloved—has been declared.”

When you believe that, and only when you believe that, then the wisdom and foolishness of your life takes on a completely different weight. You are freed to grow as a believer, knowing that God’s acceptance isn’t contingent on you “getting better.” Ironically, that’s exactly the message that allows you to get better.

The point of Solomon’s life isn’t, “Get wiser and you’ll succeed.” Solomon had more wisdom than you ever will, and he failed. The point of Solomon’s life is, “You need something more than wisdom. You need Jesus.”

This article originally appeared here.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.