The Failure of Solomon
We’ve been studying through 1st Kings, and specifically the story of King Solomon, who was King David’s son. Last week we talked mainly about the temple of Yahweh which Solomon built in Jerusalem. David had established Jerusalem as the capital city for the nation of Israel, but was not permitted by God to build a temple there. Solomon, however, was instructed to build this temple, which then became the centralized place of worship for Israel, and symbolized God’s long-term residency among the Jews.
The temple’s construction was considered one of Solomon’s greatest accomplishments! Not just for its ornate and lavish beauty, but because of what it represented. Solomon, like his father David, was in many ways a model of the Messiah, and his kingdom a reflection of God’s kingdom; that is, a restoration of God’s presence and a figurative re-entry into the garden of Eden.
Of course, we know that Solomon was not the ultimate Messiah, and ultimately had some devastating failures during his reign, and we’re going to look at that in more detail today.
But first we wanted to go over some of Solomon’s other accomplishments, because there was actually a lot more that he did beyond building the temple. Israel enjoyed unprecedented wealth, abundance, and influence during Solomon’s reign. That was a big reason why, in generations to come, they were looking and hoping for someone else like Solomon to come and lead them back into that prosperity.
Let’s take a few minutes to just get an overview of all his accomplishments and acquisitions.
In 1st Kings 9:10-14 we see that King Hiram of Tyre gave Solomon all the cedar and cypress logs and gold he wanted…literally “for his every wish” and in verse 14 it says Hiram had sent the king nine thousand pounds of gold.
Remember how Solomon “made himself a son-in-law” to the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt? Well that worked out really well for him! Continuing in chapter 9, verse 16 we read:
16 Pharaoh king of Egypt had attacked and captured Gezer. He then burned it, killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and gave it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife. 17 Then Solomon rebuilt Gezer, Lower Beth-horon, 18 Baalath, Tamar in the Wilderness of Judah, 19 all the storage cities that belonged to Solomon, the chariot cities, the cavalry cities, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, Lebanon, or anywhere else in the land of his dominion. 20 As for all the peoples who remained of the Amorites, Hethites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who were not Israelites—21 their descendants who remained in the land after them, those whom the Israelites were unable to destroy completely—Solomon imposed forced labor on them; it is still this way today. 22 But Solomon did not consign the Israelites to slavery; they were soldiers, his servants, his commanders, his captains, and commanders of his chariots and his cavalry. 23 These were the deputies who were over Solomon’s work: 550 who supervised the people doing the work.
—1 Kings 9:16–23 (CSB)
So Egypt, a kingdom which a few generations ago was oppressing and enslaving the Israelites, is now allied with Israel and helped Solomon suppress and enslave their enemies and expand their borders.
· And I love that term “storage cities” … a whole city just to STORE all your stuff!?!?
· And what about “chariot cities” and “cavalry cities”?... like neigh-borhoods of people with chariots 😊
Chapter 9 ends with a few more verses describing more of Solomon’s achievements:
24 Pharaoh’s daughter moved from the city of David to the house that Solomon had built for her; he then built the terraces. 25 Three times a year Solomon offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar he had built for the Lord, and he burned incense with them in the Lord’s presence. So he completed the temple. 26 King Solomon put together a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea in the land of Edom. 27 With the fleet, Hiram sent his servants, experienced seamen, along with Solomon’s servants. 28 They went to Ophir and acquired gold there—sixteen tons—and delivered it to Solomon.
—1 Kings 9:24–28 (CSB)
So things are looking pretty good! This wife from Egypt is really working out for him, he’s worshiping at the altar he built (must have felt pretty satisfying!), and he has this fleet of ships just delivering him gold in tons. Life is sweet!
