The fall of Solomon is striking, and serves as a warning to us all:
One of the indications that the Bible is not the product of the mere words of men, but a divinely inspired set of 66 books is the fact that there is no whitewashing of people – especially those God has chosen to use for his purposes. They are not the stuff of hagiography, but are presented realistically – warts and all.
Whether it is Moses or Elijah or David or Peter, we find them described not as perfect super saints, but as those who are very human, complete with plenty of faults and weaknesses and sins. And sometimes we read about mighty men of God who are held up as great heroes and examples, but then we find they have toppled off their pedestals and have gone down to the depths.
Saul would be one obvious example of this. He started off great but ended up disastrously. One saying that we still use today is found concerning his passing. In 2 Samuel 27:1-16 we read about David learning of Saul’s death. And in verses 17-27 we find David’s song of lament for Saul and Jonathan. Three times this very familiar phrase is found:
“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!” (v. 19)
“How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!” (v. 25)
“How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!” (v. 27)
But we have even more staggering stories of great falls. Biblical characters can be lauded and extolled in one chapter, but in the next we read of their massive downfall. There are many tragic contrasts like this found in Scripture, but one amazing example of this is found in 1 Kings 10 and 11.
The mountain top experience of chapter 10 is followed by complete devastation in chapter 11. I refer of course to King Solomon. The full biblical account of the life of Solomon is found in 1 Kings 1-11, along with 2 Chronicles 1-9. Here I want to look at just 1 Kings 10-11.
As mentioned, in chapter ten we are in such elevated territory, with mind-blowing praise of Solomon and his achievements. In verses 1-12 we read about how the Queen of Sheba visited him and was just blown away by him. The rest of the chapter speaks of his great wealth.
As we read in verses 23-25: “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.”
Wow, what a king! But in the very next chapter we find that it all goes pear-shaped. In 11:1-8 we read how his many foreign wives turned him away from God, and caused him to worship false gods. The remaining verses speak of God’s anger, and how he raised up adversaries against Solomon. Verses 9-12 say this:
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. 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. 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.
Lessons for today
I take it that none of my readers are great kings or powerful leaders. Nor are they likely to have numerous wives. But still, the obvious lessons we want to stress here are these: we must take great care in our walk with God. We dare not be presumptuous or cavalier about how we live our lives. We must remain obedient, and not allow our hearts to turn away from the living God.
Let me offer a bit of commentary here on all this. Philip Graham Ryken asks this pertinent question:
One of the saddest tragedies in the Bible is the story of King Solomon. Solomon was one of the greatest kings the world has ever seen. Yet at the end of his life he made one of the most foolish choices that anyone has ever made, with disastrous consequences for himself and his kingdom. Oh, Solomon! Where did you go so wrong, and how can we learn to avoid making the same mistakes that you made?
Dale Ralph Davis says this about the great tragedy that we find here:
[It is] a story that begins with ‘Solomon loved Yahweh’ (3:3) and ends with ‘King Solomon loved many foreign women’ (11:1). How these ‘book end’ texts should sober us. Where are my affections? Has an imperceptible drift taken place in them over the years? Am I headed for tragedy because I have left my first love? Solomon did not officially renounce Yahweh, but ‘his heart was not completely with’ Yahweh (v. 4) and he ‘did not follow Yahweh fully’ (v. 6). Apparently his offence was not limited to building shrines for his wives; verse 5 suggests at least some degree of participation on Solomon’s part.
He goes on to discuss God’s anger and why we find it so odd today:
Yahweh is simply following his declared policy (Deut. 6:14-15) toward those within the covenant. His anger flows out of his jealousy for supreme place in his people’s worship and affection (and jealousy is simply the character of any love that is worth its salt when that love has an exclusive claim). But our culture is shocked by the Lord’s anger, for he does not conform to canonical human expectations.… Yahweh is unique among ancient Near Eastern gods, goddesses, and godlets. No pagan deity demanded exclusive devotion of his/her worshippers. And the anger of the biblical Yahweh bothers contemporary man because it clearly tells him that the God of the Bible is not a pluralist. He does not fit our times and mentality.
One final remark is worth featuring here, from August Konkel:
Spirituality may be measured in different ways, but the critical standard is given in the story of Solomon. Spirituality is never anything less than uncompromised loyalty to God. If there ever was an individual with the opportunity to serve God with such loyalty it was Solomon. The Lord appeared to him twice. In the first instance God assured him of incomparable blessing because of the priority he had chosen. The fulfillment of this incomparable blessing should have been motivation to absolute devotion to God. The second vision comes as a warning—a reminder that such blessing is not an assurance of continual blessing. Neither the gift nor the warning is sufficient for Solomon. His heart is seduced, his kingdom divided, his life is a failure….
There is no assurance for faithfulness. Solomon incurs the wrath and judgment of Yahweh, who appeared to him twice (11:9); the point is emphatic. Solomon did not come to know the God of the temple; his involvement with other gods led him into temptation. Faithfulness is not maintained by the greatest of past experiences. Faithfulness is to seek God daily; that is a wisdom for which there is no substitute. That wisdom is sufficient for every challenge life may have.
The persistent lesson of Solomon for those who live under a new covenant is the importance of faithfulness. Success at any one point in the life of an individual – spiritually, materially, or both – is no assurance of continued loyalty to God. The message is skillfully articulated in the prophetic portrayal of Solomon’s reign.
Wise words indeed. If someone so great and so blessed as Solomon cannot heed the lessons of the overwhelming importance of faithfulness and obedience, how much more you and I? We too need to consider our heart and our ways carefully. Solomon’s divided heart led to a divided kingdom. What will it lead to for you and I?
Two concluding thoughts
As I neared the end of writing this piece, I discovered that I already had written on this same topic eight years ago! So for more on this, you might check that piece out as well: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/04/01/the-tragedy-of-solomon/
A second thing to raise here is to remind readers to let the spirit of this piece sink in. That is, we should all be thinking: ‘Wow, if even Solomon with all his wisdom can fall, I need to keep close accounts with my Lord.’ That is how we should be responding here.
But I know from past experience that some will want to come here and start another theological war. Yes, questions about whether a believer can fall away are certainly important, but that particular debate is best entered into where I have actually spoken to it. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/07/11/saved-always-saved/
So please let God speak to you through these words, and save your theological pet peeves for another time!