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The Sad End of Solomon – A Moral Tale

February 8, 2010

The reading for Saturday morning’s Mass brought us to a high point in the life of King Solomon. Solomon, when presented the opportunity to ask anything whatsoever from God chose not gold or glory but Wisdom. It is a portrait of a man deeply rooted in God. But later in life Solomon turned from his first love and his infidelity ultimately led to divided kingdom. It is a moral tale that contains a warning for us all. Let’s review the basics of Solomon’s life and ponder the lessons.

Solomon was Israel’s third King. He was also known as Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord). His forty year reign is regarded as Israel’s golden age. It was an age of prosperity and national unity, But in the end his reign ended disastrously he began to oppress the people, multiplied wives and introduced pagan worship.

Solomon was the second son of David and Bathsheba. However, David had other wives and sons by them. Solomon was actually the 17th of 19 sons of David. This hardly made him the most likely son to succeed his father as king. However, through the court intrigues of his mother and the support of Nathan the prophet who both took advantage of David in his old age, Solomon was named king in 961 BC against Adonijah the presumed successor. Solomon swiftly and ruthlessly established his power against Adonijah having him executed on a pretext. This act, along with the execution or banishment of Adonijah’s supporters in the military had repercussions throughout Solomon’s reign. It created military rivals on the northern edge of Israel that were something of a nuisance and may explain why Solomon raised a large army as we will see later.

Despite all this, Solomon experienced a vision form God early in his reign. He was at the altar of Gibeon offering extensive sacrifices to God. And this is where we pick up the reading from Mass this past Saturday Morning:

In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David, because he behaved faithfully toward you, with justice and an upright heart; and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today, seating a son of his on his throne. O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, King to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”  The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this–not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right– I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and  understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you. (1 Kings 3:5-12)

And the Lord did indeed grant Solomon great wisdom.  1 Kings 4:30-32 notes that his wisdom surpassed all the people of the east and also Egypt and credits Solomon with 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. Many of these have come down to us in the biblical books authored by Solomon: Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Wisdom, and his possible editing of Ecclesiastes. Leaders from throughout the world sought out Solomon for his wisdom and counsel, most notably the Queen of Sheba.

Solomon was also noted as a superb statesman who had a great capacity to forge trading relationships with foreign leaders. Trade expanded widely during his reign. But these foreign entanglements may well have been the first sign of trouble for they led him to take many wives. This was a common practice of the day for Kings. And yet, the Book of Deuteronomy warns kings and commands them not to do three things:

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deut 17:16-17)

Solomon ended up breaking all three of these commands.

  1. He multiplied wives. In multiplying wives Solomon took many of them from the pagan territories around him. His wives included Hittites, Maobites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Ammorites. They were 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.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. (1 Kings 11:2). The Scripture notes that in the end he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (1 Kings 11:3). This not only demonstrates his lust but also his foreign entanglements. These pagan women brought with them their pagan deities and in the end they negatively influence Solomon’s own faith. At the dedication of the Temple God warned Solomon: But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them,  then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. (1 Kings 9:6-7). Solomon failed to heed this warning and through lust, greed for trade, and fascination with things foreign and pagan he turned away from the Lord and began to allow pagan worship and pagan altars to be built in Israel and even built them himself. (1 Kings 11). Of all his sins this was clearly the most egregious and the author of 1 Kings indicates it is the main reason God turned his favor from Israel: So the LORD said to Solomon, “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 and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen (1 Kings 11:11-13)
  2. He multiplied gold and silver – Solomon solidified a large central government that cut across tribal boundaries. He also engaged in a massive building campaign to include the building of the a large royal complex, palace, fortifications and the  Temple. He built  large and opulent buildings. But the combination of a large central government, an extravagant palace life and extensive building projects weakened the natioanleconomy with high taxes and conscripted labor. The queen of Sheba who was fabulously wealthy herself remarked on visiting Solomon: Your wisdom and prosperity surpasses any report I which I have heard (1 Kings 10:7). Not only did the high taxes cause resentment but the centralized and growing central government offended against the Jewish tribal system which was used to a more local governance. Increasingly Solomon offended against subsidiarity by interfering in local affairs through his officials.
  3. He Multiplied Horses– This is a Jewish expression for amassing a large army. In taking the kingship away from Adonijah, Solomon had aquired inveterate enemies from the military commanders who had supported Adonijah. They camped in the north and often harassed Israel. Perhaps for this reason, but more likely for pride, Solomon amassed a huge army including 12,000 horsemen and 1,400 charioteers. This despite never going to war during his reign. The problem with an extremely large army is not only that it is expensive, but it also required a draft to conscript men into service. This caused resentment among some and the absence of large numbers of men from their families and work at home.

