As Wise As Solomon

Solomon keeps appearing, for me.  He’s been in the lections for the daily offices; he’s in the Old Testament lesson for this coming Sunday.  He’s all around.  There’s a strong case to be made that Solomon was incredibly wise – the Bible certainly says so, and tradition tells us so, and we all know the story about cutting the baby in half so each mother could have a half of it.  If we look at him at the start of his kingship and towards the end of it, though, we are shown some strikingly different pictures.

At the start, there’s a question raised by the text.  If you check 1 Kings 2, you’ll find Solomon succeeding David as king.  If you check 1 Kings 3, you’ll find Solomon chasing after God just like his father David, except for one thing – he makes offerings at the high places.  In a pluralist age, an age of tolerance, we may tend towards the idea that it could hardly matter.  As long as he pays his dues to God, what does it matter?  The high places were simply hilltops (“high” places) with significance to the Canaanite cultures that the Israelites had displaced – these were shrines which, because of their altitude, were thought to be closer to the gods.  Solomon, the king of Israel, offering on them is not insignificant.  Nevertheless, if you read on in 1 Kings 3, you’ll see that God still meets Solomon at one of these places that Solomon shouldn’t be at.

God is faithful to Solomon even when Solomon is less than faithful to God.  Maybe Solomon didn’t know that he and God were supposed to be going steady.  But doesn’t it speak to a desire for waywardness that he wouldn’t have checked?  God was actually pretty clear about the devotion required for one to be Israel’s king.  He talks about it through Moses (check out Deuteronomy 17), and again through Samuel (1 Samuel 8).  Israel’s king should basically be one-handed, because his other hand should always be holding the scroll of God’s commandments, and he should be studying them day and night.  Seems like an exclusive relationship to me.  But Solomon wasn’t as exclusive – nevertheless, God is faithful to him.  Solomon’s one desire, at the start, is to serve God’s people Israel well – so he asks God for wisdom.

Flip forward a few pages to 1 Kings 11 and you’ll find a somewhat different picture.  Solomon has not only disregarded God’s advice, that the Israelites not take foreign wives (wives who are committed to the gods of other nations), but he has fallen into the very trap that God warned against.  Solomon has been enticed to allow the worship of those other gods in Israel.  The king, who should be protecting the interests of the nation (keep in mind that this is the nation that was brought into being by God’s mighty hand when He led them out of Egypt and supplanted the various peoples that lived in Canaan before them), has broken covenant with God.  There are some dire consequences for this action.

Notice, too, though, that God is gracious.  He is gracious because of David.  He is gracious because of His love for David, which extends to David’s ungrateful and unfaithful family.  Oh, as the story goes on there are some of them who do better than others.  But that’s hardly the point.  The point is to be faithful to God.  The point is to respond to His goodness toward us with praise and faithfulness – not waywardness, not self-indulgence.  What kind of heart do you receive His good gifts with?

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