So, what do you already know about Solomon?
I grew up in a church that emphasized the New Testament over Old Testament scriptures. All I ever knew about Solomon is that he was considered wise. To prepare for this writing assignment, I read the scriptures that tell the story of Solomon’s family and his life. (1 Kings 1-11.)
Oh, my word. As I read, I couldn’t help but think if Netflix needed a plot for a new original drama series, this is it. It has all the elements – royal family, political alliances, greed, sex, assassinations, and more.
Let’s start at the beginning. Solomon was born to King David and Bathsheba. (You may remember that King David had an extramarital affair with Bathsheba and then conspired to have her husband killed on the battlefield.) Bathsheba became part of King David’s royal harem. Therefore, it is likely that Solomon was primarily raised by his mother under privileged circumstances.
David’s first three sons and rightful heirs to his throne all perished. His fourth son, Adonijah, attempted to usurp the throne. Nathan, the prophet who had previously confronted King David about his affair with Bathsheba and helped him redeem his reign, alerted Bathsheba to Adonijah’s attempts. Nathan allied with Bathsheba to advocate for Solomon to become king. (This may suggest that Solomon was viewed as a more virtuous option.)
King David did name Solomon as his successor. Solomon began his reign at age 20 and ruled for 40 years. The nation of Israel prospered for most of his reign.
Initially, Solomon loved the Lord and prayed for an “understanding mind” so that he could “govern the people well.” The Lord was greatly pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom rather than long life, riches, or the lives of his enemies. God granted Solomon extraordinary wisdom. (Read 1 Kings 3:1-15)
Eventually, however, Solomon’s wisdom dissolves into foolishness as his thirst grows for power, wealth, and women. In the next few days, we will take a closer look at Solomon’s life and how we can learn from this wise turned foolish king.
For a succinct, highly informative overview of 1 & 2 Kings, please watch the graphic video offered by the BibleProject: 1 & 2 Kings. (Length: 9 minutes)
- What has been your experience with reading the Old Testament? How does the raw human behavior in the Old Testament impact you?
- Why might it be essential to understand Old Testament teachings as a foundation for reading about Jesus in the New Testament?
Would you agree that our society is obsessed with who’s the greatest?
In the sports world, the word GOAT (an abbreviation for greatest-of-all-time) is used by fans to debate who is the best-ever athlete in any given sport.
After Solomon’s prayer to God for wisdom, the Lord declares to Solomon, “no one like you has been and no one like you shall arise after you” and “no other king shall compare with you.” (1 Kings 3: 12-13) That’s a heady claim!
It could be argued that King Solomon may have been the greatest king of all time. Consider these points:
He Ruled Magnificently.
Solomon organized the twelve tribes of Israel into 12 districts and appointed officials over each of them. Each district flourished under his rule. He also developed alliances with many other rulers. (1 Kings 4:1-28)
He Kept the Peace.
Solomon’s name comes from a Hebrew derivative of “shalom” meaning “peace.” Fittingly, Solomon’s reign is the only time in Israel’s history that no wars occurred. (1 Kings 4:24)
His Demonstrated Great Wisdom.
Solomon’s wisdom became known throughout the region. Other rulers came to learn from him. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and composed 1,000 songs. He was an expert in natural science. (1 Kings 4:29-34). He is credited with contributing to the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
He Built God’s Temple.
Using the treasure accumulated by his father, as well as his burgeoning wealth, Solomon built the first Jewish temple. Starting in the fourth year of his reign, it took seven years to build. It was lavishly constructed and furnished and became the focal point of Jewish faith and practice. (1 Kings 5-6).
He Grew Commerce.
He built a fleet of ships to import gold. (1 Kings 9:26-28)
King Solomon accomplished many great things and was recognized for extraordinary wisdom. The kingdom of Israel prospered under his reign.
Who Was King Solomon? The Beginners Guide by Ryan Nelson, Overview Bible website
- How does our society define greatness? How does this influence you?
- How does God define greatness?
- How does your idea of greatness compare to God’s? What needs to change for you?
The word “GOAT” can also be used as slang to refer to a lecherous man. One who is given over to lust and excessive indulgence is called a goat.
Below are important instructions that Moses gave on how Israel’s future kings should behave:
“The king 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.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-17)
King Solomon violated all these instructions. His admirable boyhood love for God would eventually be smothered by all his competing earthly loves. His lust and indulgence compromised his faith.
He Used Women.
Whether it was done for reasons of making political alliances (marrying another ruler’s daughter) or for reasons of sexual indulgence, Solomon used women as objects for his own desires. Scripture reports that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3). As king of God’s chosen people and blessed with God’s wisdom, he would have known this is not what God intended or desired.
He Was Extremely Wealthy.
Solomon inherited a great deal of wealth from his father. But he didn’t just live off this inherited fortune, he amassed even more wealth from his governance and commerce practices. One example of his lust for extravagance, is that it took nearly twice as long to build his own palace (13 years) then it did God’s Temple (7 years).
