Have you ever noticed that some of our sorest temptations arise around God’s greatest gifts? Food, money, sex, ministry, authority—all of these can be used for such good, yet we consistently find they are attended by such difficulties. That is life in this sinful world, a world in which we turn blessings into curses, gifts into temptations. God’s gifts so quickly threaten to displace the One who gives them.
God does not appreciate competition. We find this all over the Bible, but I found some particularly interesting evidence of it while studying Deuteronomy 17 last week. God had saved his people from slavery and destroyed their archenemy, Egypt. He now reigned as their good and kind king. Yet though he loved his people, he knew his people. He knew that in the future they would demand a new king, a human king. And so hundreds of years before the people cried out for King Saul, God told them who and what their future king must be: He must be a man of God’s own choosing, he must be an Israelite, and he must abide by three important rules: “He must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).
Did you notice what God highlighted there? He highlighted war, women, and wealth. He prohibited the reckless accumulation of all three. Why? Of all the things that could concern God, why these? It’s not that there was anything intrinsically wrong with any of them. Rather, it’s because of what war, women, and wealth represented to a king and a kingdom in that day and that place. Each of them was a temptation for a king to find his reputation and his security apart from God. In that way they would threaten to displace God from a position that he rightfully claimed for himself. A full-out obsession with any or all of them would be a full-out rejection of God.
An obsession with war. A great army would encourage a king to be self-reliant, trusting that his security is dependent upon his ability to wage war. He would inevitably forget that his security is ultimately from God—God had promised his people that he would care for them, and he had already proven this time and again. A great army would also represent a great reputation since it would make a king look mighty in the eyes of other kings. Yet God’s people were to concern themselves with obedience to him, not conformity to the nations.
An obsession with women. God’s concern here was not first related to sexual lust but political power. In that day a powerful king would marry princesses from other nations as a means of establishing political treaties. These treaties would make the land more secure and strengthen the king’s reputation as a great statesman. Yet God did not want his people to find their security in political alliances, and he did not want his people to intermarry with foreigners, for those powerful and important women would inevitably bring their gods with them. With those gods would come the temptation to abandon the true God for idols.
An obsession with wealth. When it comes to wealth, a king would be tempted to trust in his money to keep him secure instead of trusting in his God. Money could be used to hire or sponsor a huge army, or it could be used to buy off attackers. As for reputation, a king would be deemed especially mighty if he used his wealth to build great palaces, temples, and monuments. But again, God wanted his people to find their security in him, in his covenant promises. God wanted his people to care far more for their reputation in his eyes than in anyone else’s.
No wonder, then, that God warned his kings about the three temptations of war, women, and wealth.
Where are you tempted to pursue reputation in the eyes of the world instead of the eyes of God? And where are you tempted to seek security in things you can accumulate rather than in the promises of God? Where are you tempted to compromise? Can I suggest just a couple of common ones?
Sex, Gender, and Sexuality. Today one big and growing temptation to that kind of compromise is in the area of sex, gender, and sexuality. We read in the Bible the plain truth that “male and female he created them.” But now we are told that sex and gender are fluid, that believing anything less is a terrible form of intolerance and discrimination. There is immense pressure on us to compromise, to allow just a little bit of what they believe into what we believe—just enough to be safe, just enough to be respectable. This is exactly why every politician is jumping on the bandwagon. We can face the same temptation, but that is nothing less than making a treaty with the world. That’s gaining the illusion of security and the wrong kind of reputation through compromise.
Finances. Another grave temptation is in the area of personal finance. We can look to money to establish and enhance our reputation. Big houses, nice cars, designer clothes are all worldly measures of success. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but they do call on us to be cautious, to be wise, to discern the state of our hearts. It is far better to have little while looking great in the eyes of God. And when it comes to security, many of us feel secure when we have lots of money and insecure when we have little. We know God promises to provide for our every need, but find those promises much easier to believe when we have heaps of money socked away in our savings and retirement accounts. If we only believe God’s promises when we already have what we need, we’re missing the point! Our security comes from our adoption by God into his family, not through the size of our bank account.
In the age of kings, wealth, war, women were each a challenger to God. God was content to have his kings weak and chaste and modest, for then they would have to rely on him for their reputation, for their protection. In our age we have challengers of our own. God, through his Word, calls us to find our reputation and protection in him, to be strong in him even if that makes us weak in the eyes of the world.
Note: With all this in mind, go ahead and read 1 Kings 10-11, the account of King Solomon’s reign and downfall. Do you think the author was attempting to highlight any particular obsessions of Solomon? War? Check. Women? Check. Wealth? Check. It’s all right there!