By Cate Russell-Cole
We tend to think of Solomon’s descent into abandoning God as a simple process. He had too many foreign wives who influenced him, and that finished him off. However, the more I have studied ancient history and gained an understanding of what was happening in the world surrounding Isra’el, the more I have come to understand that there is a complex set of political dynamics behind why Solomon married those women. Sin is never simple. Rarely are our actions black and white, and like Solomon, disaster can be borne out of common wisdom and accepting what our society tells us is right and harmless.
Many of the bad choices we make are based on fear, and Solomon appears to be no exception. Looking back we know he had a war-free reign, but did Solomon know that would happen? He lived in a terrifying time and acted to mitigate the risks as best he could.
From reading Proverbs, I can see that unlike David, Solomon’s knowledge of God was in the head, not the heart and he never developed the passion for, or dependence on God which would have led him away from making disastrous choices. His fears pulled him towards reliance on his wisdom to make strategic decisions, rather than his heart leading him to act with faith, and that is why he took the safe, well worn route of making political marriages which would protect the nation. It was what many generations of pagan kings had done before him, and in the same way he copied their style of *animalistic throne, he copied their other law-breaking customs as well. Sadly, his lack of faith led to his final downfall when he abandoned YHWH altogether and split the nation he was trying to hold together.
Here are the main features of the world Solomon was living in which would have affected his choices. Please see the links at the end for additional resources which will help this make sense.
1. Egypt was bouncing back from the Bronze Age Collapse which had kept them quiet. They began to exact vengeance against the Philistines who had taken a great deal of their territory, and would have been a direct threat to Isra’el, as back in Abraham’s time, Canaan was under Egyptian control and they would have wanted that critical piece of land back. The greatest logic as to why Solomon took an Egyptian royal wife was that it was a rational decision to ally the nations and hold off Egypt from attacking them. Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam, had an Ammonite mother; she was not the Egyptian princess, so Egypt lost little time in attacking Judah once Solomon was dead and there were no strings attached. [Refs. 1 Kings 9 and 1 Kings 14:25]
2. Egypt wasn’t the only threat to Isra’el’s security. Assyria was also steadily rising and became a terrifying menace which later enslaved the Northern Kingdom. They have the reputation of being the cruelest army to ever have existed on the Earth. Solomon would have watched this and been rightly concerned, plus we don’t know what other significant power struggles were occurring around him.
It is interesting to note the extensive resources Solomon invested in building and fortifying Isra’el. [2 Chronicles 8:5] This is why it seems logical to me that the other foreign wives may have been like the Egyptian Princess: marriages to stop wars and uprisings from places like Assyria and lands such as Moab, which were hit hard by David. They would have wanted to test the military mettle of a new King to see if they could gain control of Isra’el and her many natural resources, but marriage could stop that from occurring.
Solomon was very active in national security, as well as building a prosperous nation. He was making all the right moves. Solomon rebuilt both Megiddo and Gezer, which had been struck by Egypt. [Ref. 1 Kings 9:15] As I said above, Canaan which includes Megiddo, had been under Egyptian control pre-Philistine arrival, as it is an area of vital strategic importance. It has a mountain range which cuts through the middle of trade routes, allowing the control and taxation of the camel and donkey caravans who had little choice but to take that route. It is also a very important military position which has been mown to the ground by war many times. 1 Kings 10:26 tells us of the army Solomon was amassing, which was cutting edge for his day, and strictly against the commands of the Torah. [ Ref. Deuteronomy 17:16] If he had felt safe, he would not have done any of this.
3. Solomon’s world was heavily influenced by the cultural diffusion which had occurred between the Canaanites and Israelites. Diffusion occurs for practical reasons: it opens the way to jobs, better trade and if you can understand and speak to your neighbors, and have things in common, then there is less chance of raids and war. So people ‘sensibly’ intermarry and try to live in harmony, which leads to curiosity about life style and other gods…and then the unfaithful become persuaded to worship Ashtoreth, Molech and/or Chemosh. It’s a subtle, natural process and the reason why God ordered the elimination of those nations. The people were told as far back as the wilderness: ‘don’t even ask others about their gods!’ That is a dangerous conversation when gods lead to guilt-free carnal pleasures as worship. Abandoning YHWH wasn’t planned sin; the people slowly faded into compromise, just as Solomon did, which was their undoing too.
