The Wise Fool
The Wise Fool
1 Kings 9:10–11:43
Main Idea: The collapse of Solomon’s reign underscores our need for a King greater than Solomon.
I. Solomon’s Tainted Glory (9:10–10:29)
A. Solomon’s position (9:10)
B. Solomon’s protection and provision (9:11-22,24)
C. Solomon’s righteousness (9:25)
D. Solomon’s wisdom (10:1-13)
E. Solomon’s wealth (10:14-29)
II. Solomon’s Tragic Collapse (11:1-43)
A. His downfall was predictable (11:1-2).
B. His downfall involved deliberate disobedience (11:1-3).
C. His downfall stemmed from a heart problem (11:1-9).
D. His downfall involved persistent sin (11:2-9).
E. His downfall was a gateway to apostasy (11:5-8).
F. His downfall caused devastating results (11:9-43).
III. What Should We Say at Solomon’s Funeral?
Chapters 9 and 10 are like taking a field trip to observe the grandeur of a building or a city. We read of the cities Solomon built and the massive amount of gold he accumulated. We also read of a fascinating meeting with the queen of Sheba. However, the story moves from the golden age to a cold grave. In chapter 11 we read the sad commentary on Solomon’s sins, their devastating consequences, and a brief statement of his death. We read of massive gold and incomparable wisdom, and then we finish at a graveside.
Solomon is a paradox. He was the wisest man ever, yet he made some foolish and destructive choices (like having 700 wives!). He was an incredibly blessed man, but he didn’t always steward God’s blessings faithfully. He knew God’s law, but he didn’t keep it. He led the nation to a golden age (peace, prosperity, profitable trade, and a magnificent temple), yet he also led it into decline and set it up for collapse.
Solomon serves as both example and warning. Like Solomon we need to learn how to steward God’s gifts responsibly. We have a sinful tendency to take good things and use them wrongly. Sex, money, food, and influence are wonderful blessings when used accordingly for God’s glory, but they can be abused and can destroy lives.
Therefore, we need to learn from this story—the story of Solomon’s tainted glory and his tragic downfall. His rise to greatness is something to behold, but it’s short-lived and impure at times. Solomon’s glory is “under a cloud, destined to fade away” (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 84). In studying his life we must learn to avoid his sins and to marvel at the One greater than Solomon.
Solomon’s Tainted Glory
1 Kings 9:10–10:29
Solomon’s life and reign reveal glimpses of Jesus’ glory. By examining some Messianic categories provided in chapters 9–10, we can navigate through the narrative and set our minds on the ultimate Son of David who fulfilled the categories. Let me point out five aspects of Solomon’s kingly glory that were present but not perfect.
Solomon’s Position (9:10)
The section opens up with some chronology: “At the end of 20 years” of construction activity. At this time 24 years of Solomon’s reign were complete (6:1,38; 7:1). He had the privilege of being the king, but he also served as a mediator. In the previous chapters Solomon built “the Lord’s temple,” which was a place for sacrifice and prayer. Immediately following this, we find Solomon praying for his people (8:12-66). He offers a sevenfold petition to God on their behalf, and God responds by saying, “I have heard your prayer” (9:3). Solomon is communing with God, interceding on behalf of the people in a priestly way. What a unique privilege he had!
Second Chronicles 7 records a portion of this story not revealed in Kings. After the prayer and the dedication of the temple, we read a promise that has become popular. God says, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chr 7:14). In the previous sevenfold petition, Solomon asked God to hear the people when they pray (1 Kgs 8:22-53). Here in 2 Chronicles 7 God says that the people do indeed have access to Him and that He will “hear from heaven.” Now the people have a place of prayer in the temple (the new garden of Eden) and the promise that God will hear their prayer. Solomon serves as a mediator for them.
A greater Mediator. Of course, Solomon doesn’t fulfill this role perfectly. Only Jesus would become the ultimate Mediator. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5). Through Christ we now have access to the Father (Eph 2:18). He is the way back into the garden, our new temple, giving us access to God. Because of Jesus, God can and does hear our prayer. We have One who has gone before us, a perfect, sinless Mediator, Jesus, who “lives to intercede” for us (Heb 7:25; cf. Rom 8:34).