Epilogue – As God told him, the legacy of his turning was a divided kingdom. In the reign of Rehoboam his son the Kingdom of Israel divided from Judah as a result of Solomon’s increasingly oppressive policies. When Rehoboam followed his father’s misguided policies the ten tribes in the north had enough and they divided from Judah. The great unified kingdom had ended and within less than 200 years Israel (721 BC) and later Judah (587 BC) were invaded and destroyed.

The story of Solomon is a sad object lesson, a moral tale. Failing to heed God brings destruction. And Solomon systematically failed to heed God.

What turned Solomon from the right path? Was it greed? Yes. Was it the foreign entanglements ignited by that greed and desire for power? Yes. Was it corruption by the world that greed, foreign entanglements and admiration of foreign ways caused? Surely. Was it lust? Clearly. Was it the inappropriate relationships and marriages that the lust caused? Yes. Did Solomon come to love the world more than God? Surely. Did lust and greed cause him to make steady compromises with the world? Without a doubt. And ever so slowly and perhaps imperceptibly at first, he began to turn from God.

But Solomon’s story could be the story of any of us if we are not careful to persevere in the ways of God. Lust, greed, fascination with the world, these are human problems. I have seen people who are close to the Lord drift away due to worldly preoccupations, bad and ill conceived relationships, career dominance that eclipses vocation, and just through accumulation of bad influences from the TV and Internet. Prayer and Mass attendance slip away. Bad moral behavior gets excused, and ever so subtly we turn less to God more to the gods of this world. It is the road that Solomon trod. The great and wise Solomon, once close to God’s heart and preferring nothing of the world to God’s wisdom. But a man who died smothered in wealth, sex and power. A man whose heart turned from God.

  • Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known. (Sirach 11:28)
  • Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Rev 2:4-5)
  • But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:13)

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Comments (22)

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  1. Kenwillp says:

    There were and there now are very few, if any, “ripened grapes” on the bunch, and of the whole vineyard and all its harvest(s) the percentage is infinitesimally negligible, if at all even humanly perceivable, and definitely not ever conceivable.

    • You have written artistically but so much so that I am not sure I understand your point.

      • kenwillp says:

        Abba Moses, one of the desert father of scetis, of African decent, a christian monk and solitaire (hermit) after the order of St Antony, Poemen, and so many other monks and solitaries of ancient times some becoming bishops of the early church, c.a. 3rd and 4th century a.d.; abba moses once told one of the brethren that if he stayed in his cell (a monks living quarter in the desert, usually a cave) it would teach him everything he needed to learn and know about living an ascetic life as a monk and gaining humility – the crowning acheivement of a monk (the desert monks I speak of were Christians). Therefore that brethren(s) if he remained in his cell would become a “ripened grape,” seeing how he has avoided seeing, hearing, and the speech of men of the world; the only thing left for him to avoid was fornication (there was women in the egyptian desert). the monks of the desert were distinguished for their ascetic life, and the mortification of bodily passions and concupiscences. (taken from the book – The Saying of The Desert Fathers)
        –we can never know how many God will save of the world population, but even with all our modern day evangelism (televised and/or at our Church Masses and Church Home) few of us are spared of satan wiles and then saved. we never ripen on the “Vine,” for we love the world to much, and we will not “go out from amongst those” that are of the world, including myself … yes! so let us pray to our Savior, the Lord Jesus, we need Him.

  2. Bill says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    Couldn’t the final words of Ecclesiastes be taken as evidence, that while Solomon indeed fell far, he did in the end repent?

    • Yes, we can hope. Solomon’s authorship is disputed however and even those who attest to his authorship are less clear that the epilogue was written by him. Dateing is another question related to authorship and the many date the work long after solomon to as late as the 3rd Cent BC. I am not saying I accept all this but only that the authorship by SOlomon was/is highly disputed.

  3. anon says:

    Solomon had more than one wife, as did David. David spiritually survived this failing but Solomon did not. It is funny how we can look to others sins to justify our own, and even increase the frequency of our sin exponentially as a result (David had 15 wives, Solomon many, many more). When my son when he came home from college for a break a few years back, he went out with friends and came back pretty drunk. In the morning, we discussed the incident. He reminded me that I had done the same thing when I was in college (I had), and I responded, “Yeah, and I regret it. Beyond that, because I survived my risky behavior doesn’t mean you will.” It’s important to set a good example, but it might be even more important to talk about our failings, for keeping quiet may suggest acceptability.

