Solomon: His Story
Let’s start at the beginning. He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 12:24). The first son of their union died (see 2 Samuel 12:15-18). The name Solomon is derived from the word “shalom,” which means peace or welfare. Solomon’s lesser-known name was Jedidiah. Because Solomon was born to David’s favorite wife, he was likely David’s favorite son. In any event, Solomon’s reign began before David’s death in 967 BC and lasted 40 years.
Solomon is remembered for having lots of wives and concubines, but he was also the mastermind behind impressive building projects. He built God’s house first. It took seven years to complete because David had set aside the materials beforehand (see 1 Kings 6-7). He built his own house second. It took thirteen years to complete (see 1 Kings 7-14).
He is also famous for his unparalleled wealth. During Solomon’s reign Israel enjoyed an era of security and prosperity that it has not known before or since. (See 1 Kings 10:14-29.) Solomon built wealth by several means.
- By entering into trade agreements with neighboring kingdoms (see 1 Kings 9+10).
- With the help of the Phoenecians, he built Israel’s first and only fleet of merchant marine ships. (Otherwise, Israelites hated and feared the sea, using it as a symbol of evil.)
- Also for the first time in Israel’s history, Solomon organized a “standing” or professional army and outfitted them with the latest military technology: chariots (see 1 Kings 10:26).
- He controlled all the important trade routes in the region, including the “Way of the Sea” and the “King’s Highway.” Solomon charged tariffs for the use of these routes (see 1 Kings 10:15).
- He received “tribute” from conquered kingdoms (see 1 Kings 4:21).
- Unfortunately, part of the burden fell directly on the shoulders of Solomon’s people in the form excessive taxation and forced labor – more on that later.
History remembers Solomon’s peerless wisdom. 1 Kings 3:4-15 tells us how Solomon came by his extraordinary wisdom – God gave it to him at his request. (God offered him anything – what would you ask for?) 1 Kings also details some of the ways that Solomon put his wisdom to use, including the writing of 3000 proverbs and 1005 praise songs! (Of course, if you’re the king, they’re going to print everything you write!)
The most familiar illustrations of Solomon’s wisdom are his decision regarding a child custody case disputed by two prostitutes (see 1 Kings 3:16-28). And there is the impression he made on the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10:1-13 and Luke 11:31).
Solomon: His Sins
Solomon was guilty of ruthless ambition. After taking power, Solomon solidified his grasp on the throne by murdering his step-brother Adonijah (see 1 Kings 2:13-15). Worse, some of these murders were actually suggested by King David (see 1 Kings 2:1-18).
While this does not sound at all politically correct, a big problem was his foreign-born (pagan) wives. David was not the first man in history to blame his wife for his troubles – nor the last – but he certainly had more room to spread the blame than the average guy! 1 Kings 11:3 says plainly, HE HAD 700 WIVES OF ROYAL BIRTH AND 300 CONCUBINES, AND HIS WIVES LEAD HIM ASTRAY. At that time, marriage was a means of diplomacy. Even though he had an army, Solomon’s foreign policy was largely accomplished by diplomatic means. To be precise, the problem was not exactly that his wives foreign or that they brought their foreign gods with them. The problem was that Solomon also indulged in their worship, even building shrines to their false gods (see 1 Kings 11:7-8).
In spite of all he owned, Solomon was still guilty of extravagance and greed. 1 Kings 10:14-23 provides an interesting accounting of Solomon’s legendary wealth. Solomon lived like a modern man who maxed out his credit cards and left the bill to be paid by others.
Solomon: His Legacy
What his own people thought of Solomon can be discerned by reading the biblical account of what happened after his death. Though Solomon saw little opposition, the people strongly desired relief after his death and when Rehoboam threatened to intensify his father’s policies, a civil war ensued and Israel was broken in half (see 1 Kings 11-12).
Other Bible personalities expressed their thoughts about Solomon. Nehemiah referred to Solomon as an example of the peril of marrying foreign women. Nehemiah 13:26-27 reads, “WAS IT NOT BECAUSE OF MARRIAGES LIKE THESE THAT SOLOMON, KING OF ISRAEL SINNED? AMONG THE MANY NATIONS THERE WAS NO KING LIKE HIM. HE WAS LOVED BY HIS GOD AND GOD MADE HIM KING OVER ALL ISRAEL, BUT EVEN HE WAS LED INTO SIN BY FOREIGN WOMEN.”
Jesus used him as an illustration of points He was making in His teaching. On the subject of anxieties about worldly things, Jesus compared Solomon’s finery to flowers; “AND WHY DO YOU WORRY ABOUT CLOTHES? SEE HOW THE LILIES OF THE FIELD GROW. THEY DO NOT LABOR OR SPIN. YET I TELL YOU THAT NOT EVEN SOLOMON IN ALL HIS SPLENDOR WAS DRESSED LIKE ONE OF THESE (Matthew 6:28-29; Luke 12:27).” On the subject of wisdom, Jesus compared Solomon to Himself; “THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH WILL RISE AT THE JUDGMENT WITH THIS GENERATION AND CONDEMN IT; FOR SHE CAME FROM THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO LISTEN TO SOLOMON’S WISDOM, AND NOW ONE GREATER THAN SOLOMON IS HERE (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).”
Some statistical information may help make the point: the name “David” appears 930 times in the Bible, but “Solomon” appears just 253 times. For all his mistakes, David never led Israel into idolatry.
Clearly, Solomon became something of a Bible byword for idolatry and excessive worldliness.
What Solomon thought about his own life is revealed in the book of Ecclesiastes, which tradition says he authored. “Vanity” is the most oft-repeated word. Here’s Solomon’s self-portrait in words; I DENIED MYSELF NOTHING MY EYES DESIRED: I REFUSED MY HEART NO PLEASURE. MY HEART TOOK DELIGHT IN ALL MY WORK, AND THIS WAS THE REWARD FOR ALL MY LABOR. YET WHEN I SURVEYED ALL THAT MY HANDS HAD DONE AND WHAT I HAD TOILED TO ACHIEVE, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND; NOTHING WAS GAINED UNDER THE SUN.
What God thought about Solomon can be similarly gleaned from biblical witness; the LORD rebuked Solomon, predicting that his kingdom would be divided (see 1 Kings 11:9-13). In the middle of that passage (verse 6), we read: SOLOMON DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD; HE DID NOT FOLLOW THE LORD COMPLETELY, AS DAVID HIS FATHER HAD DONE.
As with nearly all of the people described in the Bible, Solomon’s life was not an example of perfection. Indeed, in spite of literally having it all, the biblical record clearly showed that Solomon failed to be faithful to the Lord. In spite of the divine wisdom and wealth he’d been given, he foolishly frittered away his days in self-absorption. His name became a biblical byword for the perils of paganism. In fact, I believe the main reason the book of Ecclesiastes is in the Bible is to give us an inside look at the mind that engineered such a catastrophic failure and how he viewed life. It’s a warning to not do likewise.
Solomon’s life is a warning to believers of both genders, but especially to men who are convinced that sex, wealth, and/or power are the means of happiness. This is the very same lie of which our culture attempts to convince us. Solomon had all these things to obscene abundance and his verdict on it all was “vanity.” Let us heed his negative example and not allow our attention to be possessed by these vain, superficial things, but instead devote ourselves to the deeper things of God.