Today we're looking at the saga of King Solomon of Israel, the decisions he made, the impact he had, and the legacy he left behind. How did Solomon impact Old Testament history? What were some historical and cultural facts that played into Solomon's reign as king? And what larger biblical themes play out in regard to who God is in Solomon's story, and how can those truths apply in our modern world? We'll see that King Solomon was a clear example of how God blesses and calls those whom he loves, yet our propensity to sinfulness and pride mire even the most beloved of God. This all points us to the need for the savior Jesus Christ. King Solomon was both a testament to the goodness of God and the deceitfulness of sin. But we see that in the end, God has the final victory even in the life of King Solomon.
Solomon was the last son that King David had during his life, and Solomon was a result of David's marriage with Bathsheba, the woman he took from another man, whom he had killed (2 Samuel 11 NIV). Solomon was a child of David's old age. David had tired of constant war in the kingdom, and so he named his last son "Solomon" which means "the peaceful one" (Smith's Bible Dictionary). Nathan called him "Jedidiah" which means "beloved of God" which echoes the name of David "beloved" (Smith's Bible Dictionary). Nathan cared for and raised Solomon along with David and his court. When David was very old one of his other sons Adonijah attempted to claim the throne from Solomon but failed, and Solomon was made king over Israel.
Solomon reigned as king over Israel for 40 years, from about B.C. 1015-975 (Smith's Bible Dictionary). He achieved a great deal during the first half of his reign as king. The construction of the temple of the Lord began in Solomon's 4th year of reigning and was completed in his eleventh. He also constructed a giant palace, which began in his 7th year and was completed in the 20th. His reign over Israel saw the nation at the height of its influence and power, renowned across the world, wielding massive armies, huge treasure troves, and unparalleled wisdom in King Solomon himself.
Solomon is most well known for being an exceedingly wise king, at least in his early years. Famously, Solomon went up to the high place at Gibeon and made a sacrifice to the Lord (1st Kings 3). While there Solomon had a dream where he saw the Lord, and God offered to give him what he would ask for. Solomon famously replied: "...Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" -1st Kings 3:9 (NIV)
This response pleased the Lord, and so God gave Solomon great wisdom and additionally God gave Solomon wealth and honor. And God indicated that if Solomon would be careful to follow the instructions of the Lord he would have a long life, and there would be no one like him before or after (1st Kings 3:10-15 NIV).
God blessed King Solomon and his wisdom was unmatched in the ancient world. According to 1st Kings 4:32-34: "He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom."
Unfortunately, King Solomon became greedy, prideful, and power hungry, expanding his wealth, taking many foreign wives, collecting thousands of horses and chariots, and accumulating great wealth, which are all acts clearly prohibited for kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
Solomon established alliances with Egypt and Tyre through marriages. It's clear that during the reign of Solomon Israel became increasingly powerful, with his acclaim reaching across the ancient world (1st Kings 4:31 NIV). Many foreign kingdoms were feeble compared to the might and power of Israel at this time, coming to Solomon to offer up tribute.
According to 1st Kings 4:20-21 (NIV): "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life."
The high point for Solomon came at the completion of the temple of the Lord, with a great celebration and Solomon dedicated the temple to the Lord and prayed to God in regard to it (1st Kings 8 NIV). At the height of Solomon's accomplishments, the Lord once again came before Solomon in a dream. The Lord indicated His pleasure with the temple and the fact that His presence would abide there. But the Lord offered Solomon a choice: Observe the statutes of the Lord and follow all of His ways, you and your descendants, and you will be blessed and Israel will be great. But if you do not obey the Lord, and turn away from the Lord, the temple would come to ruin, and Israel would become a broken bygone country among the nations (1st Kings 9:1-9 NIV).
After this Solomon completed many great feats, he accumulated a massive army, many horses, great wealth, built great ships, high walls, and great cities. The whole world sought audiences with King Solomon, including the Queen of Sheba (1st Kings 10 NIV). He gathered 666 shekels of gold each year, and accumulated many jewels and rare treasures. He gathered massive amounts of silver, so much so that silver was as common as stones in Jerusalem. His wisdom was unparalleled among the nations and lesser kingdoms and peoples came before King Solomon offering tribute and wealth to Israel.
We see a great downturn in 1st Kings chapter 11, although Solomon had already been disobeying the Lord in other ways prior, Solomon's marriages with many women of foreign kingdoms truly began to change who Solomon was as a king. It says in no uncertain terms "His wives led him astray" (1st Kings 11:3 NIV). In 1st Kings 11 (NIV) it continues indicating: "He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done." King Solomon's heart was divided as he grew older, and his many wives and concubines guided him toward false gods. And despite all of Solomon's wisdom, the seduction of his wives, along with these false gods successfully turned his heart away from wisdom. The Lord had spoken directly to Solomon twice, and still Solomon turned away from the living God. And so the Lord spoke to King Solomon a 3rd time indicating His anger, and declared that the kingdom would be torn away from him, and he would be replaced by an unworthy subordinate (1st Kings 11:11-13 NIV). God also promised to raise up an enemy against the kingdom, though for the sake of David the Lord promised that these things would occur after Solomon had passed.
