This article looks at Solomon's life of faith, his marriage to many wives, and how he lost favour with God. His life reveals that wealth apart from God does not lead to a blessed life, wisdom without a life devoted to God is foolishness, and following Jesus Christ is a matter of the whole heart.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2013. 5 pages.

Will the Real Solomon Please Stand Up?

Yul Brynner is perhaps best known as the actor who played the Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II in the 1956 film The Ten Com­mandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses and featuring other well-known actors of the time such as Anne Baxter, John Carradine, and Edward G. Robin­son. Who can forget Brynner’s stoic rep­etition of the much-used phrase “so let it be written, so let it be done”? Perhaps many were surprised when the Russian actor returned to star in another film production based on the Bible, but this time as wise King Solomon in the 1959 film Solomon and Sheba 1. The latter film was a loose re-telling of the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba (played by Gina Lollobrigida) to see first-hand the wisdom and glory of Solomon and the splendor of the kingdom of Israel as told in 1 Kings 10.

Solomon and Sheba was directed by King Vidor for, at the time, the rather large price tag of five million dollars, bringing in twelve million dollars at the box office. It also contained a lengthy scene involving a pagan festi­val which was no doubt seen as ahead of its time by Hollywood standards. In comparison to the success of The Ten Commandments only three years earlier (produced for thirteen million and taking in eighty million at the box office), Solomon and Sheba was a financial failure. One would also have to say that Brynner’s portrayal of Solomon was also less than what it could have been. Brynner’s rock­like facial expression rarely changes throughout the movie, through good times and bad, giving the impression that Solomon was a rather mechani­cal, stoic, unfeeling, expressionless kind of man. Thankfully, we do not rely on Hollywood films or vegetable thespians 2for our understanding of the historical characters who appear on the pages of Scripture. So what kind of man was Solomon the King?

Son of David and yet not a Son🔗

As we consider Solomon (or Jedidiah 3) the man, perhaps it would be good to start with the obvious differences which existed between the father and the son. When one thinks of the different upbringings of these two men, David and Solomon, the contrast could not be more complete. David had grown up in the fields, being a shepherd of sheep, and for much of his life endured the painful realities of living the life of a fugitive. Solomon grew up in the midst of royalty, surrounded by the workings of the court, and for the length of his life enjoyed an abundance of wealth, pleasures, and peaceful relationships with those around him. David was pre­vented from building a house for the Lord because he was a man who had shed much blood and had fought many wars, personally leading armies to victory. His reign was a tumultuous time for the kingdom. Solomon, though initially es­tablishing his kingdom by having Adoni­jah, Joab, and Shimei struck down 4for various offenses, generally was content to stay at home while enjoying peace on all sides.5But perhaps the greatest con­trast comes in the area of faith, devo­tion to the Lord, and perseverance in the ways of God. While David started well and expressed great zeal for the cause of God in his effort against Goliath, his persevering in faithfulness to the Lord in spite of attacks from Saul and from within his own family, David would go on to commit the sins of murder and adultery. However, when confronted with his sin, David acknowledged it and repented, gave evidence of that repentance in his life and receives the God-given epitaph: “a man after my own heart.” 6Solomon, on the other hand, receives no encouraging summation of his life by God, but rather seems to end his life under the anger of God with the words of God’s displeasure ringing in his ears: “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you.” 7The contrast here is that while David sins and repents, Solomon sins but never seems to come to repentance. While David is spoken of as a man after God’s own heart, Solomon is spoken of as a man whose heart was turned away from the Lord and whose heart followed after other gods.8

Solomon’s faith and the lack thereof🔗

One will search in vain in Hebrews 11 for a reference to Solomon among those who are commended for their faith. David is there and Samuel and the prophets, but no Solomon. True, the author of Hebrews does not say that he is giving an exhaustive list of those worthy of mention for he indicates that there was simply not time to mention them all, but it is striking to notice the context in which Solomon is mentioned in the New Testament. There are four groups of passages which make reference to Solomon. The first is simply a reference to Solomon in the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew.9Though, even there, the attention is not so much on Solomon as on the fact that his mother “had been Uriah’s wife.” The second group of passages makes reference to the clothing of Solomon.10It is clear that Solomon was a fine dresser, but even when it comes to clothing, Solomon is surpassed by the lilies of the field. A third group of passages refers to the buildings associated with Solomon’s name.11Solo­mon’s Colonnade, which was the porch which ran along the east side of the outer court of Herod’s temple, is men­tioned three times; and there is also one passing reference to Solomon’s building of the temple in Acts 7 in the speech of Stephen. But even there, the allusion to Solomon’s building of the temple is quickly followed by Stephen’s reminder that “however, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.” A fourth group of passages speak of Solomon’s wisdom.[1] 12However, in both Matthew and Luke the point of the reference to Solomon is to demonstrate the superi­ority of Jesus over Solomon.

