King Solomon fell in love with many foreign women … [He] was irresistibly attracted to them. … [They] had a powerful influence over him.—1 Kings 11:1-3, Net Bible.
After a long and glorious reign, one would expect Solomon to come to the ..end of his life with great zeal for God. Unfortunately that was not the case; the life of this great king is forever tainted by unfaithfulness at the end of his reign.
We learn what happened in the last years of King Solomon’s reign in 2 Kings 11. An expected similar account is missing from Chronicles which only describes the faithful and glorious phase of his reign. Additional historical details are given in the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam.
“And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3). Curiously, this statement does not blame the king for his idolatry; it placed the blame on the wives, somewhat as Adam blamed Eve for his transgression (Genesis 3:12).
Even though the Book of Chronicles respectfully describes the end of Solomon’s reign, his personal responsibility cannot be minimized in such a situation. A wise king should not have let his heart “be turned away,” or should not have chosen wives who could do this to him.
Why, then, did such a wise king, one who started so well, fail so badly at the end of his reign?
Wives and Idolatry
After considering Solomon’s virtues described in earlier chapters of Kings, it is surprising he did not have the moral strength to resist the temptation of idolatry.
Such behavior is not uncommon. During the time of the judges, after the death of Joshua, the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of Jehovah, and served various Baals (Judges 2:11). Worshiping God because of the moral rectitude of his commandments was not as attractive as the worship of idols, which often involved lascivious practices, dances, and excesses of all kinds. Although God had expressly forbidden worshiping of idols, it was always a danger, something that would surface at unexpected times. It could affect anyone in Israel, even the king. Was he not aware of this danger?
Speaking of the natural desire of the Israelites to have a king, God said: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ …He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” (Deuteronomy 17:14,17, NIV).
So the risk was foreseen long before Solomon. Although there is no maximum number of wives specified in this verse, a thousand wives and concubines is beyond reason. It was not just the political expediency of insuring the stability of his kingdom by covenants with neighboring kingdoms, he was also human, possessing women for himself, for his own vanity, and sexual needs.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, … all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Although the Book of Kings does not give specific information, we can imagine how wives could create the temptation toward idolatry:
w Pagan wives could plead for tolerance toward their gods, so the king would give them a special place for worship including an altar, priests, dancers, and the like. He was probably invited by these wives to see how they worshiped, and perhaps participated in some of the rites, especially those which glorified such a powerful and tolerant king. Flattery usually produces favorable results!
w As he grew older, Solomon might not have had the health he enjoyed when he was younger. We are told that Solomon went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians (1 Kings 11:5), a goddess of fertility. Perhaps the wives told him worshipping Ashtoreth would give him more strength.
Even if there are other reasons, it is important to consider that after thirty or so years of reigning, Solomon knew he was getting older and that meant the decline of health, vitality, and enthusiasm for living.
Of the kings who succeeded Solomon in the southern kingdom of Judah, only seven out of twenty were said to have done right in the sight of God. In the northern kingdom of Israel it was just one king out of nineteen! Thus it is clear that the kings of both kingdoms were inclined to worship idols, and that influenced the people.
In Kings and Chronicles we learn that some deliberately served idols while others served both God and idols, probably rationalizing that once they rendered God service, they were free to do as they pleased.
Actually, Solomon was not the only king to have been influenced by a wife. There is the infamous example of Ahab and Jezebel. But in Ahab’s case Jezebel was his only named wife. She was probably intelligent and had a great influence on her husband, leading him into evil, from the beginning of his reign. That probably did not happen with Solomon since we are told that the problem with idolatry happened when he was old. Why did the king change his behavior?
It is a human desire to always want more, whether it be wealth, money, fame, recognition, or whatever, but such is usually obtained after many years. In the case of Solomon, a king blessed by God because of his obedience, he obtained everything he ever wanted when he was young. Once he had done everything he had planned to do, he had no more goals to achieve.
Solomon was rich. Only a really rich man accustomed to seeing precious things in his environment would say “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
David and Solomon’s lives were quite different. David had to wait until he was thirty years old before he began to reign. He had to solve many problems such as the rivalry between his children, the revolt of Absalom, numerous wars, and national punishment after he had sinned greatly. David prepared the way for Solomon to become king. First, he gave him legitimacy by having him crowned while he [David] was still alive so the people would accept Solomon as David’s true successor (1 Kings 1). He also gave him instructions about the organization of his staff (1 Kings 2).
Building the Temple
Solomon, on the other hand, began to reign when he was young. After completing the temple, he held a glorious feast. He worked on his own house and completed it in his twentieth year (1 Kings 9:10). Nothing more of significance remained to build or create as far as he was concerned. He had merely to maintain his high status year after year.
