Solomon presents a remarkable case of both a life lived wholly for God and a life tragically fragmented by divided loves.
As we explored in the last blog, the moral of Solomon’s ascension is that when the heart of the king is devoted to the Lord (1 Kings 3:1), that devotion affects every aspect of the king’s reign, and the Lord blesses his endeavors in remarkable ways that extend to every aspect of his reign.
As the narrative of Solomon continues, the opposite dynamic proves to be true as well. As Solomon’s heart reveals subtle fragmentation, his true love of the Lord is contrasted with the false loves of his foreign wives and their idolatrous worship. His divided heart has implications for his ability to direct his worldly effect wholly to the Lord.
Solomon’s divided heart becomes evident first in his building agenda for the temple of the Lord in which he prioritizes his own palace at the expense of furnishing the temple. His divided heart is fully revealed through his acceptance of the foreign deities of his many wives. The first evidence has to do with mixed priorities in temple-building; the second has to do with mixed loyalties in worship.
Mixed Priorities in Temple-Building
Solomon’s marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh would not fall under the restrictions of Deuteronomic law since she is not a Canaanite (Deut. 7:3), but even an authorized marriage can become idolatrous if it is prioritized above the love of the Lord. This point is relevant to the account of Solomon’s building of the temple to the Lord.
While the building project has a promising start, several complications arise that indicate an internal conflict. The king completes the work on the temple structure in seven years (1 Kings 6:38), but the temple is not furnished and therefore not suitable for worship until much later (7:51). In the meantime, Solomon completes work on his own palace complex as well as the palace for his Egyptian wife (7:8).
This delay in the construction of the temple would have presented no small dilemma for the people since it would have meant that they were forced to continue worship in the high places while the temple sat empty in Jerusalem. Furthermore, Solomon dedicated thirteen years to the work of his own house, a considerable length of time that is contrasted with the seven years required for the building of the house of the Lord. The two timetables are placed side by side to highlight the disparity (6:38-7:1).
After this inauspicious building program, Solomon consecrates the temple for worship and receives a vision from the Lord in which the Lord warns him of the dangers of a divided heart. In the vision, the Lord first reaffirms his covenant with David, but then warns,
But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. (1 Kings 9:6-7)
The irony of this passage can be found in the play on words in the last clause. While Solomon’s môšel “ruling” (4:21 [5:1]) culminated with his speaking mašal “proverbs” (4:32 [5:12]), unfaithfulness would turn Israel into a mašal “proverb” (9:7) of warning to others. This similar sounding of words (a common literary device in ancient and modern Semitic literature) draws attention to the severe devastation that accompanies turning away from the Lord (cf. Deut. 29:24; Job 17:6; Ps. 69:11; Jer. 22:8-9; Joel 2:17).
If wholehearted love for the Lord evokes extravagant blessings, a divided heart evokes extravagant curses.
Mixed Loyalties in Worship
The divine warning foreshadows the tragic denouement of the Solomonic reign, as the hints of his infidelity to the Lord seen in the building of the temple blossom into full idolatry as a result of Solomon’s multitudinous marriages to wives who do not share his covenantal commitments before the Lord.
Such lack of constraints in marriage rigorously opposes the teaching of Deuteronomy about royal unions (“And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.” Deut. 17:17), though Solomon’s unfaithfulness is possibly worse, since he is drawn away, not by silver and gold, but by false gods.
One senses the language of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5) easily in the narrator’s summary of the situation:
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4).
David was credentialed to the throne because of his heartfelt devotion to the Lord (1 Sam.13:14; 16:7), but Solomon’s divided heart means that the kingdom will be divided as well (1 Kings 11:11-12).
What can we learn from the life of Solomon? In my next post, we will discuss some takeaways from the case study of Solomon in light of God’s call to love him with an undivided heart.
Editor’s note: Read the full case study on Solomon, along with Dr. Redd’s helpful notes in the booklet, Wholehearted: A Biblical Look at the Greatest Commandment and Personal Wealth.
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