"After Me, the Deluge"
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
January 26, 2003
1 Kings 11:1-13 Solomon's
wives and their gods
however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites,
Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. They were from nations about
which the Lord had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them,
because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless,
Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth,
and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew
old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully
devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He
followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the detestable god
of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not
follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
On a hill east of
Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab,
and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all
his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.
The Lord became
angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of
Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to
follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord's command. So the Lord said
to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and
my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away
from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake
of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it
out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him,
but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake
of Jerusalem, which I have chosen."
Matthew 24:1-8 Signs of the end of the age
Jesus left the
temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his
attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell
you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be
As Jesus was
sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell
us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your
coming, and of the end of the age?"
"Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming,
'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of
wars, but do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to
come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of
Arcana Coelestia #842.3 Chaos and order
Before anything is
restored to order, it is very common for everything first to be reduced to a
state of confusion resembling chaos. In this way, things that are not
compatible may be separated from one another. Once they have been separated,
the Lord arranges them into order.
Events like this
take place in nature also, where every single thing is first reduced to a
state of confusion before being put in its proper place. Unless atmospheric
conditions included strong winds to disperse contaminants, the air could not
possibly be cleared, and toxic substances would accumulate in it.
The same applies to
the human body. All things in the bloodstream, both contaminants and normal
constituents of the blood, flow together continually and repeatedly into the
same heart, where they are mixed together. Without this, the vital fluids
would be in danger of clotting, and each constituent could not be precisely
organized to perform its proper function.
The same thing
applies to our spiritual rebirth.
The Lord said to
Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my
decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away
from you and give it to one of your subordinates." (1 Kings 11:11)
Have you ever had
one of those times when you felt that your whole life had come to an end? A
time when everything that mattered was lost, destroyed, crushed, ruined?
I suspect every one
of us has experienced a time like this--and many of us more than once in the
course of our lifetimes. It is a terrible, sinking feeling. It's like in the
old movies where one of the characters is galloping madly along on a horse,
and sees the cliff too late to rein the horse in, and both horse and rider go
hurtling over the edge of the cliff to their deaths. It is the feeling of
having gone off the cliff, and now there is nothing we can do but wait, in
those frozen moments that seem like hours, for our own inevitable end.
It is even worse
when, as we go over that cliff, we realize that it's our own darn fault that
we're there. As we contemplate the abyss rushing up on us, we realize that we
got to this point-of-no-return by ignoring all those warnings, by pressing on
ahead against the advice and even the pleading of our family and friends, and
by silencing our own higher self, which had been trying desperately to get us
to take a better path. So as we rush toward our doom, we engage in a sort of
deathbed repentance, in which we finally (when it seems too late anyway)
castigate ourselves for our obstinacy and our wrongful behavior. We may even
promise we'll change our ways if we miraculously manage to survive.
Or, we may still
not see the error of our ways, and go out blaming our destruction on everyone
else except ourselves. It doesn't matter. Our life as we knew it is
over, no matter whose fault we think it is. Whether we got ourselves into this
mess, or we are a victim of someone else, or it was just circumstances, or
some combination, if we survive the crash at all, everything will be
different. Our old life will be gone. We will have to start over. And it
certainly looks like even if we do survive, things will be a lot worse than
they were before.
In our Old
Testament reading for today, King Solomon was looking over just this kind of
Solomon had had a
glorious reign. His father David, who was the most successful military leader
in Israel's history, had greatly enlarged the kingdom, expanding it to reach
lucrative seaports and control crucial trade routes. Solomon's wealth and
splendor was built on the conquests of his father. And as so often happens
when we are living off the labor of others, Solomon began to take all that
wealth and power for granted. And he began to abuse it, increasingly focusing
his life on glory and pleasure rather than on the wise governing of his
kingdom. Thus he set himself--or rather, he set up his son Rehoboam--for the
inevitable collapse of the kingdom.
There is an old
French saying (which I won't attempt to repeat in French): "After me, the
deluge." It is said that France's King Louis XV made this remark when taken to
task for his extravagance; but it was probably his mistress, the dazzling
Madame de Pompadour, who actually said it. Either way, it turned out to be
prophetic. Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XV, reaped the whirlwind sown by
his predecessors, and was swept away in the French Revolution--even though he
himself was relatively modest, unassuming, and moral.
By that time the
die had been cast. The burden of ostentatious and wasteful spending, and
continued ruinous wars, had stretched the country's economy and the people's
patience to their limit. The monarchy had sown the seeds of its own
destruction. And though France's subsequent history was quite turbulent, the
country eventually settled down to become a parliamentary democracy, its
monarchy a thing of the past. The deluge had swept away the old, and made room
for the new.