Even with all these risk factors in mind, Solomon had no excuse for not depending on God to keep Isra’el safe. The entire history if Isra’el proves God’s faithfulness in delivering His people, plus David had set a sterling example of how to lean on God in any situation.
In Proverbs 3, Solomon’s own words are:
5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6: Seek His will in all you do,
and He will show you which path to take.
25: You need not be afraid of sudden disaster
or the destruction that comes upon the wicked,
26: for the LORD is your security.
He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap.”
Despite what he said, in practice, he relied on legalistic wisdom, solving the challenges that faced him using that one limited gift. As the commentator MacLaren says: “Proverbs 10:32, contains a collection of isolated maxims which may be described as the product of sanctified common sense. They are shrewd and homely, but not remarkably spiritual or elevated.” That sums up all of his work. God may have given Solomon wisdom, but Solomon didn’t use it for spiritual reasons or to increase his relationship with YHWH, he was too egocentric.
Look at the differences in how David and Solomon approach God. Ecclesiastes 2 uses these words: I made, I bought, I gathered… whereas in David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22, repeatedly, God is attributed with victory, well over and above anything David claims for himself. “The Lord is…” “He is…” He heard…” He opened…” “He shot…” “His lightning…”
Solomon lived for himself and his inward focus destroyed the very foundations of his character more than any accumulation of foreign wives could. He could be likened to a house built so poorly that any pressure on it, (fear of war and calamity,) pulled it down, because the foundations had no spiritual strength. Solomon is a terrible tragedy.
Part 2: Other Reasons Solomon Fell
1. Solomon was swaying away from God from very soon after David’s death. He was worshipping at the high places where those pagan gods were exalted, which indicates that his heart had never been fully YHWH’s. Under the law of Moses, the only place he should have worshipped should have been at the Tabernacle which was at Gibeon at the time. The ark was separated from the Tabernacle, but it was in David’s Palace at Jerusalem, right where Solomon was living, so he had no excuse for being in a High Place. Access to God doesn’t get much more convenient than down the hall.
2. His reign was never based on serving God. “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.” Ecclesiastes 2:9-10
Solomon would have done far better if he’d asked God for a relationship with Him that was like his father’s, but God wasn’t his desire. I have always felt that he asked for the wrong thing; however, his choice could have come from David’s influence. This can be found in Proverbs 4:4-9. Verse 5 sums it up: “Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words [David’s] or turn away from them.”
3. The wisdom (Proverbs) of Solomon are very works and justice based, not relationship based in tone. It shows that he was looking at God from a distance. As a result of his gift not being based on pleasing and seeking God, it turned against him. He had no means of dealing with the consequences of so much revelation. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:18 David had a joy that Solomon never discovered, as he looked to the Lord, despite his suffering.
Solomon gloried in his gift and the recognition and riches it bought him without humbling himself before the Lord, and that poisoned it too. This is probably why his wisdom did not save him from spiritual destruction, it never became an act of worship. Wisdom gave him power, not salvation. “Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.” Ecclesiastes 7:19
4. The easy life left Solomon rudderless, and he became excessively ego-centric. Without suffering, Solomon focussed only on himself, discovering that a life without God is meaningless.
“I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless….So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” Please read Proverbs 2:1-11 for the whole text.
“So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.” Ecclesiastes 2:20-21
I could write more about the evils of wealth and risks of absolute power, but it has all been said before and it easily leads to me becoming unrighteously judgemental. I will close with David’s own wise words which are too apt: “Love the LORD, all you godly ones! For the LORD protects those who are loyal to Him, but He harshly punishes the arrogant.” Psalm 31:23.
“From Despair to Deliverance: the King David Project,” is a non-profit, private initiative studying the life of King David to uplift faith and build stronger spiritual habits, as the Lord sets us free emotionally, physically and spiritually to thrive in relationship with Him. The Project has a positive focus, solidly rooted in New Testament principles of righteous behaviour, while breaking down misunderstandings about the Pentateuch / Torah and culture of ancient Israel, in order to strengthen the spiritual benefit given by the Psalms and more challenging Old Testament Scriptures. The project is run by Cate Russell-Cole, a Christian writer from Brisbane, Australia.
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