Solomon presents a remarkable case of both a life lived wholly for God and a life tragically fragmented by divided loves. At his best, Solomon shows how every aspect of life and work can be transformed by the love of God; at his worst, he shows how subtle divisions can sneak into the human endeavor and grow into fissures large enough to divide a kingdom.
To understand the story of Solomon’s rise and fall, we need to understand its beginnings. Following the short but intense struggle for the throne with his brother Adonijah, Solomon begins the process of securing his royal position (1 Kings 2). David’s dying mandate to his son introduces the Deuteronomic tone of Solomon’s ascension:
Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, “If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:2-4).
The mandate includes clear echoes of the Deuteronomic law, using the common terms “commandments, rules, and stipulations” to encompass the whole of the tradition passed down from Moses. The passage also introduces the theme of the whole heart and whole self as a model for Solomon’s reign (2:4), reminding the reader that Solomon’s success or failure as a king will spring from the commitments of his heart and his personal disposition toward the Lord his God.
The events of the following section can best be described as a case study of Solomon’s wholehearted devotion to the Lord in the exercise of his worldly effect. The picture that is drawn is that of a faithful king effectively enacting his reign through wise dealings in the areas of statecraft including dynastic affairs, international affairs, social justice, and academia. During his rise, Solomon is commended by the Lord for his covenantal commitment in each of these areas, indicating that they should be evaluated by the reader as positive examples of faithful statecraft.
Worldly Effect #1: Internal Affairs
First, Solomon must deal with the fourfold problem of his father’s personal affairs, including Adonijah, Abiathar, Joab, and Shimei. In each case, the offending party questioned or otherwise acted presumptuously in regards to the authority of David or his choice for an heir, Solomon. Though difficult for the modern mind, the lack of respect communicated by the actions of these individuals is tantamount to treason, a crime against the state, as well as blasphemy, a crime against the God in whose name the king reigns. Solomon’s strict execution of judgment must be understood in light of this theological-political arrangement.
This initial account ends with this affirmation of Solomon’s activity: “Thus the kingdom was established in the hands of Solomon” (2:46), indicating that the actions were performed effectively and represent judicious rule. Solomon’s reign is established through his strong leadership and delegation of duties.
Worldly Effect #2: Diplomatic Relations
Solomon’s wise operation of the kingdom extends to diplomatic relations, in this case concerning Solomon’s marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh.
While this strategic move could be seen as a seed of the discord that will blossom into disobedience later in his reign, its mention here in a positive retelling of Solomon’s ascent and the commendation that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father…” (3:3) suggests that it is to be viewed favorably. Once a small local entity, Israel has now risen to a position of international influence under Solomon’s leadership.
Worldly Effect #3: Wise Social Justice
In the dream that occurs during Solomon’s stay in Gibeon, the Lord solicits a request from Solomon, and the king shows his true, heartfelt devotion to the Lord by asking for a special measure of wisdom, which the Lord grants. Solomon, now endowed with divinely enhanced wisdom, exhibits a conspicuous shift in behavior by returning to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices before the arc of the covenant.
The story of the dispute between the two mothers (3:16-28) provides an extended account of Solomon’s stewardship of this gift of wisdom in the area of social justice. No amount of covenant observance will help the king get to the bottom of the case, which is ultimately a matter of “she said…she said…” testimonies, but his wisdom in matters of human behavior and affections serves the cause of justice and reveals the false testimony for what it is.
As it is the function of the kingly office to administer justice in the land, Solomon’s wisdom in judicial proceedings credential him for the throne. When the citizens of Israel hear report of his decision, they stand “in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28). The life devoted to the love of the Lord will pursue divine wisdom and apply it faithfully.
Worldly Effect #4: Academia
Solomon’s love of the Lord finds expression in the stewardship of his divinely granted wisdom in the area of intellectual pursuits.
In Israel and the ancient Near East, sages operated in the court of the king where their training would be utilized for the sake of the realm. It is significant, therefore, that Solomon shows himself to be a wise king whose ability to shape the life of the mind exceeds the best of sages. He boasts a body of work comprised of 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 poems, and his expert knowledge of the flora and fauna is reminiscent of Adam’s kingly duty of naming the animals in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:20). The work of classification by naming brings the natural world into order, just as the work of classification of ideas and behavior by speaking in proverbs brings the world of ideas into order. Both of these are kingly duties, extending the dominion of humanity over the creation (Gen. 1:28).
The account of Solomon’s early kingdom in 1 Kings 1-4 presents a case study in proper execution of God’s provision to bring order to the kingdom of Judah and Israel and all of its affairs, and in doing so Solomon fulfills his calling as a faithful and effective king, securing the country as a sanctuary of the Lord in his holy temple.
But as the narrative continues, 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.
In a future post, we will examine the fall of Solomon and explore some key takeaways from the study of his life.
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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