From this brief review of New Testa­ment passages which refer to Solomon, one can draw the conclusion that, though Solomon is referred to, on each occa­sion he seems to come out as of less importance when compared with some greater reality and he is certainly not upheld as an example of faith, repent­ance, or obedience to the Lord. What is drawn attention to has nothing to do with the greatness of Solomon or the faith of Solomon, but rather attention is drawn elsewhere, whether it be to the background of his mother, the surpassing splendour of the lilies of the field, the uncontainability of God’s presence and reign, or the greater glory and wisdom of Jesus. In all these instances, what is remembered of Solomon is not his faith, but the fact that His sonship, beauty, power, and glory pale in comparison to the One who is greater than Solomon.

But how could this be? His father David had prayed “and you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and under­stands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” 13Isn’t Solomon the man who showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, and who actually built a house for the Lord? Isn’t Solomon the man who, when given the opportunity by God to have whatever his heart desired, instead of asking for wine and women, song and dance, riches and relaxation, asked instead for a discerning heart to know right and wrong so that he could faithfully serve God and God’s people? Isn’t Solomon the man who, when dedi­cating the temple, was clearly focused on the glory of God and was deeply concerned with integrity of heart and faithfulness to the Lord? Isn’t Solomon the man who reminded the people that they must pray that God would “turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers”? Isn’t Solomon the man who exhorted the people: “your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands?” 14Yet, despite these words full of wisdom and professions of faith and obedience, it would seem that the wholehearted devo­tion to which Solomon was encouraged by his father was not a living reality in Solomon’s later life.

We don’t have to wait long in the narrative of Solomon’s reign to find out that not all was well in Israel. Immedi­ately after establishing the kingdom at the end of 1 Kings 2, the next words should strike us as odd: “Solomon made an al­liance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter.” 15Egypt? Really? Were there no candidates for marriage in Israel? We don’t know what Solomon motivation was in this marriage, but Solomon’s seeking of wives outside the covenant people and cementing al­liances with surrounding nations was to be a theme of his reign; and this verse sets the stage for what will come after in the announcement that Solomon “loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter ... from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, ‘you must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’” 16This is exactly what hap­pened to Solomon.

Solomon married many foreign women, supported the idol worship of his wives, and was himself drawn away after other gods. As the Hollywood 17Queen of Sheba says of Solomon, “no matter how wise, he is human, with a human weakness.” For all his wisdom, Solomon suffered from the plague of plagues, a sinful nature inherited from our original father, Adam. Solomon proved to be clearly disobedient to God’s will for a King (Deut.17:14-20) in that he seemed to break every rule in the book. He did acquire great numbers of horses for himself,18he did get more horses from Egypt,19he did take many wives,20and he did accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 21It is also possible that Solomon became prone to the misuse of his power and authority, as evidenced by the fact that contrary to the law of Leviticus 25:39, Solomon resorted to forced labour of fellow Is­raelites.22Solomon’s apparent lack of concern for the people evidenced itself in their complaint after his death that he had burdened them with hard service (1 Kings 12:4). At the core of Solomon’s fall, however, lay the matter of where the love of his heart was truly direct­ed. The Bible makes clear that despite God’s command regarding intermarriage with foreign women, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” 23His heart was turned after other gods and he was not fully devoted to the Lord. The record is clear. Solomon “followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” 24Solomon, “loved by the Lord,” had become an idolater.

Solomon as a ladies’ man and a man’s man but not God’s man🔗

At one point in the film Solomon and Sheba, the character Baltor, the Queen of Sheba’s right hand man, says of Solomon, he is a “man of ideas, and nothing is more dangerous than a man with an idea.” What was Solomon thinking? What exactly was the big idea behind Solomon’s fall away from the Lord? How could a man who seemingly had it all, reaching the pinnacle of success in terms of riches, wisdom, fame, and pleasures beyond number, fall so terribly? Clearly, riches, wisdom, and fame themselves were not the problem. In fact, the Bible points out specifically that the riches of Solomon and the wisdom of Solomon and the honour and fame Solomon received were gifts from God. “I will give you what you have not asked for – both riches and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” 25Riches, wisdom, and honour do not automatically lead to idolatry any more than poverty, foolishness, and disgrace automatically lead to faithfulness to God.

At least three things do become clear as we consider the life of Solomon. First of all, abundance of riches and honour, apart from a heart and life devoted to God, do not lead to the blessed life. The Book of Ecclesiastes comes to mind. It is striking to notice how often the narrative of Solomon’s life uses grandiose terms to describe the abundance which surround­ed Solomon. With regard to Solomon’s provisions, “nothing was lacking.” 26With regard to Solomon’s gifts, “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understand­ing as measureless as the sand on the seashore.”

