Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of vigilance, and how the strength to stay on the right path begins in the vigilant commitment to keep our hearts pure. We will be reviewing some of the Proverbs of Solomon and a history of civil strife in Israel to help us understand how important it is to have hearts that are pure.
The Proverbs contain a wealth of instruction and wisdom, and yet even amidst this treasure of understanding, there remains an indication of something more that is necessary for a righteous person to stay within the boundaries of God’s wisdom. In a brief statement in Proverbs 23, Solomon reveals that right actions of the children are likely to follow the right actions of the parent.
Proverbs 23:26 – O my son, give me your heart. Let your eyes observe my ways.
This requires a large measure of vigilance on the part of the parent in order to ensure they are always setting an appropriate example for their children in all their ways.
Throughout the Proverbs, Solomon is writing in the context of conveying all of this information and instruction to his child. As a parent wants to instill their children with all of the right information they can, he continually reminds his son to maintain what is right in the face of surrounding adversity.
But the point of the message today involves a wider background and some context to fully grasp the ramifications of choices we make. This involves choices in regard to following wisdom that has been exemplified for us, or following our own way, or even bad examples that have been set for us. In order to understand more about the importance of the heart and the examples we set, we must glean some insights from a turbulent time in Israel’s history. This is the story of two men who succeeded one of the wisest rulers the world has ever seen.
The books of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible tell similar stories of the history of Israel’s earliest kings. Saul was the first king over the nation, and he was followed by David. David then prepared the kingdom for his son Solomon to rule after his death. While Solomon had enjoyed God’s favor and provision during the early part of his reign, the latter part of his rule had become marred with the poisonous stain of idolatry.
1 Kings 11:4-6 – When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to Yahweh his God, as his father David had been. Solomon followed Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the abhorrent idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight, and unlike his father David, he did not remain loyal to Yahweh.
Now, as disappointing as this may be to read of the demise of God’s anointed ruler, God knew that this eventuality would lead to a new condition in Israel. During this period, God brought to Solomon’s attention one of the young men in his service, a man named Jeroboam, an industrious and energetic individual.
1 Kings 11:28 – Now the man Jeroboam was capable, and Solomon noticed the young man because he was getting things done. So he appointed him over the entire labor force of the house of Joseph.
It was about this time that God had also arranged for a prophet to meet Jeroboam and reveal what he was about to do with Solomon’s rule, since Solomon had allowed the nation to fall back into the corruption of idolatry.
1 Kings 11:29-32 – During that time, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite met Jeroboam on the road as Jeroboam came out of Jerusalem. Now Ahijah had wrapped himself with a new cloak, and the two of them were alone in the open field. Then Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he had on, tore it into twelve pieces, and said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what Yahweh God of Israel says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand. I will give you ten tribes, “but one tribe will remain his for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city I chose out of all the tribes of Israel.
Here we find the first indication that God was going to split the physical kingdom of Israel into two main groups: the northern ten tribes which would be called Israel, and the southern two tribes of Benjamin and Judah which would be blended under the name of the larger tribe of Judah. Civil war was about to break out; it was only a matter of time until Solomon would die, and Ahijah prophesied that the nation would become two rival kingdoms: Israel and Judah.
When Solomon found out about the exchange that took place between Ahijah and Jeroboam, the text says he attempted to kill Jeroboam to squash the rebellion. But Jeroboam fled to Egypt and stayed there out of Solomon’s reach until Solomon’s death. It was then that we find out about Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and how he assumed the throne after his father’s death.
1 Kings 11:42-43 – The length of Solomon’s reign in Jerusalem over all Israel totaled forty years. Solomon rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of his father David. His son Rehoboam became king in his place.
Just as Solomon had received the throne of Israel from his father, David, Rehoboam received the throne from his father, Solomon. Now, here’s where we can begin to consider some ramifications of the teachings of the Proverbs and how it relates to the heart. It is not beyond reason to consider that Rehoboam, as Solomon’s heir, was the son who is mentioned throughout the Proverbs.
