Category: Devotional

The Consequences of Compromise

Compromise has amassed quite a following for itself. We tend to see it as an almost-ideal solution to thorny problems. And often that is true. Often compromise is a great solution, but not always. We should not always default to compromising, instead assessing the situation and determining what course of action is most warranted.

A trivial example: some years ago my brother and his roommate were planning to make themselves some chocolate milk using a mix. They both poured glasses of milk and grabbed the chocolate sauce. But my brother’s roommate quickly realized that there wasn’t enough sauce for both of them to have a chocolate milk so it took it for himself. My brother said, “why not split it?” and his roommate replied, “Is it better for both of us to have bad chocolate milk, or one of us to have good chocolate milk?” My brother relented, seeing the truth in his logic. I would say that the Christian thing to do would have been to sacrifice my own pleasure and give the good one to my roommate, but in this case, my brother’s roommate was not a Christian.

In today’s reading we see a similar situation unfold; starting and ending with bad compromises. Numbers 33:55-56 reads:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.

Numbers 33:55-56 (NIV)

Yet Solomon decides that rather than drive those who remain OUT of the land, they will instead be used as cheap labour. Cheap labour to build the temple of the Lord, no less! Again, God offers a warning that Solomon takes no heed of. And then at the end of today’s reading we see this:

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem.

2 Kings 10:26 (NIV)

Which looks eerily similar to this:

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”

Deuteronomy 17:16 (NIV)

How long do you think you can disregard the commands, decrees, regulations, and warnings of the Lord before it finally does you in? How long before spiritual disaster, calamity, or even death come to you? This, dear friends, is playing with fire and it’s a bad idea. Don’t test the Lord. That is a fool’s game.

Under My Own Power

I often see people cite Deuteronomy 17:17 when talking about David and Solomon, both of whom had multiple wives. And in the case of Solomon (who neared 1,000 when you factor in concubines) we see the direct statement in 1 Kings 11:3 that this did indeed result in his heart of hearts being led astray. But God never addresses Polygamy head-on as a perversion of marriage even though it is CLEARLY in contravention of Genesis 2:24 & Matthew 19:5-6.

But I actually don’t think this passage (17:17) addresses the king having more than one wife any more than the previous verse addresses the king having more than one horse (17:16). These two verses are about how Israel is to run itself as a nation, and not really about the behaviour of the king specifically. At this time there still was no king. Nor would there be for a while to come. They have the reign of Joshua still ahead of them, then the Judges… then the Kings. No what’s happening here is the establishment of a new nation with guiding principles. And God recognizes that how the king (or queen or whatever head-of-state) conducts himself will signal to the people how things ought to be done. The king is accountable for what he models for his people.

All of that to say, let’s look at what each of these prohibitions means.

  1. The king may not acquire a great number of horses — God doesn’t care how many horses the king has. God is not telling the king to be a one-horse man. Rather, the horse was a symbol of military strength. God didn’t want Israel to hoard weapons of mass destruction because they were to rely on Him! He says as much in 20:1! Amassing military strength demonstrated a lack of trust in the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Solomon did this in spades (1 Kings 10:26)!
  2. The king may not send to Egypt for horses — Egyptian horses were considered to be the best horses in the Ancient Near East, taller and larger than the northern breeds. So you can see why the temptation to buy some of those sweet Egyptian studs might have been large. But the problem here is that God delivered the people FROM enslavement in Egypt, so to turn BACK to the enslaver for protection rather than the God who showed his might against them is a slap in the face to God. Solomon, of course, did this too (1 Kings 10:29). And was called out for in Isaiah 30:1-5.
  3. The king may not take many wives — This was less about marriage and more about treaties with other nations. It was common to make a deal with the king of another nation and secure it with a marriage. A son from one side would marry a daughter from the other. This was — essentially — using children as a sort of contract signature. To highlight the strength of the bond between the two nations. Why did this matter, though? Because it was a sign of political strength. Why would Nation X try to attack me if I have the support through treaties with Nations A, B, and C? And, of course, Nation E cannot attack because we have a treaty between the two of us. Once again, God is our peace and protector. We should not be trying to do his job! God doesn’t like it when we sit on His throne. And of course, these close bonds lead to adoption of worldviews, ideas, and beliefs — all of which can (and do) draw us away from God. And yes, Solomon did this as well (1 Kings 11:1-13).
  4. The king may not amass silver and gold — This is monetary strength. Having a “war chest” of sorts. Riches and opulence give us a sense of security. Confidence. Importance. Again, this is a distraction. We shouldn’t seek to acquire money just for the sake of having the money. God is our provider, not ourselves. We need to be good stewards, we need to work hard, we need to make the most of the gifts & blessings God has given us… but that doesn’t mean we bask in it, embrace it, and love it. In fact we are warned quite sternly that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). And yes, Solomon also fell into this trap (1 Kings 10:27).

So then, should we marry as many people as we like? No. Of course not. But we also need to remember to trust in God’s provision and protection. This is not a call to recklessness or a vow of poverty, but it is a call to put every decision before the Lord and allow Him to make use of what you have been given. Don’t make and execute a plan then invite God to tag along. He’s not your kid brother. Go to God and ask Him to guide you through the planning process. Stop along the way and listen for his voice/leading.

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 | 076/365