Reflections on King Solomon’s Problems
We came to the end of a series on the life of Solomon on Sunday morning and I had the dubious honour of handling the last bit. It struck me that Solomon’s fall is one of the strangest and most alarming episodes in Israel’s history. Think of all that Solomon was and did:
- Chosen to be David’s anointed successor – over and above his older brothers (1Ki 1-2)
- Offered anything he wants from God (1Ki 3:5) – he asks for the greatest thing: wisdom, with the result that all other blessings were given him.
- Commissioned by God to build the temple, something his father wasn’t allowed to do (1Ki 6)
- Visited by the Queen of Sheba (1Ki 10) who is wowed by everything she witnesses… And gives credit where credit is due
Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness. (1Ki 10:9)
This was the Mount Everest of the Bible – things never got better. In fact, things went dramatically downhill after this. In large part because things went dramatically downhill for Solomon. In fact, despite only seeing the king’s dark side in 1Kings 11, the passage for Sunday, the seeds were there for years.
- Overwhelming opulence – the catalogue of his wealth (esp 1Ki 10:14-29) is positively obscene.
- The Hugh Hefner of the ancient world? He had 1000 women in his official entourage – who knows how many ‘unofficial’ women there were.
But no doubt some contemporaries saw this as merely an ancient expression of divine blessing and national prestige.
The thing that haunts me is how on earth the man who sought God’s wisdom became such a fool. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this since Sunday, and it strikes me that a couple of things are crucial – and very important lessons for us
- A Drifting Heart: throughout his work, the writer of 1 & 2 Kings is seeking to explain first the nation’s split (after Solomon died) and then ultimately how the 2 Israelite kingdoms ended up in destruction and exile. One of his key interpretative grids is formed by Deuteronomy 17‘s instructions for the king. And a central instruction is for the king to protect his heart. Notice how often we’re told in 1Ki11 that Solomon’s heart was affected: went astray (v3), turned and not fully devoted (v4), turned away (v9) – in contrast to his father David (v6). Ever so subtle, perhaps, but lethal nonetheless.
- An Unaccountable Authority: but there is another contrast with David, even more scary. Where were the Nathans in Solomon’s court, the prophets who would speak truth to power. David wasn’t perfect by any stretch. But he had faithful people who stepped up to challenge him, no doubt with knees knocking. And David turned back. There’s no record of anyone doing that. Perhaps some tried – there’s a hint that some might have done in v2, but the king was defiant and unassailable.
Woe to those of us who don’t watch their hearts, and who allow no one to question or challenge them. For the heart is deceitful above all things.
Some have asked for the C S Lewis quote that I used on Sunday, so here it is:
Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature — either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself.
To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. (Mere Christianity, pp86-87)