Naturally, news all of this activity spread and Solomon gained quite a reputation for himself! He’s now known for his unprecedented wisdom, glorious temple, and unfathomable wealth. This reputation is not just among Israel; it’s international! Chapter 10 begins with the story of an encounter he has with the queen of Sheba (to the south-west, in the region of Ethiopia):
1 The queen of Sheba heard [shma] about Solomon’s fame connected with the name of the Lord and came to test him with riddles. 2 She came to Jerusalem with a very large entourage, with camels bearing spices, gold in great abundance, and precious stones. She came to Solomon and spoke to him about everything that was on her mind. 3 So Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too difficult for the king to explain to her. 4 When the queen of Sheba observed all of Solomon’s wisdom, the palace he had built, 5 the food at his table, his servants’ residence, his attendants’ service and their attire, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he offered at Yahweh’s temple, it took her breath away. 6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your words and about your wisdom is true. 7 But I didn’t believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, I was not even told half. Your wisdom and prosperity far exceed the report I heard. 8 How happy are your men. How happy are these servants of yours, who always stand in your presence hearing your wisdom. 9 Blessed be the Yahweh your God! He delighted in you and put you on the throne of Israel, because of the Yahweh’s eternal love for Israel. He has made you king to carry out justice and righteousness.” 10 Then she gave the king four and a half tons of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones. Never again did such a quantity of spices arrive as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 11 In addition, Hiram’s fleet that carried gold from Ophir brought from Ophir a large quantity of almug wood and precious stones. 12 The king made the almug wood into steps for Yahweh’s temple and the king’s palace and into lyres and harps for the singers. Never before did such almug wood arrive, and the like has not been seen again. 13 King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba her every desire—whatever she asked—besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she, along with her servants, returned to her own country.
—1 Kings 10:1–13 (CSB)
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems like when this story starts out with introducing this strange foreign, powerful woman going to visit Solomon it seems like that could spell disaster. I wonder “hmm how is she going to trip Solomon up, this has to end badly.” But no! Instead, her tour of Solomon’s kingdom results in her praising Yahweh! Solomon’s glory is bringing glory to God! And then she just returns to her own country, not having caused any trouble, and the story is wrapped up nice and neatly. Perfect!
14 The weight of gold that came to Solomon annually was twenty-five tons, 15 besides what came from merchants, traders’ merchandise, and all the Arabian kings and governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; fifteen pounds of gold went into each shield. 17 He made three hundred small shields of hammered gold; nearly four pounds of gold went into each shield. The king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a large ivory throne and overlaid it with fine gold. 19 The throne had six steps; there was a rounded top at the back of the throne, armrests on either side of the seat, and two lions standing beside the armrests. 20 Twelve lions were standing there on the six steps, one at each end. Nothing like it had ever been made in any other kingdom. 21 All of King Solomon’s drinking cups were gold, and all the utensils of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. There was no silver, since it was considered as nothing in Solomon’s time, 22 for the king had ships of Tarshish at sea with Hiram’s fleet, and once every three years the ships of Tarshish would arrive bearing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. 23 King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and in wisdom. 24 The whole world wanted an audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart. 25 Every man would bring his annual tribute: items of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, and horses and mules. 26 Solomon accumulated 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen and stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedar as abundant as sycamore in the Judean foothills. 28 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and Kue. The king’s traders bought them from Kue at the going price. 29 A chariot was imported from Egypt for fifteen pounds of silver, and a horse for nearly four pounds. In the same way, they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and to the kings of Aram through their agents.
—1 Kings 10:14–29 (CSB)
Whew! I really can’t even wrap my head around that much wealth and opulence. Chapter 10 is a great summary of Solomon’s achievements, because it starts with an example of his fame and reputation and how it spread internationally, and then ends with this overview of his accumulations.
This is like the end of chapter 4, which makes similar lists but focused more on the fruits of Solomon’s wisdom: 3,000 proverbs, 1,005 songs, and teachings on all sorts of different topics. Lord willing, we’ll talk more about that aspect of his legacy next week.
While the previous chapters focused mainly on the accumulation of wisdom, wealth, fame, and physical goods, we get to chapter 11 and find out about another type of accumulation that’s also happening:
1 King Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women 2 from the nations about which Yahweh had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, and they must not intermarry with you, because they will turn your heart away to follow their gods.” To these women Solomon was deeply attached in love.