The weight of the bronze items for the temple were never weighed “because there were so many.” 27When the ark is brought to the temple, there are so many sheep and cattle being sac­rificed that they “could not be record­ed or counted.” 28And after the Queen of Sheba has given Solomon abundant gifts, the Bible tells us that it was actu­ally Sheba who went home the richer because Solomon gave to her “all she desired and asked for.” 29And yet, with an unsurpassed abundance of riches and honour, Solomon did not bring pleasure to the Lord but did evil in his eyes. He did not have the blessing of God pro­nounced upon his life despite his riches, despite his fame. And so it will be with us. As Sinclair Ferguson has said, “to possess what Christ would not have us to possess is waste; to possess anything instead of Christ and his will is waste.” 30

Secondly, an abundance of wisdom, apart from a heart and life devoted to God, is nothing but foolishness. James reminds us of true wisdom when he writes “who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom ... For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil prac­tice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit.” 31Solomon was certainly peace-loving, but in his diso­bedience, idolatry, and doing evil in the eyes of the Lord, he did not show his wisdom to be pure. Solomon’s own ad­monition to his son to pay attention to wisdom and to not be led astray down the path which leads to death would have been apt words for his own soul in later life: “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” 32

For Solomon and for the people of God today, the fear of the Lord should not only be the beginning of wisdom, but should characterise the beginning, middle, and end of our lives.

Thirdly, to be a follower of the Lord is to be one who is devoted wholeheart­edly to Him. The Bible is clear and we should be clear as well. Wisdom, riches, fame, pleasures, and all the advantages that the world can give us are no sub­stitute for a heart devoted to God. We may think of ourselves as a ladies’ man or a man’s man, but the only thing that really matters is if we are God’s men and God’s women. When our hearts are turned from the Lord, we too will reap what we sow – so-called gods who will not listen, who cannot see, who will not act, who do not care, because they are either demons which have led us astray or the empty prom­ises of the world which will disappear like the morning mist. Seven hundred wives, three hundred concubines, silver and gold piled as high as the palace ceiling, apes, baboons, horses and chari­ots, Ashtoreth, Molech, and Chemosh, and the Queen of Sheba herself would have meant nothing to Solomon as he drew his final breath. What would have mattered would simply be the question, am I prepared to meet the God I have turned away from? Am I prepared to meet the God who, at my birth, said he loved me and whose love I spurned in my later years?

So as great as Solomon was, he suf­fered from that human weakness which is our weakness, the weakness of sin and an idolatrous heart. And yet, one greater than Solomon is here. He is the Son of David and the Son of God. He is busy erecting a spiritual temple that will far out­shine the earthly temple of Solomon. The fame of His Name is such that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. His wisdom is peaceable and pure and perfect. And His riches are unsearchable. And though Solomon’s heart was turned away from the Lord, leading to disaster, the displeasure of God, and the eventual rending of the kingdom, the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ is always and forever set on doing the will of His Father. May we find in Jesus true riches and true wisdom, as we respond in faith and repentance and wholehearted devo­tion to the One who has loved us and gave Himself for us. And when we come to the end of our life, may we all rejoice to be called Jedidiah.

Endnotes🔗

  1. ^ Brynner had earlier starred in the film The King and I (1956) with Deborah Kerr.
  2. ^ No offense need be taken by fans of Veggie Tales, in fact, I find some of the humour in their morality stories to be incredibly entertaining. When it comes to portraying biblical history, however, I find them less than helpful.
  3. ^ See 2 Samuel 12:25. Interestingly, though David and Bathsheba name their son Solomon, which most believe is a reflection of the Hebrew word for “peace,” Nathan the prophet is sent by the Lord to instruct the parents to name him Jedidiah. There seems to be no indication in the Bible why the parents and later Scripture continue to refer to him as Solomon and the name Jedidiah never reappears. Jedidiah means “the Lord loved him.”
  4. ^ 1 Kings 2:25, 34, 46
  5. ^ 1 Kings 4:24
  6. ^  Acts 13:22
  7. ^ 1 Kings 11:11
  8. ^ 1 Kings 11:4,9
  9. ^ Matthew 1:6-7
  10. ^  Matthew 6:28-29, Luke 12:27 
  11. ^ John 10:23, Acts 3:11, Acts 5:12, Acts 7:47 
  12. ^ Matthew 12:42, Luke 11:31
  13. ^  1 Chronicles 28:9
  14. ^ 1 Kings 8:58, 61
  15. ^ 1 Kings 3:1
  16. ^ 1 Kings 11:1-2
  17. ^ As portrayed by Gina Lollobrigida in Solomon and Sheba, 1959, King Vidor Productions.
  18. ^  1 Kings 10:26 
  19. ^ 1 Kings 10:28 
  20. ^ 1 Kings 11:3
  21. ^ 1 Kings 10:21,27
  22. ^  1 Kings 5:13-14
  23. ^ 1 Kings 11:2
  24. ^ 1 Kings 11:5-6
  25. ^ 1 Kings 3:13 
  26. ^ 1 Kings 4:27
  27. ^ 1 Kings 7:47
  28. ^ 1 Kings 8:5
  29. ^ 1 Kings 10:13
  30. ^  John Blanchard, The Complete Gathered Gold, Evangelical Press, p.449.
  31. ^ James 3:13,16-17
  32. ^ Proverbs 5:21-23 

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