Solomon’s Protection and Provision (9:11-22,24)
We first read of Hiram, king of Tyre, in chapter 5. He gave supplies for the temple. (A different Hiram built the furnishings for the temple; 7:13ff.) What chapter 5 hints at, chapter 9 shows us. Hiram was very much a “junior partner” in his relationship with Solomon (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 84). Hiram gives Solomon gold “for his every wish,” and in return Solomon provides him with 20 cities (1 Kgs 9:11-12). For some reason Hiram is dissatisfied with this trade, so he names the cities “Land of Cabul” (unknown meaning, perhaps “Like Nothing” or “Worthless”). This probably had to do with the amount of gold he gave to Solomon (Konkel, 1 and 2 Kings, 198). Despite the apparent displeasure with the trade, Hiram continues to send men to the sea to bring more gold to Solomon (vv. 26-28; 10:11-12,22).
While Solomon’s trading practices probably continued to bless the people, it seems that we have another example of Solomon watching out for his own interests more than the interests of others. This problem seems to have escalated in his later years. We read less about the people and more of Solomon’s wealth in chapters 9–11. Previously we read that all of Israel lived “under his own vine and his own fig tree” (4:25). Has Solomon’s power and wealth led him to love gold more than people? Is he using his wisdom to do justice and lead the nation faithfully, or is he using it to acquire more wealth?
Next the writer tells of Solomon’s magnificent construction projects and the massive amount of workers needed (vv. 15-19). Many of these workers appear to have been enlisted unjustly (5:13,21; 11:28; 12:14). This is another example of glory under a cloud.
Impressively, we read of the following construction projects: “the supporting terraces,” “the wall of Jerusalem,” “storage cities,” “the chariot cities,” and “the cavalry cities.” Then the writer says, “And whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, Lebanon, or anywhere else in the land of his dominion” (v. 19). Thus, Solomon strengthened the defenses. Six cities formed a line of defense from north to south: Hazor, Meggido, Gezer, Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, and Tamar. These were fortified towns that protected the people and the trade routes. He had to rebuild Gezer because Pharaoh destroyed it. All of these were strategic passes that Solomon controlled for the benefit of the nation. Hazor was strategically located in the north. Megiddo was an intimidating fortress that controlled one of the major passes along the coast of the Jezreel Valley. Gezer was on the road from Joppa to Jerusalem. Upper and Lower Beth-horon were areas that controlled access to the highlands of Judea from the coastal plain through the Aijalon Valley. Baalath refers to several cities in Canaan.
What about his wife? She receives a new separate home (v. 24). In chapter 11 we will read more of Solomon’s woman troubles and their disastrous implications.
In verses 20-22 we read of the subjugation of Solomon’s enemies. In 2 Chronicles 8:3 the Chronicler says, “Solomon went to Hamath-zobah and seized it.” Solomon wins a military victory.
The writer tells us of 550 men in particular who worked under Solomon (1 Kgs 9:23). As already mentioned, Solomon’s administrative skills demonstrated his God-given wisdom. And we know that in the kingdom of Christ a much greater administration exists thanks to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts to His people (including administration) so that God’s people can work harmoniously and effectively.
In 1 Kings 9:26-28 we see that Solomon also built a navy. Sailors are sent to serve Solomon. These ships are probably for both protection and trade (10:22). Ophir was a place known for an abundance of gold (10:11).
A greater Protector and Provider. King Solomon serves as a provider and protector to the people, but because of his failures, he pales in comparison to the true Son of David. Christ is our protector and has all power in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). He is a victorious warrior who not only protects but also provides all good things to those who seek His kingdom (Matt 6:33). He supplies our needs according to His riches in glory (Phil 4:19). Unlike Solomon, who acquired much gold for himself, we have a King who shares His spiritual riches with us (2 Cor 8:9).
Solomon’s Righteousness (9:25)
The writer of Kings describes Solomon’s sacrificial offerings. The Chronicler goes into more detail in 2 Chronicles 8:12-16. (As a whole Chronicles provides a more idealistic vision of the monarchy than Kings does. Many of Solomon’s problems aren’t mentioned in Chronicles.) Chronicles shows Solomon obediently keeping the feasts and making the sacrifices. He set an example, a pattern of righteousness. However, his pattern of righteousness was not perfect because Solomon was disobedient to the covenant.
