5.51 1 Kings -- Beginning of the End
As great as was the fame and glory of Solomon in his heyday, so abject was his fall and his failure. Solomon, chosen of God and bearer of the covenant blessing, reprised Esau's role of exchanging his birthright for a mess of pottage. And it was not just his own life and reign that were affected: the nation itself collapsed as a result of his sins. He betrayed the legacy of David. For the first 10 chapters of 1 Kings, we read nothing but praise and boasting of Solomon and his achievements. But after chapter 10, the good news ends, and the bad news never ceases. Chapter 11 is the Continental Divide of the historical books (Joshua through 2 Kings) -- till then we are climbing, building, increasing, gaining ground as a nation. From 11 onwards, the story moves continuously downhill, to dissension, idolatry, civil war, invasion, and finally destruction. What starts as a snowball on the top of a hill becomes an avalanche as it hits the lower slopes -- and it was Solomon who started the snowball rolling.
Chap 11 begins:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 11:1).
There follows a list of surrounding countries from which he obtained his wives: Moab, Ammon, Edom, Phoenicia, Hittites. Note that Egypt is not in this list: Pharaoh's daughter was unique. The Bible then reminds us that God had prohibited intermarriage with these nations (Ex 34:16). But when Solomon chose to disobey the Lord, he did so in a big way:
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 (1 Kings 11:2-3).
Actually, Solomon went astray long before his wives influenced him. Anyone who can keep a stable of 1000 women for his private use is in serious moral trouble, especially if he considers this "love." Do we not see in Solomon a continuation of his father's sexual sin? David had no limitations on the number of his own marital partners (2 Sam 3:2-5, 2 Sam 5:13) and honored no boundaries when it came to Bathsheba. Only the interposition of Nathan the prophet ruined his perfect plan. Solomon was driven by the same lasciviousness, but knew no check to his desires. There was no prophetic intervention to call him to account.
Was not this unbridled excess part and parcel of his prosperity? Solomon had everything in excess: gold, ships, lands, peacocks, chariots, camels. Weren't women just another measure of personal status? -- if so, the more the better. It is wrong to think of this man as a great lover, a man of romance and passion. The passions that moved him were the baser ones, not those that honor marriage, women and the family. Instead, he should be remembered as the Great Adulterer, who was faithless to the wife of his youth, the daughter of Pharaoh.
So the sin is on the other foot: it was Solomon who led his 700 wives astray. These women followed foreign gods: Ashtoreth, Molech, Chemosh, etc. But this was normal for them, they had grown up in those cultures. In fact, living as they did in a harem, they may have learned a reluctant tolerance for each other's idols and ceremonies. Nothing they saw in Solomon persuaded them of the superiority of the Israelite God.
Solomon's wisdom became corrupted by his wealth. And by his lusts:
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods (1 Kings 11:4).
This is a weak man. It is not just that he permitted these women to worship the gods of their homelands, but that he allowed them to corrupt his own faith. They coddled him and wheedled him to let them build shrines and temples and hold feast days for their gods, then begged him to attend. The zeal of the young Solomon who had built the Temple was diluted by decades of soft living. To appease his wives and keep peace in the palace, he built altars to multiple deities in the hills (1 Kings 11:7). This far exceeded the sin of Saul, who had presumed to offer sacrifice when Samuel did not show up (1 Sam 13:8-9).
As with Saul, the calling and gift of God to Solomon did not guarantee his own steadfastness. That enduement gave Saul and Solomon the ability to rule Israel, but it did not give them an obedient heart. It did not make them or David "holy" men, that is free from worldly desires and immune from temptations. Just like an ordinary Israelite, these kings had the responsibility of seeking the face of God, of humbling themselves before His will, of offering sacrifices for the forgiveness of their own sins. If they neglected these activities, they could lose their favor with God:
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 (1 Kings 11:9).
The wording here is significant. Solomon's "heart had turned away." But if it turned "away", the corollary is that it also turned "towards" -- towards the women and the soft life of the super-rich. And then the phrase: "the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice." These revelations were a special privilege, One-on-one encounters with God, in which He entrusted Solomon with His historic work. Solomon was the Covenant-bearer in his generation, but he spurned the God who gave him that task.
The New Testament speaks directly to this condition, and warns us:
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col 3:2 KJV).
This was the root of Solomon’s failure. When we remember the writings attributed to Solomon in Scripture, we find some proverbs, a long rambling philosophical work (if he wrote Ecclesiastes), and a passionate love poem to a woman. But, as with Saul, we do not find any psalms, which were David’s love poems to God. Solomon wasn't totally cerebral, a man of clever epigrams, but he poured his passion into fleshly living (and fine food -- 1 Kings 10:5), and not into devotion to God. This was the flaw in the man that cost Israel its empire.