Solomon [Sŏl’omon]—peace or peaceable. The tenth son of David, and second by Bath-sheba, and the third king of Israel who reigned for forty years (2 Sam. 5:14; 12:24). Solomon was also known as Jedidiah meaning, “beloved of the Lord.”
The Man Who Was Full Yet Failed
We know little of the early life of Solomon. The name given him by Nathan, but not repeated because of its sacredness, implies David’s restoration to divine favor (2 Sam. 12:25). Loved of the Lord suggests the bestowal of unusual gifts (2 Sam. 12:24, 25). It is also evident that young Solomon was greatly influenced both by his mother and Nathan (1 Kings 1:11, 12).
With reference to the character and reign of Solomon, we cannot but agree with Alexander Whyte that, “The shipwreck of Solomon is surely the most terrible tragedy in all the world. For if ever there was a shining type of Christ in the Old Testament church, it was Solomon … but everyday sensuality made him in the end a castaway.” Taking him all in all, Solomon stands out as a disappointing figure of Hebrew history. Think of the advantages he began with! There were the almost undisputed possession of David’s throne, immense stores of wealth laid up by his father, exceptional divinely imparted mental abilities, the love and high hopes of the people. Solomon’s start like the cloudless dawn of a summer’s morning, might have been beautiful all his life through, but it ended in gloom because he wandered into God-forbidden paths. Thus a life beginning magnificently ended miserably. The man who penned and preached a thousand wise things failed to practice the wisdom he taught.
The work of Solomon was the development of his father’s ideas of a consolidated kingdom, and what marvelous success crowned his efforts. Exercising the power of an oriental despot, he gave Israel a glory, prestige and splendor unsurpassed in the world’s history. On the whole, however, Solomon seemed to rule for his own aggrandizement and not for the welfare of the people. Doubtless Solomon’s artistic and literary gifts provided the masses with beneficial instruction, but the glory of Solomon brought the common people tears and groans. The great wealth provided by David for the building of a Temple speedily disappeared under Solomon’s lavish spending, and the people had to pay heavily by taxation and poverty for his magnificent whims. Yet Jesus said that the lilies of the field had greater glory than all the gaudy pomp and pride of Solomon.
Solomon’s ambition in the morning of his life was most commendable. His dream was a natural expression of this ambition, and his God-imparted wisdom an evidence of it (1 Kings 3). Then his sacrifice at Gibeon indicates that Solomon desired religion to be associated with all external magnificence. Solomon’s remarkable prayer also breathes the atmosphere of true piety and of his delight in the full recognition of God. Alas, however, Solomon came to the end of his days minus popularity and piety!
This first great naturalist the world ever saw, who wrote one thousand and five songs, three thousand proverbs and who had sagacity beyond compare, took his first step downward when he went to Egypt for his queen. A daughter of Pharaoh, sitting on the throne of David, must have shocked and saddened the godly elect of Israel. With this strange wife came her strange gods.
Then came the harem of outlandish women who caused Solomon to sin (Neh. 13:26). His wives—seven hundred of them and three hundred concubines—whom Solomon clave unto in love, turned him into an idolater (1 Kings 11:1-8). Polygamy on such a vast scale and concession for his wives to worship their own heathen gods was bad enough, but to share in such sacrilegious worship in sight of the Temple Solomon himself had built, was nauseating to God.
Thus sensuality and pride of wealth brought about Solomon’s deterioration. In the Book of Ecclesiastes which the king wrote, he surely depicted his own dissatisfaction with even life itself. All rivers ran into Solomon’s sea: wisdom and knowledge, wine and women, wealth and fame, music and songs; he tried them all, but all was vanity and vexation of spirit simply because God had been left out.
Of Solomon’s actual end little is known. He is described as an “old man” at sixty years of age. Whether Solomon repented and returned to God was a question warmly debated by the Early Fathers. There is no record of his repentance. He never wrote a penitential psalm like his father before him (Ps. 51). We have his remorse, discontent, disgust, self-contempt, “bitterer to drink than blood,” but no sobs for his sin, no plea for pardon. Thus, with such a tragic failure before us, let us take to heart the fact that Solomon’s wisdom did not teach him self-control, and that the only legacy of his violated home life was a son “ample in foolishness and lacking in understanding,” as C. W. Emmet expresses it.