17 March 2011

The peril of the "if only"

by Dan Phillips

Last post was pretty long; this one, not so much.

In my reading through the Hebrew OT, I just arrived Wednesday at perhaps the most depressing verse in the Bible, and at the same time one of the scariest. That would be 1 Kings 11:1, which begins "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women...." Of course, that verse is just the opening note of the narrative of Solomon's dismal descent into spiritual wreck and ruin.

The passage stands out like a lump of coal on a field of fresh-fallen snow, coming as it does after the previous chapters' extended narrative of spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and material blessedness. One reaches the end of chapter ten, virtually expecting to read of Jesus gently touching down in Jerusalem and commencing the Millennial Kingdom, right then and there.

Yet we read the resounding clang of doom: "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women...." Oh no; he loved them. In fact, "clung to these in love" (v. 2b). But he was supposed to love Yahweh with all his heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). He was supposed to cling to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 10:20). He knew that. And Yahweh said not to marry women from these nations (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Solomon knew that, too. He knew all that (1 Kings 2:3; cf. Proverbs 4:3-4).

Another thing Solomon knew was
Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge
(Proverbs 19:27)
...which Solomon clearly did, and which Solomon clearly did, respectively.

What a calamity. So wise, so blessed, so favored... such a fall. No Millennial Kingdom for Solomon. Even such a blessed, wise, godly man — still, the Cross loomed as an absolute necessity.

Now the punch-line.

Some time past, I wrote in my BW notes:
Here, it all goes south. This is SO DEPRESSING to read!  But what a solemn and needed warning.  Was any man ever so blessed as Solomon?  God had visited and spoken to him; He had blessed Solomon in every way imaginable -- spiritually, psychologically, materially, socially, martially, politically, he was in the best shape a mortal could be.  And what was the outcome?  What was the result of meeting every one of Solomon's needs?  Did it produce godliness, holiness, contentment?  No. His heart was weaned away from God by loving idolatrous women.  Listen up, my soul. You dream how great everything would be if only, if only, if only? Look at Solomon.  Fear.

Postscript: possible companion-pieces here, here, and here.

Dan Phillips's signature


Steve Berven said...

There's a country-western song which has the refrain, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers."

I have seen this born out in my life repeatedly. We can get all the "stuff" we want, but it never seems like enough. Maybe because we are wanting the wrong things?

Perhaps saying "May all your wishes come true" stands more as a curse than a blessing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

As a Doctrines of Grace adherent, King Solomon doesn't exactly exemplify the Perseverance of the Saints, does he?

His life story at the end certainly is scary.

Sometimes women > wisdom. Contemporary example is perhaps Charlie Sheen.

donsands said...

If only I had that one thing. What I really mean is that one thing more.
From an old Rich Mullins tune.

Good post. Our three enemies are mighty: the devils in this world, this world, and our flesh.
But greater is He who is in me.

Paul learned how to be content with abundance and with nothing. I pray we can learn this as well.

JackW said...

There was this country that was just full of Solomon’s and to no one’s surprise, the country itself took on the Solomon persona.

NoLongerBlind said...

Great, thought-provoking post.

Brings of my favorite Proverbs to mind:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

(Prov. 30:8-9)

P.S. Pretty amazing (Providential!) word verif.: Paties - today, 3/17, St. "Pattie's" Day, is the 15-year 'anniversary' (for lack of a better term) of my wife Pattie's stroke. We were not believers at the time; our infinitely wise, loving, gracious and merciful Lord Sovereignly used the ensuing circumstances to bring both of us to repentance and saving faith.

Tom W.

Anonymous said...


I've always understood, especially via Ecclesiastes, that Solomon return to the Lord before his end.

Great post, and needed warning Dan. I've often seen Saul in that same light. He had it all (although not in a Solomonic way) and wanted more. His life has always terrified and saddened me.

DJP said...

NLB - perfect vs.