Trouble began to stir in Israel, and Jeroboam became powerful in the kingdom, but then rebelled against Solomon. Solomon tried to have him killed, but he fled to Egypt. King Solomon later died, and his son Rehoboam followed after him as king. Just as the Lord promised, due to King Solomon's disobedience, the kingdom of Israel was ripped apart and divided, and Rehoboam suffered greatly for Solomon's sins.
Solomon's legacy is quite full of contrary themes. King Solomon worshiped God almighty and established the temple, yet Solomon was later turned to foreign gods. "The Song of Solomon" is a beautiful book of the Bible depicting true love between husband and wife, yet later Solomon would give himself to foreign women, and eventually have 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon led Israel to great prominence and power in the ancient world, yet he enslaved over 160,000 people put to work in the forests of Lebanon (Smith's Bible Dictionary). King Solomon penned much of the book of Proverbs and most likely also penned Ecclesiastes, yet the foolishness of his decisions in disobeying the kingly laws of Deuteronomy, and his endless pursuits of treasure and pleasure ruined his kingdom. He left a lasting legacy of wisdom and power, yet the kings who followed Solomon were corrupt and ruined the progress Solomon had made. In fact, one can attribute the division of Israel into Judah and the northern kingdom to Solomon's slave labor programs, and his sexual immorality. The great kingdom Solomon had established once again dwindled into obscurity and would eventually be completely destroyed and driven into captivity in Assyria and Babylon.
King Solomon had so much wisdom, yet he was seduced by the pleasures of this life. He penned the proverbs, but those proverbs could not save him from the wayward woman he wrote about (Proverbs 5-7 NIV). Solomon asked for a discerning heart from God, yet later in his life the scriptures say Solomon's heart was divided. But perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes was Solomon's work of repentance, declaring that all the pleasures he sought were "meaningless, meaningless!"
So what can we learn about who God is from the life of King Solomon? I think there's several things we can learn.
Firstly, wisdom is exceedingly important to God. And God delights in giving his people wisdom. God is the source of all wisdom, and God is the one who grants wisdom. Wisdom does not have human origin, but is a gift of God, and God delighted in giving this gift to Solomon. Wisdom's importance is great; which Solomon wrote in Proverbs: "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding" (Proverb 4:7 NIV).
Secondly, sin is exceedingly seductive, especially sexual sin. If the wisest man who ever lived could be seduced and carried away by sin's seductiveness, then it is clear that sin is exceedingly appealing. Solomon allowed the door to be opened to sin, and very often, once the door is open it is exceedingly difficult to close again. Perhaps pride was the chief sin that Solomon failed to recognize in himself. Perhaps Solomon thought "I can handle it" when he married the many women he married, and assumed that nothing could turn his heart from God. Yet that's exactly what happened. The influence of his wives led him to begin to worship false gods. Sin is seductive. And if the greatest and wisest king in Israel's history was seduced by sin, then we should be twice as concerned with shunning even the mention of sin.
Thirdly, we see that sin has serious, long lasting consequences. The sins of one man, King Solomon deeply impacted the history of Israel. The sins of Solomon can be directly attributed to the division of the nation into Judah and the Northern kingdom. Solomon's sin affected his son Rehoboam as well. Despite all of the accomplishments that King Solomon had as king, expanding the kingdom and building the temple, his sins meant that in the future the temple was destroyed and the nation was crushed by Babylon and Assyria. Similarly, in our modern day and age, we must be aware that our sins can have long lasting consequences on society. Our personal sins can affect our entire family, and the sins we allow in the public square can tear apart society all together. We often fail to recognize the full dangers of sin, and we must be aware of how pervasive and destructive sin is on society and our future.
Fourthly, God will have the last word. Despite all that Solomon accomplished, it all came to ruin. Yet God had the last word in the life of King Solomon. Despite all of Solomon's mistakes, God brought Solomon to repentance. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." God will have the last word in our lives, despite our sins, despite all our mistakes, God offers us chance after chance to repent and turn again to Him.
In conclusion, King Solomon had a massive impact on the history and life of the nation of Israel. He was a wise, Godly king for many years, but later allowed himself to be led astray. Solomon was a great king of Israel, yet his decisions caused much harm to the future of the kingdom. Today we can learn from the example of King Solomon, that seeking wisdom from God is a mighty quest to partake of; but we must also remember that sin can seduce and lead astray even the best of us if we under-estimate it's power.
Hindson, E. E., & Yates, G. E. (2012). The Essence of the Old Testament: a survey. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic.
Smith, W. (1884). Smiths Bible Dictionary. Chicago, IL: The John C. Winston Co.