- Proverbs 5:1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel.
- Proverbs 6:20 My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
- Proverbs 7:1 Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands.
If this is the case, one would think that Rehoboam would have been groomed as a righteous and upstanding individual who would have been well-fitted to sit on the throne of Israel. These wise admonitions from his father, proverbs which we are still learning from three thousand years later, should have been so relevant to Rehoboam that there would have been no question of his integrity or wisdom.
However, the Bible records that Rehoboam did not follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, David, or in the wisdom of his father, Solomon. When given the opportunity to act wisely regarding what the tenor of his new kingly administration would be, Rehoboam disregarded the wisdom of his father’s advisors and instead chose to follow his own ambition and the advice of his friends.
1 Kings 12:1- Then Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king.
Now the plot thickens. Solomon is dead, his son Rehoboam is about to be crowned as king. But what about Jeroboam, the industrious and energetic leader that the prophet Ahijah had said would rule over the ten northern tribes, who had fled to Egypt?
1 Kings 12:2-3 – When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard about it, he stayed in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon’s presence. Jeroboam stayed in Egypt. But they summoned him…
Those who had heard about Jeroboam and Ahijah sent for Jeroboam and told him that Solomon had died and what was about to transpire with the transfer of the entire kingdom to Solomon’s son Rehoboam. They must have convinced Jeroboam to come back and represent the labor forces of the ten northern tribes, much like a union negotiation might take place today.
1 Kings 12:3-17 – …Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam: “Your father made our yoke harsh. You, therefore, lighten your father’s harsh service and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam replied, “Go away for three days and then return to me.” So the people left. Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon when he was alive, asking, “How do you advise me to respond to this people? ” They replied, “Today if you will be a servant to this people and serve them, and if you respond to them by speaking kind words to them, they will be your servants forever.” But he rejected the advice of the elders who had advised him and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and attended him. He asked them, “What message do you advise that we send back to this people who said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’? ” Then the young men who had grown up with him told him, “This is what you should say to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you, make it lighter on us! ‘ This is what you should tell them: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! “Although my father burdened you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips.’ ” So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had ordered: “Return to me on the third day.” Then the king answered the people harshly. He rejected the advice the elders had given him and spoke to them according to the young men’s advice: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips.” The king did not listen to the people, because this turn of events came from Yahweh to carry out his word, which Yahweh had spoken through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat. When all Israel saw that the king had not listened to them, the people answered him: What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Israel, return to your tents; David, now look after your own house! So Israel went to their tents, but Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites living in the cities of Judah.
After all that had transpired, everything unfolded just as God had foretold through the prophet Ahijah. The kingdom was now divided under two rival leaders, Solomon’s son Rehoboam ruling over Benjamin and Judah, and the popular leader Jeroboam ruling over the northern ten tribes of Israel.
In a moment, we will take a look at how all of this applies to the matters of the heart, and how a loss of vigilance over the purity of the heart can lead to strife and division.
Solomon’s admonitions to his son throughout the book of Proverbs fall along the same lines as the charge of David that Solomon himself received as a young man.
1 Kings 2:1-3 – As the time approached for David to die, he ordered his son Solomon, “As for me, I am going the way of all of the earth. Be strong and be a man, “and keep your obligation to Yahweh your God to walk in his ways and to keep his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees. This is written in the law of Moses, so that you will have success in everything you do and wherever you turn,
The narrative then tells us that this is what Solomon did, at least early on in his reign over the people of Israel.