    The number of wives and concubines Solomon had was crazy. He was unhappy with the one wife God gave him, so he acquired another, and another, and another… His lust was such that he could not be satisfied by what- 1000 women? If this isn’t an overwhelming theme in our culture, whether it’s lust, wealth, power, what is?

    “Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” -Proverbs

  4. Nick says:

    This reminds me of myself. May God lead me back to Himself!

  5. Tapestry says:

    Bottom line of this discourse when you are in direct contact with God and He gives you directions, follow them!

    My Dad said the hardest thing in the world is to follow directions.

  6. Katherine G ERT says:

    It goes to show that not just in our present day, but in the past the world was dominated by lust, greed, and power. In my own life, I had drifted away from the Church when bad things happened to me. I think in a way I was afraid of being shunned for the things that happened to me. And in the time I drifted away from the Church (sometimes for a few months, or longer) my life went as downhill as it could go. When I eventually returned to the Church, I felt much more at peace, and was much less likely to do the big sins that I did when I left for a while. I still sometimes feel like I lead a double life in a way, mainly because I have the bad habit of looking at others in church and thinking they are “perfect” and that I can never be a perfect Catholic. I know inwardly that those “perfect” people in church have their own problems and sins, and may not be as “perfect” as I think they are. Perhaps it is my insecurity taking over when I think those things. But it’s easy to get caught up in the ER lifestyle, which can be VERY liberal, and then when I go to Church I am often confused on what to think or believe on certain things. On a good day with the Church I can feel peaceful when I’m there, and feel loved and accepted by parishioners. On a bad day, I feel like everybody is judging me, and like I am alone.

    I love reading this blog and commenting – it’s good practice for the conferences in my online psych classes! And I can usually see and get the opinions of people much more experienced at life than me!

    • Dan says:

      Katherine,
      Have you heard of the American Indian boy who asked his Grandfather “what is inside of a man Grandfather?” Grandfather replied, “inside every man and woman are two wolves, a good wolf and a bad wolf and they fight eachother constantly.” The boy asks “which one wins Grandfather?” Grandfather said, “the one you feed son.”
      It seems that you are witnessing this battle but aren’t aware that everybody else is also fighting inside. Some of us feed one wolf more than the other. So feed the good wolf Katherine. Feed him the Eucharist as much as possible and feed your heart, soul and mind the teachings of Christ and you WILL BE, rewarded. Once you recognize both wolves, you will learn that scitzophrenia (sp) has value. We are all born crazy, some of us just handle it better than others. Feed the good wolf.
      God be with you.

      • Katherine G ERT says:

        Thank you for your remark. I am aware that other people are fighting it inside…just not always in church. Because I have had some bad experiences with the church, I sometimes feel very insecure when I go to church. It’s harder for me to stay with the church because of those bad experiences. For the most part I do ok,, but there are some days that are very bad for me. Some days where I want to stray, and when something else happens in my life, I have been known to stray for months at a time. I have a lot to heal from, I think, before I can get over this insecurity. But the blog helps, and it really does help me stay true to the church. I appreciate input from other people, and from you, Monsignor Pope.

  7. Brian says:

    A sobering story, and in this day and age I think it is difficult for many of us not to be at least a mini-Solomon. Even with the greatest wisdom that any man has had or will have, one can still wander astray with disastrous consquences. Perhaps with the Church and sacraments, we have more protection now?

    I found this part of the reading intersting in light of the recent discussion on King David and his being told not to count the people:

    “I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.”

    Hmmmm…..!

  8. Dan says:

    So the moral of the story is that wisdom is over rated. It is obedience that God would appreciate and if your obedience is motivated by love, then expect to meet Jesus on the otherside and hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

  9. Howard says:

    So Nathan the prophet was a schemer and Adonijah was executed merely on a pretext, huh? Funny. That’s not what the Sacred Scripture says.

    In spite of his sins, Solomon has traditionally been considered a saint. Take a look at an icon of the Harrowing of Hell; in many versions, on one side you’ll see two crowned, haloed figures. One of them is King David. Who is the other one?

