The Story: Solomon’s Failure to Finish, Part 2

Solomons-700-Wives

Solomon’s failure

(1Ki 11:4-6 ESV)  4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.  5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.

Solomon’s sin was not polygamy but idolatry, as a result of temptation by his foreign wives.

My guess is that Solomon was too much of a politician. The wives were not just bedroom companions — they also serve as ambassadors for their fathers. As a result, they did not convert to Judaism. They continued to worship the gods of their homelands.

It’s easy to imagine Solomon allowing the wives to have high places or temples built near their houses to allow them to worship the gods of their nations. This might seem only kind and politically astute. But the result would be for Solomon himself to tacitly approve such worship — as the construction of these idolatrous sites with state funds would seemingly approve idolatry.

But we see Solomon’s prayer that God intends to be glorified to the other nations, not for the other nations’ gods to be glorified to the Jews.

(1Ki 11:4-6 ESV)  4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.  5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.

Worse yet, in his old age, it appears that Solomon himself honored these foreign gods.

Ashtoreth was a goddess of fertility and war — and her worship involved ritual prostitution — a very common practice in the ancient world.

Milcom, another name for Molech, was an abomination because the Ammonites offered infant sacrifice to this god. Eventually, the Jews came to offer their own infants to Molech in the valley of Hinnom (Jer 32:35) — later known as gehenna.

It seems very unlikely that Solomon engaged in child sacrifice. The author of 1 Kings would have mentioned it. But the fact that he honored a god who demands child sacrifice was a particularly serious sin against God.

God said to Solomon —

(1Ki 11:11-13 ESV)  11 Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.  12 Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  13 However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.”

In short, God declared that Solomon would be the last king of a united Israel.

While this was punishment for Solomon’s sins, God’s decision also served to separate Judah (the Southern Kingdom) from the rest of Israel (the Northern Kingdom). Thus, when Assyria defeated the Northern Kingdom, essentially ending its existence as a nation forever, Judah survived.

And although Judah was later defeated by Babylon and carried into captivity, by being separate from Israel, Judah survived long enough to be captive to a nation that did not destroy its national identity, so that the Judeans could later return to Jerusalem  under Ezra and Nehemiah.

In short, but for God’s decision to divide the nation, Judah may well have been destroyed by the Assyrians and there’d have been no Judea or Galilee under the Romans for Jesus to come to.

On the other hand, had Solomon not introduced idolatry into the land, giving his tacit approval to the worship of idols, they may have never been an Assyrian conquest at all — because God would not have allowed it but for the idolatry of the people.

Why did idolatry have so much appeal?

It seems strange to us that Solomon — of all people — would find idolatry tempting. And it’s further surprising how many future kings worshiped false gods. What was the appeal?

Here are my best guesses —

* Desperation. When the rains failed, people starved. They blamed God, and if God wouldn’t make it rain, then they’d pray to any god likely to bring enough rain to provide crops.

In particular, the surrounding nations worshiped multiple gods, and some gods were fertility gods — whereas YHWH was God of everything. Desperation for rain might well lead the farmers to worship any god who specialized in bringing in the crops.

* Sex. The ritual for some of the fertility gods was a sexual encounter with a priestess and small donation to the god — prostitution. And prostitution doesn’t require an idol to be popular.

* Psychology. The false gods demanded much more of the people than YHWH. YHWH required animal sacrifice and concern for the poor and needy, but his demands weren’t all that painful. Molech demanded the death of your first born son — in a culture where bearing a son was everything.

Oddly enough, the severity of Molech’s demands likely persuaded many people that Molech would answer their prayers.

The moral of the story

For his first couple of years as head football coach at Alabama, Coach Saban’s motto was “Finish!” The biggest difference between the team that nearly won the national championship in Saban’s second year and the team with a losing record the year before was that the team played hard for all four quarters.

You see, three quarters of excellent play means you lose. It takes four.

Solomon was a man of extraordinary accomplishment. His wisdom was legendary. He built the Temple — one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. But he didn’t finish.

Old men can be old fools when it comes to women, and a wise man should know better.

Consider the consequences of his actions. The nation was divided. The divided nation never achieved the same level of security and wealth. Worse yet, the Northern Kingdom found itself quickly descending deeper into idolatry because it was separated from  Jerusalem and the center of YHWH worship.

This is what happens when we fail to finish. We suffer our own consequences, of course, but our weakness affects later generations. When our parents leave God, it’s hard for the children to remain loyal.

Our sins not only harm us, they harm all we influence, and that influence may last for generations.

Many of us can count several generations back to a  great-great-great-great grandparent who was converted to Christianity, resulting in the salvation of perhaps even hundreds of descendants.

Just so, the worldliness of one generation can cost the souls of dozens or even hundreds of descendants who are to come.

We are all connected to our pasts and to our futures. There is such a thing as free will, but more often than not, the decisions of our grandchildren are driven by what we do or don’t do.

It matters far more than our own souls. Some may be willing to risk damnation to live a certain lifestyle, to avoid the cost of Christianity, but are we willing to pay for that choice with the souls of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

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  1. What has always struck me about Solomon’s old age is the fact that his gray hair was no guarantee of wisdom. That is why I hope to keep reading and thinking as long as God gives me the strength.

    Also, and this is not easy for me to say this considering I am in my sixties, getting older can cause one to become tired and lazy, even when it comes to love and devotion. An individual whose patience has become thin can easily get to the point of “Whatever”.

    Though James tells us to ask God for wisdom, and we should, maybe the prayer asking God to help us be a people after God’s own heart should be first.