Virtually every time in the Bible that God gives a promise or a kingdom to someone, the first thing he does is ruin the promise by sinning against God. —James B. Jordan, Biblical Horizons
Would You Vote for This Man?
He was beloved of God. He was the wisest man on earth. He walked in the commandments of the Lord. He was King David’s son and his chosen heir. He was humbly extravagant in his worship of God—he offered a thousand burnt offerings at once. He quickly gained the admiration and respect of foreign monarchs near and far. The queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear his wisdom. His reign was characterized by unprecedented peace and prosperity and is set forth in Scripture as a picture of Messiah’s reign. He wrote three books under divine inspiration. He built the Temple of God.
His name was Solomon. No national leader ever had a better start.
There were problems, though, even from the beginning. His worship was out of line with the Mosaic Law as he chose to worship in the high places. But then the whole Mosaic system of worship had been disrupted when the Ark had been separated from the Tabernacle. Nothing was quite right liturgically in those days. And early in his reign, Solomon married the princess of Egypt, even though he already had a wife and a young son. But polygamy was the expected thing for worldly monarchs. It went with treaty making. Or so most people thought.
Falling from Grace
It would be a long time before the real danger signs started showing up. But only those who knew Scripture well would recognize those signs for what they were. First, Solomon began a program of international trade that brought enormous amounts of gold into Israel, about twenty-five tons a year. He actually generated inflation using gold, an exceedingly rare thing in Earth’s history (1 Kings 10:14-21, 27). Textbooks usually point out the California gold rush and the influx of New World gold into Spain as examples of this type of inflation. In the process, Solomon became very, very wealthy.
Second, Solomon did a huge business in horses and chariots (1 Kings 10:28-29). He imported them from Egypt and sold them to nations in the north, notably Syria. Solomon also set himself up as the chief arms dealer in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Syria would turn imported arms and horses against Israel within a very short time (1 Kings 11:23-25).
Third, Solomon began marrying even more princesses—seven hundred before he was done. He threw in three hundred concubines as well (1 Kings 10:3). These women were not merely foreigners; they were pagans. They brought their idols with them into Israel.
A King Under Law
God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob included the promise of kings (Gen. 17:6; 35:11). With this in view, the Mosaic Law set specific limits on the activity of Israel’s future kings. According to Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Israel’s kings were to refrain from multiplying three things to themselves: gold, horses, and wives. As we’ve seen, these were the things that Solomon very much liked to multiply.
Why these three prohibitions?
Gold represented personal power—power to finance, to build, to manipulate, to destroy. Israel’s high court judge had no need of such power. Even as a war leader, Israel’s king would need little beyond Israel’s militia… as long as he and his people were walking faithfully with God (Lev. 26:8; Deut. 20:1-4).
Horses were offensive weapons. Israel’s wars were to be defensive. A godly king would have a limited need for horses and chariots. Besides, the nation that had the corner on the market was Egypt. God had delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and influence: Israel’s kings were forbidden to court that influence in the future (Deut. 17:16).
Multiple wives were products of international alliances. One king would marry the daughter of another. The family relationship would guarantee peace between the two nations. And if anything went wrong, the bridegroom would have a ready-made hostage in his bride. Such marriages also represented an alliance between the gods of the respective nations. God absolutely forbade His people to marry idolaters (Ex. 34:15-16; Deut. 7:3-4). And He had warned Solomon about this very matter… neither the kingdom nor the Temple would survive if Solomon went after other gods (1 Kings 9:6-9; 2 Chon. 7:19-22).
Apostasy in Earnest
Solomon’s polygamy didn’t go into high gear until he had finished the Temple—that is, some twenty years after his accession. That means he had to fit most of his thousand marriages into the last twenty years of his reign. That comes out to be about a marriage a week. Such abuse of God’s ordinance and of the women involved is horrific enough. But then each of the foreign princesses brought her idols. And each wanted to go on practicing the worship she had grown up with. Together Solomon’s wives pressured him to make allowances for their traditional forms of worship. And Solomon gave in. He built idolatrous shrines on the Mount of Olives and even joined his wives in their worship (1 Kings 11:3-10).
We don’t know how he justified the whole thing to himself. Perhaps he adopted a form of religious pluralism. Yahweh was the Creator and Sovereign, but these little gods must have some place in the cosmos. After all, enlightened, intelligent peoples worshipped them and received benefits from them. Who was he to impose his beliefs on others, especially on the women he loved?
Perhaps Solomon argued in terms of “Christian liberty.” His wives’ idols were mere wood and stone, nothing but superstition. Others might be seduced into taking them seriously, but his wisdom put him beyond such naïveté. He would go through the motions of worship to keep his wives happy, but it would mean nothing to him. Surely God would understand. God knew about the importance of international politics.
Then, again, perhaps Solomon never gave the matter a serious thought. By the end of his reign, he was used to doing as he pleased and always being right.
And Then the Deluge
God is not mocked. Even before Solomon’s death, God set in motion the series of events that would destroy the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 11:26-40). God raised up one of Solomon’s foremen, Jeroboam the son of Nebat, as an adversary. The prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam that he would inherit ten of the tribes. In time, he did. The kingdom was divided (1 Kings 12). The northern kingdom turned quickly into idolatry and never repented. Despite some attempts at reunion by Judah’s later kings, God’s people would never really be reunited until their return from the Babylonian captivity (cf. Ezek. 37:19). Solomon’s sins had long reaching consequences.
No one could have predicted Solomon’s end from his beginning. No one could have foretold the disastrous consequences his foreign policy would bring to Israel or the threat it would prove to the whole Messianic promise.
Scripture warns us of the dangers inherent in trusting mere men, however powerful or noble or wise. The Psalmist says, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146:3). Jeremiah goes further: “Thus saith the LORD; cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD” (17:5).
Kings and presidents won’t save us, not even the good ones. And sometimes even the good ones can bring incredible devastation to their nation. Our hope must be in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.