“…his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father… So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.” I Kings 11:4, 6
The Books of I and II Kings are challenging to read for they recount the downfall of Israel into exile and captivity as a result of repeated disobedience to God. In these books we see the Kingdom divided into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, and the books trace the spiritual state of each kingdom by examining the spiritual nature of their respective rulers. The northern kingdom of Israel endured many wicked kings, and as a result plunged headfirst into idolatry and pagan worship. The southern kingdom, Judah, had a few righteous kings who attempted to right the spiritual course of the kingdom, but the many wicked kings who ruled the southern kingdom undid the influence of these godly men. Ultimately, both kingdoms paid the price for turning away from God; Israel was conquered by Assyria around 721 BC, and the Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 BC. When Judah was defeated, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple and deported a large portion of the population to Babylon. This is one of the most crucial moments in Hebrew history.
The phrase “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” occurs again and again throughout I and II Kings when describing the various rulers of Israel and Judah. The authors of I and II Kings include this line so that the readers understand the rulers were wicked men who did not seek God, and in turn, caused the people to turn further away from God. One of the first instances of this “did what was evil” theme occurred in I Kings 11 concerning King Solomon.
Solomon had been, to this point, one of the greatest of Israel’s kings; he was second only to his father, David. Solomon ruled over Israel before the kingdom was divided, and his reign was marked by peace and prosperity. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was a man who earnestly sought after God, a righteous man. God appeared to Solomon not once, but twice, and blessed Solomon with wisdom, fortune, and fame—the likes of which had never been seen. Due to his great zeal for the Lord, Solomon was given the high duty and privilege of building the Temple in Jerusalem—the “dwelling” place where God’s glory would reside among His people. In everything he did, Solomon sought God, and he served God. He lived as his father David had lived, and he was a model for all future Israelite kings to follow. If only the story ended here, but it doesn’t. There is much more to learn from Solomon in his downfall.
As he became increasingly wealthy and famous, Solomon’s heart and mind began to wander. He began to stray from the God that he loved and whom he loved to serve. As the text says, “his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God.” Solomon began to put other things before God, and he began to seek his own pleasure and satisfaction above seeking God. He became focused on the things of this world—fame, fortune, and the acquisition thereof. But Solomon’s sins were not limited to his idolatrous pursuits of fame and fortune; he began to break God’s Law. He married pagan women—ones that God prohibited the Israelites from marrying—and Solomon fell deeper into sin. These pagan wives brought with them their false religions and ceremonies and Solomon began to partake in them. He started to build altars to these false gods and to offer sacrifices to them. Solomon tolerated and encouraged the practice of false religions in Israel. The very man who once sought God and built the house in which God dwelt was now offering pagan sacrifices to false gods on altars that he also built. Solomon’s father, David, may have committed physical adultery, but Solomon was now committing spiritual adultery. This was the path that future kings of Israel and Judah would follow. The entire future of Israelite history was being embodied in Solomon and his actions.
The irony and the tragedy in this is that Solomon knew better; “God gave Solomon wisdom, exceedingly deep insight, and understanding beyond measure, like the sand on the seashore,”(1 Kings 4:29). By all accounts, Solomon was the wisest man ever to live, and this wisdom came directly from God. Despite this, Solomon still took his focus off of God; he allowed his mind and heart to be led astray. He stopped serving God and started worshipping himself. His actions had severe consequences: it was Solomon’s unfaithfulness that sparked a chain of events that resulted in the division of the kingdom, which would lead ultimately to conquest and exile.
Solomon had everything, and he forsook it; this is the lesson we must learn. If he can fall so significantly, so too can we. We must learn from Solomon’s mistakes; we must not become so enamored with the pursuits of our own pleasures that we turn from God. We must make the pursuit of God our joy. We must seek Him in everything we do, and we must submit to Him daily. We must seek to do what is right in the sight of the Lord.
Art Credit: Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, “Solomon Worshiping a Pagan God” c. 1695-1700 (https://www.dia.org/art/collection/object/solomon-worshiping-pagan-god-63908)