Of course, Solomon could engage in some commercial and industrial activities, extend his territory, and his riches. But the challenge was not the same. Maintaining wealth and glory pales in comparison to attaining it initially.
Those who create an enterprise after making a series of difficult decisions or designing an industrial process over a number of years, say that was the most exciting part of their life compared with just keeping a firm going or maintaining a process in good condition.
Consider the case of King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26). Once he had obtained everything thanks to his obedience to the Lord, he had nothing more as a goal. So he burned incense in the temple, which was a sin the priests tried to keep him from committing. God punished him with leprosy. He stands as another example of someone who had much, wanted still more, and who finally fell in trying to get it.
“He shall not multiply horses to himself … neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:16,17). God foresaw that riches would be a danger for any future king. Wealth does seem to have been related to the excessive number of wives. Certainly money and glory were needed to keep so many wives in the style to which they were accustomed. The neighbor kings of Israel (including Egypt and Tyre) gave their daughters as wives to Solomon because of his influence, the greatness of his kingdom, and his wealth.
Why did God mention horses? Verse 16 says it was because of the danger the people might return to Egypt. But in Solomon’s days, Israel was well established in the holy land. At that time the keeping of horses symbolized wealth, as it does today. Closer to home, cars in today’s society are an analogous symbol of wealth. Really expensive cars are a supreme, external sign of richness, and a great topic of conversation by the wealthy.
Solomon had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen (1 Kings 10:26). Chariots and horses were powerful weapons in the armies of old. Although Solomon had the assurance God would be with him, he wanted the most powerful army of his time as well. Did he lack confidence in God? Perhaps. Trying to amass a great army might have been an example of the vanity of vanities, that Solomon regretted at the end of his life.
When Solomon was obedient and faithful to God, God blessed him so that he “made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones” (1 Kings 10:27). Probably God allowed him to be successful in amassing such richness without the need for the people of Israel to work to attain it.
But when Solomon did not serve God as he had previously, God stopped the blessings. However, court expenditures demanded revenues so the money had to be obtained some other way. Apparently the people were subjected to forced labor, for they asked Rehoboam to lighten the hard service inflicted upon them by Solomon (see 1 Kings 12).
God stirred up two enemies against Solomon, Hadad and Rezon, who both wanted to take revenge because David’s army had killed their parents or masters: “[Rezon] was an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon, beside the mischief that Hadad did” (1 Kings 11:25). Probably Hadad returned to Edom and attacked Solomon’s possessions as much as he could from the south, while Rezon, the king of Syria, did much the same from the northeast.
However, the enemy which most concerned him was Jeroboam, of whom the prophet Ahijah had said would be king of ten tribes of Israel. Having that advanced word is similar to David having been told by Samuel that the kingdom would be taken from Saul and given to him.
When Solomon learned of what would happen in the future, he unsuccessfully tried to kill Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:40), so Jeroboam fled to Egypt. Solomon’s hatred of Jeroboam paralleled Saul’s hatred of David! He refused to accept that God was doing this because of his own unfaithfulness. Israel’s history was repeating itself.
After reigning forty years Solomon died at age sixty, ten years younger than his father David at his death. David had spent his life in battles and flights in the desert; Solomon lived a life of pleasure and died ten years sooner.
However, it seems Solomon had a different view of his life at the end, as we read in some verses of Ecclesiastes. Solomon recognized with disenchantment that his splendor was finally vanity: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
God’s punishment upon him by dividing the nation into two was proportionate to the gravity of his sins at the end of his life. It would likely have been worse if Solomon had not been David’s son: “I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant’s sake, whom I chose, because he [David] kept my commandments and my statutes” (1 Kings 11:34).
Lessons for Christians
The life of King Solomon provides lessons for us. At the beginning of our consecrated walk we agree to do all we can in the service of the Lord, to build our character and do God’s will in everything. We have a goal, a challenge, which is to become worthy to be accepted into the family of Christ and bless all the families of the world in the coming kingdom. That requires all our effort until the end of our life. This differs from King Solomon who probably considered that, after he had achieved his magnificent work represented in the temple, he was finished. He looked elsewhere for distractions, for something else to discover. He found it in idolatry.
To reach our goal requires great effort every day, to study still deeper the word of God, and to spread his message at each opportunity. Spending our time this way will not allow us to have our thoughts turned in the wrong direction: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
May the promises we have lift our thoughts to higher things, heavenly hopes, spiritual values, and thus avoid the sins of Solomon.