    • I got the details from Scripture about Nathan and Bathsheba. I don’t recall saying Nathan was a schemer or that Adonijah was executed on pretext or that he was a great guy. I DID say that he was the likely heir to the throne but Bathsheba and Nathan worked together to see that Solomon became King. I have an icon of Solomon on my wall. I did not say Solomon was in Hell. I do not know that. (It is interesting that even the likes of Jepthe are praised in Heb 11, so I will leave the final judgment to God). Nut all the details of his life and even the judgment that he turned from the Lord due to his many wives etc. is in scripture (eg 1 Kings 11). Why the hostility Howard?

  10. Loreen Lee says:

    Could I put in a word in praise of Solomon. After all, books of Wisdom are attributed to him, and I would like to say that for the times, the case could be made that he did extraordinary things. 1. The unification of a people under one central control, or government. (Of course this would have taken money, (taxes) and power from the individual tribes). 2. The many wives may have been a product, and necessary action to take, in organizing his governance. Is there mention made that he indeed slept with all, or even any, of the l000 wives. Was his lust a personal, or a political lust for power, or at least the need he felt for a central organization. Obviously he was ahead of his ‘times’. 3. The military build up, too, and the money, could be a result of this quest for centrality in government. In our times, we would likely herald his diplomacy in government affairs. The tribes would naturally be angry at the implied taxation and loss of power of the tribal lords. We need only look at Afghanistan. That the tribes disintegrated into separated units would show, politically that in secular terms, he was ahead of what was possible to achieve. I say this, just because I would contest a statement made and suggest instead that wisdom is not necessarily at odds with obedience in a personal sense. It was political power, I would suggest that separated him from the dictates scripture set for his people. (Or were the books written in explanation after the event?) Does a condemnation of Solomon imply that as a person in political authority would necessarily be devoid of wisdom and obedience in one’s daily life? Perhaps there is a confusion between the sacred and the secular? Or does power really corrupt, and absolute power corrupt absolutely?

    • As with any human being there are ambiguities about Solomon and aspects taht one will praise and another condemn. Here is the fianl assessment of Solomon in Scripture:

      1 Kings 11: King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were 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.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech [a] the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.
      7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

      9 The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. 11 So the LORD said to Solomon, “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 and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”…….41 As for the other events of Solomon’s reign—all he did and the wisdom he displayed—are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon? 42 Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. 43 Then he rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son succeeded him as king.

      • Loreen Lee says:

        Thanks Msgr. Pope. I remember now reading that scripture. But obviously it didn’t connect. I just ‘felt’, (the more I thought about it ‘on my own’) that he was ‘well intentioned’ in attempting to organize the tribes. Perhaps because I feel he is ‘kinda’ indicative of our times. But that was the downfall then: turning to the pagan gods; just what he had been warned against. (i.e. trying to please his wives to keep it together perhaps, rather than pleasing God). Compromises possibly? What were his true-real commitments? But he gave up his ‘personal authority’ and binding with God for ‘power’ it seems, and material advantage, perhaps despite himself. Yes. It is a very sad tale. But we too can thus be led astray in the quest for ‘material’ gain. (too much television perhaps, fancy this that and the other thing, etc. etc. etc.) What a lesson. It can be a very slow, and seemingly smooth downward slope, can’t it? Don’t we all think we are ‘well intentioned’?
        (I did think this one over from a personal perspective, which I think can be more edifying than ‘philosophizing’ or being ‘only’ logical or finding the best and winning ‘only’ the ‘arguments’). There’s hope though “As for the other events of Solomon’s reign all he did and the wisdom he displayed – are they not written in the book of the annals of Solomon?” (Maybe he is indeed IN THE BOOK!) (I would still give him praise for his wisdom, but obedience. They say you can’t please two masters, and yet how many of us have not followed the example of Solomon?)

  11. Loreen Lee says:

    Postscript: Today we have freedom of religion within the ‘secular state’. The individual’s ‘morality’ is not affected by or related to this general policy. It’s difficult to relate our situation in the world today with what ‘obtained within the ‘antiquity’ related to us in biblical sources. Could Solomon have attempted to ‘institute’ such a ‘state’? It would have been impossible given the conditions and times. I still wonder whether or not he was ‘personally’ disobedient. Maybe they didn’t have a conception of the ‘person’ apart from the tribe (or state.) Pardon my speculation. But they were were very ‘different times’. As you said, God will be/is the final judge.

  12. ken says:

    where did king solomon die? i mean the place? was he at his house? or in the house of idol.

  13. Ally says:

    Solomon asked God for wisdom, but clearly his wisdom was not ‘wisdom-ful’ enough to guard him from lust, ego/pride (amassing great horses /army is one’s display of strength & might) & greed.