—1 Kings 11:1–2 (CSB)
Oh no! While the situation with the queen of Sheba turned out fine, these women are clearly presented right off the bat as a problem for Solomon. This is an obvious violation of God’s commands, and it gets pretty much right to the point in saying that his “many wives” were Solomon’s downfall.
Just how many wives?
3 He had seven hundred wives who were princesses and three hundred who were concubines, and they turned his heart away. 4 When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to Yahweh his God, as his father David had been. 5 Solomon followed Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the abhorrent idol of the Ammonites. 6 Solomon did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight, and unlike his father David, he did not remain loyal to Yahweh. 7 At that time, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the abhorrent idol of Moab, and for Milcom, the abhorrent idol of the Ammonites, on the hill across from Jerusalem. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who were burning incense and offering sacrifices to their gods.
—1 Kings 11:3–8 (CSB)
700 + 300 = 1,000 wives in total! I’d say the word “many” is an understatement! The statement that 700 were “princesses” implies that those were more politically motivated marriages like his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter.
We see that it was ultimately these foreign wives who turned his heart away from God, and verse 6 makes a key statement that unlike his father David, he did not remain loyal to Yahweh. So, despite all of his accomplishments and strengths, his is described in contrast to David in his faithfulness to God. David was not perfect; we saw some of his weaknesses, his sin, and the consequences suffered as a result. In fact, David even had foreign wives! However, he was repentant when he sinned, and worshipped Yahweh alone, and was therefore regarded by God as faithful.
Now, before we look at the consequences of Solomon’s apostacy, I want to pause and reflect on how he ended up here. If everything was going so well, and so many great things were happening, why on earth would he ruin it all by worshiping other gods? Well, first of all we all know just one woman can make a man do crazy things! We saw that with David & Bathsheba…and like in that situation, I’m not blaming the women for this, but the men! But if that’s one woman’s effect on a man, I can’t even imagine the influence of 1,000! Imagine trying to keep all of them happy! Again I’m not trying to belittle or blame women at all, rather point out the stupidity of Solomon!
That said, I think this goes deeper, and there is more to Solomon’s failure than just his wives. If we look back at some of his accomplishments, we need to ask…were this really accomplishments? Or were they failures?
Let’s take a look back at the guidelines God set back in Deuteronomy, when Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness:
14 “When you enter the land Yahweh your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ 15 you are to appoint over you the king Yahweh your God chooses. Appoint a king from your brothers. You are not to set a foreigner over you, or one who is not of your people. 16 However, he must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses, for Yahweh has told you, ‘You are never to go back that way again.’ 17 He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray. He must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself. 18 When he is seated on his royal throne, he is to write a copy of this instruction for himself on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to remain with him, and he is to read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to observe all the words of this instruction, and to do these statutes. 20 Then his heart will not be exalted above his countrymen, he will not turn from this command to the right or the left, and he and his sons will continue reigning many years in Israel.
—Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (CSB)
After reading that passage, doesn’t the passage in 1 Kings seem like it’s directly calling out each of those instructions as having been specifically violated by Solomon? Just look at these quotes side by side!
He must not acquire many horses for himself.
Solomon accumulated 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen .
He must not send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses.
Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and Kue.
He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won’t go astray.
King Solomon loved many foreign women…he had seven hundred wives who were princesses and three hundred who were concubines, and they turned his heart away.
Me must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself.
The weight of gold that came to Solomon annually was twenty-five tons…the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones…
Write and read these instructions every day.
No mention of these instructions (obviously).
His heart will not be exalted above his countrymen.
The king made…a large ivory throne and overlaid it with fine gold. The throne had six steps…every man would bring his annual tribute…As for all the peoples who remained in the land after them, those whom the Israelites were unable to destroy completely—Solomon imposed forced labor on them.
So, a whole bunch of things that may have looked and felt like wonderful accomplishments were in reality failures to obey God!
This is a lesson that Saul learned the hard way too, if you remember back in 1 Samuel, when Samuel said to Saul:
22 Then Samuel said: Does Yahweh take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying Yahweh? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.