Greater righteousness. Christ, however, fulfilled all righteousness. Peter says Christ gave us an example that we might walk in His steps (1 Pet 2:21). Christ alone committed no sin (1 Pet 2:22). Not only that, but He also died on behalf of those who sinned: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). We can only be righteous through Christ, our perfect example and ultimate sacrifice.
Solomon’s Wisdom (10:1-13)
Here we read of the queen of Sheba (present-day Yemen). This area was famous for perfumes, incense, gold, and gems. She is attracted to Solomon because she heard of his fame “connected with the name of Yahweh” (v. 1). The nations are being drawn to the God of Israel (cf. 8:41-43,60; Josh 9:9). Once again we see that God isn’t a mere village god or even a national god but a global God.
When she comes, she tests him with hard questions and gives him “gold in great abundance” (v. 2). Solomon then answers all her questions. She marvels at Solomon’s wisdom, his house, his servants, and his splendor.
Verses 6-9 continue describing how her breath was taken away by the king’s wisdom and prosperity, the happiness of his servants, and his execution of justice. Again we read of more gold, spices, and precious stones being given to Solomon in unparalleled quantities.
Greater wisdom. Even more than Solomon, Christ astounded everyone by His wisdom (Mark 6:1-2). His fame spread because of His authoritative teaching (Mark 1:27-28). He answered all of their questions and left them silenced (Mark 12:34).
There is another obvious and powerful connection to Christ here. For Christ refers to the queen of Sheba in Matt 12:42 and Luke 11:31. In these passages Jesus tells us that we have not seen the last of her. He uses her as an example of the effort others should take to hear His word. The queen of Sheba traveled hundreds of miles to hear Solomon. Like the Ninevites she had a small portion of God’s truth and responded positively to it. In these passages Jesus is comparing the queen to the Gentiles who were not “in the loop” like the religious leaders; yet they responded to Christ’s word positively. Jesus said that those who reject Him will stand condemned, and the queen of the South will be “pointing her finger at you” (Davis, 1 Kings, 109).
The application is clear: you know far more than the queen of Sheba, the Ninevites, or even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day because you have the whole Bible. Don’t be resistant or indifferent! You must listen and believe or face the consequences. Seek Jesus. Study His Word—even if you have to travel far, make sacrifices, relocate, get up early, or stay up late. Hear Wisdom and the good news of His kingdom. You have no excuse. Paul says, “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him” (Col 2:3). So come to Him and pay homage to Him, for there is no one else like Him.
Are you taking every effort to study the Scriptures personally? What about attending corporate worship? If you aren’t a Christian, are you earnestly seeking the truth?
I was in Boston a few years ago speaking to a large group of college students from universities around New England. A group of international girls was on the second row taking avid notes. During the break I asked them, “When did you become Christians?” One said, “We’re not Christians. We’re still searching.” That sounds very much like the queen of Sheba—diligently seeking truth. I was happy that they were spending their weekend to study God’s Word. Don’t put Christ on the shelf. Consider His claims and His Word, or you will face the consequences of indifference and unbelief.
As we think about Solomon’s glory spreading to the Gentile nations, we’re reminded that this too pales in comparison to the global glory of Christ. Psalm 72 reminds us that though some of Solomon’s prayer came to pass, not all of these petitions could be accomplished through him. They would be fulfilled through the King of kings:
Let all kings bow down to him,
all nations serve him. . . .
as long as the sun shines,
may his fame increase.
May all nations be blessed by him
and call him blessed. (Ps 72:11,17)
We also know that one day “the kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah” (Rev 11:15). Concerning the greater Solomon’s kingdom, we can say indeed, “The half has not been told” of what is about to be displayed to His people.
Solomon’s Wealth (10:14-29)
The word “gold” appears 10 times in 10:14-22. In chapter 9 we read of 9,000 pounds of gold (v. 14), then 16 tons of gold (v. 28), and here in chapter 10, 25 tons of gold (v. 14). Solomon made stuff with this gold, such as decorations for his palace (v. 16), overlaid his throne with it (vv. 18-20), and made household items with it (v. 21). He accumulated silver (v. 21), chariots, and horses (v. 26). We read a summary statement of his wisdom and wealth in verses 23-25, including how rulers brought tribute to Solomon. Solomon was a rich man.
