He was born in his father’s shadow, the son of King David’s beloved wife, Bathsheba. Solomon had his father’s passionate world at his fingertips, but he chose to walk away. Not from his father’s God, but from his father’s humanity.
Israel was an awakening kingdom under the leadership of the Shepherd King. There were stirrings in the air, yearnings for the future, and hope rising from the promise of the Almighty to bless the young king with a permanent throne, upon which his descendants would sit for a thousand years.
Solomon was surrounded by the Psalms, and by the unabashed sentiments of his father, by naivety, idealism, romanticism, and exuberance. Even excessive exuberance was permitted and unashamedly promoted. “Bless the Lord Oh my soul,” wrote King David, “and all that is within me bless His holy name.”
Psalms 51 is the penitential psalm which plumbs the depths of repentance from grievous sin. Psalms 88 plunges into the grips of despair and never comes up for even a glimpse heaven’s light. Some of the most beloved scriptures lie in the collection of the psalms, of which Psalm 23 easily leads the list. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” has been intoned by dying lips, and by those seeking to survive another day.
This was Solomon’s world, as each new year brought forth fresh praise and adoration from the throne, along with failures and despair. Each sentiment was lived to the fullest and no stone was left unturned.
Young Solomon would have been exposed to the good and the bad; to the story of his mother’s unlawful union with his father, to the death of his older brother for his father’s adultery, to the rape of Tamar, to the murder of Amnon, and to the rebellion of Absalom. Solomon, as the son of David’s favorite wife, would likely have been in the party fleeing Jerusalem.
Solomon would have heard the cursing of Shemei, the man who followed the humiliated King on the adjoining hillside, throwing rocks and dust in the air. Solomon heard more than the twenty third psalm. Solomon would have been there to see his mother mourn the death of her grandfather, Ahithophel, who joined the rebellion of Absalom because of his bitterness for what David had done to Uriah’s house. Solomon would have known how his grandfather died, how he put his house in order and hanged himself after Absalom’s cause was lost.
There was unending drama in David’s life. Right up to the end when the king was on his death bed, there was another rebellion. Bathsheba along with the prophet Nathan, concocted a tag team political maneuver to rouse the comatose king into action. Bathsheba gained entrance to the chamber where the king is breathing his last and blurted out her story of what Adonijah was doing along with her plea for Solomon’s immediate exaltation to the throne. A promise David had solemnly made but apparently forgotten. Nathan waits for a short of time before he makes his own hurried entrance to repeat the story. Confronted with the two seemingly uncoordinated actions David responded and crowned Solomon as King.
Solomon ascended the throne with the knowledge of what had been done to get him there. When given the opportunity in a dream, it is not a stretch of logic to believe the constant drama of his father’s life lead the young King to ask the Lord for understanding. The request was granted, and Solomon launched himself on a trajectory which would take him far from anything resembling naivety, idealism, romanticism, or exuberance—excessive or otherwise. Solomon entered the world of the planned mind, the exalted intellect. Everything was reduced to the natural, to a world which man could understand and control.
The country of Israel was no longer filled with new psalms which introduced each spring new praises unto the Almighty. The Proverbs were the order of the day. People were taught how to live right, how to get along with each other, how to run their families without fuss and these constant meltdowns. The scriptures written by the wisest man on earth are all horizontal in nature. The Song of Solomon, about the love between a man and woman. Proverbs, how to get along with each other. Ecclesiastics, the cynic’s gospel.
The reign of King David and King Solomon are equal in length—forty years. The account of David’s life takes chapters and pages in the telling. The story of King Solomon is told in nine chapters in the book of Kings. There are only two major events: the building of the temple, and the visit of the Queen of Sheba. Neither involve shame, rebuke, or scandal. The whole country hummed along under the administration of the wise King run with complete efficiency.
Amazing and unbelievable things were accomplished in an era lacking laser and computer technology. No longer did men fight lions in pits on snowy days. The temple was built instead. The arts and culture reached their high-water mark in Israel. At the temple building site, huge stones were cut a distance away and brought in to fit together without light showing between them. Emotion and sentiment were replaced with reason. When the time came to dedicate the magnificent temple unrivaled in Jewish history, the prayer offered by the wise King is a pathetic jumble of references to the faith of his Father, and to mercy. In Solomon’s mouth the word is almost an insult. No praises rose from the temple floor. No adorations were lifted to the Lord God Jehovah. King Solomon had long left those sentiments behind him.