He Accepted and Promoted Other Religions.
Solomon’s many foreign wives brought their own religions, gods, and idols with them. Solomon came under the influence of many of these wives and turned his heart away from the one true God (1 Kings 11:4). He even built places of worship for several of these other gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8)
He Enslaved People.
How ironic that after 400 years of Israelite enslavement by Egypt, Solomon marries Pharoah’s daughter as a marriage alliance (1 Kings 3:1), appoints an official to oversee slave labor (1 Kings 4:6) and forces thousands of persons into forced labor (1 Kings 5:30; 9:21). He becomes a Jewish version of Pharaoh.
Solomon’s errors and missteps angered God who decided to “tear his kingdom away.” (1 Kings 11:9-13) His adversaries increased. Rebellion ensued. Solomon dies. (It is striking that no mention is made of any sort of funeral ceremony for the once great King.) The kingdom of Israel is divided into two kingdoms.
Solomon: Love Him or Hate Him? By Tim Mackie, BibleProject Blog
- What is, or has been, your view of success?
- For you, which of these three areas – money, sex, or power – most defines success? Which of these areas poses the most temptation for you?
What can we learn from the wise and foolish King Solomon? The book of Ecclesiastes is a good place to start.
Biblical scholars are uncertain if King Solomon wrote this book, however, its tone and themes certainly mirror his life experience. The author looks back on his life with lament and remorse. Perhaps to make amends, he offers advice to help others avoid the pain and desolation that he now feels. Solomon may have traded his title as royal king for a humble teacher.
A key term used in many English translations is “meaningless” or “vanity.” It appears 35 times. The Hebrew word is “hevel” and refers to “vapor, breath or smoke.” This concept gives a better sense of the fleeting and temporary characteristics of the item or activity it describes.
Another interesting word study is that the writer uses the Hebrew word “Elohim” for God (30 times) instead of the more common covenant name “Yahweh” (translated as Lord). Elohim emphasizes the “absolute sovereignty” of God – a concept a king would fully understand.
At the heart of Ecclesiastes is that everything we strive for in life is “hevel” and only in “Elohim” does life have meaning and true pleasure. This concept is repeated 5 times. To the one who strives to please Him, God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy. (Read Ecclesiastes 2:26).
As I prepared for writing these devotions, I came across a review for the newly released book “From Strength to Strength” written by social scientist, Arthur Brooks. I was struck with how some of his insights parallel several themes in Ecclesiastes. He names the “striver’s curse” as our unflagging efforts to achieve and pursue excellence which ends up leaving us feeling empty.
Brooks goes on to say that we all experience decline. To obtain renewal, we must “use things, love people, worship the Divine.” I reflected on how Solomon (and myself) often did the converse - use people, love things and ignore God.
The author of Ecclesiastes concludes with this:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed in life into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
For a succinct, informative overview of the book of Ecclesiastes, watch the graphic video: “Ecclesiastes” by the BibleProject (Length: 8 minutes)
- Do you find it more compelling to learn from someone who speaks with authority or someone who speaks out of humble brokenness? Why?
- How do you find yourself striving for significance in this season of your life? Is your striving bringing life or emptiness?
- How easy is it for you to let go of expectations and control (power) and just enjoy the opportunities of the day as God provides them?
After watching the BibleProject video, Ecclesiastes, I encourage you to read the book of Ecclesiastes this weekend. Look for words and phrases that stand out to you.
As I searched for possible artwork to use for this devotional, I encountered lots of wall art incorporating phrases from Ecclesiastes. Some common examples include:
- “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
- “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls one can help the other up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
At this season of your life, what verse in Ecclesiastes would you most want on your wall?
And finally, I encourage you to listen and watch the music video by folk artist Bradford Soland.
- How do you react to Soland’s portrayal of Solomon? Why?
- Compare the concept of “Hevel” (Vapor or breath as discussed in yesterday’s devotional) with “Breath from heaven” in the song.
by Bradford Soland (from the album “Right Side of The Boat”)
Teacher to the wise
Your wisdom is of God - What’s the meaning of this life?
He said “the sun will rise and the sun will set
And returns to where it rose”
“The wind blows north and south
Round and round it goes”
Teacher far and wide
Gold we bring to you to listen at your side
When he gazed on all he had - He turned to us and said
“When I die gold stays” and sadly shook his head
“Dust to dust our bodies go – our spirits back to God”
“Then comes the final judgment so follow all his laws”
Then love came down
Thank you Abba
Lamb of God
Heaven on Earth
Then love came in
Breath from heaven
Living in us
Tell us one more thing
When we’re wise like you, how happy will we be?
“Much wisdom brings much sorrow – More knowledge brings more grief”
“What’s bent cannot be straightened - So enjoy all you’ve received.”
“Be happy, eat, enjoy your work”
“Fear God while you still live”
“Life is like a vapor”
“A chasing of the wind”