Problems abound here. Deuteronomy 17 is an important text on how the king should live and rule, and Solomon doesn’t obey these commands. Instead of following the law, he acquired many horses for himself, sent the people back to Egypt, acquired many wives, and acquired large amounts of silver and gold (cf. Deut 17:16-17). Further, we read that God wanted the king not to have his heart “exalted above his countrymen” (Deut 17:20).
While God promised to bless Solomon with wealth, Solomon has become “the rich fool” who is laying up treasure for himself instead of “being rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21; notice how Jesus mentions Solomon in v. 27). Jesus said, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life isn’t in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Solomon’s wealth started out as a blessing, but he was not responsible with it and lusted for more of it. At the end of his life, he wrote, “The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile” (Eccl 5:10). Indeed, Solomon had the pleasures of this life (Eccl 1–2) but ended up saying that what matters most is to “fear God and keep His commands” (Eccl 12:13).
But godliness with contentment is a great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing,
we will be content with these.
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. . . .
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real. (1 Tim 6:6-10,17-19)
The wealthy aren’t charged to become poor but rather to learn how to use their wealth, treasure God above all, and serve others faithfully.
Greater glory. Despite Solomon’s personal, inordinate desire for gold, the wealth of the kingdom does remind us of the future messianic kingdom. Isaiah says,
. . . the wealth of the nations will come to you. Caravans of camels will cover your land—young camels of Midian and Ephah—all of them will come from Sheba. They will carry gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the Lord. (Isa 60:5-6)
Isaiah uses images of an Arabic caravan bringing in massive amounts of gold. Resting camels cover the ground like flies. Of course, the gold and frankincense are symbols of wealth of the East, used by the wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus to fulfill this picture partially. What is the goal of this ultimate fulfillment? It isn’t to repay anyone. It isn’t to say the Jews are a superior race. It’s for the “praises of the Lord.” That’s it. Jesus deserves our praise and our grateful offerings (Oswalt, Isaiah, 541). In Revelation we read, “The kings of the earth will bring their glory into [new Jerusalem]. . . . But only those written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter there (Rev 21:24,27).
Solomon’s glory is magnificent in many ways, but his glory was incomplete, short-lived, and tainted. He and others may have thought he was at the pinnacle of his reign, but he didn’t care for his soul appropriately. His lack of attention to his spiritual life leads to his fall in chapter 11.
Solomon’s Tragic Collapse
1 Kings 11:1-43
In chapter 11 Solomon’s sins are on full display. The first 10 verses show the tragic fall, while the following verses reveal its devastating consequences. What led to Solomon’s downfall? Let me point out six characteristics of Solomon’s downfall. It’s important that we understand the nature of this collapse so that we may avoid one of our own.
His Downfall Was Predictable (11:1-2)
The opening verses shouldn’t shock us in light of 1 Kings 3:1, where he wrongly married Pharaoh’s daughter (cf. Deut 7:17). Solomon started down the wrong path and never corrected himself. Ryken rightly says, “We start falling into sin long before we ever fall into disgrace” (1 Kings, 295).
Solomon is a case study on the subtlety of sin. Along with marrying Pharaoh’s daughter, there are other warning signs, like his questionable political actions in chapter 2, worshiping at the high places, taking horses from Egypt, debatable actions in building his own palace, the questionable integrity of his trading practices with Hiram, misuse of wealth, and the use of forced labor. Now these “small sins” lead to this big disaster.
You cannot let sin go unchecked and think everything will be fine. You must deal with it head on, immediately, and aggressively. What sins should you seek to kill? All sins! How many spiders do you need to eat to damage your body? One! The Puritans used to compare small sins to baby snakes. They’re small but deadly, and if you let them live, they will grow into huge serpents (Ryken, 1 Kings, 297).
His Downfall Involved Deliberate Disobedience (11:1-3)
Solomon couldn’t plead ignorance or accident. He knew God’s clear word revealed in the Scriptures. He was not to take a foreign wife, nor was he to take many wives (Deut 7:3-4; 17:17). He was to be different from pagan kings. Further, the Ten Commandments forbid coveting and adultery as well (Exod 20:14,17). Ultimately he broke the first commandment (Exod 20:3), which will cause you to break the others. Solomon knew this but intentionally and defiantly chose to disobey God for political and selfish reasons.
