It is a sad irony that the kingdom King David built was so short lived.
David’s heir, Solomon, followed his father’s path of aggressive kingdom-building but then Solomon’s own son saw the kingdom rent by civil war.
The expansive land and legacy of David and Solomon dwindled into the small nation of Judah.
A look at Solomon is a look at the temptation to foolishness even in the wisest among us.
One of the most famous stories about the newly crowned king is the story of God’s gift of great wisdom.
The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: “Ask what I should give you.”
Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.
And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”1 Kings 3
The young king began well.
Humility is the foundation of greatness.
It’s in all the best stories. J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories come to mind, for example, where it is only the humblest of hobbits that can save Middle Earth.
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
“I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind … And I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”1 Kings 3
The condition of ‘If’
Solomon’s story – told in the Book of the Kings and the Chronicles – is peppered with “if.”
This “If – Then” formula demonstrates the deuteronomistic thread woven throughout Israel’s tale.
- If you obey – then God will bless.
- If you disobey – then God will curse.
It’s a karmic way of understanding how the world works. Goodness comes back to us – as does evil. We get what we give. What goes around comes around. The notion is as old as humanity.
God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.
He was wiser than anyone else and his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.
He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.
People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.1 Kings 4
One of Solomon’s most famous visitors was the Queen of Sheba.
Tales have been told about Solomon and Sheba for centuries; even Hollywood has taken its turn.
The Book of the Kings tells the story in 1 Kings 10 but it is in some of the extra-biblical traditions that we catch a glimpse of the passion they may have shared.
The story has over the ages inspired many legends and stories both in the Jewish and the Islamic traditions.
In Islamic literature the queen is known as Bilqis and it is told that she converted from the worship of the sun to the worship of God and thereafter may have married Solomon himself...
In Persian folklore, she is considered the daughter of a Chinese king and a peri – a type of supernatural being.
The story of the Queen of Sheba acquired special importance and impact in the Ethiopian tradition and history. There she is referred to as Makeda and it is believed that she bore Solomon a son, who was the founder of the Ethiopian royal dynasty of emperors.King Solomon Legend
The building of Solomon’s Temple is yet another claim to fame for the king.
In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord … In the eleventh year, in the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications.
Solomon was seven years in building the temple…
Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”1 Kings 6
The “house” again carries a double meaning. Recall David wanted to build a house for God but the Lord turned that table and instead promised to build David into a “house,” a great legacy.
Now, even as Solomon is building the physical structure he still must attend to the building of a legacy of faith and faithfulness.
YHWH laid the foundation for this House of David but Solomon and his descendants were responsible to build upon that foundation by honoring, serving and obeying God.
The king dedicated this magnificent temple in a great celebration. His prayer again shows his humility and wisdom.
Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!
Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.
Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
The Lord appeared a second time
The Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’
But if you turn aside from following me – you or your children – then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight. This house will become a heap of ruins …1 Kings 9
The turning of a heart
- But power corrupts.
- And absolute power corrupts absolutely.
King Solomon loved many foreign women … Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice …
Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant …1 Kings 11
The turning of a nation
The divine “If-Then” promises come home to Israel.
Is this not the plot complication of so many of our human stories? As we considered Psalm 1 this week, we realize again how our human propensity toward autonomy imagines that we can be a law unto ourselves.
Our temptation to independence is actually a seduction to walk The Way of the wicked, and the anchor psalm of Israel assures us that the “way of the wicked will perish.”
Sure enough, the heady, expansive kingdom-building of the great king Solomon began the cycle that ultimately led to the kingdom’s demise.
The crumbling of this great kingdom happened within a generation.
It was Solomon’s own son, David’s grandson, who lost the Ten Tribes of Israel in a tragic civil war and thus reigned over a remnant of the once great kingdom.
Jeroboam, Solomon’s servant and all the assembly of Israel came and said to King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son: “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.”
The king answered the people harshly. (He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men.)
“My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” So the king did not listen to the people.1 Kings 12
Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was shaped – not by his father’s famous wisdom of the early years – but by the foolishness that infected and infiltrated Solomon’s reign in the later years.
The crucial choice: humility or hubris
The enticements of money, sex and power have turned the hearts – and the paths – of countless people throughout history.
Even the wisest among us.