In a previous article, concerning the beginning of Solomon’s reign, it was seen that his early years were bright with spiritual promise. He ‘loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father’. In his middle age, he was in his heyday, world renowned. Notabilities from afar, like the Queen of Sheba, sought after him, to learn at first hand of the wonders they had heard from afar. His sun was then in the meridian of its splendour. In old age, Solomon went into a spiritual decline which tarnished the glory of his earlier years. His epitaph might well have been the Bible comment upon his later years ‘when Solomon was old … his wives turned away his heart after other gods’. It is one of the solemn warnings of Scripture that old age can set in decline. Every age has its peculiar problems and temptations. In youth, the world and the flesh allure. In middle age, there is a tendency to accept lower standards of conduct, in a mood of pessimism resulting from past failures and to cease from striving after better things. In old age, the easy acquiescence of middle age can become set in a state of spiritual deadness.
Spiritual decline thus came to Solomon ‘when (he) was old’. How old is old? Opinions would vary. What would have been thought old a few generations ago would scarcely be thought old nowadays. Solomon appears to have died when he was 58 years of age, which was scarcely old even by the standard of those days, far less by ours. David lived to achieve life’s allotted span of 70 years, Psa. 90.10. The difference between father and son may be thought to reflect their diverse habits of life. For an appreciable part of his life David was subject to hardship and privation, whereas Solomon was born to all the luxuries of the court. David’s experience conduced to bodily and spiritual vigour, whereas Solomon’s luxurious living conduced to flaccidity. Some lives have surely been shortened by excessive hardship and privation, but far more have been curtailed by luxurious living. If Solomon was ‘old’ before he was sixty, he might well be thought to have been prema-turely old. We may be unable to escape the limitations of advancing years, but at least we can try to remain young in spirit. Hosea prophesied concerning Ephraim ‘strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not’. There was an unconscious decline in strength and an unawareness of the indications of advancing years. There can be unconscious decline as well as unconscious growth in spiritual grace. The former state is lamentable; the latter excellent. The glow on Moses’ face was the better for his unawareness of the fact. The departure of the Lord from Samson was the more tragic for his unconsciousness of it.
Peter refers to two characteristics of old age, in a spiritual sense. They are true often in a physical sense. In respect of the seven Christian virtues he lists, he writes ‘he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath for-gotten that he was purged from his old sins’. Short-sightedness and forgetfulness – these are as characteristic of spiritual, as of physical, old age. To these may be added a third, that of ‘setness’, a dislike of the habits of years being disturbed, an unreceptivity of new ideas. But the Bible not only calls attention to the possibility of spiritual old age; it also shews how it may be avoided. Isaiah prophesied ‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint’. Of such it could be said that they have ‘the dew of… youth’. They anticipate the radiant youthfulness that will belong to the Church in glory ‘not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing’.
Solomon’s late decline began in a waning love for the Lord. He did not hold to the early promise betokened by the words ‘Solomon loved the Lord’. That time came when ‘his heart was not perfect with the Lord’, for his many wives ‘turned away his heart after other gods’. All spiritual decline begins with the fading of early love. In none was the truth of the proverb ‘Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life’ more highlighted than in Solomon. Decline constantly threatens all spiritual persons and movements. The pattern follows that of Solomon’s experience – early promise, heyday and then decline. There is not a spiritual movement in which this process is not evident, nor is there a spiritual person in whom it is not a force to be reckoned with. The experience of Israel was akin. Concerning their early days, God said of His people ‘I remember the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals: how thou wentest after me in the wilderness’. The metaphor wonderfully portrays the reciprocal love of God and His people newly redeemed from Egypt. But it was not to last. Only a few verses later in the passage God indicted His people for having forsaken Him ‘the fountain of living waters’. The indictment against the church at Ephesus, not to be minimized by the italicized ‘somewhat’ in the Authorized Version, was ‘I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love’, R.v. It was not that they had abandoned all love for the Lord. The Lord did not complain of the absence of love, for that would have implied an abandoned state (cf. 1 Cor. 16. 22). He indicated its loss of early freshness and fervour. From this decline stemmed every other sin, whether at Ephesus or in any of the other churches. A person or a church whose heart is right with God will never go far wrong. Mistakes may well be made, but the maintenance of early love will ensure quick recovery.
Probably, Solomon never thought that spiritual decline would befall him. At the dedication of the temple, he had exhorted the people ‘Let your heart … be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments’. Not many years were to pass before Solomon himself was to fail in this very thing, for ‘his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God’. Our exhortations should have regard to the possibility of our own defection, apart from the keeping grace of God.
Solomon’s decline was due to his ill-advised marriages with ‘strange women’, 1 Kings 11. 1, 8. He came to love them more than he loved God. God had forewarned Israel against this very thing and even a king was not above the law in this respect. When Moses anticipated that the people would demand a king, one of the conditions which was to govern the king’s marital conduct was ‘Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away’. All this Solomon should have known, but chose to ignore. His early mistake in marrying Pharaoh’s daughter was many times to be repeated, with the disastrous results God had foreseen and forewarned against. Not less than the Old Testament does the New Testament warn against unequally-yoked marriages, yet it is not uncommon for the Lord’s people to fall into this sin.
Solomon not only sinned against conscience, but ignored the plain warning of Scripture and even the direct voice of God to him. God had appeared to him twice and ‘had commanded … that he should not go after other gods, but he kept not that which the Lord commanded’. He was, therefore, without excuse, but even God’s direct reproof failed to evoke in him any indication of sorrow or repentance for sin, which David had been quick to shew when sin had been brought home to his conscience.
When God promised David that Solomon his son would build the temple that he himself was not allowed to build, God said concerning Solomon ‘if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men’. This was quite literally to be fulfilled in Solomon’s later years, when the Lord raised up adversaries against him as a mark of His displeasure against Solomon’s decline. We may not expect to escape the discipline of God upon our sins. He may even use ungodly instruments to do so.