As mentioned earlier, he deliberately disobeyed Deuteronomy 17 in multiple ways. God had good reasons for these commands—His commands are always for our good. Kings were forbidden to take a foreign wife because of the threat of idolatry. The prohibition against taking many horses was so the people would not trust in horses and chariots but rather trust in God (Ps 20:7; Deut 20:1). They were not to return to Egypt because God rescued them from Egypt and threw Egypt’s horses into the sea (Exod 15:1).
What makes matters even worse is that Solomon wrote about these issues. Concerning forbidden women, he wrote three chapters in Proverbs about staying away from them, yet we read that he had 700 wives who were princesses and 300 concubines (1 Kgs 11:3). I doubt he even knew their names! Concerning wealth, he wrote, “Anyone trusting in riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage” (Prov 11:28). Yet he lived more for wealth than for righteousness.
Once again, it’s one thing to know the Word of God, and it’s another thing to live by it. God doesn’t simply want you to know information about the Bible; He wants you to obey it. Solomon deliberately chose to disobey the Word of God, and it led to his downfall.
His Downfall Stemmed from a Heart Problem (11:1-9)
Six times in the first nine verses, we read of Solomon’s heart being led astray: “heart after their gods” (v. 2 ESV); his wives “turned his heart away” (v. 3 ESV); “turned away his heart after other gods (v. 4 ESV); “his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (v. 4 ESV); and “the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from Yahweh” (v. 9).
Solomon’s story began with the statement, “Solomon loved the Lord” (1 Kgs 3:3); now it ends in a tragedy, “Solomon loved many foreign women” (11:1). Notice also the phrase “deeply attached” (v. 2). Usually, the Hebrew word behind this phrase describes someone being faithful to God (Deut 13:4), but here Solomon is clinging to foreign women who led his heart astray.
All sin is an inside job. We live out of the overflow of the heart. To say it another way, sin problems are worship problems. Because Solomon’s heart was given to other lovers, he fell hard. James says, “Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15). Do you see that? It begins with desire; it leads to death. The problem isn’t “out there” but “in here”—in the heart.
Solomon offered orthodox prayers, spoke good proverbs, and wrote wonderful poetry, yet his heart was not wholly true to God. He abandoned the love he had at first (cf. Rev 2:4). What about you? Do you find your heart flirting with different sins? Are you headed for a tragedy?
We will worship something or someone. Whom will you worship? If you don’t worship the God of the Bible through His Son Jesus Christ, then you will experience what the psalmist said in Psalm 16:4: “The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply.” My friend, you are multiplying your sorrows when you give your heart to idols (sports, peer approval, success, sex, power, money). You’re turning from the only source of everlasting joy. The psalm goes on to say, “In Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures” (Ps 16:11). Solomon’s heart went after other gods, and it eventually led to his downfall.
His Downfall Involved Persistent Sin (11:2-9)
The writer says Solomon’s heart was turned “when he was old” (v. 4). He didn’t have a brief lapse into sin. The progression of sin seems to have gone on gradually until he eventually collapsed when he was old. Repeated words reveal the persistent nature of his turn from following Yahweh: turn (vv. 2,4,9), follow (vv. 5,6,10), and heart (vv. 3,9; Olley, Message of Kings, 116). Even though the Lord “appeared to him twice” (v. 9), Solomon continued down the wrong path.
His heart wasn’t “wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David” (v. 4 ESV; cf. v. 6). The writer uses David as an example here and in other places (see 11:38; 14:8; 15:5). We know David sinned with Bathsheba and in other situations, but David’s fall was followed by a broken and contrite heart and repentance. From David we have Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance and renewal. Consequently, the biblical writers can speak positively of David (e.g., Acts 13:36).
How will you finish your life? Simon Peter had a grave lapse in sin, but Jesus restored him and Peter died heroically, serving Jesus faithfully. You cannot change the past, but by God’s grace, you can be restored and finish well.
If you have fallen into sin, follow the model of David, not Solomon. Solomon saw the problem but didn’t repent. This story provides a warning. David’s story gives us hope. What should you do if you sin? You should repent like David, but that’s not what we naturally want to do. We want to deny sin, rename sin, redefine sin, ignore sin, manage sin, or shift the blame for sin. What should we do? We should hate sin and constantly repent of it. Believers admit their sin, accept God’s mercy, find help among God’s people, and change the way they live.