1 Kings 3:3 – Solomon loved Yahweh by walking in the statutes of his father David…
Here we see unfolding the roots of Solomon’s upbringing, how early in his adult life he followed his father David by following the righteous example David had set in regard to the commands of God. It appears that, throughout the Proverbs, Solomon was attempting to instill that same sense of vigilance and right actions in his son, Rehoboam. In the fourth chapter of Proverbs, in typical Hebraic fashion, Solomon lays out a string of admonitions for Rehoboam that each build upon one another:
Proverbs 4:20-27 – My son, pay attention to my words. Open your ears to what I say. Do not lose sight of these things. Keep them deep within your heart because they are life to those who find them and they heal the whole body. Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. Remove dishonesty from your mouth. Put deceptive speech far away from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead and your sight be focused in front of you. Carefully walk a straight path, and all your ways will be secure. Do not lean to the right or to the left. Walk away from evil.
Here we see revealed for us how the root of remaining vigilant and keeping one’s way pure is centered on the heart: “…keep [my words] deep within your heart…Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.”
According to the Bible, the heart is the wellspring of life. All thoughts and consequent actions flow from the heart, therefore, a pure heart means a pure walk.
A thousand years after Solomon, Yeshua also instructed his followers that what one says, and thereby does, comes from what is within the heart:
Luke 6:45 – The good person out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil person out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
So, taking the full counsel of God’s wisdom into account, in like fashion, when we keep God’s word deep within our hearts, our walk becomes more sure. Dishonesty and deceptive speech disappear. Distractions from the way of truth become less frequent. Our way becomes more firm as we stay on the path laid out for us. We find the strength to walk away from evil.
It would seem that Rehoboam acted foolishly by following his own ambition and the advice of his friends, not because he didn’t have the instruction of the wisdom of God from his father, Solomon, but because his heart was not right. He desired to “make his mark” by becoming a harsh and unreasonable ruler over God’s people. Even though he had been personally counseled by the author of the Proverbs, it appears that it wasn’t that the instruction was faulty, but the example set by his father Solomon.
Proverbs 23:26 – O my son, give me your heart. Let your eyes observe my ways.
As Solomon’s rule continued to slide further into idolatry and slave labor of his people, Rehoboam must have seen that as a path to his own future administration. Rather than following the clear-headed wisdom of his father from his younger days, he appears to have chosen the way of his own ambition and popularity with his friends, following the ways of the example of his father during the latter years of his reign. The end result was not a stronger nation, but a civil war that split the kingdom in two.
This proverb now takes on the light of a different color. While the story of Rehoboam is not a picture of encouragement, it still has the power to teach us one of its lessons. It may be that Rehoboam actually followed his father’s direction by “following his ways.” As Solomon’s rule became more compromised by idolatry, Rehoboam simply took his father’s “ways” to a new level.
Now, I am not suggesting that Rehoboam had no responsibility in the matter, as we all make decisions that have real-world consequences. But what I am proposing is how powerful the example of a parent is to a child, or even a mentor to the student. It is not always what is said or taught, but what is lived.
I believe this is why Yeshua stressed the importance of the heart condition above obedience to the letter of the law.
- Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Matthew 15:19 – “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander.
- Matthew 18:35 – “So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
- Mark 7:6 – He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
- Luke 6:45 – “A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.
- Luke 10:27 – He answered, “Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.”
When the heart is right, right actions will follow. And when right actions are evident, then positive examples are set for others to see and follow, as well. This story of Rehoboam should sound a note of of warning to our ears. While it is a prime example of how we cannot be vigilant in the wisdom of God unless the wisdom of God is in our hearts in the first place, it also demonstrates how the example of our life has the powerful potential to influence others in ways that honor God.
This is why the motivation to stay on the right path begins with vigilance: a vigilant determination to keep our hearts pure at all costs. By being committed to remain faithful to the deep truths God has placed there, then, just like a true child of the Proverbs, we can find deep reserves of strength to always do what’s right, bringing forth “good treasure” and positive examples for others to see. When we do so, God’s purposes can be continually fulfilled within each generation as we remain faithful to his will in both our hearts and our actions. And when God’s will is accomplished on earth as it is in heaven, this is the tangible expression of the Kingdom of God and how it will continue to spread until it fills the earth.
If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at email@example.com.