We do not need much imagination to know what King David would have done if confronted with the dedication of the house he had loved and longed for with such passion. Two examples exist.
The first is a somewhat similar event which occurred when David attempted to restore the Ark of the Covenant lost in the last years of King Saul’s reign. They made a deal with the Philistines and used an ox cart to transport the item of worship home. Everything went well until the ox cart hit a rut and rocked the ark. The driver reached back to steady the sacred vessel and was instantly killed. David, who always felt everything deeply, was so disturbed he left the ark in the closest Israelite home he could find and abandoned the project.
Months later, word drifted back to David, how the house of the man keeping the ark was being blessed, David reconsidered. This time they followed proper procedure. The ark was carried on the shoulders of the priest. They proceed six paces, and everything was going well. They stopped and offered sacrifices unto the Lord before continuing. When everything was working, and no one was dying, David got out in front of the procession and began to dance. First went the crown, followed by the robe. As his passion in worship mounted the King shed clothing until he ends up in his underwear, dancing before the Lord. In the evening, once the ark was home, the emotions were still high when he visited the chambers of his wife Micah.
“How glorious was the King of Israel today,” she said sarcastically.
David responded, “I will be more vile than I was. I will debase myself even further in my own eyes to worship the Lord.”
The second example is when David announced the news to the congregation of Israel telling them he had been denied the privilege of building the temple. David details the design of the house and prepares materials for the build, which his son Solomon would construct. After the long list, the scriptures said, “….David blessed the Lord before all the congregation, and David said, Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our father forever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine, thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art the exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. For we are stranger before thee, and sojourners, as we were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. O Lord our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own.” 1 Chronicles: 10-16
Greater by far is the prayer of the king who thought to build the temple, than the king who built the temple. On and on goes the praise and self-debasement. Solomon was in attendance. He heard anew his father’s devotion to the Lord. They closed the day’s celebration by crowning Solomon king for the second time. There is no doubt, if King David had overseen the temple dedication, they would sung and read new psalms. They would have filled the temple floor with the sound of the harp, with prayers of adoration, and with shouts of joy. They would have debased themselves and exalted God. They would have danced all day and all night. They would have brought the proverbial roof down.
With King Solomon, it is left to the Lord to fill the temple with smoke. The Wise King cannot find it in his heart to indulge in the base sentiments of his father. His words do not even attempt to reach the heavens.
“Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness. I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in forever. And the king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood. And he said, Blessed by the Lord God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it, saying, since the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build an house, that my name might be therein; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.” I Kings: 8: 12-17.
On and on the words go, self-absorbed and never reaching the ceiling. When the Queen of Sheba visited, she found a kingdom run with precision. She stood in awe of the way the servants seated themselves in the dining room chamber and swooned at the sight of the king’s procession climbing the temple steps to worship. Only they never worshiped, at least not by King David’s standards.
Every question the queen had was answered. How you got servants to get along. How you lived without fear of some traitor poisoning your wine. How marriages worked. How wives thought. How you raised children. King Solomon had the answers down pat. He had a book written on human relationships. There was just nothing written on how to relate to God.
We are told with certainty the path which King Solomon chose, and with precision what his end was—madness and folly. The king told us in his own words. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities: all is vanity….And I gave my heart to seek out and search by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore traveail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and , behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yes, my hart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 13-18
In his old age, the son who forsook his father’s humanity was surrounded by a thousand wives. The buffer is gone. He must have been eaten up with his animal appetites. Why else does one need a thousand wives? The old king knows better than to build idol temples—let alone in Jerusalem, yet he builds them. He visits them with his wives—the temples of Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and worst of all Molech, from which rises the stench of burned children.
With our reason we are most like the angels. With our appetites we are most like the animals. It is our sentiments which make us human. They are the barrier between what we know is right, and the feelings which rise from our base nature.
“It still remains true,” C.S. Lewis said, “that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”
Plato said before C.S. Lewis, “As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the spirited element.”
Let us not walk in the folly of Solomon. Let us not exalt ourselves, but rather debase ourselves in worship.