Because your inner person is hidden, you might appear to be doing fine but actually be withering away spiritually. If your soul is withering away, don’t persist in sin. You can be a supermodel but be spiritually empty. You might have just received a raise but find no joy in it because your soul isn’t at peace. You could be on the fast track to success as a young businessperson but not be in sweet communion with God. You can be an “A+” student but be in constant darkness spiritually. On the flip side you could have cancer and no physical strength but on the inside be soaring in praise to God! You might be unemployed, but you can still dance when you hear of God’s faithfulness and grace.
Daniel Doriani told how Henri Nouwen assessed his own soul. Nouwen was a tenured professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. He was internationally known for his writing and instruction. He then shocked everyone when in his mid-fifties he decided to leave Harvard to work with people in Toronto with mental handicaps. He wasn’t going to be training the best and brightest but those who couldn’t dress themselves. Some were mute. Even though he was the “spiritual advisor” of the place, he also changed diapers and cared for others physically. Why would you leave Harvard to go work with mentally disabled individuals? Nouwen said it was motivated by love for God, who loved him when he was poor and weak and commands us to do the same. Nouwen also stated that as he grew older he began asking the question, “Am I getting closer to Jesus?” As he reflected, he saw that he was praying poorly. He was isolated from others. He sensed that his soul was withering away even though he was teaching spiritual disciplines to the best and the brightest. He prayed and believed that God wanted him to leave the world of fame and to care for these precious individuals (Doriani, “The Wise Fool”).
Solomon’s story is the other side to Nouwen’s story. Nouwen’s friends told him he was doing great, like Solomon, but Nouwen paid more attention to God speaking in his heart. Solomon was doing some things well, but he listened to his friends and disregarded vital spiritual warning signs. As a result, he eventually collapsed. Solomon’s persistent sin eventually led to his downfall.
His Downfall Was a Gateway to Apostasy (11:5-8)
Solomon lapsed into evil worship practices. Once his heart was drawn away from the living God, widespread idolatry occurred. Strangely, Solomon worships the gods whose nations he conquered and controlled (House, 1, 2 Kings, 167). Yahweh had demonstrated that the so-called gods of those nations were impotent and nonexistent (cf. Ps 96:5). Yet Solomon abandoned the living God in favor of those counterfeits. This makes no sense, but then idolatry never makes sense (Jer 2:11-13).
Solomon worships the fertility goddess Ashtoreth. This false goddess appears throughout the Old Testament (Judg 2:13). Not only does he worship this “sex goddess,” but he also worships Milcom (whom some scholars identify as Molech). The worship of Molech involved the incineration of infants (v. 5; cf. Lev 20:2-5; 2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 32:35). Molech had a burning belly with hands reached out, and worshipers would give their children to him, and the child would be consumed. Solomon also builds a high place for Chemosh (v. 7). Solomon accommodates his foreign women’s wishes by building them a place for this abominable practice. All of this was “evil in the Lord’s sight” (v. 6; this phrase will appear throughout Kings). Verse 8 also implies other gods were involved.
A contemporary example of this isn’t hard to find. People may change their theology in order to satisfy their immoral desires. If people don’t repent of sin, they will end up changing what they believe to justify their sinful lifestyle. Solomon should have stopped and repented, but instead he practiced syncretism. His downfall was a gateway to apostasy.
His Downfall Caused Devastating Results (11:9-43)
The Lord’s response has three parts. First, in verses 9-13, we see the anger of the Lord (v. 9). While God is slow to anger and abounding in love, idolatry provokes God to anger, causing Him to act swiftly and justly (Exod 32–34; Num 20). God blessed Solomon tremendously, but he turned his back on God. Second, God speaks to Solomon and tells him that the kingdom will be torn away from him (v. 11). Third, Solomon and his descendants will keep the throne only because of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (vv. 12-13). It’s only for David’s sake that Solomon remains king, and it’s only for David’s sake that his descendants will rule a fragmented nation. Despite this grace the resulting punishment is inevitable and tragic. Division, idolatry, and exile await Israel.
In the following verses we read about adversaries God raised up to oppose Solomon. Verses 14-25 mention neighboring adversaries. Verses 26-40 describe Jeroboam, an adversary from within.
The first of the neighboring adversaries was Hadad the Edomite. He was from the southwest, and he would harass Solomon from below (vv. 14-22). Next we read of Rezon from Damascus in Aram (Syria) who hated Israel (vv. 23-25). He was from the northeast and would harass Solomon from above. These men will pose an ongoing threat to Solomon, one from the north and one from the south.