—1 Samuel 15:22 (CSB)
This principle holds true for us today as well! Though none of us are kings who need to worry about importing horses from Egypt, we need to remember that all the good deeds in the world are worthless if we are not doing what God has called us to do! And what does God require of us? Well, the day to day obviously varies for each person, but it invariably starts with a common core, as we find in Deuteronomy where Moses is addressing Israel:
12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?
—Deuteronomy 10:12 (CSB)
It’s also a reminder that, while wealth and prosperity are not inherently wrong (God actually takes great pleasure in blessing people), our motives and methods certainly can be. If our focus is on the accumulation of wealth or success or fame, instead of bringing glory to God, then we have missed the mark.
So, what was the fallout of Solomon’s disobedience? Well, God made a promise to David that the messiah would come from his descendants, and he is going to keep that promise. However, the promise to make Israel successful and prosperous was conditional on them staying loyal to Yahweh. So, he’s going to take a lot away.
9 Yahweh was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from Yahweh, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 He had commanded him about this, so that he would not follow other gods, but Solomon did not do what Yahweh had commanded. 11 Then Yahweh said to Solomon, “Since you have done this and did not keep my covenant and my statutes, which I commanded you, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. 12 However, I will not do it during your lifetime for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of your son’s hand. 13 Yet I will not tear the entire kingdom away from him. I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem that I chose.”
—1 Kings 11:9–13 (CSB)
God is now promising to take away all but a small remnant of Israel from the line of David’s rule. Because of Solomon’s sin, the nation is now headed towards destruction from within and from foreign enemies.
· Family Dysfunction
· Invading Enemies
· Divided Kingdom
· Kings even worse than Solomon
The rest of chapter 11 describes how God raised up enemies against Solomon and appointed his son Jeroboam to take ten tribes from the kingdom. When Solomon hears about that he actually tries to kill him…his own son! And when his other son Rehoboam takes the throne, the two brothers remain at odds against each other. Eventually Jeroboam is made king over most of Israel, in the North, while Rehoboam is king of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south.
It’s important to recognize that from this point forward…after Solomon’s death…the rest of 1 and 2 Kings is telling the story of two separate kingdoms. It lists a whole bunch of kings who came after Solomon, but it switches back and forth between Israel and Judah, which can be really confusing if you didn’t catch the split that happens here in the middle of 1 Kings.
The list of kings is rather bleak. For many of them it doesn’t give much information other than categorizing them either as good or bad, based on some simple criteria:
· Were they faithful to worship Yahweh alone?
· Did they help their kingdom to do so as well by getting rid of idolatry?
· Were they faithful to keep the terms of God’s covenant with Israel?
The author lists 20 kings from each kingdom. In Judah, only 8 of those are listed as good, and 12 are bad, while in Israel, all 20 are in the bad column!
In the meantime, this is also when you’ll see God raising up prophets to speak on his behalf, and call out these kings and kingdoms on all the ways they are violating the covenant, committing idolatry, and creating a society full of injustice, violence, and division. It’s during this time period that you find the stories of some really famous prophets like Elijah and Elisha, as well as some others that aren’t as well known.
While the prophets occasionally had some temporary success in turning people back to Yahweh, ultimately the kings and their people pretty much just got worse and worse. All of this eventually leads up to them being conquered and exiled, the ultimate punishment and consequence for their actions. Just like temple symbolized a return to Eden, the Exile from the promised land would represent their banishment from it.
We’ll go more into the exile at a later time, for now we just wanted to trace that consequence as a direct result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness. After Solomon, everything spiraled downward. Not only was Solomon NOT the promised messiah, he ended up accomplishing the opposite of what the messiah was supposed to do.
For us, it’s a reminder not to measure our accomplishments or define success based on human standards, but on whether we are faithful to God and accomplishing His will. It’s also yet another example in the Old Testament of a messiah figure who was a great example in some ways, but ultimately failed to restore God’s relationship with humanity. So, this part of the narrative is very much pointing to the need for a more perfect “chosen one” to lead as a king, prophet, and priest.