Solomon’s story is a tale of a wise and noble man, as far as men go. He was the wisest of men. (1 Kings 4:30) He had everything. He was handed the kingdom of Israel from his father, David, who had subdued all the warring nations around them.
Solomon had peace for the entire 40 years of his reign because of David’s prowess and provision. Solomon was also a great statesman in his own right, maintaining strong relationships with foreign leaders.
Without the ever-present threat of war, and with the help of favored nations, Solomon was able to build a stunning Temple for God and a magnificent house for himself.
Solomon was also called Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord).
When God offered him whatever he wanted, Solomon chose wisdom. The wisdom literature in the Bible, and possibly Ecclesiastes, were written by Solomon, along with some Psalms that remain with us today. Leaders from around the known world traveled to take counsel from Solomon.
Among the things Solomon wrote was Proverbs 5:1-4:
My son, pay attention to my wisdom,
turn your ear to my words of insight,
that you may maintain discretion
and your lips may preserve knowledge.
For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
sharp as a double-edged sword.
In Proverbs 5:15-16, these famous poetic words were penned:
Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Surely, Solomon was too smart and wise to be tripped up by lust, right?
Well… no. I am not sure that Solomon committed adultery (like his father David did, taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who gave birth to Solomon). He didn’t need to, because he took for himself hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines on top of that! (1 Kings 11:3)
God had spoken many years before to Moses about the conduct of kings. Solomon in his wisdom certainly would have known these words: “[The king] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” (Deut. 17:17)
Of course, Solomon did both. We learn in 1 Kings 11 that those hundreds of wives turned Solomon’s heart from God, which tarnished his legacy and led to the break up of the nation of Israel forever.
What does the story of Solomon tell us? Some people might conclude (too easily) that the Bible is full of contradictions. Is this the lesson: don’t do as I do; do as I say? If Solomon, as wise as he was, got tripped up by common lust and greed, what does that mean for the rest of us?
As great a man as Solomon was, he was just a man, and all men fall short.
David, the man after God’s own heart, was no saint either. His own problem with lust ended in adultery and murder for hire. Solomon was the product of that adulterous relationship. Solomon was conceived in sin!
Some people who read the Bible too shallowly may find it “full of contradictions”, but they miss the nuances and key points. It’s not like Scripture hides anything. The good, the bad and the ugly are laid bare on the pages of Scripture for all the world to see!
The one thing David instructed Solomon to do was “keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the law of Moses….” (1 Kings 2:3)
Yet, Solomon was already, even then, sacrificing and burning incense “on the high places”. (1 Kings 3:3) Sacrificing and burning incense on the high places means idol worship. Solomon loved God (1 Kings 2:2), but that didn’t stop him from worshiping other gods too. I doubt that changed after Solomon became king.
Even so God blessed him and kept His promise to David. God visited Solomon and offered him whatever he wanted. (I Kings 3:5) God gave him wealth, fame and favor with other nations in addition to the wisdom Solomon asked for. God allowed Solomon to build the Temple David wanted to build.
Yet, Solomon was a “womanizer” and worshiped other gods. He had all the characteristics of a beloved leader among the people of God, but his heart went after other so much that he eventually turned away from God and angered Him. (I Kings 11:9-11)
Solomon was very human after all, even the wisest man that maybe ever walked the earth. We don’t know for sure that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, perhaps, but it certainly seems to have his signature on it. The writer explored all the possible things in this world that could satisfy a person, including wisdom and pleasure, but found nothing that ultimately satisfies. It’s all vanity!
This is not so much a tale of “do as I say, not what I do”; rather it’s a tale of “I messed up!” I knew what to do from the very beginning, but I wanted more. Solomon had everything he could have wanted in this world, but he didn’t have enough.
But, that’s the human condition too. Just as obeying God’s commandments isn’t enough, by itself, we need to personalize our own journey and relationship with God. We have to come to our own realization, individually, that we have sinned and fallen short. We have to go to God under the weight of our own sin and receive from Him the grace that provides us salvation and hope.
Ecclesiastes includes the statement that God set eternity in the heart of man (Ecc. 3:11) (implying that anything that is temporal will not ultimately satisfy). Ecclesiastes ends with this statement:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:13-14)
David and Solomon’s lives were certainly mixed bags of fortune and failure. They ultimately failed to live up to God’s standards, as we all do. David, though, never drifted too far from God. He always returned to God and always maintained his relationship to Go. (See King David’s Secret) Solomon, his son, it seems drifted pretty far from God towards the end of his life in the search for fulfillment and satisfaction, but it seems he came near to the same place he began with the advice of his father.
This was the advice that his father, King David, gave Solomon as a youth. David told him to “keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways….” (1 Kings 2:3)
Notice that David used the word, “walk”, rather than obey. To walk in God’s ways is more than obedience to a moral code or a moral Law Giver; to walk in God’s ways is to walk in relationship with God. Some of us may spend our whole lives coming to the conclusion that walking with God is the greatest thing we can hope to “accomplish” in this life.