In some of my daily Bible reading these days, it happens that I’m getting some exposure to the life and words of King Solomon who came to the throne of Israel after his father David. I’m reading about him in the early chapters of 1 Kings, and then some interesting writing attributed to him in the Song of Solomon. I love the Song of Solomon because of its beautiful poetic description of romance between a man and a woman. It’s nice to be reading this again on the eve of another wedding anniversary in a time when it seems we can appreciate the language of this beautiful piece more than ever.
The Song of Solomon flows with the most scintillating expressions of romantic love about something that, in many ways, is actually beyond the capacity of human language to describe. On one hand, the poem is an outrageous description of one of the most beautiful of life’s graces. On the other, I can’t help but think that the poem somehow points to the kind of spiritual relationship with himself that God has in mind for his people throughout eternity. After all, one biblical image of the church is that she is Christ’s bride (i.e. Revelation 19:7). And, of course, this actually is one way in which the church, down through the centuries, has been able to understand and appreciate the beauty of this great poem.
I wish it would be possible to know more about the kind of person Solomon must have been, or to have lived for a time during his amazing reign as king of Israel. We are told in 1 Kings that he came to the throne by way of his father’s decision and God’s unusual blessing. Soon after his appointment, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said he would give him whatever he asked. Because of his awareness of God’s greatness and his own need, Solomon asked for wisdom to rule God’s people. So it was that God showered him with a bountiful gift of wisdom. That wisdom made it possible for him, not only to become exceedingly rich, but also to give him a reputation throughout the world of being the most knowledgeable person who had ever lived.
That story in itself is enough to make us realize that true wisdom is a very special gift and that it comes very much as a special grace from God. Every person in the world, along with the gift of life, is naturally given a particular talent with which to serve. (See Matthew 25:14-30.) But Solomon is an example of special grace from God because God asked, Solomon chose, and God answered. In Colossians 2:3, we are told that “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” So it is, that in coming to know Jesus Christ and putting our trust in him, we open our lives to experience all the wisdom of God. Christians, of course, aren’t the only ones in life who demonstrate great wisdom, but many times over they have shown this principle of life to be true — that Jesus really is the key to innumerable blessings from God.
But there is a sad note about Solomon’s life that comes to the fore in chapter 11 of 1 Kings. In the midst of his riches he became distracted from continuing to faithfully follow the Lord. Part of his experience of riches involved the acquisition of a large harem of women — both of wives and concubines — through alliances that he established with other nations. These relationships set him off on a trajectory that ultimately brought about his terrible demise, for the women in his life “…turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). God had warned him not to marry them, but the Bible says he insisted on loving them anyway.
We read further that the Lord was very angry with Solomon for his disobedience and worship of false gods. It makes us realize how any kind of idolatry in our own lives is such a dishonour and affront to the One who alone is worthy of our worship (as the 1st command decrees). According to the text, this was the great difference between Solomon and his father, David. Yes, David sinned in the matter of his adultery with Bathsheba — something for which the Lord forgave him when he humbled himself and acknowledged his sin (Psalm 51). But one thing David didn’t do, was to depart from wholly worshipping the Lord.
So it was that God’s judgment came upon Solomon in the form of various adversaries whom God allowed and arranged in his life. One was Hadad, an Edomite. Another was Rezon, a rebel leader. And still another was Jeroboam, who had become one of Solomon’s most capable leaders. In the latter case, a godly prophet named, Ahijah actually prophesied over Jeroboam that he would become ruler of ten tribes of Israel — after Solomon was gone.
Solomon is a tragic figure in the history of Israel because he rose to such unbelievably great heights only to fall to such great depths of foolishness. At the least it is a lesson in how pride so easily goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), something I have known of so often in my own experience, not the least of which happens say, in a game of golf where you can do really well on one hole only to be greatly humiliated on the next. Ha! Ha! But the greater lesson here is that one needs to be wary of how the legitimate blessing of God (through faith in Christ) can lead a person to stray from being faithful to God as the only One deserving of our true worship. It’s so easy for the blessing itself to take God’s place in our lives — something which ultimately can lead to drastic outcomes.
In the end, King David’s life is preferable to Solomon’s. For though he definitely had his points of failure, what commends David as a great example to all of us, is that he was faithful in his worship of the one true God. May God help us to guard our hearts against the kind of temptation that marked Solomon’s life in the end — a major departure from the wisdom he had known earlier.