Solomon’s last years were darkened by spiritual decline but his early years were bright with spiritual promise. He began well, for he ‘loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father’. The tragedy was that he did not continue as he began. He started with the lofty idealism of youth and finished with the depressed disillusionment of old age, expressed in his own words ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. He lacked continuance, the result of infirmity of purpose. A good start is an excellent thing, but even a shaky start with a good finish is to be preferred to a good start with a poor finish. There is no scriptural reason to doubt the salvation of the Christian, but it is clear from Scripture that some will finish well and others badly. Peter writes that ‘an entrance shall be ministered … abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, for those whose Christian virtues make them ‘neither … barren nor unfruitful’. On the other hand, Paul refers to the possibility of a Christian being ‘saved; yet so as by fire’.
Solomon was possibly only 17 or 18 years old when he was made king. He made his youthful mistakes, which the Bible records without comment, although the absence of comment must not be held to imply condonation. God did not expect Solomon to have an ‘old head on young shoulders’, for that would have made him a youthful prodigy. If he shewed an exceptional wisdom in his youth, it was by God’s gift. God saw that the bent of his heart was right in that he ‘loved the Lord’ and that it was right to let him learn by experience.
It may be that Solomon did not recognize his early mistakes; in fact, they were to be repeated to the rest of his days. Two of his early mistakes are highlighted in Scripture. The first was his marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, the result of his affinity with Pharaoh. Possibly Solomon came later to realize the impropriety of this union, because he gave as his reason for building her a house ‘My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy, whereunto the ark of the Lord hath come’. There was no excuse for his action, for God had expressly forbidden His people to intermarry with the heathen nations in Canaan. Even a king was not above the law in that respect. God had said ‘neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son’. The reason for this prohibition was to safeguard Israel’s testimony to the one true God, which would have been compromised by idolatry arising from mixed marriages. In what could only have been wilful disobedience of God’s law, Solomon contracted such a marriage. How many have followed in his steps! It is not suggested that Paul’s warning to the Corinthians ‘Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers’ refers exclusively to mixed marriages. His words doubtless have a wider context, but marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian is an unequal yoke at the most intimate level, in which there can be neither fellowship nor agreement in spiritual things.
Solomon’s second mistake was to resort to ‘high places’. This was not idolatrous sacrifice, for it was offered to God. The place, not the object, was at fault. Sacrifice in high places was contrary to God’s word to His people, ‘Take heed … that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord shall choose’. The Psalmist’s words, ‘Shall I lift up mine eyes to the hills? whence should my help come?’ probably refer to the ancient custom, practised by the heathen and imitated by Israel, of sacrifices on eminences. It was service for God, but ‘not according to know-ledge’. Sacrifice in high places found its most impressive expression at Gibeon ‘for that was the great high place’, where Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings. Gibeon was the popular rendezvous. There seemed to be much to commend it. Moses’ tabernacle was there, together with the altar of burnt offering and the holy vessels of the tabernacle. But there was one significant omission.
The ark of the covenant, which was intended to be central to the tabernacle service, was separately housed in a tent which David had pitched for it at Jerusalem. Such was the chaotic state of Israel’s worship in those days. It is doubtful whether the many sacrifices made at Gibeon had any value whatsoever, where due place was not accorded to the ark, which especially symbolized God’s presence. Solomon’s first act, when the temple was complete, was to place the ark in the position God intended it to occupy. The system at Gibeon was like a shell without a kernel, a piece of religious apparatus without central direction or purpose, worship without focus. This state of affairs might be thought to compare with much of what passes for worship today. The popular ‘place of worship’, attended by the multitude, is not necessarily the place of acceptable worship. God may very well be found in a humbler structure lacking most of the appurtenances considered by some to be essential to worship. God might indeed justly have ignored the chaotic state of affairs at Gibeon, but it was at Gibeon that He revealed Himself to Solomon in a dream by night. This was accommodation to human fallibility, indeed. That God did so there was doubtless because Solomon’s heart was right, although he was ill-informed concerning God’s order.
His request to Solomon at Gibeon ‘Ask what I shall give thee’ virtually presented him with a blank cheque. Solomon could confidently have filled it in for whatever he wished, for God would have honoured it and had the means to do so. It was a measure of God’s trust in Solomon’s judgment that he gave him carte blanche. It is to be feared that God could not trust many with so weighty a choice. Solomon could have asked for many things. Doubtless they occurred to him, but everything that would have tended to his own private advantage or self-aggrandizement was resolutely put aside. Simply expressed, he asked for help in the task of kingship. Solomon knew it would be no sinecure, but an onerous task, for he said ‘Who is able to judge this thy great (heavy) people?’. He therefore asked for special enabling to do the task which had fallen to him. It is probably true to say that, put to lesser men, such a request would have caused them to ask for things unrelated to their main task in life, perhaps even for escape from it! So many wish they had skills and aptitudes other than those which would better equip them for the task clearly before them.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians ‘Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God’. These words have a particular bearing upon Paul’s teaching in the passage, but in general they teach that there is virtue in keeping to the task before us and, we may add, in seeking help to do it to the best of our ability. Solomon asked for discernment in judgment. His confession to his own insufficiency ‘I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or to come in’, is eloquent of a true meekness. Psalm 25. 9 states ‘The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way’. The truth of these words was to be proved in Solomon. God gave him ‘a wise and an understanding heart’ beyond all his predecessors and his successors and additionally, things which were doubtless in his thoughts but not requested.
Solomon’s capacity for wise judgment was soon to be tested. The contention of the two harlots over the living child seemed incapable of resolution. Both were doubtless practised liars; even the rightful mother embellished her story with doubtful surmise. There were no witnesses to give evidence either way. Solomon’s judgment that the child be divided, the reaction to which clearly shewed where truth was, was a quick sighted one given by God for the occasion. But it would be wrong to think that this judgment was the first charge upon Solomon’s wisdom. Before the incident of the two harlots, it is said that Solomon ‘came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings … and peace offerings’. His newly acquired wisdom had given him clearly to see that it was not in the tabernacle at Gibeon, but before the ark at Jerusalem, where God was to be found, however unimpressive it might seem to be compared to the ‘great high place’ at the former.
To be concluded by ‘Solomon – His late Decline’.