It would be nice if
the story of Solomon's kingdom and nation had a happy ending. Alas, Israel
never recovered from the deluge that followed his reign. After Solomon, the
northern kingdom was torn from the hands of his son Rehoboam, just as the Lord
had predicted to Solomon. The kingdom continued divided until the northern
kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrian Empire, and never heard
In course of time,
the southern kingdom of Judah was also taken captive, by the Babylonian
Empire. And though a group of Israelites did return after seventy years and
rebuild the temple, Israel as a nation was never revived in Biblical times.
The Israel of New Testament times was not a sovereign nation, but a province
of the Roman Empire, ruled by Roman governors and by local puppet kings. And
as predicted in our New Testament reading, even these last vestiges of the
nation of Israel came to an end in 70 AD, when, responding to a Jewish
rebellion, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and banished the
Jews from Palestine on pain of death. If there had been any doubt before, it
was now clear that Israel was finished.
It would be nice if
I could stand here and tell you that whenever we have a major crisis in our
lives, it is always leading toward something good. But neither history nor
individual experience bears that out. All the crisis does is sweep out the
old, so that our lives can never be the same again. What happens next--whether
our lives go in a good direction or a bad one from there--depends very much on
how we respond, and what we do next.
Yes, the crisis is
useful and necessary. Generally we come to one of those cliff-edge experiences
when our life has settled into a pattern that is inherently unstable, or even
toxic. And that means we will be destroyed if something doesn't break up our
pattern. As Swedenborg says in our reading from Arcana Coelestia,
"Before anything is restored to order, it is very common for everything first
to be reduced to a state of confusion resembling chaos. In this way, things
that are not compatible may be separated from one another." And though it may
feel like the Lord has struck us a blow due to our thoughtless and evil ways,
in fact it is the thoughtlessness and evil itself that has brought about the
To use the example
of another modern nation, when the Soviet Union collapsed a little over a
decade ago, our country enjoyed taking credit for its demise. It was because
of our steadfast resistance to communism, we said, and our military buildup,
which the Soviet Union couldn't match without crippling its economy. But the
Soviet economy was already crippled by the contradictions within its own
system of government. The Soviet Union did not collapse because of outside
pressure, but because the economic and political principles it followed were
unsound. In other words, the Soviet Union internally sowed the seeds of its
own destruction, and those seeds ripened in, yes, about seventy years.
Though the Lord
does not bring about these crises that sweep out the old, they are a
part of the Lord's providence in keeping humanity as a whole, and each of us
as individuals, moving forward instead of stagnating socially, politically,
and--most important of all--spiritually. Evil is inherently self-contradictory
and unstable. And to the extent that we participate in it--whether consciously
or unconsciously, whether intentionally or not--our lives will carry seeds of
instability and contradiction that must eventually end in a crisis, a chaos,
that will break up and sweep away our old, unworkable patterns of living.
inevitable breakup happens; when we find ourselves sailing over that cliff, it
certainly does look like our life is over. And in a sense, it is over.
A death is taking place. It is the death of our old self.
Yet our church
teaches us that death is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is a normal
and necessary part of existence. Our old self must die if we are to be
reborn as a new person. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless a grain of
wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it
dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). Just as our former life carried
the seeds of its own destruction, so the death of our old life carries the
seeds of a new and more abundant life.
Will those seeds
grow and bear fruit? That, as I said, is up to us. It is quite possible for
our old self to die, and for us to continue clinging to it so tenaciously that
we die right along with it. Some alcoholics, for example, never give up their
drinking even when they have lost family, friends, work, health, and
everything else. They go to their grave with a bottle in their hand. Rebirth
is not inevitable.
But it is
possible. And it is not our work, but the Lord's. This is the crucial matter
to understand. We cannot cause our own rebirth, any more than we can cause a
seed to grow. We can only let go of our old, destructive feelings, attitudes,
and habits, and allow the Lord not only to plant the seeds of the new, but
cause them to grow and be fruitful in our lives.
The crisis, the
deluge, is precisely about letting go of our own control of our lives, and
turning our lives over to God. Only the Lord's way is eternal. Our own way is
temporary, and must eventually come to an end. Every time we go through a
crisis, and it shakes us loose from controlling one more part of our lives in
favor of putting the Lord in charge there, we replace the temporary with the
eternal, and allow the Lord to prepare eternal mansions for us in heaven.
"Nation will rise
against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and
earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."
Music: Fragments of My Soul
©2003 Bruce DeBoer
Used with Permission