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Not-So-Wise Solomon
August 14, 1994

1 KINGS 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Most of us want to look good. We like to put the best interpretations on our motivations and actions. Solomon was no exception. We heard read this morning an account he gave of one of his dreams, a lofty dream in which he asked God for an understanding mind to govern the people, wisdom to be able to discern between good and evil. According to Solomon's dream, the Lord was so pleased with his unselfish and noble request, the Lord also granted him, besides wisdom, a long life and riches. Solomon wanted to look good; he wanted to be remembered for his wisdom. His other motivations got him in trouble.

King Solomon ruled for 40 years. At the end of his reign, his kingdom was besieged with revolt, unrest, and eventual collapse, not to recover until 1948 when Israel became a nation. What went wrong? I must be fair to Solomon. Perhaps in his youth, he was sincere about desiring to rule with an understanding mind. Perhaps he started out with the highest of motivations, like many of us, like our nation. What went wrong? What we learn from Solomon is that what went wrong is still being repeated today, and what happened to Solomon's kingdom might yet happen to us.

A brief historical review. After Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery and trained them for 40 years in the wilderness, the twelves tribes entered the land of Canaan in a loose confederacy under Joshua, each tribe guided by judges. As neighboring countries began increasing in power, the tribes united under King Saul. Saul and his successor, David, defeated the enemies and established a large, strong kingdom. At David's death, David and Bathsheba's son, Solomon, became king. As Egypt and Assyria were relatively weak and inactive, the time of Solomon was characterized by peace, industry, copper mining, construction and great wealth (for the wealthy, of course). The reign of Solomon was called "the golden era" by succeeding generations. Jesus even used the phrase, "Solomon in all his glory."

Solomon engineered a vast building program over a 20-year period. It took seven years to build the temple which was an architectural feat of its day. For the next 13 years, the palace complex was constructed, featuring government buildings, the king's house, and houses for his wives. Solomon excelled in trading. He built a fleet of ships which traded around the Mediterranean Sea. He controlled land trade routes by using horse-drawn chariots, which was a new phenomenon at that time. He was such a good horse dealer that soon horses and chariots were being exported at huge profits. He engaged in copper mining, and built a copper refinery.

He was also noted for his wisdom. The Bible says the world was amazed by Solomon's wisdom. He was a philosopher, author of wise proverbs, and a master at wit and riddles. The Queen of Sheba traveled to meet Solomon because of his reputation, and went home very impressed. Solomon's reputation was such that most of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament is attributed to him. Solomon was wise, yet not-so-wise. It is said that the real test of a person's work is what is handed on to the next. King David handed Solomon a strong kingdom on a golden platter. Solomon handed his successors a platter of wealth for a few, prosperity of a kind, and magnificent edifices, but also a kingdom divided, weak, fertile for revolution, without focus and meaning, without substance and depth; a kingdom which eventually collapsed. What did you receive from your ancestors, and what are you handing on to your successors? As a nation, what are we handing on to the next generation?

It would seem that Solomon's kingdom had everything going for it. What went wrong is a warning to us. Our nation has everything going for it. We have vast quantities of natural resources. We are inventive, creative, and intelligent. We here this morning have opportunities unheard of by much of the world. Let's heed the experience of Solomon and learn from his mistakes. His glory was tarnished. His glory was gory. He was shallow, ambitious, selfish, and vain. After all, look how he was raised. He was a spoiled rich kid. His father, David, came up the hard way. Solomon had everything handed to him on a golden platter. He never had to sacrifice, or struggle, or want for anything. Like many Americans, he lived the easy life, without substance. What went wrong? Two major errors.

First, he compromised his heritage, his values, and his religion. He was a shrewd politician and used marriage to ensure cooperation of the neighboring countries. He married well. In fact, he married often! Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. But, they didn't convert to Israel's faith. They not only brought their religions with them, but Solomon built temples and altars for them, and worshiped himself. Solomon was a syncretist, one who compromises and assimilates. Joshua urged the people to choose and follow the God who led them out of Egypt. Joshua urged them to serve the Lord as the basis for their unity as a nation. Solomon encouraged tolerance and compromise, rather than commitment and dedication.

I preached a series of sermons this spring reminding us that we are aliens in a strange land, reminding us that our commitment to God requires worship and loyalty to the highest we know and understand, not to compromise our values to a common denominator where any religion is okay, any belief is valid, as long as we are sincere! Solomon undermined the faith and brought disaster on the nation. After Solomon's time, we see the rise of the prophets in the Old Testament who tried desperately to call the people back to God, back to their roots, back to who they were, back to the principles, values and beliefs that made them a unique nation under God. But, the prophets were too late. The people didn't listen, and they eventually lost their country.

Secondly, Solomon was motivated, not by wisdom, but by greed and power. He craved ostentatious wealth and power. He was so motivated by greed, he exploited his own people. Not only did he use slave labor from conquered nations to work on his building projects, he used his own people. 30,000 Israelites were conscripted and forced to work one month out of three in the labor camps of Lebanon, cutting down the cedars of Lebanon to make lumber for his buildings. Incidentally, by not using any system of forest reclamation or environmental sensitivity, the forests of Lebanon were completely destroyed. 80,000 of his own people were put to work in the stone quarries, and 70,000 were known as burden bearers. To finance it all, he taxed his people heavily.

By compromising, watering down beliefs, commitment, and values and thereby losing focus and vision; by unrestrained greed and lavish wealth, Solomon's lofty dream lost its glory. Interesting how the dream ends with this challenge from God, If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked... We read the story of Solomon in the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings. The lofty dream is recorded in chapter three. By the time we reach chapter 11, even the Lord is disillusioned. 1 Kings 11:11, Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you..."

Rebellion started before Solomon died, led by Jeroboam. Solomon was able to subdue him, and Jeroboam fled to Egypt. After Solomon's death, Jeroboam returned and held a summit meeting with Rehoboam, Solomon's son who was attempting to unite the people with him as king. Jeroboam said to Rehoboam, (1 Kings 12:4) "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you." King Rehoboam asked advice of the older men. They told him to listen. But younger men, hotheads, told him to be tough. So Rehoboam said to Jeroboam, (1 Kings 12:14) "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions." Civil war erupted, the kingdom split into two--the northern kingdom with Samaria as its capital, and the southern kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. Both eventually were conquered and destroyed.

Not-so-wise Solomon has much to teach us--we who are tempted by greed, the unquenchable desire to be wealthy, we as a nation who are floundering with a lack of focus and vision, compromising principles, turning our backs on the helpless. Heed the lessons of Solomon. Beware of trusting in riches and material wealth, and making them your #1 priority. Beware of watering down your faith so that it is inoffensive, and good-for-nothing. Beware of mouthing the pious, while really seeking your own glory. The real test of a person's work, the real test of a generation's accomplishment, is what is handed to the successor.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris