5.38 1 Kings -- The Religious Problem
There was considerable debate within the later Jewish tradition about the morality of Solomon’s marriage. Israelites were forbidden from marrying Canaanites (Deut 7:1-5), but there is no mention of Egyptians. Deut 23:7 commands the Israelites “do not abhor” an Edomite or an Egyptian. This indicates at least quasi-acceptance of these ethnic groups, but that is not the same as condoning inter-marriage. In general, Scripture’s antipathy was based not on race, but on the fear of contamination by foreign gods (Ex 34:16, Judg 3:6) -- a fear which proved to be tragically well-founded.
The situation with Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, however, is parallel to that of Moses and the Cushite woman, which we have examined earlier (Num 12). Though Moses’ marriage sparked a major family uproar, God never reproached Moses for his choice. Nor did He ever endorse the woman. We concluded that Moses’ marriage was not sinful. And so, in this case, neither was Solomon’s. The very next event that Scripture records was an encounter between God and Solomon, in the form of a dream. This was a dream of blessing, not of warning or punishment. God didn’t even mention the marriage. Surely, if Solomon had already sinned in a major way, God would have let him know, either in this dream or through the words of Nathan or another prophet.
And yet… see below, section 5.39.
But it must be admitted that, even if not sinful, Solomon’s marriage wasn’t “wise” -- despite his later reputation for this quality. It set a very bad precedent and poor role model, not just for future kings, but for ordinary Israelites. “If the king can marry an Egyptian, why can’t I?” “Yes, and if he can marry an Egyptian, I shall take a Philistine wife.” The result was a breaking down of the barriers God so stringently erected between His people and everybody else, barriers that the Israelites were always eager to defy. Now Solomon led the charge to tear down the walls. Pharaoh’s daughter was no Ruth -- there is no hint that she left the Egyptian culture and religion to join that of her husband: “your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
The big issue for some people in our day is the conclusion that Solomon married an African woman. The precise coloring of her skin is entirely a matter of (racist) speculation, since it can never be known whether she was olive or ebony hued. Again, this only recapitulates the lessons we learned from Moses and the Cushite woman: there is no curse on the children of Ham apart from Canaan. God did not permit inter-marriage between His chosen people and a defiled race, as shown by the explicit prohibition of marrying the Canaanites. Yet we have two rulers of Israel marrying two descendants of Ham -- a Cushite and an Egyptian -- and God was silent in both cases. The inescapable conclusion is that neither of these nations is defiled.