As I was writing the post entitled “The Pursuit of Wisdom” I cut out a great deal of material that I thought was tangential to the topic and therefore only slightly relevant. However, because the subject of that tangent had merit, I decided to save the text and see if it materialized into something of use. When studying the wisdom of Solomon and his subsequent “fall,” I was amazed at how someone so wise could follow a path that led to his downfall. Where did he go wrong? Was he corrupted by wealth? By power? What happened?
(If you have not yet read the first post, you might click here to establish some context.)
As this question had been stewing in my mind for some months, I came across a passage in Deuteronomy that turned on a bulb in my brain. It is chapter 17 in a section titled simply The King:
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.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold (verses 16-17).
The amazing thing about this passage is that at this point in time, Israel had no king. The Israelites had not yet even crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. But God knew that the people would ask for a king "like all the nations around [them]" (Deuteronomy 17:14). Even though God was their King, the people demanded a human king. And God knew what was going to happen so he laid out some criteria for the ruler to follow.
Seems simple enough right? Don’t get a bunch of horses, don’t make the people go back to Egypt, don’t take many wives, don’t accumulate a lot of silver and gold. If you say that these commands were not easy for a king to follow, at least you can say that there is no ambiguity in the instructions for the king. Yet Solomon either never read or completely ignored these statutes. And he was the wisest man who ever lived? How can there be hope for any of us? We’re not talking about some obscure passage; this is the Law of Moses! So how do we know he did not follow these commands? Check out these verses:
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray (1 Kings 11:1-3).
The passage in quotes seems to be also from Deuteronomy—this time 7:3-4. Just before the Israelites were getting ready to take possession of the Promised Land, God gave these instructions through Moses:
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
When you contrast these two passages one is speaking about marrying foreign women, because they will lead you astray by their foreign Gods. However the Deuteronomy 17 passage that is speaking directly to kings makes no mention of foreign wives, just multiple wives.
So not only did he ignore the general rule of not marrying many wives, he also completely ignored the admonition against mingling with foreigners. And it was just as the LORD said; his heart was eventually turned from God. The word "many" is vague and relative. Other translations such as the NASB state that the King should not multiply for himself many wives. For example, King David had eight wives yet the scripture specifically states that he remained devoted to God (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon, on the other hand, had over 700 wives.
It appears that Solomon also violated the second rule in Deuteronomy 17:17: “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” The key word in this passage is “accumulate” which Merriam Webster defines as follows:
Though Solomon was one of the richest men who have ever lived, and despite the presence of the passage Deuteronomy 17:17b, his wealth is not specifically counted against him in the scriptures. Why not? Let’s look at the word accumulate. “To gather or pile up” implies action on the part of the accumulator. However, if we review the scripture in which Solomon asks for wisdom, God says the following:
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings (1 Kings 3:10-13).
So you see, Solomon did not pile up for himself wealth; the LORD gave it to him. The distinction is that Solomon did not set out to become wealthy. God knew his heart; he knew that Solomon was not driven by greed, so he blessed him with wealth. And if these blessings came from God they had to be good right?
But because of Solomon's sin the nation of Israel was ripped apart. His actions led to the division of and subsequent civil wars between the tribes of Israel. The LORD preserved the tribe of Judah for David's sake and in order to the preserve his lineage to prepare the way for Jesus. Solomon, with God's blessing and help, made the nation of Israel into the greatest, richest and most powerful on earth. Yet Solomon was also responsible—through his sin—for the division of the nation of Israel (1 Kings 11:11-13).
Let this be a word of caution. Knowing the truth, understanding what God wants, is not enough. As the wisest man all time, Solomon knew it was wrong to serve other Gods. He knew that the scripture warned against marrying foreign women. Yet he did it anyway. Nehemiah sums it up best:
Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women (13:26).
“Even he” means even we. Even we will be led into sin if we do not heed God’s Word. But this still does not answer the original question. How could someone as wise as Solomon serve other gods? I think that the answer is pride. Solomon knew that political marriages such as the one with the daughter of Pharaoh would strengthen his kingdom. And though he knew of the warning against marrying multiple and foreign women, he probably believed that he was too wise to be led astray. In this way, he put himself above God’s word, ultimately leading to his downfall.
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