After we read of the neighboring adversaries, we read of one from within. Jeroboam, who was once Solomon’s employee, becomes an agent of God’s judgment (vv. 26-40). As a young man Jeroboam impressed Solomon, and Solomon gave power to him. Little did Solomon know that he would be the man who would end the Davidic dynasty’s rule over northern Israel (v. 28).
Through the prophet Ahijah, God informs Jeroboam that he will have a kingdom (vv. 29-39). The prophet tears a cloak into 12 pieces, giving 10 pieces to Jeroboam to illustrate that he will have 10 tribes, while two remain for David’s descendants (Judah and the unmentioned tribe of Benjamin). Thus the nation will be divided and weak. The reasons are also provided. God will preserve Judah because of His faithfulness to David (vv. 32,34,36), and God will bring judgment because of the idolatry of Solomon and the people (v. 33). Jeroboam is also promised blessing if he walks in the ways of David (vv. 37-38). As a result of the promised split, Solomon seeks to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam flees to Egypt until Solomon’s death (v. 40).
Prophets begin to appear more often in the story now. One wonders where the prophets went during Solomon’s decline. We will soon find them anointing kings, doing miracles, and providing a theological conscience to the people.
After we read of the adversaries that God raised up to oppose Solomon, we read of Solomon’s death (vv. 41-42). House says that no one knows the exact contents of the “Book of Solomon’s Events,” but it probably contained both narrative and chronological materials (1, 2 Kings, 173). Like David he reigned for 40 years. His successor is also mentioned: Rehoboam (v. 43). However, Rehoboam’s reign will be under a dark cloud, for his kingdom will be smaller because Israel’s glory days are over.
What Should We Say at Solomon’s Funeral?
We began our tour with Solomon’s glory, and now we end at his funeral. What should we say at the graveside? He definitely had positive traits, namely wisdom and eloquence. He used his wisdom to write, organize, develop efficient foreign policy, build the temple, grow the economy, trade, and build great fortresses. He also offered a magnificent prayer to God in chapter 8. We should remember these positive traits about Solomon.
Unfortunately we must also note his flaws: he broke clear commands, like taking many foreign wives; he used oppressive measures to gain wealth; and worst of all, he enabled and committed gross idolatry, which led to national disaster. House states, “At worst then, this wise leader of Israel acts no better than the most foolish of his subjects. He thereby serves as a warning to those who take their God-given gifts for granted or, worse, come to believe they have achieved greatness on their own” (House, 1, 2 Kings, 174).
Perhaps you have gained it all—wealth, power, sexual pleasure, a big home—but you don’t have Christ. Jesus asks this question: “For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?” (Mark 8:36). Eternal life is in the balance!
We can die well because our King finished well. For David’s sake, God remained faithful to His people (2 Sam 7:14-15). God left a lamp burning (1 Kgs 11:36). He doesn’t wipe out Israel, though they will face dreadful consequences. Eventually the One greater than Solomon did come. He is the perfect Mediator, the ultimate Protector and Provider, the perfectly righteous One, the ultimate wise King, and the One with infinite riches.
This King wouldn’t turn away from God’s law but would keep it perfectly and then die on behalf of idolaters. This King would also go to a grave, but he would only sleep with His fathers for three days. Paul said,
From this man’s [David’s] descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel. . . . Through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:23,38-39)
Our hope is this Savior-King whose kingdom is forever. If you aren’t a follower of the King, then bow to Him. As the queen of Sheba came and marveled at Solomon, so come to Jesus and experience His salvation. If you have failed Him, then don’t let sin go unchecked. Repent of sin and experience His renewing mercies today.
Reflect and Discuss
- Have you ever felt jealousy or covetousness toward someone far richer than you?
- Are God’s people promised riches if they are faithful?
- Was it wrong for Solomon to engage in various building projects other than the temple? Why or why not?
- Why is wealth so appealing?
- How do godly contentment and godly ambition work together?
- Describe the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon’s wisdom and wealth.
- Why was Solomon forbidden to marry women from other nations?
- What was the result of Solomon’s disobedience?
- How might believers today let relationships with others overtake their relationship with God?
- Has God ever blessed you with something and then taken it away because you misused His gift?