The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, “You must never return to Egypt.” The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. [Deuteronomy 17:16-17 (NLT)]
These words were among those the kings of Israel were to copy, keep on their person at all times, and read every day of their lives. Solomon was Israel’s third king and, while we can’t know about Saul or David, it certainly seems that by Solomon’s reign, the words of Deuteronomy had been forgotten or ignored.
Along with his 1,400 chariots, Solomon had 12,000 horses imported from Egypt and Cilicia. Those many horses were a sign a sign of Israel’s military might but they also were a direct violation of the Lord’s command. Worse, Solomon didn’t just return to Egypt to purchase horses; he went there for a queen—Pharaoh’s daughter! Although God had clearly instructed the Israelites not to marry foreigners, along with Pharaoh’s daughter, Solomon married Hittites, and women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Sidon. Apparently, foreign alliances took precedence over God’s commands. Even though the king wasn’t to take many wives, Solomon accumulated 700 of them (along with another 300 concubines).
As for God’s command not to amass large amounts of silver and gold, every year Solomon received 25 tons of gold as well as tax revenues from traders, merchants, and assorted kings and governors. Added to that was all the silver, gold, and precious gems brought to him as gifts by his many guests, like the 9,000 pounds of gold brought to him by the Queen of Sheba! Granted everyone probably has a slightly different opinion of what constitutes “large,” but I think we’d all agree that Solomon went over the top when it came to horses, wives, and wealth!
Solomon was the man who asked God for wisdom and often is called the wisest man who ever lived; yet, Alexander Whyte’s Dictionary of Bible Characters describes him as a “shipwreck” and “the most terrible tragedy in all the world.” Whyte continues, “If ever ship set sail on a sunny morning, but all that was left of her was a board or two on the shore that night, that ship was Solomon. A board or two of rare and precious wood, indeed; and some of them richly worked and overlaid with silver and gold—it was Solomon with his sermons, and his prayers, and his proverbs, and his songs, and his temple.”
During Solomon’s reign, the king wrote 1,005 songs and 3,000 proverbs, a magnificent Temple was built, and an undivided Israel experienced the peak of its power, prestige, and grandeur. These accomplishments are the “rare and precious wood” of which Whyte spoke. Nevertheless, in spite of Solomon’s stellar beginnings, the shipwreck began when ambition, wealth, pride, and lust took over his life. Along with disobeying God by amassing horses, wealth and wives, he built pagan shrines, worshipped pagan gods, worked and taxed his people excessively, and even failed to prepare Rehoboam for the throne. Solomon’s kingdom could have been blessed for all time but it was torn away because of his disobedience; by the end of his son’s reign, the kingdom was divided. I think of Alan Lerner’s words in Camelot: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.” For one brief moment, Israel shone as well!
In Proverbs, we find the wise Solomon talking about discipline, good judgment, and the dangers of lust and greed. We read Wisdom’s warning that the simple, “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.” Unfortunately, Solomon seemed better able to give advice than heed it and, in Ecclesiastes, we find him eating that “bitter fruit” with his words of remorse, dissatisfaction, and even self-contempt. They are the words of a man who, in spite of all his possessions and achievement, found no satisfaction in life.
Solomon’s downfall tells us that all the wisdom and wealth in the world mean nothing without the strength of character and discipline that come from God and obedience to His word. I wonder about those words from Deuteronomy that all of Israel’s kings were to copy, read daily, and apply to their reign—words that were to keep them from becoming proud and turning away from God. What, do you suppose, would have happened had Solomon actually done that?
If ever a blazing lighthouse was set up in the sea of life to warn every man and to teach every man, it was Solomon. [Alexander Whyte]