Posts Tagged ‘Solomon’

Solomon’s Sinful Splendor

Solomon is one of the more intriguing characters of the Bible.  He was amazingly gifted and blessed by God, yet singlehandedly helped destroy the very nation he was appointed to rule (even if it didn’t fall apart until after his death).  After a rise to the thrown that Michael Corleone would be proud of (if I didn’t know any better, I’d say Mario Puzo wrote the ending to The Godfather after doing his daily devotions in 1 Kings 1-2), he asks for and is granted wisdom by God Himself, along with the promise of wealth, honor and a long life (1 Kings 3:13-14).

Because of God’s promise to Solomon, many of us might read through the accounts of his accumulation of wealth in 1 Kings 9-10 and assume this is simply a fulfillment of what God had promised him.  We might be forgiven in assuming that Solomon’s problems didn’t really start until chapter 11, with his marriage to multiple foreign women and subsequent worship of their gods.  This is, of course, one possible way to read these chapters.  But if we were more familiar with the Lord’s commands to the king back in Deuteronomy, we might not speak so highly of Solomon’s splendor.

In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, God details some of what Israel’s kings are supposed to do.  This passage ends with a command for the king to copy the law down by hand and “read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God.”  So, Solomon should have been well aware of the commands that precede this one.

One obvious command, previously mentioned, that Solomon broke is this one: “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.”  1 Kings 11 is pretty clear that Solomon was guilty of this one.  But there are two other commands that Solomon did not follow: 

  • “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.'”
  • “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver or gold.”

Did Solomon acquire a great number of horses?  “He built up… all his store cities and the towns for his chariots and for his horses” (1 Kings 9:18-19).  “Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift… horses and mules” (1 Kings 10:25).  “Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue… They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty” (1 Kings 10:28-29).  This last reference may also indicate that Solomon disobeyed God’s command about sending his servents to get horses from Egypt, though it doesn’t explicitly state his servants actually traveled there to import them (but I’d still think this is most likely).

Did he accumulate large amounts of silver or gold?  It’d be too much to write out all the verses that indicate that he did in these chapters; it’s fair to say that Solomon managed to form quite a treasury in his time.  Again, I realize that the Lord promised him a wealthy kingdom, but given God’s commands to the king in Deuteronomy 17 and the eventual fall of Solomon, I think it’s hard not see where Solomon had crossed the line into sinful desire for wealth.

Was Solomon “all bad?”  (Are there gradations of evil?)  Of course not.  In many ways, he was a wise king.  He built the Temple, gave Israel peace, wrote thousands of proverbs and songs and dove into the exciting world of botany and zoology.  And yes, the prosperity of the kingdom was a gift from God.  But is it possible that he took a gift from God, and exploited it to his own advantage?  It seems to me that reading 1 Kings 9-11 through the lens of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 would indicate that this is the case.  In the end, he proved not to be wise in the most important matters.  The Lord warned him in 1 Kings 9:3-9 that the kingdom could be taken away and the Temple destroyed.  It was Solomon who made the destructive choices which helped lead to the downfall of all he saw built in his lifetime.  Thus, when all is said and done, Solomon is not as wise as we might think.

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In preparing for my own teaching, I’ve been listening to some more lectures from Dr Douglas Stuart’s OT Survey course, provided free by Biblical Training.  He has one lecture in particular called Three Kings, contrasting David with Saul and Solomon.  In it, he argues that when the Bible says, “The LORD has sought out for himself a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), it is referring to David not being a syncretist, unlike the other two.

My immediate reaction was, “where is there evidence that Saul was a syncretist?”  After all, it isn’t obvious in the narrative.  There are many faults of Saul explicitly detailed, but worshipping other gods isn’t one of them.  Stuart, however, argues that this was the case.

In 2 Samuel 2, Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, was crowned king and set up as a rival to David.  “Ish-bosheth” means “Man of Shame.”  Stuart’s argument is that no one would name their son “Man of Shame,” that this is a later scribal change to his real name.  His real name is to be found in 1 Chronicles 9:39, “Ishbaal.”  This name means “Man of Baal.”  This, of course, could be taken to mean “Man of the Master/Lord,” referring to God himself.  Or it could be taken to refer to the Canaanite deity, Baal.  Stuart’s argument is that the latter is more likely, since it helps explain why he is called “Man of Shame” in Samuel (scribal change, possibly to avoid the use of the name of Baal in one of the king’s sons, though I think very well could be debated).  Thus, Saul himself was a Baal worshipper, going so far as to name one of his sons in honor of the pagan god.

Proving Solomon’s syncretism proves to be a much easier exercise.  1 Kings 11:4 says, “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 his father David had been.”  Here Stuart sees a clear echo of the description of David in 1 Samuel 13, and I’m inclined to agree.

So what set David apart from these two kings, what made him a man after God’s own heart, was the fact that he held “exclusive trust” (Stuart’s term) in YHWH.  For all of David’s faults, and there are many, he never wavered from his faith that God alone was his hope.

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