King Solomon was an immensely famous Israelite king, perhaps second only to David in terms of his significance in Israel’s history. 1 Kings 1-11 recounts his magnificent accomplishments as ruler. The most notable of these was the construction of a Temple for Yahweh. He is celebrated for his superior wisdom, bestowed upon him by God, which he put on display for the nations of the world to see (1 Kings 4:29-34). Solomon was also notorious for his taste for splendor. Even today, he serves as the paradigmatic example of absurd wealth. Some scholars estimate Solomon’s worth to have been over $2 trillion. That’s Elon Musk, times 8. On the surface, 1 Kings 1-10 is a glowing review of Solomon’s reign, marked by tremendous material success for both Israel and Solomon himself: It appears Solomon is taking up his father David’s mantle as a righteous and obedient king, and God is rewarding him with an extravagant amount of wealth. But upon closer reading, it becomes apparent that this is certainly not the case. The author of 1 Kings includes in the account a number of troubling details that chip away at Solomon’s seemingly spotless veneer, hinting at divided loyalties that will eventually lead Israel’s Wisest King to outright apostasy.
A seemingly minor, “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” detail in 1 Kings 2 provides the backdrop against which the reader is intended to evaluate Solomon’s reign. If you pick up on it, then Solomon’s sin in chapter 11 will not come as a surprise – or at least, not as much. Here’s what I mean:
When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, 3 and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn1 Kings 2:1-3
The Law of Moses in this case refers to the Deuteronomic law code (c.f. Deut. 29:9; “that you may prosper in all that you do”). As it turns out, a section of Deuteronomy (17:14-20) includes laws for Israelite kings to obey – a reminder that even kings are under Yahweh’s command and not exempt from obedience:
14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 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.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.Deuteronomy 17:14-20
Do you see the problem?
When we evaluate Solomon’s job as king in terms of his outward accomplishments, he appears to have been a roaring success. Yet when we evaluate his reign in terms of his obedience to God, particularly with respect to Deuteronomy 17, we see that Solomon was precisely disobedient to the very laws that applied to him; laws that God himself dictated through Moses.
|Deuteronomy 17:14-20 – “A king should not…”||Solomon…|
|Acquire a great number of horses – especially chariot horses. Further, a king may not import them from Egypt. Chariot horses were a signature of the Egyptian army. God’s embargo on Egyptian imports was meant to distance Israel as much as possible from their time of captivity in Egypt (i.e. “You are no longer slaves!)||Had 12,000 chariot horses . . . from Egypt (1 Kings 4:26; 10:26-29).|
|Accumulate vast wealth.||Had an absolutely ridiculous amount of money and property.|
|Marry numerous wives.||Had an even more ridiculous number of wives, one of whom was the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 7:8; 11:1-3)|
Solomon’s divided loyalties eventually led him away from God altogether. The Temple of Jerusalem was only one of many temples Solomon built – one for the God of Israel, and the others for the fraudulent gods of his many, many wives (1 Kings 11). The author of 1 Kings has no qualms about connecting Solomon’s apostasy with the decline and eventual downfall of the Kingdom of Israel. His sin was the catalyst for a chain of events that eventually led to the Exile. While Solomon’s rule appeared wildly successful in terms of the wealth and fame he amassed, it amounted to nothing because he was not obedient to God.
If a king who was so lauded for his immense wisdom could turn away from God so easily, it begs the question: If “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), was Solomon ever truly wise?
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.1 Samuel 16:7
Cover Image: The Visit of Queen Sheba to King Solomon, Edward Poynter (1890)
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