The point is: whoever thinks, "I'd be happy and content IF ONLY {external situation change}," doesn't fully get the whole being-a-Christian thing.

Not that situations don't need change, not that praying for situational change is bad, not that working for situation change is bad. But putting off happiness, because in effect God and His promises are not good enough reason truly to be joyous, is a problem.

John said...

Humbling. I pray we (me and other Christians living today) get it.

The Squirrel said...

Good reminder that we are all "works in progress" - if we ever think we've got it down, look out!

Thanks, Dan.


Steve Berven said...

Kind of goes back to the two sons at the banquet table. If you're always waiting for and wanting something ELSE, something better it shows a basic dissatisfaction with what God has already blessed you with.

Because you don't recognize it AS blessing.

Seth said...

Thanks for making me think! I succumb to the "if only I made more money..." statement every now and then. Great post.

DJP said...

That's why Solomon so gets me, Seth. What category of circumstance-change might we wish for, that Solomon didn't already have? And where did that lead, for him? Do we think we're better?

Brad Williams said...

Everytime I think about Solomon, I get Jim from Huckleberry Finn in my head talking about Solomon and all his wives and children.

Anyway, I am perfectly happy with the one wife that I have. But man, if I could just get more blog traffic...

Cathy said...

If only I could eat the fruit from that one tree over there...

Cathy said...

Whoops- was thinking of discontentment when I wrote that comment- before I looked at your third link.

semijohn said...

If only I could stop saying "If only".

DJP said...

Then maybe you'd be "Allthewayjohn."


semijohn said...

Nice, Dan. I'll have to add that one to my "if only" list:)

An odd thought, though: Can "if only" also refer to wanting to avoid the possible or inevitable change? Maybe a la Jonah? Or am I going way beyond the focus?

Wendy said...

I think any "if only" is wrong. On one hand, you are dissatisfied with what God is not doing in your life and on the other hand, you are dissatisfied with what God is doing in your life.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...


I've always understood, especially via Ecclesiastes, that Solomon return to the Lord before his end.

Thanks Daryl. I certainly hope that that is indeed what happened with Solomon.

Solomon's story shows us that even the wisest of us can backslide on occasion.

Scooter said...

This message was unusually relevant for me. One could almost say providential...

Freeman said...

(@ OP) Hence the need for burkas. (Or does that apply more in David's case?)


(Word veri = "aright" !)

Freeman said...

PS: "never satisfied are the eyes of man" (Prov. 27:7)

Thomas Louw said...

Just the point most prosperity guys miss.
The point most of us miss.
The point I regularly choose to forget.
Fear of God the beginning of all wisdom.
The one thing persecute you need to fear God is to always now He is present.

thomas4881 said...

Deuteronomy is the foundation for much of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy is synonymous with "I told you so"!

Matthew D. Schultz said...

Related, cf. Romans 1:18-32, where a form of God's punishment is to give sinners over to what they desire, handing them over to their sinful passions.

Rachael Starke said...

I intentionally reread this (and the accompanying one on Colossians) because I had a hard heart yesterday and this morning over God inexplicably seeming to not be willing to give me something I really need (I speak as a sinful fool). The conviction was a little much. Shoulda just picked up Osteen or something....

;) Thanks for the exhortation. It was and is very needed.

DJP said...

"WARNING: do not take your DJP on an empty stomach. Have some Osteen first."

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...


Another wonderful article! Particularly what it says to me is that our hearts cannot be satisfied apart from Christ. Though we have the world, our hearts would still desire more, and would still run head first into destruction. Solomon had it all, transgressed, and eventually learned what in life truly had any value; namely God.

In like manner when I begin to consider all the things that would make my life right, I should step back and fearfully consider the example found in Solomon.

Perhaps I'm misreading?

In any case, I found much to take away from this article. Thank you.



trogdor said...

Paul summed it up in Philippians 4:12-13. Having little is a test of contentment, but so is having plenty. We must learn to be content in all circumstances - and the secret is to find contentment in Christ alone.